August 19, 2014
In Search of Ordinary
When we see the look of sheer panic on the teacher’s face this Sunday morning, we almost laugh. We stand in the doorway, bringing in our assortment of children, trying to wrangle their energy and herd them inside. She reacts as if we are bringing wild animals into her tidy classroom instead of spruced-up, shiny-faced, Sunday-best little boys and girls.
We have a rainbow of children between us, my friend and I, all of them close in age, all of them different colors, some of them differently-abled, not one of them quiet. We do make quite a spectacle when we are out, two white mamas with red and yellow, black and white little ones following close behind. We wish people didn’t feel the need to stare. Or look at us like we are from another planet. We just want to be ordinary mamas with our ordinary families enjoying an ordinary Sunday at church.
We’ve both weathered some violent storms this past week. Parenting children who have experienced loss and trauma can feel like a long voyage sometimes – the waves at our homes are calm and relatively peaceful, therapeutic even, and the gentle breeze is invigorating. Then unexpectedly, at the slightest change in routine or at the tiniest provocation, our homes become a chaotic whirlwind of behaviors, reactions, emotions, and outbursts. And all we can do is hang on for dear life!
But of course we don’t share any of these details this beautiful Sabbath day. When our fellow parishioners ask us as we walk down the hall, “How are you doing?”, we paste on our happy smiles and reply, “Fine! How are you?” After all, we don’t want people to get the wrong impression. We love our families, and are in awe of the privilege we have to raise these amazing children that the Lord has brought into our lives. If we talk about the difficulties, or the uncertainties, or the discouragement, others may never step out in faith to foster or adopt. Orphaned children in the world may never become a part of a family.
On the rare occasion that we are honest about our struggles, when we say something like, “I’m so discouraged, and exhausted, and frustrated, and I just want to give up,” we get blank stares in return. Or we get responses like:
“But this is the life you chose.”
“Why don’t you just quit?”
“Well, what do you expect when you have so many children?”
Those words are not helpful. They do nothing to encourage our weary hearts. They do not show love.
And so we remain silent, knowing that the Lord understands our situations. He knows our hearts and He knows our families. He is Jehovah-Roi . . . The God Who Sees.
We enter the sanctuary with anticipation, hopeful that our spirits will be lifted as we are reminded of the truths from God’s Word. Of His faithful promises that never fail. Of His unbounded grace and forgiveness that covers our failures.
Our littlest ones are sitting with us during the service. Because of their medical needs and attachment challenges, and because we love worshipping alongside them, they don’t go to the children’s Sunday School classes like the older ones.
For a few brief moments, we feel ordinary. We feel like we belong here among these people who are here to worship. Until my friend gives a mint to her 3-year old, the one whose disabilities make him look much younger. The lady near us scowls in disapproval. “You can’t give a mint to a baby,” she hisses. “Don’t you know that he could choke?” It’s a good thing my friend, in spite of her hurt, is gracious and patient and kind. What if she had been a visitor? What if she had been a young mother raising her child alone, bravely entering the doors of a church in search of God’s love? Would she have found it here? Or would she have received, instead, judgment and condemnation? If you can’t find love and acceptance in church, where can you find it?
My own little one has medical equipment that is always with us. Normally it is easy to ignore, but today its beeping and humming noises seem to be magnified in the silence of the sanctuary. People sitting near us frown and stare. Of course I don’t want to be disruptive, so I leave the service as quietly as I can, wheeling him into the lobby. The benches there are all taken, and even so, there are so many people chatting and visiting around the information tables, that I can’t hear the sermon, the sermon that my soul so desperately needs.
I notice that one of the tables has information about Women’s Ministry events that are happening soon. Hmm, I think to myself. I really do need to spend more time in God’s Word. How I hunger to understand anew the depths of God’s grace. What it means to rest in the sufficiency of Christ. To stand forgiven at the cross. But among the pamphlets and brochures and hand-designed posters, I do not see what my heart longs for. There are craft classes, day trips, a workshop on decorating for the holidays, and another one entitled “Confidence in the Kitchen. There is a plant exchange. But I do not see the one thing I terribly need: spiritual food for my thirsty soul.
Eventually I find a quiet corner back stage where I can sort of hear what remains of the sermon, where I sit on the cold floor and hope that the security guard doesn’t ask me to move because I’m blocking a hallway or something. Well, it’s almost time for the final prayer anyway. Sigh. Is it really worth all of this effort? Why do I even come?
My oldest son . . . he gave up coming to church a long time ago. And I guess I can’t really blame him. Those of us with older children understand the grief of having a teenager who never really fits in. Our hearts break when our teens sulk into the back row of church, or stand alone in a corner during youth group, wearing their past trauma like a heavy backpack, causing their shoulders to stoop under the weight. We, their parents, love them and are working diligently to help lighten the heavy burdens that they carry. Oh, how we pray for them to understand God’s love. To make good friends. To have positive experiences. To hear encouraging words.
They just want to feel normal. To be seen and treated as ordinary. Unfortunately, others do not always see them that way. All they see is Teen with Issues. Yes, we readily admit that our adopted teens have “issues.” So do yours. It’s called sin. The only difference is that ours wear theirs on the outside.
So instead of a warm welcome and unconditional acceptance, our young people find, instead, scornful stares and rude comments. Palpable rejection, which for a vulnerable teen, feels like a fate worse than death.
And so we pray. We pray for the day when our church is filled with rainbow families who are red and yellow, black and white. Families of all different physical descriptions and abilities and backgrounds and behaviors and parenting styles.
We pray that when we share honestly from our hearts about the struggles we face and the difficulties of raising formerly-orphaned children, we will be supported and loved and encouraged and prayed for.
We pray for the day when no one even looks twice at us, because we are just an everyday, normal, average family. So what if we have a bunch of kids that don’t look or act like us? So does everyone else in this church!
We pray that some day, we will be just a few of the many, many others who foster, adopt, and care for at-risk-children. Who have answered God’s call to protect and care for orphans. Whose hearts so overflow with God’s love that it spills out onto everyone around them.
We pray that some day, within the walls of this very church, we will be ordinary.