May 10, 2015

Let the Little Children Come

But Jesus called the children to Him and said,
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
-       Luke 18:16

I almost didn’t come to church today.  If you had even an inkling of how difficult it is to get children with special needs out the door in the morning, you would understand my hesitancy to come.  However, my soul’s hunger for spiritual food, along with my thirst for fellowship and encouragement, or at least a little adult conversation, compels me to pull it together.  Timing the g-tube feeding so that it finishes before we need to leave.  Drawing up all the right doses of medication.  Getting spaghetti-like arms and legs into a dress shirt and pants, praying the whole time that he doesn’t choose this moment to vomit (pretty much a daily occurrence).  Making sure all of the emergency supplies and medical equipment are packed.  (Never again will I complain about packing “just” a diaper bag!)  Folding up the wheelchair and loading it into the car, making sure there are enough seats for the rest of the family.   Getting the other kids and myself dressed and fed.  By the time we are ready to leave, I have already worked up a sweat and feel like I have put in a full days’ work.

We arrive at the church with just moments to spare, but unfortunately, all of the handicapped parking spaces are taken. We end up parking at the outer edges of the lot near the soccer fields, and it takes a few minutes to get everyone unbuckled out of car seats, the wheelchair reassembled, and all of the bags unloaded.  And it takes another few minutes to walk through the parking lot, trying to avoid the other parishioners in their cars who are in just as much of a hurry as we are.  We can’t use the sidewalk, because we are unable to get the wheelchair up and over the curbs.  I’m already beginning to regret my decision to come. 

Perhaps, dear church, if you want to follow Jesus’ request to “let the little children come,” would you consider adding more handicapped parking spaces?  And installing ramps or accessible sidewalks?

We walk into the auditorium just as the music is starting, and I know already that it’s going to be a challenge to find enough seats together.  There, near the front, the usher finds some seats for us, although they are in the middle of the row.  He asks the people to please move towards the center so that we can sit at the end of the row with our child’s wheelchair – what should have been a simple request.  I can’t hear the conversation, but I can read their body language and see their heads shaking, and I know in an instant that they aren’t going to budge from “their” seats. 

Where is your compassion?  Your flexibility?  The reluctance of your members to accommodate us, dear church, is surely not doing anything to “let the little children come.” 

We leave the auditorium, and as I sit in the lobby with my family (again!), I wonder (again!) why I even bother to come.  Almost every week I end up frustrated, disappointed, and sometimes in tears.  It makes me grieve, not only for myself and my family, but for the other families of special needs children who surely have similar experiences. 

Do you not know, dear church, how desperately I need to be encouraged?  How starved I am for fellowship?  How exhausting my week has been, and how I just need an hour of rest for my weary spirit?  Please, please, don’t make me sit in the lobby every week.  Would you consider reserving a few rows in the back for families like ours?  At least that way we might make it through a song or two before needing to leave.  Please “let the little children (and their families) come!” 

“Put them in the nursery,” you say. “We have a great program that will take care of your children while you attend the worship service.”  Do you not understand that we have tried to do that many times before?  It just so happens that children who look different and act different tend to scare the volunteers.  The little ones who are not able to cry can get overlooked and even forgotten in the crib in the back room (true story!).  The ones with the anxiety or separation issues are traumatized by being left with strangers, and it could take days for them to relax again.   And then there are the other children who are coughing and have green snot running down their face, which could literally be fatal for an immuno-supressed child.  An hour of “rest” for me at church could literally mean weeks or months of medical treatments and hospital admissions for my child. 

So no, thank you, dear church, but putting them in the nursery is really not an option.  I promise to take them to the lobby if they get too disruptive.  (It would be even better if a friend offered to take them to the lobby.)  But could you please tolerate a hissing oxygen machine or a spastic child that is unable to be still?  Please “let the little children come” into the worship service with me!  

“Oh, but we have a special-needs ministry,” you say.  “Your children would fit in better there.  The volunteers there are trained and equipped to work with children like yours.”  Don’t you understand that I want to worship together with my family?  That this might be the only time during the entire week that we are able to sit still for a moment and focus on the goodness and blessings of the Lord? 

And besides, I want my friends and church family to see me and my children together.  I want them to be inspired to love someone who is different than they are.   A part of me even wants to make them slightly uncomfortable, so that they can be rescued from their complacency.  So that their hearts can be moved with compassion.  So that they can realize that different children aren't so scary after all.

When I ask you, dear church, to pray for us or for a particular issue with one of my children, I want you to be able to picture that child in your mind - a living, breathing, treasured child who is part of a loving family, not some nameless faceless child down the hall in a separate room.  Honestly?  I don’t know those children down the hall, and I have no idea of how to encourage or support their families.  Please “let the little children come.”  I want you to KNOW them.

When I look around the auditorium, I don’t want to see people who look perfect and seem to have no problems.  That’s just hypocrisy.  We all have a story, we all have something in our lives that causes us heartache and weariness.  We can all learn from one another and support one another on this journey.  When I look around the auditorium, I want to see real families - families with children similar to mine, as well as families who look completely different. Families that can be honest about our struggles and our challenges, so that we can encourage one another and pray for one another. 

Please, dear church, make it possible for us to come.  Don’t force us to navigate the dangerous parking lot or try to hear the sermon in the bustling lobby or send our kids to the inappropriate nursery or to the isolated, forgotten room down the hall.  We long to worship together.  We long to be a welcomed part of our church family.  If my family and I are going to survive another week on this journey, we are in critical need of your love and support and acceptance.  Please, dear church, “let the little children come.”

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  1. Belinda,
    What a heart breaking story!
    This is why we are to put into practice the whole counsel of God when we come together as a church and truly prefer one another and lift up one another and so foresake our Catholic roots which are saturated in will worship and false humility.

    Sadly, this will not change until equality is reestablished by the leadership of a church, when the body is gathered holding fast to the commands of Christ the true head, that we walk as he walked: who came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.

    "But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together." (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭12‬:‭18-26‬ ESV)

    I shall pray for your church and especially that you and your precious family will not have to suffer alone, but will soon be honored!

  2. Thank you for your comments, Jacki. It's not so much that I want to be recognized or honored in any way . . . I just want our children to be accepted and loved. Those are great verses about he body! We each have a different role to play, and we should be suffering and rejoicing together as a body. Great point!