Every year during the Advent season, Bethlehem Baptist Church invites the children entering fourth grade to participate in carrying an advent candle to the front of the sanctuary. It is taken very seriously by Bethlehem.
And Bethlehem welcomes the children with disabilities to participate!
This year, Michael Lacher, son to Mark and Jan Lacher, entered the fourth grade. Michael lives with debilitating seizures. God has been merciful to his family, wrapping them in the truth of his sovereignty over all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
After a season of prayer, Mark and Jan asked if Michael could participate in the ceremony, and the church threw its arms wide open to figure out how to do it!
What follows is a report from his mother, used with permission. There are miracles from God throughout this accounting, so take your time in reading. You will be blessed.
Hi Mary and John,
Thanks so very much for praying for Michael. After sleeping much of Saturday, he awoke on Sunday morning at 6 a.m. belly-laughing and ready to go. As you know, I kept him home on Friday from school with what seemed to be some vague illness. I had concerns all day on Saturday whether he would be able to go to church on Sunday. I decided to give his medications on Saturday night about an hour and half later so as to delay the Sunday morning meds until after lighting of the candle. (Much thought went into how to do this.) I decided to delay med administration as he is sharper and more alert when he does not take meds. They make him drowsy and sometimes irritable right after receiving them. I was encouraged and relieved when Michael looked bright when he awoke on Sunday morning.
We hustled on Sunday morning. It was a little more chaotic with the snow fall (we clean our 86-yr old neighbor’s driveway and our single lady neighbor’s driveway) and also with having a house-full of family staying with us from out-of-town. There was much dashing in our household to get to church extra early.
We arrived at church feeling half dressed, but we were ready for the practice run for the lighting of the candle. Jon and Mandy’s daughter, Elena, and Michael were to do it together. Jon is the Sr. High pastor at the north site. Pastor Jon had told me that his daughter was excited to be doing it with Michael. He relayed to me earlier that week that they couldn’t imagine a more perfect way of having their daughter doing the candle than doing it with Michael. They were thrilled. I was grateful to hear that.
In the practice, we decided to put Michael on the left side as he has a right-sided field-cut with his vision. He would be less apt to reach over and grab the candle with this positioning. As we did a trial run, we noticed that we had to navigate the corner at the end of the center aisle and do a right hand turn. It was communion Sunday with all of the “bread and wine” trays within arm’s reach of Michael.
I could see a potential disaster if we allowed him to get too close. Michael can be like an alligator. He can be quiet and subdued. And when you least expect it, whack! Stuff goes flying. So we talked to facilities manager, Brad, and asked him if we could pull out the outer two chairs that bordered the corner. He heartily agreed. We tried it again, and it was great having the extra room.
After the practice runs, we hastily got the gown on Michael (no small feat), and Jon and Mandy’s daughter showed us where the V-piece buttoned, etc. Her mom, Mandy, encouraged us and said, “What will happen, will happen.” We appreciated her input and her daughter’s assistance in getting the gown “just right.” Michael seemed to know something was up and different as he so often does. I brought a bib and fastened it tightly around his neck so as to keep “everything” as fresh and clean as possible.
Michael looked sharp. The hair was slicked back–Elvis style. A new, crisp, starched-white shirt peeked out under and above the gown. (I bleached the old white shirt twice, and it looked way too dingy to use for such a special occasion.) A new power-red tie under the neck pointed toward his chocolate eyes. He had his “banker’s” blue-pin striped pants on with his braided black belt. I put his tightest black slippers on his feet in hopes that he would not easily fling them off and slam dunk them in the front of the church. In the practice run, Christina (Michael’s sister), in her burgundy, formal dress gracefully and slowly pushed the wheelchair forward. She was very comfortable doing it. After all, she is a pro at handling the wheelchair and Michael.
The service started. We were all sitting in the back waiting for the moment. I was trying to concentrate on the service. Then, I looked at Michael, and for a brief second, I envisioned him to be able-bodied wearing the gown. I started to cry. Ruth, the Family Discipleship staff that manages the kids and assists with this activity, dashed and got me some tissues. Sniff. Dab.
I gained control and then was somewhat alarmed when I saw Michael having seizures. The seizures were growing in intensity–on the verge of a huge tonic. I prayed a hasty prayer imploring the Lord to calm the lightning storm in his brain. The seizures stopped. Whew. I exhaled a sigh of relief.
Michael started to bounce his normal self. The passage from Isaiah was being read. We were next. The time seemed to speed by. The passage reading was done. We had to quickly get into place. The lights were dimmed. I did one quick wipe of Michael’s face and yanked off the bib. He was ready.
The piano music flowed through the air. The children started forward. Elena looked so stately as she measured her steps forward and carefully held the candle. Michael seemed joyous. He seemed to know and sense that this was a special moment. He looked around smiling, arms up and moving, he rocked in his chair. He made sounds so as to say “God is so very good.”
I stood in the back and watched them ease their way forward. I was tense, barely breathing, and yet, was so proud of them all. Buttons were popping. They got to the end of the center aisle and turned the corner. I relaxed a little as they passed the communion trays without incident. They angle their walk to the area of the candles. Christina paused with Michael. Elena carefully climbed the steps and gently placed the candle on its perch. She turned and gracefully came back down the stairs and joined Michael and Christina. The three of them made their way to the far aisle to make their exit. Jim, the usher next to us, leaned forward and whispered to Mark that Michael did great. Mark shed a tear or two. I was told that others were dabbing their eyes and were touched by this part of the service.
I came away from it very grateful to have Michael be part of the worship service. He can do so very little, so to have him participate in such a wonderful way is a Christmas gift in itself.
Someday, Michael will not be in a wheelchair, but instead will be able to walk by himself before the King and will in a full presence of mind be able to worship Him fully. We do not look to what Michael can do here in this life, but instead look to the One who can do exceedingly more than we can possible think to ask. Jesus is our hope. To Him be the glory. Amen.