Saturday evening reminded me that I have something very precious at Bethlehem, and I want more people to have it as well. One of the many blessings is that I am not remotely tempted to stay away from church when things don’t go well because of Paul’s disabilities.
I decided our family should attend the North Campus on Saturday evening as Dianne was out of town for a wedding. The North Campus is accessible, parking is easier, we know lots of people, and Paul has even been known to make it through an entire service there. I like it when Paul can be with the family during the regular worship service, and summer is a good time to see how things go.
Such was not the case on Saturday. Paul was in full voice early. I think we made it through three minutes in the sanctuary before I knew he would be vocalizing happily and loudly through the whole service. I could see the body language of people around us as he talked.
So we shifted to the restless child room. Let me be clear, nobody was unkind, nobody shot a look my way. I was the one who was uncomfortable staying.
Paul continued his happy noises in the restless child room. At one point we even got a version of ‘let it snow.’ I don’t know if that was Paul editorializing about the air conditioning.
Since this is our life, I tuned Paul’s noises out (for the most part) and tuned in to Pastor Kenny. After almost 15 years, sometimes we just have to tune out the vocalizing to get anything done.
I loved Pastor Kenny’s sermon on prayer – it was very helpful!
But when he started wrapping up, I looked down and saw a very little girl staring at Paul because of his noises and realized her mom had been distracted the whole service. This little one was quite interested in Paul, so was no longer restless. “Well,” I thought, embarrassed at my lack of attention to this young mom’s inability to enjoy worship, “it’s time to go,” and I hauled my crew out.
So, I felt embarrassed a couple of times. But I love my church and know I’m welcome with my family. I like the fact that Paul is known by many, and loved by lots of those who know him. I’m glad to know the North Campus has a restless child room, and nobody thinks twice about my using it with my kids. Time with this people of God has resulted in many benefits, including chalking up another interrupted service with Paul as just that – just one service of many more I hope the Lord grants to me and my family.
But such is not the case for every family with a child like mine. Some churches are not as welcoming or persevering. Families get trained that if their child cannot fit a particular mold, that child isn’t welcome. One bad experience at a church and they are gone, long before all the benefits of long-term attendance begin to accrue.
So how do we do two things: 1) let families know that there are biblical churches like Bethlehem that are imperfect, make huge mistakes, and deeply want to love and welcome that child just as Christ loves the church; and 2) encourage those families to hang in there with those same churches through all the ups and downs of disability, until the benefits and blessings start to become more apparent?