What’s better than a Mad-Hatter Slumber Party with kittens? NOTHING.
Greg and I always assumed we’d raise our children in the church. He was raised in the church. I was inadvertently raised in the church (by the grace of neighbors who introduced me to Jesus, and by parents who allowed me to make my own decisions about God). We were naive to believe finding a church would be easy, but to be fair, we do live in the Midwest. We have more churches than gas stations…it SHOULD have been easy. Greg was raised Lutheran, and I was raised very, very Baptist (the wild, dancing, singing, clapping-Amen kind….not the fear the road to hell type; but before you think I’m being judge-y, I’ll let you know just by typing these words, my best friend is going to hit me over the head with a King James Bible. But then she’ll give me fried chicken, so it’s all good. However, our other lifelong bud just turned vegan, and this whole scene will cause her to meditate in a yoga-pose, so we’ll have to make her a salad. I’d like to say my Jewish friends have it all figured out, but most of them married non-practicing Catholics, and now my Atheist Dad is the President of the Board at the Unitarian Church. To each his own, and I see love everywhere.). After trying a few Lutheran churches, and not finding any reason to stand unprompted and scream “Amen” in the Pastor’s general direction, I realized I wasn’t Lutheran. It only took one Baptist church for Greg to realize he wasn’t Baptist. The first time I held up my hand and yelled an “Amen”, he looked at me like I was having a seizure.
And then we had Sara. I, unconsciously at first, grew mad at God. I wasn’t mad that God gave Sara to us; I was mad he refused to heal her. Countless nights I have begged for a miracle. Countless nights I’ve cried myself to sleep, asking for her path to at least be made more physically comfortable, even if she never masters math skills. I’ve begged for a window of health just wide enough to get in an Orthodontist appointment, or maybe skin clear long enough she could get her ears pierced. A month free of migraines? A month free of digestive problems? Or maybe just a week? I never prayed to win the lottery so we could cover all of her healthcare and education costs, but it wouldn’t be out-of-scope, considering the fortune we’ve spent on interventions.
3 years old, covered in paint, swearing she’ll grow up to be a “trumpet-playing doctor”.
It’s not that I imagined parenthood would be a breeze, but I thought I’d already carried my cross. My childhood was challenging, and rising above it took years of therapy and effort. When I married Greg, I was sure I was free to lay down my cross and live out my overly-simplified fairy tale plot: successful lady who rose above circumstance, meets handsome, strong man who buys her a castle and chariot…blah, blah, blah, horses and people who bring me fruit artistically arranged on platters, BLAH. Never in my worst dreams, did I imagine my own child would meet exceptionally large challenges at such a young age. ‘Scuse me, God? Yeah…hi. It’s me. Super rare Learning Disorders and Dermatological/Urinary Syndromes weren’t covered by Disney. Going to need an instructional manual when you get the chance…
When God took my Grandma home during Sara’s 5th month on earth, my heart began to harden, in a hardy-hard, hard-coated-hard kind of way. To ask me, I’d say I was still a believer, because OH YES, God was THERE, BUT HE WAS NOT LISTENING TO ME, that was for sure! And now Grandma couldn’t listen (and reply with hilarious responses about breast milk turning blue, and telling me Sara cried so much because she was car sick, even when she was in her crib), so where did that leave me? MAD.
“Carsick Sara”, semi-conscious on my Grandmother, who feared my “blue” breast milk was poisoning my baby. Not a day goes without the missing of her.
A long winter in my life began. I settled in, ready for the stand-off that was about to occur. Poor Greg. For all the begging and pulling, he could not get his formerly Jesus-loving wife to go to church. Every church he tried, I scoffed as WRONG. This one was too pretentious. That one was too casual. The music was too loud. The music was too boring. The sermons were too historical in nature (yep, I once told Greg a church was too rooted in HISTORY, as if Jesus’ birth doesn’t mark time as we know it). I wanted a Sunday School my girls swore they couldn’t live without, and a sermon so relatable to my day-to-day life that it made me want to throw confetti to the heavens by the end of each sermon. PLUS donuts. Any church worth its salt has donuts. Come on Greg! How hard is THIS to find? Greg tried to pull at the source, asking me if I was mad at God. Those questions were met with responses which even surprised me: I’m fairly certain my voice sounded Voldemort-like, as I yelled, “NO! I’m a Christian! I’m not ALLOWED to be mad at God!” Let’s not go there again, agreed?
But I was mad. I learned the importance of a good marriage and a college education the hard way; life lessons learned by watching my parents struggle, and even with the best of intentions, never finding happiness inside their family’s journey. I KNEW how to do it differently, and I DID. I lined up my own stars, thank you very much. Who was God to jumble up my plans with a Special Needs child, and then not hand me a miracle to save her from her story?
What? You didn’t know Ariel wore wings? It was edited out of the final version, but she did. Big ones.
But the best part about stories are that they keep going. Chapters don’t repeat, and characters evolve. If they don’t, it’s not a story, it’s a sitcom. Sitcoms aren’t real (we’ve covered this). Case-in-point: Carrie Bradshaw would NEVER leave Aiden for Mr. Big, and then finally marry Mr. Big, and THEN turn around years later and kiss Aiden in Abu Dhabi. This is not real life, much like Carrie Bradshaw’s shoe budget on a writer’s salary.
I’ve written before on my knowing that this particular winter of my life was ending. I knew it before we signed on the dotted line to buy this house. When we walked into the sunny builder’s office after the snowstorm on my birthday last year, I knew. When I turned the corner from the sitting room into the foyer in the model home, and looked back at my Mother-in-Law, she knew, and I knew. When we finally started building, and I walked into my kitchen when it was nothing but 2×4’s and rafters, I knew. Sara’s story was the same, but Spring was coming anyway.
Watch me Momma! I’m puking with the water frogs!
Greg gently mentioned through the building process that a church was conveniently located in our back yard. He knew many members. He’d heard good things. He started listening to the sermons on podcasts, and he was sure they’d speak to me. I love listening to the church bells throughout the day, and then Greg confirmed they served donuts. It didn’t take long for me to put on my favorite dress and announce to Greg I was ready. He thought I meant I was ready to go to church. I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up (especially my own), that I was ready to talk to God again.
The Pastor stood up that first Sunday, very funny and very real. I liked him immediately. The music wasn’t too long, or too loud. But my childhood minister looks and sounds like James Earl Jones, which leaves pretty big shoes to fill. Halfway through the sermon, the Pastor yelled out, “Can I have an AMEN on that?” CAN YOU?! WHY YES YOU CAN!! Turns out, my newest James Earl Jones is a red-headed Irishman named Jerry. Life is funny. You never know what’s coming next. I looked down at the bulletin, and the title read, “Let your roots grow down into him and let your lives be built on him.” -Colossians 2.7. Good one God. Write a verse about roots right after I planted new roots.
God is many things, but never subtle. I say this a lot, even when I’m mad at him.
Last Sunday as we sat in church, the snow was coming down in drifts, and through the large windows at the pulpit I could see the evergreen woods in my backyard filling with white. The Music Director stood up and started the congregation on a very rousing version of “I’ll Fly Away”, a song I sing alone in my car at least once a week. At the end, there was clapping and cheering. The Pastor asked for many an “Amen” that morning, and I knew, even in the midst of a cold, Indiana winter, my own winter had ended.
Dear God, I think I finally understand, even if just a tiny corner of the picture: I’ve given Sara love, a stable home, and the best education and healthcare we can afford. BUT, in order for her to find comfort, she needs something much larger. She needs Jesus. Don’t we all? He suffered so that she will not suffer alone. He will stay with her when I can’t. Do forgive me for the 9 years you waited for me to understand. Wisdom comes suddenly. Thank you for putting a beautiful, act-centered church in my back yard, with a spirited Pastor and a lobby full of donuts. How gorgeously not-subtle of you. Oh…and one more thing…
I’m not mad anymore.