The morning had been going so well. It was a Sunday morning and we had to be at church early for rehearsal since I was on praise team. Everyone was getting ready to leave without much difficulty, except for my poor husband. The dog had been let out for a minute, but it was raining. He came inside when Kyle called him, and then promptly shook his whole body. Kyle’s pants were now splattered in mud, so it took an extra two minutes getting out the door since he had to change. Other than that though, it was a good start to the morning. There were no arguments, no meltdowns, no words between brothers. Sunday school seemed to go well too. I base that mostly on the fact that I was not summoned out of my class to go handle anything, but Sam’s teacher did say he did a good job too. I was so hopeful.
Church began and during the worship songs, I could see Sam singing with gusto from my place on the stage. I don’t believe he’s trying to be silly when he sings and moves his hands around the way he does, though it sometimes looks like it. He sings in kind of an opera-mocking way, with clenched fists held tightly to his body as he bounces from foot to foot, with over-dramatic expressions on his face. I actually think he’s very happy during those moments, and his happiness just looks different than everyone else. Frankly, I’d rather him do that than sit in the pew, refusing to put down the iPad or stop drawing on paper. So I smile as I sing, praising God for the smile on Sam’s face and the songs coming from his mouth.
“Maybe this week will be better,” I thought to myself.
Last week proved to be a difficult day in church. The boys were sitting a bit too far away from me and I motioned for them to move closer to me. Benjamin, my 10 year old and oldest son, quickly moved over next to me. Sam followed on the other side, but as we were standing and singing, he had his arms wrapped around Ben from the back and was jumping on him. I leaned over and quietly, yet audibly, told him to stop and move to be in between me and Ben. The song stopped and everyone was asked to be seated. I pointed next to me and whispered to him to move. He loudly refused, jerking his body away from me and nearly falling on the floor. It was one of those moments where I had to make a decision. Was this a hill to die on? Was this a battle worth fighting? But he was being too disruptive, too unwilling to obey, that I had no choice but to take him out of the sanctuary to calm him down. Once I said we were now going to go out and talk, he got louder and refused to move. I just didn’t feel like I could simply let it go at that point, so I picked up his 50lb body, cradling him in my arms, and walked down the side aisle to the back and out the door as he yelled and kicked against the wall. In a church of about 100 members, there is no possibility of being subtle, or getting lost in the crowd.
Every eye saw, and every ear heard us. There was no escaping being noticed.
That was last week, when we had already had a couple, ahem, shall we say issues before church even started. Surely this week would be different… Right?!
Trouble began no sooner than I took my seat after singing, just before the sermon started. My youngest son wanted a turn on the iPad, and a quick note to Sam from me to inform him of the iPad changing hands was actually received better than I anticipated. He willingly passed it to his brother, and then pulled out his brand new deck of cards he bought at the store the day before. Big brother Ben has been getting into magic tricks with cards, so of course, Sam wants to do it too. I didn’t know he had his cards in his pocket, so it was another lightning fast decision to make on the spot. Our rule is that toys are not allowed in church. Drawing on paper or on the iPad is acceptable, but not playing with toys. In a whispered conversation, he told me he was going to practice his cards on the pew. Saying no, he can’t play with cards in church, I thought he might react like he does with so many other things: sighing a little too loudly, but following directions anyway. But I wasn’t that lucky. Instead, as the preacher began his sermon, Sam spoke in a normal, frustrated-almost-crying voice, responding to my statement that playing cards is not appropriate by saying, “Why is it not appropriate? It’s not gross!” I was willing to try to quiet him down if he did it quickly and let him put the cards away without further incident, but my hand was forced again. As he held the cards, trying to put them back into the box, they fell all over the floor. And just like that, the streak we were on broke. He broke into tears. Without hesitation, I swooped him up in my arms and climbed over some of our teens at the end of the row (and one father who moved into the aisle to let us pass) and struggled down the side aisle toward the back. Again.
He was still talking too loudly and would not quiet down in the small sanctuary foyer, so I took him to the basement where a local preschool uses our space. There, I endured a battle of wills that I haven’t encountered in a long while. As he sat in a time-out in order to calm down and spend time not talking, I walked around the large room as I silently had a hissy fit. This was not what I wanted today. Not what I wanted right now. Not what I needed. I was alone, fighting a battle in the church basement while my family upstairs was worshiping and hearing the Word of God preached. Without me. Without us.
My mind wandered to countless families of children with special needs. I thought of the audience of this website. I thought of the special needs Facebook groups I’m in, and the stories I have heard from the people in them about not getting to go to church at all because of the severity of their child’s needs, or worse, the attitude of the churches they attend towards their child and family. As I dealt with the challenges of autism in Samuel, all the while hearing a muffled voice proclaim the Gospel above my head, I remembered that I was not alone. It felt like we were the only ones struggling. No one else at church had to carry their 8 year old child out of church for any reason other than… no, for any reason period. There may have only been two of us in the basement, but I know there were many more of the same scene being played out in churches all across the country.
I remembered something else too. Even though I wasn’t able to hear the sermon for the first 15 minutes, I knew what the theme was. It was the last sermon in the book of Ezekiel, and the over-arching theme was this: The Lord is there. As comforting as it was to me that in the broader picture, we are not the only family fighting this fight on a weekly basis, we were also not alone because the Lord was there with us. He was there strengthening me to address his needs to the best of my ability. He was there quieting the soul of my son, calming his body and his voice until he was able to go back into the service with me without another meltdown. He was there, ministering to my hurting momma’s heart over having to go through this in the first place, separated from worshiping together with my husband and church family.
Dear parent, you are NOT ALONE. You might find yourself in a closed classroom, bathroom stall, or empty basement with your struggling child while everyone else sits in the church pews or chairs without you. You might find yourself at home, watching a TV preacher or listening to a podcast because it’s just too hard to fight for whatever reason. If, in the midst of your surroundings, you find yourself feeling like you are the only one and you are alone in your struggle, remember me. Remember the community found here. Remember our faces and our stories. But most of all, remember Jehovah Shammah.
The Lord is there.
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