Giff and I were members of a large nondenominational church here in Omaha when Andrew was born. Even as an infant Andrew did not do so well in the nursery. He cried most of the time, and eventually the nursery workers either had to put our “call” number on the screens or come find us in the crowd. Giff and I would have friendly bets with some of the other parents when we saw the nursery workers coming, “Who do you think she’s trying to find?” Nine times out of 10, she would be coming for us, and we’d win the bet. We would have to leave our service to go get Andrew out of the nursery because he was crying inconsolably. It got to the point where we weren’t even able to attend our own service because we’d usually have to get Andrew out of his.
When Andrew was finally able to stay in the nursery/children’s church for any length of time, we were thrilled. That lasted for a whole six months or so. Along with not meeting his developmental milestones, Andrew was starting to exhibit some aggressive behavior. Obviously, this was not acceptable in his Sunday school classroom. So, again, we were spending more time in the fellowship hall eating donuts than we were in our church service. (Although my husband and I joked about that being our weekly “date,” I would not recommend it. Donuts do not allow you to lose weight very easily! J)
At one time, the Children’s Ministry Director called us and asked that Andrew not return to Sunday school. He also mentioned that maybe Andrew shouldn’t participate in AWANA either because he wouldn’t be able to recite memory verses like the other kids and he wouldn’t get anything out of class. AWANA is a children’s mid-week service that teaches children to memorize Scripture. The AWANA teachers reward kids the more the can recite. Somewhere along the way, people assumed because Andrew was non-verbal that he couldn’t hear or understand what was being taught.
That’s when Carol came along! Carol, who started an informal ministry to special needs children and their families, took Andrew under her wing. She decided to “shadow” him one-on-one in the classroom so he could enjoy being with other children his age and learn about the faith that we as a family shared. She redirected him when necessary and helped him remain calm when he would get agitated. Carol also knows some sign language and was able to help Andrew learn his Bible verses by doing some basic signs.
This was a huge blessing to us. I had a difficult time coming to terms that my 3-year-old son was basically kicked out of church. I knew Andrew had some behavioral issues, but I didn’t expect our church family to ostracize us and to ask Andrew to leave without seeking to understand or offering to help us in some way. Carol came at just the right time!
We have since left that church—not in any way related to Andrew’s special needs. We now attend a smaller church. Carol does not attend the same church; however, we have been welcomed into the church family there. Andrew still has some behavioral issues, but he has matured enough that he can sit with us in the main service. He loves to worship! And even though he’s a little off key and a little loud, we let him worship in his way. He is accepted there! He doesn’t have to conform to some religious standard. I believe Jesus is pleased with his worship.
Do you attend church/temple? What has been your experience? Do you have someone who walks this journey with you? How has it affected your faith?