Jumping Off the Communion Rail: Worshipping with my little one

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
Psalm 84:1-2
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Jumping off the Communion Rail
Or Finding Joy with Little Ones in Worship
 
My son Ezekiel, at the tender age of three was a bit of a challenge. A bit might be be short hand for “Lord have mercy on our house.” Zeke is one of the lights of my life. He is nothing less than a beautiful gift from God. And he brings a lot of pizazz and energy into our household. Please hear me as I say, I treasure him.
 
Zeke is diagnosed with high functioning autism spectrum. He has numerous sensory input concerns. In his early years he detested things touching his hands, sitting with his legs dangling, ingesting food in general, the sound of side conversations, and most of all- congregational singing.
 
Church was a struggle for him to say the least. That congregational singing got him every time. I recently read an article about quiet services for autistic children, with less singing and no instruments. This is the kind of thing that would have appealed to Zeke when he was small and may have made church a whole lot more bearable for us. This wasn’t our reality however, so when the organ started playing, Zeke would lay his entire body on the floor of the church aisle, or under a pew, or in the narthex to make it bearable. People at church were good about it, but I know it came off looking like a giant toddler fit, or lazy parenting, or at the very least, just plain weird.
 
I just wanted to worship. And more than that, I wanted Ezekiel to worship. I wanted so badly for him to find tiny sparks of joy in the service, in the Word, in His people surrounding us. Doesn’t every mother want that for her child? How was I going to convince him to follow this for His whole life, if each and every Sunday it was literal misery for his poor little soul. Granted, I was fully versed in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit does His work and this was not my responsibility, but a momma’s heart hurt for want of some sign, any sign that He was hearing Jesus in the midst of it all.
 
And then, it came.
 
One day, we walked up to take communion with my husband. I lined up the troops and we waited calmly for our turn. We reached the altar and kneeled as a family. We took the body and blood, the prayers over us, the blessings on their little heads. We stood up. My husband stepped back behind the rail, and I marched 10 feet out the side door.
 
There is one step down from the cancible before you get to the aisle to return to your seat. This Sunday, Zeke slowed down and stopped at the step. He turned back and looked at me, broke into a smile and jumped with all his might off that step, bursting in to the sweetest quiet little giggles the world has even known.
 
Zeke muscled through worship each Sunday, but when it came time for that step, each and every week, he jumped wholeheartedly off it. He giggled and walked on. I spoke words of praise to a Creator who gave my son a little worship joy through something as mundane as a step.
 
One day, Zeke bounded off the step and one of our elders in charge of communion asked me nicely, “Can you ask him to stop jumping off that step?”
 
He meant well, he really did. And I’m sure that each of you can see the problem. Loud preschooler, exuberantly jumping full force near the front of the church. I think to some it probably came off as deeply disrespectful, at the very least a little rude or inconsiderate. We’re a people of God, with all kind of ideas about what worship looks like and at some point we do need to be respectful of that.
 
But my answer in this instance was, “No.”
 
Later I explained, “This is what Zeke has. This is his worship joy. This is the moment he looks forward to every Sunday morning. I just can’t take that from him.”
 
A missionary friend of mine said it best, “Shouldn’t we all be jumping off the communion step anyway?” And she’s right. Body of Christ! Shed for me! Which part of worship wells up in you and gives you even the simplest joy? What’s your metaphoric step, that place where the Word meets your ears, the grace of the place fills your heart, and you know it’s safe to jump in with your whole self, unabashed.
 
Our sweet elder understood. It just took a simple conversation. I learn so much from our beautiful boy everyday.
 
Zeke’s five years old now. God has brought him so far. He no longer needs to lay on the floor to comfort himself in worship. Last week, he sang “Thank the Lord and Sing His praise” with the chorus of all those around him.
 

 

And he still jumps off that step and I will be the last one to stop him. 

A Call to Action: Grace and Mental Health

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I have to say it. I, for one, am so excited to see the open window for mental health in our culture and in our churches, recently. I see more and more posts on mental health care on the web, our church synod has a task force for domestic violence and abuse, there are conferences and committees to address support and care in many denominations.

This, my friends, is a long time in coming. Two years ago, at a conference, I heard a speaker call mental health the “mission field of the 21st Century” and I could not agree more. It is time. The silence has lasted long enough. The darkness of despair and anxiety and struggle has been overcome by the blood of the Lamb. He waits with healing and grace. We can be that voice of grace for those around us.

But how does that work? What does grace look like when it’s living and active and poured out, particularly in the realm of mental health? Here are some suggestions for churches, church workers, and any one of us ready to answer the call to Grace for the hurting.

John 1:16 tells us that we have all received grace upon grace.

Praise be to God that we can let that grace roll out onto all of those around us!

Find out more

It’s easy to assume that we know. We’ve read a few blog articles about depression, so we “get” mental health. But the needs in mental health are so much broader and wider. Here is just a tiny list of struggles that can be addressed in grace:

anxiety (an estimated 10-18% of the population identifies a diagnosable struggle with anxiety, myself included!)

depression – including seasonal, major depressive episodes, and postpartum

Autism Spectrum and other sensory processing

learning disabilities

sexual abuse and assault

domestic violence

trauma of all sorts

Bipolar

Schizophrenia

addictions

eating disorders

This list is not meant to be exclusive. I could go on and on. What struggle knocks on the door of your heart? Find out more, ask questions, use appropriate terminology and language. Educate others on the issue and just be mindful that these are not random and rare issues in people’s lives. They are much more common than we think, for those inside the Church, as well as those disconnected from the Church.

Grace – reaching out by learning and growing.

Offer community

Mental health can be one of the loneliest places on earth. Whether the stigma is real or imagined or both, it’s not something we talk about in our culture and our churches. Burst open the door! Make your church, your home, your small group a place where it is talked about, prayed for, and actively reaching out. We, as a church, have the amazing opportunity to be a family to those who feel lonely, distressed, and even tormented. It is time to bury the idea that we are unsafe around people with diagnoses. Those with severe and persistent diagnoses need us even more! Research shows that community and social support is one of the largest indicators of success in mental health treatment. People take needed medicines when they have loving friends who check in on them and ask hard questions. People can break the chains of addiction when there are people who do not give up on them.

Grace – offering community, even when it’s hard.

Speak Forgiveness and Life and God’s constant pursuit of us

Psalm 103:4 – “who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy…”

Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Luke 19:10 – “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Jesus forgives anything we have done or left undone. So many people need to hear these words from the mouth of a living and breathing person. They need to know that God does not give up on them, that He pursues and pursues. That He runs down the road with His robes flying about, waiting to embrace us. Many people that struggle with mental health wonder about their worthiness. It is easy for even anxiety to ostracize people from the love God is trying to pour into them. Individuals often feel afraid to admit that they are afraid when well meaning people cite Scripture that tells us not to be afraid! Share verses that share Who God is, rather than what people should do.

Grace – for the weary soul.

Love, Love, and More Love

Some people are hard to love. Some people are worried that they are hard to love. Some people have a hard time loving. We can let God fill us with His love and then we can share it, even when it gets hard. What does love look like? Sometimes it looks like pouring out affection and time and energy, and sometimes it looks like hard boundaries spoken firmly, but kindly.

Grace – speaking the Truth in love.

Be Faithful

Loyalty is hard when relationships so often disappoint us. People will never be perfect, they will never love perfect or talk perfect or follow through perfect. We have the same Grace that we get to offer others. Often times, people want to give up, both those struggling with mental health issues and those supporting them. Families of those with mental health struggles perhaps need the most support and encouragement. We can love by being true to our promises and not giving up. We can give grace by being someone’s personal encourager and sounding board and safe place. When the going gets tough, the tough pour on more Grace. 

What an awesome season the Lord has before us! We as a church stand in the midst of a perfect time to be real and in tune with the needs of those around us.

Bring on the Grace church! Bring on the Grace.

 

Childhood nightmares, adult solutions

So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
John 20:3-4
 
When I was a little girl I had a lot of bad dreams. A lot of bad dreams. It seemed like anything could lead to a nightmare – someone talking about ghost stories, a scary movie preview on primetime television, or a bully’s threat at school.
 
In most of my nightmares, I was running. Running from something, trying to get somewhere, out of breath, exhausted, tripping over branches and divots of grass and hidden treachery. As I laid in my bed, the branches scrapping the window signaled someone trying to get me, I came up with infinite excuses for drinks of water and extra hugs, mostly I imagined what would come for me in my dreams that night.
 
I’m sure there is a psychological explanation for all of this, but honestly I’m not sure I care to know. I came from a stable and loving family. I didn’t experience any form of abuse. The real curse was my extremely overactive imagination.
 
What I do know is that I hated to run for years. I saw it as a punishment inflicted to my body and soul. At recess my best friend and I would sit on swings and hash over our current favorite book reads and imagine what we would do when we were grown up – anything from European princesses, to journalists, to doctors curing disease. Watching everyone one else on the playground run around us.
 
Running the mile in gym class…pure torture. “Why would anyone ask this of awkward adolescents?” I complained. I circled around that track four times and consistently came in at my 12 minute marker. Gag. It was anxiety producing and embarrassing.
 
At 14, I decided to face my running “fear” head on. I joined track and ran the 400 for about 3 weeks. By the end of which I embraced my new general life rule of – Why spend time doing something you hate so much?
 
And so I didn’t. I quit, but unbeknownst to me I began simultaneously running in another way, looking and searching. I ran to everything else, instead of what I really needed to be running to… that empty tomb, that risen Savior. I ran to be the best academically. I ran to boys that I thought might love me. I ran to adventures and folly and anything that hinted of excitement.
 
So, this Easter, sitting in the pew listening to my husband speak the Word, these verses jumped out to me.
 
Both of them were running together…”
The other disciple outran Peter…”
 
Instantly in my head I could see myself in those disciples running toward something that mattered. I realized that God’s grace was in the running. That with Christ, I was no longer running from something, but I was invited to run towards something.
 
I remember one glorious spring day in college, my husband-to-be flippantly asked me to go for a run with him. We weren’t dating, I’m not even sure at that point I was interested in him. God reveals all that good stuff in His time. But I was shocked to hear my own tongue say, “Sure. Meet you in 15 minutes in the Triangle.”
 
 
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Looking back, Dave was safe. His gracious spirit and tongue that constantly dripped words of encouragement, spoke grace in my life in a way that was new and fresh and sent me running to find an empty tomb, a unneeded burial cloth, a new day.
 
Who has been that person in your life? Who has spoken Jesus afresh to you in this season of your life?
 
Can you walk to the tomb? Of course. No need to take up running as a hobby to cement your relationship with Christ. That’s not the point of this message. The point is, for me running was fear. Running was anxiety. And Jesus offered me gifts beyond what I could even see, which He revealed this Easter day, March 2016. I was made to run to Him, no matter the darkness or the daylight, the sorrow or the unexpected sweetness.
 
Jesus’s Word, His empty tomb always offers healing, sometimes in very specific ways. Where are you in need of healing? What anxieties surround you? Run them to Him. Run, run, run. Let His grace seep in to every little place. And then rest in His presence. Assured of His marvelous mercy.