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The Divine Waggle

The author’s son having chosen a front row seat for the Lord’s Supper.

At 20 months and 2 days old, my son extended his hand towards his sister, and waggled his fingers back and forth. It was his first ever unprompted wave. As all three of us stood there in the haphazard transition between car and door of childcare, I whooped and clapped and started an awkward mom-version of the running man, complete with child in arms. My son was confused and my daughter even more so, at this unusual burst of awkward energy so early in the morning. But this was a touchdown for him, for me. It was a WAGGLE deserving of end zone celebration.

There is a mantra in the world of kids with Down syndrome that I have come to learn in the last two years: ‘Celebrate, Don’t Compare.’ Children with Down syndrome are late developers, hence the usage of the word ‘retarded.’ The milestone calendars so carefully laid out in baby books and emailed to your inbox are of no use to a family with a child with Trisomy 21. Those are more of a GPS—which will lay out when you will arrive at the place you desire to be. Families with Down syndrome are given only a wide open paper map. There are places to go, but arrival time is entirely independent of your carefully laid plans.

The crunchier among us might see this as a good thing—‘Hey, my kid will get there when he gets there,’ laissez-faire approach to parenting. I was similar with my daughter. But for a parent who is constantly asked how old her child is when they exhibit no signs of development appropriate to their age, a lack of a timeline is disheartening. Laissez-faire is a beautiful, intentional, approach. When involuntarily taken out of one’s hands, laissez-faire or no, the waiting, as Daniel Tiger might say, is hard.

Hence the mantra. It was gently given to us by the first of our neonatologists. It was quietly repeated by our four therapists. Seasoned parents of children with DS lived it out in front of us again and again. Celebrate, don’t compare. Have joy in what is happening, rather than lining the present up with your neighbor’s children or your own former expectations.

As a follower of Jesus, a priest and generally sunny kind of lady, I wanted to love the mantra. Read more

En pointe ballet shoes

Raising the Barre: Faith Lessons from the Ballet Studio

En pointe ballet shoes“Alright everyone, let’s face the mirror and stand in first position, arms en bas. Give me a demi port de bras, then pause with the arms in second position.”

The adults – mostly women in their 20s and 30s – organize themselves into some semblance of a line as they follow my directions and arrange their body positions accordingly. If you have never taken a ballet class before, watching dancers respond to ballet lingo like this might seem pretty impressive. How do they know what that all means and what to do? you may wonder. I’ve heard from many of my students that signing up for a ballet class took courage because of how intimidating they thought it would be.

And indeed, ballet isn’t easy. Beyond the “lingo” that one must learn (and it quite literally is like learning another language, since all the ballet terminology is in French), the physical movement is a challenge. The turnout, posture, strength, and grace that ballet requires are all very foreign to the range of normal human movement. In teaching how to do an arabesque, for example, I find myself giving several simultaneous and sometimes contradictory instructions: Shoulders down. Shoulders back. Extend the arm. Don’t reach with the arm. Lift the chest. Straighten the leg. Point the foot. Lift the chin. Don’t stick the chin out. Indeed, ballet might be beautiful, but it isn’t easy. Read more

Walter’s Cigarettes

When I was a teenager, I promised myself that I would never buy cigarettes. A few of my friends smoked, and occasionally someone would offer me a cigarette and I would accept. Fearful of addiction, I came up with what I thought was a fool-proof strategy: if I never bought cigarettes, I could only ever smoke when I was bumming cigarettes, and since I couldn’t return the favor, politeness would prevent me from smoking too often. Ten years later, I walked into a corner store sporting a clerical collar and a small baby bump and, for the very first time, bought a pack of Newports.

My beloved congregant Walter was diagnosed with cancer in 2013. An African-American man who worked as a diversity trainer (among other things), he connected easily with people from all kinds of backgrounds, and constantly, lovingly encouraged the congregation to be a model of a community overcoming racism, classism, ageism, and more. He laughed and cried unreservedly. He spoke at length about “Ubuntu” theology, the African theology that emphasizes interconnectedness. As the president of our church’s board, he led the committee that interviewed me and called me as the associate pastor; when I told him with some trepidation, only a few months later, that I was expecting a baby and would need to take maternity leave, he rejoiced. Shortly after my baby Abel was born, we got word that what Walter had thought was a dental issue was in fact a bone tumor forming in his jaw. His diagnosis took us all by surprise – a vibrant man in his early 60s whose father still lived independently, we had all assumed we would have him with us for decades to come, even if we did nag him to quit smoking. They gave him six months to live.

Months passed, and Walter responded positively to treatment, but the doctors were clear that there was no cure for this kind of cancer, only temporary reprieve. When we baptized Abel, I asked Walter to be his godfather, knowing that Abel would probably never remember Walter. Read more

The Marital Politics of Communion and A Letter to Our Son

My husband grew up Catholic.  He still tells his mother he claims dual-citizenship as Catholic and Lutheran.  As part of our decision to get married, we made a decision that we value worshipping together as a family.  My husband joyfully joined the Lutheran church, with the full support of his parents.  However, the things we grew up with have a way of affecting us as adults, even if we think we’ve made a conscious decision.  This has become clear to us as we try to make decisions about our toddler son David’s faith life.  Our denominational policy on communion is that you can have communion as soon as you’re baptized, normally when you can have solid food, but local custom varies widely.

medium_169252325On Sunday mornings, as my husband would bring our son up the aisle for communion, he would smile and happily kick his legs.  Maybe because he saw his Mom, and maybe because he wanted bread.  Then he would look sad when he did not get held by Mom OR get bread.  Around 13 months he stopped coming to the table with that joy he once had, and it broke my heart.  So, we started a discussion in our home about giving David communion.

It was complicated.  At one point, my husband threw up his hands, and loudly said, “Only when you are married to a pastor does when to give your child communion become a martial conflict!”  Since he grew up Catholic, he never imagined he could be married to a pastor.  Most days this gives him joy, but not all days.  After talking and praying, we finally agreed to give our son communion on All Saint’s Sunday.  David is named partly for my father who passed away, but gave me a good foundation of faith before his death.  We thought this might be a meaningful way to honor his role in the faith of our family.

Below is the letter I composed to my son on the day of his first communion.  It lays out some of the reasons we made the decision that we made.  Most children in our congregation take communion already, so we periodically offer “New to Communion” class with graduation on Maundy Thursday.

 

All Saints Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dear David,

Today you had your first communion.  Tomorrow you will turn 14 months old.  You’ve been stealing bread from Daddy for awhile, but today you got your own during communion.  (Sometimes, before, you got your own after.)  I know you are young, but here is what I want you to know:

  1.  You can always come to Jesus with a huge smile kicking your legs excitedly.  You come to mommy at communion this way now.
  2. Jesus is a good place to go when you are hungry.  Remember that when you know communion is more then a snack.
  3. Jesus is a great place to have a break or to change what you’re doing.  You love getting out the pew with Daddy and coming up front.
  4. Jesus can fill you up with good and yummy things.  In our current church, we use real bread at communion.
  5. Jesus loves and cares for your whole being, including your body and stomach.

These are things you can know about Jesus and communion now.  You will know more later, and will always be on a journey of learning more about Jesus and your faith and the amazing promises of forgiveness and new life we have in Jesus.  It is okay that you don’t understand everything now – none of us understand everything.

Mommy’s heart soared today when I gave you the bread and said “Body of Christ, Given for You”.  Your eyes lit up and you were so excited.  I hope you will, most of the time, always be this excited to experience Jesus.

I love you so very much my son, and God loves you even more.  You are a blessed and loved Child of God for always.  Jesus came for everyone, including you.  I love you with all my heart and pray that you will be strengthened though the gifts of Christ’s body and blood now and always.

Love,

Pastor Mommy (Daddy has you call me this sometimes.)

P.S.  We decided on All Saints Day in honor of your Grandpa David who is with God now, but is watching and encouraging your faith journey from there.

 

 

i  Paraphrase of: The Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament, Adopted for guidance and practice by the Fifth Biennial Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, August 19, 1997.  Accessed PDF Feburary 18, 2013 from http://www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Worship/Learning-Center/The-Use-of-the-Means-of-Grace.aspx, pp.  39-41