Getting Luke back to church after doing church from home for a year was not an easy feat. At first, he wanted nothing to do with it at all and one of us stayed home and watched church with him. When we finally got him through the doors, he absolutely refused to go any further than the coat closet.
Now, when I say he refused, I don’t mean he refused in a defiant, rebellious short of way. I mean, he refused in a shaking, clammy-palmed, scared-to-death sort of way – the sort of way that any decent parent would not force a child to push through. And so we sat in the closet. Sunday after Sunday, we sat in the closet and listened from the foyer speaker. We sang the hymns (ok, maybe it was mostly me singing, but he did join in once in a while) in the closet and joined in prayer from the closet. We practiced greeting strangers and friends passing by from the closet.
After months of worshipping in our private closet ward, I decided it was time for the next baby step – back row of the chapel. The day I decided to try this brave step forward, we happened to have a package of Oreos that Luke found in the car on the way to church. “SWEET!” I thought; I’ll let him bring a couple in with him to help distract him from the move to the chapel.
We arrived early to ensure we could get seats on the coveted back row. As we entered, however, it was quickly evident that Luke was not thrilled with Mom’s idea – Oreos or not – but I urged him to try for a few minutes then we could retreat to the comfort of the closet. He did try. He tucked his head between his knees and quieted, but started shaking. I cuddled over him, trying to shield him from the sensory overload of the pre-church bustle. We made it through the opening song and prayer, but Luke was becoming more and more agitated, so I decided he had been pushed hard enough. It was time to leave.
“Luke, do you want to go out to the closet?” I whispered to minimize our disturbance to the congregation.
“Yes, yes.” He responded with his trademark high-pitched whine.
As we stood to make our inconspicuous exit, black, sticky crumbs poured to the floor. I looked down and realized that the Oreos had indeed helped him, not as a snack, but as a fidget of some sort. As he sat tucked down, he was writhing his hands together, mushing the white sticky cream into the pulverized black crumbs. His white shirt and black pants were covered, my skirt was smeared, his hands were still caked, although he had released their contents onto the floor. I just stood in shock over the huge mess for a moment before gaining the presence of mind to start scooping the mess out of the chapel carpet. There I knelt in front of the pew with two hands-full of crumbs and a boy on the verge of meltdown.
It was in this worried, embarrassed, crumby state that I heard the blessed words, “Can I help you?”
I looked up to see the kind face of Brother S. and uttered the first words that came to my mind, “I don’t even have any pockets.”
“Well I do,” He responded as he reached both of his hands out to me.
I filled his large, tender hands with my offering of Oreo mush and escaped to the bathroom with Luke close behind.
I don’t know how the rest of that mushy mess got cleaned up that day. I suspect neighboring members of the congregation probably helped. That’s the thing about church, no matter how messed up we are, the people around us always step up to make it better.
After that Sunday, we started bringing Bahr, Luke’s favorite, but very large, stuffed bear, with us to sacrament as a less messy alternative to Oreos. Luke did great with Bahr by his side for many weeks until one Sunday, in our rush to get to church, we forgot to grab Bahr. Luke still sat in our back-row seat, but he was making noises (verbal stimming) and seemed more agitated than usual. As she noticed this, the sweet sister next to me walked out for a few minutes and returned from her car with a white stuffed polar bear. She offered it to Luke, and he happily accepted. Tears of gratitude for such in-tune folks filled my eyes. It is truly humbling to receive such love.
Amid this kindness and generosity, Luke has slowly adjusted back to our routine of weekly attendance and he is no longer afraid to sit in the chapel or go to Sunday School with us. This is not to say, however, that he is completely free of less-than-desireable behaviors at church. In fact, in many ways he is a frightfully typical boy.
Just as Luke needs to sit in the same place during Sacrament meeting, he also has a self-assigned seat in Sunday School – in the front row. He takes up two or three seats and sprawls himself between my husband and me – John gets head and I get feet. We were thus positioned when Luke released a little toot of flatulence. We tried to ignore it, but Luke was completely entertained and started giggling. We hushed him, and with our most resolute face whispered that this WAS NOT funny. He slowly calmed and was down to just occasional minibursts of laughter when he rolled onto his side, lifted his leg and just let it rip! He was now engaging in a full-on giggle fest as I rushed him out the door and into the bathroom repeating, “We don’t gas in chuch!”
And so, we come to this morning. I would be attending without husband support today, so I needed a no-gas, no-behavior Sunday performance from him. He had been asking to make a cake for the past couple of days, so that became our bribe. And I will add this to my list of parent phrases I never thought I would utter, “Luke, I’ll help you make a cake after church if you don’t fart in Sunday School.”
Thankfully, Luke did earn his cake, and we had a great night baking, picking berries, and eating it together.
And I will go to church again next week knowing that we will be welcomed despite our messy, loud, and oft-times offensive state.