Tomorrow is our church’s annual baptism service. It’s pretty amazing as they fill a big pond out behind the building, and have multiple pastors on staff prepare to baptize over 400 people in one evening. It is a huge celebration as a church family, and hundreds of us show up to witness this epic declaration; lining the perimeter of the pond with our blankets and folding chairs, then after they’re done in just over an hour, we migrate to the outdoor stage temporarily set up for loud, live worship music as well as fun activities like bouncy tents for the kids. Two of my daughters have been baptized in this way since we began attending here 5 years ago, and it has been a truly wonderful experience to stash away in our memory banks.
I love this time together with all these people who love Jesus. I look forward to it every year, but in the back of my mind there are two niggling things that vie for my attention that could very well keep me from attending: keeping Hannah happy, and whether or not I will be alone while surrounded by hundreds of people.
- I know she likes having somewhere to go, just like going to the grocery store or school or a drive in the car. It’s an event.
- People know her there and greet her warmly, usually followed by a hug. Makes her feel like a million bucks.
- She loves the music. It’s loud, she knows the songs from the Christian radio station she listens to at home, and she gets to sing along.
- I think she likes to listen to Greg, our lead pastor. I don’t know what she understands, but she sits relatively quietly while he speaks, stimming with her hands as though she’s concentrating.
Taking Hannah places hasn’t always been an easy feat though. Most people see her when she is happy, but she’s not always the stereotypical bubbly Downs kid that the rest of the world associates her with. She gets out of sorts when there isn’t a purpose to what we’re doing that she can identify. For years I just didn’t bother attending public functions because she would act up if it was too loud, or we had to move around, or sit still for too long…my gut is in knots just thinking about it. You couldn’t reason with her either. The only way to calm her was to either take her home, or if you were lucky, redirect to something she would enjoy, which loosely translated meant music that she recognized. Music was her calming balm. Her weighted blanket.
When she was younger she would often just wander, refusing to sit still. Like I said, there was no reasoning with her, she didn’t understand. (Geez, I need to stop and take a few deep breaths here, because all that stress is coming back to me in spades as if it was yesterday.) She is so much better now, particularly since she seems to be able to understand basic concepts, and enjoys social outings like church far more than she used to. The issue is the amount of time spent, and ensuring that she is comfortable and kept up to date on what the next step is. So in terms of our baptism celebration outside in the hot Missouri evening sun, I need to be proactively planning where to sit, where to take her for a break, who to look for her to say hello to so she associates good things to the event, and then make sure she has a good seat for the live music afterward. Did I mention that she is legally blind? Yeah. So I have to make sure she doesn’t run into things or fall down, or get hurt in any other number of ways. It’s like having a toddler for 17 years. Remember that? Takes a lot out of a body.
Taking Hannah to this much-anticipated event is important. I don’t want to keep her from experiencing and enjoying activities just because they tend to be a little difficult to pull off with her. My other two daughters are fabulous with her, and help out immensely, but I want to allow them to have fun with their friends, so I will be flying solo in the Hannah department tomorrow night. I’ve been flying solo for many years since their dad was gone quite a bit while they were growing up, and now that we are in the process of divorce, it’s really not all that foreign a concept for me. If nothing else, I can always leave early and take her home…
On to the other matter begging for attention: feeling alone though surrounded by gobs of people. I’ve already established that I love my church; I love the people, I love the teaching, I love it all. I am very grateful for how God brought us here, and has provided wonderful teachers, mentors, and friends for myself and my kids. The problem is that I have yet to establish deep roots. To feel connected in a way that defies that core fear of not belonging. It’s lonely to go to something like this and feel disconnected. Part of it is my stupid pride. I am often too shy or afraid to approach people who I would love to hang out with because I fear that I will just be excess baggage, unwanted. And I think I come across like I have it all together, but its just a big, fat, façade. I need to feel like I fit in, like I belong; but I also have to make an effort to include others in my little world too.
My heart is heavy when I think about the years I have been a single but married parent. How lonely and forgotten I have felt. How frustrated and angry, sad and sorry, unfit and unloveable, incapable and unqualified. To want the best for your kids, yet unable to put your best foot forward on a good day. I think some of that mess carries over in to my fear of attending shin-digs like our baptism. That I am alone in a myriad of ways, and it overwhelms me. I long to be sought out, to be cared for, to be rescued even. I am a big girl, and am capable of some pretty amazing stuff, but I am also human. Fragile. Afraid.
Here’s the thing, though: if I allowed my fears to stop me from celebrating and experiencing events that I would normally look forward to, then I am allowing myself to be trapped. And I don’t want that. So, as I wept a few tears this morning on my way home from my nightshift, and prayed for strength and comfort as well as a heart that can see and hear Him as He speaks to me, I was pleasantly surprised when someone I don’t normally hang out with at church came and sat beside me at church tonight. I honestly felt like God was winking at me, letting me know that He heard me and He cares, even though I want to condemn myself for being so weak and selfish.
He’s cool like that.