Church is Hard

For starters, I’ll say that I’m Catholic. I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school from grades playschool – 6th. I’ve received every sacrament I can receive up to this point and I’m very happy with my faith – both where I am in my faith and the role faith plays in my life.

Danny would probably say he’s “nothing” when it comes to a religion. He neither attends church nor does he have any desire to. He, too, is comfortable in his faith. So when we had kids, he was really open and willing to having them baptised and to go through the sacraments of the Catholic Church. Maria received First Communion with her class in 2nd grade and then later at our new parish she received Confirmation. It was more difficult when it came to Jamie. He’s always had very strong opinions about things: he either likes something or he doesn’t. He’s rarely on the fence. He’s said in the past how much he doesn’t like God and Jesus and how it freaks him out (I credit that ‘freak out’ to preschool curriculum teaching 4 year olds that Jesus is always watching them. Dude, freaky). He used to say that he believes in lots of gods, mostly Zeus and he’s sacraficed some toys to Zeus via a powerful throw from the hand to the tree. I am pretty sure he is over all of that now, and when I sat down and talked to him about First Communion and Confirmation I knew that the end result would be that he was going to go through it. Whether he did it happily or hesitantly was the only question. He ended up doing just fine with the idea of it. He went to classes every Monday night for a few months.

The evening of First Communion practice, I cried.

He was so different from the other kids. {That was when I decided to pursue evaluation for Autism.}  He bobbed his head back and forth when he was supposed to be listening quietly to the homily. He was told several times to be respectful and to stand still when waiting his turn. He took the Eucharist with one hand and shoved it in his mouth and forgot to say “Amen.” and he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand after the wine. He brought a book to read….House of Hades. I mean, come on.

Since then, I’ve only taken him to church a handful of times. Mostly because I want to protect him and a little because I want to protect myself. How would that be protecting us? Unless you’ve had a child with special needs, whether that’s a physical disability or autism or a sensory processing disorder or adhd or ANYTHING like that, you probably aren’t as tuned in to the way people behave around you. Imagine your child who is 2 throws a giant fit at dinner and people stop what they’re doing and look at you. They might talk to each other after that and you are just sure they’re talking about you and either your parenting or your child himself. That’s how I feel 90% of the time we are out and about. I’m self conscious about the way Jamie acts. I’m very aware of each and every set of eyes that look at Jamie and the expression on their faces when he does something ‘weird.’ I don’t want him being talked about or judged or made fun of. It’s easier just to keep him at home, someplace he’d much rather be anyhow.

But Jamie’s doctor we see weekly said that church would probably be a good thing for him. It can give him a sense of community and show him there are lots of people who care about him. It can give him a chance to learn to behave appropriately in social situations which is important! So, today, I took Jamie and Maria to church.

(1) Jamie wouldn’t stop licking my jacket. Full-on licking my jacket. He’s very sensitive to touch and how things feel and my jacket was a shiny, soft, down Patagonia jacket. He told me it looked like a popsicle. Probably 8 times. It didn’t matter that I told him each and every time to please stop licking me.

(2) In the middle of the homily, Jamie asked me about carpooling and how many people had to be in the car for it to be considered okay to carpool. His words. Also, this was very loud.

(3) He asked if, when he died, he’d be judged by the 10 commandments. I said I had no idea and he said, “Well, at least I know I’ll be fine on the adultery one.” Again, very loudly. But he followed it up with, “Ya know, because that’s stealing someone’s wife and it’s the 21st century. How can that happen now?!” Awkward.

(4) He asked if the wine was actually alcohol. When I told him it was, he said there was no way he was drinking that because (a), he was underage and (b), he didn’t want to get ‘wasted.’ I assured him he was not breaking the law and that he definitely would NOT get ‘wasted.’ He wasn’t having that. “Well what’s the legal drinking age?” “21.” “Okay, then if I’m drinking the alcohol then that’s breaking the law.” Things are black and white for him. I reminded him to think back on his First Communion classes. The wine is the blood of Jesus and it is a religious ceremony/tradition. You can imagine….”Gross!”

(5) He walked up to get the host and the whole time he said, “It just tastes bad…get through it. It just tastes bad…get through it….” He put it in his mouth and just kept it there. I reminded him to chew it and he started gagging….but got it down. Then he went towards the wine and he said, “Blood of Christ, Amen.” (that’s what the Eucharistic minister is supposed to say) and just stood there. The minister was really great and just handed the cup to me and I handed it to Jamie. He touched his lips to it and then left. When we got to our seats he looked at Maria and said (pretty loudly and very proudly), “Ha! I didn’t break the law…I didn’t even let it touch my mouth!!!”

(6) During each song, he bounced around like he was sitting on a yoga ball.

So church was hard. Mostly because I was so tuned in to the older woman sitting by us and the middle aged couple sitting across and behind us. Jamie’s vocabulary tells people he’s old enough to know better. His size tells people he’s old enough to know better. His whine sounds like he’s just being a really naughty kid.

He’s not. And it’s hard for me to see him struggle when the kids he went through First Communion prep aren’t. They are altar servers, they’re sitting quietly with hands folded, they’re only distracted momentarily and then get back on track. Mine acts like a 3 year old — licking me, bouncing around, pretending to be asleep and literally jumping up when I ‘wake’ him, waving his hands in the air and laughing at a joke he told himself in his head.

And then I remembered that God doesn’t really care how Jamie acts.

He’s there, and he’s learning.


3 thoughts on “Church is Hard

  1. Denice Flerchinger

    Dear Ruthie,
    I got a quick glimpse of you and your sweet kiddos from across the room yesterday, and it made my heart happy. ♥ Your reflection makes me think back to when Tina was little. She spent many years on a 24 hour feed, a tube surgically inserted into her stomach and a pouch on her back. I dreaded going in public, people would stare and even inquire about why we would make her carry a backpack on her tiny little frame. There were always a lot of syringes, and now a lot of pills, and a ton of comments and stares to go with that. She has an unquenchable thirst (she will chug an entire bottle of water during mass), and has the need to urinate at the most inopportune times (usually during the consecration). It does hurt because we are already watching our children struggle, we want to protect them. After many years of worrying what others think I am finally over it (I am old!), realizing people are curious. A beautiful boy like Jamie can teach the rest of us so much about love, compassion and being nonjudgmental. I admire you, your honesty, and I love your Jamie just how he is. Kudos to you mom for taking him to church! ♥ God will continue to bless your beautiful family. I understand. ♥

  2. Melanie Sheppard

    Oh Ruthie!!!! Ruthie, Ruthie, Ruthie!!!! You hit the nail on the head & I love you for it. In this life we have our family & our friends. Nobody (except God) is more important than our family. They are everything!!! Enjoy your life, enjoy your son & to hell with the rest. God gave this precious blessing to you because you are the best one for him & for them all!!! I just love you to pieces ❤️


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