Posted by: Leigh Reynolds | February 23, 2014

Freedom to Be…

When I was a kid, Free to Be… You and Me was one of those ‘special’ TV specials… It was all about a mythical land where children are free to be exactly who they are, the way God created them – unique and different and singular and spectacular. “Every boy grows to be his own man, every girl loves to be her own woman.” That was in 1974 (explains a lot, I know) but I think we are still searching for that place.

FreeToBe

Decades later and the world is still, all too often, judgmental with expectations of ‘normalcy’ defined by some criteria created by some important but undisclosed “they.” We see it everywhere. But for me it is hardest to stomach in the church. So many of our houses of worship heap so many expectations on those in attendance… We expect them to wear the right thing, talk a certain way, relate to God in the ‘approved format’ and stay on schedule. Even in the best of churches with the most loving congregations, we can see elements of this.

That is what made this morning, and others in recent history, so incredibly special to me. I recently started attending First Baptist Church in North Kansas City. What is sure to be the subject of a future post is the tale of how we came to be here, but that’s another story…

This morning we were, quite literally, on fire with worship. The garage next door caught on fire. Fire Marshall & team called in, we almost had to be evacuated, but they deemed the sanctuary plenty safe, so we stayed and got our Jesus on. The children did have to be moved from the nursery, just as a precaution, so we were ‘family style.’ As the proceedings began, I went over to our pastor, Tiger, and let him know it might all be a bit much for Wil – all the people, the commotion, the loud music, the dual powerpoint… “I am sure he’ll babble and need to move around a bit,” I told him. He smiled a huge and genuine smile and told me it was more than fine, to let him do whatever he needed and enjoy the service. It would just add to it.

As Wil came in, the countdown clock was running and that fascinated him.  As I greeted out neighbors in the surrounding pews, I let folks know Wil would likely babble (or stim, as it is called in autism.) Everyone, and I mean everyone, smiled genuinely and said no problem. And they meant it. Then the music started.

Wil loves music. He loves the instruments, the voices, the vibrations and – most of all – the drums. There would be no keeping him in his seat. He almost ran over to the drums and I went with him. He was a little confused by the electric drum set, I think, but settled in on the floor right by the drums (as best as an autistic toddler can settle in that setting) and listened to the music, watched the drummer play. We rocked, we sat on the floor and he hung a little upside down in my lap, he laid down on the floor to feel the vibrations, then full-body on my outstretched legs as he likes to do to feel the pressure of being against me. We stood and he pressed his face to mine as I sang, feeling the vibrations of my voice. The I heard him say, sing really, clear as any toddler “Hah-yea-you-ya!”

As Tiger prayed and as the baby dedication occurred, Wil was chattering his happy babble . I was instinctively worried about him being a disruption, that people would be glaring and wishing I’d get my kid in line. But as I looked around, all I saw were loving faces in worship. Those that did catch my eye were smiling at us. Real, genuine, “isn’t that sweet” smiles, not “I’m being polite and smiling, but I sure wish that kid would behave and be quiet” smiles.

I know it doesn’t sound like much, but to me it was the most beautifully loving and accepting moment I may have ever felt. Not only for me as we sat on the floor of the sanctuary engaged in behavior that surely looked odd, but for Wil who was just being himself and coping with a sensory extravaganza the only way he knew how. I felt God’s presence in a tangible way that I really can’t explain. And I know Wil felt it too.

As the mother of an autistic child, what keeps me up at night and fills my prayers the most is that Wil can find enough people in his life that love him and accept him, meeting him right where he is. He won’t ever be typical. He will always be challenged to meet some people’s expectations of how he should behave or communicate. But to me, he will always be exceptional in the best sense of the word. My prayers are filled with petitions that there will be enough people in his life that allow him to express himself as God made him and help him to grow into who God intends. 

Today I felt all that and more. So while I pray that the next door neighbor’s garage can be easily repaired and I am thankful that no one was hurt in the fire, I am eternally grateful for the moment it allowed us to feel this morning and for the church home that ushered it all in.

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Responses

  1. Reblogged this on Appalachian aspie. and commented:
    As the proceedings began, I went over to our pastor, Tiger, and let him know it might all be a bit much for Wil – all the people, the commotion, the loud music, the dual powerpoint… “I am sure he’ll babble and need to move around a bit,” I told him. He smiled a huge and genuine smile and told me it was more than fine, to let him do whatever he needed and enjoy the service. It would just add to it.


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