As you busily plan your holiday celebrations this and every year, what do you consider to be the most critical? How to plan for the many relatives that you’ll visit with, and the gifts that all of them will require? The food to make, buy, and consume? Maybe that special vacation or trip you might get to finally take now that you have a little extra free time? I’ll bet going to your church’s Christmas service my fall a little further down on that list, but for families like ours, it’s not as easy as saying we’ll just “show up to whatever”, since for many of us, church services are not easy on any given week, but for larger holiday celebrations like Easter and Christmas, they can present some unique circumstances. If you’re like our family, then you have the benefit of support from your church for your special needs child, which usually comes in the form of an extra helper or helpers in the Sunday School program, but holidays are always a little different. For one, Christmas services are always on top of the regular Sunday ones, at least on Christmas Eve, and that of course means no classroom or student room to take them to, so it’s every family for themselves which, for most is fine, but families like ours are not like most. Now we do seem to manage ok, and our experience the last five years at our now former church was essentially sitting at the back of the church, close enough to the doors in case we had to take a quick walk to get recentered, make our share of joyful noises to the Lord, and then step right back in, and do our best to make it to the candle lighting at the end around the church. My wife and I helped each other out, and so we could always say we made it through another year.
There is another part to this experience though, and this is something that was always tough to swallow in the weeks up to Christmas, and it had to do with how our son was included in the student performances, specifically with the kids’ choir, which always did performances during Advent on one or more Sundays. When he was younger, preschool and kindergarten aged, it wasn’t as much of a deal, since most of the kids at that age are usually distracted or have short attention spans on stage, and in many cases need to have hands on one way or another. Our son also needed hands on, but as he got older, and the kids got bigger and could handle longer and more complex songs and sometimes dances, my child stuck out more and more. The church, however, was wonderful in how they handled it, always having a helper or two to guide him on stage, stand with him and in many cases have a tight grip on him so he wouldn’t run off, or worse, run right into the band since he loves live music so much. I never had an issue with my son being up there, I was always proud of him, glad he was included, yet in the back of my head always telling myself maybe next year he won’t need as much help, maybe he can do more, maybe he’ll just stand there, even if he doesn’t interact, maybe he’ll just stand. This last year was probably the toughest, as I watched all of the kids his age, do a whole routine to a song they had been doing each week during Advent, complete with a little dance routine. I watched the smiling, joyful faces as they did their little steps in time with the kids’ leaders, the cell phones snapping pictures and recording the whole event, but mine didn’t come out for it.
When I think about how to resolve these feelings within, I go back to a Christmas past…the first one in fact, and who got the “royal” invitation to the birth of the Christ child, namely the lowly shepherds out in their fields. See, shepherds were perhaps the lowest rung of society’s ladder in those days, they would have probably been considered dirty, smelly and gross, certainly not people worthy of being present at the birth of a King. Yet, the King of Kings specifically called these folks to the event of his birth, because they were exactly the ones that He came into this world to save, to bring home, to call to his table. If the Christ Child can welcome these souls to the celebration, then why wouldn’t my child be welcomed to the party on stage at his own church?
This Christmas, we will be celebrating at our new church home, where there is no kids’ choir, no children performances, we’ll just show up at one of the services, allow the worship arts team to take us through everything, and if our son needs a break, we can just walk him out anytime. I can’t help but share though, something that occurred just as I was finishing this, and I think it illustrates more than anything the power of God in circumstances like these. My wife called me into the kitchen where she was busily working on our son’s communication program for his Ipad, and showed me what she was able to come up with for, the holiday performance at his school. With the help of his music teacher, we were able to record the chorus to the song his class is performing, and place a tab on the screen which will allow him to play that part of the song when it comes up.
He may not ever be able to do what all of his classmates or friends and church can do, he may never recite a poem or master a dance step, and he may only ever be able to press a button on a screen to be included, but there is no doubt for me, that God’s will IS to include him. If I ever forgot that, I’ll simply remember the shepherds and the star, and know that our King became human so that he could know us in all of our pain, even as I write this now, He is watching and listening. He even gave me the perfect ending to this story.