(Thinking I might use Steve's little tag just as a precaution tl;dr - too long; don't read ... this post is lengthy, even for me, so feel free to skip it or save it ... but my heart is saying write, so, I write).
This morning Steve and I rose early. He and Kayleigh were due at church for rehearsal by 8. That left me with Joshua, Madeleine and Benjamin to ready ourselves together. (It actually was a breeze). That's not the story though ...
The story begins as we head down Central Ave (totally on time, might I add).
From a distance Ben shouts, "I can see church! I can see church!"
Ever the parrot in his language acquisition Joshua echoes, "CHUCH! CHUCH! CHUCH!!!"
An outsider would never mistake it for clear speech, but what was unmistakable was his enthusiasm. There was joy on his face; there was energy coursing through his body. He couldn't wait to be unrestrained and begin his race to the Central Kids doors.
As we pulled in the lot I captured his attention and began my usual litany, "Momma takes Maddie and Josh to class. Momma says bye, bye! Play, sing, learn (complete with HILARIOUS GESTURES, might I add!)... Momma Lie-la (Rough translation: Momma comes back). Everyone goes HOME."
Joshua gives me the double thumbs up and continued to softly whisper, "Chuch! CHUCH! CHUCH!"
I expected that his enthusiasm would fade when we reached the check in desk - and if not there, for sure by the time we reached the preschool room. Instead, as we headed down the hallway, he continued wiggling to get free. Proudly, and with great enthusiasm he shouted (for the world to hear), "Joshua, GO POTTY!!!!"
I chuckled and took him (thankful for that he was willing to use his voice and his words in this still new setting). After he's washed up, he points to the large group classroom. He walks in, receives his sticker, nods to the table with crafts, and confidently says, "Momma, bye bye!!!"
My spirits soared. (I have NO assumptions that this will always work or that this will always be smooth. I expect transitions to be difficult and perhaps he won't always want to go) But today, his spirit, his responses, his reactions, his confidence; it was a testament to me that he felt safe. This place. These people. These ministry leaders who have worked to love him, to partner with us, have convinced him that this can feel like home.
I fairly danced (not really, no one would want to see that on a Sunday morning) my way up to the Worship Center. I took a seat with Kayleigh and waited with expectation for what God would say to me this morning. The amazing thing about Central is that God finds a way to challenge me, comfort me, make me think, or redirect my vision in ways I never anticipate. Coming in on Sunday morning is truly (I know, I'm a dork) as exciting as the opening pages of a brand new novel, or diving into Lake Michigan on a sweltering day or sometimes its as comfortable as my favorite blanket on the couch. Today, I was eager to hear what God would have me learn. To make the service even more engaging, my insightful child was by my side. (This usually means I get the pastor's insights plus Kayleigh's fresh take on whatever she hears ... ) Kayleigh was PULSING with excitement. I figured she was giddy because she would be participating in worship today, so I never saw this moment coming ...
As the video announcements wrapped up and the chords of the first worship song began to play, I knew, immediately, the reason for her giddiness ... The opening choral anthem was the Carrie Underwood/Vince Gil arrangement of How Great Thou Art. Easily one of my favorites. She knew it was coming and had kept it a secret, knowing just how much I'd love the surprise of those first few notes. She heard my sharp intake of breath and simply squeezed my hand.
As our worship team summoned us to our feet, Kayleigh and I gladly obliged ...
and then, I heard it.
The too loud singing,
just a little off key ...
The embarrassingly loud singing ...
the kind I'm sure everyone three to four rows in front of us can hear, too loudly ...
Kayleigh was in her glory. She loves this arrangement, but not nearly as much as she loves singing Mandarin with the worship team. So instead of trying to match the singer (she had no desire to do that) she praised God wholeheartedly - with all that that thin little body could muster - In a totally different language. Today, of all days, I didn't shush her ... I didn't ask her to tone it down. I relished the fact that in this place, in this church, with these people ... She felt safe. To her, this felt like home.
As I continued through the service, element after element was a perpetual testimony that the vision to amplify Hope and Life to ALL was more than words. It was evident in the intentional details of the service.
We were blessed to reflect on what it sounds like for "all the earth to shout your praise." We heard what it might sound like as 8* languages, one at a time (with the printed script on the big screen to honor each language) shared the Lord's Prayer: English, Spanish, German, Mandarin Chinese, Luganda, Russian and Welsh. (*One more, actually, but that's coming later). Our senior pastor delivered the Lord's Prayer in his native language of Welsh and his wife was prayed in her native language of German. Most other speakers on stage were able to deliver the prayer in their native language, while Kayleigh used her second language. As she left the stage she whispered, "Mom, I love that our church values language. Just like we do at home."
I love that too. I love that home and church feel so intertwined. I love that our (now) transracial family is accepted at our church - and in fact, we are realizing just how many families there really - are as we get more connected. And if that were all, if those were the last pieces that made our Sunday feel encouraging, it'd be more than I could ask for at this point.
But its not ...
We changed our regular seats for the second service. All of us wanted to hear "the languages" again (for the first time for Benj, Josh and Mae). I wanted our second language Mandarin speakers to see how many people were like them - capable of using more than one language for real communication. I wanted our second language English speaker to hear his language spoken and honored (and oh did he notice it!!!!). But, we also knew our busy family of 6 wouldn't make it through two full services, so we sat on the "wings." Unknowingly, we landed squarely in the middle of the deaf community at Central. We were welcomed (and completely clueless) until the interpreter began her work.
That's when the tears fell, as it hit me full force. I'm snuggling this little China boy, with only one ear, in a congregation of hundreds in tiny Holland, Michigan. Just last night we exposed him to the cultural phenomena that is Tulip Time. But what does he see and hear today at his "ChUCH." He sees people with baha's attached to their ears. He sees a lady working to communicate with them using her hands. The lady is smiling at him and waving at him too (he likes that)! He hears beautiful music (and oh does he love music and rhythm and drums... he always taps the rhythm on my shoulder with this fingers) and lots of words ... and he sees. He sees Mandarin Characters. Those look familiar. On the giant screen. Larger than life. He hears his big sister - standing in front of all of those people on the stage with bright lights. She's speaking his language. Speaking words he understands. Speaking words he probably misses.
And all of this okay. All of this accepted. All of this is celebrated.
These 9 languages, these countless families, these communities, they all feel safe, they feel at home.
What does my largely wordless son learn from this?
That he belongs here.
That he is safe here.
That this place - with these people can feel like home.
I pray that his heart is receptive. I pray that we are continuously open to seeing the world through his eyes. But I am so thankful to have received the gift of a church home that works - as best it can - to help all people want to come running in to the parking lot screaming "Chuch! CHUCh! CHUCH!"
What better way for us to step into a big medical day (tomorrow, Monday the 8th) than on the wings of a supportive church family - with the prayers of so many surrounding us. I'll do my best to share the medical news as soon as we know more.