It takes a village

Not so “light” memories flood my over-analytical mind.

As I have shared, I am an ordained pastor, currently on family leave.  Right now I find it impossible to take good care of my family and be a minister of a congregation.

Sometimes I wonder if I could do both, if the church truly behaved like…well… the Church.

I accepted an invitation to speak at my church about the responsibility of the congregation to care for all of it’s children.  In my tradition, the church is a family.  As members, we vow to nurture one another, provide a community of love and forgiveness, and to pray for one another. We claim our identity as part of the “family of God,” the “Body of Christ, where no part is more important than another.”  We promise to support and  care for one another.

Sadly, in my experience, many times these promises have been empty. Many times, I’ve found more support outside of the church than inside.

Once, I pastored two small churches full time, while parenting a very active toddler.  Like many parents of children on the autism spectrum before the diagnosis, I knew something was “off.”  I didn’t know what it was, so I did the best I could.

Some well-meaning (?) church members  told me that if I was only a better mother, he would behave better. Others said that I should quit my job and be a stay-at-home mom he’d be more well-adjusted.  Someone advised me to spank him.  Another told me that I  wasn’t a good example for the other moms in the congregation. Being a first-time mom, I thought these people might be right.

So much for a community of nurturing, love, and forgiveness.

I was perplexed. I was trying my best, but was very frustrated. I inquired about taking a parenting class offered by the county government. But when I spoke to them, they asked me if I would like to teach the parenting class.

I began to realize that was doing the very best I could, and that there might be something else going on. I called early intervention, and eventually my son was diagnosed with autism.

How did my church respond?  It was mixed. There were some people who supported me wholeheartedly and said they’d be there for me and my family no matter what it took.  Others seemed to have an “I told you so” attitude, and I heard one person say, “Well, no wonder!”  Overall, I felt alone and scrutinized.

The emotional toll of the nay-sayers, the attackers, and accepting a diagnosis was too much.  I left.  My journey to healing and acceptance began.

We found a faith community where we are accepted and included.  When my stepson moved in, I was even more grateful for this community. My church is not perfect, but they really care and want to include all of us. They have done many things “right.” They are open to education and learning. They have helped me to lighten up a bit.

I now train faith-based and non-profit organizations to welcome and include people with special needs and their families. I hope they will learn from my story, good and bad, and be open to others who are different and actually celebrate those differences.  I hope that others will see the lighter side of autism and other differences, and the joy that comes from acceptance and welcome.

As one of my colleagues says, “Thanks for listening with your eyes.”

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kindra on April 22, 2011 at 8:44 am

    I’m a new reader. I started following your blog probably a month ago. My son is 3 and we are starting all the early intervention for autism spectrum disorder. The other day while in the waiting room of one of many Dr. appointments this month…my son was running around as usual. As I told them there would be toys at the Dr. for him to play with…well I was wrong, no toys…just books. I panicked just as much as my son did. LOL So he did his usual running around looking for his toys and it took me several attempts to get him settled down and sit down. Well I felt a set of eyes on us since we walked in the door. She managed to speak up in front of everyone and decided to give me a lecture on “Stranger Danger” and that I should teach my son that. She goes on to say that she raised 3 sons and 1 daughter and she taught them right and wrong and they behaved. So obviously she thought I was a bad mother. I wanted to sink in my chair and disappear.

    I loved your post today and just wanted to comment that I totally understand. It’s hard for people to understand unless they are in your shoes sometimes. I know I had those kind of “judgements” before I had my “wild child”. If we can all learn from autism and other disabilities: ACCEPTANCE and OPEN ARMS.


    • I too had some “judgments” before I had my son. Like many, I have learned the hard way that judgements are usually unfair and way off base. It is something I learn every day, it seems. I’m sorry that you were embarrassed in front of all of the people at the waiting room. Reading your reply brought tears to my eyes! Acceptance is so important.


    • Thanks for reading, by the way!


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