An Open Letter to the Pews Behind Me

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Last night, I once again braved the Church pew with four lively young children.  Ordinary enough, I know that thousands upon thousands of mothers complete an identical ritual every week.  But our situation is a bit unique, and for those of you in the pews behind me, you know all of this.

You know that I am not just an ordinary parishioner; I’m your pastor’s wife.  I sit up front with my four children who are absolutely capable of being well behaved during a service… but are not always.  You know that we just adopted two of our children this summer, that neither can walk and both have special needs and come from neglected orphanage backgrounds.  You know that the pastor’s kids, my kids, have been struggling more the last few weeks.  Three of the last four services I have had to take someone out screaming.

You know that last night was the worst they have ever been, one raging, cursing, flailing child (yes he was cursing at me in Russian); one uncomfortable little girl who began screaming and crying while I was on the other side of the building; a little one too quick to follow in his older brother’s disobedient footsteps; and a little girl who should know better… but just couldn’t help herself; and a poor grandmother trying desperately to salvage the entire ordeal before the entire pew made a grand exit.

I know you have concerns.  Perhaps you are concerned that I’m too strict or too lenient with my children in Church.  You might be worried about our biological children after seeing our adopted son throw punches in the middle of the sermon last night.  I know that you are concerned about my wellbeing; most of you ask every time we see each other how I’m holding up.  Maybe you’re worried that our family is too much for anyone, or how can Pastor possibly have enough time or energy for his work after all that?  You might certainly be wondering how on Earth we are going to manage with Mambo #5 who is arriving very quickly after the New Year.

I know there might be a lot of wondering and a lot of speculation, and probably even a little bit of talking after last night’s episode.  And so, since I’m in the fishbowl already, I thought I might as well join the conversation.  Our family’s struggles are no secret, or at least they aren’t after last night.  I know you have concerns and I know you have questions, so here is my two cents about the matter.  No matter how much or how little you saw last night, here’s what I really want you to know.

I take my children to Church for a reason.  Yes, they disrupt the service.  I wish they wouldn’t but they do.  I could sit in the back, or I could give them food or toys or any number of distractions.  I could make it easier on them and on myself, and on your ears too.  But I don’t.  Why?  Not because distractions are bad parenting, I certainly make use of them.  But when we go to Church to meet our Lord and Savior, to honor and thank Him, to physically touch and consume His Life, to sing praises along with the entire host of Heaven, well… why on Earth would I distract my children from such a great experience?  Why wouldn’t I want to give them a front row seat to the miracles taking place before their eyes?

No they don’t appreciate it, and they never will either – unless I teach them, show them, tell them what an honor it is to be in the presence of God at Church.  And by giving them distractions from God, I would be making it difficult to later assert that He is the One Thing Needful.  Everyone’s kids are different, and parenting during Church will look different for everyone.  I know my children, and I know what they are capable of.  Each one of them is more than capable of participating in the service without distractions.  Why would I expect less from them than what I know they can do?

Yes, I’m a bad mom.  But not last night, last night I actually did really well.  Ever since coming home with our new little ones I have struggled with my temper, really struggled.  Some Sunday mornings my little ones make it through the service, but I don’t.  I end up snapping or being too firm with their fidgety little hands.  It makes for less noise and distraction, but it puts a whole lot of sin on my plate.

Last night though?  I kept my cool under the pressure cooker of the worst rage our son has had in months.  I was hit, spit at, cursed at, bit, scratched and a myriad of other infractions.  But not once did I raise my voice at him.  Not once did I lose my temper.  I was present and calm and I weathered the storm, even when the rest of my children crumbled under the chaos – I continued to calmly go about damage control the best I could.  I refused to enter the crazy cycle with my hurting, traumatized son.  Instead I just waited him out, I put him to bed and I told him I loved him.

My son is not a bad child.  What you saw was not a temper tantrum; it is what they call a “rage”.  Raging is a behavior stemming from neglect, abuse or trauma.  It is a fear response, and it happened at least daily when we first came home.  About two months ago his rages stopped.  We had been doing very well keeping him close to us and not letting other adults give him affection that would be confusing to a child for whom every adult had been interchangeable his whole life.  One day a flip switched, and he just stopped raging.  Overnight he transformed into our best behaved child.

But the holidays are usually a very difficult time for children like my son.  More affection from other adults, more visitors, more sugar, more presents… it’s all too much and it can send them toppling back into the confusion and chaos in their mind.  In the last week we’ve seen the rages slowly come back, and last night was the grand finale topping it all off… right in the front pew for all to see.

Often these children don’t rage in public, they wait until they feel safe – at home.  But you have done such a wonderful job of making our son feel welcome and safe, and apparently he doesn’t mind showing off at church now either.  So for his sake, and the sake of all children who come with struggles and special needs – don’t assume a child is bad, especially if you see them acting unusually loud, aggressive, manipulative or crazy in public.  Over-the-top behaviors don’t indicate a bad child or even bad parenting, they indicate hurt and fear.  Show generous amounts of compassion to this child’s parents, and pray healing over their child.

Our other children are safe, but not untouched.  Yes, he came out swinging last night, and yes some of those punches landed.  But I can count on one hand the number of times, out of many many rages, that he has ever laid a finger on another child.  And I can assure you, no one has ever been really hurt.  My husband and I are the ones that trigger his insecurities and fears of being left or hurt.  He is afraid of loving us, because he’s never been able to love an adult or caregiver before without being hurt by that affection.

He’s not afraid of loving his siblings.  That means, either myself or my husband is always physically there when the raging begins, and it is very simple for us to keep other children safe at that point.  Close quarters in the pew complicates things a bit, as you might have guessed.  But my point is – don’t worry about our children.  They are safe.  This doesn’t mean that they are not untouched by the trauma that their siblings have endured; it has affected them greatly too.  Some of that you even got to see yesterday as they followed suit in acting like hooligans in the middle of the Divine Service.  They were just as tired and stressed as I was over the whole thing.

Adoption is hard for them too.  They have seen the trauma and aggression and neglect and fear and pain that their brother and sister have endured.  They are acutely aware of the suffering of people so close to them.  Both of them have been changed and, as their parents, we are working so hard to make those changes positive for them.  But it is a lot to process for little minds, and this will also take time.  Give them grace too.

One more sibling is not too much.  Yes, having five children developmentally five and under is going to be CRAZY!  I know.  And I’m so excited.  I won’t write a whole post on that here, but someone else did, and it’s a really great read if you are interested: “Why Have More Kids?”

We are bruised but not crushed.  Our family is weary of all that this adoption has taken out of us.  Adoption is not an easy road, and many of you might be looking at our ragged, weary bunch thinking that you are so glad you aren’t in our shoes, or that you could never do it or maybe even that we bit off more than we can chew or that we shouldn’t do this either.  That’s just not the case.  With God’s help we are making it.  We are surviving the transition.  Not only that, we really are thriving with His provision and mercy.  All of us are healing, growing, learning and becoming stronger.  And we’re doing it together, which is the best part.

These are our children, and we knew they were ours.  We love them dearly and want them exactly where they are now, right here with us.  Our life isn’t perfect or easy or comfortable, but we have a life together.  None of our children are starving or being drugged or beat up.  None of our children have to be cold at night or go for days without being touched.  No one is lacking medical care and no one is alone.  Those are not things that our family takes for granted anymore, because it wasn’t always this way.  We are so blessed to be where we are… and perhaps from the outside it looks like a life that is unpreferrable, one that you would not choose.

But from our point of view, we are clinging desperately to our Savior, because He’s our only hope left.  And we would not change that for the world.  Hardship, discomfort, pain, loss… it’s all a part of adoption.  And it’s a great privilege and blessing to endure it for the sake of these little ones, for the sake of our Lord.  Don’t feel sorry for us.  The joy and love we are creating is worth so much more than what we’ve lost, and we wouldn’t change it for the world.

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