Yesterday we took Ben to Mound’s Spirit of the Lakes parade. It was a much calmer experience than taking him to the Minneapolis Pride Parade last month, but still a good time with the family.
There were several church floats in the parade. One had volunteers using the very clever line “Do you enjoy fishing?” to give them an opening to hand out these:
A very nice old man noticed the three of us sitting behind the sidewalk in the grass, feeding Ben, and made his way through the crowd to ask Dustin if he liked to fish. “Trying wearing this the next time you go fishing,” he said. I took the baggie from him because Dustin had his hands full with a hungry Ben. “Do you have a church affiliation?” he asked. We said no.
“What’s holding you back?”
More than we could ever discuss on a crowded street during a parade, sir. But I told him one part of the truth. “Our son was born premature. We couldn’t take him out of the house to go anywhere for the first few months of his life.” In fact, churches were on the top of the list of places we were not supposed to take a preemie. Confined spaces, cold and flu season, and lots of well-meaning people who want to see and greet and touch a cute baby = health hazard.
But it’s more than that.
We would need to find a church that views women as equals and not servants. We would need to find a church that practices what it preaches and accepts everyone from all walks of life, including but not limited to accepting gay people. Not in the “love the person, cure the disease” bullshit that some churches teach.
We would need to find a church that gives more than it takes. We cannot stand churches that spend billions of dollars on their fancy buildings but give very little back to the community or congregation.
But what I really wanted to tell this nice man was that you don’t have to be in church to have church. You can walk the walk and reach more people than talking the talk. To this man, not having a church affiliation meant that we were lost. (I’m assuming of course, but this is a common mistake among those dedicated to a church, at least in my experience.) We are not lost.
Usually I find the things I am about to post silly and cliché and overly sentimental. But this is exactly how I feel about being Ben’s mom. This comes from faith, not from a church.
Did you ever wonder how mothers of premature babies are chosen? Somehow, I visualize God hovering over Earth, selecting his instruments for propagation with great care and deliberation.
As he observes, he instructs his angels to take notes in a giant ledger. “Armstrong, Beth, son. Patron Saint, Matthew. Forrest, Marjorie, daughter. Patron Saint, Celia. Rutledge, Carrie, twins. Patron Saint. . .give her Gerard. He’s used to profanity.” Finally, he passes a name to an angel and smiles. “Give her a preemie.”
The angel is curious. “Why this one, God? She’s so happy.” “Exactly,” smiles God. “Could I give a premature baby a mother who knows no laughter? That would be cruel.”
“But does she have the patience?” asks the angel. “I don’t want her to have too much patience, or she’ll drown in a sea of self-pity and despair. Once the shock and resentment wear off she’ll handle it.
“I watched her today. She has that sense of self and independence so rare and so necessary in a mother. You see, the child I’m going to give her has a world of its own. She has to make it live in her world, and that’s not going to be easy.”
“But Lord, I don’t think she even believes in you.” God smiles. “No matter, I can fix that. This one is perfect. She has just the right amount of selfishness.” The angel gasps, “Selfishness? Is that a virtue?” God nods.
“If she can’t separate herself from the child occasionally, she will never survive. Yes, here is a woman whom I will bless with a child less than perfect. She doesn’t know it yet, but she is to be envied.
She will never take for granted a spoken word. She will never consider a step ordinary. When her child says momma for the first time, she will be witness to a miracle and know it. I will permit her to see clearly the things I see, ignorance, cruelty, prejudice–and allow her to rise above them. She will never be alone. I will be at her side every minute of every day of her life because she is doing my work as surely as she is here by my side.”
“And what about her Patron Saint?” asks the angel, his pen poised in the air.
“A mirror will suffice