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Monday, January 31, 2011

A Thousand Hail Marys (this entry is long)

Our Lady of Prompt Succor Hasten to Help Us
I distinctly remember my first night at home with Finbar when he was a newborn.  I was camping out in a separate bedroom with him, mattress on the floor, Bill snoring peacefully in the room next door. When Finbar awoke in the middle of the night and would not go back to sleep, I put on some Bach, cried from fatigue and began to pray umpteen Hail Marys for strength. At some point I must have fallen asleep, "Hail Mary full of Grace" hanging off my tongue, slumped over sitting up. I awoke to Finbar having rolled out of my arms and fallen asleep somewhere in the blankets, still breathing, thank God. I thanked God that we had both survived the night.  That began my new journey with God, as a parent, as someone who would finally unselfishly make sacrifices for the well-being of another.  Gone was the me, me, me mentality, praying always for what I wanted and needed.  Having a child  made me realise what a miracle life itself is, and that there can only be a greater Power who has created this miracle.  I felt closer to God that night, thanks to Finbar. I thanked Mother Mary for watching over us.  I would continue to repeat this prayer nightly, for several years.

Being raised Catholic, with a particular devotion to the Virgin Mary, I continued to pray Hail Marys and sometimes rosaries almost every night in the months that followed.  A thousand Hail Marys, I always thought I must have prayed in those first few years of Finbar's life. The repetition of prayer was soothing and gave me hope as I ended many days with my head on the pillow tired, confused or upset from the day to day learning curve of being a new parent.  When would it get easier? I wondered. I prayed almost daily that it would.

At some point after Finbar was diagnosed, I realised that I had been praying so much because my life as a new parent was in fact a notch or two more stressful than others'.  I was not, as I often felt, crazy for stressing out about my infant child and then praying for relief from this stress at the end of my days.  There in fact WAS something not normal with my child and his relationship to me and others, and I had been feeling the stress of knowing that in my gut but not being able to explain it to anyone. Prayer was one of the only ways of relieving it. It was my source of strength and peace.

Sadly, as Finbar's situation worsened and with the new pressures of having a second baby who also had developmental problems, my once prayerful relationship with God and the Virgin Mary gradually turned to one of silent blasphemy and anger.  I would start to pray at night and then figure, "what's the point?"  I would lash out at God, "why am I being punished?"  I prayed to Mary to help me to be a better mother, to be more patient , more wise with my children, and that made me resentful because it seemed my prayers were never answered.  Crazy as it seems, in classic biblical style, my trials and tribulations with Finbar caused me to turn away from God and I became increasingly fearful of Him, fearing that I was being somehow punished for some past sins or tested for some unknown reason.  I thought, "I am being punished for not going to church every Sunday, or not doing enough charity work, for being too selfish, too mean to my husband, for not reading the Bible enough.."  I searched for reasons.

Bill and I had tried attending several churches over the years - Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Assemblies of God.....none felt like home, so we never kept it up.  Then when I tried to take Finbar to our parish Catholic church only to be let down by the Sunday school, I felt that God had abandoned my son, so I abandoned my faith in Him.

But God speaks to those who listen and pray, even if they are angry and lost.  And despite being angry, I did continue to pray at times, and eventually began to seek a closer relationship with Him again. I was desperate to be saved from my grief and pain in dealing with the loss of the dream of the perfect child.  And at some point, He sent me little messages and signs that He was still there.  A fish would die and so I would have to explain God and Heaven to Finbar, not an easy accomplishment given his incessant question asking.  I once had to throw a crazy nanny out of my home while Bill was out of town, and it was a scary confrontation. I was afraid she would come back to the house and I was alone with the kids.  I prayed and minutes later my father-in-law a true man of faith, showed up at my door. He had no reason to be there at that moment. He then provided comfort and advice to me for handling the situation.  His words and presence in that scary moment seemed God inspired and brought me peace. There were many other signs, but eventually, after several similar invitations had come my way, one of Finbar's special ed teachers invited us to attend her church.  She offered to help Finbar out in the Sunday School.  How ironic that Finbar's special needs should lead us back to church I thought.  How could we not try it?

I thought that once I made up my mind to go back to church, that God would take care of the rest and make it easy.  I guess that was not his plan for me.  It was not easy to go back to church on a regular basis with the entire family.  At first, even Bill was not very enthusiastic about attending.  He had grown used to having Sundays for projects and for catching up on work.  The Sunday School teachers, while very willing to work with Finbar, were a bit anxious.  It was difficult for him to be in such a structured environment with a group of kids who had grown up in the church and knew each other and the Lord God very well.  We attended this church nearly weekly, trying to meet new people, hoping for a consistent Sunday School aide to appear, praying Finbar would adjust.  But while surrounded by so many young Christian families, it seemed nearly impossible to connect with any of them. No matter how I sliced and diced it, the fact that Finbar was not friends with any of their children was going to always hinder our progress in making friendships in this very nice but somewhat clicky church.  It wasn't anybody's fault, we were just, once again, on the fringe. 

During this time, we were looking at Kindergarten options for Finbar. I became convinced that it would be best if Finbar were schooled in a Christian environment with caring nurturing teachers who emphasized character and Christian ways, and who I trusted would be more tolerant of his differences. But with each visit to the many Christian private schools it became more apparent that if Finbar could barely cope in the Sunday School environment, with 15 devoutly Christian raised boys and girls and a Christian teacher, he certainly would not be able to handle the behavioral expectations of attending one of these schools with those same boys and girls.  Ah the fringe. It was heartbreaking to accept.  And even God it seemed could do nothing about it. I cried and cried and prayed and prayed.

Nevertheless, my faith and trust in God had been growing and I knew and believed and trusted that His plan for Finbar would emerge.  And it did. After going through many iterations and agonizing over his Kindergarten placement decision, one day, I just became peaceful and decided that our local elementary school would be the right place for him. He wanted to go there. He asked to go there. What bigger sign did I need really?  I knew that my commitment to raising my children in faith was now there, so Finbar would receive that Christian nurturing in a church somewhere, somehow.  I took a leap of faith.

And it has worked out. His experiences there thusfar, while not always easy, have far exceeded my hopes.  He is doing very well. He likes his school. He wants to go. He doesn't complain. His teacher is kind and caring,  as are the staff who support him. And they behave the same toward me.  I am finding the positive attitude in Finbar's school that I thought I would only find at the Christian schools. Upon reflection, I am now not even sure that he or I would have been met with the same support at any of those schools.  So perhaps God was watching out for us after all.  For it has been my experience that Christians, like any faith, can behave as a sort of  "club".   For some groups, you are either a Believer and behave as such 24/7 or you are not a true member of the church.  Well, we live on the fringe. We don't, we can't, belong to any clubs by nature of our situation.

So after a long vacation last summer, we decided not to return to the church we had been attending. It just did not feel right for us, especially for Finbar.  Going to church and finding fellowship with others simply should not have to be so hard. I knew that if God wanted us attending church somewhere that he would show us.  Long story short, out of the blue, a former preschool teacher of Finbar's offered to go to Sunday school with him. This was right as Kindergarten was starting.  I took this opportunity to attend a new church that I had been wanting to try.  Turns out that this church's Sunday School has "bible bucks" that the kids can earn for things like bringing their bibles, doing bible homework, etc. They can then purchase trinkets at the church when Sunday School is over. 'Nuf said. That was just the trick needed for Finbar to get motivated to behave and work at Sunday school. He can't wait to go each Sunday and earn his bucks. The Sunday School staff were only too welcoming, one teacher even insisted I attend the service even though we did not have an aide for Finbar that day.  God bless her for taking Finney on, I know that he was not easy that day for her.

It is difficult to describe the comfort one feels when finding a church that feels peaceful and accepting, not club-like.  Come as you are. Bring your child with autism, we'll do what we can for you.  That is what we needed and that is what we have found in this church and its teachings.  I hang onto every word from the Pastor. And God speaks to me through him. And He is healing me, week by week with His Word. And He is healing my son's spirit too. "I am going to live forever because I believe in Jesus Christ", Finbar says.  In Finbar's black and white world, it is written (in the Bible), therefore it is.

Esau greets Jacob with 400 men and open arms
And now I get to my real point I guess for writing.  A few Sundays ago, I was prompted to blog about this entire journey of faith by a particular Bible passage that our Pastor preached on. It is Genesis 32: 4-22.  It is the story of how Jacob and Esau, two brothers and sons of Isaac made peace with each other. In short, Jacob had deceived his father and received from him a special blessing meant for Esau. Fearful of Esau's revenge, Jacob fled far away for the better part of his life. Miserable the whole time away, and never once trusting in or turning to God for help, finally one day Jacob gives in and prays to God for the first time because he wants to go home as God has commanded him to do " me, I pray from the hand of my brother Esau."  For Esau was sending 400 men to meet Jacob.  Even though Jacob prayed to God for help, he still insisted on taking matters into his own hands, sending ahead three sets of slaves with gifts and offerings for Esau, hoping to appease his once angry brother and not trusting that the Lord would save him. 

The message was that sometimes when we are angry and distant with God like Jacob, and do not accept his plans for us, He needs to send the fear of  400 men into our hearts in order for us to get down on our knees and pray and trust that He will save us. And even then, we still contiue to insist on trying to fix things ourselves as Jacob did, rather than trusting in His promise to us.  I realised that with Finbar, I had been like Jacob. Angry and turning away, not trusting. And even when I prayed to be saved from my fears, I still tried to handle and fix it all myself.  Finally, I realise, and with this passage He was telling me, I cannot fix it all myself.  But it is OK, because God will.

I am sure that had I read this passage any other time, it would have simply been another biblical account in the long chain of them. But that day in church I knew that God was speaking to me of my journey with Finbar and what it meant for my ever growing faith in Him and in myself.  This passage also directed me to Psalm 34:19 "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, saves those whose spirit is crushed.". Perhaps I had to have my selfish, inward turning spirit crushed to be saved from myself.  All I know is that God is with me, on the fringe, on the roller coaster, and yes, in those Christian clubs.


Al Pappalardo, Jr. said...

Ghandi - "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are not Christ Like."

I hear from friends with special needs kids that the Catholic Schools don't have programs and they are better off in the public system. You would think that Faith based schools would be the first to reach out to special needs...Ghandi was right.

Keep up the post it's always more fun going on the roller coaster with friends and family. Your post bring us along for the ride.

finbarsmom said...

That means a lot coming from you cousin. I am honored to have you along for the ride. It is my hope one day to create a ministry to help churches and Christian schools support and welcome special needs would think that existed already wouldn't you?