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Sunday, August 28, 2016

What Happened to the American Church?

Mark travels a lot for work.  He works for the railroad.  He conducts trains.  He always says it sounds more interesting than it really is.  In his pursuit to provide for our family, it leaves me alone on many Sunday mornings singly parenting our energetic children.  The way I see it...I have two choices.  I can stay home, or I can round up my bunch and go to church.  Some Sundays, the prospect of herding them into a place of worship seems daunting to me and we stay home.  Other Sundays, I feel brave and ready to embrace whatever kayos the four of them can dish up.  Today was one of "those brave" Sundays.  Even though I was at church on time this morning, and prepared with bottles, snacks, polly pockets, and colors, NOTHING could have prepared me for my experience at our neighborhood church.    
Before I describe to you my experience at church this is a little background.  I was raised in church from the front row.  In fact...I was even born on a Sunday in a little town called Woodland in California.  My dad and mom were pastors at a small little Foursquare church.  What few memories I have are good memories. In fact, my parents were pastors for over 25 years.  When I thought of raising children in church, it was always a given that we would be going to my parent's church.  They would dedicate their grandbabies, my dad would baptize his has a way of changing your plans.  Cancer came and took my dad almost 13 years ago, and took my dreams and plans as well.  Their church is gone.  The entry front empty. 
Mark and I pressed on and became involved in another church.  He served on the church board for over 6 years and youth pastored for five years as a volunteer.  I served as a children's worker, and worship leader.  Since our youngest was born, we have taken a break from ministry to focus on our family.  So on those Sundays, the ones I find myself parenting solo and I feel brave enough to venture to church with four kids in tow, I often attend the church one block from our home. I felt exceptionally brave.  I arrived a few minutes early and looked for a good seat.  Most of the time my kids can't see.  So we sat down in the front row way off to the left hand side (on the side of the stage).  The kids had a great view of the singers and instruments.  I got a sleepy baby out of his car seat.  My kids stood and sang and the baby was mesmerized by the giant screens.  About half way through the worship service, I was told that I couldn't sit in the front row with the baby because they are recording the service (with the 4 video cameras that they have).  I thought this woman was joking.  Nope. Serious.  My kids were quiet and well behaved, and the baby hadn't even made a peep. But I didn't argue, instead, I packed up my kids (car seat, diaper bag, purse, kids) and walked to the back section.  There wasn't enough seats to be found for my large brood.  So I decided to take the girls to their class.  They enjoy the music, so I let them stay in the main service for the songs.  I walked down the long staircase to their classroom to be greeted by a large sign posted across the door that read, "No children are excepted into class after 20 minutes of the start of service.  They need to remain with you."  I checked the clock on my phone.  It was 22 minutes after the start of service.  SERIOUSLY!!!  I had no idea!  So I walked back up the stairs and stood stupidly in the hallway.  I had no idea what to do.  I was ready to go home but I really wanted Luke to go to youth group.  He adores the youth group. 
A woman (I had never met before), saw me in the hall and asked if I was ok.  And the tears just came.  And.I.couldn't.stop.  I was doing the ugly cry in the middle of a tiny hallway at church.  Let's recall...I sat in the wrong spot, my girls couldn't attend class and I had no where to sit or go.  I felt like a fool in front of this woman.  After speaking to an usher, their solution for me was to go into the Mother's lounge where I could watch the service through the live feed on the TV.  Great.  Except for the part where my 13 year old son couldn't come in.  I arranged for him to sit in the main service next to the woman who asked if she could help me until it was time for his class to start.  I took the girls and baby into the mother's lounge, sat down in a rocking chair and cried and cried.  I even had my older daughter get me more tissue (twice). 

I started asking myself, "what happened to the American church?"  How can a church make me (ME) feel so unwelcome!  I've been going to church my whole life!  I get this church thing.   Or I thought I did.  It's not like I was a newbie.  I couldn't help but think of my dad.  He loved kids!  He didn't even mind crying babies in service.  He could preach right through.  Years ago I was a children's church pastor and I never turned away children!!!  I would go find them and invite the kids in the sanctuary to class.  The door was always open.  How did we get to this place?  When did church become more about recording the service, capturing the right shot, and less about people?  When did church become a performance or concert?  As I recall Jesus WELCOMED the little children to him.  He didn't turn them away because they were 22 minutes late to the start of class, or ask them to take the baby out of the front row! 

I drove away from church today feeling like I had done something wrong.  I told my oldest son that church shouldn't make you feel that way.  You shouldn't leave church feeling like you broke every rule, ruined the camera recording and failed to get your children to class on time.  I should have left church feeling encouraged, loved, challenged, inspired, uplifted, cared for, built up.  But all church did to me today was communicate I was unwelcome, my children unwelcome and I had broken the rule by not sitting in the appropriate section.  I was broken, hurt, upset, lonely, unvalued and shamed when I walked out of that church today.  It's pretty safe to say, I won't be going back.  What is happening to churches these days?  In the past, I've often wondered where all the people are that are our age.   After my experience this morning, it is less of mystery. 

"But Jesus said, "Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children." And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left. ~ Matthew 19:14-15


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Six Months Old

Six months ago TODAY, Mark took this picture of us in the parking garage at Legacy Salmon Creek.  This special morning six months ago, we were walking in to have our fourth baby!
Here I am only a few minutes away from being brought into the O.R. for my planned C-Section.  I was contracting a lot while hooked up to all the monitors.  I was 39 weeks and 3 days.  Matthew was letting us know that he was ready for his arrival.

Mark watched the entire C-section.  He did that with Bella also.  I love this photo of the moment of his birth.  His head outside in the world, and his torso still within.

Try as Dr. Saner might, Matthew was a VERY large baby.  We weren't expecting that.  His shoulders were caught, and she had to use a vacuum to help deliver him.  He came out 9 pounds 9 ounces!

Matthew gave us a bit of scare.  It seemed like forever before he began crying.  I have to admit I was freaking out!  But he pinked up and began screaming.  Music to a mama's ears. 

Mr. M just minutes old!

We found out later that he had a true knot in his chord.  The doctor sent it for testing so she could learn more about it (as they are rare).  Since I had a C-section it wasn't as risky with a knot. 
I love Matthew's Oscar the grouch diaper...they had to go find size 1 diapers because he was too big for the newborns.  :)

My first picture with my son.

I will never take being a mom lightly.  I know what a blessing it is to have adopted and to have had biological children.  I have become a mom in both a courtroom and an operating room.  Both are sacred and beautiful. 

Matthew continues to be the biggest blessing.  He has been everything I dreamed of and hoped for and didn't know I even wanted.

Our family is complete.  I always wondered what it would feel like, and how would I know when we were done having children.  All I can say is your heart just knows. 

It was special my mom was there.  I love all her thoughtfulness that she pours into the grandbabies and I.  I will never forget the box of See's chocolates she gave to me six months ago.  Those candies were amazing!  Especially after 3 months of having gestational diabetes. 

Matthew William Neal...

It is these moments that I believe that my dad is allowed to see down from the glory of heaven to watch these milestones of the ones he loves.  I know he would have been there with my mom drinking coffee and waiting and talking on his cell phone.  He would have kept me company after all the others had gone home.  He would have loved his grandbabies.  Although I take comfort in the fact that he is with my other three babies...the ones that past from this world to the next.  The ones I have never seen but only held from within.  He's watching over them. 

And then there were four.  I am so blessed and thankful for them.  I remember the times I wondered if I would ever become a mom.  I recall the sobbing and pleading and begging with God for a child.  And somehow I was blessed beyond what I could think or dream.  I am so grateful.

What an amazing beginning...I wouldn't trade it for the world.
You've already done so much in your first six months, two beach trips, movies, restaurants, dates :), a vacation to California, baseball games, concerts, 4-H at the fair, doctors appointments, shots, baby dedication, and surviving with 3 other siblings who think you are pretty much the greatest thing EVER!

So welcome to the world Matthew!  Again.  Six months has flown by and you have left an imprint on my heart and soul.  I can't imagine life without you my beautiful brown eyed baby.  XOXO

Monday, August 8, 2016

Baby Wearing Dad

Seriously can't get over how cute this picture is!!!  It is a side-by-side comparison of Miss B and Man Cub.  Miss B (2010) and Man Cub (2016).  They were both 5 months at the Clark County Fair. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

I Have A Dream...

I have dreams for my children.  Big dreams.  I think all parents do.  One of my biggest dreams has been finding Luke a school.  A school that can meet Luke exactly where he is at, instead of him having to adapt and conform.  While I agree that learning to adapt and be flexible are important life skills, I have desired and educational opportunity for my son that would embrace his learning differences and give him skills to succeed in the world. 

I think I have been looking for "that" school since Luke was exiting special education preschool.  The special education preschool was the last school setting that I felt really met Luke where he was and helped him.  Each and EVERY summer, I examine every different kind of school opportunity there is for Luke and hope and believe I make the right choice.  Because they never really "fit" him.  Some school situations have come close; however he is always the square peg trying to fit into the circle slot.  He isn't built for the "traditional" classroom, and school presents numerous challenges. 

Maybe by chance, or luck, or divine meeting I saw and ad for Bridges Middle School.  It was a Sunday in June, and I had packed up all 4 kids and drove to urgent care so Bella could be seen.  She had a cough that had lingered too long.  We were ALL sitting in the waiting room and Luke picked up a magazine to read.  He noticed a friend from his baseball team on the front.  While he was reading the front, I was reading the back.  It was an advertisement for Bridges Middle School.  I had never heard of this middle school before, and I made a mental note of the website. 

It must have been later in the week when I was able to have a brief quiet moment.  I looked up the school online, and what I found was the school setting I have dreamed of for Luke.  I read every word of that website more than once.  I cried as I read about the teachers, and programs and kids and where they had come from.  I sniffled as I read about their homework policy, plans to help teach these kiddos organizational skills.  I wiped my eyes as I recounted how they spent their days learning social skills and academic skills equally.  I saw how they used animals in their curriculum and classroom, and how they cared about and spent time with kiddos like Luke.  I was sold. 

AND... then I saw the price tag.  And.I.Sobbed.  $22,000 per year.  Why is everything good and wonderful and helpful so expensive?  How come it is out of touch for us?  I felt like a fool for even considering how we could pay for this experience.  But, I decided to apply for financial aid through the school.  They offer some tuition assistance.  I figured it was worth a try.  I have yet to hear back.  I knew I would always wonder what if?  I am choosing to not live life with regrets.  So I have stepped out in faith. 

Most people who I have told about Bridges Middle School think it is great school and wonderful idea, but too much money.  It is difficult to describe to them why it would be worth it.  As a special needs mama, you go through so many emotions (sometimes simultaneously).  You spend a lot of time trying to find the very best for your kiddos.  You know what is worth it and what is not.  You know what helps and what doesn't.  You know how the impact of exceptional help and therapy can transform you child.  How it can build confidence and provide help.  Bridges Middle School, could totally change Luke's life.  And I find myself hoping, and praying and pleading that somehow this school would be an option for Luke. I am hoping for a miracle. 

After seven years of searching, I have found a school that would embrace Luke and all his learning struggles and ADHD and glaucoma and Tourettes, and meet him where he is at.  I am daring to dream big for my son. 

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