In our married life together, Pete and I have been a part of some truly wonderful church families. We started out our lives together attending a small chapel on a Naval Base in Florida. We then attended Our Lady Star of the Sea in Bremerton, WA. We had a brief pit stop back in Texas at St. Mary's and then got 12 beautiful and growth filled years at St. John the Baptist in Front Royal, Va.
It seems appropriate that God would bring us back to St. Mary's for the years we would need our family and our parish family the most. This is where we started, where we married, baptized our first child and where one of our children in a time when he was delirious, took himself somehow, someway to this place because it is our home, our safe place.
Our church has grown and we now have Sunday Mass at St. Anne's, this beautiful building located right across the street from St. Mary's. Perhaps it is the name of our patrons that evokes so much mothering and care towards our family, and I know other families have experienced this too. Or perhaps it is just the way of Catholics because really, no matter where you go Catholics love to meet other Catholics, I mean when you see someone you didn't know was Catholic with ashes on their forehead on Ash Wednesday, it is like a solidarity bonds you when they see yours too - a secret handshake.
We Catholics really do take care of one another.
A few years ago the business that Pete worked at closed its doors, without warning, without a pay check, without a thought towards their employees.
It was like having the rug pulled right out from under us at a time we were already trying to get back on our feet from the economic downward spiral we had just been through.
We had planned for our children to attend the parish school, but withdrew our application knowing that we could never afford it now. When this news spread, we got a phone call and a scholarship application which we never expected. It worked out for us to attend - our pastor reached out to us and together we figured out a plan to allow our children to attend the school.
We didn't expect this, not at all. It was a warm hug in a hard time.
I went to work, the school secretary, Karen worked with me to figure out all the details for after care for my children.
It was also in this time that Benjamin's uniqueness started to present itself more fully. We knew he had a traumatic brain injury resulting from birth. We had always known there was something a little different, a little scary...but I was in a deep, deep denial.
I truly believed that he just needed more time.
Karen was gentle with me and my mothers heart. She helped guide me into asking the right questions to find some answers. I will always, always love her for being like a Mom to me, so much more than a school secretary, so much more than a high school friend's mother. She took me into her heart and cared for Benjamin in such a way, I could tell she looked at him through my eyes - not as a pain, not as a problem, but as a child that needed more....but more of what we didn't know.
Benjamin had long days at school, and then after care. He was so young for all this change. I blamed a lot of his acting out on this. Our family had never operated with my working and then Pete was gone, the job he began took him out of State full time. During this Miss Tanya, Miss Virginia and Millie wrapped their hearts around my different child and helped buffer him from himself and from the hard edges of his reality. I cannot even imagine how he could have gotten through this without all these Mama's.
Tony. I could write a whole series of blog posts about Tony. (we kind of love him)
The first time we met him, Ben was having a rough time in Mass, he was also not a baby - so taking him out and sitting in the Narthex (lobby) was sort of like a walk of shame for me - every.single.time.
Tony came over to us and I could just feel that he was going to tell me I needed to go back into Mass but he didn't, he presented Ben with a little lamb beanie baby. Ben who was very near a complete and total melt down, accepted this little gift and it calmed the storm for a bit. Tony smiled at me and walked away. I think he accepted 'something' was going on here. Thank you Tony.
The next time we met him I was making the mistake of thinking I could visit after Mass. Ben is ready to leave after Mass and we had not made room for this reality. I'm social, I enjoy seeing my friends and catching up. So there I was trying to keep a grip on Ben's hand and ignore the necessity of leaving. Ben got away from me for a moment, and before I could blink my eye he was trying to climb up one of the pillars.
Let me die now.
Tony came over before I could even say "stop" and told Benjamin to 'Get Down" and he meant it. A very forthright, but kind approach. It startled Ben and he got down. He told Ben why he couldn't climb the pillars and when he sensed Ben was not 'there', he explained to me. I was embarrassed, but Tony was kind.
The next week Ben went straight for the pillars as soon as we came in the door. I was on him quickly and saw Tony coming our way. When Tony caught on that I was teaching Ben not to climb them, he gave me a nod and a warm smile.
Week after week Tony would find Ben and I in the Narthex during Mass and week after week he would offer some form of kindness, even gave Ben a board book once.
I eventually changed strategies on getting Ben to stay in Mass. We began 1 hour before Mass by attending Confession, then the Rosary first. We also situated ourselves in an area of the sanctuary that was less busy and near Mattie, his most favorite person in the world (and his cousin).
We started having success.
Tony began high fiving Ben, saying "Good job Mom" to me and really cheered us on.
It meant the world.
I do think the Holy Spirit led us to where we began sitting.
Behind us sat Rudy. A man who looks younger than his 90 + years. He broke through Ben's barriers of don't touch me, by tapping him on the shoulder or saying something to Ben about his hair, or glasses or anything - didn't matter,
Rudy noticed Ben and showed it with a heaping helping of humor and genuine kindness.
Mary had met Ben at Vacation Bible School and had immediately taken to him. While I fumbled at trying to explain he has some concerning behaviors, Mary just saw a little boy and she sincerely loved his uniqueness.
Mary and Rudy would often sit together, behind us and Mary would pass Ben her offering to put in the basket. Sometimes Mary would give Ben a pen and paper to write on. If she saw Ben starting to melt down, she would help distract him away by getting him to notice something else. She prayed for us and with us. Mary and Rudy were a team and my absolute saviors on many occasions when Mass would have just been too much.
I was tired from working, going it alone while Pete was in another state (it wasn't easy for him either). Pete and I were trying to figure out a lot, it was stressful time. Our life looked nothing like it had a short year before and in the midst of this, the reality that our family could no longer absorb Ben's quirks and difficulties was becoming very VERY hard.
Mary and Rudy helped absorb them during all those many services.
Mrs. D, our church pianist and organist, is a special kind of Saint.
Ben loves music, and will sit long periods of time at his Grandma Barbara's piano plucking out tunes. When we approached Mrs. D about his possibly taking lessons I tried to explain him, which was difficult.
She took him on despite his sometimes finger twisting, hand shaking, rocking and chewing his shirt ways.
She just worked around his challenges and gave him the gift of music. She also gets his attention during Mass and her patience knows no end. At almost every Mass, while in the line for Communion he pulls her shirt or taps her on the back to let her know he is there, he says hi.
She has never not once put him off.
Her son directs the choir, we sit very near them. So Ben also directs the choir, matching James in his hand and arm motions. Luckily, Ben does not and has never tried to stand with James. He just sits in his regular spot (because consistency matters a lot to Ben) and he directs away. I've learned to just roll with this, he doesn't do it every time but he does it enough.
The Scheibmeir family goes way back with their family and the friendship is deep and lasting.
Anne and I only got to know one another after we moved back to the area in 2010.
Making this sign for me and really working hard at finding a way to make it affordable and paying attention to the details that mattered to me, has been an amazing gift of friendship. I cannot thank her enough!
All of these people reached out before we had a diagnosis that would explain Benjamin, before the word Autism became a part of our reality.
There are many more names I could mention and more stories than I could ever fit into a reasonable blog post. Like the time Paula held Benjamin in the exact position he fell asleep in so that I could slip out of the pew and go up for the Eucharist or the countless times her husband Matt worked out a ride so that Simon could attend a basketball game that I couldn't bring Ben to because we were having a day that the noise would have been too much for him. All the ushers who make sure Ben gets his bulletin. (this is Ben's most favorite moment of going to Mass, getting that Bulletin...it's a big deal)
I could go on and on, our parish is full of heroes.
People who recognized a need and instead of distancing themselves they came near and found ways to help us, smoothing out the difficulties as best they could. We became enveloped in their deep care and love.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I agree.
It takes a Parish to raise a family. A parish can be a loving and powerful presence that transforms a church into more than a place of worship, but a safe haven, a home.
Our family appreciates all the heroes, our family appreciates our parish and home.
*trust may not be mentioned within the context of this post, but it has everything to do with the trust we have in our parish community, so I'm joining it to the Blessed Is She Link up on Trust*