“Let the little children come to me!”

‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.’
By appearances, Jacob seems to be like any ordinary 9 year old boy. However Jacob is far from ordinary, in fact he is quite special. Jacob came to us as a foster child at 19 months old, and we soon after adopted him. He had a rough start at life. He was taken from his birth mom the day he was born and put into foster care. He went through drug withdrawals on that day and has since been diagnosed with Epilepsy, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, developmental disabilities, Sensory Processing Disorder, and ADHD, among many other learning disabilities. Since Jacob was very young his schedule has consisted of appointments with Social Workers, School Psychologists, Occupational, Speech, Behavior, and Play Therapists. He attends a Special Day Class which specializes in teaching children with similar learning and behavior issues outside of the mainstream classroom. Jacob has a very difficult time focusing and staying still for more than about 3 seconds, so he has a one-on-one aide to assist him in staying on task. He learns at a much slower pace than most and conversation is very difficult for Jacob. All of this information and labeling classifies Jacob as a Special Needs child.

imageHe is very SPECIAL indeed. Because, what is most extraordinary about Jacob is his ability to love, purely and deeply, from the heart. He can light up a room with his warm welcoming hello. Jacob doesn’t just walk from place to place; he skips wherever he goes, usually while singing a song at the same time.

He has been attending mass with us and our oldest son, Nick, at Santa Teresa Parish since he first moved into our home. He is well known by the parishioners and our community has accepted him for who he is. He greets them all enthusiastically with hugs when he sees them. He rushes after mass to say good morning to Fr. Bennett, pushing his way through others to shake his hand. Jacob also loves music. He is often clapping loudly from our back pew seats, while shouting “Gloria!” with much energy and emotion.

We often try to keep Jacob quieter than he would like at mass. He doesn’t quite understand boundaries. Keeping him in his seat and with us can sometimes be challenging. So you could imagine our dilemma when our Sacramental Program Coordinator, Aurora Calub and Pastoral Associate, Lynda Demanti, approached us asking if we were going to be signing up Jacob for Sacramental Prep a couple of years ago. We realized Jacob was the same age as the other children signing up, but mentally and cognitively we were not sure what he would understand. He does a great job mimicking our behavior during mass, and he joins us in family prayer and traditions at home, often asking very randomly if we could pray. But, we were unsure if he had a true understanding of God and especially the Eucharist. We were told to pray about it.

We decided to “give it a try”. He attended the preparation classes with one of us by his side. He fidgeted, and most of the time seemed inattentive. More doubt entered into our minds and we wondered if we should wait a few more years until he could focus a bit better on all the material being presented. We also worried he would not be able to follow the directions for the actual ceremony and would wander around the church, doing his own thing. We didn’t want him to distract attention away from the other children receiving their First Eucharist and Confirmation that same day. We prayed more about it and started to notice an anxiousness stirring in Jacob. We practiced the response he would say as he was to receive the Body of Christ. He could often be heard reciting “Body of Christ, Amen” from his bed early in the morning or before he drifted off to sleep. We decided to move forward and trust God.

The big day arrived, Jacob’s First Communion and Confirmation. He was so excited that day. From the moment he woke it was all he could talk about. He told everyone he came into contact with, from the grocery store clerk, to the neighbor down the street, that he was making his First Communion and receiving the Body of Christ. We were still nervous as we dressed for the event. He was greeted at church by our dear friends and his Sponsors Don & Janet Wolk.

Everything seemed to be going as usual. And then something absolutely amazing happened for Jacob. He focused. He stood proudly through mass and followed all the cues his Sponsors gave him as he followed the other children through the ceremony. Of course, he was still Jacob, skipping all the way. He brought energy to the moment that was absolutely contagious. He was so joyful. He was the first to answer Fr. Bennett when he called all the children up and asked them why they were there. “I am making my First Communion!”, he proudly replied.

Something amazing happened for us during that mass also. We stopped thinking with our heads and started feeling with our hearts. Something Jacob had been trying to teach us all along. We let go, and let God. The ceremony continued beautifully. Jacob giggled from the Chrism tickling his head during his Confirmation, he pushed his way through the children to be next to Fr. Bennett during the Our Father, and he loved in his own special way that only Jacob can. He touched so many people that day. We are thankful that we opened our hearts enough to trust God and let this very special little child come to Him.


Dance in the Front of the Crowd

While singing Christmas Carols this weekend at a nursing home with several families from my church community, I noticed an elderly lady in the front row staring at me with a huge smile on her face. This doesn’t seem unusual. After all we were there hoping to bring smiles to many faces with our performance.  Only I caught her smiling my way when I wasn’t singing.

There were about ten families with us this day including grandparents and young children. One of the youngest in our group spontaneously moved to the front of the crowd and started to dance as we sang one of the more upbeat songs.  As he was dancing I found myself engaged in this moment with him, completely lost to anything else happening around me.  So much so that I stopped singing. I could feel a warmth surround me and my eyes well up with joyful tears, awkwardly overcome by emotion.  I was moved wholly by the beautiful goodness of a child, freely giving of himself without hesitation, in order to provide happiness to others.  Something we as adults have often taught ourselves to hold back.  I watched him closely, observing how comfortable he appeared and how he brought laughter from the onlookers and I allowed my own heart to waken to the spirit of the season. As I returned to my singing, slightly embarrassed by my vulnerability, I became aware of the lady watching me and smiling widely.  She had witnessed my brief departure from performing and kindly nodded with a welcomed acceptance, as if to say “Yes child, give!  Give of yourself with your whole heart and soul!  Don’t hold back.  Dance in the front of the crowd!”.

I know there is much to be learned from the innocence of the young. Their unconditional approach to loving others is extremely desirable.  And I also know there is much to be learned from the wisdom of the aged. Their experiences throughout life can guide us with meaningful direction.  In one small unexpected moment, on this particular day in early December, I was blessed with receiving both a lesson from the young and an approval from the aged. It truly doesn’t get much better than that!

As is often the case in participating in acts of charity, much is gained by the “giver” as well as the “receiver”.  This experience was no exception.  It was appropriate that we started off the Advent season with this kind gesture. I am grateful for the opportunity to have brightened the afternoon for those living in this home and equally appreciative for the memory I will always carry with me.  And I am hoping that next time I will join in on the dance.

Any Given Sunday

I serve as a Hospitality Minister at my church.

On the Sunday’s that I am assigned, I greet people at the doors as they are hurrying into mass. Our initial meeting is usually very brief, rarely allowing for eye contact. They are busy searching for available seats, often shaking off their umbrellas, taking off their coats, or gathering their children together, trying to leave their chaos at the door.  I have two children of my own, so I know how difficult it can be to get all of us ready and out of the house on time to get to church and seated for the very start of mass. Like those I am observing, it usually takes us a while to get centered and truly focused.  Leaving the outside world behind can be very challenging.

I stand in the back of the church during these particular Sundays and I watch from behind.  As time goes by I see husbands and wives reach out their hands to each other, even for a moment, as a sign of their unity.  I see others kneeling down in prayer or stretching their hands upward to the heavens, truly living in the moment of praise.  Peace and tranquility have triumphed.

But then as I move to the front of the church and lead each member of the rows out to receive Holy Communion, I am allowed another very special and important view. I see their faces. Faces no longer hurried.  Faces no longer searching.  Faces that have settled into their surroundings.  Yet the outside world has NOT been left behind.  Each face clearly shows the years that have passed.  Some are bright and smooth, young and vibrant. Others are old and wrinkled, aged by experience, loss, and hardship.  But all of these faces are full of hope.  As they enter into the most intimate encounter with their God, they are able to bring all their troubles and fears, pleasures and comforts along with them, however chaotic.

I am humbled as I bear witness to this connection of God calling his people to Him. God invites every part of us to His table.  Nothing needs to be left at the door and the seating is plentiful.