It's Mother's Day. All the children of the congregation have prepared a musical selection to sing for their moms. My dad is up helping an autistic 10-year-old hold still long enough for the singing to end. Although they are standing in the back row of the choir, everyone can see the struggle as the young boy wiggles and squirms, trying to make a break for it up to the pulpit. The effort becomes more audible as the boy starts to whine and shout. My dad tightens his grasp on the boy's arm, and then finally, in a fit of exasperation, covers the boy's mouth. In the climatic finale of a show the congregation would never forget, the boy bites my dad's hand, rushes to the front of the stand, and dramatically cries, "That man had me half dead!"
We've all been there. Maybe not exactly holding our breath at the display of a 10-year-old autistic boy on Mother's Day, but how many times has it been our own child acting up, leaving us with no other alternative than to shake our head and avoid eye contact with the rest of the world?
I do not have children yet, but I have had firsthand experience with nieces, nephews, and children I babysat. I've also heard the stories of parents and friends that — now — they can laugh at. Take my father-in-law; when he was younger, he and his wife were leaders in a young adult congregation. My father-in-law sat up on the stand while his wife tried to control their fidgeting 3-year-old. Suddenly, the young boy dashed out of the arms of his mother and ran up to the stand, apparently to sit with his father. Instead, he made a beeline to the microphone and shouted with a booming voice, "I hate the devil!"
Now those stories have become family treasures, but in the moment it's not always as easy to laugh it off. Once, during a church meeting, an older man with thinning hair was speaking about handling difficulties. He made a joke about how if the Philips family could handle Colton, their active 4-year-old son, they could handle anything. All of the sudden Colton stood up on the bench where his family was seated, pointed to the man, and shouted, "You'd better watch it, bald man!" Talk about handling difficulties!
Obviously not every outbreak happens at church. There are plenty of stories of toddler tantrums in the supermarket, taking your 3-year-old to a fun-filled day at the movies that ends in tears for both of you, or looking helplessly up at the fast food worker who your child has just called fat.
What's the point in telling these stories? So that the next time you are bouncing your baby trying to quiet him or her and an older, well-intentioned gentlemen tells you to rock, not bounce the baby, you can just smile. And when your nephew starts running up and down the aisles at church, you can chase after him with confidence, remembering another three-year-old who ran up to the stand and shouted, "I hate the devil!"
And when it seems like all anyone has to offer is criticism, just remember that you are not alone. We've all lived through the same experiences. Most of us understand what you are going through. One day your son or daughter will grow up, have children of their own, and be grateful for you and the fact they are still alive today. No, I don't have advice. Just a big "thank you" for all the moms, dads, uncles, aunts, and friends who have and know heathen children. Keep going — you are doing a great job.