We spent the last nine years looking for a church family. I knew what it felt like to have an extended family of people who cared and raised you up in a Christ setting along with your parents. I grew up in a small country United Methodist church where everyone knew everybody. The fellowship.. the helping each other through the good times and bad. We wanted that for our future family. Before Aden was born we had been members at a small country Lutheran church for a short time. For some reason we never felt like we were part of them. My pregnancy with him was difficult. I was sick and nauseous throughout so going to the church (which was a 25 minute drive away) was difficult. Our attendance decreased. After he was born we never went back. Our grief, coupled with the distance, Aden’s uncertain medical conditions, and a “not so great fit” made returning not seem important. We were also angry at God and at a loss as to what had just happened. He was supposed to be a healthy, typical kid.
We went to counseling and were told it was ok to be angry with God. He was God. He could handle it. I think that’s good advice. He’s your Heavenly Father. You’d want your kids to turn to you even if they’re mad at you right? Turn your back on God and He can’t help you.
As the years went on, we checked out other area churches here and there. It was hard to go with the kids because they were so young. We’d go when we had a weekend without them so we could really check things out. We mostly went to big churches that had special needs ministries for kids. Doug and I were both used to small churches though. We’d find a church that had a good special needs program but the service didn’t seem like a good fit for us. Or liked the service but not the special needs program. I felt like we needed to get back to our roots of small churches in the denominations we were used to.
One Sunday we checked out St Matthew Lutheran Church. It was a crazy, atypical Sunday and we unfortunately had the kids with us. Aden was freaked out over the people in costumes. They apologized over and over that this wasn’t a normal service. We went a couple more times and stopped when it just got too hard – it was winter and in our house that means sick kids most of the time. Then we found out we were pregnant with Alexandria. I have all day all nine months morning sickness. It just seemed all the more difficult to go.
When we were told about Alexandria’s diagnosis, I had many thoughts go through my head. One of my internet friends, who I’ve never met but knows more than any of my other friends what it’s like to be Aden’s mom, said even though Alex hadn’t been born yet I still needed to parent her. I didn’t really get at first what that meant. How could I parent a baby that wasn’t born yet? Then I knew – what if Alex wasn’t born alive? There were still things she could experience being in the womb. I could still set priorities. What would my priorities for this – or any other child – be especially if I knew they might not be here long? God. She needed to know God. Even inside me I could take her to church. She could still feel the presence. She could hear it. Just not see it.
Another thought was – what are we going to tell Gabriel? We knew even if we could explain what was happening to Alex to Aden, with his cognitive impairment, he would still not understand. Ethan was just about to turn a year old so he would have no idea either. But Gabriel. What to tell him? And then the realization hit that although Doug and I knew that Alex would die and go to heaven to be with Jesus and it would all be ok, Gabriel did not.
We desperately needed a church. We needed to run to God.
Doug, brave soul that his is and I am so thankful for that, met with the Pastor at St Matthew. He told him our life story and how we were in desperate times. We needed help teaching all our children to live Christ centered lives – even Alex, though we didn’t know whether she would be with us for any time or not. Somehow we would make it work for Aden. We needed to figure it all out and fast. The next Sunday Doug stood up in front of the church, poured out his soul and asked for help.
The Pastor and people at St Matthew flocked to us. Turns out they had already been through the experience of a family who lost two precious babies. They were ready.
People started introducing themselves in droves. I still have no idea most of their names which is rather embarrassing. There are just so many of them. Doug was directed to a men’s bible study. I went to a women’s bible study. We joined a small group and went every week with the kids (and continue to do so). People told us they were praying for us. People were asking us what they could do to help. They sent us Christmas cards. There was the “baby shower“. Pastor camped out in the hospital waiting room when she was born so he could be there during her first minutes with us and baptize her. When we came home, that first Monday night someone brought us a meal and we had carolers at our door. They set up a schedule where every week night someone would bring us food. We came to church and everyone surrounded Alex waiting to see her. Most of the people holding her in her video are church people. When she died, they planned and provided her funeral. They sent sympathy cards. They checked in with us to see how we were doing. It was very overwhelming to feel so much love from complete strangers. They made us feel welcome, like family. This was what we had been looking for all along.
I am so grateful to Alexandria that she led us to a church. It was her gift to us. We are so sad she isn’t with us anymore but glad that we have been given an extended family to help remember her and get us through the years to come. Thank you is not enough but thank you to everyone at St Matthew’s.