Reading Michigan writer Traci Rhoades’ new book Not All Who (Wander) Spiritually are Lost brings back so many memories of growing up in the church and raising my own children in the church. Just as with with family, my memories of church run the gamut from sweet to sad to funny. Here’s one of those funny moments.
We piled into a pew at the Christmas Eve service, taking over an entire row. My sons, David, age seven, and Wade, age three, were with us as well as my parents and in-laws.
My husband was singing for the special music during the service. So against my better judgement, which was impaired by holiday spirit, we sat near the front. I figured with the grandparents’ extra sets of hands we could keep the boys in line for the short 30 minute service.
Wade and I should have sat in the back.
Or maybe in the parking lot.
It started out fine. David and Wade enthusiastically sang along with the Christmas carols. Wade re-wrote a few of the lyrics:
“Hark Harold the angel sing…”
“God rest ye hairy gentleman…”
and my personal favorite, “Sleep in heavenly peas…”
Then the boys listened quietly and proudly to their dad sing.
Next the pastor announced it was time for Communion.
Noooooo! I started to panic. In my head all sorts of alarms and flashing lights went off. I hadn’t planned on Communion. I hadn’t prepared Wade for Communion. I hadn’t prepared myself for Communion with Wade. He was usually in the nursery when the tray full of grape juice was passed.
Wade wasn’t ready to take Communion, and I knew he wouldn’t like it when he couldn’t participate. I dug around in my bag for a snack. Nothing. With the service so short, I didn’t bother to bring the usual crackers and sippy cup.
I contemplated making a run for the exit with Wade. If only we weren’t sitting so close to the front.
While everyone else examined their hearts, I prayed fervently that Wade would not make a scene during The Lord’s Supper.
I saw the plate of bread making its way to our row. I cringed as it started down our pew. My mom passed it over Wade’s head to my dad. So far so good. Maybe he didn’t notice what was in it.
But he did notice, and he wasn’t happy about being skipped over.
Wade said in an incredulous voice so loud it seemed to circle the entire sanctuary then bounce off the cross hanging above the baptismal pool, “Hey! Why don’t I get a snack?” Just as the plate reached me he escaped from Grandma’s lap. Wade dove for the plate with his hand outstretched, trying to grab a handful of unleavened bread. I managed to whisk the plate away to my husband before Wade succeeded.
Communion should be a quiet time of self-reflection. I’m sure the only thing people around us were reflecting on was Wade’s loud whining. “Mommy! I’m hungry! Can I have yours?” Then he went down the row trying to beg bread off all the grandparents like a starving orphan from a Dickens’ novel.
Wade especially didn’t like that big brother received a snack and he didn’t.
But the worst was yet to come.
In just a few minutes Wade would come face-to-face with a heavy tray filled with cups of grape juice. Tiny little cups of grape juice that look like fun, irresistible toys to a three-year-old. I prayed harder, hoping that like the sun during Joshua’s battle with the Amorites, God would make Wade stand still.
As the grape juice came down the aisle from the left, we tried to pass Wade down the pew to the right, so that as someone took the tray, someone else took Wade, keeping the two separated. But it’s hard to hold on to a squirming three-year-old, a cup of grape juice and pass a tray at the same time. Again Wade broke free and reached me just as I put my hand out to take the tray.
Time stood still as I envisioned the tray flying up into the air, purple droplets baptizing me and the people in the rows in front and behind us as tiny plastic cups fell one by one, clinking as they hit the wooden pews.
My greatest fear in life ever since I started taking Communion as a child is that someday I’ll spill the grape juice tray. Now my three-year-old was about to aid in making my worst nightmare come true.
Wade plunged toward the tray, succeeding in wrapping a chubby toddler hand around a cup, then raising it above his head in triumph like it was the Olympic torch. In what I can only attribute to an act of God, my husband managed to grab the tray and prevent it from launching through the air as Wade made his move. My dad caught Wade, sat him down in the pew and took his trophy cup of juice before he spilled it.
It was a Christmas miracle!
I never felt so thankful to God during a Communion service. What a religious experience it was!
Upset about being shafted for a second time, Wade reached out and tried to take his brother’s cup, knocking it out of his hand and spilling juice all over David’s pants. Only on David’s pants, not the pew or the carpet. Miracle number two for the evening.
Later at bedtime, Wade said in an accusing voice, “I don’t like big people church! When they give us a snack in the nursery they give it to everybody. We have to share!”
I’m excited to join Traci on the launch team for her debut book, Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are Lost. Publisher’s Weekly gave this book an early review, in which they said “She emphasizes that by listening and approaching others with an open heart, one can find new opportunities for experiencing Christ. Christians looking for community will relish this memoir of embracing differences.”