By Kayleigh Rahn
Most Sunday mornings you can find the Rahns at our small country church, fourth pew from the back, stage right.
I love our church.
Our congregation is small; the facility is aging; but it’s always familiar.
My Mom grew up attending every Sunday, and it’s where I was baptized, where I was married, and where I baptized my daughter. My first Sunday school experience was in the church basement and my first recital performance took place from behind the church’s piano. Loved ones–including my Grandma (Nora) Quick for whom I named my daughter–rest in the cemetery surrounding the building.
I know this sounds idyllic, almost serene, but William and I have come to a point where Sunday service is a test of the fittest and only the strongest return home unscathed. Church with a toddler is not for the faint of heart, and I’m here to share this story only by the grace and patience of my dear husband.
We’ve found that preparing for service with Nora is similar to going in to battle. We have a snack supply that could sustain an army, extra socks, because–well–you never know, and an arsenal of distractions including mostly books and baby dolls (only the ones without noise or batteries). (OK, maybe, baby dolls aren’t needed on the battlefield, but you see where they would come in handy for us).
No, our church doesn’t have a toddler room. Neither our church nor its congregation is large enough for a single room designated to corralling toddlers. And, no, there is no crying room, so we are truly on our own once the candle lighters head down the aisle.
Last Sunday we were doing well through the first hymn and the announcements. It wasn’t until we reached the first reading that I needed to break into the first round of snacks.
Nora is comfortable and, most importantly, confident on her own two feet, which any parent knows this means she is now confident enough to demand the opportunity to walk her self where she needs (or “thinks” she needs) to go. This is the root of most temper tantrums at this point in our parenthood adventure. Sitting still isn’t an option. Ever. Nora Kaye is on the move unless she is crashed for a nap or the night. There is no middle ground.
This makes church especially difficult, and this is when we use distractions. Toys, books, food. Anything to keep her rear end on the pew or in our laps. Impossible? Sure. Our Sunday morning routine? You bet.
This particular morning was the first Sunday of Advent. We lit the candle of Hope, and stood for song. That’s when it happened.
William was standing to my right holding Nora who was in her Sunday best with sticky, post-snack hands. No matter how many times you wash them, a toddler’s hands are always sticky. There’s a physics law explaining it. I’m certain. The only way to rid your life of sticky toddler hands is to wait it out as eventually they grow past toddlerhood.
I was holding the red hymnal–the same worn books that have rested in the pews for decades. I propped open the book and held it between William and I so we both could sing when Nora’s tiny, sticky, toddler hand reached down to grab hold of the page.
She snagged three, half pages from the book, and I instantly felt my face grow red. My first thought was to look at the pastor. Did she notice? Then I looked around. No one seemed to have witnessed the fiasco in the Rahn family’s pew. Then William and I locked our wide eyes.
We shared the same “what do we do now?” thought. I quickly snagged the pages back from her and the melt down ensued. The wind up, the arched back, and the scream.
I swooped her up and quickly headed to the basement bathroom for a diaper change and a cool down look out the window. We were back in the pew in time for more mischief and communion.
After a Nora hand off to William, I silently collected the ripped pages and placed them back in the book.
I closed the cover, tucked the book away in the cubby on the backrest of the pew, leaned over to William and shook my head. What was the point?
Following service Nora was able to run off steam as we rehearsed for the upcoming Christmas pageant, and by the time we left I was able to reflect on our meltdown.
I don’t know what the message in the sermon was, and I’m not sure what the closing hymn was, but I know it’s important that we’re there. We want Nora to grow up with Jesus in her heart and a church family behind her. And this is where it starts– helping her learn to talk to God by sitting in the pew on Sunday when it would be easier to stay home.
My father-in-law reminds me that a crying church is a growing church, and the smiles of the church elders as they greet us at the door let me know that it’s true.
We, of course, retuned this past Sunday, the second week of Advent, for service and rehearsal. The torn pages I’d carefully tucked away the previous week stick out of the hymnal just slightly.
I smiled when they caught my eye.
These days won’t last forever. Eventually she’ll grow out of the toddler years. Eventually she’ll sit up right through service with clean hands and an open heart.