The first time I went back to church after my hospitalizations was for my daughter Caroline's First Communion. It had been a big goal of mine to get there.
I remembered so well that the previous year, my dear friend Ashlyn, who was sick with ovarian cancer, had wanted more than anything to attend her daughter Kaitlyn's First Communion service in our brand new sanctuary. Sadly, Ashlyn was too sick to attend and was in home hospice care for Kaitlyn's big day. Fortunately, a few weeks earlier, our pastors had visited their home to perform the sacrament for them when she was still fully able to enjoy it. But I still wished, for her, that she'd been able to attend like any other mom.
In honor of Ashlyn, I wanted to be at church for Caroline's First Communion day. And I wanted to walk into that sanctuary. No wheelchair. No walker. Just me. I wanted the day to be about Caroline receiving the body of Christ, not about getting her disabled mother into her pew.
With God's help, I was able to walk in to that service. To honor this milestone, it was also important to me that I didn't look weak and sickly. For anyone who knows me, I have never been a "matchy-match" girl who dresses herself or her children in designer clothing. But I wanted to have on a nice outfit and have my hair/make-up done well. I wanted to look like I had my act together as a mother; that all my daughters match in pretty white dresses, maybe even with bows in their hair.
Looking back, I think that "looking the part" symbolized for me that my family was going to be OK. I wanted my church community to know it. Or maybe I just wanted to be convinced of it myself. We walked in to church that night looking pretty, but I was still working on the "believing we are going to be OK" part.
That night, and every service thereafter, presented another challenge for me. One that "able-bodied" people might never consider. For the few of us on this planet that don't have hands, the challenge lies in physically receiving communion. I never conceived that this would be a problem until our congregation started lining up and walking towards the altar. But, as our pew started to stand and go, my eyes met my husband's, and we knew I could not receive the Body of Christ without help.
My dear husband took the communion wafer for me, dipped it in the wine, and placed it in my mouth. He had been feeding me for months, so this was second nature to us. We made the best of it, and I appreciated the symbolism in the fact that he got to be my Eucharistic Minister. But what would I do the next time, or the time after that?
As time went by, and as I endlessly practiced using my prosthetics, I got better at eating my meals. In addition, the pastors and lay ministers at my church learned to work with me at communion time. It became easier and less nerve-wracking to receive Communion. There have been several occasions where I dropped the host (Talk about an "oops!"), but eventually it became easier.
However, we don't always attend our home church. On our annual vacation in the mountains, for example, we always visit a small, beautifully welcoming church in Brevard, North Carolina. This summer, like all the others, we attended service on our way home from vacation. It did not dawn on me until we walked up as a family and knelt at the altar that their way of giving and receiving communion would be a little different.
The expectation was for me to open my hands and shape them into a cup, receive the wafer, and hold it there until the communion assistant came with the cup of wine, where I would then dip the bread. A little tough when you don't have hands, right?
The pastor placed the body of Christ into my prosthetic hand, and then I froze. As did she. We were both at a loss as to how I was going to dip and eat...
After a seemingly long, but in reality short, pause, my two-year-old daughter Jeannie instinctively and clearly said, "I help you, Mommy." She quickly yet delicately picked up the body of Christ and placed it in my mouth. I sighed with relief. And joy. The Holy Spirit moved her! I knew in this moment that God was giving me His Son. Giving me His mercy and grace. He, through my daughter, was assuring me that, together, my family was going to be OK.
Jeannie then insisted that she "wanted some too!" The church we were visiting has open communion. This means that anyone of any age can receive. So Jeannie technically could receive. Brook did not necessarily want her to take Communion until she had received instruction on the topic, so he shook his head. Jeannie, however, disagreed. She started to throw a mighty fit, the way that only a two-year-old can. She would get The Body of Christ, she would! How do you say no to that? Obviously, we gave in.
Praise God! Jeannie received her First Communion! Ironically, she was wearing a white eyelet dress.
So, just so everyone else knows (and I believe it myself with all my heart):
My family is going to be OK.