Oh friendsies, just you wait, just you wait. Because yes, it’s Tuesday, and that means a guest post is upon us – and according to this year’s theme, that means we’re looking at those (not-so) boring rituals that make the story deeper. Today I want you to meet my friend Megan; some of you may remember her from two years ago, when she shared her thoughts on community. Well, she’s back, and man oh man, her words and good and rich and deep and true. Enjoy.
“Ellie, there’s no Kids Church today, so you’ll be in big church.”
“No, I want kid church.”
“Kids Church starts again next week.”
“No. Just the kids!”
And so goes the conversation with my daughter. Ellie is three and a half. Although she’s never been one for routines in the realm of naptime and she’s a delightfully flexible traveler, changes in certain routines throw her off.
Part of this little personality quirk is her age. Part of her quirk is common to many children with Down syndrome. (I was once told that she would probably be good about things like tooth brushing before bed, because many children with Down syndrome crave that routine. So far, she has great dental hygiene.)
Three minutes after church has begun, I get Ellie into her jacket. She hates the cold, and it’s 21 degrees in Arlington, VA this morning.
“Ellie, put on your jacket.”
“Ellie, you need a jacket when it’s cold.”
She walks to the staircase and sits on the bottom step. I roll my eyes and eventually she performs the “preschool flip,” laying her jacket out on the ground and flipping it over her head. As we walk to the car, I check my watch. Church is well underway. Eventually, I remind Ellie of her friends at church and she picks up the pace a bit. I drive the half mile (forgive me) and we park. My husband is out of town for the weekend and I am slightly off-kilter from a couple days of single parenting in weather too cold for outdoor fun.
For a moment, I ask myself why I am bothering to take a child to church who wants a different service, anticipating a service spent in the narthex shushing an active three year old. While difficult for most preschoolers to sit through, a full church service is extra difficult for Ellie. But I know the liturgy will center me in some way. At least, I hope God will meet me there, because my pajamas and a second (or third) cup of coffee sound better than church at the moment.
I grab Ellie from the car and drag her inside as she repeats, “Kids church. Kids church. Kids church,” like her own little prayer.
We walk into the building as the side doors close. Children stand in a line and chat – the schedule has changed, there is Kids Church today! Ellie ignores me and walks confidently to the front of the line. I tell the adult in charge that she has no nametag since I am slacker mom who just walked in. Ellie marches off with her friends to Kids Church and I attempt to find a seat in the sanctuary 20 minutes after the service has begun.
I don’t want to be at church any more than I did while wrestling Ellie out of the car, but I choose to act like I do. I remember being told that it’s easier to act your way into feeling than feel your way into acting. I remember the conversation, but I can’t remember who was there with me. I’ve shared that advice in various contexts over the past decade. I follow my own advice today. I decide act my way into the liturgy, decompressing slowly.
I arrive just before the Apostles’ Creed. The familiar words surround me as I join in.
“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”
I wasn’t naturally drawn to a liturgical church. My husband was raised Lutheran and couldn’t imagine a non-liturgical church, and eventually we landed at an Anglican church near our home.
I ponder the purpose of liturgy as the service continues this morning, through the Lord’s Prayer and the Prayers of the People. The words are familiar. I don’t have to think to follow along.
Eventually, this “acting my way into feeling” works. I begin to think about the words I am saying, praying for a country without prejudice, praying for joy, praying for peace.
The routine of the liturgy has become a sacred ritual to me. When Ellie was born, she spent three weeks in the NICU following a major GI surgery. She had open heart surgery several months later. Life felt out of control, but reciting familiar words on Sundays made me more available to hear truth. To remember what was still good in our lives. To recognize that life being hard is simply part of life. To pray for joy again.
Today’s sermon has me engaged. I listen intently. Church ends and I walk to Kids Church to pick up Ellie.
When I arrive, a volunteer is playing guitar while the kids eat their snack. As I scan the room for Ellie, another parent points her out.
She is standing in front, dancing.
My daughter dances without awareness of what others see. She simply dances.
When we get in the car, she sings “Jesus Loves Me.”
The routine brings out the best in Ellie. She celebrates. She dances. And the routine of the liturgy brings out the best in me as well. The challenges of my day don’t disappear (my husband’s flight will be cancelled to conclude the weekend) but I am more aware of God’s presence.
Other routines bring me into God’s presence as well. I’ve completed fifteen marathons and the monotony of one foot in front of the other gave me space to hear from God. Training brings structure to my day, even when I feel like staying in bed.
And routines prepare us for hard times. While I expect Ellie’s major health concerns are a thing of the past, life will inevitably bring other hard stuff. I pray that the routines of life, especially the liturgy each Sunday, will give me words to pray when I have none.
Megan Landmeier is a wife, a mom, and an elementary school teacher by day. In her spare time, she blogs at My Stubborn Miss and is opening a photography business. She’s an avid reader, an advocate for kids with Down syndrome, and a runner. You can follow her adventures with almost-four-year-old Ellie on Instagram. I told you you’d fall in love with Ellie by the end of this post ….am I right? And Megan, you are worth gold yourself. Leave a comment for our friend below!0