My youngest son has been a Christian for nine whole days. And since that blessed event, our family has enjoyed:
- one looong business trip to the other side of the planet
- one wrenching case of food poisoning
- one leaky faucet of a cold passed around
- one week of miserable solo parenting
In short, it feels like a long time since somebody got joyfully plunged into the waters of new life.
His baptism was beautiful. (When I cast my memory back over the long and ugly week in between.) We were surrounded by family and friends; we had wonderful godparents and grandparents cross the country to stand with us; we had an eager young seminarian-turned-deacon dunk his first baby en route to priesthood.
The weather was perfect; the company was delightful. The children’s choir at Mass even belted out my favorite new hymn, the inspiration for this blog’s name. T’s godmother described our weekend together as “a little glimpse of heaven,” and she was right. Old friends, new babies, lots of laughter and good conversation. Not a single complaint.
But the week that followed? I could whine from here till the middle of next June about how rotten it was. While one member of this household (ahem) got to climb the Great Wall of China, another got to enjoy slightly less thrilling new experiences, including, but not limited to:
- spending a half hour blow-drying the beloved stuffed animal that was “given a bath” in the baby’s tub so that the tearful toddler could still take him to bed
- learning the hard way that if the ranch dip at the restaurant “doesn’t really taste like ranch,” you will pay a nasty price for having tried it
- simultaneously comforting a screaming newborn, a howling beagle, and a sobbing toddler who pinched his fingers when the neighborhood Boy Scout who showed up peddling Christmas wreaths let the screen door slam behind him (the phrase “it’s not a great time right now…” apparently not meaning much to prepubescent boys)
We all survived the week, but barely. I felt like a broken shell of a mother when F came home on Sunday – a far cry from the joyful mothering spirit I’d been just a week before. The honeymoon phase of this baptism was short-lived, to say the least.
If I ever needed a reminder that sacraments – whether we witness them or participate in them – are for imperfect people, this week was just that. Sometimes we get to glimpse heaven, but inevitably we crash back to earth. And yet that’s the point, it seems. We have to live here in the mess, the imperfection, and God’s grace is what gets us through.
Last Sunday, before F arrived home, I decided to take the boys to Mass. An ill-fated decision, it turned out, to think I was yet capable of wrangling a small baby and a wriggly boy by myself at church, even in the cry room. S banged on chairs, tried to run out of the room, and spent most of the Mass wandering around whining. T opted not to nap at his normal nap time, refused to let me put him down, and loudly snarfed and snorted through the entire Eucharistic prayer the way only a congested newborn could. At no less than six points during the service, my mind screamed CUT YOUR LOSSES AND LEAVE NOW, BEFORE IT GETS EVEN WORSE.
But I am stubborn as a mule, and I could not shake the feeling that we had to stick it out, that there was still grace to be found in this shred of a Sunday.
We were the very last ones in the communion line, S yanking on my arm, T’s head flopping dangerously off my shoulder. I’m sure we looked like a train wreck, because that’s how I felt. As we rounded the corner back to the cry room, the very same children’s choir from last Sunday ceased their warbling of the communion hymn. Great, I thought. Now the whole church gets to watch us stumble back in complete silence.
And then I heard their sweet voices start to sing this same song once more.
It was the mothering spirit song. The song that always gave me hope. The song that reminds me that God’s mercies are fresh as the morning and sure as the sunrise. That God is always faithful. That God does not change.
So I burst into tears. (Confirming train-wreck status for the whole congregation to see.) But I didn’t care. Because I saw then why I stuck it out, why I refused to leave early despite the disaster of church-with-two. Sacraments are grace even when we feel least grateful.
And at the end of a hellish week, that was a much-needed glimpse of heaven.