Tuesday, August 08, 2006

soul food: looking for religion

In our 12-years of marriage, we have not yet found a church that we feel comfortable joining.

The first 10-years or so of my life, I was raised Catholic. But then when my parents divorced, my immediate family (in large part) went AWOL from the Catholic Church ... and my mother and I landed at the Unitarian church.

Growing up, Charlie never went to church. Although, he does have memories of eating little "crackers" during a brief stint at a Catholic school in Santa Barbara.

During my college years, I had stopped attending church, so it wasn't something that I really missed. But when Charlie and I were engaged - we had an important decision to make regarding where we would be married. We opted for the First Parish Church in Concord, Massachusetts. Since I had been born in Concord - lived in Concord - had a large portion of my family still living in or near Concord - and had attended the Unitarian Church during my "formative years" ... this beautiful church was a perfect choice.

Since we've been married and particularly since we've had children, I have felt an overwhelming desire to go back to church. Last summer, when the babies were 10-months old, we returned to the First Parish Church and had them Dedicated. It was a beautiful ceremony and it was an awesome experience for both Charlie and I ... revisiting the 230-year old church that was once home to Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne and a host of other famous transcendentalists.

I think that the reason I feel such a need - now more than ever - to find a church "home" is because I see the importance of being surrounded by a positive community, particularly since our family is so far away. My expectation is that in attending church with regularity - it will help Charlie and I grow closer in our marriage ... and it will also help to provide us a better parenting 'road map' as our children grow.

Church is also a wonderful place to recruit babysitters.

On our voyage of finding the *right* church, we have visited just about every kind of church imaginable. The churches that we visited were either too far away, too pushy, too extreme, non-welcoming ... or ... we didn't really "fit". And since I feel the need to be completely honest, I'll add that the act of tithing 10% of our income, right-of-the-bat, is a tough pill to swallow. Especially for Charlie.

For the most part, I really enjoy going to church. Whenever I hear a good sermon - or sing hymns, I almost always cry. There are times when I'm in church and I feel so moved by the experience of being there, the words that are being spoken, the songs that are being sung ... that I'm convinced my very soul is being touched by God. When you have the right "Minister" (Reverend, Priest, Father, Pastor, Rabbi, Monk, Bishop, Swami, Roshi, Sensei) deliver the message - it's a powerful feeling. Even though Charlie didn't attend church while he was growing up ... during one of the services I dragged him to we attended before children, he looked at me and whispered "Jen! I get it!!"

When our triplets came home from the hospital the week of Thanksgiving, a neighborhood church adopted us. One of their members, a fellow triplet mom, remembered the difficulties in having three premature newborns at home. Unbeknownst to us, she took our name back to the pastoral committee and asked what her church could do to help.

For six weeks, someone came by twice a week - bringing a home cooked meal. In addition, once a week, someone came by to cut our grass. They brought us a huge food basket filled with everything necessary to make a Thanksgiving Dinner ... including a $20.00 Butterball gift certificate. What really makes this story impressive is that we didn't even belong to the church ... these people were complete strangers to us.

It was/is our opinion, that any church willing to reach out to absolute strangers with the kindness they had shown to us, was definitely a church worthy of closer investigation. Once our babies were a "little older", Charlie and I promised each other we'd attend a service at this church, and see if maybe we could finally find a "fit."

The first time we attended church, the babies were 13-months old. We sat in the cry room the whole time and caught an "Amen" at the end of the service.

The second time we attended church, the babies were 15-months old. We sat in the cry room the whole time and didn't catch anything. We didn't even realize the service was over until someone came in and started cleaning the room.

The third time we attended church, the babies were 17-months old. We put them in the nursery and ran in to the chapel? sanctuary? room with all the chairs where you sit and listen to the sermon, clutching the "beeper" they provided us, should in the off chance, they need to summon us. Less than seven minutes in to the sermon, the beeper lit up and started vibrating. For a brief moment, I forgot we had triplets in the nursery. I was thinking that maybe our table was finally ready. The rest of the sermon was spent in the cry room with William. And then, Carolyn - another seven minutes later. Elizabeth was happy as a clam playing in the nursery the whole time. Three days later - everyone was sick.

The fourth time we attended church - the babies were 20-months old. I went by myself, and stayed the whole time in the cry room, where I was armed with a huge box of Goldfish crackers. I made it through "Amazing Grace" and then thought "What kind of FOOL goes to church by themselves with 3-20 month olds and 3,000 bright orange little crackers that are being crushed all over the floor?!"

Obviously, a fool that is in dire need of God.

Because it's been several months since Charlie and I have attended church together, we decided to drop everything we were doing, dress the kids up in something other than a diaper and a t-shirt and force ourselves to put on something more than a pair of shorts and a bathing suit make an effort to go this past Saturday.

One of the things that attracts us to this particular church - aside from the kindness they demonstrated when we had newborn triplets - is that they have services on Saturday at 4:30 PM. Because this is a time that causes the least amount of impact to our schedule, it is usually the time that we attempt going ... the previous four times we'd actually gone.

This past Saturday - the church was having a picnic after the service which means we didn't have to rush home and prepare dinner for three starved kids and then clean up the disaster they left behind, and this was just the motivation we needed to drop everything we were doing, dress the kids up in something other than a diaper and a t-shirt and force ourselves to put on something more than a pair of shorts and a bathing suit get out and meet more people in our community.

I'm not sure what exactly we were thinking ... but we decided to leave both the stroller AND our triplet harnesses at home. I guess we figured that if we'll be at church, we'll be surrounded by positive energy, helpful people, and surely in the House of God - our children will stick with us.

Boy were we wrong. In fact, I don't think we've ever been so wrong.

We sat out the service in the cry room with Carolyn. There was no way - she would have anything to do with being left behind. Fortunately, William and Elizabeth were perfectly content playing in the church nursery, so it was very nice to have one-on-one time with one of our children.

While Carolyn took out every last item from my purse and chatted it up on my cell phone ... Charlie and I were able to listen to an entire sermon on the importance of building friendships. People were encouraged to introduce themselves and talk to the worshippers seated next to them. All around us, we could see people looking around the room, smiling at one another - identifying all the potential new friends that they were going to make at the picnic following the service. We listened to awesome music and at the end of 55 minutes, we felt spiritually rejuvenated.

We wandered back to the nursery to pick up William and Elizabeth and headed outside for the picnic. While I took Carolyn through the food line - Charlie kept William and Elizabeth entertained. Once I had a plate piled high with all kinds of food I incorrectly assumed would keep the kids by my side, Charlie left me alone with all three toddlers - while he went through the food line.

That's when all hell broke loose. Elizabeth went left. Carolyn went right. William took off running straight ahead ... while I stood by my little white fold-up chair pleading "Who wants some watermelon!?!"

Here's a tip... not a single one of my kids.

Not. A. One.

The church is located on the top of a very steep (45 degree angle) hill, which is covered with ice plant. There was no fence at the top, or the bottom of this big hill. Which was very unfortunate because at the bottom of this big hill, is a very busy road. (Because I neglected to bring my camera on Saturday, I drove past the church again today, with the sole purpose of snapping off a photo of the big hill.)

As I stood there with a plate full of fruit, I watched with horror while two of my three toddlers, galloped down the hill. Once they started running, the forward momentum was so great, they couldn't stop and their little arms were frozen above their heads as they plummeted. I flung my plate of watermelon (cantaloupe, fancy little grapes, macaroni, rice, BBQ ribs and corn) high in the air and quickly spotting the third toddler trying to collapse a folding chair (with a plate of food on it) and convincing myself they'd be fine for the time it took me to perform a rescue, took off galloping down the hill after my other two children.

I can't remember who it was that was trying to collapse the chair ... or which two kids were running down the hill. It's just a blur of little people - moving much too quickly.

Here in California, ice plant is something that is used as a slope stabilizer. It takes root and grows extremely fast - so it works well to minimize soil run-off. Although this succulent plant does a fine job stabilizing slopes - it doesn't provide the soundest footing. Better stated - I'd have better luck staying upright galloping down a hill covered in butter.

I instantly realized that I was going to fall down once I stepped foot on the ice plant, so relying on my years of experience wiping out with downhill skiing ... I pointed myself in the direction I wanted to go, and with arms flailing for balance - toppled down the hill. Only by the Grace of God was I able to stay upright and not completely crush my 27-pound children beneath me. I grabbed both of them by their arms, before they crashed on to the sidewalk, and then turned and slid my way back up the hill.

When I arrived at the top covered in sweat and barely able to breathe, I noticed that the third baby was still attempting to collapse a folding chair, and Charlie was only mid-way through the food line. I sat down on my chair, picked up the food off the ground that had been tossed in the air with one hand - held on to Carolyn with the other hand - and with one foot squarely on William's little shoe, another foot squarely on Elizabeth's little shoe - I picked the food off the plate with my mouth, and flipped it in to their little open mouths. Like a mother bird, feeding her chicks.

Not really. But it wouldn't surprise you, would it?

After what seemed like an eternity - Charlie finally made his way back to us. I think a total of three minutes had lapsed. Feeling like the two of "us" could manage the three of "them" ... I released my death grip. The kids immediately took off running, again.

Elizabeth made a beeline for an absolute stranger's plate, which she started hungrily grabbing food off of .... while Carolyn and William made a beeline for the drink station and started shoveling ice chips from the cooler in to their mouths.

Less than five minutes in to this ordeal, Charlie and I decided to cut our losses and leave immediately. We were absolute fools to attempt an outdoor picnic with 2 adults and 3-21 month olds... sans baby stroller and safety harnesses. This is the kind of maneuver that gives parenting toddler triplets a bad name and makes mom and dad desperately wish that they didn't have to wait another two hours before they could start drinking.

We rounded up the kids and made our way out. As we were walking back to the parking lot, the kids started frantically waving and shouting "bye-bye" to everyone. All the people that we had been eyeing during the service with the hopes that they would be our newest friends, just smiled at us and said "Oh, how adorable! Gosh, you really have your hands full ... don't you?"

We didn't catch a single name. Not a single new friend. Not a single potential babysitter. But we did hear a few people call out "I'll be praying for you!"

That's nice. We need all the prayers we can get ... considering we're planning to go back to church again ... next weekend.


  1. Oh Jen,
    You have a way with words. You made me LOL at work. Again!
    Good luck this weekend at church. It will get better!

  2. You really are a great writer. I can totally see you running down the hill to retrieve your little ones! I'm chuckling here at work too.

    We are kind of in the same boat. The church we belong to has a contemporary service at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday. That's just a horrible time for us b/c of naptime and just general crankiness. We put the boys in the nursery the ONE time we attempted to attend. They too gave us the infamous beeper and actually said "we NEVER have to beep anyone". Well, about 35 minutes into the service right when Steve exited to use the restroom and my daughter got on stage to perform one of the Vacation Bible School songs with her group....I got paged! I wanted to run (I thought it was serious if they NEVER beep anyone) but I had to wait to have someone give my husband a messgae and then tell my daughter to exit stage left. It was a MESS. THEN when we got to the nursery they were FINE. The lady said "they WERE just crying and wouldn't stop".

    Needlesstosay we haven't been back yet and that was a year ago.

    I hope you find a church "fit". It would be great to belong to a nice, positive church community.

  3. It will get better. I just bet that anyone you asked to give you a hand at that church would be so happy to do so. You are not alone and CAN ask for help---people would love to help if asked. Do not be afraid to ask---remember me asking strangers at the beach to help when Jim was panting? They were thrilled to help with such beautiful babies--of course I am slightly prejudice. I think people are so afraid to step in to help a child, because of all the Perverts you hear about, but Have Faith. I love that church. I think you will once you get to know a few people. I am so happy you feel the need to go.

  4. Oh! Oh! Oh! That's all I could say about every paragraph! I can picture it! I can feel it! While I'm not in the search for a church, I TOTALLY empathize with the feelings that come with taking the kids to church - like, "Why did we bother?" But it will get better, and you are right - church is a wonderful place to find a wonderful framework of parenting guidelines and a positive community. And someday a place to get the little spiritual lift that we all definitely need. The best thing I can say, is definitely go back next week. As it becomes routine for the kids, they will understand what the nursery is all about, and the more people see you there, the more they will recognize what they can do to help out. Hang in there!

  5. I loved reading about your church experience! You're a great writer.


  6. It's time to make the jump over to the Jewish side. We don't care if kids run around during services! LOL! Can't wait to see you guys in September! I know...I know... there's gonna be 5 of you!

  7. I hope you find what you're looking for.

  8. I so look forward to your posts...
    My girls desperately want to go to Church, but Ben at two and a half is a bit too much on a Sunday morning. I can't even begin to imagine having three toddlers LOL(although you make it sound like lots of fun). The Church that you describe sounds very welcoming. I am in the same position, my childhood church is in another state and I am yet to find the right one for our family in Queensland.

  9. I am glad you are going back. It just takes some time for them to learn the ropes. We were sitting in our "Sacrament Service" and my husband is in charge of doing the count. He was walking up and down the isles and my two-year old --who WILL NOT call her dad by anything other than his first name--yelled "Where is Deremy? Oh, dere he is. Tome back RIGHT now Deremy! One….Two….Free!" Oh the shades of red I turned.

    If you are in need for some good babysitters I can give you a little tip from my own experiences. In the LDS church the youth groups are divided up into "Young Men" and "Young Women." You could contact a local bishop and ask for the phone number of the Young Women's President. She could give you some names of girls she deemed trustworthy to baby sit. *Hopefully* you would find one that you and your kids would love. I am not terribly familiar with many other denominations, but I am sure there are a lot of other church groups that have a similar system. You should try calling some of them. Maybe even the one that you attended has one.

    I can only imagine you *flying* down the hill. I shouldn’t laugh because I know you were trying to rescue babies, but the imagery of it had me ROLLING!

  10. Jenna you totally inspire me and make me LOL! I can just see you tumbling down the hill after your little ones, but at the same time understand the horror you feel when one of your own is in danger. Kyle is so fast and gets into more things than I could have ever imagined.........and yours is tripled!

    Gator and I had the same conversation this weekend......that we should try going to church again. Best of luch this weekend.....don't give up because you really can find a great church family and friends there....as we did in Rock Hill a few years ago. They will always be there for you just as your own personal family and friends will be.

    Loves and kisses from our monkey to your three!