…as if his whole vocation
were endless imitation…
I am about nine years old in my estimation. We visit Grace Vineyard for the first time. When I say “we,” we are my family sans the youngest eight (!). Sam is the baby.
At the time, my parents were trying to work out how church fit into their lives and what that was supposed to look like. The prior years of my life in relation to church are a blur of memories: Catholic school and multiple masses a week until the end of first grade. Then I went to public school and attended Catholic church, but Mom had questions that caused her to start exploring other places of worship. For a while we attended three churches on Sunday and another on Wednesday night. The exuberance and/or desperation of my parents to figure out where to do church caused my small self to have but one concern as far as church went: what restaurant were we closest to at lunch time during our Sunday marathons of church-going. We lived in Florida during those years and sometimes went to the beach amid the array of services we attended if the weather was nice on Sunday afternoon.
By the time we moved to Texas a few years later, we found a church, and then it did not fit any more, and the Sunday I am remembering may be several Sundays combined into one because memory blurs over time. We are visiting Grace because we need a new church. I do not remember a lot about initial impressions, but I remember going to the children’s program and hearing a Bible story and playing outside. I remember a few kids from our school were there. I remember the music was loud. I like that.
My dad would tell me later that on that first Sunday we started to sing songs with the rest of the people at Grace, and that was status quo as far as church goes. At some point during the singing, James Jones, a regular at Grace turned to my parents and asked if he could hold their baby.
You should know that their baby, Sam, at three, sat in a wheelchair and was spastic. He could hold his head up but not much else. He was loud. He had grown to a size that people knew there was something about him, that he was one of those kids who would never run or play or speak. Sometimes people do not know how to be around someone like Sam. It is hard to know if you should look him in the eye or talk to him, and sometimes when you do, he reacts strangely, erratically. It can be awkward now, and it could be awkward then. People did not ask to hold my parent’s baby, and that was okay. He was different. We knew that.
James Jones, though, asked to hold their baby, and my parents stopped visiting churches after that. James loving Sam communicated something about God’s heart to us: acceptance and grace and compassion. We had found our way home.