My 18 year old son was commenting on my lack of spontaneity in taking photos. We were gathered in the basement of my in-laws’ church attending an 85th birthday party for my father-in-law following the Sunday service. My son commented after watching me trying to pose some of the guests enjoying their cake and coffee. He pointed out that I try to take candid shots but I’m always trying to control what everyone in the photo is doing, so pretty much non-candid. Guilty as charged. In response, I grabbed my phone and quickly snapped a selfie of the two of us.
Back at my kitchen table the next day, I was editing the photo into an artsy black and white and/or trying to hide my age spots. I noticed something in the background. Right between our two faces were Mason’s aunt and grandma working in the church kitchen. Look at the photo above and see if you can find them. I know that with my average to poor selfie skills I could never have captured these two lovely women in the small space separating my son and me. They appear to be talking, probably deciding if more hot tea needed to be brewed or if more chocolate birthday cake needed to be cut. Divine intervention? Perhaps. It certainly got me to thinking. I tend to see the world in analogies and this photo became my own personal “Where’s Waldo” book.
A bit of additional background, this 18 year old son (the youngest of our four children) is leaving for college in less than two weeks. He is five years younger than his next oldest sibling so he’s been our only child at home for several years. I gave birth to him when I was 39, just barely. Calling him the “baby” of the family makes him uncharacteristically angry and it doesn’t really fit him anyway. He is 6’5″ and so independent that I often tease that he’d be just fine living in his own apartment. However, for some reason, I still feel compelled to pour his cereal and he obliges. A bit of co-dependency? Perhaps. It may just be that I love being his mom and doing mommish things for him. (His siblings are doing a synchronized and predictable eye roll as they read this.)
It’s at these milestones and transition times that the people, places, and things that have influenced the days since he was born come out of hiding. As I proceeded to edit the remainder of the church basement birthday photos I was struck by the parenting lessons that hung in the air in that small gathering space between the beige concrete blocks, handmade quilts, framed Mona Lisa-esque Jesus painting, squeaky folding chairs and Corning ware coffee cups. Here’s what I found in my church basement Where’s Waldo book:
Parenting Lessons Hidden in a Church Basement (in order of discovery)
- Food: It may not be so much about the “what” of the food in the church basement (or fellowship hall) but the “how.” How it is shared at a communal table, seated, usually not rushed, and often provided by another person in the community of faith. The prayers accompanying the food often include a giving of thanks for the hands who have prepared it. Daily table prayer teaches gratitude.
- Music: The old upright piano in the corner of the room has likely accompanied many rounds of “Jesus Loves Me” and “This Little Light of Mine,” songs that are meaningful and memorable, filled with promises and proclamation. I am thankful for these simple songs of faith that I am sure are still deep in my kids’ memory.
- Intergenerational relationships: The names from my own childhood church basement come back to mind easily: Keo, Gene, Vivian, Don, Alice, Lester, and many more. Their role modeling of being brothers and sisters in Christ still impact me today. Our world today seems to be arranged by age groups, we even go to great lengths to name and claim them . . .Generation X, millennials, baby boomers. The church fellowship spaces our family has spent time in encourage mixing and mingling. We love to find a table with one or two of our older members or teenagers that we haven’t met yet and get to know their story. It’s not so easy to do that with your children at the Mall or the coffee shop, it’s a safe move in a church basement.
- Time: I don’t worry about much but I do worry about the pace of the world that our children are living in. There is always a sense that one has to be always doing. My generation has certainly set the pace. The nut doesn’t fall from the tree as my dad would say. Remember to put some Sabbath time, some church basement time into your week. Teach your children to do the same.
- Service: At the birthday party I was fascinated by watching Jim, 89 years old, walking around with the coffee pot to each table. He does this every Sunday. Something about his intentionality and his smile showed his joy of serving. Kids, let’s all be like Jim.
- A preacher: Seated amongst the coffee and cake eaters was the church’s pastor. He had just led a worship service built on the story of Peter and the other disciples in a boat on a stormy sea and Jesus’ lesson on courage. Matthew 14: 22-33 The message of keeping your eye on Jesus and not letting fear take over your life was powerful. Holy Communion was served by the pastor. The words “for you” never lose their power. May we all make it easy for God to send our children preachers, for it is in the preached Word and the sacraments that they hear the transformational grace, love, and hope that Christ gives freely.
- Celebrating: If the musical “Church Basement Ladies” were cast from the members of my in-laws’ church, Delores would definitely get the lead role. Every week she leads the coffee hour in Happy Birthday and Happy Anniversary songs and even includes an impromptu interview of those being celebrated. Yes, kids, celebrating is a good thing.
- Aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, cousins, neighbors and friends: Relationships. Period. Parenting is hard and developing and maintaining relationships with family, friends, and neighbors can get you through the big and little stresses of life. As my fav Barbara Streisand sings, “People, people who need people . . .” If you find yourself in a new community, head to a church basement.
- Community in conversation: As I looked “Where’s Waldo” style around the church basement, I didn’t see one person on their phone, except for me…taking photos. It was simply people talking to each other. Now, I know that technology has great uses in building communities but I do worry (maybe the second thing I worry about) that children, and moms and dads, too, are losing the art of conversation. Intentionally finding those spaces where conversation seems to flow more easily is a gift for your children. Let them speak for themselves. I still struggle with answering for my kids when we’re in a group of people. I also try to make a point of talking to others’ children. Conversation builds community.
Transition times are hard. It will be difficult next week as we leave our son in his tiny dorm room ready to take on his next big world. However, we do so with overwhelming gratitude for the foundation of faith, family, and community that has been given to us and to our son. May he be called to serve and thrive in a “church basement” community of his own filled with old and new life lessons.
“A camera teaches you how to see without a camera.” Dorothea Lange, Photographer, 1895-1965.