I've mentioned before that Evelyn and I visit homebound members of the church together. We go to nursing homes and sit and talk with folks, and they typically really enjoy seeing Evelyn. She is always so sweet to them and truly is a little minister herself. Well, this week we've been taking Holy Communion to homebound members since it's Holy Week. Evelyn hasn't gone with me on every visit because it's a lot for her to handle, but I brought her to meet a woman named Eileen today who neither of us has met yet. We went with another member of the congregation named BJ.
Well, Eileen is particularly hard of hearing and didn't know who I was before I arrived with Evelyn. The very first thing she said to me is, "Who takes care of the baby when you are at school?" I replied, like I always do, "I go to school at night so my husband takes care of her" (except I might have said "her dad" instead of "my husband"). Her response-- "My husband and I planned for our babies. Our children have children too and they planned for them." I knodded. She continued, "Did you plan for this baby?"
I've been asked this question quite a few times by all sorts of people-- young and old, family, friends, and strangers-- and frankly, I think it's one of the rudest questions that could possibly be asked, no matter how close you are to someone. I am a very open person, and I have offered the answer (if there really is one; it's a pretty loaded question!) to some people, and others I allow to come to their own conclusion. Bringing a life into the world is a very complicated and personal endeavor, and I see no need to know whether or not it was "planned." For us, Evelyn is alive and well and I'm glad she's here.
Well, I didn't know how to respond to the woman's question. Explaining the previous paragraph to a woman who is hard of hearing is pretty much pointless. You really have to give yes or no answers. I finally responded, "We're so glad she's here."
Eileen was not satisfied with my answer. She said, staring directly into my eyes, "Do you need to know where babies come from?" BJ interjected and said, "Joanna is a great mother and everyone at church just loves Evelyn!" and then continued with an explanation about how we were going to take Holy Communion together. Generally, when we do these visits I give an explanation that goes something like this:
"At First Congregational Church of Webster Groves you are listed each Sunday in our bulletin so that we can remember you in our prayers. We consider you to be a part of the Body of Christ and a member of our church. We're bringing you Holy Communion because one of the things that it represents is that God is constantly inviting you to be a part of the Body of Christ, and we want you to know that just because you can't come to church doesn't mean you aren't a part of our community."
I was so taken aback by the way that the woman had spoken to me that I pretty much allowed BJ to take over the explanation. I truly didn't know what to say. Well, BJ gave an explanation of Communion and I took the bread and began to hand it to the woman. She pulled her hand away and wouldn't look at me. I was surprised and turned to BJ and said, I think you need to give it to her. She did, and she took it. Realizing that it was important to the woman that I not lead, I whispered to BJ to say "This is the Body of Christ, broken for you," and she did. I did the same with the wine. We then said the Lord's Prayer together.
As soon as we were done, the woman looked at me and said, "Do you know how this happened?" pointing at Evelyn. Shoot, I thought this conversation was over. I said, "Yes." She responded, "You can plan for when you're going to have a child." I said, "Yes, I know." (BJ, more gutsy than me, responded, "Not always!") She said, "Who takes care of her while you're in school?" I said, "My husband does." "You're married now?" "Yes." "Were you married when you conceived this child?" "Yes." BJ interjected, "You really shouldn't ask those questions to people, they can be very hurtful." The woman responded, "But you were married. Well that's good. I'm so glad to hear that. This is a very sweet baby."
The rest of the visit was peaceful and joyful as can be.
I have a lot of emotions about this visit and I'm still trying to process them. Maybe you'll hear about it in a sermon sometime. For now, I just wanted to tell the story.
P.S. Between this and having to explain breastfeeding and Communion to a five-year-old yesterday, I'm not sure anything in the world can truly prepare someone for ministry.