Next week, both of my children will be confirmed.
They will come together in the very spot where my parents were married, where my dear aunt's casket rested, where so many of our family members, including me and three of my children's four godparents, also stood as awkward, unsure 14-year-olds.
Together, my twins, now 14 themselves, will make a public profession of their faith and a lifelong pledge of faithfulness to Christ during the Lutheran rite of Confirmation.
Actually, only one of my children will.
My daughter, who is profoundly disabled, won't be able to speak - or kneel - at the altar. She won't be able to answer the questions posed by our pastor. She won't be able to say the Lord's Prayer. She won't be able to accept the communion wafer from our pastor's hand, or stand for the Gospel.
In every way, she is physically unable to proclaim her faith.
Yet, like her able-bodied, academically talented brother, she will be confirmed on May 19 at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Runnemede.
The very thought of this brings me to tears.
I hesitated to ask our pastor if it was even possible for Paige, who has a neurological condition known as Rett Syndrome, to be confirmed. After all, Confirmation, a two-year process, involves a great deal of work and study.
In our church, confirmands are required to attend church, Sunday school, and Monday evening confirmation classes. They must serve as acolytes and crucifers during services and perform community service, such as filling food baskets or volunteering in nursing homes. They also must write a research paper on the life of Martin Luther.
My daughter, who also has epileptic seizures, usually snores in church - when she gets there at all. Truth be told, just getting to church very often is a struggle for us. Paige can't hold a fork, let alone carry a tall brass cross down the church aisle to serve as crucifer. Lighting a candle as an acolyte is completely out of the question.
Though we know she understands everything we say, her most consistent form of interaction is to lift her eyebrow to signal "yes." Sometimes she lets out a "Mom." Once, years ago, she said, "Love." Or at least I thought she did. Maybe it was wishful thinking, my own fervent hope that the sounds she made were professions of the affection I know are in her heart.
Paige's disabilities notwithstanding, there was a part of me that thought, strongly, that she deserves this rite of passage in her life - that she's earned, in her own way, the chance to roll to the altar and demonstrate publicly that she, too, is a child of God. Even with all of the things she is unable to do, she is a shining example of love and grace, hope and beauty, joy and sacrifice, forgiveness and faith.
When I asked, Pastor Andy Engelhart's response was quick and supportive: "I can't imagine how I could say no." He had one request: Would I come to class with Paige, introduce her, and talk to the other confirmands about her condition?
My son, a devout, proud Lutheran - but still a teenage boy - had a single response to this: "Don't embarrass me, Mom." Apparently, I'm an embarrassment, but his sister is not. Strangely, I take pride in that.
In our chat with the confirmands, I pointed out the many things Paige has in common with them: a love of baseball, shopping, barbecue, music. Some of them knew people in wheelchairs. One had seen someone have a seizure. They were respectful. They were sensitive. They even asked a question or two.
I learned that night that our pastor, a gregarious, warm man, has never confirmed a profoundly disabled child before. He asked the confirmands if they would team up to create the stole Paige will wear on Confirmation Day. Together, at the following class, the six classmates cut out the felt letters of her name, along with Christian symbols, and made her stole. Together, they made sure she looks just like them on May 19.
After class, I thanked our pastor for the beautiful stole-making idea, for inviting us to speak, for including our child, for embracing her.
"No problem," he said. "I think, in the end, including Paige will make this special for all of the confirmands."