The tradition of the Church, and of the Goorchenko family, is to celebrate the great feasts of the Nativity and Pascha with a late night liturgy.
As Eastern Catholics, this means a several hours long liturgy which is sung all the way through, involves lots of standing, and requires us to show up early enough to camp out in a heap in the back of our tiny church, where not only our son’s wheelchair, but our five zillion children, will have a place to congregate, mill about, and rotate among chairs in various patterns.
(This also provides us with the closest exit to the confessional for sitting out a scream session or mid-liturgical conversations with Jesus, often involving an existential bent.)
On this particular Christmas Eve, we had spent a glorious several hours dining with my visiting parents, and the time came to collect our 8 children at the time (the number varies, depending on foster kiddos) and drive to church.
I wandered to the back of the Church where my family was sitting, and it hit my husband and I simultaneously that, even though we had remembered our son’s feeding pump, food, medications, and all nature of possible interventions, we had managed to forget a bottle and formula for our nine month old foster daughter who had not eaten in several hours and would probably be starving within about two minutes.
I gasped audibly. This child was a cherub, always, always happy and with a smile for everyone, until that tummy starts to tell her it’s hungry. Then she becomes a crazed maniac until she is filled with warm milk. I tried to imagine her falling asleep in my arms and not needing food during the next 4 hours of our late night, and knew it was a pipe dream. Of course I had forgotten my checkbook, and my husband had a ten dollar bill, hardly enough to buy formula or bottles in any combination, as far as I knew.
Regardless, Alex told me he was going to leave to find an open market and see if he could buy a bottle and formula. On Christmas Eve. St. Anthony, do your thing.
Liturgy started, and eventually, Alex came back with the most pretentious box of individual 2 ounce sterile bottles of formula, complete with a sterile nipple. The entire ensemble cost just around $8. Who on earth could buy such a thing on a regular basis? The rest of us would starve. I smiled because our daughter would probably go through four of these cunning bottles in one feeding, and surreptitiously began to feed the hungry little person, switching out the nipple to a different bottle while she howled every 2 ounces.
We had questioned whether to bring a meal for our son Joseph, who has a g-tube and hadn’t been tolerating his late night feed very well. I had decided to put him on his food anyway, because I’m smart like that, and sure enough, about halfway into the liturgy, his little intestinal tract started churning and wretching until food was pouring out of both his mouth and his g-tube. Then, while I attempted to catch the vomit coming out of his mouth with a plastic bag, his syringe overflowed, causing milk to pour all over him and into the bottom of the wheelchair.
“I’m leaving!” I fumed in a loud whisper. “We never should have come!” My husband eventually realized that Joseph had exploded into a streaming fountain of milk and puke. “Give me a bag!” I ordered, and he gave me a plastic ziplock bag, which had existed since time immemorial in his backpack and was now filled with holes. I manged to empty the syringe into the bag, which only made a bigger mess as it became a decorative formula fountain there in the very back of the church.
The whole experience was largely painful. By the end of the evening, my husband’s shirt was covered with blood and we have no idea why. By the time we got home, his pants were covered in poop, because aforementioned vomiting boy also had been battling diarrhea. We have since found out that it is all over our van seats, somehow.
It it worth it? Receiving Jesus Christ in Holy Communion is always worth it, but hey. There are many masses at different times. Why do I need to ensure that our biggest feasts of the year are marked by utter stress and mayhem? Why can’t we find a nice 6 p.m. Vigil liturgy to welcome our Savior’s birth into the world? I struggle. I waffle. I hem and haw.
Jesus didn’t get born under the most convenient circumstances, and sometimes, our big family’s attempts to pray at the Divine Liturgy seem hopeless. But the Liturgy happens…we hack our way through it, and then our mouths get filled with the Holy of Holies. Thank you, Jesus, for your precious Gift of Self, and for Your grace and mercy. I need You. Oh, Lord, how I need You. Now, help me to remember this come Pascha!
Note: This week is Feeding Tube Awareness Week. I hope you will take some time after reading this post to visit the great websites available on the subject.
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Mindy Goorchenko lives in Eagle River, Alaska with her husband and seven children, as well as foster children who may be living with them at any given time. Her favorite subjects to write about are Catholicism, adoption, foster care, and parenting.