Attending Sunday worship has always been a “little calm inside my storm” — so says Julie Sauer. And whenever I see Julie and her family arrive at worship, I am inspired.
Julie, her husband, Bob, and their adult daughter, Christina, generally sit in the same spot most Sundays. It would be easy for them to stay home. Christina is 32 years old with a cognition level of an 18- to 20-month-old. Christina has multiple seizures a day.
Throughout the service they hold her, comfort her and keep her from becoming a distraction to others. Parents who have children with disabilities struggle with the decision to bring their children to church. Will they be welcomed, loved and embraced, or will they cause a stir in the sanctuary?
It is a soul-troubling decision. Julie and Bob have established a routine with Christina. Consistency is extremely important. Music and kindness brought them to Mount Olive Lutheran in Rochester. The church felt like home.
Julie grew up on the family farm in the Decorah, Iowa, area. The most influential person in Julie’s life was her grandma Jeanette. Julie recalls those lessons from her grandmother — be a strong woman of faith, work hard and be dedicated to your family. Her grandma said to meet every challenge that comes along with the grace of God doing the very best that you can and treat every day as if it’s a gift. Tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone. Julie draws on her grandma’s wisdom every day.
Early in her life Julie found that her church was a safe place to be. The small rural Iowa church was just a mile and a half up the road from the farm and was a social spot for the local community. She felt valued, comfortable and enjoyed growing up in church attending Sunday school, confirmation and all the youth activities all through high school. Her foundation of strength, faith and kindness was established in that small parish.
Julie’s daughter Christina was born July 27, 1987. Julie’s son Chad, who was 9 at that time, was ecstatic to have a baby sister. Julie remarked that when this beautiful and healthy baby girl with dark hair was born, there was no happier family on earth at that moment. Julie already pictured her daughter in pink dresses with ruffles and all the “firsts” they would share.
At nearly 6 months old Christina began having seizures. The long road to find answers began and it was excruciating. There were numerous medications and their side effects, injections, scans, procedures, poking and prodding. Julie looked into her daughter’s eyes and saw the pain and confusion. As parents know — when your child hurts, you hurt.
The decisions became even more weighted. Christina would have three major brain surgeries all in an effort to control her seizures and improve her life. She underwent surgeries in 1999, 2002 and 2006. There may be more down the road.
Chad became protective of his sister, and he was an incredible support for his mom. Chad took on an adult role early in his life to help them both.
Throughout Christina’s medical care and evaluations, Julie and her family needed to trust the physicians and God. Julie told me, “I trusted my faith but I was still terrified.” Before moving to Rochester, her Iowa church was the place that helped their family at times find the inner peace and strength they were seeking.
Julie met Bob in 1972 and they maintained a long distance romance when Bob was in the Air Force but eventually they both moved in different paths. They found each other again 20 years later and blended their families in 1997. They each had two children from their first marriage. On Nov. 26, 2001, Bob legally adopted Christina.
Pastor Glenn Monson, of Mount Olive, says Bob and Julie help Christina interact in a safe environment and their attendance at worship is remarkable. Pastor Glenn said, “They are the epitome of faithfulness, and we are honored to have them in our midst.”
Near the end of each Sunday service, communion is received. Julie and Bob, both holding on to Christina, lovingly guide her to communion. Although she cannot partake, there is hope that the blessing she receives is a way for Christina to feel the presence of the Lord. Julie said Christina smiles when she is blessed by the pastor. She is part of the church.
Christina is happy in her routines, in particular at home. She enjoys music and puzzles, taking walks and going for rides. She is affectionate and loving. As you talk to her, she just might give you a kiss. Bob and Julie find joy every day with Christina.
Christina is not a burden but an important part of the family. She deserves to have the same rights and enjoy the same things as anyone. Christina goes with Bob and Julie most everywhere.
There are people we meet in our lives who make a difference in how we think and what we believe. Bob and Julie and their family, along with the grace of God, will love and care for their daughter at home as long as they are able.
Grandma Jeanette’s wisdom still rings true. Christina is loved by many.