Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Broken Pieces: A Reflection on Grief

This piece was originally written for the Intranet Blog at Fairview Health Services, but I thought it might serve as a reminder to those who are carrying grief as caregivers or loved ones that you are not alone. We honor your pain.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comfored." -Matthew 5:4

When I was a girl I had a doll. My parents told me that on Christmas morning my little feet scampered into the living room where she sat under the tree, and I shyly asked my mom, “Mama, who is that dolly for?” I very creatively named her Gwendolly, and she got appropriately beaten as I dragged her everywhere with me from the age of three until her untimely demise. When I was seven, my parents took in two abused dogs, one whose horrible abuse left her blind in one eye, with an at-home docked tail. The other had not been as physically tormented, but was behaviorally just as bad. A friend of my mom's had seen them tied outside in the hot Kansas summer one too many days before finally spiriting them away in the night and begging my parents to take them in (as we lived far enough away for the owners to not come looking). They were awful. They destroyed everything, and had to be confined when we were away because they peed and pooped on everything. One Sunday morning, we left them enclosed in a room to go to church, and when we returned we found that they had tunneled through a wall out a closet and right into my bedroom, where they destroyed most of my favorite toys. Among the casualties was Gwendolly. I was crushed. My mom promised she could fix Gwendolly, and packed her away in a Price Chopper grocery bag with words of assurance that someday Gwendolly would be okay again.

Although this is perhaps a silly example, this story has come to my mind as I have found myself in the middle of several weeks of irreparable tragedy. The week began with a difficult on-call visit, where I ministered to family of a dying child, and the staff who were trying desperately to make it better for them. I then received a slew of bad news from friends and family members that left me reeling and struggling with how to care for those directly affected, and for my own feelings as well. I have spent some time attempting to wrap words around the depth of grief and pain that these experiences have awakened in me, not because these losses are my losses, but because private and communal tragedy raise such complex questions and emotions and I am left feeling like a child trying to understand senselessness and compassion and hope with a mind too frail to grasp it all. Being a caregiver is very much akin to this at times. Walking with patients and families through illness and death, though a gift, has unique challenges. It raises questions of cosmic justice and purpose, it can incite anger and remind us of our own trauma, and it raises our own fears in the midst of our pain for another. We not only hold our friends and patients when they grieve, but we wonder if we could be next; if their pain could be our pain, or when it will be.

And I think of my tattered and destroyed doll, and I think that even then I knew she couldn't be repaired. There is no healing from the digested destruction of canine teeth. Maybe she could have been some kind of Frankenstein's monster doll, but she wouldn't have been mine. And nothing can replace the children who are lost, and nothing can fill the holes which are left when the families of our patients leave the hospital with a teddy bear, or an old coat, or a wedding ring. And what of our hearts as we watch the tattered remains of lives moving in and out of our walls day after day? My heart was tired this week, and I suspect your heart has been tired at times. I have seen the weary faces of doctors, nurses, therapists, radiology technicians, psych associates, and more. We gather up remains of lives in our hearts, like my mom's grocery bag. And what to do with these things?

I like the biblical image of humans as “clay jars” because it adequately communicates our frailty, and something about how serendipitous our lives can be. My purpose in writing this is not to offer a nugget of wisdom for how to move beyond grief and let go of those stories which touch us, but instead to honor the broken pieces which we have lovingly gathered up into our arms and hearts. I don't think this is quite about hope, because I always have hope, and I grip it with fingers that are sometimes raw and bleeding from sheer determination as life and death pull me further from it. But even with hope in the palms of our hands, we are still carrying the heavy things.

Right now, as I grieve with my friends and co-workers, I am trying to put these things in a safe place. Not to abandon them, or forget them, but to entrust them to something bigger than me, whether that be God, the universe, the community, or something else entirely, because not one of us can bear such heartbreak alone. Like a seven year old nodding while her mom carefully places the bag on the upper shelf of her bedroom closet and gently reassures her that things will be okay, we must in time learn to lay these pieces to rest, trusting that somehow, someday, we, and the lost, and the ones who grieve will be whole again. But in the meantime, we honor the shards, and we weep over them, and we let our hearts be broken for a while.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Matthew 25:41-43 for Trump's America

"I was hungry and you told me to get a job. I was thirsty and you told me lead is good for me. I was a stranger and you built a wall. I was wearing a short skirt and you said I was asking for it. I was sick and you took away my healthcare. I was in prison and you took away my humanity..." 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Do Not Grow Weary

"It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children." -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Washington, D.C., August 1963

"Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all." -Galatians 6:7-10a

How relevant that today we reflect on the progress we have made since this day over 50 years ago, as well as all the many ways we have not progressed. How important to notice that injustice is not tied only to skin color, but sexual orientation, gender expression, and disability. How appropriate that this inaugural month that we notice those among us who still struggle to be recognized as truly one of God's children. And how appropriate that we should say 'not good enough' and fight on, not waiting on time or the whims of those in power, but pressing forward, demanding and creating justice in our communities regardless of those in power who say 'good enough.' This is how we bring about God's promised kingdom where lion and lamb feed side by side, where we dwell together in the city where the river of God that flows from the throne waters the trees which are a healing balm for our pain and hate and divide. Do not grow weary; the journey is long, but we go together.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Letters to my Dear Sophia: Finding Beauty in an Ugly World

This is a series entitled "Letters to My Dear Sophia," which I intend as a compilation both for my daughter when she grows up, but for you as you raise your children, and think about yourselves in the oft-parental relationship to your heavenly parent. My intent is that, through reading these letters to my daughter and the intense love I have poured into them, you might hear an echo of the kind of love and hope that God has for all of us.

It is December 29th, and it is cold and dark. Last week we celebrated your first Christmas, and it was everything I could have hoped it would be. Your dad was too sick to go, so you and I stood in church and sang Christmas carols and watched as we passed flames to one another during Silent Night, breaking the winter darkness with light and hope. It was so profoundly meaningful to me to share this moment with you, because for me, Christmas has always been a reminder of how to find beauty in the midst of the grimmest, darkest part of the year. Especially this year, with the horrible suffering in Aleppo and the many deaths of beloved celebrities, and the surge of white supremacy and hate crimes, the symbolism of this light, of Christ sweeping through the darkness like tiny flames that could not be overcome by the deep night soothes my weary soul.

But now Christmas is over, and we have entered what I consider the ugly part of winter. In November we have Thanksgiving, and in December we light candles through Advent, joyfully anticipating Christ's coming and coming again. In a few days we'll ring in the new year and celebrate Epiphany, and then it will be January and we'll enter not the darkest, but the coldest and gloomiest time of year. Although the days will be longer, the Christmas lights will come down and the tree will be brown and shed its needles all over the living room as I wrestle it out the door. We will commence the long slog of subzero temperatures, snow, ice, and an even more frustrating wait as the days get longer, but slushier. It's an ugly time of year, especially around late February or early march, when it's still dark outside at 5 pm, but now instead of pristine flakes, we have dirty half-melted snow piled eight feet high everywhere, and the weather teases us as it temporarily reaches habitable temperatures and then plummets again, leaving us six more weeks of snow boots and long underwear.

There's a lot of ugliness in the world, and it becomes readily apparent. Every day, news reports another horrible thing a politician said, or another terrible tragedy like mass shootings, hate crimes, poverty, destruction, and more. Every day we come face to face with callous people who would rather buy a new pair of shoes than give a quarter to a person in need, or who say disgusting, ugly things about women, immigrants, LGBT folks, or certain ethnic groups. So shocked are we in the face of this ugliness that it can be hard to know how to respond. It is overwhelming. Because I have raised you to have a soft, kind heart, I know you will see it, and that it will overwhelm you too at times. I have cried more tears than stars in the sky over so many tragedies that my fellow humans face.

Fred Rogers, one of my personal theological heroes, once explained how his mother instructed him to handle scary situations by saying: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." This is a beautiful example of how we can begin to respond to the ugliness of the world. Although it can sometimes feel like the darkness is more powerful than the light, looking for those helping demonstrates that there are glimmers of light even in the most deep, scary night. But to take it further, I would say it's important to spiritually feed yourself by seeking out beauty. Our brains are hardwired to look for the negative and scary. This is how we adapted to dangerous environments; learning from others' mistakes and paying attention to threads helped us survive as a species. But in our news-saturated, hyper-connected world, this tendency to look for the dangers can turn us from action and preparation to a terror which freezes us, and a hopelessness that is hard to overcome.

One of my favorite passages from the epistles says: "Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:8) This is actually fantastic advice for how we can keep ourselves sane when things get really ugly. It's not to say that we ignore what's ugly, but that we cultivate in ourselves the ability to notice God's presence and God's kingdom in our midst so that we are not overwhelmed when things get really rough. If you notice the beauty in our ugly world when things are okay, it will give you strength and determination when it's harder to find those beautiful things. When you see how strangers contributed money to buy a car for a down-on-his-luck dad, or a child comforting a friend, or experience a warming hug in the midst of loss, you are reminded that we are not alone, and the darkness is not impermeable. Even the darkest night cannot overcome the smallest flame.

So choose beauty, little one. Choose to see with eyes oriented not at now, but at not yet. Choose not to see a terrified young woman with a frail baby in a manger, but the beginning of a story that changed everything. Choose to look at where light has broken into darkness so that you may see that the truth of light, and hope, and healing, and peace, and joy, and lions and lambs and a city where it is never night and the gate is always open is only a hair's breadth away from you at any given moment. When you look with those eyes oriented toward that promise, you will be emboldened and strengthened to bring that reality a little nearer. Your fears will be answered with an overwhelming word of peace and comfort, and you will begin to see the beauty which overwhelmingly renews and restores all that was once ugly, broken, or evil. You will see Easter lilies blooming in brown slush, and know that spring was actually waiting for you the whole time.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Letters to My Dear Sophia: When Evil Wins the Day

This is a series entitled "Letters to My Dear Sophia," which I intend as a compilation both for my daughter when she grows up, but for you as you raise your children, and think about yourselves in the oft-parental relationship to your heavenly parent. My intent is that, through reading these letters to my daughter and the intense love I have poured into them, you might hear an echo of the kind of love and hope that God has for all of us.

My dearest Sophia,

I cried this morning holding you in my arms. Yesterday, we went to vote in the presidential election for the first woman to ever hold a major party nomination. I wore a pantsuit and a white shirt as a nod to all my sisters who came before and fought for my voice to be heard. I cried while filling out my ballot. Let me tell you why.

When I was in sixth grade I wrote an essay about Helen Keller. It was so good that my teacher accused me of having my older brother write it. When I was in 8th grade I got 104% on a US History test about WWII. The teacher made me take the test again under her supervision because she didn't believe I could score that high without cheating (I got the same score). When I was 18, I was mailed a flyer for deaconess training, the approved ministry track for women in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, who believe women cannot be pastors. When I was 26, I was told I was "a good little preacher" but that I wasn't "enough like a pastor" to lead a congregation (a pastor is male, apparently). When I was 27, a parishioner cornered me in the church office and joked about "getting me on the church bus" and "not letting me escape." He worked across the street from my house, where I lived alone.

All my life, I have been told that I can do lots of things! Except those things that are for men. I can be eloquent, but surely not as eloquent as my brother. I can be smart, but surely not the smartest in the class. I can be a minister, but not an equal to male church leaders. I can preach, but my words will always be hindered by my femaleness--my voice, my expressions, the length of my skirt. I voted for a competent, knowledgeable, tough stateswoman, with you, my daughter. And you and I and every other girl and woman were told that it doesn't matter how accomplished you are; you are still less than the least qualified man. That hurts. That's why I cried.

I cried because you deserve better. I cried because I worked so hard my whole life, have fought so hard for recognition, to be considered equal. And yet our president elect has admitted to sexual assault, and now he will become the leader of the free world. He has valued women only for their sexuality and appearance, and now we must listen to him; follow him, as a qualified woman sits, once again, on the sidelines. I am angry. I am angry at our country, for being so partisan that they would vote against me, against you, against our LGBT family and friends, against our Muslim and atheist brothers and sisters. I am deeply wounded. I have been told, once again, that I do not have value, and that you do not have value, except for what we offer to men. I am discouraged, that we have come so far only for so much racism and sexism and self-interest and white, angry hatred overtake it so easily. I expected better of us.

This is the first major historical event in your lifetime, but I think it's important for you to know about it even though you don't remember it because right now I feel fear, and anger, and disappointment, and pain, and you will feel these things too, someday. You will be told you have less value because of your gender identity or appearance. You will be told your voice means less, that your consent doesn't matter, that you aren't as smart or worthy of leadership positions. You will be told that justice is impossible, and self interest is the only way. But my dear Sophia, those are lies. You, like every boy and man in this world, were created in God's image.  You are worthy, not because of your appearance, your orientation, your reproductive organs, or the color of your skin, but because you are a child of God. Never forget that. Those who judge you as less, value you less, give you less regard, tell you who you love is wrong, tell you you do not have autonomy over your own body, they are speaking from their own brokenness. We are all sinners, and we are all separated from God's goodness by our mortality and the evil in and around us.

And yet, Christ is here. Christ is here declaring your worth as a child of God: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28) And most importantly, Christ has made us a promise, that we will be redeemed. That "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:38-39) To me, this says that evil didn't win. Today, our country voted for injustice, for fear, for self-centeredness, for separation. But while our lives, our nation, and our world are finite, God is infinite. God's justice reigns supreme over all our human failures, over your life and your neighbors' lives, and the lives of every person who has ever existed. 

Do not let the evil of today define and discourage you, but continue to seek justice, love mercy, and walk with your God who is bigger than Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin, and hate, and greed, and all evil. Let that God rule your life. Fight for justice. Know you will fail sometimes, and despair, as I have today. Know you will let unkindness win, as I have today. But know that the love of Christ connects us both to our (gay, trans, black, immigrant, Muslim, atheist, pro-life, pro-choice, fearful, lost, angry, confused) brothers and sisters, and that it also connects us to the future that we have been promised. And that future is one of peace, equality, and redemption.

My prayer for you today is that you learn to let hope overwhelm you, and never give up, even when those around you tell you that you can't do it. And that the peace that surpasses all our understanding work in your heart as you act justly and love even those who persecute you.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Letters to My Dear Sophia: Hoping When Hope is Gone

This is a series entitled "Letters to My Dear Sophia," which I intend as a compilation both for my daughter when she grows up, but for you as you raise your children, and think about yourselves in the oft-parental relationship to your heavenly parent. My intent is that, through reading these letters to my daughter and the intense love I have poured into them, you might hear an echo of the kind of love and hope that God has for all of us.

Letters to My Dear Sophia: Hoping When Hope is Gone

As I was driving to work this morning, it occurred to me what a miracle you truly are. Having a baby is a surreal experience wherein the love of two people is transmuted into flesh and blood. There is something very divine about this, which I am sure greater theologians than I have explored at length. Nonetheless, it really struck me, because last week I watched the debate between two presidential candidates, one of whom brought up late term abortion and accused women who have them of some very mean things. This necessitated conversation about what exactly drives somebody to have such an abortion, and the answer is generally: something has gone very wrong. It's a tragic situation, and one I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, and the whole thing made me realize what odds you have beaten just to exist. From the moment of conception, there were so many cell divides and so many things could have gone wrong, and yet here you are.

As I noted in my last letter, you are my "rainbow baby." That's the term in the online baby community (yes, that's a real thing) used for a baby that comes after a miscarriage or pregnancy loss, because "after the storm is the rainbow." For me, you turned out to be the culmination of all my hopes, but that is not true for everybody. I remember a family, not one I ministered to directly, but I heard through the grapevine what had happened. A woman had gone into pre-term labor at a different hospital, and because of some mistake the doctor made, she ended up losing not only the baby but ultimately needed a full hysterectomy. She would never be able to have children. It's all well and good to say, like Job having a new family and new children, that God will just replace what was lost. But the replacement is not the same, and sometimes even that is not possible. I imagined the months to come, with this poor woman sneaking down the hallway in her house, passing a closed, unmarked door, behind which lay all her hopes and dreams that would now never be.

Sadly, this is life. You will lose things that are very, very important to you. You will lose beloved toys, pets, friends, and someday you will even lose me. I am so sorry to be so grim, but better you should understand this reality young, not so that you fear it, but so you can learn early how to hope even when it's hopeless. Some people might say that it's Pollyanna-ish to continue hoping in the face of hopelessness. Sometimes when the doctor says this is the end, it really is, and no miracle will stop death and time. So what do you do in the midst of that?

There is a TV show that your dad and I like a lot. We watch it about six times a year, so I'm sure you'll know what I'm talking about by the time you're old enough to read this. It's called Futurama, and it's a silly cartoon about a hapless pizza delivery boy who accidentally ends up in a cryogenic chamber and wakes up a thousand years later to become a space delivery boy instead. It's usually ridiculous and silly, but sometimes it hits on the profound and this particular episode is about his best friend Bender, a bending robot. On a routine mission, the Planet Express is attacked. Bender is annoyed that he's being woken up from his nap, so he crawls into a torpedo bay and is fired out of the ship. But because the ship is moving at maximum speed when the torpedo is fired, there is no way for them to catch up to his greater velocity so they return to earth without him. The main character, Fry, doesn't give up on him, though. He hijacks the rest of the crew to go on an expedition to a mountain observatory where a bunch of monks have been looking for God using a high powered telescope. After locking the monks there in a closet, they take over the equipment and fry searches for days. 

Meanwhile, Bender has been flying through the galaxy and somehow life has spawned on him, forcing him to play God with them, where he royally screws up and kills everybody. In the course of this deep space trek, Bender happens upon a galaxy that has "a high probability" of being God, and engages in conversation where he pours out his woes about accidentally killing everybody. God is sympathetic and they talks philosophically about this difficulty for a while. Back on Earth, the ship's captain Leela is trying to convince Fry to give up and he says: "You can't give up hope just because it's hopeless. You gotta hope even more, and cover your ears and go 'bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla!'" Eventually, Leela does convince him to give up, and in frustration he hits the instrument which spins and somehow telegraphs his parting words about wanting to find Bender to space, where it's picked up by none other than the "probably God" galaxy, who proceeds to chuck Bender back toward earth. He crash lands in front of Fry, and all's well that ends well.

The line about hope is silly, and delivered in typical silly Fry fashion, but there's actually a lot of truth there about hope works. Hope is both a feeling and a practice. Right now, the things you are hoping for are to be fed and get snuggles, and as you get older you'll find yourself hoping for trips and opportunities and admissions and partners and job interviews and pregnancy tests and so much more, but the bigger our hopes get, the bigger the pain when they don't work out. A cynic would tell you it's better to just set low expectations and not be disappointed, but I just can't get behind that idea for myself. Hope is in itself a painful thing. It's full of longing and desire and fear of loss or failure, but it's also something which has the capacity to motivate you powerfully and pull you through the darkest times. It has the power to change the world. 

Sometimes it seems silly to hope. Why hope when it's hopeless? Sometimes it's impossible to do it. Depression and grief make it challenging indeed. But I think the biggest gift of God in our brokenness is hope, even when it's hard, because it evokes our imagination beyond our current pain. When I work with the kids at the hospital, we do an exercise where we practice hoping because you may not be able to feel hopeful all the time, but you can practice it. The exercise is pretty easy and goes something like this: imagine a guy, Jim, who wakes up and the dog has pooped on the floor beside his bed and he steps in it. Then the hot water heater is broken so he has a cold shower, and he drops his toast butter side down on the floor where the dog eats it, and then his car won't start. We make assumptions about what's going to happen next based on what has already happened: the day started out terrible so surely nothing good will happen. I contend, though, that the trick to hope is to intentionally base our expectations not on the reality that exists today, but the reality that might exist. That means if your day starts off rotten, you choose to say something good is going to happen. This builds anticipation, and gives you agency. Maybe you need to smile at somebody because making their day better might make your day better. This isn't just 'power of your mind' stuff. Maybe your day really will stink. But the point is that you practice doing this in small ways, so that when you really need to exercise your hope muscles, they're in shape.

As people of the resurrection, our lives our built on this. Rather than assuming that, because the world sucks it can never get any better, or because death exists there is no hope in our lives, we go on with the assumption that God can do a new thing. Hope is looking at tomorrow not based on today's bad day, but based on the promise that even death can't stop the God who loves you and cares for you. It breaks my heart to think of the grief you will endure in your life. When you smile at me now, you're so happy, and you love your Ellie and your face lights up when you see your dad and me, and everything is new and bright and exciting. The sin of this world will try to rob you off that naive optimism that you have right now. Now you don't know any better, but soon you will understand disappointment. Because I love you and I want you to be resilient despite life's hardships, you must hold onto that innocence. To do that, I want you to remember these words: God promises new life. When you are sad because your friend moved away, remember that God promises new life--new experiences, new friends. When a boy breaks your heart, I want you to remember that there is new life; there is healing, there is love. When you first say goodbye because of death, I desperately want you to remember that there is new life. That even though hope this day is gone, that real hope, true hope, transcends what is possible, and promises new life.

Today your little baby heart is tender, but it will get bruised and toughened up with years. Never let those years harden your beautiful, sensitive heart. Hope even when it's stupid to hope. Hope even when it hurts to hope. Hope stubbornly. Hope aggressively. Hope blindly. Hope ridiculously. Don't ever let anybody tell you not to hope with every part of your being, and when you can't hope any more, hope some more, until the enormity of your beautiful, optimistic, stupid hope shatters death and grief.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Letters to My Dear Sophia: When You Go to the Waters

This is the first in a series of posts that I hope to make, entitled "Letters to My Dear Sophia," which I intend as a compilation both for my daughter when she grows up, but for you as you raise your children, and think about yourselves in the oft-parental relationship to your heavenly parent. My intent is that, through reading these letters to my daughter and the intense love I have poured into them, you might hear an echo of the kind of love and hope that God has for all of us.

Letters to My Dear Sophia: When You Go to the Waters

Today is your baptism day, and you are three months and one week old today. The last three months have been a whirlwind of getting to know you (even though I knew you as you knit in my womb), of helping you learn to understand the world a little more each day, and today marks the beginning of a completely new adventure in which you learn to see a totally new world from the one you were born into. Ordinarily, I would have had you baptized as soon as possible, but I had to find a weekend that would work for the people that I most wanted to support you in your baptismal promise, my dear friend Rusty, a fellow minister and his wonderful wife Lynette, who I know will be a powerful influence in your life of faith, as well as my parents, who so shaped me into the woman I am today. Because baptism is not just about you and me and your father, but about you and the God that I will teach you about and help you come to know and love, and about all the people who will be your teachers and guides throughout your life: your church community, the body, and about a whole new world.

A few weekends ago, I attended your new church's baptism orientation, the point of which is to get some basic education about what baptism is (as a minister, I think I have this down pretty well) and to get to know a few other families whose babies are also going to be baptized into this fellowship of believers. Your pastors, Bradley and Javen, asked us why we wanted to have you baptized. As I sat there, I realized that I had no way of giving a complete answer in a timely manner. I rattled off something about community and being held up in hope during difficult times in your life, but that's such a pale explanation compared to all the things in my heart for you right now.

Although you only gently cooed during your baptism, one of the things that I love about baptism is when the babies give one of those wonderful full throated cries at the sudden discomfort of having his or her little head drenched with what I imagine is relatively cold water. Not that I take pleasure in the discomfort of babies--though probably some who know me well would accuse me of that--but that it's so perfectly fitting for the occasion. After all, what is more appropriate than an ear-splitting scream upon the day of your death? That's really what this is, you know. This baptism that we have so casually, calmly signed you up for is your death, the big one, the one in which we, your mom and dad and grandparents and godparents, say on your behalf that we promise you will die, have died, and are dying to the old world, the old way of things. Not just your old self, but to all the old things. The old world that you were born into, full of old sorrow and old despair and old hopelessness and helplessness and decay and chaos.

You will learn more about this guy as you get older, but there was once a theologian named Martin Luther, and he talked a lot about how as Christians we live in two worlds at the same time. We live in this physical world, where we're subject to all the suffering and evil that exists in it because of the stain of death here, but at the same time, those of us who have been baptized into God's world, the new world, simultaneously inhabit the world that is what God intended it to be at the very beginning, and what God promises it will be again. How is this possible? It's because of the miracle of Christ's love for us, and God's presence through the Holy Spirit in your life and in all those around you. When that water was poured on your head, the Holy Spirit came with it, to make a bridge connecting you to this world, now, and that world that is coming, the "not yet."

So what I wish for you, my precious little one, is that you have a death. You have a death to all those things which would try to make you selfish and hard and closed off, and that you subsequently have a life, one made richer by understanding both suffering and joy, tears and laughter, death and resurrection. I want you to have a life full of trying and struggling, and sometimes failing, so that you can better taste the sweetness of victory. I want you to have a life that sometimes breaks your heart, though it breaks my heart to think of you in pain, so that because of who you know you are in your friend Jesus, you may fully understand healing, and that your heart may be made softer, more open to the pain around you, so that you may pour that love which has healed you onto those around you. On this day of your baptism, I wish for you to love fully, joyfully, and hopefully, and to learn what it means to be loved so much that somebody would die for you, as Jesus did, and as I would for you. I want you to have all shame about the failures you will have, the bruises you will earn, and the pain you will suffer to be washed away in those waters to be replaced by the understanding of just how precious you really are. I hope that you will learn to follow Christ passionately, and pursue that which you have been called to be and do as a child of God and a sister of Christ, because you know that your hands do make a difference in bringing about that not yet realm.

Mostly, though, I hope your old eyes die, to be replaced by eyes which see not that which is, but that which can be. That you learn to experience the renewal and every-day births that come in the midst of all the bad stuff. I will never forget that you are the baby that came to me so, so soon after having said goodbye to another baby, and because of that you are special. You are my life-baby, my daughter who came to me as if blown in by the storm that broke my heart, who healed my grief and showed me that there really is new life. I hope your heart doesn't have to be broken like mine has in order to understand this, but that in your baptism you will stare with new eyes at all your little disappointments and losses and learn to see where God's hand was doing a new thing.

Today you went to the waters of baptism, and came out a new child, and this is my prayer for you: that your eyes always see the beauty of that new world. Welcome to your new life, little one. I'll do my best to help you live fully in it.