Judah Levi Brown: One Year

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Last night was the one-year anniversary of the death of Judah Levi Brown.

Judah was the vivacious, beautiful, three-year-old son of my dear friends Mark+ and Christi. He drowned in a tragic accident, and this past year they have lived every parents’ nightmare.

And yet, I have seen more grace through their grief than I thought possible of any human beings.

Mark+ is somewhat of a public figure. He is an Episcopal priest who goes to my church (and often serves there) and he serves around our diocese whenever another priest is needed (called a supply priest). He also has the largest online prayer group in the world, with over 400,000 people on Facebook. His life has been an open book for many years, even through the time he met and married Christi, and they had Judah. When Judah died, there were really only one of two choices: to turn away, shut down and grieve on their own, or to grieve openly with everyone. They chose to grieve openly. It’s one of the most grace-filled, courageous decisions I’ve ever seen two people make.

By choosing to bare their grief process to the world, they allowed people to witness what is usually a private pain. They allowed people to witness them struggle with their faith, struggle with their anger, struggle daily with the devastation of losing a child. They allowed people to witness the deepening of their relationship to God through that struggle. The deepening of their relationship to each other and their other children. They allowed people to see how they guided their other children through their own grief, which they did with such care and love. They allowed people to see them reach out for help, through therapy, for them and the children, and through the church. They reached out to their family and friends. They both processed through writing, but Christi especially took to Facebook nearly every day and wrote journal-like updates, poems, and prayers. Christi’s writing didn’t just tell people what it is like to lose a child. It let us into her heart and soul, to viscerally grieve with her.

As is their nature, Mark+ and Christi used their experience to help others. They created an online support group for grieving parents. They allowed Judah’s story to be used by one of his former teachers to create the Judah Brown Project, which works to prevent drowning in kids like Judah. They’ve worked very hard with his teacher, Annette, to make this project into a full-fledged charity that is saving children’s lives, preventing people from having to feel the pain they are feeling.

Once a month, for the past year, on the day that Judah drowned, and on the day that he died- the two are a couple of days apart, as he lingered in a coma- they lit candles in front of his photo and held a small vigil. In June, we celebrated Judah’s birthday at his grave, and had his favorite foods, shared memories, shared laughter and prayers. The year anniversary drew closer.

I know, from my own trauma, that everyone shows up in the beginning. Everyone is there when the original tragedy happens. As time goes on, it gets less present in other people’s lives, and people begin to drift away.

But it never gets less important in your life.

I don’t know if I’ve really done anything to help, but I’ve made every effort to be a there-for-it-all friend. I’m in, and I’m in for good. I was only friends with Mark+ and Christi for about a year before Judah’s death, and I wish I had known Judah better, but I do remember him and I will never forget him. I wish I could do more, but perhaps the best thing I can do is be there, and make sure they know that their loss is important to me. They are important to me. And their son is never forgotten.

Last night, as we sat around Judah’s grave, we watched a video about him on Annette’s phone. It was a photo series of his whole life. We laughed and cried. Stories of the photos were told. As we watched, it began to rain. It rained gently, and another friend there remarked, “We’re just being baptized.” It was a holy, Spirit-filled moment.

When it got to the minute that Judah’s time of death was called, a candle on his head stone was lit. We held silence for a few minutes. I read a prayer:

 

Heavenly God,

With a mother’s strong love
you shelter us in your shadow,
and you mourn as we do the death of this child.

Love Judah forever
as we have loved him.
Guide our steps in the way of peace
till with our eyes we behold you
and shall praise you with all the saints
for ever and ever.

Mark+ shared a little more with us, and closed with a benediction. We left with hugs and prayers and smiles through tears.

Moments like these are why I feel called to be a priest. It was a privilege to be with Mark+ and Christi and their children as they marked this anniversary. It is a privilege to be their friend, to witness their grace and faith. It will be a privilege every time I am with someone as they grieve, celebrate, wed, baptize, die, are ill, or in spiritual distress. To just be present with someone, without trying to fix, is a holy thing.

Thank you, Brown family, for allowing me to be present. Thank you for letting me remember Judah with you. Thank you for letting me laugh and cry with you.

I love you.

 

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Revelation 21:4

To donate to the Judah Brown Project, please click here.

 

Prayer above adapted from two prayers by Gabe Huck from the Catholic Catalogue.

Published with permission from the Brown family.

The Struggle is Real: Accepting, Not Overcoming, Infertility

“There is a unique pain that comes from preparing your heart for a child that never comes.” -David Platt text

When you hear that a woman is “struggling with infertility,” what do you think? Do you think of a woman desperately trying to get pregnant? Someone timing her ovulation, taking hormone injections, freezing her embryos?

This is one picture of a woman struggling with infertility. There is another picture: Me.

I am not desperately trying to become pregnant. I will never try to become pregnant, because pregnancy is too dangerous for me. Struggling with infertility is not always about pregnancy. Struggling with infertility is also about the grief that comes from knowing that you can’t even try. That pregnancy is simply not an option. My struggle with infertility is not an attempt to overcome it. My struggle with infertility is my attempt to accept it. 

How many other women are in this part of the struggle? How many other women silently try to grieve their way through without any support? Why is there no support system for women who can’t try, can’t fight it, who have to simply accept that having children naturally will not happen?

Believe me, when you go looking for “infertility support” every single resource is focused on getting pregnant or adopting. I have not found a single one that simply says, “Yes, you are grieving the loss of your ability to have children naturally. We’re here to help you accept that and move forward.” I don’t know why that doesn’t seem to be available. If you find a resource like that, please let me know.

While I do hold on to the idea of adoption someday, that does not, in any way, mitigate the grief that comes from knowing I can never have children of my own. I wish that I could have what other mothers have with their children: getting to learn about them from inside my body, to feel their energy and get a sense of who they are from the way they move, kick, and flutter. I wish I could know what other women talk about when they describe that overwhelming love, that primal heart-to-heart connection they have with their biological children.  I don’t know what kind of love I’ll experience as a mother to a child not born of my body, but I know it will be different. Not less, but different. I don’t believe that a genetic connection is a guarantee of love, nor that a lack of one means less love. I know that isn’t true. I know that from how much I love my Godson, and he isn’t even mine. But I do wonder what it would have felt like to hold my baby moments after they came into this world, to tell them that I’m their mom, and have them look into my eyes with recognition. To know that I will love them forever.

That will not happen.

It’s a loss, and it’s real, and I will let myself grieve it.

 

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:23

 

 

“Too Blessed To Be Stressed”: Bullsh*t

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“Too Blessed To Be Stressed.”

You’ll see this phrase often on Christian art and gifts. Tote bags and painted pallets, travel mugs and tea towels that declare that one cannot be simultaneously “blessed” and “stressed.”

I have always found this phrase to be problematic. Right now, I found it downright offensive. Who decided that it’s not possible to be stressed out just because you’re also blessed by God? How are we defining “blessed” anyway?

Right now, around here, “blessed” tends to mean that your family is safe and your house didn’t flood. This was the case for me. However, I have been careful not to say that I was “blessed.” I’ve been saying “lucky” or “fortunate” or other words because saying I was blessed not only seems theologically unsound, it seems rude. If I was blessed by God with a safe family and a dry house all the way through Harvey, doesn’t that imply that other people were not blessed? Doesn’t that imply that God picked and chose who would be blessed or not? Doesn’t that imply that God had some list of people He was going to protect and some people just weren’t on it?

I simply don’t believe that.

I believe that humans are responsible for climate change and therefore are a good deal responsible for massive hurricanes and other events we like to call “acts of God.” I believe that humans have over built this area and did not pay attention to warnings about flooding and so we are a good deal responsible for the extent of this disaster. I believe that whether a person’s house ended up flooding or not was due to chance, because rain fell on everyone, everywhere. The rain fell and where it rose the highest had nothing to do with God’s favor, and everything to do with the way the earth is shaped. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:45.

Whether your house is safe or you lost everything, what I have discovered through this disaster is that we are all blessed. We are all blessed because we are loved so deeply by God. We are all blessed because we are not alone. We are all blessed because we are reaching out to help one another, through acts of service, prayers, and love.

That does not, however, mean that we are not stressed. Natural disasters are fucking stressful. Especially if you lost everything, but even if you didn’t. Because it’s everywhere. The water, the damage, the hashtags, the helplessness. The need is overwhelming. There’s so much to do, and often we don’t know where to start. (Hint: prayer is always a good place to start.)

Being blessed and being stressed are not mutually exclusive. In fact, stress can often be a blessing in itself, and blessings help get us through stress. God gives us both.

So excuse me, but whoever came up with that cutesy phrase can shove it. They clearly have never experienced a hurricane.

 

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

 

 

 

Living Water

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“Are you ok?”

“Is your family safe?”

“Did you get any water?”

When I went to church this morning- our first full Eucharist since hurricane Harvey- I was bombarded by those same three questions everywhere I went. Most of us knew how the others were, thanks to social media. But some of us hadn’t seen each other since before the storm, and all the questions were about the water.

The water. This storm has changed the way I feel about water. I used to love rain, and maybe one day I will again, but right now the thought of rain just sounds threatening and terrible. I never understood the awesome, destructive force that water could be until I drove through a river that was usually a street, until I saw the highways of my city turned into seas, until my friends’ and neighbors’ homes were all but washed away. Until I saw water flood the house where my priest lives for the second time in less than 18 months. Water not only took homes, it took treasured belongings, people’s pets, and even some people’s lives. It took the life of my friends’ son a little less than a year ago, when he drowned in a swimming pool.

 

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It’s difficult to see water this way. It’s difficult to feel that the one substance that all of creation counts on to survive has somehow become a force that’s destroying life. Right now, water feels toxic. It feels almost animalistic, like a living thing with a mind of its own, attacking the people of my community, my city, my state.

What brings me back from that fearful place is the reminded of what water means to us as Christians, and especially as Episcopalians. To us, water is living; it is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. It is what baptizes us into our lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ. We are washed in water then sealed and marked with oil as Christ’s own forever. During Eucharist every Sunday, some water is poured into the wine before it is given to the people. I’ve heard several explanations for this: 1) the water and wine together represent the water and blood that poured from Jesus’ side during the Crucifixion, 2) the water represents Christ’s humanity and the wine His divinity so the mixing of the two is us witnessing his human transformation, 3) the water represents us, the people, and the wine represents Christ, and the mixing symbolizes how we can never be separated. My personal favorite is #3, but those all make sense. The point is that water has a very central place in our liturgy, a very central place in Scripture, a very central place in life. It is the most life-giving substance on earth, both biologically and spiritually, and yet here it is, in hurricane form, causing so much devastation. So much pain. So much loss.

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For everyone I know who has been terrorized by water in the last week, my prayer for you is that as you find your new normal, and you work to repair what you can, and as we, your community, help you do so, that you would remember the waters of your baptism. The waters that washed you clean of sin and grafted your hearts onto Christ’s own for eternity. May you feel the healing powers of water: of a hot shower, a good cup of tea. May we remember that everything that has within it the power to destroy, also has within it the power to create.

Together, may we create a brighter future beyond the storm.

 

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And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.

Matthew 10:42