I had been waiting for December 16th, 2012 for months since Eva was born. Being a self-professed and proud church nerd, I’m pretty intentional about the things I plan in worship, and this time was no different. I wanted Eva to be baptized during Advent for a number of reasons: First, because in Advent last year, I remember sitting on the chancel looking out on my congregation on the third Sunday in December with a sweet little secret that we were expecting a child. I remember hearing the Magnificat read, realizing that I would soon understand this scripture in a whole different way, and there was something I loved about connecting those happy events from one year to the next. Second, today was what we call “Gaudete Sunday,” (from the Latin word “rejoice”). If you found yourself in church today, you might have noticed that we lit a pink candle—this shift from the purple of the season to pink or rose candles reflected this lessening emphasis on penitence as attention turned more to celebration and joy—and well, Taylor and I have much to be joyful about in our lives these days. Finally, Advent is the first part of the Christian year, and there is something in me that wanted to remind myself of our baptismal vows to God on behalf of my child every time we “start over” in the year as a church.
But as I said, it didn’t go exactly as we planned. In fact, for a baptism, it was a parent’s (particularly a preacher’s) worst nightmare. I blame the organ. When that first toot came out from the pipes that were maybe only 20 feet away from my child’s face, she let out a cry that began an excruciating six and a half minutes for the whole congregation. Having the ears of a new mom, I can hear my child’s cry anywhere and anytime, and it pierced my ears between the pauses in the hymn. The time came when we were to come up to the altar to begin, and my husband and child were nowhere to be found—Taylor was being a great father, trying to calm her down in the hallway outside. But the show had to go on…
She cried through the WHOLE baptism. Cried may not do it justice—it was more like wailing. My colleague Brady did a beautiful job of approaching the situation with grace, diffusing the awkwardness, and making the congregation laugh. All the while, Taylor and I took turns cradling her head, whispering in her ear while she screamed at the top of her lungs. The thought crossed my mind as to whether she had some deep sense of what she was about to get herself into—the church ladies that would be her mothers in the faith whether she asked them to be or not, the challenge that the Church may bring, and the presence of God who will now hold her firmly in a holy grip for the rest of her life. Maybe she knew that, from now on, something might be different.
The life of faith IS hard. I’ve had a lot of texts, a few calls and one key conversation over this past weekend about God’s presence (and seeming lack thereof) that have reminded me of that. It’s hard for a lot of reasons—because of the questions that linger unanswered, and the way we change in ways that catch us off guard and surprise us. I have never reacted more viscerally about a tragedy or been more vulnerable than the weeks since I have become a parent. Being charged with the care of another human being has, I believe, deepened my faith in God. I have never needed God to be God more than right now, because I can’t do this alone. But I have also noticed that I worry more often, get angry more quickly, and cry on behalf of more people and situations than my former differentiated self would allow. I count it as a maddening gift from God to see the world in deeper, living color.
The baptism ended, and we all breathed what I detected to be a sigh of relief that it was about to be over. Though my worry for my daughter clouded much of my recollection of these few minutes I do have one salient memory: Before she left, Brady grabbed her little hand and prayed a prayer something like this, “God, bless this little child with a strong voice and even stronger spirit, and help her to grow in grace…”
Life won’t go exactly as we plan. That makes me thankful to have the privilege even more now to live a life that is worthy of the gospel of Christ. It challenges me to live into these vows taken today–vows that will guide us in raising this child as a message of good news that Taylor and I will send into a world we will never see.
Thank you, God, for the cry of a baby. For those cries can melt the heart of a mother and cause the kingdoms of the unjust to fall. These cries remind us of our humanness, that we are not in control, and only You can be. And that, I believe, is a truth that will turn any sorrow into joy.