A huge thank you to Patrick Fore Photography http://patrickforephotography.com
This Sunday at the 11:00 service our church will celebrate Kate’s baptism. When I realized that this Sunday also happens to be St. Patrick’s Day, I remembered that we baptized Drew on Halloween. Though neither of those was an intentional choice, both are holidays with sacred roots being held hostage as secular celebrations. Somehow I see our accidental planning of baptisms on those days as a providential way to reclaim their sacred nature. It’s also a great way for the kids to remember the anniversary of their baptism every year.
Happy Halloween! (Remember your baptism and be thankful!)
Recently a good friend of mine, a fellow pastor, told me that baptizing his own children was an incredible experience for him – the chance to reach into the water and mark them with the symbol of the cross, claiming them for God’s family.
When he asked me if I was going to baptize Kate myself, I think I surprised him with how quickly and forcefully I answered: “No!” It definitely surprised me. Up until that moment the decision had just been a gut reaction, so I had to stop and clarify – even for myself – my strong feelings on the subject.
As a pastor I get to participate in a lot of baptisms. I get to stand in the pastor’s designated spot next to our church’s huge baptismal font (it’s rumored to have been custom made from an outdoor fire pit – a story that deserves its own theological reflection to say the least!) and invite families to come forward. I watch them step up on the other side of the kneeling rail as they bring their babies forward.
For years before I was a parent myself I watched the mothers’ faces as they held out their squirmy bundles. Their mouths smiled, but the fear in their eyes communicated wordlessly: Please. Please don’t squirm so hard that I almost drop you as I hand you to the pastor. Please don’t scream and cry in front of the whole congregation. Please don’t spit up on the pastor’s stole or try to eat the microphone on her robe or belch loudly into that microphone. (I’ve had babies do all of these things at their baptisms!)
I’ve stood on the other side of the altar rail so many times, trying my best to reassure those mothers with my calm smile. But inside I’m praying right along with for the mercy of a calm baby. It’s been one of the greatest privileges of my role as a pastor to receive those babies into my arms, representing both the arms of the Church and the arms of God, and to speak those holy words over them: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” To speak God’s love over them and to seal their adoption into His family.
In the best of scenarios the tiny baby sleeps through the whole thing, not even waking when a splash of cold water crosses their brow. Those are my favorite moments. Not just because all possible baptismal foibles have been averted, but because I see in my arms the perfect picture of how we all receive God’s grace – so unaware of its depths that we mostly sleepwalk through it all.
It wasn’t until the dark years of infertility and miscarriage that I realized how I longed to stand on the other side of the rail. The babies we lost never had a chance at baptism. They were God’s children nevertheless, sent the express route straight back to Him, too early for us to name them or claim their place here in the Church that I love. It was hard to hand the dream of those children back over to God. It wasn’t until the day I finally got to officially claim the title “mother” that I realized that this is the ultimate vocation of mothers – handing our children over to God.
It was then I finally understood the look in those mothers’ eyes at the baptismal rail. Their slight hesitation as they passed babies to me draped in slippery white gowns. That in that act of handing them over they were formally saying what all parents who trust Christ must say: “This is not my child. This is God’s child. I will use every last ounce of my energy and resources to care for them for a time. I will raise them in faith and sing to them about God and whisper Jesus’ love in their sleepy ears, but ultimately they are not mine. Someday they will return to Him. This is God’s child.”
I need to hand my baby over the rail this Sunday because I need to say it again:
“This is God’s child.”
I need pictures of that moment hung in our house to remind me of that every time I’m tempted to plan her life out for her. Every time I’m tempted to control her with my disapproval or direct her future with my worry. Every time I want so badly to be god in her life I need to remember that I officially gave up that job on St. Patrick’s Day 2013. The Church will remind me of that too. She will be their baby now, theirs officially to love and raise on God’s behalf as well.
So I won’t be baptizing Kate this Sunday. I won’t be able to stand in the place of pastor – some wonderful men that I admire and serve with are going to stand there instead. But there’s only one person who can stand in the place of her mother.
This Sunday I will sit in a pew I’ve only sat in once before – at Drew’s baptism on October 31, 2010 – the pew reserved for families with babies being baptized. Though it was Halloween I had removed my clerical costume and come as myself. Just a mom. Holding a baby. Handing him over to God and His family.
This Sunday is my last chance to do that again.
I hope I remember my line.
Pastor: “What name is given this child?”
Parents: “Katherine Juliet LaGrone.”
This is God’s child.
As part of Namesake Launch Week I’ll be sharing excerpts from the daily reading in the study. Here’s a little of the text from the week on Simon Peter. We have more stories on record of Peter disappointing Jesus than any other person. How does God respond when we disappoint Him?
A while back I had an encounter with a friend that left me feeling hurt and betrayed. For several years we had enjoyed a close friendship that was a fun mix of personal and professional. We could easily shift back and forth from working together on a large project to laughing over lunch to spending time with each other’s families. Then one day my friend came in, red in the face, upset about some differences we had. He let me know that our friendship was over. The professional relationship would still be there, he said, but he was “backing off” from any contact we had beyond that. I was stunned, apologized for my part of the rift, and tried to offer a way to rebuild our friendship. His cold response let me know that wasn’t an option. I was hurt—and deeply disappointed.
I hate it when people I rely on disappoint me: when a friend promises to help me with something and then blows it off; when a babysitter backs out at the last minute; when someone’s attitude or reaction is far beneath what I had come to expect from him or her. Even worse than being disappointed is the feeling of disappointing someone else: when I realize an e-mail has gone unanswered or a call has gone unreturned for so long that someone assumes I just don’t care; when I forget someone’s special day because my life is running so fast I lose track of anyone else’s concerns but my own. I hate letting people down. And I really hate the feeling of being disappointed in myself.
In a perfect world there would be no disappointment.
There would also be no mosquitoes. No taxes. No rush-hour traffic. In a perfect world there would be no fights to get teenagers to do their homework, since there definitely would be no homework! (And possibly no teenagers.) In a perfect world our bodies wouldn’t fall apart as we get older. We wouldn’t have to say goodbye to the ones we love. Our hearts wouldn’t sting from the disappointment of broken relationships.
But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we?
We could, you know, if it weren’t for those infamous ancestors of ours: Adam and Eve. They had the perfect world, Eden, and they traded it all away for a snack that they believed would benefit them. (And it wasn’t even chocolate!)They handed over the keys to Eden because of a piece of fruit.
Genesis describes Eden as a place of wholeness, where relationships between people were without flaw. Adam and Eve are described as “naked and unashamed,” which among other things means that they had nothing to hide from one another or from God. Before they messed up, they never hurt or disappointed each other. They never experienced shame or guilt.
The moments when I long for Eden the most are the ones when brokenness is the most obvious—when sickness, pain, death, divorce, destruction, war, and even disappointment mar the landscape of this once perfect world. Sometimes I think about all that we’re missing out on because Adam and Eve felt the need to have a little bite.
But I also wonder if there’s anything we do have in this post- Eden world that we never would have known had the human race always existed inside the garden of perfection. Is there any benefit of living in this imperfect world? I think it’s this: we get to see how God deals with disappointment. If Adam and Eve had never touched that forbidden fruit (and, let’s face it, if they hadn’t, someone to come in their family line would have), then we never would have seen how God handles less than perfect lives, messy relationships, and disobedient children.
When God discovered that His children had done exactly what He told them not to do, I’m sure He experienced an immediate sinking feeling of disappointment. I mean, there were a million good choices available, but they picked the one thing that would hurt the Father who had given them everything. God’s disappointment is not like our own. Our disappointment is usually self- centered, focused on our unrealized expectations. God’s disappointment is always selfless, focused on the damage we cause to our own lives and to our relationship with Him. When God is disappointed with our actions, it is because He wants the absolute best for us. God loves us too much to let anything stand in the way of the wonderful future He envisions for us, even if that thing is something of our own choosing. God’s disappointment in Eden was with a choice that would now shift the entire future of humanity.
But I wonder if, alongside that feeling of disappointment, there was a little bit of excitement in God’s heart—a feeling of joy that He would get to show us a part of Himself we never would have known had we stuck to the straight and narrow. I wonder if God rolled up His sleeves and thought: “All right. Now I get to show them what I’m really made of.” And this is what God is made of: Grace.
When Adam and Eve rocked our world by defying God, when they tried to dethrone God and put themselves in His place as the One whose plans are best for the universe, God was deeply disappointed. And yet God responded with grace.
We call that first story of sin “the Fall” of humanity, but every generation since has fallen again on its own. If we’re honest, we must admit that we don’t usually fall into sin; we willfully throw ourselves headlong into it. Each generation has its own experience of disappointing God. And in each generation God responds with grace. He reaches out, offering Himself again and again. Even when He knows we will grieve His heart again, God still shows up full of grace.
I John 2:12 says “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name.”
Some translations say that we have been forgiven “for His name’s sake.” In other words, the purpose of forgiveness is to make a name for God, to advertise that God is gracious and merciful, even when our actions are crushing. Eden may have been a perfect world, but the one thing it didn’t have was forgiveness—the ability to meet disappointment not by recoiling or lashing out but by offering grace.
I long for that perfect world sometimes. But if humanity had stayed there, we never would have known how God deals with disappointment. Just as we have a choice, God has a choice. He could choose to reject us or to offer us a cold shoulder. Instead, I believe God rolls up His sleeves with a sense of excitement: “Now I get to show them what I’m really made of.”
When my friend hurt me, I had a choice. I have to admit that it was tempting to withdraw, to lick my wounds, to pretend that our friendship never mattered to me in the first place. Instead, I am choosing daily to respond to disappointment with the same enthusiasm as Jesus. If my friend had never hurt me, I never would have had a chance to show what I’m truly made of as a child of God: grace.
When have you been deeply disappointed by someone? How did you react?
During the launch of Namesake I’ll be sharing several excerpts from the study here at the Reverend Mother blog. Namesake is filled with stories from the Bible where people’s names change as their lives change. Those Biblical stories are punctuated by stories from today of real people of faith and their names. This is an excerpt from the very first story in the study, the story of Mike Drummond. Mike passed away last August soon after I interviewed him about his unique story of having not one but two namesakes. I’m honored to have known this great man.
Every Name Tells A Story: Little Mike
A name can function as a password, a key that allows you access to its owner. When I visit people in the hospital, that key can unlock doors or leave me standing out in the cold.
When I walk into a hospital, the first person I meet is usually the receptionist at the information desk. My response to the question “Can I help you?” is generally to offer a name. “I’m here to visit Mike Drummond,” I said on a recent hospital visit. The woman paused, glanced at her computer screen, and smiled at me: “I’m sorry, we don’t have a patient here by that name.”
I’m used to this game. Because of privacy laws, hospitals won’t give access to the room number of a patient unless the visitor knows the exact legal name entered in the records. So I tried again. “OK, how about Michael Drummond?” Same pause, back to the computer, and then another smiling response: “There’s no one admitted in this hospital by that name.” By this time I was beginning to get frustrated, but a few well-placed cell phone inquiries to mutual friends brought me back to the desk with my password ready: “Thomas Drummond!” I said triumphantly. Success! This time I was rewarded with a room number and directions to the elevators.
Mike lay in his hospital bed looking a bit weak but cheerful. Even cancer couldn’t put a damper on his hearty personality. After asking about how he was feeling and when he might get to go home, I got to the question stirring my curiosity: “Mike, how is it that I’ve known you all this time and had no idea your name is really Thomas?” The story he shared was worth the trip and the delay in the lobby.
Thomas Philip Drummond Jr. was the first son born to a wonderful mother and father. His dad, Tom, was proud to share his name with his little boy. The family lived in Illinois when he arrived but soon packed up and moved back home to be close to his mother’s family. There was one little wrinkle.
Little Thomas Jr.’s aunts protested because this first-born grandson wasn’t named after their father, his grandfather on his mother’s side. Thomas Jr.’s parents insisted he keep the name he had received on his birth certificate, but the aunts would hear none of it. They began calling him after his grandfather anyway—Francis Marion Jennings, who went by Mike because he was too burly a guy to go by either Francis or Marion.
Little Thomas Jr.’s parents tried to stick to their guns but were overpowered as the whole family insisted on calling him Little Mike. Eventually even his parents gave in, and Little Mike it was. Mike claims that for the first three years of his life he thought his first name was all one word: Littlemike. It was a long time before he discovered his given name wasn’t Mike at all.
Mike is honored to share the names of his father and grandfather. They were both honorable men, he says—capable, loving, strong, and family-oriented. He knows he couldn’t go wrong being named after two wonderful men. He’s proud to be their namesake.
A namesake is usually someone given the name of a predecessor in hopes that he or she will grow up and emulate that person in some way. Parents hope their little girl or boy will adopt his or her namesake’s traits as the child is called by that name. Little Mike eventually dropped the “Little” and became just Mike. He hopes that he carries that name in a way that would make his grandfather proud. He also has great hopes and dreams for his own son and namesake, Thomas Philip Drummond III, who goes by Phil.
The word Christian bears, at its heart, the name of Christ. When that name is bestowed on us, God hopes and dreams that we will grow to favor His Son, to be like Him in all that we are and do. Becoming Jesus’ namesake is a complicated, lifelong process of transformation that begins with the simple act of trusting Him.
The stories in Namesake are of people in the Bible who learned that the God they encountered had such big dreams for them that their entire lives were about to change, including their names. Their identities were so altered by God that their old names simply didn’t fit the persons they were becoming. Their new names became a key to a new life, a password of sorts, given by a God who knew them even better than they knew themselves. As we explore their stories, we will begin our own journey of change. Who are we? Who is God calling us to become? The answers are in the hands of the One who hopes to become our namesake, who is making us over to be more like Him.
Do you know someone who has a Namesake? Does your name tell a story? Tell us about it here.
Follow the journey of Namesake at www.Facebook.com/jessicalagrone.
Exciting news about my new Bible Study, “Namesake”
While its official release date is the first of February, we’ll be holding a launch event at The Woodlands UMC on January 25 and 26. If you want the earliest date you can get your hands on the Namesake study, you’ll find it available here.
Join us for a celebration dinner and the official launch of Namesake Friday night.
Or join us for an Abingdon Women’s Conference on Saturday morning with three Abingdon Women authors. Or come to both!!
There are also some extras for church leaders who are planning to make Namesake and other Abingdon Women studies available at their churches. Exclusive time with the authors for leaders at a pre-event reception on Friday and a post-event lunch on Saturday.
Come and help me celebrate the launch of this new endeavor – I’d love to see you there!
Friday Night Jan 25
Pre-event reception with authors for church leaders
Dinner – music by Gospel recording artist Babbie Mason
Messages by authors Kim Reisman and Jessica LaGrone
Saturday Morning Jan 26
Morning Women’s Conference – Messages by authors Babbie Mason, Kim Reisman, and Jessica LaGrone
Post-event lunch with authors for church leaders
BONUS: Sunday Morning Jan 27
Babbie Mason singing in worship at The Woodlands UMC (9:15 Harvest and 11:00 services)
Book signing with Babbie Mason, Jessica LaGrone and local authors