the empty due date

I wrote this on the second anniversary of the due date that wasn’t. 

I wasn’t going to share it here. Then I was reminded that we all carry our handful of hard days each year: the death of a loved one, the anniversary of an accident, the memory of a loss, the date of a tragedy.

If we live long enough, our calendars fill with these days. Empty and full. 

How we remember them is what matters. 

. . .

There are no rituals for this, what you’re supposed to do with a day that would have been circled in red and bursting with exclamation points and ticking with excited countdown.

An empty due date.

This day came and went last year, and it comes and goes this year. It will always be yours. You wake up in the morning; you know it is here; and there is nothing to do but go forward.

Maybe you are grumpy or maybe you are weepy or maybe you are just plain pissed at the world. Maybe you lose your temper at the kids or maybe you squeeze them extra tight while they squirm away silly or maybe you find yourself looking into their squinty laughing eyes and realizing that someday you will tell them about this. Someday when they are older.

Maybe you pull out some proof that it happened, because your hands need to hold. A picture of an ultrasound or a card from a friend or a bittersweet beautiful thing you bought to remember. Maybe you light a candle or play a song or try to pray even when the words ring hollow because it feels like today’s darkness should be sacred somehow.

Maybe you carry this day silently, not wanting to tell anyone what you’re mourning. Maybe you confide in a friend who understands, who won’t judge your sadness when the world seems stumped that you still think about it. Maybe you let yourself cry into the collar of your husband’s shirt when he walks in the door, because even if he doesn’t hold the memory of loss in flesh and blood like you do every day, it was his baby, too.

And maybe you simply move through the day’s hours with the motions that keep all of us afloat when we do not know what else to do. You wash dishes and sweep floors and cook dinner and switch laundry from washer to dryer. You catch glimpses of the clock out of the corner of your eye, mentally calculating when this date will depart for another year and not a moment too soon.

You don’t know what to do with an empty due date. No one does.

You just do. And you let that be prayer enough.



seven years

What does it mean to share seven years?

Jokesters jest about the itch, of course. But that seems cynical. After seven years together, we don’t instantly spring for calamine lotion or start to sneak away.

Scholastics said seven was the age of reason. That sounds wiser. After seven years we’ve learned how to reason with each other, how to fight and forgive, when to hold on and when to let go.

Traditionalists tout this anniversary’s gifts as wool for warmth, copper for durability. That sounds fitting. After seven years we’ve settled into comfort and we hope it lasts.

Scripture scholars coming off sabbatical might justify celebrating a Sabbath year. That sounds lovely. After seven years we’d take time to give thanks for what has been and rest to rejuvenate for what’s to come.

But I picture seven years as a springy second-grader, scraped knees from jumping off the jungle gym, gap-toothed grins for school pictures. That feels right. We’re a bit banged up, having taken a few knocks, but we’re still smiling, still full of energy.

Wedding Summer 06 134

It’s reassuring to think that after seven years our marriage might have passed the needy newborn stage, the trying toddler times, the pushing buttons of the preschool phase. But even though our marriage is no longer novice or newlywed, it still feels young. So much lies ahead that we can’t yet imagine.

And I love seven for that. She’s not worried about brushing her hair or hitting puberty or surviving junior high. She’s busy being seven – running around the backyard, jumping off the swing set, laughing at knock-knock jokes, asking questions about how the world works. Staying seven is plenty enough.

The un-self-conscious joy of seven. There’s inspiration for a whole year’s celebration in those knobby knees.

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the taste of memory

We celebrated both boys’ baptism anniversaries a few weeks back. (Now you know why I’ve had baptism on the brain so much lately.) Their days are only a fortnight apart, so in the blur of busy schedules we set aside a single night to celebrate and remember.

As I was setting the table for their special dinner, my son snatched his baptism candle out of its holder and playfully held it in front of his mouth as if to bite. Coyly offering one of his beloved kidisms, he teased: “Does it taste?”

He offers this phrase about anything he knows he’s not supposed to eat, as he watches his younger brother jam everything into his mouth. No, we shake our heads – books and crayons and blocks and chalk do not taste. Food is the only thing that tastes.

But as I smiled and chided him with the response he craved, I caught the half-truth in my words. Dinner and dessert were not the only things that night that would taste. The anniversaries we celebrated tasted, too. The chew of communion bread before the baptism, the crumble of cake at the party after. Even the earthy chrism oil that lingered on my lips when I kissed my baby’s forehead, slick from the sacred smear. All of it tastes.

. . .

I thought about taste as we passed the pasta that night, snuck extra helpings of dessert and savored memories of special days. Anniversaries do indeed taste, some bitter, some sweet.

There are wedding days we remember, the festive dates we celebrate with happy memory of cake and champagne and crying at “I do.” There are death dates, the dreaded days when we don’t know what to do with ourselves but call up someone else who loved them, too, and simply sit with each other in the sad strangeness.

All sorts of anniversaries mark our calendars: jobs started, homes bought, trips made, degrees earned. And all of them taste. We notice the date, circle it on the calendar, and all at once we’re flooded with thick memories of the sight, sound, smell, touch, taste of what the day held.

But exactly what is the taste of anniversary? Is it the cake and candles, the silver and china, the special sacred of set-apart? Or is it the deeper memory of the most-important moments that mark our lives – the births and deaths and gains and losses whose tastes are imprinted so firmly in our minds we almost salivate as we remember.

I think of the dinner I gobbled down after bringing my first baby home from the hospital, how delicious the simple saute tasted when my mom heaped it over steaming pasta: it tasted like love.

I remember the cellophane-wrapped cinnamon rolls that my younger brothers and I unwrapped together in the kitchen the day after our brother’s funeral: it tasted like grief.

I return to the last Thanksgiving my family held in my grandparents’ home after both had died, the stories and laughter and tears we passed with dishes and wine round the table: it tasted like clan.

Maybe it’s a reverse Proust: memory that jogs taste, and not the other way around. But all of the anniversaries that remain retain their own particular flavor.

. . .

My cheeky boy who asks each day what tastes is now nearing the age when my first fuzzy memories emerged, the shadowy snippets that a young mind seizes: a play of light upon the nursery floor, a scoop into beloved arms. I wonder what his earliest memory will be, how it will taste as he savors it over and over.

It will be only one of a lifetime full of anniversaries and every-days that linger in his mind’s eye. But that first taste will teach him how to remember: with senses wide open.

a baptism anniversary: the third moment

One year ago today, we baptized S.  One, two, three plunges of a wriggling baby into the waters of new life. Not just a symbolic act, but a sacramental transformation that forever changed his relationship to us, to the church, to God.

Today I’ve been reflecting on what it means to live out a sacrament. I love the idea of the “third moment” of sacraments. The first moment is the preparation (the baptism class, the marriage prep), the second moment is the celebration (the dunking in water, the giving of vows), and the third moment is the living out of the sacrament (as the newly baptized or the newly married). The third moment involves the individual’s ongoing relationship with God as well as the community’s ongoing relationship with the individual.

When I speak to people about young adult ministry, I encourage them to consider how their parishes and congregations live out the third moment of sacraments like baptism or marriage. Some parishes have sponsor couples for marriage or baptism that keep in touch with the newlyweds or new parents throughout the next year or two, calling them at several points to hear how things are going and invite them to get involved in the life of the congregation. Other churches host pot-luck gatherings for all the couples who have been married or parents who have brought their children to be baptized in the past year. It’s a chance to reconnect, share their stories, and meet others in the same stage of life.

More importantly, I believe ministers need to help people live out the third moment of sacraments through a growing relationship with God. The sacrament is the invitation to journey one step deeper into what it means to follow Christ and to live a life of faith.

Sacramental theology teaches us that sacraments are not simply magical “pipelines” of grace from God or singular moments that leave “indelible marks” on our souls. Through sacraments we encounter the living God, and our relationship with God and with the church is forever changed.

Sacraments are about relationships. We are baptized, and we become part of the fellowship of believers. We receive communion, and we are invited to share at Christ’s table. We marry, and we enter into a covenant of commitment with our spouse and with God. Life is never the same.

Living out the third moment of a sacrament like baptism involves small steps. Each Sunday we take S back to the church where he was baptized. We bless him with holy water from the same font, and I remind him that this pool of water was where he began as a follower of Christ. We pray with him when he wakes, when he eats, and when he sleeps, so that he will come to learn the rhythms of a life of prayer.

We also live out the third moment of his baptism by involving him more and more with the life of the Christian community into which he entered one year ago today. We build friendships in our parish. We get involved with church committees and serve as liturgical ministers. We try to give back to the community that nurtures us, and we try to model for S what it will mean for him to grow into the church.

Today we celebrated his baptismal anniversary by lighting his baptismal candle and telling the story of his sacrament. We took a long family walk in the warm fall evening. We talked about ways we will continue to celebrate his baptismal day as he gets older: with a special dessert, with a visit to the church to see the baptismal font, with special prayers.

I found this prayer online with no attribution to the author, so please let me know if someone discovers its origin. A beautiful way to celebrate the third moment of a baptism!

Baptism Anniversary Prayer

Remember this, Name.

You have been washed

In the saving waters of baptism

And anointed with holy oil.

Place on your head and in your heart

The sign of the cross of salvation.

Trace the sign of the cross on the child’s head and heart.

Loving God,

You created all the people of the world,

And you know each of us by name.

We thank you for N.,

Who celebrates the anniversary of her baptism.

Bless her with your love and friendship

That she may grow in wisdom, knowledge, and grace.

May she love her family always

And be ever faithful to her friends.

Grant this through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen

Place your hands on the child’s head or shoulders.

May God, in whose presence our ancestors walked, bless you.
R. Amen.

May God, who has been your shepherd from birth until now, keep you.
R. Amen.

May God, who saves you from all harm, give you peace.
R. Amen.