A Letter to my Child on her First Birthday

Sermon by the Rev. Abby VanderBrug on Sunday, June 21, 2020.

In the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer

Not too long ago, Michael, my husband, and I sat in my dad’s basement on a cold April Day and unwrapped a pile of baby shower presents given to us by our dearest friends and family. Our guests sipped bitter coffee and ate the sweet cake while we unwrapped all the gifts we were told we would need in order to care for the tiny human that was growing in my belly. 

There are two things that I remember most from this day. One is a card that said on the front “The Patron Bible verse of Parents: 1 Corinthians 15:51”, which reads “Behold, I show you a mystery: we shall not sleep, but we shall be changed.” I remember this mostly because it turned out to be impeccably true. I also remember one of my aunts said that the best advice she could give me is, “don’t blink” 

I thought to myself that I wasn’t so sure about that advice – but here we are on Roslynn’s first birthday and I feel like all I did between the day she was born and today was blink. I’ve heard that this only gets worse, and if your child is being honored as a graduating high school senior this morning, I suspect you might give the same advice. 

And so on this joyful day, the day of my beloved daughter’s first birthday, my sermon for you is a letter to her. 

Dear Roslynn, 

Happy Birthday! Whoo who! Hip Hip Hooray! We made it! Time to celebrate! 

You sure have completely changed our lives, but we also don’t ever remember our life without you. I think I was always your mom, always, even before the dawn of time I was your mom.

It has been a crazy year. We did not sleep. We lived on coffee and the good graces of people who said they wanted to come over and hold you, so I could sleep for 5 minutes and maybe pack a few things. You see, we did crazy things like move across the country when you were seven weeks old. But we made it through and you started sleeping through the night and that is when we realized that we were actually superheroes and could accomplish any task now that we had 6+ uninterrupted hours of sleep. 

Still, it did not necessarily get “easier.” You ruined every single one of my favorite linen shirts with spit up stains. Our living room is now littered with toys. We spend our cash on really fun things like diapers and onesies that you will grow out of in a month. We’re looking for a minivan. Our bedtime is 8pm. But we’ve been told, time and time again, welcome to parenthood. It’s amazing. Really, I mean that with my whole heart. I wouldn’t choose anything else but this. 

We love you, and because we love you and got to spend this incredible year with you, we thought that it was important to tell you some things in case we forget down the road. 

The first thing we want to say is that the whole reason we moved was so that I could work at a church. You see, I am a priest, a pastor, a church-person and I plan to be for the foreseeable future. This will make you a pastor’s kid, or a PK, as they call it. And I have to say, that made me a little nervous about the whole ordination thing. Many many PK’s I have talked to have all said the same things about their experience growing up in a church: “we had to be perfect, we never missed a Sunday, they all had high hopes that we would go into the ministry and we still feel guilty that we didn’t.” 

And so I want you to know up front that I do not expect you to be perfect. You will be a kid. You will be wiggly in your seat, you will start crying in the communion line, you will mess up and get in trouble. It’s the way these things go. I don’t expect you to be perfect any more than I expect myself to be perfect, and trust me I do not expect that. 

Also, I do not care if you go into the ministry or become a professional juggler. What I care about is that you find a calling that you love and that will sustain you for your entire life. The choice is yours and I will be wildly enthusiastic whatever that choice is.

My hope is that I will give you more freedom than Pastors kids have had in the past, but still, I know it will be hard. At some point, you might wonder why we even go to church. For the most part, my friends have all stopped going themselves. Sunday morning worship coincides with things like brunch specials and their kids soccer games, and to be honest the church has not always done a good job about speaking up about things that matter to us, so why bother. 

But we, your parents, we are still deeply committed to this whole church thing. We believe that standing together in a community while praying the same words and being fed from the same table is actually exactly what we all need. We believe that saying the Creed together, no matter how true or untrue it might feel for us in that particular moment, is a comfort we cling to.

We believe that when the church says at the Baptismal covenant “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” and we all reply “we will,” it is not words that just make us feel good about ourselves, but a promise to build that world together. 

In church, we are fed and we are sent out into the world to proclaim that this is not the end of the story, that love conquers it all. I hope that you believe that, that the church sustains you in that, and that your life as a Christian exemplifies it. 

The second thing I think we should tell you is a little bit about your family.  You have an incredible dad, and I’m not just saying that because today also happens to be Father’s Day, I’m saying that because your dad is incredible. He is unbelievably patient with all of us, he can, some way and somehow, make all the luggage fit in the back of the car every single time, he can make just about anything grow and best of all, he really loves you. 

And I am so glad because in church, we call God “Father” and sometimes “Mother.” God’s love for us is as foolish and as wild and as devoted as the love of a parent. When you know you are loved by your parents, it makes it a little bit easier to know what it’s like to be loved by God. 

But the thing about this is that you have no idea how much your parents love you until you become one yourself. This year, we were in a global pandemic, called COVID-19 and it was really terrible. A symptom  of having COVID is a high fever. One Sunday in the middle of this pandemic, you started running a high fever, 104 degrees – mind you, this was your first fever and we were new parents, so we were instructed by doctors to bring you to the Emergency Room. 

What I remember most about that day is sitting in the back of the car with you on the way to the ER, my hand on your burning forehead, singing to you “He’s got the whole world in his hands” and crying in the backseat. I was so full of fear that I would lose you. And in that moment, I knew it is a deep risk to love anything as much as a parent loves a child. It is as if you are my heart living  outside of my body. I can only imagine how God must feel when he watches all of us make such a mess out of the world.

Roslynn, please know that I want for you to reach every goal you set for yourself and I want you to live a life that you are proud of, whatever that life is. I hope that you will give your gifts to the world with open arms and shine light in the darkness. I hope that you will be a helper, a lover, a peace-maker, and a truth-teller. And I pray that your parents, teachers, priests, and church community will model this for you. 

Finally, Rozzy, on your first birthday what we want you to know the most is that you are loved for exactly who you are, exactly as God created you to be, no-and-buts-or ifs. We love you just the way you are, end of the story.  It is my deepest hope that you will live in a world where every child not only believes that, but is treated as such, a world where every person is respected as nothing less than the image bearer of God. 

My prayer for you today, and not just you, but for every graduating senior gathered today, every parent who ever dared to love a child this much, and every person today who has the courage to show up to in this world with an open heart, is a poem by Carrie Newcomer, she writes:

Are holy
And sacred
And utterly unique.
There are gifts you were born to give.
Songs you were born to sing
Stories you were born to tell.
And if you do not give it,
The world will simply lose it.
It is yours alone to offer,
No one can give it for you.
And dearest,
Listen, because this is important,
This wounded world
Needs all the songs we can pull from the air,
Every story that helps us to remember.
It needs every single gift,
Large and small.
And yes,
This grateful world does rejoice
Every courageous time
We are true to ourselves and to our gifts.
And so it is,
Dear heart,
We embrace the song
And the story
And all our gifts
Because the world has such great need
And because the world exceedingly rejoices
And because there is no sadder thing
Than to leave this world
Having never really shown up.