Ash Wednesday

My sister died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

It’s a fact that has haunted these first few months of my own daughter’s life.

She died before I was born but the memory is alive. I wake to hear my little girl breathing. I check. I triple check. I am careful to keep every blanket or pillow as far away from her mouth as possible so that history will not repeat itself. She’s almost made it. My little girl is nearly four months old, which is how old my sister was when she stopped breathing. She was only four months old.

As with so many of those stories, I don’t know the specifics. I know now that there are many things that could have contributed to her death. My father was a smoker. She was probably lying on her tummy. There were definitely bumpers lining the crib in the hope of protecting this blessed child, but even with these facts, I don’t know much about that story. It reads from my family’s history as something that happened, but not something that wanders into conversation.

There’s not much to be said. She died. It was terrible. Of course it was terrible, but what else can be said about such things?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I was thinking about it today as the Gospel Lesson was read before ashes were placed upon my forehead. My daughter wiggled in my lap. Her little toes kicking, dancing to some distant beat. Alive. Unrepentantly so. Alive and kicking.

Here I was sitting with this squirming little reminder of life to hear it proclaimed again that we are dust, both she and I. We are dust and to dust we shall return. Life will end, even when it is so new. It will end. We do not know the day or hour, but life will end. It always does. Sometimes it happens far too soon.

It is always that way. It was that way in Florida today. While I sat in my pew, seventeen children were killed in a high school in Parkland. Seventeen children were killed. It bears repeating because it’s too terrible and the specifics are even more overwhelming.

It is the eighteenth school shooting this year. It seems impossible.

It doesn’t have to be this way. This doesn’t have to happen, but somehow we have failed. We have missed something. We have allowed this to happen and I can’t help but think that it has something to do with what happened in that tiny chapel this afternoon.

When it came time to receive the ashes and remember that we are dust, I stood in the aisle waiting with the other worshippers bouncing my baby girl in my arms. I heard the familiar refrain repeated again and again. Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return until I stood before the deacon and he pressed his thumb into the ashes. He took a breath, looked into my eyes and said again, Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return. And then, I turned so that he could offer this same mystery to my daughter peeking over my shoulder.

I heard him say the words, just as I heard her coo, but when we sat back down in the pew there were no ashes upon her forehead. Somehow we won’t allow ourselves to believe that children die.

 

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What I’ll Tell My Daughter About Why I Didn’t March

I didn’t march yesterday. Our government shut down and I stayed home in my pajamas merely contemplating the state of the world rather than taking to the streets.

There wasn’t actually a march in my area this year. There may have been one last year but I lived elsewhere then. I wasn’t even in that place last year. I was in California studying at San Francisco Theological Seminary toward my certificate in spiritual direction. I was near a march but I decided not to go mostly because I would have been going alone. I didn’t know others that were going. Though I knew strangers would have become friends in the midst of the protest, the logistics of it overwhelmed me and instead I went to the beach and prayed.

Yesterday I could have attended an Impeachment Rally or I could have joined in the Handmaids Procession to demonstrate my conviction that Roe v. Wade should be upheld, but instead I was home.

Instead, I put another load of cloth diapers in the washer, breastfed my tiny human even after she’d stopped feeding 30 minutes ago (it seems she’s in a growth spurt) and contemplated whether or not yesterday would be a day I would shower. Or not. (It was not such a day as it turns out.)

There was once a time where I saw myself as an activist. There is still part of me that wishes that I could be a better activist. I’ve wished that I could have been the kind of pastor that was incremental in transformative change by showing up in picket lines, singing from loud speakers and locking myself in congresswomen’s offices but I found that I didn’t do these things often. Not because opportunity didn’t present itself. It did, but I found myself making other choices. I found that the heart of my ministry wasn’t on the front lines of justice but it was in the messiness of loving people. I chose the bedside over the march almost every time so maybe it’s not surprising that I’m not marching today. Maybe it shouldn’t be a big deal and yet I have to wonder what I will tell my daughter.

When she learns about the inauguration of the 45th president, will she ask me if I joined in the marches in every city? Will she scan my tweets from ten or fifteen or twenty years ago looking for whether or not I added my voice to #metoo or #blacklivesmatter? Will she then challenge me to why I didn’t do more?

That’s what gives me pause because I could do more. I should do more. I want do to more even in this season where I choose a different kind of bedside. This is what I’m not sure I’ll be able to explain to my daughter in ten or fifteen or twenty years because I’m not quite sure I can explain it to myself.

It wasn’t just that I didn’t want to march alone last year, but that I was ambivalent about the founding of this particular protest. I was then and remain today concerned that we don’t know how to talk about the value of one person without talking about the value of all people. We can’t just talk about women and their created worth without confessing the sins that women can and do commit against each other. I’ve made my own excuses about this, and I’m trying hard to do better. So I didn’t feel totally comfortable aligning myself with a group of white women when I knew there were lives that were going to be more horrifically impacted by this particular administration.

How will I explain this to my daughter? Will I tell her that each time I fed her at my breast, I scrolled through the headlines on my phone to see one more deportation? How will I explain to her how it felt to see that another black child shot? Will I even remember their names when she asks me why I didn’t march?

How will I explain my resistance when it feels like every bit of radical feminism I once had has been overcome by piles of laundry and petty arguments with my husband about who will do the dishes in the sink? I hope that I don’t remember this absurdity in ten or fifteen or twenty years.

I hope I remember instead that I did use my words. I didn’t have a pulpit when she was very small. I wasn’t leading the chants as I once did. No one handed me a loud speaker, but I chose this particular bedside by her crib. I read her stories. I sang with her. I gave her the tools that she would need to persist. It’s what I did as a pastor too. It’s what my ministry turned out to be I wasn’t always on the front lines, but I did everything I could to help others be there. I’d read those names in worship. We’d confess our sins. We’d recommit to doing better.

I may not be on the front lines of this fight but I still believe we can do better. I know we can. I’m raising a little girl in the certainty of this faith. It’s not the path that I thought I’d take. I’m not the activist I once believed I could be, but I will raise her in the resistance. I will raise her to fight the good fight.