dear jackson, fear not

Read other letters to Jackson, here.

Dear Jackson,

It takes no great mathematician to figure out you were conceived around Christmas. You're due September 22nd and people since Genesis have counted back nine on their fingers every time a birth announcement is made. Now, someday I'll tell you more about this, I'll tell you the moment when your mom and I both knew, but for now I'll tell you this: God planned you.

Your mom and I were going to wait, were going to have things planned better—be out of debt, be buying a house, be a whole list of things more along than we are now. But there was a moment for each of us, separately, when the Spirit said, You are not to wait. There will be a child this time next year.

Before you were, you were, Jacks.

I return to this point often with God.I return to this particular peculiarity of your coming into being. Tomorrow is your fetal MRI. Tomorrow we are going to have a lot of pictures made of you. They'll figure out how severe your cleft lip is, the palate as best they can, confirm you don't have your right eye, and take a look at your brain. They'll take a lot of pictures and then we'll wait a few days for a phone call. In a month, we'll meet with the plastic surgeon and the speech pathologist and they'll tell us what they think the plan will be.

I paced downtown yesterday on the phone, telling a good friend of mine about you. I told him about the MRI and about God saying to your mom and I that you were supposed to be born. I told him, too, about praying for your healing.

That's been harder these days, Jacks. It's been harder because I don't want to be unprepared. I want to make sure you have everything you need. I want to make sure you're taken care of. Three ultrasounds now, seeing your face on the screen—even though you still won't fully show us the cleft—I should just accept that this is how it's going to be for you, shouldn't I?

I try. I try hard to do that. But after the first few moments of the comfort of resignation, God taps me, Have I told you to stop praying for this?

Jackson, I know so little about God. I know so little about why I can't let go of praying for your healing. It's confusing. It's a bit maddening. See, I'm not worried about how you'll look. I'm not worried about how you'll sound or hear. You're not less whole, not less you if healing comes in the form of trained surgeons and careful doctors. These, too, are the friends of Jesus along with the cadre of saints interceding for us. So if I'm so comfortable with all that, why does the impulse linger? Why does the fixed hope not uproot?

I didn't always love the psalms, Jacks, not the way you know me to love them now. I found them boring and frustrating. It wasn't until you the psalms began to make a certain kind of sense. I pray a litany of them over you every night, my hand on your mom's stomach, upon you, and I find the psalms have a power I hadn't known before:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the Name of the Lord our God.

It could easily have been:

Some trust in ultrasounds and some in geneticists,
but we trust in the Name of the Lord our God.

The psalms are fierce in their confidence, Jacks. The psalms pray boldly because they know something about God most of us have forgotten. Someday I'll tell you the story of Jacob, later called Israel, who wrestled with an angel of God. Jacob would have won, it seems, had the angel not wounded him at the end. The rabbis say this soberly reminds us of two things: Israel is the nation that gets to wrestle with God face to face; and, in doing so, they walk with a limp. That intimacy comes with a cost.

In and through Jesus, we're a part of that family. We're a part of the family that gets to wrestle with God. Our prayers get to be big and powerful and bold and wild, too. We get to remind God of the promises God has made. We get to tell God our anger, our fear, our doubt. We get to ask for the impossible because we have been invited to grapple with the Impossible all the time.

And so it makes sense that after the first ultrasound, after the first visit, I would pray big and impossible for your healing. I told God so often about how God was the one who said you were to be born, so God needs to take care of you. I asked big because God is big. I'm so sure of that. But after awhile, it seems silly to pray for it, doesn't it? It seems after the second ultrasound, the third, it's time to let it go.

They forgot God's works and the wonders God had shown them.

That's from another psalm.

Sunday was hard, Jacks. It was hard because we just want to hold you, we want to keep you close, we want to know exactly what is going on with you and do whatever we can to make sure you're okay. Your mom and I stood in church and held each other, weeping because we don't know why God seems so out of reach, so quiet. As long as you're okay, it's enough. No matter what happens, no matter what doesn't happen.

I told my friend on the phone all of this, then I told him the rest.

I told him how about how when your mom and I first found out, we had a private Eucharist and time of prayer with our bishop and his wife. I told him about how during that time of prayer I had a vision of Jesus the King, who looked me through and said, "I am the Good Shepherd, but I am also the King. What I say is accomplished is accomplished."

I told him about the way people have prayed for your mom, you, and me. I told him about how no one seems to quite feel that this is a settled thing. I told him about the passages of Scripture; about how praying for you like this before you're born is a different sort of thing than praying for you like this after you're here; I told him about the people who have had visions of you; I told him about the nearness of Mary these days, the knowing that there is a company in heaven praying for us, for you.

I told him all of this and then I told him the hardest truth: when you're someone who sees the signs of God everywhere in the world all the time, everything is a sign until suddenly nothing is.

See, Jacks, I want all those Scriptures, those visions, those moments to mean something very specific. I want you to be healed. I want that. So I want all of those things to be a kind of evidence, proof-text, surety.

Some trust in visions and some in feelings,
but we trust in the Name of the Lord our God.

But the truth is, I haven't gotten a yes or a no from God about this.

Maybe that's the limp. Maybe the limp is the God who speaks but does not clarify.

I hung up the phone and sat vigil in the stillness while your mom read for comps.

And you know what I heard, Jacks?

It takes no great mathematician to figure out you were conceived around Christmas. And what is the message of Christmas? What is the message of a child God says will be born when parents otherwise didn't have plans for it?

Fear not.

Fear not the diagnosis. Fear not the MRI. Fear not the surgery. Fear not the waiting. Fear not the rest of his life. Fear not the work he is to do.

Fear not, fear not, fear not.

This is God's answer today, Jackson, the night before your MRI: fear not.

I want to have it recorded somewhere. I want to have written down somewhere the why when people ask how we're not so sad, how we're not so grieved.

The answer is because the Lord has spoken.

Because the same Lord who announced to us it was time and right and good for you to come into being is the same Lord who will see you through.

It is the same Lord who told me not to stop praying.

It is the same Lord who told me that he is the King.

It is the same Lord who no matter what an MRI does or does not show will be your guide behind and before every day of your life.

Your mom and I don't trust in chariots or horses, Jacks. We trust in the Name of the Lord our God, we trust in God's good work in you, and we, through Jesus, fear not. Whatever does or does not happen, Jackson: fear not.

We'll keep walking with that limp, but we'll keep walking with the same Lord.

Fear not.



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