In the End, There’s Cake

My kids have birthdays this week. They will be 2 and 4. And while I know this is where I’m supposed to say “I can’t believe how fast they’re growing up!” what I really think is, I can’t remember a time when they weren’t around. In many ways, they’ve been with me forever.

The almost 2-year-old has a new favorite word–why. And, as only a small child can do, he throws this one-word question around as though it had three-syllables, rather than one…uh-WHY-ee. (Kind of sounds like ‘hawaii.’) Surprisingly enough, it sounds too cute to be whiny. Check back in with me in about 10 years, i’m sure i will be singing a different song.

Meanwhile, big sister’s questions are getting a little more complex. Like, ‘where was Silas when I was a baby?”

Um…excuse me? Don’t i get the standard ‘where do babies come from” moment before i have to start dealing with this existential stuff?? Apparently, not at my house.

Anyway…’he wasn’t born yet” does not seem to cut it with an almost-4-year old. No, he wasn’t in my tummy yet. No, he wasn’t living at somebody else’s house (like grandma maybe had him stashed in a closet until you were ready for a baby brother?) No, he just wasn’t…anywhere.

I can see why she doesn’t buy that. I can see how she looks at this loud, messy, giggly, disaster-prone, tank engine of a small boy and thinks…wasn’t he always here? I feel the same way.

Really, we come into the world with only three questions. And however our ‘uh-WHY-ee’ might evolve and take shape throughout a lifetime, the fundamentals remain the same: 1-where did we come from? 2-Why are we here? 3-What happens to us when we die?

All I know is that, I have been in the room when a life comes into it, and I have been in the room, on numerous occasions, when life leaves this frame. And if you ask me, being dead and being not born yet are a lot the same. Not sure how to tell that to a very small child–other than to say that, before you were born, you were with God. And some day, you get to go be with God again. For now, that’s all I’ve got. And maybe, some day, when she loses somebody she loves, she will remember that they were with God before, and must be back there again… And doesn’t that make the whole business of dying a lot less scary and sad? To know that, ultimately, that person we love is going back to someplace good that they’ve been before…and where we will some day be again.

This will bother a whole lot of people, who don’t think that all life returns to God unless we’ve said the right prayer with the right words, with the right preacher praying over us, while holding our arms just right and placing our hand on the right translation of the Bible. But in my line of work–and in just being a person–I find great comfort in knowing that death is not a punishment or a price to pay, but just the order of things. And that, if God ordered it so, it must be good. If the same God who gave me life–and gave me these two beautiful, joyful, curious, messy, loud expressions of life–wants to some day bring me back to the place of my beginning, then it must be a good thing.

As to the ‘why are we here…’ Well, I’m still working on that myself. But if the answers to the first and the third questions are ‘from God’ and ‘to God,’ then maybe the only way to answer that middle part of life’s journey is ‘for God.’ We come from God. We live for God. Then we go back. If we do it right, it is a full and miraculous cycle, whatever pain and sorrow might meet us on the way.

This is by no means to diminish the importance of what happens in all that ‘for God’ time. Or to make light of all the ways our lives can be not quite in keeping with what God has in mind for us. Or to dismiss the very real heartbreak that death can bring. But all that sin and salvation stuff can come later. In another post, or in the (umpteen million) sermons that these poor kids will have to sit through in their lifetime. But for now, we are celebrating life at my house.  And in my line of work, celebrating life means knowing that the end of it will be ok, too. And really, when you’re born, people bring food. When you die, people bring food. Either way–there’s cake!

Might not be enough for an almost-4-year-old girl, but for now, it’s all I’ve got. I will just do the best I can…then I’ll distract her with presents and a cupcake. Because it is always somebody’s birthday. Especially in October.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
 How precious to me are your thoughts,God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

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About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • Terry Immel

    You can preach this for my memorial service (which I hope is no time soon)–especially the cake part (chocolate, with white, fluffy frosting). It’s what I’ve been trying to say for 40 years, but not so eloquently as this. Terry

    Sent from my iPad

  • http://www.irreverin.com irreverins

    i also hope it is not time soon! although, if it is…the church is in your will, right? :)

  • Laurel

    Mom would’ve celebrated 74 on this day, so I find it especially comforting, your words today. Thanks, Erin…you always manage to strike a chord.

  • Laura Barkhauer

    Lovely and simply told, Erin.

  • http://seekthesacred.wordpress.com seekthesacred

    I miss my daughter at four, while enjoying the now seventeen year old. My daughter was born when I was 38, so a lot of living went on ‘before’ her. She would frequently tell our friends she was with God before she was born. Perhaps we had told her that to one of the endless ‘why’ questions, perhaps not. She had embraced what you have expressed, a fundamental truth about what this corporal life is and the notion that the divine within us, our souls, have no beginning or end. That which is eternal within us was, and is, and always will be. To end with Psalm 139 was beyond brilliant. As for this life now, you might be interested in this post:
    http://seekthesacred.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/reflecting-on-swirl/

  • Judy

    As usual you know how to make something complex and kinda scary seem obviously and elegantly simple and comforting. Thank you!


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