This past Friday evening, we gathered family and friends in Philadelphia and Brooksie was baptized in his grandmother’s backyard. It was the sweetest night, full of kids and laughing friends and a dear former pastor who came into town just to be part of this day with us. We’re grateful. These are the words I read for my boy during the service.
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Here you are, little boy, you who bear so many names I don’t know what to call you today at your baptism:
You are T-Rexy, so named in utero by your dinosaur-loving brother. I call you “T-Rexy” like any mama would call her little boy to dinner. T-Rexyyyyyy! Time to Eeeeeeat! All day long I hear your brother calling for you, hoping you’ll look at his cool trick, hoping you’ll wrestle on the cushions with him. “T-REXY! Look at this! T-Rexy!”
And life has shortened even that name. How often will you turn your head to “T”? “Hey T!” we shout. “T it’s time to brush teeth,” I’ll say. “T, are you all done?” waiting for you to sign “all done” or shake your head no like you’re dancing, your whole body waving side to side.
But your name is Brooks Andrew, named for two second born sons. Two younger brothers, who both knew what it is to chase behind a faster, older boy, who knew why second-borns learn to walk sooner and fall more often.
When we were thinking of your name, I reflected a lot on the original “Brooks” and “Andrew.” (Actually Uncle Andy wasn’t an original. Papa Pipe had that middle-name first…and we’re honored his name’s in you too.) This is what I wrote in my journal before you were born:
“I hope you’ll inherit your spirit and generosity from Brooks. He’s a piece of work: a bit of a disorganized mess, a lot of a ham, a man who has risked so much to follow Christ into the devastated lives of many, opinionated, hilarious, a good friend. Andy is also the best kind of friend. He is tender-hearted, kind. That’s why kids love him and why I’m sure you will too. He’s a kid at heart and always notices the one who too often goes unnoticed. He knows what matters to him and he’s passionate about the things he loves, especially the people he loves.”
You, Brooks Andrew, Brooksie, T-Rexy…You are your own little thing. The day after you were born, I noticed and wrote down: “You don’t feel the need to perform when you cry.” You spent babyhood content and are still happy to let August speak for you. He is good at talking, after all.
Instead, you move. You walked months earlier than your brother. You climb as high as your body will allow, especially when my head is turned. (Coffee tables, couch edges, beds, stepladders, you’ve done it all.) And, so, you’ve also kept one large unmoving bruise in the middle of your forehead all your walking life. If you find a crack in the sidewalk, a piece of cement raised two inches above the next, you find yourself there for minutes walking off that ledge and back, over and over. You love the thrill of a good fall.
Three weeks ago I took you and your brother to the pool for the first time since your early babyhood. I assumed you would want to hold tight to my neck, afraid of the coolness of the water, the depth. Instead, you fought my holding you till I got you to the steps. You climbed out and ran for the edge, swinging your arms in hopes of one good jump. Of course, I caught up with you. You’re not that fast yet. And I let you jump, holding under your arms over and over, from the side of the pool into the water. And finally in the water with me again, you dove your head backwards, as if I were your Baptist minister, and this was our holy fount. You laughed, your head soaked. Your brother giggled too, as I held you there, floating on water, just as you wanted.
I was baptized that way, darling. I was seven and I made the choice myself. I asked Jesus to be my Only One and two weeks later, I was robed in white in a warmed tub, three feet deep, looking out into the crowd of faces. My church said that baptism was a choice we must make for ourselves. And I will never forget the moment I leaned back, let the water wash me. I will never forget giving myself to God.
Your father was baptized too. He was younger than you. Two weeks old in a baptismal baby suit, he was given to God, marked and sealed.
Two different baptisms led us to today. Neither of them were magic, Brooksie. Neither were performances: Not the moment Basia and Grandpa held Daddy out to the priest. That did not seal his soul.
And my shaking hands, one on my nose, one under Brother Shads’ two big hands that rocked me back beneath the whoosh of water. Those hands did not rescue me.
But, your dad and I, we have been rescued. We’ve been rescued by a God who came to us first, one who loved us not only in spite of our neediness and failures, but in the midst of them. “It is by grace you have been saved through faith, not from yourselves. It is a gift of God,” the book of Ephesians tells us. It’s not the baptism that gets us into God’s fondness. It’s the gift he offers.
Grace is my favorite word, Brooksie. Grace is the story my life is telling, about a Jesus who lived the Great Story, who rescues us from our sin, our brokenness, our tendency to hurt each other and ourselves. Jesus is the story I’m honored to tell you over and over.
So, we’re not waiting for you to make a decision to belong to Jesus, to align yourself with the story of forgiveness and mercy-giving. (Not because we don’t long for you to make that choice, dear boy.) Today, we offer you to the water because we want you to know that you’re already here, you’re already loved, you already belong to the family of God. You are welcome at this table with us.
And this is how the Church has welcomed its family for two thousand years and for more to come. This baptism is just the celebration of what is already true. Every Sunday night of my childhood, I would hold hands with the people beside me in church, usually my brothers or mom and dad and our hands would spread out across that huge sanctuary, arms extending across aisles, and we would sing this hymn:
I’m so glad I’m a part
Of the family of God
I’ve been washed in the fountain
Cleansed by his blood…
When I sang those words, I always felt like I was part of something bigger than I could ever understand. And I was: across the sanctuary, but also across the land where I lived, across oceans, across centuries, across the barriers of time and space, I sang: I’m a part of the family of God.
As you are sealed and marked as Christ’s forever, your dad and I will do our deepest best to remind you to Whom you belong:
The One who loves the least of these, the One who forgives 70 times 7, the One who turns the world upside down and says that the least influential are the most important and the meek are the ones who end up with the great big earth. The One who gave his life for you and, just when everyone thought the story was over, took up his life again: For you, for us. That we don’t have to live bound by the rules of this world: There is a bigger world and a bigger hope than mere survival. Real flourishing is possible, Brooks Andrew.
We’re making this choice for you in preparation for the day when you will make a choice for yourself. And when you do, I pray you’ll hear Saint Peter’s words in your ear, saying: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of life.”
Let your life of faith start here. Let the words of Real Life begin speaking in you even today.