Friday, May 14, 2010

For Anna on Her 11th Birthday

She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying (Luke 2:37).

I’m writing this on my daughter’s eleventh birthday. You’ll be reading a day or so after.

Technically, of course, her birthday is over. May 12th has come and gone. That’s the way I remember birthdays as a kid. You had a birth day. But now it seems that kids get something akin to a birth week – a string of celebrations and observances that span an indefinite period of days. So as you open this email the birthday “season” is in full swing.

I launched the season by taking Anna to breakfast before school. I won’t be at home to enjoy the birthday dinner that Marnie has planned, so I decided to treat my daughter to breakfast. That was a birthday first for us, but I liked it and I think she did as well. Maybe we’ve discovered a new tradition.

It’s probably time for a new tradition. I have one that my “little girl” has outgrown, although she still tolerates my foolishness, allowing me to repeat this birthday liturgy year after year. It started several years back when she truly was little and it goes like this. I’ll ask her how old she’s going to be. When she tells me I ponder it for a moment and act shocked. After a brief stunned silence I feign a distraught plea, begging her “No . . . No . . . don’t do it . . . please don’t do it.” The idea is that I don’t want her to get older.

And truth be told – part of me really doesn’t want her to get older. She used to laugh at this. Now she rolls her eyes or humors me with a polite chuckle.

In February Anna stopped breathing.

We knew something wasn’t right. We’d already had her in the emergency room earlier in the day. We’d had her looked at and we planned to doctor her through it. But the ongoing breathing complaints had us stumped. Once it was clear to us that she wasn’t going to sleep that night we all piled in the car and headed back to the hospital.

And then she stopped breathing. I didn’t see that coming. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t. We were in the car when it happened. Words fail me here. Some feelings and images come back with clarity: Driving fast and scared, struggling to get her limp body into the ER, seeing her on a ventilator, the cold room, her skin a mottled pink and pale.

And then a week later it was over. She was barely able to stand being held in the hospital that last day, waiting to be discharged. She was angry that we weren’t planning to let her go to church the very next day. Now it’s as if nothing ever happened.

But it did happen. And on her birthday my “Don’t do it” act is just that. A big act. I want her to do it. I want her to age and grow. I love seeing her get a year older, knowing that she’s on her way to becoming who God made her to be. I love the anticipation of watching her days unfold, year after year.

Our Anna was named for the prophetess Anna in Luke 2. Luke tells us very little about this Anna. She never shows up again in the pages of scripture. She makes a very brief appearance, playing a supporting role to the aged Simeon on the day that Mary and Joseph present the infant Jesus to the Lord at the temple, following the commands of the Torah.

On that day there were two people who recognized the Holy family: Simeon and Anna. Anna had been married for seven years but then lived as a widow until the age of eighty-four. Her life was spent worshiping and waiting for God’s saving work on behalf of his people. When Mary and Joseph arrived with their son Anna recognized the child, gave thanks and praise to God, and spoke to others about who this child was.

I pray that my Anna will enjoy a long marriage with children and grandchildren of her own. But above all of that, and of far greater significance, I pray that with every passing year she will grow to imitate the aged Anna of the temple. May every passing year find her learning to worship. May the years sharpen her capacity for seeing God’s work in the world. May her heart be filled with thanksgiving and her mouth be bold to speak of Jesus.

And with every passing year may she know the presence of God’s Spirit and the working of God’s power in her life. The kind of blessing that says, “You go right ahead and do it. For this you were made.” And may you know the same.

By the power of your Spirit, O God, may we live our days and every passing year telling your story, giving you praise, delighting in your saving works through Christ our Lord. Amen.