State of Grace: Sharing a birthday with Judah

Yesterday was my birthday.  My best friend had flown into town on Saturday so we could take a road trip to Marfa to celebrate.  God had a different road trip in store for us.

A member of the parish, Judah, age three, drowned during a family cookout on Saturday night.  After much heroic effort, professionals were able to restore his heartbeat.  Our curate, Alan, and I spent Saturday evening and early into Sunday morning with the family as the medical professionals stabilized Judah.  Sunday, Russ, our deacon, was with the Browns while Alan and I walked this hard road with our parish family back at St. Mary’s.

Monday, my birthday, my friend and I were up before dawn to drive to the Medical Center.  God gave us a beautiful sunrise for the nearly two hour drive into town with the other early morning commuters.  A stop for coffee on the way was blessed by a birthday call from my mother.

My friend spent most of the day in the PICU waiting area, listening to family members, fetching food, and being a pastoral presence.  God used her skills as a hospice volunteer to provide unexpected, unplanned care.  This was not the trip she’d planned for this Monday, but this was the trip  God had placed her on, and Ginny was beyond gracious.

I spent my birthday mostly in the PICU with Judah.  I sang and prayed with him, and felt a cloud of witnesses who had gone before us surround us in the room.  In particular, I was aware of the praying presence of Jamie and Andy, two other young people from St. Mary’s who had died before we were ready.

Conversations with medical personnel, with family, and with Judah as he prepared to die were the most holy way I could have ever shared this day. Time and again, God put me in the path of the right people to gather and to provide information, to pray, and to offer unexpected ways of support and to offer God’s care.

When the time came late in the day to make the kind of decisions no parent ever should have to make, I was ready to offer all my years of living to this family.   The words holy, holy, holy kept whispering in my ear.

After it appeared things were in a stable place, I left to have dinner and to travel home for the night.  My friend had found a restaurant to celebrate my birthday near the Medical Center with the lovely name, State of Grace.  Because we were between meal times, we sat at the bar and ate food that cannot be aptly called bar food–a feast of sumptuous smallish plates.

Drinking club soda in preparation for the long drive home, we began a conversation with our server, Ed.  As we told him the story of my unexpected birthday with Judah and his family, he gave us words of good wishes.  Then he poured me a large flute of champagne, and as he served me, he said, “I’m not done with you yet!”  He said he would be bringing us dessert, and then offered us cappuccinos.  Turns out Ed didn’t bring us one but two different desserts.  I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a birthday dinner more, which included receiving a hilarious text from our bishop.  I was truly in a State of Grace.

My friend and I were on our way to walk a labyrinth to wait for the traffic to clear when we had a call asking us to return to the hospital.  The final tests would be completed that evening to determine whether or not Judah was dead, and clergy presence would be helpful.

So with prayers for energy, we returned once again to the Medical Center.  I was there to support the family and friends holding vigil in the lobby, and to encourage their own self care during this time.  Then our bishop arrived for a visit, and we were at Judah’s bedside finishing our prayers when the medical personnel told us the test results–Judah’s brain was no longer alive.

We stayed as the family processed and began to plan the next part of Judah’s life journey–deciding to give whatever tissue and organs possible to other folks so that their lives could go on, and their family and friends would have the gift of hope and joy.

Eighteen hours after I had awakened on my birthday and begun this state of grace, I got in the car to drive home.

When I awoke this morning, grateful for the birthday God had given me, and one I would never ever planned, I realized that there was yet one more birthday the day before.  I now shared a birthday with Judah.

In the Christian faith, we have three birthdays:
The day that we are born into this world.
The day that we are baptized and born into the family of God.
The day that we die, and are born into eternal life. That third day is the day that we become saints in God’s kingdom.  September 26 is now St. Judah’s day.

With a heart full of sadness, I celebrate your day, Judah.  You are in the truest State of Grace.

8 thoughts on “State of Grace: Sharing a birthday with Judah

  1. I love your blog and how you write so beautifully and praying that I can move closer to Cypress to hear you preach every Sunday. Judah's family are in my prayers.


  2. Beth, as Judah's grandfather, I really appreciate all of the love and support that you, your staff and church have given to the family at this time. Though the pain seems unbearable at times, your love in Christ has been a great aid and comfort. This is the way the body of Christ is supposed to work, putting aside what is trivial and focusing on the most important things in life.

    I am a former pastor, although from a different faith family, but when it all boils down to it, we are one in Christ. We may have different theological positions on some areas, but where the rubber meets the road, all of that falls away. We are in Christ. We are His creation, called to do His work of helping the hurting.

    All that is to say that you, Ginny and those from your parish/diocese are truly fulfilling that work, and we all really appreciate it.

    I know that our Judah slipped the bonds of this life and now is in the loving arms of Jesus. I cannot see him now. I cannot hold his hand or do the Papa things with him I had hoped, but someday I will see him and we can sit together and worship at the feet of the one who loves him supremely. In that day, as it is now for Judah, all of the things of earth will be gone to us. All the pain and sorrow will be replaced with joy and peace.

    Judah is now whole again and someday, we will be too, reunited with him for all eternity.

    I just hope that in his new body, he still has those beautiful blue eyes!

    Thank you again, Beth, for all you have done!

    Wendell Gragg


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