The world today feels as though it is the most fragile of places. Human against human, human against nature, nature against human. Mothers wail and creation groans. And if you look across borders and across oceans, it seems as though the fragility is amplified.
A letter written two weeks before your birth
A few weeks ago, you gave us some pretty clear signs that you were on your way - clear enough for us to let our family and friends know. But you weren’t quite ready and decided to stay cozy inside for a little longer. On the day when we thought you were coming, your Daddy and I had a long and beautiful day together taking walks, driving to appointments, sitting at cafes and even going to the movies while the contractions came and went. And as we walked along sidewalks, through parks and along the trails, we talked about you and your name, and both found great joy and consensus on naming you Haven. We have several reasons for why you have been given this name.
Haven means shelter, a place of refuge, sanctuary. This image alone is a beautiful one.
As a young girl, I was keenly aware of those around me who did not have a physical or emotional place of refuge. A homeless man in San Francisco told me he was hungry and I watched the grown ups walk by and ignore him. At nine years old, my heart broke to learn there were people on street corners whose needs were overlooked. One of the most formative experiences of my young life was spending my high school afternoons and evenings at the Red Cross shelter in Colorado - a place of refuge and welcome for those who were without homes, and without a lot of other kinds of support that they needed. But this place, little one, was a true haven that welcomed the stranger and offered shelter, food and grace to those who needed it most. It was a haven for me, too - a sanctuary where my faith became actionable and real. I discovered that proximity to people who were different than me, who were humbled by their station in life and whom the world tended to ignore was where I experienced the presence of God the most. It became clear to me that if Jesus were on earth today, that shelter is where I would find Him.
On the opposite coast, your Daddy was having similar experiences. He spent many evenings in New York City welcoming homeless individuals into his church building through Room at the Inn to provide refuge from the bitter winter nights. Weekly, he’d stay the night with those who were different than him to ensure rest and comfort for the stranger.
A formative community for your Daddy during his years in New York was a group called The Haven. It was a community of artists all over the city who came together weekly. They shared a common love for the arts and a common faith, and out of the The Haven emerged some of your Daddy’s most meaningful and life-giving relationships.
And finally, if not most importantly, we decided to follow the tradition of our Kenyan brothers and sisters - especially the Luo, who often name their babies in relation to the circumstances of their birth. They tend to be quite literal like being named Auma if you are born face up or Anyango if you are born in the morning or Akoth if you are born when it was raining. For you, we have chosen to not be so literal, but there is symbolism here.
First, it’s important for you to understand that you are being born into the one of the wealthiest, safest, mildest and privileged places on the planet. We live in Silicon Valley, a place saturated in affluence, success, power, innovation and progress. We live in a beautiful climate surrounded by redwoods and ocean, we enjoy fresh food from our local farmers markets, we are a melting pot of neighbors from all over the world and mostly value each other’s differences and we have everything we could possibly want - and then some. But this place where you will enter the world is not representative of what most of humanity experiences. It’s important for you to know that you are entering the world at a time where we are witnessing the largest refugee crisis since WWII. The UN estimates that there are some 65 million people who were displaced last year - about 20 million of them were refugees living outside of their country of origin. There are so many reasons why people end up fleeing from their homes. It has been heart-wrenching for me to witness the unfolding of so many crises as of late. And as you are preparing to enter our family, there is great debate over our nation’s responsibility in welcoming refugees from certain nations and religions.
Your Daddy and I have both committed our lives to the way of Jesus, and there is a specific teaching in the Gospel of Matthew that defines our shared faith and commitments. Jesus proclaimed, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me. But the righteous were confused and asked Jesus when they had seen him or done these things for him. And Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.”
Your Daddy and I have spent much of our short lives in relationship with people who would be identified as the least of these - and we believe sincerely that to be true followers of Jesus, we are to step out of our own comforts and safety to go love, serve, advocate for and partner with this who are hungry, thirsty, alien, naked, sick and imprisoned. We have been granted extraordinary shelter from some of the world’s greatest injustices and tragedies, and we believe that we are not to stay too long in our own sanctuaries but to go out and provide shelter for others.
Our prayer for you is that, while being born into this particular geography and this particular family, that your life will be a haven to others - in particular for the least of these. You will undoubtedly choose a path different than ours, but wherever that path takes you, we pray that you will always be on the lookout for those who are marginalized. Your entrance into our lives is a reminder to us o fall that we have been given and we see your name as a recommitment of ours as a family to always welcome the stranger, to be a place or relationship of refuge for others.
Your uncles from Jars of Clay wrote the lyrics to a song called The Shelter - and they have sung truth to me for years. The lyrics say, “In the shelter of each other, we will live.” You, sweet Haven, are giving us great life and joy as you enter our family, and I pray that I, your Daddy and your big brother Jude will be a place of great welcome and love for you as you grow up and eventually step into the world on your own.
I can’t wait to meet you.
Have you ever heard the words of someone whose convictions are so simple and so profound, that they come out like poetry? Where the words march with an inner beat that find their way into the cadence of your own heart? And even when the final sentence has been read and the book closed, the words remain with you, beating and marching on? That is what Bryan Stevenson's convictions and words in Just Mercy are for me.
My dearest Jude,
It's hard to admit, but all the cliches are true. Before you were born, I didn't quite care to understand the depth behind the statements like: you-never-knew-you-could-love-someone-so-much alongside the it's-the-hardest-job-you'll-ever-love (and Mama and Daddy have had some hard jobs) matched now with the they-grow-up-so-fast. There are plenty more cliches, Jude, that Daddy and I have realized are true in these last two years with you - so many of them are about discovery, vulnerability, delight and being humbled by the everyday messes and miracles of watching you grow.
Thursday night, I put on makeup and a fancy dress and walked into a ballroom with 450 co-laborers in the fight against HIV/AIDS to celebrate Blood:Water’s annual Red Tie Gala — a night dedicated to advancing the fight to end the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. I went into the night with a heavy heart but left with deep gladness. You see, a year ago I lost a dear friend named Joseph to a secret he had kept hidden from everyone close to him.
As stillness in stone to silence is wed, May solitude foster your truth in word.
As a river flows in ideal sequence, May your soul reveal where time is presence.
As the moon absolves the dark of distance, May your style of thought bridge the indifference.
As the breath of light awakens color, May the dawn anoint your eyes with wonder.
When I lived in Nashville, I spent one Thursday night a month wrapped up in a good book with some close friends. It was a night I looked forward to every month. I loved being part of a book club. That's why I am so excited to announce Blood:Water is launching its own book club!