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New Covenant School
Attn: Grant Brown Scholarship Fund 9 Westminster Avenue Arlington, MA 02474
Over the years, Christmas has snuck up on us from time to time—but not this year. This year it’s been staring at us like a massive neon billboard aimed directly at the house that reads “Christmas Is Coming and You Can’t Avoid it if You Tried.” I’ll admit, as Christmas with Grant in Heaven has been approaching day by day, I’ve waffled between dread, indifference, fear, and disbelief. How bad will it be? I’ve read enough of other grieving parents’ stories by now to know to be braced. Our deep sadness isn’t about where he is, but about where’s he’s supposed to be right now and isn’t—with us. By no choice of our own, Christmas is going to be different from now on.
Before you start to think my grief is triggering me do some Santa-bashing writing, hold on. Santa visited our house in the past few years, too. You should know, though, Grant figured out when he was three years old there was no Santa. He put me on the spot at bedtime one night. Standing on his bed facing me, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Daddy is Santa Claus really real?” Grant had me cornered. I couldn’t lie to him, but came clean and told him that he was right. Santa wasn’t real. My admission didn’t seem to faze him, likely because his question to me was just a matter of gathering a second opinion. He had already formulated his own idea, which was typical for his little brain. We agreed it could be exciting to pretend Santa was real and we could do that for fun as long as he’d like. Grant liked that idea and so it continued. From then on, Grant would look up at me and give a knowing smile and sometimes a wink when we strolled passed a Santa at the mall.
It wasn’t but a month or so after we lost Grant that gobs of Christmas paraphernalia hit the shelves in most big box stores. We’ve been dealing with that kind of Christmas for a few months now. More than ever it’s noticeable that there are two categories of Christmas. Big surprise, huh? The many holiday choices seem like a bunch of irrelevant shiny decorations, fast lights of any color I’d want to use to don a tree, mass-produced figurines and glittery sundries made in China (no offense to the Chinese), inflatable lawn ornaments that pop up, wave, or dance. I’ve known this difference in Christmases for most of my life. There’s the commercialized Christmas that starts blending with the Halloween aisle as summer winds down into fall and then Christ’s birth, of course, is the other kind of Christmas—the real Christmas that gets less attention. If you get caught in a spending frenzy, just remember “manger” and not “store manager” and you’ll be able to keep it straight.
Carolynne has helped plan the special Christmas Eve service at our church for several years. Her gifts truly shine through designing worship and the sensitivity she has to God leading that process is obvious. Two years ago, the focus was on the gift of Christ, how Christ cares for sinners, how He isn’t unpredictable or finicky and how He offers Himself to us as a gift. But, the world can be cautious of something so simple or feel a bit guarded when considering it because of other life experiences that have spoiled an ability to trust.
That year, it was decided the day before Christmas Eve that a manger was needed for the service, so Grant and I volunteered to build one. We had twenty-four hours to get the job done. We went to a local wood shop store, but it was a little high-end. I’m no theologian, but I was sure the manger that held the baby King wasn’t made of costly imported burled walnut. Keeping with the simplicity of the Christmas story, I asked if they had any discarded scraps around somewhere. The clerk took Grant and me to a dusty corner of the store and told us to watch our footing as we navigated steps down to their basement where I had to duck and Grant was the right size for the low ceiling. There we found stacks of boards, different shapes and sizes---and cheap. I don’t even recall that they charged us for carrying off their leftovers. That sure fit our budget well. Grant and I sorted out a stack of short lumber that we thought would work for constructing a manger. We threw our boards in the back of the Jeep, along with a pint of antique walnut satin wood stain we splurged on so the manger wouldn’t look like a scouting project gone bad, and off to our basement we went to start building.
I sawed, Grant “hammered,” and I drilled. Grant wore his bright yellow construction worker hat and was a terrific helper. We got walnut stain all over us and our concrete basement floor, but made a manger in record time. We looked at it, but it didn’t seem complete and time was running out. I taught Grant the word remnant, and introduced him to the fabric store close to my office. We found some swatches of blue silk and burlap that made for perfect swaddling clothes and padding for our plain manger. It was an opportunity to teach Grant first-hand and remind myself all over again that Christ was born without a dime to His name. He had nothing fancy, His accommodations weren’t elaborate, and His parents did the best they could to find a place for Him to be born. They made do with what had been provided to them. The world Jesus was born into then was not as comfortable as the world we live in now.
I spend quiet and reflective time walking in Mt. Auburn Cemetery now. On the opposite side of the cemetery where I spend most of my time is the grave of Phillips Brooks. If you’re like me, his name is one you probably don’t recognize. Phillips Brooks was an Episcopal priest known for his strong leadership, but he is probably best known for having penned the words for O, Little Town of Bethlehem in 1865. After walking by his grave yesterday in the sloppy snow, I was inspired to look closely at each of the words in the traditional carol once I got home. These following words stood out to me, particularly as the manger is more relevant to Carolynne and me than ever before this season.
Oh holy child of Bethlehem! Descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us today.
As I read those words, my memories of Grant and me building the manger, and the stain on our skin that initially seemed permanent, but then wore away clean, collided all at once. In short, Brooks’ words represent the gospel message in the briefest way I’ve ever read. Clean us up and come into our hearts. The last line—Be born in us today—is a beautiful way of plainly saying, “Jesus, let me be your manger. Be born in me.” Just like the manger Grant and I built, your heart doesn’t have to be perfect or fancy. It doesn’t need to be impressive or grand. In fact, it’s fine if your manger actually does look like a scouting project gone badly. Your heart just needs to be a modest, plain place where Christ can be born and live. Be His manger.
We sincerely appreciate your texts, emails and calls of encouragement more than you'll ever know. We miss Grant at Christmastime no more than we do every other day. Please continue to pray for Carolynne and me and for all of us to be Christ’s manger daily.
For the last three years, Grant and I kept a late-October tradition of packing our camping gear into the Jeep and heading to Jellystone Park in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Not only is there a bigger-than-life statue of Yogi Bear, but also an old-school Halloween atmosphere and delightful grandparent-like folks who run the camp store. We’d rent a tiny, drafty cabin with no heat and a wooden floor, knock the crunchy leaves off the porch, roll out our down-filled sleeping bags on the wooden bunk, then get a campfire blazing outside. We never had the same adventure twice.
The first year we went to Jellystone, we took the cat. Enough said. Cats aren’t good campers, especially ours. Allister moaned all the way there and when the car door opened in front of our assigned spot, he darted under the cabin which was propped up on cinder blocks.
This cat-under-the-cabin predicament is one of the first dilemmas Grant and I tackled as father and son. Our solution was a bit primitive and took control away from Allister. Nonetheless, it worked when our good faith efforts of coaxing him and talking the sweet talk Carolynne uses on him didn’t. From one side of the cabin, I yelled over to my boy on the other side, “Grant, I’ll spray Allister with the water hose and you grab him when comes out the other side. OK?” Three-year old Grant understood the plan, was eager for the challenge and skillfully snagged a surly, wet Allister when he appeared against his will from underneath the cabin. Grant was proud. I was relieved. The coyotes were disappointed. And, Allister was miffed. He slept under the bunk in the corner of the cabin until morning.
Having burned up daylight cajoling Allister and doing laps around the cabin, we had worked up an appetite. We tried to build a fire. We built, rearranged, built more, and rearranged more and then built again. Grant collected dry sticks and brittle leaves while I tried to collect patience with each failed attempt of starting a fire so my kid wouldn’t freeze to death. We could not get the green wood the Commonwealth of Massachusetts required us to buy to burn…..even using the secret blowtorch method my dad taught me didn’t work. (The State requires we buy their wood so tree-killing bugs don’t get a free ride into a camp on the wood we’d bring from home.) This is a good example of control isn’t it? If you are going to require me to buy wood, at least please sell me seasoned wood that will burn. So, the two now-cold, starving Browns abandoned any further attempts at a traditional campfire. We roasted hotdogs with the blowtorch instead and dined on top of our red Coleman cooler inside our chilly cabin. We had full bellies for bedtime. And our sleeping bags were toasty. Allister hadn’t moved an inch, but he at least was starting to dry out.
As Carolynne and I have lived life hour by hour these past weeks and rummaged through our hearts for memories of Grant, I actually thought of a parallel between Allister on that first camping trip and myself. If you know me well, you know I probably meet the criteria of being a creature of habit. I like routine. Change is OK—as long as we come back to routine. At the core of routine, though, I must admit is control. In our culture, people tend to toss around phrases like “so and so has control issues” or “my friend is a control freak” when describing others. However, control is actually something we should all possess to some degree. We control our diets, our exercise, our decisions, our spending, and how fast we drive. The list goes on. That night, we took control away from Allister when he was under the cabin and he didn’t like it. Like Allister being forced from under the cabin with water, we had no control when we were hit with an emotional tsunami when we lost Grant. Allister was probably mad at his owner and his owner’s three-year old assistant, but to date, I’ve not been mad at my Owner—my God—for how our lives are right now. Maybe that will come later, maybe not. Regardless, God will be there to work it through with me if it does.
In times of life disruption, I’ve often thought of Psalms 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” This short verse actually requires two different responses---quiet motionlessness and knowledge. Although I’ve got quite a way to go when it comes to mastering being physically still, it helps me spiritually to be still in a world which never stops buzzing. I believe that verse in Psalms is instructive and takes aim at helping me push everything else aside so I can focus on the second piece of the verse—knowledge of God, actually knowing that God is God, knowing that He exists. I know God is God like I know my own name. This verse isn’t written to teach people for the first time that God is who He is, but it’s a reminder for those who know him to remember when buzzing around us gets too loud or all control is lost, God is still God.
As my birthday rolled by in October, I had a growing desire to go to Jellystone with Grant like last year. But, control about that tradition had been taken away. The campout tradition, snuggling in our warm sleeping bags, staying up past bedtime, eating a little junk food, is now over for us. Just another line item on an extra-long punch list of losses dealt to Carolynne and me last July.
My longing for our camping trip pushed my thinking outside of the box and prompted me to email my new friend Jim at Mt. Auburn Cemetery who sold us our plot on Wistaria Path. I asked Jim if that day was a good day to ask him an eccentric question. Of course, I’ve learned that Jim’s always thoughtful and game---so I asked.
Jim got back to me the next day with the official word that yes, indeed, in keeping with tradition; I could camp out at Mt. Auburn on Friday night. Before you jump to any conclusions about my psychological health, a plan to camp out at a cemetery can actually make sense when it’s your child that’s there. A pleasant security guard sipping coffee in his truck let me past the locked gates. In the dark, I set up a one-man tent on top of Grant’s grave, rolled out one of our down-filled sleeping bags and snacked on a yellow apple. I tossed the core into the bushes close by because we’ve learned the rabbits there really like them. Before going to bed, I even read aloud a couple of short books that were mine when I was a kid that Grant and I just hadn’t gotten to yet.
Not one thing about it was scary, morbid, or creepy. In fact, as I sat on the grassy slope under the stars, I was able to deepen my understanding of the stillness Psalms speaks of. I lay there quietly in my narrow green tent, listening to faint city sounds in the distance, the occasional rustle of four-legged critters in the nearby woods, and a couple of rain showers pitter-pattering on the tent during the night. I lay there, camping, just above Grant’s little earthly body, holding physically still, pondering that God is God, and praying until I fell asleep that He would be in control of all that doesn’t make sense. I slept well.
Running on Streets of Gold
It’s with the heaviest of hearts we could ever have that we want to share with you that our precious little Grant Fieldon Brown left our arms, grabbed the hand of Jesus and walked right into Heaven Tuesday night about 10:45 pm. He was attending a supervised day camp on Monday where swimming was part of the day and the unthinkable happened.
Carolynne and I are overwhelmed with disbelief and sadness. The outpouring of prayers from dear friends and families, colleagues, neighbors, ICU staff, friends of friends, and perfect strangers has been immeasurable and has touched us to our core. We are sincerely grateful for each of you and know that our Lord heard every word you offered up to Him. Please help us keep our grip on the cross, even when life is completely shattered.
To God alone be the glory for the beauty, joy, and fun Grant’s life brought to us and so many of you. We’ll provide more information about services in Boston as soon as we can. We covet your continued prayers.
Jeff and Carolynne
There's Something Supernatural About Breaking the World's Rules
Carolynne and I are learning about tragedy the hard way. Very honestly, we don’t like it. We wish we could say losing Grant has “strengthened our faith” or that we’ve already stopped wrestling with “Why?”, but we’re not there yet and we know that’s OK.
We have, however, learned that in our circumstance something truly supernatural is occurring through God’s people. So many of you have broken the rules the world lives by so you can minister to us. You’re caring for us. You’re standing in the gap on our behalf with prayer, time, presence, sacrificial generosity and protective concern. We’re not just seeing your love through our cracked, opaque lens of our grief, but it’s gleamingly, crisply clear to us that God is at work through you. You haven’t been afraid to go against the grain of what feels comfortable.
You’ve missed work, you’ve cried with us publicly, you’ve traveled thousands of miles to be present, you’ve given charitably of skills and money, you’ve sent precious cards and you continue to speak openly with others about Grant, Jesus, and Heaven. Without anticipation, tragedy quickly and forcefully catapulted Carolynne and me into living life very differently and Christ’s love showing through you is the one piece making a difference for us right now.
You need to know people are recognizing this supernatural love easily. They tell us over and over again in conversations and in comments from across the country. Friends of friends, funeral home staff, people we really don’t know but who still inquire, neighbors who have seen you quietly working at our house….only to leave at the drop of a hat so we can come home to beautiful potted flowers lining our sidewalk, a new ceiling fan installed, weeds picked, our annoying shower fixed, homemade meals, and a mowed yard. We receive personal notes and encouraging scriptures from you, we smile at the handpicked flowers left on our porch, we adore pictures drawn by Grant’s friends, and we read texts from friends who’ve stopped by Mt. Auburn sometime during the day, just to let us know they’ve been there.
We’ve been learning that tragedy makes people break lots of the world’s rules and causes them to act like Jesus more than ever before. Each of you is a solid example for Carolynne and me about how to love others selflessly and for that we are humbled and forever grateful.
Of eternal and most importance, we are also learning that tragedy causes people to break rules that apply to matters of the heart. Since losing Grant, we’ve been told about relationships that have been restored, people who genuinely want to go to church for the first time, and some friends and family who want to get in step with Jesus once and for all---they’ve known they’ve needed to for a long, long time. Please don’t hear these words as dramatic or proselytizing, but as a mere glimpse of our experience as a couple over the last three weeks. We didn’t ask for any of this---this is how it’s been unfolding beyond our control in front of us. All things do work to the good, for those who are called according to His purpose. We believe our God can still change lives today--we're seeing it happen at a very high cost.
Carolynne and I are two very devastated parents who had to break a parent rule and pray for the Lord to take our feisty little Grant on home to Heaven. At that point, there was no better option than for our spirited, treasured, obedient boy to be completely handed over to Jesus—the only One who we’d be willing to give Grant up to.
As I leaned over Grant’s hospital bed, I softly kidded him that “people are going to have to consider Jesus a little more seriously in their lives because of all this ruckus.” Please join Carolynne and me in breaking more rules by speaking confidently of our Lord and living in a way like no other. Please continue to pray for us and be praying that people--either your closest family members and friends or perfect strangers—will consider Jesus a little more seriously in their lives.
Love, Jeff and Carolynne
Today would have been Grant’s 7th birthday -- August 31st
We’ll be honest, we’re no good at this and really don’t know what we are doing. Nothing about anniversaries or new traditions sounds appealing right now. We do know we’re not going to miss Grant Fieldon Brown any more today than we did a week ago or three weeks ago---or a month from now. My capacity to miss him is completely maxed out. Somehow the realization I’m maxed out on missing Grant staves off the “looming dread of a deceased child’s birthday” so many helpful, supportive authors try to predict for “grieving parents.” It sounds so impersonal to even write it that way about our son.
One ingredient we are planning to keep as a tradition for his birthday is simplicity. Every year, Carolynne masterfully created healthy carrot cakes that never looked or tasted healthy at all. Among some of her masterpieces are a blasting-off rocket, a fire truck (the firemen down the street brought a bona fide fire truck to the party that year unannounced, then had to roar off to a real fire!), the Sesame Street sign and last year’s Lego cake was the crown jewel of all delicious homemade carrot cakes. This year Grant had dropped hints of a “chocolate Ironman cake with super hero words on it” now that he “was getting bigger, he wondered if he could choose what flavor he wanted.” (I’m mean really, he did know the baker personally.) Of course, Mommy delivered and made it from scratch last night in the kitchen. We’re leaving it covered at Mt. Auburn today for anyone who wants to stop by for a bite. Please help yourself.
We’ve always hosted simple birthday parties in our back yard. We’ve played crowd-pleaser games like the “sit-on-the-balloon-and-pop-it-game.” Then, we’ve tossed a beach towel over a bungee cord between two wiry lilac bushes and fished for prizes with Grant’s rod and reel and a clothespin tied on for bait. The kids were always eager to see what prize their clothespin would snag and at the same time were a bit curious why Grant’s daddy was hunkered down in the dirt behind the big towel, claiming he could see some big fish ready to bite.
Grant also knew he’d get three birthday presents from Mommy and Daddy later in the day. He’d work hard for months deciding what suggestions he’d have on his wish list. Let’s hear it for delayed gratification at age 6. That same formula works for our family at Christmastime, too. We figured if three gifts from the wise men were good enough for Jesus, then it was plenty for the Browns. This year to honor Grant’s birthday, a few family members and friends are planting pink flowering dogwood trees like the one close to his grave. Feel free to plant any kind of tree today or in the next several days or weeks if you’d like. We’d love to know you have a Grant tree close to you, too.
When it comes to birthday presents, it seems we keep finding little gifts, sweet reminders you might say, that Grant unintentionally left behind for us to enjoy for a while. We gently rub our hands over the smooth spots on the catalpa tree in the backyard where his tennis shoes polished the bark when climbing. Also, we’ve got an assortment of white divots on one of the gray patio stones where Grant and his imagination chiseled and pounded away for special treasures that might be inside some curious rocks he found here and there. I’ve also found several water-logged baseballs and blue wiffle balls that weren’t picked up when we were finished hitting off the batting T in the back yard. (I’d like to add that I found a couple of those balls over the back fence—he was getting stronger and was becoming a much better hitter than his daddy ever was.) Of course, there are tiny Lego swords, colorful blocks and other mini-fig accessories between the wide-plank pine floors in our hundred-plus year old house. (By the way, Grant could teach you to speak the Lego lingo fluently if you had the time to learn.) Between our pairs of matching blue and white tennis shoes we bought around Father’s Day, do you want to guess whose pair is a few shades dirtier already? To me, those dusty shoes are evidence of his adventure, healthy legs and feet and endless motion that Carolynne and I are used to seeing on a daily basis.
Lastly, Carolynne and I found the gift of a squishy, saggy white balloon last week underneath the piano. Just a few weeks ago it had been blown up and tied proudly by Grant himself. Carolynne and I sat together on the sofa where Grant loved to lay and watch Abbott and Costello or Grizzly Adams. We unknotted the top of the wilted white balloon and inhaled deeply the last couple of breaths that we knew were his. You see, our attempts to sooth our pain is evidence that we are inextricably connected to our kid, just like God designed bonding to be. He knows about bonding just as well as we do. He lost a Son, too.
We are learning that our Lord has intricately designed so much for us beyond that which we’ve really ever expected or thought to give Him credit for: the steadfast power of family, the strength and sacrificial love found in friendships, and the patient intimacy of relationship with Him in our grief and our future.
Amidst our daily heartaches, answerless questions and emotional chaos, I’ve tried to follow closely the wisest parental advice I would have ever given Grant if somehow the tables were turned and he was the one unnecessarily left behind. Here’s just part of a long list of what I would have told him:
“Grant, just keep believing that God knows what’s best, even if it doesn’t seem or feel best right now—no matter what. Also remember that Heaven is a place so wonderful that we can’t even really imagine it while we are on earth. Heaven’s not boring or lonely at all—and time flies there, too. It may seem like a long way off, but we’ll see you soon enough. Be sure to let family and friends know when you’re hurting, when you miss us or when you think funny thoughts about us—it’s OK. They’ll want to share all of those feelings with you. Big boys do cry. Daddy knows and it’s perfectly fine. And by the way, I know you won’t believe me now Grant, but birthday parties in Heaven are out of this world compared to the ones we had in our back yard. They last forever!”
Look for the Obvious
Finding structure in life now is hard. Nighttime is rough because it was the most intimate, emotionally closest part of the day for the Brown Team. Laughing at dinnertime, talking about what we did during the day, predicting what the next day would be like at school, filling the old porcelain claw foot tub for a bath, practical joking with the ice cream cone squirt gun once “you-know-who” was in the tub, shampooing sudsy beards and mow hawks, jumping into jammies, reading bedtime stories aloud, praying and rounding it all out with the grand finale of wet goodnight kisses and a tight, prolonged squeeze around the neck……and an “I love you,!” to which I’d ricochet, “I love you more!”
Frequently, there was always “one more thing” that required Carolynne or me to come back into Grant’s room…..we were on to him though, be assured. It’s just that we couldn’t resist his quick-thinking explanations. For example, one time I asked from the other side of the door when he yelled for me, “Grant, what is it that you need now?” To which he replied, “I don’t know, but Mommy will know—can you have her come here?” We just loved being with Grant any time of day. Now, we need an entirely different kind of routine to replace the nighttime agenda that was once building good family memories with Grant. Right now, mindless nighttime structure is better than the repetitive thoughts we have during most of the day.
Two wandering people in the DVD section of the store isn’t that unusual. I’m sure Carolynne and I looked like we were on a cheap date. We were trying to find television shows we’d never heard of, hoping they held some promise of overriding our thoughts or counterbalancing the intense emotional discombobulation that had come to infect our world. We’d seriously considered buying a season of Hawaii Five-0 over the last few months because it tapped into our vintage good-guy, bad-guy drama needs. The current Five-0 has more plot, but Jack Lord will always have more hair.
It’s always been a challenge to find entertainment that reflects wholesome family values, especially now when nerves are raw and your child is gone. It seems entertainment has boiled down to beyond-reality amounts of blood, language you’d never use in a job interview or in front of your grandmother, sleeping around with neighbors’ spouses, and smart-alecky kids being fresh with their parents or teachers in spite of being indulged more that most children living in the world.
It was easy to strike off most of the valueless show synopses as we read through them. We also decided against Hawaii Five-0. We guessed there would be drowning victims scattered throughout the season---not entertaining to us at all. We settled on a few series we were willing to gamble on and started watching them with contrived loyalty--- just to get the nighttime structure ball rolling.
Earlier this week as the sun was setting, I walked into the half dark living room with a plate of food to turn on one of our new shows. I glanced at the television as I walked by: there they were on the screen. Three greasy, grubby little finger print streaks dusted perfectly as if the best crime scene investigators in town (or maybe just some resident dust bunnies) had come by the house and spent hours perfectly lifting them. We’d never seen them before now. I was immediately struck by the idea of family priority and how we spend precious time in our lives. Those finger prints have been there the whole time—no telling for how long even before we lost Grant. We’ve been watching the hard-for-my-brain-to-hear drama of Downtown Abbey, the extra quick-sleuthing of Sherlock in Elementary, and the self-dilemma creating novice CIA operative Annie Walker.
The irony is that we’ve been watching all of those shows literally through Grant’s finger prints---which we’d much rather look at I assure you. Seeing the finger prints, I first felt an ache for a few seconds, then found peace, then had questions, developed some interest and speculation, and then felt a little joy. By no means are we finding ourselves to be spiritual giants who find God-sized revelations in fingerprints. We’re just a mommy and daddy missing our little boy and trying to understand.
In this forced journey of grief, we’re continuing to receive notes, emails and calls from people who keep describing a spiritual nudge to being, doing, acting, thinking, feeling, interacting, trusting, or believing something different now that Grant has gone to Heaven. That’s not coincidence in our book.
From the shoes we’re walking in, we believe it’s the Lord at work in the lives of people and ask that you make Him a priority if you sense any type of calling or spiritual bump that might be from Him. We encourage you to not let that desire or nudge simply fade or somehow blow it off. Just like Grant’s finger prints on the tv screen, the Lord may be presenting something to you so simple that it’s easy to look right through it, when it may be more important than anything else you could be looking at in life right now.
Please take a close, hi-definition look at what God might be trying to do in your life right now. We love you, are thankful for you, are praying for you, and continue to need your support and prayers desperately.
Love, Jeff and Carolynne