18 March 2013

In memoriam

During my first year of college, one of my high school classmates conducted a sociology experiment in which he led us all to believe that he had been killed. It was a pretty horrible time, and he had to eventually come forward to let us know it was just an academic experiment. He was genuinely sorry, but several class members had a hard time moving on from that.

That was more than 12 years ago.

This past weekend, a member of my high school class actually did die.

Jafiya 3-18-2013 6-46-31 PM.bmp Jafiya and I had been in the same class since fourth grade. He was goofy and lighthearted from as far back as I can remember--one of the class clowns in middle school who turned that same energy to sports in high school. Like many teenage boys, he was bright but concentrated more on enjoying life than studying. When classes dragged us down, Jafiya could always make us laugh. He had a contagious laugh--really, really loud, the kind of laugh you could hear all over the high school.

While I can't claim that we were ever close, I liked Jafiya. In a class of only 27, you learn to like everybody and be friends as much as possible. Sure, we ran in different circles, but he made me laugh, and he didn't make fun of me to my face, which is something.

I never saw Jafiya after we graduated from high school in June 2000. I ran across most of my other classmates one way or another, either at our high school on visits or at gatherings in the U.S. for weddings or the very occasional funeral. But I never saw Jaf. I often wondered what had become of him.

And now I know.

Jafi-D, I am listening to the U2 song "Grace" and thinking of you. "Grace finds goodness in everything." I pray that God's grace would cover you, making beauty from ashes. I hope and pray that you can rest peacefully now, at the end of all things.

With much love,

Sara B.

17 March 2013

Funny Anna

annas funny face 11-4-2012 5-52-20 PM

I’m not the mom who regularly posts funny things that her kids do or say, but I had to share this one, just for comic relief.

I was out with Anna (2)  yesterday, and she said—out of the blue—“I love it, Mommy.”

What do you love, Anna?” I asked her.

My job,” she returned. “I love my job!”

I laughed so hard and for so long that she eventually had to say, “Stop laughing, Mommy! Stop laughing!”

And that of course, made me laugh even harder.

Sweet girl.

13 March 2013

Letting go - again

Today, for no apparent reason, I am thinking of my foster brother Aaron. It has been over 23 years since he joined our family as a newborn and over 18 years since I last saw him. I think of him from time to time and wonder where he is, what he's up to.

Aaron was my first little brother. While we'd had foster babies prior to Aaron's arrival, none had stayed very long. We had Aaron for the first two years of his life, and he became our brother. When we had to finally say goodbye, it was gut-wrenching, heart-breaking. And that was for me. I can't even imagine how my parents must have felt. They have fostered so many babies since and have always had to let go, except for my adopted brother Luke.

I think of the character on the show Downton Abbey who gave up her small son to his grandparents, knowing that she would probably never see him again. Yes, she believed she was doing it for the good of the child, but I doubt that made it easier.

I know there are so many young women out there who give up their babies for adoption. I suspect that no matter how much of a relief it is in some ways, it is always heart-breaking, too. How difficult to put your child into someone else's arms and give up all (or almost all) rights to her education, her future, her development--to trust her entirely to someone else and to God! But how  much more difficult, after having your child at home for the first two or more years, to present a talking, walking child with a clear personality and very real emotions to someone else's care! I think of Hannah bringing Samuel to the temple for Eli to raise. I think of Fantine sending Cosette to the Thénardiers. How did those mothers have the strength to walk away from their babies, to ignore the tears and cries of "Mama!"? How did they deal with the inevitable guilt that followed? the loneliness and despair?

I think of my daughter Anna, who is two, and I cannot in my worst nightmares imagine having to hand her off to someone else, even someone I trust. I really don't think that even if I believed it was in her best interest, I could do it without shrivelling up and blowing away into nothing (or eating myself into oblivion--more likely). People have had to do it through the ages for varying reasons, and I know it happens today, as in the case of our giving Aaron back to his family. I just don't think that I have that strength or willpower.

I'm sure Aaron doesn't remember any of us. I'd like to think he's better off wherever he is, doing whatever it is he's doing, but my cynical side says it's probably not true. Yet Aaron left us for a reason. God has bigger plans than we do, including a plan for Aaron's life. I don't pretend to know what that is or why it included heartache for all of us (including him, at age two). But I pray for him and ask God to bless him today on behalf of my loving, compassionate, and godly parents who had to, in faith, let go.

May God hold Aaron in the palm of His hand.

02 March 2013

More than we can handle

Did God really say He wouldn’t give us more than we could handle?

I’m pretty sure I’ve never read that in the Bible anywhere, although it definitely seems to be a common understanding among Christians. I wonder if they are thinking of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which is written, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (NIV).

I am obviously not a Bible guru who has all the answers, but in there, I see the word “tempted” (also translated “tested”). Could that mean we will never face trials that we can’t overcome with God’s help? Perhaps. But from the context of the verse, I don’t think that’s what it’s saying here. In my limited understanding, the passage talks about sin and always having a way to avoid it if we choose to. That makes sense to me, even though I don’t often enough take advantage of the way (or ways) out that are provided. They’re always there.

But is it equally true that God will never put us in a situation in which we can’t lose? Will we always have the option of being overcomers? I don’t think so, unless you see death as the ultimate means of overcoming. People are put in situations daily around the world for which there is no way out except death, no salvation. Christians who are doing the right thing are persecuted, imprisoned, executed.

Or what about people who face mental illness? Some people—solid, believing Christians—do break after enough bending. Their minds just can’t take any more grief, stress, hardship.

God is with us. Immanuel. I believe that with every fiber of my being, even on the days when I don’t actively see Him or when I hear about another outrage—another abused child or devastated people group or indescribable loss. God is with us no less.

But I think sometimes people in life do face more than they can handle. I think there are no-win situations. I don’t believe that there is always hope in our mortal lives. I think the only hope we can hold onto is that our mortal lives are just that: mortal--hope that the suffering will end eventually, and we will be ushered into God’s glorious presence.

01 March 2013

Musical heritage

I would never really consider myself a musician. I enjoy singing and have been told I have a nice singing voice, but although I've dabbled in piano, guitar, penny whistle, and clarinet, I don't actually play any musical instrument. And I've never taken a music theory class. Sure, I can read music in a very average way, but I can't tell key signatures to save my life. 

Still, that doesn't mean I don't appreciate music. I grew up with music. We had music playing in the house and/or car more often than we did not. We had a record player, and when I was really little, we kids even had a toy record player that played plastic records. We'd get small records from our Sunday school class on occasion. Of course, we also had a cassette player and eventually a CD player. My dad had a nice stereo system with box speakers and a high-quality amp. We were always listening to something, be it Peter, Paul, and Mary; Nightnoise; Simon & Garfunkel; Amy Grant; or Evie.  

We also listened to the radio a lot, mostly for music but also for A Prairie Home Companion. I remember when we moved to Nigeria we took several cassettes of radio music with us, and some of my favorites were from 94.7 "The Wave." Back in the '80s and early '90s, the station played mostly what we'd call today "New Age" or possibly "easy listening." Today the station is smooth jazz, which--pardon me for saying so--is not the same thing. 

Our favorite album as a family was not in fact an album at all. It was a cassette tape of radio favorites that my parents had recorded off the radio sometime in the '70s. It ranges from folk to rock and includes songs such as "Africa" by Toto, "Sound of Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel, "Memory" by Barbra Streisand, "Your Song" by Elton John, "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor, and "Cat's in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin, I found that song so moving that I memorized it at the age of 10, something I'd never done with a non-Sunday-school song before. Considering how many times we played to that tape, it's a miracle it lasted long enough for Dad to make a CD of it for each of us kids. That CD is priceless. 

One of the radio shows we used to listen to (and record) was "Thistle & Shamrock" with Fiona Ritchie. I don't remember much about it from my early childhood, to be honest, but I did love the fiddle and flute. One summer in high school when we lived in Nigeria, I went through Dad's boxes of tapes and pulled out a bunch of "Thistle & Shamrock" tapes and started listening to them. I fell in love with Celtic music and its derivatives in American music. There was one song I particularly liked about a terrible storm, but I cannot for the life of me remember it now or even enough lyrics to find it on Google. (Believe me, I've tried.) [Addendum: My dad pointed me to the song, “White Squall” sung by Stan Rogers, which you can listen to here.]

In my last two years of college I was steeped in Celtic music. My junior year, I was invited to join a group of older students and alumni who gathered monthly for folk dancing and music. I was enraptured, to say the least. Most of my favorite memories from college days are from those folk sings, with Kirstin on the fiddle, or playing guitar while she and others sang. Some of my favorites were what we called "The Dead Lover Song" (about a man seeing his drowned lover, who rises from the river to embrace him with cold arms--*shudder*), "My Nine to Fives are Over," "Bonny Lighthorseman," and "Molly Malone." One time, Anders sang "Iowa" with his sister, and every time I hear that song to this day, I think of them. The folk sing after Eddie got engaged to dear, sweet Hannah, he proudly sang one of my favorites, "Take Her In Your Arms."  

My roommate that year was an MK from France who had been born in Ireland, and she was also enthralled with Celtic and folk music. We went to these folk dances together, and they were the most peaceful moments of my entire college experience.  

So I was pretty stoked to recently discover the Thistlepod, NPR's podcast of "Thistle & Shamrock" (which is not on my local NPR radio station). I'm having a little trouble getting podcasts onto my mp3 player, but I'll figure it out eventually. I did get one on there to listen to on the way to work, even though it was only about 15 minutes long. Between the songs, Fiona asked her guests about the way music has become about performance. Her guest, Mark Williams, talked about folk music and ballads from Scotland and Ireland being about sharing music together, participation and not performance. I thought of the oral tradition of our folk sings. No one ever had sheets of lyrics. You just learned a song by listening to it more than once. It wasn't ever about Kirstin or Lisa or anyone else, about their talents and musical abilities. It was about the music and the stories, about the community we were building those nights. And I do think with albums and concerts and iPods, we lose that.I can listen to those same folk songs on YouTube or one of the CDs Lisa made for me, but I can't recreate the fellowship and warmth of those nights in a cozy home in central Illinois. 

If there's one thing I miss most about college--and high school before that--it's participating in music as fellowship, singing not just in church because it's on the schedule or in choir or other expected places, but singing for fun and togetherness. Folk music gave me that, and to this day, ten years later, I am wistful, longing to have it again someday.