I’m continually amazed at how far-reaching family connections are. Perhaps it’s because I’m a part of the Mennonite subculture, but somehow I find connection to far away people through friends, places, and even objects.
Case in point: My parents were visiting me this weekend, and instead of getting a hotel, they stayed with my father’s long-lost cousin about 30 miles away. (They happened to be out of town and loaned my parents their house for the weekend.) I buzzed up to spend the night, and my mom and I were giggling late at night, in the kitchen, eating peaches. Above the kitchen sink was a simple photograph of a sunset. On the frame was a tiny gold plaque dedicating the photograph to “Frieda.”
“Nice photograph,” I said aloud to my mother.
“She was a good friend to me,” my mom said.
“Wait. Who?” I said.
“Frieda. The mother of the cousins. She helped me in the kitchen when I lived in Michigan after we were first married. You know my salsa recipe? …She was a wonderful woman. A very mothering kind of person.”
I stared at the sunset photograph. Frieda. It was nice to meet one of my mother’s old friends. I didn’t expect to meet anyone in this empty house—this random house in northern Indiana.
Later, I lay down on a little foam mattress with a very old quilt that had been left out for me. As I fell asleep, I lay thinking: “If pictures in this house are old friends, I wonder who this quilt is…”
Speaking of cousins, I’ve met a long-lost cousin of mine here in the area, and I was able to have dinner with her and her family. They and their young children and I gathered around a large dinner table to a summer feast of garden-fresh sweet corn, tomatoes, potato casserole, and blueberry cake. We talked about the kids’ school, the sprawling farm, and the remodels done to their farmhouse. I asked how long they’d lived there:
“Fifteen years, at least. We’ve lived here all our married life and probably always will!” My cousin and her husband shared a smile.
Roots. I’m not sure I can imagine such permanence. In some ways it’s wonderful. I think it’s a beautiful thing that few young people today have a concept of—that of plugging into a community long-term. I think the thing that surprised me was that the couple was relatively young to be making such a statement. I think many people today live with less permanent mindsets. Most people my age expect at some point to live somewhere exotic. “Just for a little while.” “Maybe in the city for a few years.”
Or maybe the permanence is a bad thing. Maybe we all need to be more willing to move away from our cushy country lives… to trailer courts. Or to the inner city. Maybe God is calling us out of placid pastures to unknown suburbs or secular cities. Or to cross-cultural settings in foreign countries.
I’ve not decided.
In any case, I was certainly struck by the young family contentedly enjoying life on the farm in rural Indiana.
Speaking of children, I had this curious baby moment last weekend. I had the privilege of participating in the Oasis Chorale Choral Festival in Ohio. I cannot possibly describe my excitement for choral events and the community and fellowship that I feel at events such as these. And the musical talent of Oasis and the reunion choir was really quite stunning. That’s all I will say.
The concert experience was amazing, of course, but one of my favorite moments was during rehearsal on Saturday. We were having timing issues with Rene Clausen’s “All That Hath Life and Breath.” So all seventy singers spread out in the church for a sort of kinesthetic body-timing exercise where we moved, and sang, becoming this marching line of sound around the rows of empty pews. Our director stopped us short, giving us several more directions. I happened to glance down at the empty pew in front of me, and I almost jumped! There was this thing, this infant, this person lying there! The baby was wrapped in a white blanket, sleeping peacefully on the padded church pew.
I regained my composure, and we marched again, our wall of sound increasing in intensity. We ran the entire piece, and by the end, I had filed back around to the small child again.
We held the final chord, fortissimo.
And the child slept peacefully.
How lucky this baby is, I thought. Think of all the pain and suffering in this world, and this child sleeps peacefully to this beautiful music. How blessed is this child. And to know that this child’s parents will raise this child to honor and fear the Lord…
Sometimes I’m amazed at my heritage of faith. While I do not ignore the spiritual deficiencies that can be found in Anabaptist congregations, I thank God for the family love that runs so deep. It’s so real, it can almost be touched. Or felt. Like layers of line-dried cotton.