Anna with Her Eyes Wide

24 08 2009

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Our family took a break from Switchfoot for a while in our car.  I am not sure what brought that on.  But recently we have started again.  Maybe there is just something driving around in a maroon Volvo station wagon that brings out the rocker in you.

When we listen to them in the car we use an iPod plugged into a device that sends the music to the car radio.  (Disclaimer: The iPod is the only Apple device used in our family.)  We have set the iPod to play our entire collection of 68 Switchfoot songs in random order and to keep repeating them.  I remember on our trips to and from Semarang from our home in Salatiga, one of the kids, I think it was Samuel, made the observation that the Switchfoot songs that came up on our ipod all seemed to come in groups.  That is, there would be a whole section of fast and loud songs, and then a whole batch of sad songs, etc.  Samuel noticed that it was interesting that the songs that came on the radio seemed to match whatever mood he happened to be in.

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I remember one particular trip to Semarang the Sunday morning that we found out that our friend, Cyd Mizell, who had been kidnapped in Afghanistan, had probably been murdered.  Every song on the radio seemed to have some bearing on Cyd’s life and death.  The song that seemed most poignant to me was Switchfoot’s song “Burn Out Bright.”  The recurring line in the chorus was, “Before I die I want to burn out bright.”  I was certain that Cyd had burned out bright.

This afternoon Timberley and I drove to Samuel’s school to watch his soccer game.  On the way, we listened again to Switchfoot.  Right in a row we listened to “The Shadow Proves the Sunshine,” “Twenty-four,” and “The Blues.”  The song “Twenty-four” was one of the first songs we listened to the day after Anna died.  It was on our drive from Salatiga to Semarang where we were headed for the second memorial service to be held at the seminary where I taught.  I chose that song first because I wanted to hear the line, “Life was not what I thought it was twenty-four hours ago.  Still I’m singing, ‘Spirit take me up in arms with you.'”  I wanted to recognize the sadness and the faith at the same time.

I don’t know what the life story is of Jon Foreman, the singer and songwriter for the group, but he understands sadness and faith.  After Anna died I found a song that I ended up using in her memorial service in California.  It was from the second Narnia movie soundtrack, Prince Caspian.  Anna had not seen the movie, which she would not have liked, and she never heard this song, which she would have loved.  The song is called “This is Home.”  Jon Foreman explained in an interview that he was trying to write a song that would capture the spirit of the Narnia Chronicles, but there is one line in the song that he felt summed up C. S. Lewis’s writings:  “Created for a place I’ve never known.”  That was the line which grabbed me the first time I heard the song.  Later, after I heard the song 20 or 30 times that first day, another line took hold of me.  It was when I imagined the song being sung about Anna as she entered the presence of the Lord, or to keep with the Lewis theme, when she entered the Land of Aslan.  The line goes, “I’ve got my heart set on what happens next.  I’ve got my eyes wide.  It’s not over yet.”  Three photographs I have of Anna came to mind when I heard the line, “I’ve got my eyes wide.”  They are the ones I have put in this post.  I imagined the playfulness and the sheer happiness of Anna as she stepped into the presence of her Lord.california-2007-071 I imagine this is what Jesus saw as she stepped forward, or rather, as she ran toward him.

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Misplaced Sadness and the Joy of the Truth

22 05 2009

The death of my mother this month has been a different experience for me than the death of my daughter a year ago this month.  The death of my mother just a few days before the first anniversary of my daughter’s death has given me ample opportunity to reflect again on the lessons of life and death.

As we prepared for my mother’s memorial service I caught myself thinking, “Anna would have wanted to be here,” or “I wonder how Anna would have been taking all of this.”  Anna was very sensitive and the death of her grandmother would have devastated her.  Yet I know that she would have taken those deep emotions and integrated them into the rest of her life and I am sure that the death of her grandmother, whom she loved dearly, would have made her in some sense a better person.  I can only hope the same could be said of Timberley, Samuel, and me.

But as I reflected on those thoughts about Anna, and other similar thoughts about my mother [“She would have loved these flowers that so-and-so sent.”   “She would have loved to have heard the music sung and played or the poems and letters read at her memorial.”] I realized the silliness of my thoughts.  Would Anna really want to step away from the presence of her Lord, whom she loved more than her grandmother, more than life itself, in order to rejoin the land of the living and mourn the death of her grandmother?  I hardly think so.  Would my mother, whose ship has now sailed and who is now resting peacefully with her Lord and awaiting his second coming, would she want to re-animate her old and suffering body in order to hear the songs and poems of her grandchildren?  As much as I love my son and my nephews and nieces, again I hardly think so.

And so we are left with this sadness.  But why are we sad?  Too often, I find that I am sad for Anna’s sake.  Timberley recently observed that Anna had not experienced springtime in Kentucky since she was old enough to have long-term memories.  When we returned to the US in 2006 for our first stateside assignment, she had no memories of the United States and could not even remember many of her relatives.  Indonesia does not have a springtime like we have in the US.  Our thoughts quickly and naturally went to the conclusion, “Anna should be here to see the tulips and crocuses.  She is missing out on something beautiful.”  At those unguarded moments, I will only speak for myself and not for my wife, my lack of faith is revealed.  I forget that Anna’s situation is so far superior to anything that we might be experiencing here that there is no real comparison to be made.  She is experiencing reality and truth.  We are living in the shadows.  She has left the cave to see the strong light outside, and we are beckoning her to come back inside.  How frail is our faith at times.

The salve for that lack of faith is to know the truth.  We need to know God’s word about the fate of the faithful saints who have died.  Sometimes it is helpful to hear those truths put in different words.  Last year Timberley, Samuel, and I had an opportunity to go to Chicago and see Anna’s and our favorite band, Switchfoot, in concert.  It was a bittersweet experience, and the bitterness and the sweetness were very strong that night.  We had a five-hour trip home from Chicago to Louisville.  On the way we decided to listen to a recording of Max McLean  reading John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.  [It turns out that the Chicago-Louisville trip fits the book exactly.  Try it out if you ever have a five-hour road trip ahead of you.]  The end of the book tells the story of Christian as he crosses over the river to enter the city of God.  Bunyan’s description, and McLean’s reading, so capture the happiness of Christian and his friend Hopeful as they pass this last obstacle on their journey to be with God, that we were almost bursting with the same joy and happiness.  It was a good salve for our souls at a time that we were saddened at Anna’s passing and sorely missing her presence.

Yesterday, my father was lamenting the loss of his wife of 57 years.  We sat in our living room and cried together.  I remembered the medicine and went to find the recording of John Bunyan.  I played just the last few chapters so my father could hear about Christian and Hopeful entering the Celestial City.  At the end, my father said softly, “Do you think that really happens?”  “I am sure that it is something very much like it,” I answered.





One Year Gone By

8 05 2009

september2006-186We are remembering today the first year since Anna’s death.

Today has been busy with the preparations for my mother’s funeral on Saturday so we have not really spent time together remembering Anna.  Instead we have checked in with one another from time to time, mentioning Anna or asking about certain memories.  The outward focus has rightly been on my mother and helping my father.  But in the background of everything is our memory of Anna.  The experience of losing Anna certainly clouds this new experience of losing my mother.  I don’t think it fair to say it has desensitized us, but I do believe that Timberley and I have approached her death with a realism that we would not have had before.  I am certain that in my own case my reflections on death and the resurrection have prepared me for answering certain questions about my mother’s sickness and death.  Of course, the whole experience of losing one’s parent is a wholly different experience than losing one’s child.  This week has not been as gut-wrenching as the week we had one year ago tonight.  Timberley reminded me of that while we were eating dinner this evening.  We were talking and joking about things.  Sometimes we spoke of Mom, sometimes we spoke of other things.  But everything, even the serious things, had a lightness about it.  Timberley leaned over to me and said, “Todd, do you remember the night after Anna died, how you felt like your heart had been ripped out, and everyone else was just walking around and talking about mundane things?  Look over at your dad.  I am sure he is feeling the same way now.”  I looked at my dad.  As we were all laughing about other things, my dad just sat and ate and looked at his food.  His other half is gone.  The one with whom he had become “one flesh” is gone, and so he is no longer one flesh, but what, just half a flesh?  Which half?  Left? Right?  Perhaps he is just the outside with nothing inside.  He is hollow and aching.  Or perhaps he is just the inside with no outside, raw and exposed to every passing intrusion.

the-kids-june-2005-007I received a letter–email actually, but letter sounds more human, less mechanical–from a friend who knew Anna perhaps better than anyone outside our family.  Their daughter was one of Anna’s best friends in Indonesia.  She was writing to tell us how they were remembering Anna’s passing on this one year anniversary.  They read Anna’s book aloud as a family.  They listened to Switchfoot.  They brought out things that Anna had given as gifts.  They have planted a memorial garden for Anna and they spent time in that garden.  I am really glad that on this day in which we are busy with other things, that other families are able to celebrate and remember the day in this way.

If you have young children, consider printing out Anna’s book and reading it together with your children.  Read some of the stories about her and what others have written about her.  Think about the example that Anna set as she followed Christ and use her as an example for your children to follow, or for yourselves to follow.

In preparing for this day we thought about putting something in the newspaper as a remembrance of Anna.  This was what I wrote.  I asked Timberley if was too “high-school-yearbookish” but as I told Timberley I was trying for something that had the character of Anna, something light and playful but serious at the same time.

Anna Christine Borger (March 29, 1999-May 7, 2008)
We wish to remember Anna Christine Borger on the first year after her death.
She gave freely.
She loved deeply.
She played happily.
She sang joyfully.
Anna, do you still have your eyes wide?
It’s not over yet!  Jesus is coming soon!
Anna resurget. Anna will rise again.

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