Tuesday, June 3, 2014

For a sister, by a sister

I never really thought about how much of a role music has played in my life. Probably because it has always just been there, sort of like a movie's soundtrack. It's only been within the past few months that I am starting to realize the impact that music has had on me. I guess it shouldn't have surprised me too much since music is such a big part of my sister's life, and since she's a big part of my life, why wouldn't music be a big part of my life too?  Now, before I confuse anyone who may be reading this, I should probably tell you that what you are reading is for a sister (Breana), by a sister (Sara). 

I received an email from Breana on Mother's Day asking me if I would want to write a post for her blog. I told her I would have to think about it. To be completely honest, I was reluctant to write since (1) it is her blog and (2) I am not one to put myself out there ... I mean, there's a reason I don't have Facebook or any other social media! But I thought about it (because I told her I would) and, well, here I am!

The day after I received that email, I saw that Breana had a new blog post. In the split-second after reading that blog title ("It's not always rainbows and butterflies"), the jukebox in my mind began to play Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved" at the exact point of that day's post's title:
"It's not always rainbows and butterflies
It's compromise that moves us along
My heart is full and my door's always open
You can come anytime you want."

As I read the rest of that post (with the rest of the song playing in my mind), I had to wonder if Breana realized that God had planned out the day she described in that May 11 post so that her "heart was full" and "her door was open" in order to serve those who needed her most.

It was then that knew exactly what I would be writing about: music and how it connects us to each other, whether we realize it or not. By "us" I don't necessarily mean a me-and-Breana "us," although that will likely be a good portion of what I will write. 

Wait!! Hold up ... timeout for a sec!! You've got to be kidding me!?! 

OK, I've always known that Breana and I share an incredibly strong bond. Well, apparently I had NO idea the strength of that connection because, as I sit here about ready to share the "top 5" songs that have strong connections for me, what happens? PING! Breana's blog from May 28 comes into my email inbox, and its titled "Camiguin Playlist!" Seriously?! And she has a "top 5" too! What?! Wow! I mean, just, WOW!!

<sigh> Amazing! So (wow) here's my "top 5":

1. "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)" by Hillsong United - Breana introduced me to this song, and the lyrics speak so strongly of her call to mission to the Philippines. The first verse of the song tells of the trust and faith that she has in God's plan and purpose for her life:
"You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown, where feet may fail
And there I find you in the mystery
In oceans deep, my faith will stand."

It was incredibly emotional to hear her sing this song at the last Mass she attended at St. Thomas before leaving for the Philippines. I don't know many people who would have the courage to step outside of their comfort zones, follow where the Spirit leads, go an ocean away to be taken "deeper than my feet could ever wander" so that "my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior." 

Then again, for some of us an ocean may not be something as literal as the Pacific. Our "oceans" may be family problems, health issues or work-related difficulties. And sometimes these figurative oceans can be just as deep, with waves equally as daunting. This song serves a great reminder of God's presence with whatever we're going through and that
"Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed, and you won't start now."

2. "Where You Lead, I Will Follow" by Carole King & Louise Goffin (better known to Breana and I as the "Gilmore Girls" theme song) - Breana was 7 when "Gilmore Girls" first aired on TV, and we did not miss a single episode in all of its 7 seasons. We LOVED (and still love) this show about teenager Rory and her mom, Lorelei, who were 16 years apart in age: ironically the same age difference as Breana and I. Even though we're not mother & daughter, I am Breana's Godmother, so there's a mother/daughter aspect of our relationship that I am sure contributed to us liking the show even more.

During the time that I still lived at home with my parents, Breana and I would lay on the floor in front of the TV in my room before the show would start, talk about her day (or mine, or really about anything at all) and then sing along as the show began:
"If you're out on the road
Feelin' lonely and so cold
All you have to do is call my name
And I'll be there
On the next train"

Gilmore girls Lorelei and Rory would do practically anything for and everything with each other. If one was in a crisis or was excited about something going on in her life, she would immediately tell the other who would share in her pain or joy because, in addition to their mother-daughter roles, they were best of friends. 

Since the day Breana was born, I hoped that I could be a good role model for her. (The Lorelei to her Rory, if you will.) I wanted to teach her things. I wanted to be a good sister and a good Godmother. Since I had never been either before, I didn't know how. All I knew then and still know now is that Breana is the most special person in my life, and I would do practically anything for her (even write a blog).

I thought my role as an older sister would involve being a leader with the little sister following around my every footstep. And while in the early years of Breana's life that was very true, God in his infinite wisdom knew that I needed some leading too. I'm not sure when the Godchild became the teacher to the Godmother, but I am grateful for it because I am a better person for having Breana in my life.

The rest of the "Gilmore Girls" theme song is, I think, a great summary of our relationship, and as I prepare to type it out I never realized how the lyrics could be interpreted spiritually. (God and his infinite wisdom indeed!)
"Where you lead, I will follow
Anywhere that you tell me to
If you need, if you need me to be with you
I will follow
Where you lead"

3. "Dare You to Move" by Switchfoot - the two memories attached to this song are kind of bittersweet for me. At the time of the first memory attached to this song, I was living and working in Houma, which is about a 30 minute drive from Thibodaux. In a drive like that, you could hear about 10 songs on the radio. On this particular day in 2004, "Dare You to Move" is the only one that I remember hearing as I drove to the hospital in Thibodaux where my maternal grandpa was dying from cancer and nearing the end of his life here on earth.

My mom's side of the family is quite large: she is one of seven siblings, and Breana and I are two of 19 first cousins. Add those cousins' children in the mix and you get a rowdy crew most of the time. However on that Veterans' Day 2004, with the majority of the family there at the hospital keeping vigil over PaPa, the song that had brought me to tears on my drive there was still playing in my mind:
"Everybody's watching you now
Everybody waits for you now
What happens next?
What happens next?"

With the condition that PaPa was in by that stage, that was all we could do: watch and wait. PaPa died peacefully the next morning with his wife, his 7 children, and a number of his grandchildren at his bedside.

Fast-forward about 2 years later when the family has gathered together again. Sitting at my uncle's house in Thibodaux, one of my cousins from Texas says he has a video that he made that he wants to show us. It was of his son, Mason's first year of life. He popped the DVD into the player, and everybody was again watching and waiting. Upon hearing the first 5-10 notes of the song that accompanied the video, I had to hold back tears: it was "Dare You to Move." The first image: Mason right after birth. Immediately following that image, the first verse of the song:
"Welcome to the planet
Welcome to existence
Everyone's here
Everyone's here"

The rest of the video was of Mason growing: sleeping, eating, crawling and all of those things that babies do in their first year. As the song and video came to an end, these words appeared on the screen "and now a word from Mason." For the last minute or so of the video, we all heard what I consider to be one of the sweetest sounds on the planet: a child's laughter. There is something so pure in the melody of a baby's or toddler's laugh.

We all laugh, we all live, and we all lose loved ones. But, do we really lose them?
Hearing "Dare You to Move" before PaPa's death and upon seeing a video of Mason right after his birth convinced me that we're all connected those who have gone before us, whether it's by the things they taught us or the loved they showed us. Even though Mason never met his great-grandpa, the love that he receives from his own dad and grandpa is a love that has been passed down through the generations of our family, connecting us all. Love is that connection that "dares you to move, dares you to lift yourself up off the floor." 

4. "Let It Go" by Idina Menzel - surprise, surprise, my sister and I share a song in our top 5 list, and it's no surprise to me that it is this one! "Frozen" has quickly become one of my favorite Disney films, probably because it's about sisters. This particular song struck a chord with me from the first time that I heard it as I watched the movie in the theatre with Breana. It wasn't until writing this post that I realized why. Sure, it's in a cute movie about the love shared between sisters. Sure, it's a great song with vocals by powerhouse Idina Menzel, who also voices the character of Elsa.  For me though, it's about the freedom that I received from the circumstances in which I was frozen. 

(Being the private person that I am, this is not easy for me to share but the Spirit is prompting me to do so.) 

It all started in late June 2001 when overwhelming fear took over my life like a "swirling storm inside." My heart would race, my fingers would go numb, my legs would shake uncontrollably. I once passed out during Mass at St. Thomas. I felt as if I was dying. I went to doctors to have tests done -- EKG, full blood work -- and of course everything comes out normal. But this was NOT normal! I had no idea what was going on. Even with all of this craziness going on with my body, the worst feeling was knowing that something was wrong but not being able to put a name to that something. At that point the worrying kicks in to extreme overdrive, and the fear of the unknown consumes you. This something caused me to miss out on so many different activities because I was afraid that horrible things would happen, especially if I stepped outside of my comfort zone. After two months of experiencing the previously mentioned symptoms, I was diagnosed with having anxiety and what I was going through were panic attacks. There was a mixture of relief and more panic: relief in that I wasn't having a heart attack at age 24 and more panic because, well, they're panic attacks. The doctor prescribed some medicines to help, and I felt more relief. Maybe this would solve everything and life could go back to normal. 

About two weeks after the diagnosis, my alarm clock went off and the anxiety began to seep into every inch of my being. Laying on my left side with my alarm clock staring me in the face, tears began to well in my eyes and I softly cried out, "God, please. Please help me. I can't take this anymore. Please! Please, help me!" While still laying on my left side, it felt as if someone put their hand on my left shoulder, applied slight pressure and then pulled their hand away. As the pressure lifted, so did the anxiety. The panic attack ended in an instant! While that wasn't the last panic attack I ever had, I firmly believe that it was God's grace that touched me on that early Monday morning. You may be thinking, "Sara, that was more than 10 years ago! How could you possibly remember that happened on a Monday?" It's easy for me to remember because a different kind of attack occurred in New York, Pennsylvania and DC the next day, Tuesday, 9/11

You know, one of the worst mantras that I had during my panic attacks was "mind over matter." That's like Elsa singing "conceal, don't feel." Trying to fight or control what's going on inside of you, especially a panic attack, only makes it worse. I learned that the anxiety I was feeling was not cause for alarm but instead was a time that I could embrace a new mantra: "let go and let God." 

Disney movies usually always have a moral, so my story will have one too: As long as you have God in your life, it's just like Elsa sings, "the fears that once controlled me can't get to me at all." 

5. "I Love You Always Forever" by Donna Lewis - this song was released when Breana was still riding in a carseat and whenever it came on, she always sang along. (Well, sang along as best as any 3-year-old could!) When she, Mom and I would be in the car going to the grocery store or wherever and this song would play on the radio, I would turn around from the front passenger seat to face Breana and try to get her to sing the right words. It never worked! She'd inevitably fumble over some of them, but she still kept singing anyway!

Several months ago, Mom and I were talking to Breana about some of the songs that she would sing along to when she was younger. When this song came up, I told her that it was one of the cutest things that she couldn't get the words right. Breana jokingly said, "I still don't think that I know them!"

Well, Breana, here's the chorus for you to learn:
"I love you always forever
Near and far, closer together
Everywhere I will be with you
Everything I will do for you."

Breana, since this post of mine is "for a sister, by a sister," I think it's only right that I share a secret with you. For years now, I have been writing a little message to you when I sign my name on letters, cards, and emails (and now this blog). You've probably thought that message was from a book title, and while that may be partly true it's not the whole truth. It's actually because of this song and my shortened way of saying "I love you always forever."

Well, thanks for sticking through til the end of my incredibly long blog about how music connects all of us regardless of space and time. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a Grammy-award winning a cappella group from South Africa, has a song titled "Music Knows No Boundaries." I thank heaven for that, but even more so, I thank heaven that Love doesn't know boundaries either.

Love you forever, sista my sista
Nanny (Sara)

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