Friday, October 28, 2011

The Great Gig in the Sky

It's the kind of service you never want to have to attend. Babies shouldn't die, certainly not under the violent circumstances which this baby died. Yet there we were, about 120 of us en masse, the church family and the extended family and friends of the family.

God called me to accompany Jake on the song he wanted to sing for Jayden. Music is one of Jake's favorite mediums of expression, and I totally groove on that, so I felt privileged to have the chance to represent our church family and be up there with him with his gentle guitar strumming and smooth, confident, soulful voice. I believe my position--my role in the service--was to represent the church family. To show our solidarity and support. To stand beside this family in their grief and join them in their praise.

I'd been frantically nervous preparing for this song, as I wasn't familiar with it and had no prior practice. It distracted me at work all day, worrying about the improvisation. A half an hour before the service, Jake and I quietly ran over half of the tune and I came up with a rhythm on the congas that only God could've inspired. We couldn't play and sing loudly, for people were already streaming into the sanctuary. So I only heard the general beat of the song and I could barely hear Jake singing. Cue anxiety.

Nervous at work, I talked to TOC briefly on the phone, as he was in the hospital rounding and not in the office to help calm me down. He wisely suggested I phone my brother. I texted Drozd for some support, but I don't know what he was in the middle of, and I didn't hear back from him in time (until late that night, actually, after all was said and done). Nearly frantic before the service, while chain smoking in my car, I phoned my brother for some spiritual guidance and practical advice. "I need some divine inspiration, Steve," I told my brother, who was in the park with his dog at the time. "Take your rings off, Annie," he said. "They clank on the congas and they ruin the skins." Fair enough. "Listen to the guitar," he said, "but more importantly, listen to Jake's voice. Follow his voice with your rhythm." He prayed aloud that God would find the proper rhythm for me to play, and I prayed that God would make it really bloody obvious to me, and He responded. He prayed that God would be pleased with all things that were to His glory, and for the strength of the entirety of the congregation during this time of intense grief. I was calmed and soothed by my brother's presence on the other end of the line.

I knew what I was called to do, and naysayers who think singing and music don't belong in a memorial service, the heck with ya'll. I'd much rather everyone vigorously belt out some of my favorite tunes than bore the attendees with recollections of whatever the hell it was I did on this mortal coil.

1 Corinthians 14:15--"What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also."

The memorial service for Jayden was intense and beautiful and sad and inspiring. Luke wouldn't have been able to grasp it's enormity in his naivete, even though he's wise beyond his years. He was, as I've previously said, at home with Daddy fixing his gun, which turned out to be a wise decision. There were only a handful of children at the service, mostly family members of the baby.

The service was solemn yet celebratory. Most impressive were the family's recollections of the baby and her 99 brief days spent on this Earth. The family was praising God for the time that the baby was in their stead, feeling blessed and grateful for the blessing of her presence and likening her time on Earth as a gift from God, rather than cursing God for taking her way. Their faith is unshakable and solid, surreal given the circumstances of her death, repeating the phrase "God is good" to the congregation with all of us shouting back a hearty "AMEN!"

A friend and I were talking last night and he was wondering what the family would be like once reality really finally struck them about the baby's death, about their son being on trial for 1st degree murder, etc. Never having seen people with such fervent faith, I have every confidence this family will draw God closer, will draw one another closer, and the church family will be right at their sides. Losing the baby is truly only the beginning of the agony this family will undertake, but God is merciful and gracious to those who love Him.

The baby's uncle, who gave the first speech, mostly about how much he loved doing Jayden's tiny laundry, and how the day she died, he found one sock in the dryer, and it belonged to her, sang a lullaby that he used to sing to Jayden in their native Samoan, that the whole family joined in unison singing. The grandmother, my bassist's wife, who brought that baby to church every weekend, praised the Lord for her life and her influence on the family dynamic. She said something to the effect of the baby being this angel sent by God to bless their family for 3 months, to have an enormous impact on all of their lives, and then God called her back home. That made her extra special, indeed. Finally, my bassist, Jake, got up to sing his solo on acoustic guitar with me accompanying him on congas.

In talking with my Stephen minister, my spiritual therapist, today, she said she watched me play along with Jake and it looked like I was really concentrating on what I was doing, whereas I'm a little more animated and out there when I play with my whole band. I *was* concentrating, listening intently, following along. I was pleased with the accompaniment, but more so, Jake was happy with it. More so than THAT, I think God was pleased. It truly was the toughest musical task I've ever been asked to complete.

Matthew 18:20: "For where two or three of have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." God filled that church. Jayden filled that church. None of us could claim loneliness.

Finally, at the end of the service, pink balloons were handed out to the entirety of us, and we flocked out into the chilly night to lift the balloons to the sky for Jayden. We lifted them into the air, calling out her name, and watched them float southward into the night. Not eco-conscious, but poignant nonetheless. One final uplifting of her soul before the faithful departed or went to the gym for the fellowship after the service.

I hesitantly accepted compliments on my contribution to the service from friends and congregants, which was but one reason (Luke being the main reason) why I sprinted out of the gym and headed home. I told everyone, "It wasn't me. It was God. God came up with that rhythm." The non-religious would probably label me as nuts (*which, in all fairness, is true), but that's how I felt. All I could say was "I did the best I could."

Ultimately, Congratulations, Jayden. You are reunited with Christ for eternity in paradise. Your 99 days here with us left a profound impression upon every soul who saw your beautiful face, especially on those who shared your life every day. You were innocent and blameless and deserved no harm to come to you, and that harm angers and saddens us all beyond comprehension. Yet we join with your family and with the Lord in welcoming you home into His kingdom.

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