Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tribute Tuesday: Nina

My awesome cousin Jenny has started a link-up, Tribute Tuesday, which is A) an awesome idea and B) something that's been on my brain a lot lately. I love this concept of taking a few moments to give tribute to someone--not just a thank-you, but a on honorarium, a memorial of their grace, love, sacrifice. And nothing like a little public pressure to actually ensure I do it--whether or not I do it on a Tuesday...

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[Okay, Jenny, I tried to used your amazing linky sticker deal, but all that appears, published or no, is HTML gobblydeegook...]

Tribute to Nina

You would not need to spend much time on this blog of mine to figure out that I love stories: reading them, sharing them, hearing them, passing them along, making them up. When you think of a story--your own, or a favorite--you likely think first of the main characters, the major plot arcs, the larger themes. And this is true of me, but I love, almost as much, the little pieces. The tangents. The minor characters. [Cue English major diatribe. This is why Dickens drives me insane: the man doesn't believe in minor characters. The old woman you bumped into on the street in Chapter 2 is also the bookshop owner in Chapter 17 who ends up being your wealthy grandfather by the book's conclusion. CRAM IT, Charles, real life isn't like that.]

Ahem. Finding the track again...

I find myself understanding a story better for its little tangents and minor characters--minor in number of lines or time spent on the stage, but not necessarily in importance. And every time I find myself telling my story--the central one, the one that matters, the one of how God came and found me and continues to bring me to Himself over and over again--every time, I find that it has to include Nina.

And Nina is a minor character in my story. (I don't think she'll take offense to me saying so.) She was my music teacher when I was very young, and my mother's friend, and I've seen her just once or twice since she moved away when I was 8. But like I said--sometimes the minor characters aren't so minor at all.

I was 4, and my dad had left for reasons no one--maybe not even him--fully understood. My mom tells this part of the story simply: we were in her classroom after school as we always were. Matt was likely doing homework; I would have been knee-deep in Legos. "Kids," Nina says in the story, "Grab your stuff--you're with me tonight. Peggy, I'll have them home before bedtime." And she took us, and allowed my mother a few hours to be something other than a swamped single mom. I don't know what my mom did with those hours--knowing her, she was cruising the bars or getting yet another graphic tattoo.* (Just a moment of comic relief, people. For those who don't know my mother, this is the untruest statement there ever was. Just to set the record straight...)

This is my story, so I can only relate what I've heard from others, and tell what I remember. And what I remember is sitting next to Nina on the hard black bench, pressed as close as I could be without compromising her army's range of motion across the black and white keys, and looking out at a dark room that sang back to me. The choir in the dark knew the words, but they were still new and foreign to me, and have long since fallen from memory. But in those first few Wednesday nights I caught my first glimpse of God, however unaware I was at the time: beautiful and unknown; mysterious, but in a nice way. 

What started as Nina getting us out of our mother's hair for a few hours each week (because from then on, each Wednesday afternoon brought her to our door) molded into something much larger and lasting: my mother's return to the Church after years away, my brother and I growing and finding father figures and extra grandparents, our family learning that what is broken and rebuilt is more beautiful, and certainly more interesting, than the perfect and pristine. By the time Nina moved a few years later--acting as another saving grace in another woman's story--we were ensconced in a fellowship of shared lives. All of us have left that place now, moving hundreds of miles away in different directions--but members of that family remain close, and we have found new fellowship-families in our new places. My mother quilts love and grace into the lives of people, some she doesn't even know; my brother (and sister-in-law) prepare a house for study, reflection, and prayer; I encourage and love and pray with women of all ages and walks of life who come through our doors.

Is this all because a woman stopped by her coworker's classroom and took the kids out for Roy Rogers and children's church? Of course not--thank God, He is weaving too great a masterwork to be dependent on us. But when He calls us to step into someone else's story (even briefly, minorly) and we answer and go, He works simple wonders and small miracles. 

Am I a follower of Jesus Christ, am I a part of a grace community, do I minister to women because of Nina? No. 

But when I sit across from a newly-single mom, two cups of coffee and an ocean of brokenness on the table between us, Nina floats across my mind--not every time, but most. My prayer is always that I would be Jesus to this woman--but having no better face to put to such a prayer, the one I see is Nina's.


  1. Blogspot loves me, this I know--thank you for dating this by when I STARTED, not when I finished (today).

  2. A lovely tribute, coz, and what a worthy woman this Nina is! The saints are everywhere, says I, and sometimes they hang out in Roy Rogers restaurants. I sent you an email which will hopefully help with the HTML frustrations.

  3. Even if reinforced by what Mom has told you of what she remembers of this part of our story, you remember this part with much more clarity than I do -- while I certainly remember and appreciate Nina's role in getting us out of Mom's hair now and then, and hanging out with all three of us often, I'd forgotten that there was a Wednesday routine to it. Very eloquently recalled and deservingly dedicated, sis.