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Chapter 4 & 5: Brothers, mothers & music

“Wait a minute,” Vanessa said. “Aren’t you supposed to be in Father’s
office? Did you walk out on them?

“No. Because I never walked in on them.” James stood up and started
pacing. “I’m not going.”

“What? But you told them you would,” Vanessa protested. “And
you drove all the way here.”

“I know I did. But I changed my mind. I’m not going in there.”

Vanessa caught up to him so she could look him in the eye. “Why?”

“Why? Because I know everything they’re going to say.”

This chapter, of James’ conversation with Vanessa, is still hard for me to read. If printed pages showed edits and revisions the way that Word documents do, this chapter would be twice as long. This was some of the most painful material for me to put into writing, and the need to include it almost made me scrap the whole idea for this book several times.

But it was also cathartic. As a young girl, I went through a brief atheistic phase, and I probably could have said everything that James says. In my case, I wasn’t separating from a church, since we were lackluster churchgoers at the best of times. There was no one trying to argue me out of it. In James’ case, he’s luckier — he’s got Vanessa. And she’s not about to give up on him.

” … So everybody really needs to just leave me alone.” …

“No,” she said quietly. “I won’t.”

“Nessa …”

“I don’t know about anyone else, but I won’t leave you alone. I don’t do things like that. You’re my brother.”

“I’m your half brother.”

“You’re my whole brother,” she shot back.

“’Nessa, don’t be an idiot. It’s not up to you to save me.”

Her jaw clenched even tighter. “Don’t tell me that!”

More writing that came hard. How heartbreaking it is to lose people to that terrible, inexorable pull away from belief in God, towards the bright things outside the faith that seem so pleasing and sensible at the time.

In real life, there’s so little a person can do to rescue a friend or loved one going through something like that. Except praying, and maybe I need to quote Abigail’s mother from the last book, with her gentle chiding that “Praying is doing.” It’s wise advice from a mother who sounds like she knows.

But speaking of Abigail, she turns up most unexpectedly –the “still, small voice” that Vanessa didn’t think she had. When Vanessa’s conversation with her brother takes a strange turn, suddenly Abigail leaps in out of nowhere to jubilantly tell Vanessa to go for it.

“Say ‘yes!’” That voice hadn’t come from James. It hadn’t been anyone else in the room or even a still, small voice in Vanessa’s head. It had come loud and clear through the earbud she had left in her ear all this time. It was Abigail.

“What?!” Vanessa exploded, whirling to try to get at her phone.

And if the other parts of the chapter were hard for me to write, I have to confess that this setup struck me as so hilarious that I couldn’t wait to get it down. Of course it’s up to Abigail — the creative sprite, the irrepressible optimist — to agree to something no sane person would consider. A bizarre bet: James says that he can show Vanessa that miracles don’t exist before she can prove to him that they do … and all in just the few weeks left before Ascension Day.

Well, now we know what Vanessa’s problem is, or one of her several problems. There’s her brother, and there’s Abigail’s interference … but basically, there’s a misbegotten challenge that came from both of them.


Singing in the car

With that, brother and sister can part ways. The only thing left for Vanessa, after attempts to talk to Abigail fall through, is to follow up on a certain clue that Mary left her with — that she needs to listen. More later about that ability that Vanessa has and how it serves her, but for now, enough to note that being able to quiet herself and listen is the help that brings her success on one front at least — she finds Matilda!

Nice to have a happy ending to that little problem, but Vanessa’s evening isn’t over yet. The ride home with her mother in chapter five gives us a little glimpse into a mother-daughter relationship that’s just beginning to have some of the typical tweener issues. It’s the age when the trust, affection and obedience of a child begin to encounter the challenging emotions of puberty and young adulthood. It doesn’t help, perhaps, that Mrs. Taybeck is a little stern and detached (but given the scene she probably walked out of in Fr. Andrew’s office, can we blame her?).

All the same, even with Vanessa’s distressing evening and her mother’s, they are able to share a moment through the blessed medium of music. A song called “This is My Father’s World” that Vanessa heard in the hallway that brings back a little bit of her mother’s youth. In case some of my Orthodox friends have never heard this oldie from the Protestant hymnal, here’s how it sounds.

How good it is sometimes to reach across a bad day and the gaps of human unhappiness and come together in a song. It seems to me that it’s one of God’s most universal delights. And I like to think that there’s also something deeper there. I’ve never remembered which saint or theologian said it, but the quote, as I remember, is that next to silence, that which expresses God best is music.

Amen and amen!

Coming Sunday: Chapters 6 & 7, and some of Fr. Andrew’s great advice

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