Fiddler On the Roof is probably one of my favorite plays/movies/soundtracks…. ever. I learned the words and music, from a record we bought at a yard sale when I was maybe six? It was two records, in a yellow and white sleeve, with a cartoonish fiddler in a blue coat. I can still see it in my mind, I can still hear it scratching out on the little, orange, portable record player, my sister had. It was goose-bump inducing, heart soaring, then crashing in sorrow, mind-blowing and inspiring for a child to hear. It was also, not a common thing for a 7-year-old to listen to all the time, I know this now.
I didn’t see the movie until I was a little older. It was on HBO, I think, in the late seventies. I only saw it that once, until the mid-80s, when we got a VCR. But, I still had that album, I was still listening to it. As the years passed, I’d rent the movie sometimes, when renting a VHS movie was a thing. A couple of years after I got married, my husband bought me a copy as well as a cassette of the music. Friends from a church here in Texas, bought me a DVD shortly after my husband was wounded because they knew my affinity for Tevya. Even now, I have it in my iTunes library and bought the digital version. I can listen to or watch it whenever I want to. When I’m struggling and questioning everything, or just feeling nostalgic, it is what I turn on. In many ways, it is the soundtrack to my inner life.
Even now, the music in Fiddler On the Roof makes my spirit soar and I promise you, the words of Sabbath Prayer have been whispered late in the night, when I didn’t know what to pray, over my children, with an earnestness, only a mother’s heart can have. The story is a distinctive thread in my life almost as far back as I have memories. I am not sure why that is the thread I picked up and carried, I just know I clung to it from an early age. Never underestimate the power of entertainment, especially on children. Pay attention to what stories and narratives are influencing your children’s lives… but that’s another post altogether.
There is something in the character of Tevya that I relate to, I have no idea what it was when I was so young, but now he represents how I try to model my relationship with God. I don’t want to preach at you, but my choice to pursue a Christian faith really does define who and what I have become. It is the same for my husband. Our faith is the tool we used, to help us climb the mountains, life put before us, and to reach the place where in spite of it all, we find joy. So, this isn’t to try to persuade you to think as I do, although that would be good, too. This post is to give a glimpse into something, from a story, that for some reason, impacted my heart so deeply, that even in the hardest things, I still walk in the security of my faith. And it all started with a great story.
Tevya, the main character in Fiddler On the Roof, taught me to pray, and for those with very rigid beliefs, it was before I was “saved.” He modeled the type of relationship I wanted with a father, both earthly and heavenly. He was a benevolent dictator to his family as he struggled with the changes happening all around him. He did not wait until he was in the right place or mood to talk to God, he did not disregard God’s sovereignty or cast away His love, he just plainly spoke his heart, one full of doubt and pride and sorrow and strength. He always returned to the place of, I don’t get it but yet, I’ll keep going. That is true faith, it cannot see, but it believes.
As I got older and began my own spiritual journey, I continued to follow the model of prayer and faith I had been drawn to in Tevya’s story. I’m pretty sure this is not what the average church leader would want to hear someone refer to as their prototype, for a strong spiritual life, but it is what it is… The idea of communing with God, of not being afraid to question what is happening around us, but continuing to rely on His sovereignty, even when things make no sense, is still the most profound sermon I’ve heard, and it was in a story. I think in many ways, it is an accurate depiction of how I approach God because, I do question and doubt, I am frustrated and angry, at the injustices of life, but I believe.
Imagine my surprise, when the pastor we found in our first real foray into grown-up spirituality, just outside Ft Stewart, GA, in 1993, loved Fiddler On the Roof, too? And for many of the same reasons I love it. And then, the couple that became our mentors, they loved the play, and their kids could quote it! I believe God used that common thread, from that story, the one I had been holding for years, to begin weaving a new tapestry for Terry and me. And that bond, with the Byler’s and Hodges, was the bond that opened my heart to change, and to a different way of living; emotionally, spiritually and physically.
See, whether in church or the workplace, the military support world I lived in, or the local community organization you participate in, we have relationships with people. In those relationships we are given opportunities. Opportunities to grow our strengths or feed our weaknesses, in both following and leading. And sometimes with those opportunities comes the risk of being hurt, but there are people that will see an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the investment, that is you, and they do.
Those who invest in you, who love you through those awkward, difficult and messy stages of life, that pray with you and talk with you, and confront you when you’re being stupid, those are your Tevya’s. They are the characters in your story that leave such a mark on your heart and mind that you never forget, and you never let go. Those are the characters that over the years, have that place in your heart that regardless of time and distance, is still warm. They are the characters in your story that you can look to in difficult times, and trust their model.
As Terry and I moved to where the Army sent us after leaving Hinesville, more than 20 years ago, it was with the many life lessons we learned from these two families. We made a few mistakes and failed in our choices a few times. Other times, people misused us and our trust. There were people I’m sure we offended and still do, and ones who offended us. In 2005 we landed, once again, in a place where we could ‘build our village’ our ‘Anatevka’ here in Texas. For us, our church, Faith Point, became the family that we did not have but especially at that time, needed. They have nurtured and loved us, lived our lives with us, brought meals during countless surgeries, and provided a safe place as we battled to get our footing again. And, they continue to do so. In our Pastors, Scott & Marsha Hoxworth, we once again found that Tevya character of authenticity, of real questions in real life, with lots of, I don’t know why’s, but I believe. Is it a coincidence, that they too, like Fiddler On the Roof? I think not.
A couple of years ago, Terry and I made it a point to see Ed & Libby Hodge, in Hinesville, GA, where they still pursue opportunity and give of themselves in their community. And over the past couple weeks, Terry and I took a trip to the mountains of Tennessee & Georgia with an intention to surprise the “real life” Tevya in our life, Pastor Phil Byler, and his wife, Judy. They too are still, even in their “golden years” continue to seek opportunities to invest in the people and places where God puts them. They inspire us to continue to give of ourselves to others, even if it feels complicated and hard. Because, usually, it is.
Is it strange to intuitively build a life around a fictional character? Maybe. I didn’t realize I did it until very recently, so it’s not an intentional obsession, it’s a subconscious thing, where I seek those who represent that type of raw, vulnerable faith. In all of this, I see the continuous thread of hope God handed me, as a young child was one that started with a great story. It reminds me, He speaks to me in ways He knows I will hear. What more does a person need?