In many ways, Baratta is the main person who gave me the opportunity to hear about Jesus. She invited me to church, to youth group, and was a great sounding board for any questions I had about Christianity. I learned a lot through her life just by observing what kind of values and beliefs she had. Her faith was evident in her daily life. I am thankful, to this day, that her parents chose for her to go to Byrd (my public high school) after she attended a local Christian school. Turns out that decision impacted my walk with God (and probably others').
I was thankful that God provided her to break my stereotypes of Christians: You know... the dorkyness, the social awkwardness, the booknerd with no cultural insights. (Come on! You know you've had those same stereotypes.. unless of course you were that dorky Christian. haha) Baratta was nonesuch as a Christian. She redefined what it meant to be a Christian to me. She was also a classmate with a profound understanding of literature and an admirable taste for music. We once performed a Beatles song with Beatles wigs and suits on for our high school talent show. (Let's just say most girls were not interested in musical talent but just drawing attention to their provocative dancing on stage. We didn't exactly care that the Beatles act would not draw the guys!) She had this way about her that she could care less what others thought- not in a provocative or confrontational way- but in an assuring/ "I know what I value" kinda way. This is unheard of in the teen years. She saw the value in the sacred but could appreciate the secular and there wasn't such a dichotomy that a curious person as myself would feel embarassed if they asked a question. She never made me feel ashamed of what I didn't know. She was also my running-mate in cross country. She's a lover of the outdoors. Of the seasons. Of the coffee shop downtown. Of a good piece of classic literature or an independent film. Did I mention that she and my other bff from high school (Emily) made a movie for me (and our hs bff Katie) with clips of video they had taken throughout the year with music and everything? I digress...
My favorite detail about Baratta was in her high school graduation speech b/c yes, she was also a fellow valedictorian (I know, I know... at our school there were many of us b/c we all made 4.0 or above...that's another story). She actually quoted Scripture (in public school!) at risk of offending many and perhaps being kicked offstage, being suspended, etc. But she really showed boldness, maturity, and wisdom that I hadn't seen in peers my age. Basically we all made our speeches, some pointing to their own achievements, some turning it outward towards others (like the "you can do it if you try hard enough" speech), some with their braniac examples to further puff their egos, and mine was mostly thanking family/friends (you know, the emotional shout-outs to all your posse). But Baratta's went a step further. She questioned what the GPA's, college acceptance letters, and SAT scores really meant. She reminded us that there is an eternity out there and that if our treasure is in any of that and not in heaven (specifically in Jesus!) , we will be heavily disappointed. For it is those things that moth and rust destroy. But not God. He is eternal. She pretty much summed up my Christian testimony of how I became a believer: wanting to achieve perfection and striving as if I could achieve that and as if it was a noble and reasonable goal- and then realizing what is this all for? It is for my own sense of accomplishment and pride? For impressing others? Or perhaps setting some historical record? Or earning God's approval? Listening to her speech really helped me put things in perspective and truly affirmed the cry of my heart.
Anyways, years later (after I missed her wedding b/c I was overseas in Venezuela) and she missed mine as she was out west, we still held fond memories of each other and great thanks for how God had kept us connected despite the distance.
Baratta is now married to a great guy and they just had their first son, Aiden who is just precious!Thanks, Baratta, for being so special to me and not being afraid to march to the beat of your own drum. I will have to tell your son one day of his great spiritual heritage!