Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I'm a Survivor.

Sunday I passed a milestone birthday. No big, round numbers this year; a different kind of milestone. Yesterday I reached the age my mother was when she died.

It was a sobering birthday. I've been dreading it for months. Staring my own mortality in the face. It's like standing on a precipice and stepping off into the unknown. Because I have no idea what life looks like after this year.

...

In the meantime, I've been reexamining my mother's life—what she accomplished and who she became in her short time on earth—and feeling like I am the one who has fallen short.

I have a couple of Mom's journals in my possession. One of the first things that struck me as I scanned the pages of consistently precise handwriting was the countless acts of service—there was literally something penned in on every single day that she did for someone else...and sometimes multiple acts in a single day. I was blown away. She had five children plus a Navajo foster daughter. Six kids she was feeding, clothing, schlepping to school, concerts, parties and back to school night. Six kids she was teaching to be responsible, be extraordinary, and behave. And yet she found (or rather, made) time to serve.

She was also this incredible peacemaker. I remember how much time she spent on the phone counseling a sibling with a struggling marriage, helping a friend whose husband committed suicide, and trying to foster some unity between an estranged mother and daughter in our extended family. She was so good at seeing every side of the situation and helping people bridge the gap, go the distance, love, and forgive. She could listen endlessly, tirelessly, when others would have long given up. She was amazing at overlooking faults and choosing to love the most difficult and unlovable people. Including me.

She had unstoppable faith. Sometimes we would enter her bedroom and find her on her knees, and feel like we had interrupted a truly sacred space—an actual conversation with God. Her scriptures were worn threadbare. The leather binding had finally given way to decades of dedicated searching, and she taped up the spine with silver duct tape. (I love that image. So practical. So her.) She was completely obedient, and had an unwavering commitment to build up His kingdom on the earth, both in large ways (like singing in the Tabernacle Choir and serving on the Sunday School General Board) and small, like following daily spiritual promptings. She knew where her anchor was, had her sights on the North Star, and never veered off course. Her own steadiness anchored countless others.

She demanded excellence. From herself, and everyone around her. Setting a high standard usually meant that others also rose to the occasion. Whether it was coaching me for the national spelling bee, or helping her piano students master Suzuki Book One, she was so good at raising the proverbial bar.

She stayed active in her career. She was a very gifted musician, and never stopped performing and improving. Whether it was accompanying her father when he sang, performing in a chamber music trio, or conducting a choir, she was top notch. I drew this portrait of her (top) from a photo that was taken when she was directing a choir for the Franklin/Covey group. The most joyful and alive she looked in the last years of her life was the time she spent motivating those singers.

As her the end of her life drew near, it seemed as though she lived very close to the veil. She had become so strong, almost regal in her demeanor. Her heart had been refined and purified through her growth and her trials. She was even more humble and teachable, loving and giving. She became more and more Christlike as she faced the prospect of finally meeting her maker.

....

As my dreaded birthday approached, a few people started reaching out to me to make plans. None of them knew how difficult this day might be for me. I mentioned to one friend how I was feeling, and she instantly shifted gears and came up with a wonderful, soul-filling plan that sounded perfect to me.

Another friend—from our beloved Pasadena area, who we've been close to for over two decades—invited us to dinner at her home on my birthday. (My husband gingerly asked if that's what I wanted to do, and I assured him YES!) She is a fabulous cook, and invited just our immediate families and one other very close friend. It was exactly the sort of small gathering I love, filled with people I love.  It was sheer heaven. When this friend suggested a talent show, I'll admit I cringed. But honestly, everyone did something completely unexpected, and we all enjoyed ourselves so much. I mustered the courage to read aloud a couple of blog posts — most notably this one, to be a little bit vulnerable and let people know what I was dealing with this year, and then this one, to end on a lighter note. It was one of my favorite birthday celebrations ever.  I didn't just survive my ominous birthday, I thrived.

That evening gave me an entirely new perspective on living after the age my mother died. I've decided to see every day that I outlive my mom as a gift. One more day to work at becoming more like she was: More service-oriented and eager to lift others, more of a peacemaker, a better listener. One more day to strengthen my faith, and bolster those around me. One more day to demand excellence of myself and my students. One more day to excel in my career. One more day to be kinder, wiser, stronger deeper; to be pure, to be humble and teachable. To be like my mother. To be like Christ.






Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A visit to the Imperial War Museum...and what it says about American politics today.



Last month in London we visited the Imperial War Museum. I am a pacifist by nature, and before we first went two years ago I didn't think a museum dedicated to war would have anything to interest me. Oh, but I was wrong. It’s an outstanding museum. I’ve since returned three times, and each time I've been amazed by what I learned there.


I’ve had my heart figuratively ripped out of my chest by the suffering showcased in the World War I exhibit, which we saw on the day it opened in 2014, on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War. I've seen their massive exhibit on Churchill and the staunch way he rallied the nation to hunker down and fend off the relentless attacks of power-driven Hitler during World War II. I’ve viewed lighter exhibits on wartime fashion, home and family life during the war, and a recent anti-war art exhibit of works by Peter Kennard, which concluded by showing the amount in the U.S. Artillery budget vs. the number of children living in poverty worldwide…some pretty sobering statistics that bring home the true cost of war.


Certainly most sobering and heartbreaking of all is the holocaust exhibit. We spent hours listening to voice recordings and video clips of survivors recounting their experiences. We took the time to read all the descriptions and commentaries throughout the displays. One thing that struck me more than ever before on this visit was what I learned about Hitler's rise to power…clear back in 1933, before a second World War was even a possibility.


Not unlike our current and ongoing recovery from a major recession, Germany was slowly recovering from a major financial setback—The Great Depression. Hitler's rhetoric was full of rousing platitudes like, “Make Germany great again.” According to The History Place, "He would find in this downtrodden people, an audience very willing to listen. In his speeches, Hitler offered the Germans what they needed most, encouragement. He gave them heaps of vague promises while avoiding the details. He used simple catchphrases, repeated over and over." Sound familiar?


At the same time Hitler was singling out the Jews—a minority religious group—and blaming the current problems on them. "According to this racial doctrine, Jews were an inferior race that was poisoning Germany and so did not belong in the community." (annefrank.org)


We saw the way Hitler manipulated the media by hiring filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl to help orchestrate the way the movement appeared in news propaganda, making it look bigger and better than it really was. Had reality t.v. been available then, certainly Hitler would have snatched that spotlight as well, the way he took control of the radio waves. It struck me as hauntingly similar to what is going on in America right now.


When the current republican nominee first entered the race, I thought, “He’s a total buffoon. No one will take him seriously.” Now his rallies are riling up crowds and promoting violence and bigotry. He’s not just a laughing stock. He’s a megalomaniac ushering in a real-life version of the fictional feature film “Idiocracy” by promoting machismo, objectification of women, racism, and other destructive, uneducated, anti-family behavior.


He’s singling out and vilifying an entire religious group based on the behavior of some rash extremists. He has openly offended Britain's prime minister and the mayor of London—never mind that for two centuries England has been our strongest ally.

More recently, he has befriended and praised the leadership of Vladimir Putin, who has sent unconscionable power-grabbing sieges into the Ukraine, and most recently banned all religious practice—including prayer—from anyplace other than recognized churches in his country. This candidate is not just a buffoon any more. He's dangerous.


"Don't forget how people laughed at me 15 years ago when I declared that one day I would govern Germany. They laugh now, just as foolishly, when I declare that I shall remain in power!" —Adolf Hitler told a British journalist in 1934. Sounds chillingly like today in America. The laughing stock of the presidential race thinks he is about to take over.


In 1933, there was no World Wide Web to research the instigator of the second World War. No one then could google the character of Adolf Hitler and make a better decision as to who ruled Germany. But today we have no such excuse. We have all the information we need at our fingertips.


With Hitler promoting the Aryan race, and Mr. Reality TV calling hispanic immigrants criminals, drug dealers and rapists, it’s no coincidence that Trump's campaign is endorsed by the Daily Stormer, a neo-nazi group.

Countless news articles have revealed the "man behind the curtain," showing the real candidate, including serial divorces and affairs, multiple bankruptcies, which end up hurting and punishing the American middle class, a lack of charitable giving, knee-jerk reactions and an inability to focus or think things through before pouncing, and an overall lack of integrity—in addition to his bullying stances on race and religion. Just today the New York Times released an article on him that looks a whole lot like large-scale tax evasion, aided by chronyism. He doesn't share our values; he's manipulating the system and taking advantage of a situation to feed his own ego and agenda.


History is destined to repeat itself if we don’t learn the appropriate lessons from what’s happened in the past. This is our opportunity to take a lesson from the great historical repository that is the Imperial War Museum, head dangerous-and-irresponsible-leadership-that-looks-a-whole-lot-like-fascism off at the pass, and choose a better direction for our nation, our families, and our future.

August 19 Update: Trump's campaign manager resigned today—the second campaign manager to jump ship in as many months.

One final word: I normally don't get involved in the political arena, preferring to keep my opinions to myself. But having seen what I've seen over the past few months, I feel I have an obligation to speak up. This is one presidential race where perhaps more is at stake than ever before. The bombastic, inflammatory rhetoric of this would-be leader of the free world seems to have fueled his supporters to behave in similar other-bashing and intolerant ways. If you happen to be one of these people, please restrain yourself. I welcome healthy dialogue and friendly conversation, but this blog is not a battleground. It is a meeting of the minds.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

London Again: The Lake District

We hired a coach and driver to take us on a three-day escape to the Lake District: Ambleside, Windermere, Grasmere, Coniston and more.
This is our hotel in Coniston...booked by mistake, and what a find! Look what it backs up to:
The town is lovely too...herds of sheep separated by stacked stone walls, fields of bright yellow rapeseed (canola) flowers, giant rhododendron flowers in amazing colors, gracious stone houses and cheery cafes.

The next morning we drove to Grasmere to visit Dove Cottage—Wordsworth's home. I am always inspired by this poet's view of the universe. And when you visit his surroundings it makes perfect sense: serene natural beauty evokes transcendant thoughts and ideas. What an amazing opportunity to inhabit this gorgeous place, soak in the scenery, climb a hill or two, and lift our thoughts heavenward in the process.

London Again: The Lake District

We hired a coach and driver to take us on a three-day escape to the Lake District: Ambleside, Windermere, Grasmere, Coniston and more.
This is our hotel in Coniston...booked by mistake, and what a find! Look what it backs up to:
The town is lovely too...herds of sheep separated by stacked stone walls, fields of bright yellow rapeseed (canola) flowers, giant rhododendron flowers in amazing colors, gracious stone houses and cheery cafes.

The next morning we drove to Grasmere to visit Dove Cottage—Wordsworth's home. I am always inspired by this poet's view of the universe. And when you visit his surroundings it makes perfect sense: serene natural beauty evokes transcendant thoughts and ideas. What an amazing opportunity to inhabit this gorgeous place, soak in the scenery, climb a hill or two, and lift our thoughts heavenward in the process.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Oxford

Our friends invited us to spend the day with them in Oxford. We got up at 5:45 to leave the flat at 6:15 to take a 7:00 bus to Oxford. Yikes! And then there was no 7:00 bus because it's a bank holiday. 👌 Awesome.

Once we got to Oxford and met our good friends all was well. The town is beautiful. It reminds me so much of what Cambridge was like when I was a student. Stone walls, towering chapels, quaint shops, old bridges and punting.

Next we ventured to Blenheim Palace, where Churchill was born. What a spectacular site!

We took a "buggy tour" around the grounds along the river and heard sordid tales about the duke and his ignominious youth.

Here's the famous "Whomping Willow" from Harry Potter. And the lake that runs under the bridge:

Then we spent some time strolling the spectacular gardens.

We hugged our friends goodbye and made it back to Oxford just in time to catch our bus back to London.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Mirrored light, Traveling Light, and Candlelight...the perfect day

Jeremiah read about a Japanese artist (Yoyoi Hasami) exhibiting in London who does installations of small mirrored rooms. We decided we had to check it out! We took the tube to Angel, and an industrial part of London we'd never visited before, to the Victoria Miro gallery. There was a queue of hip, young urbanites outside the door that stretched down the block. We were in the right place.

Once inside we stood in yet another queue to go up the stairs, where were greeted by huge gold polka-dot pumpkins, and yet another queue to step inside the first room.

But it was definitely worth the wait! Her parents raised squash on a farm and she has loved them since she was a little child. She calls them a combination of humble and amusing. She also suffered from hallucinations of repeating patterns in early childhood, and these show up in her work, as you can see.

Next we went back downstairs and waited in another queue before stepping into this room:

She calls it "Candelier of Grief."

Outdoors there was a permanent installation in the water garden called "Where the Lights in My Heart Go."

There was another mirrored room on the patio punctuated with tiny holes of daylight. Inside it feels like you're surrounded by a starlit night sky. Upstairs was a huge gallery filled with a series of paintings she calls "Infinite Nets."

Next adventure: Abbey Road
We took the tube to St John's Wood and walked a few minutes until we arrived at an intersection filled with people taking photographs. First thought: what a let-down. It was just a small crosswalk on a busy street.

Doesn't look like much, but this is Abbey Road Studios, started by Sir Edward Elgar in 1930, and broadcasting source of the famous "King's Speech" in 1939. (Collin Firth spoke into that same microphone in the movie--which, by the way, is rated 15 and up in the UK, and is a must/see.) then four lads from Liverpool auditioned there and changed music history. "Abbey Road" was recorded in 1969, and the studio changed its name from EMI to Abbey Road a year later.

Here's a shot of Jeff and Jeremiah making the obligatory crossing while I risked my life in the middle of the street to take the photo. 😉 We decided Abbey Road was pretty cool after all.

For the final topper we went to St Martin in the Field--a small church adjacent to Trafalgar Square, and one of my favorite venues in London--to hear a candlelight concert of Mozart's Requiem by the Academy Voices. It was sublime. My favorite was the Lachrymosa. And a warm-up piece they did, "Ave Verum Corpus" that was so unbelievably gorgeous it brought me to tears.

Days don't get much better than this! Or end more beautifully.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Heroes: William Morris, St. Pancras, and Maximus

We visited the William Morris Gallery today. I have always loved his work, and his philosophy. His goal was to beautify the world, through both preservation and creation, and make fine art affordable to more people, so everyone could have something beautiful in their home. This work room is the studio of my dreams!

Next we stopped at St Pancras train station, where we caught the Eurostar to Paris last time we were here. You cannot believe how magnificent this architecture is! Photos don't do it justice! Curious about St Pancras himself, I checked out the fount of all wisdom, Wikipedia:

Saint Pancras was a Roman citizen who converted to Christianity, and was beheaded for his faith at the age of fourteen, around the year 304. His name is Greek and literally means "the one that holds everything". Hero.

In the evening we found ourselves once again in the majestic Royal Albert Hall, this time to see the movie Gladiator with a live orchestra playing the soundtrack. It was wonderful for our film students to see all the musicians involved in creating the orchestration. And Maximus is the consummate hero, a conqueror who was a humble family man at heart, sacrificing everything to save the republic ideal of Rome.