Thursday, December 17, 2015

Peace At Any Price

Liz Shropshire was one of my first close friends after moving to Los Angeles. She was studying music at USC at the same time my husband, Jeff, was in USC's cinema school. We instantly found lots of common, service, movies, and adventure. Together we sat side by side frantically copying orchestra parts for an assignment due, we ventured south of Los Angeles to visit the famous Watts towers, we served in the youth center at this beautiful Santa Monica site, a bastion of peace for us both, and one day we even helped rescue an old woman whose apartment was on fire in Liz's building. We've been through a lot together.

Amazingly, each of these stand-out activities that originally bonded us as friends now stands as a symbol of something bigger in both of our lives.

• I wasn't a music major, I knew only piano-lessons level theory, and I'd never copied parts before in my life. But somehow Liz believed in me and helped me believe I could do it too. She had the big vision. I just contributed my part. We did it together, and it worked.

• When we climbed and took pictures of ourselves on the Watts Towers, little did we know that the riots that tore apart the community of Watts in the 1960s would repeat themselves as the Rodney King riots in the 1990s, and our USC apartments were inside the first (most dangerous) curfew zone. We were survivors of a major outbreak of violence.

• Working at the youth center taught us not only to love teaching, and to love working with children, but that beautiful sacred space taught us what peace really is, what it feels like when you're standing on holy ground, and what it feels like inside your heart.

• The woman didn't even realize her apartment was on fire—something had combusted inside her kitchen cabinet—until Liz smelled smoke and pounded on her door.  I wonder how many other people smelled smoke and walked on by, but Liz is never afraid to act. She has a skillset I deeply admire—the ability to sense a need, and ACT—calmly and responsibly.

So it shouldn't surprise you that in 1999 Liz heard an NPR story about children in Kosovo, innocent victims in a war-torn country, and felt moved to act. That story tugged at something deep and compassionate inside her with such power that she decided to sell everything she had and buy a plane ticket to Kosovo. She didn't really have a plan in place at the time. She had a music degree and a ton of teaching experience in some rough, inner-city Los Angeles schools. And some loose ties to a service organization there. A Los Angeles friend encouraged her to "do what you do best" and take along some musical instruments, for the heck of it. By the time of her departure she had raised enough funds to arrive in Kosovo with $5000 worth of musical instruments to take to the children there. The Shropshire Music Foundation was born: Teaching Peace Through Music.

Liz has devoted everything she has over the past 16 years to teaching children peace—first in Kosovo, and later opening programs in Uganda and Northern Ireland—with a hope to expand to benefit the Syrian refugees in 2016. She is, without a doubt, one of my biggest heroes.

Last month Liz was in town for a conference. I dropped everything when I heard she was in town. I hadn't seen her in person since she was packing her bags for Kosovo in 1999. I went to listen to her speak, then we took her out to dinner with some friends the following night so our kids could also hear her amazing stories—how little children who used to wake up screaming every night because of the horrors they've witnessed now sleep through the night because of the soothing power of music;—how Ugandan youths who were turned into soldiers at age 5 are now learning music and leadership, and the true meaning of power and peace;—how 95% of their youth volunteers go on to attend college;—how Liz is guided by a Higher Power that continues to open doors and work miracles. It was one of the most motivating and inspiring evenings we've spent in a long time.

I tell parts of Liz's story on our latest Living Room show, "Peace, Be Still." There's a link at the top of the page where you can play it right from this site. Hear about Nelson Mandela's widow, Gra├ža Machel, and how her research backs up Liz's programs—that children heal best through the arts, and teens heal best in a teaching capacity. Liz and her children across the globe are living proof.

In the past month we've seen so much violence and disruption, drawing ever closer to home. It becomes more and more apparent how desperately we all need peace on earth, and peace in our individual homes and hearts.

"Peace at any price" is a saying my mother-in-law uses to encourage us to let go of pride and selfishness in favor of peace within the family. Liz has taken that a step further and has literally given up everything she has—including a place to live—in order to work for peace. To her there is literally no pricetag too high to teach and further the cause of peace.

Our family has chosen the Shropshire Music Foundation as our charity of choice this giving season. I may not be able to do what Liz does, but I can help her teach and spread peace. We are donating a portion of all our online shopping through And we are looking at other ways to contribute financially and in kind. I hope you'll join us.

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