Birthday Wish to all of you

“A ship in a harbor is safe, but it’s not what ships are built for.”

Today is my birthday. In the past 10 years of my life, I cannot believe the “outside of the harbor” choices I’ve made. Ironically enough, given the quote’s nautical nature, I do not consider “moving across an ocean” to be one of the most trans-formative choices.

I learned a new language (something one can do anywhere). I changed my career path (you can also do this where you are, and consider that applicable to all below). Together, my parents and I mended conflicts well before it was too late (today, they are two of my closest, most treasured relationships). I maintained a healthy physical lifestyle and weight, which wasn’t easy when I couldn’t walk. I published a book. I became “Aunt LaLa” to the Ayres Little Men and added a new family (my “Henry” carries their family name). I gave my hair to make wigs for children with cancer…four times. I faced, and continue to face, my fears (crippling stage fright and fear of heights). I watched marvelous sunrises in gratitude and walked through challenging sunsets in humility. On this day in 2011, I converted to Catholicism, which was the single-most authentic decision I have ever made.

Perhaps, some of the most trans-formative trips out of the harbor are those we simultaneously fear and welcome? Though we are afraid, we know we truly have to go – into the vast, seemingly-unending expanse. Someone calls and says, “I have the perfect job for you, but it’s in Lichtenstein” or someone writes you an email and begs, “Can you please take in this rescue dog?” or even “Marry me, my love?” Life changes in one … Augenblick.

One of mine happened on January 22, 2016 when I saw and heard a strong heartbeat from a machine in Bern, Switzerland. It took me about a second to process that was his (Christopher Henry) heartbeat. Sometimes, I guess, that second is all it takes to pick up the anchor and set sail. Fear be damned. Best decision I ever made, pulling up that anchor.

I know it’s tough and scary. Many times in the past 10 years, my ship has ventured out into the sea only to return battered and bruised. Heartbroken. Sea voyages can be treacherous and arduous. There are literal ups and downs that either propel you forward or crush you. It’s difficult to leave the comforts of a tranquil and serene harbor. Ah…but, that’s not what ships are built for.

I like to imagine wisdom from my four grandparents, as I push away from the harbor each time. They have four simple rules for each journey.

“Be bold, Lulabelle.”

                                                                 “Be authentic, Sweet Girl.”

                                    “Be brave, Granddotta!”

                             “Be peaceful, Princess Wawie.”

 You can do it, too.

Be bold. Be authentic. Be brave! Be peaceful.

Here I Am, Lord…but, do you REALLY need me?

At the Episcopal School of Dallas, we used to sing a hymn that had an impact on most of us, regardless of our faith or disbelief. Perhaps, many students struggling with disbelief benefited from it more than I did? Anyway, it is referred to as “Here I am Lord” or sometimes, “I, the Lord of Sea and Sky.”

“Here I am Lord” was written in 1981 by Dan Schutte. It’s based on two passages, but one echoed from the pulpit in my church in Luzern this morning and reminded me of my ESD days: Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

It’s Isaiah 6:8. It is about a small voice declaring willingness to go. Choose me. Me. I will serve You. I will be brave.

Even when it isn’t convenient. Even when I am comfortable doing what I am doing. Even when I would really, really, really prefer you phone or Tweet or send a pigeon carrier to someone else for this task.

Even when I feel afraid.

In high school, I sincerely questioned this text. What does it mean to say you are ready? To say you will stop what you are doing and live the life God wants you to live?

I’m decades older now and my answer is still the same: “Here I am, Lord. I will go.” I still do not know why I must or how I will, but I know I will always turn my life over to God, if He’s found a use for it.

I sang this hymn at the funeral of my beloved Zachary “We Got Jungle Fever” Bell (ESD, ’97). This was the verse that moved me then and moved me today, as well.

I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people’s pain.
I have wept for love of them, They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak My word to them
Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord, Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.

Copyright: Dan Schutte

 

I will go Lord, if You lead me.

 

The Ostrich

There is a common myth that ostriches, when sensing danger, bury their heads in the sand. It’s one of the first phrases we learn when being taught to take responsibility during difficult times. Stop burying your head in the sand, and just deal with it.

Myth buster – ostriches don’t do that. When they are aware of a predator, they lie down, extend their necks, place their heads flat against the ground, and stay very still. They don’t “hide their heads in the sand” at all.

Mother Nature’s poster child for avoiding the tough talk…doesn’t.

See, nothing in nature can truly avoid life’s challenging moments. Not for long, anyway. The ostrich will always have to lie in wait to see its fate. Just like the rest of us.

Alas we all have to face the music. We have to recognize that conditions have changed forever (sometimes in the blink of an eye) – we have to change accordingly. We have to realize that, what we hoped was a “lifetime friendship” was only meant to be temporary – we must say goodbye. We are forced to look in the mirror and admit “it didn’t go my way” – we go forward with bittersweet, sometimes lonely, steps.

Indeed, most of life’s toughest decisions are not about making the easiest decision, are they? As she often did, the late Dr. Maya Angelou still soothes us with her wisdom, “when you know better, you do better.” Perhaps, it’s brave enough to attempt to make the best decision you can.

And, instead of relying on it, consider it a bonus if your best decision happens to be easy, as well.

ostrich-sand.jpg

(image borrowed from http://www.thornybleeder.com)

Last Concert of 2015

I sang my final concert of 2015 last night.

Last night’s concert was  bittersweet. It ends a year of major transition for me, personally, and I believe last weekend began a new transition for us all, globally. This global transition has changed every time I connect to the internet. As Thomas Paine observed centuries ago, “These are the days that try men’s souls.”

As I sat in my dressing room, there was a knock at my door and a dear friend appeared to be with me before the concert. He remarked about the very same things (both)  I previously mentioned and said there was a very interesting “look” happening for me last night.

“It’s as if there is darkness around you, but there is light inside. Chiaroscuro.”

I agree. (Side note – that made me think of The Grant and Durd. Had to completely redo my makeup.)

“See how there is just a small amount of shadow on the wall? That’s manageable. Easy to overcome with your smile.”

A little Swiss man, who would show up to hear me sing if I opened a grocery store, talked to me after the concert and said the same thing. He told me my smile after the last note, which was something I did quite purposely, made him feel like everything would be okay.

Light. We need light. I was given a Texas-size serving at birth.

(Your pictures are below. Thank you for being with me before that concert. You have remained one of my dearest friends throughout some times when the dark and the light weren’t in such great balance.)

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There is a great deal of darkness around those of us who are trying to process the current events in a compassionate, concerned, humanitarian way. What do we do? How do we help? Also, how to we protect – ourselves, our children, and our future?

The answer is not to be found in contributing hate speech, bigotry, racism, or darkness. That is unproductive, unnecessary, and inhumane.  As history has shown us, hate feeds on such answers.

Thoughtful, well-educated, serious people sitting together and creating appropriate, targeted, short and  long-term solutions to the problems we face – that is a solution. Marrying prudence with compassion – that is a solution. When force is necessary, tempering such action with a strong eye on the innocents affected by such force and a plan to deal with their future, which we will directly effect. For every child with which I am concerned, there is an aunt/Godmother/LaLa version of me in Syria who is equally concerned with the child she loves.

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Farewell to 2015 – what a wonderful year of some beautiful music. Jackson, I believe my favorite moment of the entire year happened at Transfiguration when we performed “Blackbird.”

Nutjobs, nutjobs everywhere

Everyone had an gut reaction to the news about Charlie Hebdo. I thought it was a mistake. It was the same feeling I had when I heard of the plane flying into the World Trade Center. It’s the same feeling I have when I watch Terms of Endearment and Emma dies. “That didn’t really happen, someone made a mistake. Rewind it and listen again.”

Because I live in a parallel universe – things like that don’t actually happen.

These things are horrific (yes, even Emma’s death). Two of them involve evil. My faith in humanity and the goodness of every person makes evil a terrifying topic that I still, to this day, cannot believe is real. My faith is strong and, I promise you, tolerant.

And, I am sick and tired of listening to people tear religion apart. Immediately after the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo,  FB posts purported the trite and cliche statement, “I dislike religion.” So, on Saturday, I posted “I think people who say they dislike religion are silly.” It wasn’t the adjective I wanted to use. I wanted to say “ignorant.” Just as you are entitled to tell me you have a blanket dislike of religion, I am entitled to say your words are ignorant. As I asked someone, “how much do you know about Zoroastrianism, for example?” Attended two Bahai ceremonies and just didn’t like the buffet selections? That makes sense.

The same night of this FB exchange, I had dinner with a friend and her husband, who is Pakistani and comes from a Muslim household. Though he is now an atheist, he said, “who am I to say religion is bad or stupid? If someone has cancer and his faith helps him to get out of bed and keep going every day, well, that’s a good thing.” I thought that was one of the most profound things I’ve heard in a discussion about faith. A Catholic Buddhist and a former Muslim now atheist – totally different faith structures, parallel thinking.

And there is parallel thinking with all the terrorists groups. It’s not religion that unites them, it’s a desire, almost a thirst, to commit acts of terrorism. Sure, there are excuses about the men and women who join these terrorist organizations having felt like lepers in their pre-terrorist lives – cast out of society. They felt they didn’t belong and then someone came along and said, “you can have a family with us.” Oh, poor little terrorists didn’t get picked to play Four Square in 4th grade, so let’s kidnap, rape, murder, and humiliate others. How sad. This is age-old, mafioso stuff, but, again, it’s not religion that unites them. It’s a desire to destroy and to kill to attain power – that’s not “religious.” That’s a sickness in the soul.

What is the answer to combat the terrorist groups? Like many, the temptation to limit free speech seems plausible to me, until we remember that free speech really oughten have limitations because then it’s not exactly “free,” is it? Bit like a free ticket to the movies that you can only use to see bile-inducing Twilight movies. Also using violence to combat violence didn’t seem to work out well in most cases (“An eye for an eye will make the world go blind” Gandhi’s pointed that out a bit more eloquently). The truly important thing to remember about eradicating terrorism is…that we cannot.

There will always be nutjobs. Some of them are violent with weapons and some of them are violent with words. These people will always find each other (just look at Congress). I’ve found, there is one solution to this problem that will work. It will work if your life is in danger, it will work if someone you love is killed. It will work when your country is attacked, it will work when your country is attacking.

It goes like this:

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall profess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

It is the hidden verse of Amazing Grace. It says that we have done our best, we were committed to sucking the marrow out of life, and we used our lives to spread principles like tolerance, kindness, and acceptance. We take our lives not for granted, but for the gift that they were at birth and can be until we die. And there are those unique cases, like those who worked in the office at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, whose lives are gifts even after they die.

Amazing Grace – how sweet the sound.

Apples and faith

How very Swiss the sermon was on Christmas eve/day. “Brothers and sisters in Christ, faith is like an apple.”

Father Luzzatto’s sermon was powerful, as is usually the case when someone stands at the pulpit at Franziskanerkirche. Apples and candles adorned our Christmas trees in my loving, liberal, Luzern church.

Ah, the apple. We love our apples here: raw, cinnamon-dusted, on a train, in a car, while walking. We love apples. There are well over 7,000 varieties of apples. Some are sweet and others are almost sour.  Certain “perfect” apples appear absolutely blemish-less, whilst others are picked from a tree and might have not only bruises, but possibly a plump worm hiding within. Apples used to be a sign of wealth. Countries have their own national favorites. It’s easily one of the top 3 most consumed fruits. Even Switzerland’s hero Wilhelm Tell was linked with the apple, which demonstrated his bravery, accuracy, and resilience under pressure (three rather important universal strengths).

But, the apple’s also an apt metaphor for faith.

There’s a small layer of a “shell” protecting it as it grows, matures, and thrives. Once past the fragile, but firm, exterior, one reaches the sought-after flesh. Interestingly enough, the true legacy each apple holds is far from that which is immediately seen or tasted. Buried underneath the peel, past the yummy inside, there it is: the core. We say, “das Kernhaus eines Apfels” in German. The core of each apple has the potential to bring literal life.

Even the proportions are similar. The outer layer is thin, but sturdy. The inner flesh definitely contains the majority of what makes an apple have its well-known taste. The core is similar to the outer layer because it is limited in size (and circumference, by nature).

There we have our proportions (those of us who are faith seekers). Our “faith” or outer armor is not so thick, but it is substantial. The inner stuff makes us who we are. The core (a purity of heart I believe we are all born with) is small, but drives everything from birth to death and then the next step…if it is protected.

Today I did a bit of research. There is a group in Asia trying to create an apple without a peel. Why? Because people don’t like the taste of the peel. “It’s bitter,” they say, “I just want the inside part.” There are hundreds of products created to help us get rid of our apple peel, including one of my favorite products, which is apple juice. We wish it was easier to get directly to and enjoy the delicious flavors of the apple. Who cares about that pesky peel layer, I want the good stuff!

Hell, we all do.

News Flash: the good stuff isn’t in the flesh – it’s in the peel. In particular, that area just between the peel and the flesh. You get a healthy dose of potassium, Vitamins A, C, & K, fiber, not to mention possible cancer-fighting elements and antioxidants. Eat only the flesh? You don’t.

It’s trendy now to eliminate that “armor.” But, when we eliminate the armor of “faith,” we lose a lot.  Not everything, we still get a delicious, wonderful, beautiful apple. But, picture an apple without a peel. How that would really be? It would be exposed to every storm, susceptible to every pest. The peel, the armor – they protect the flesh. Both the outer layer and the inner layer do something extremely important. They both protect the core. The inner layer cannot do it alone, that’s why the outer layer is crucial. Get it?

I struggle to imagine myself with the armor that has protected me. The armor I choose willingly and happily to wear fully aware of what makes it my faith and my armor. No one told me, “put this on just because.” No. I made the decision. Certainly, it would have been a lovely life without some of the doubts and anger that come with wearing the “armor.” The many times I felt my strong faith did not protect me or the ones I loved…or even the ones I saw who needed protection.

The church services on Christmas eve and day ended with everyone taking home an apple for him or herself. I am still thinking about this comparison and loving it more and more. Before we left, Father Luzzatto joked about our favorite apple.

Mine is definitely the Pink Lady apple. I loved them when I lived in Manhattan (my grocer carried them). They are a bit tart, but mainly sweet. The peel is tough, rugged.

Apples and faith. Such a beautiful pairing.

Amen.

.Apples and ChristmasApple and Advent candles

 

Obama pulls immigration “Out of the Shadows”

It is 2:17 in the morning on November 21st and the words are spinning.

“These people did not come here in search of a free ride. They came to contribute to America’s success.”

He is right.

Obama said it, they fight “anxiety” “fear” “heartbreak” – to stay in the United States. They live day-to-day actually hoping to remain unseen – to stay in the United States.

So, their desire to be amongst us is so deeply a part of who “these people are” that they will fight daily anxiety, fear, heartbreak, desperation, separation from loved ones and a myriad of other struggles with one goal in mind – to stay in the United States?

I’m sorry, doesn’t that sound like the fierce patriotism that “we” want?

Obama said, “Their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours.” I think some of these men, women, and children treasure their unseen patriotism more than most, don’t you think?

“I want to pay taxes to support this great country, but I cannot.” Isn’t this the kind of patriot we want?

Now, imagine being a decent, hard-working person (most of the undocumented people in the United States would fit under this umbrella, by the way) and living a life in the shadows where your daily goal is to remain unseen. It’s not ideal for many reasons, but the worst reason is: bad things can happen to a person that is unseen, as President Obama eluded to. When we do not “see” them, we do not know what exactly is happening to them (or their children). This is when serious injustice and inhumane treatment can happen to a person. On our watch.

I think President Obama said “it goes against our character to deport people like this.” What a bold statement and what truth lies within those words.

I’m proud of President Obama and the men and women who helped him announce this plan.

I’m proud to know there is a plan, at long last, that will help “these people.”

I pray the men and women who are charged with fulfilling these promises will be kind in their approach and void of malice, racism, or hatred.

I thank God for all the men, women, and children who were “seen” for the first time tonight.