Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Goodbye Christmas! Hello 2011!

I feel a twinge of sadness as the Christmas season comes to an end. There's something special about this season and the spirit that comes with it. I hate to think about having to take down the tree, the decorations and the lights, but it's more than that. I find that at Christmas I really begin to reflect on the person that I am and how far I am from the person that I'd like to be. I earnestly begin to ask myself the question: "What can I do to be more of the person that I want to be?"

And the answer rarely has anything to do with career success or success as the world would define it. How could it when the Christmas story is about a great God leaving his greatness to be born as a baby, live as a humble servant, and die as a despised criminal? Where is the success in that? There's no upward mobility in this story -- it's all downward mobility.

The Christmas season makes me pause and recognize that for much of the year I define myself by my career successes or how much I'm able to accomplish on a day to day basis, in other words, my upward mobility. But at Christmas I remove all of these outside trappings and evaluate myself based on more important things like generosity, charity, love for others, selflessness, etc. I put aside my successes and accomplishments, and I get honest with myself.

"So what that you published two books this year?" I say to myself. "How have you loved more deeply or given more of yourself this year than the last?" These are the things that truly matter. And during Christmas I vow to do better next year with these things that truly matter. And I recognize that at times this may mean falling behind on some of my goals in order to move towards greater goals -- the kind that change a person's heart more than a person's status.

As we move into the New Year, many people will make resolutions. For many it will be to lose weight or eat a healthier diet, to get better grades or get a promotion at work. I don't typically make resolutions so much as I set goals for myself. I still have a list of the goals that I set two years ago (some that seemed a bit far-fetched to me!), and it's amazing to see how by writing them down and holding myself accountable, I was able to reach them. These were work-related goals, and I have a whole new list of work-related goals for the new year ahead that I'm still refining. However, I want to set some additional goals this year and be just as intentional about them as I've been about my career goals.

For one, I want to be more generous with my time -- giving it to people above projects. I want to find opportunities to give of myself where I receive nothing in return. I want to act in love even when that love is not returned to me. I want to be someone who gives without counting the cost. In the coming days, I hope to find practical ways to put this into practice and apply it. And I hope by this time next year that I've made some progress.

What are your goals our resolutions for the new year? I'd love to hear them!

Happy New Year!

Break a Leg!

I've been acting for just about as long as I can remember, and for as long as I can remember I have been using the phrase, "Break a Leg," to encourage other actors or having it told to me just before heading on-stage. But it wasn't until recently while reading a folktale book that I learned where the phrase came from, and I have to say that after reading what it means, I think I'll be even more inclined to use it.

The legend says that there was once a man named Genesius who was a mime and performer for the Emperor of Rome. He often used his craft to ridicule and make fun of Christians because it amused the Emperor. He would satirize Christian ceremonies all to the delight of the Emperor. One day Genesius was doing a satirical baptism ceremony. Apparently this was one of the Emperor's favorites, and he was dying of laughter.

"Do it again! Do it again!" he shouted at Genesius. However, in the midst of mocking this ceremony, Genesius saw angels and asked them to baptize him, immediately converting to Christianity. When the Emperor asked him to do the ceremony again for his enjoyment, Genesius refused. He told the Emperor, "I cannot do it again."

This made the Emperor extremely angry and he said, "If you will not do it, I will break your legs."

But Genesius replied, " I cannot do it again because it is no longer true of me. I cannot perform anything which is not true of me."

Hence the expression "Break a Leg" originally meant to perform only that which was true of oneself. I find this absolutely wonderful. As a student of acting and later as a professional, I often had to make tough calls about what I would and would not perform. In the acting field, it's tempting to perform anything because you just want to work so badly; however, there are plays that I cannot in good conscience perform because I feel I would have to go against who I am in order to do them. And I know that my integrity is more important to me than my career.

Sadly, today there are many performers who believe that onstage they can be one person and offstage they can be another. (And I'm not talking about getting into character, but rather, a person's true character.) But this just isn't the case. As one quote so famously puts it, "Wherever I go, there I am."

I wish more young performers were told the story of Genesius. Maybe it would serve to challenge them to think about their own values and whether or not playing a role is worth comprising their beliefs. In the end, Genesius stayed faithful to his beliefs. He was beheaded and died a martyr. He is now considered the patron saint of actors, performers, dancers, comedians and musicians.

So, break a leg, my friends. Or as Shakespeare put it: "To thine ownself be true."

Lessons from 2010: Yes, we've gone to the dogs!

As this year begins to draw to a close, I'd like to reflect on some of the lessons that I've been learning. In no particular order, here are a couple.

Lesson 1: Never go into a pet rescue center unless you plan on bringing a pet home.
Lesson 2: Never under-estimate the power of feelings, even ones you don't know you have.
Lesson 3: Dogs can be even better than humans at teaching some lessons.

These lessons became clear to me the days leading up to Christmas. My mom had dropped off some photo cards to have printed at a local Walgreens, and she had about 20 minutes to kill while they were printed. Right next door to this Walgreens was a newly-built pet rescue center. It was quite an attractive building so I suggested that we go inside and have a look around. WARNING!! You know where this is going!

We walked around the center taking a look at the different animals that were available for adoption. There were some cute puppies up near the front but another dog, about 8 mos. old, caught my eye. I was let into the room where he was being kept and he had a very sweet disposition. Later my mom and I left the center and picked up the cards, but in the following days, I couldn't stop thinking about this dog. I kept seeing his face! AHHH! What was I to do??

Finally, I convinced my husband that we should go back just to look at him. We would not leave with the dog, but he could look at him, see if he liked him, and if he did, we could talk about adopting him and if having a dog would be a good idea for us. We got to the rescue center and the dog was no longer in the same room, I inquired about him only to be told that he had already been adopted. All of a sudden, I don't know what came over me, but I started to cry. I was crying over this dog when I wasn't really even sure that I had wanted to adopt him in the first place!

My husband felt terrible! "Why didn't you tell me this was so important to you?" he asked. "We could have come sooner to get him."

"It wasn't that important," I said. "I don't even know why I'm reacting this way!" And yet, I couldn't stop crying. Here I was crying over a dog I wasn't even sure I really wanted!!

To make a long story short, we ended up returning to the rescue center later that night with my parents (my mom had told my dad about the puppies and my dad, who is a dog lover, wanted to see them.) While there we saw another dog, and the next day we ended up bringing him home.

All of this happened so fast, and now we are the proud owners of Blitzen -- who they tell us is a shepherd/collie mix, but I think they aren't really sure. He is a very sweet dog -- very gentle and yet also very playful. My family has determined that he looks like a deer or a kangaroo more than a dog - and it's true, he does have an interesting look to him.
Estith and Blitzen

I am quite sure that he is going to teach me some more lessons which I'll gladly share with you here. My family has always been dog people. At one time we had four dogs, ranging from a little Bichon (who is now 13 years old) to a huge Irish Wolfhound, the gentlest of giants, roaming about our house. One of the lessons that my dog Belle (a Weimeraner and the best running partner you could ask for) taught me was that there was nothing so important that her sitting right in the middle of it couldn't fix. She had a way of sitting down on top of my homework papers or getting in the middle of whatever I was doing and giving me an imploring look that said, "Come on. It's not going to kill you to pet me for five minutes, now is it?"

I was always grateful for her reminders that the world wasn't going to stop if I didn't get everything done on my to-do list. As a person prone to driving myself very hard and needing to accomplish one task after another, I still need that reminder. Blitzen, I hope you are up to the task.

Blitzen with his squeaky polar bear toy

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Book Review by Barbara Campbell - Lily and the City of Light

Recently Barbara Campbell of the TOS Homeschool Crew and her kids were kind enough to sit down and read my book, "Lily and the City of Light."

Below are her comments:

I read this book with my kids and we all enjoyed the story and discussed it a little afterward. The story is wide open to interpretation depending upon your viewpoints. Being Christian, both my kids immediately saw the City of Light as heaven and proceeded to interpret the rest of the story as a Christian allegory. They were very proud of themselves for figuring that out.

I really liked the fact that the storyline is one that is a good discussion starter. If you are not a Christian, the story can also be used to start discussions based on your family’s own views and beliefs. In itself, it is also a good story to just read and enjoy on its own merit. Homeschoolers could also take this story and incorporate it into a lapbook, writing assignment, Bible lesson, unit study, and whatever else you can dream up for your kids. The illustrations are wonderfully done so that younger kids can enjoy the story without losing interest.

If you are looking for a good children’s book, I suggest you check out Lily and the City of Light.

To read more of Barbara's reviews, visit her blog at: http://aliveinspirit.com/wordpress/

Friday, December 17, 2010

Winter Scenes from Ohio

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. . . so today, I want to share some beautiful photos taken by my good friend, Jeff, here in northeast Ohio. The one below was taken at Hale Farm and Village.

The next few of birds were taken in our beautiful parks. I love seeing birds in winter. They remind me that God provides. If a creature as tiny and delicate as a bird can survive the harsh winter, then I can survive the difficult seasons of my life.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Christmas Book Is Now Available!

I'm happy to announce that my latest book, 'Twas the Year Christ Left Christmas, is now available in both print and e-book from Guardian Angel Publishing. I expect that it will be available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble shortly.

I wrote this book two years ago during the Christmas season. It all came about one day when I just couldn't take any more of the commercialization of the holiday. On top of that, some friends of mine in New York had told me that saying "Merry Christmas" was actually prohibited at many schools and retailers. I felt inspired to write something about this sad state of affairs. I sat down in my parent's kitchen one afternoon and within a few hours I had come up with my own version of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas -- only in this version, Christ is asked to leave Christmas so that people can celebrate without him.

I am very pleased with the fine illustrations done once again by Alex Morris. He is a talented illustrator who has brought the story to life with his images and captured the message through many unique little touches. Neither Alex nor I have ever even had a conversation about either of the books he has illustrated, so it's always been interesting when I receive the first galleys to go over. I open them up with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, but the trepidation always wanes as soon as I see the brilliance of his work!

I must say, I am still frustrated with the commercialization of this holiday. I walk into Best Buy and see the words "Give Joy" plastered across the door. Come on, does anyone really think that you can find joy in Best Buy? I think this is a good example of how we have lost the meaning of many words in our own language because of our careless use of them. I see a commercial for DSW in which one shoe shows up at another shoe's door and with some witty verbiage criticizes the gift that shoe has given her, saying that it actually repels her to think of the other shoe. Okay, I know it's shoes, but it's not really funny. We have even screwed up the whole message behind giving gifts.

At any rate, I see what Christmas has become -- something so far removed from what it purports to celebrate -- and it saddens me. I love the gifts and the celebrations just as much as the next person, but to me there is something much deeper, much more special, astounding and beautiful about Christmas. This is what I celebrate. If you're with me, I think you'll enjoy the new book.
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Let It Snow, and Snow, and Snow!!!

Snow is falling like crazy over here! Well, I guess the actual amount of snow falling has lessened, but it has not stopped. And it seems to be sticking and continuing to accumulate. Everything outside of my window is blanketed in white and when the sun hits it, it is almost blinding!

Sunday night I had a show at my Aunt's church in Laura, OH which is about 3.5 hours from home. Probably if it had been any other event they would have canceled it, but I think they figured that since I had come so far to give the program, it would be a shame to do so. So we went ahead with it - and a decent-sized crowd braved the weather to be there! As always I met so many wonderful people. It was after the program that things got interesting. My husband Estith had accompanied me on the trip and he had to work the next day, so we left after the show, getting on the road just before 9:00pm. I drove so that Estith could rest for work the next day.

The driving conditions were terrible with blowing snow and messy uncleared highways. The on/off ramps were the worst. Thankfully, we didn't have to take too many of them.
I drove the whole way, both hands clenched tightly on the wheel, going well below the speed limit and keeping plenty of distance from the vehicles in front of me. I was actually thankful for the semi-trucks on the roads because their lights made it a bit easier to see the road ahead of me.

As I drove I almost never took a hand off of the steering wheel, and I remained completely vigilant. It occurred to me how many times on a regular drive I can reach over and search for a different radio station or CD, grab a snack or a drink from the passenger side chair, talk on my cell phone or do any number of other things, all while driving and feeling perfectly safe. But these driving conditions would not permit such extraneous activity. They required a different type of concentration and attention than I am used to giving. And it occurred to me how often we take the ease with which we can normally do things for granted. If there is one thing that weather teaches us, especially severe weather, it is that we are not in control. Quite often, I need, and am thankful for, that reminder.

I arrived home after 4.5 hours of driving instead of 3.5 with sore arms and a tired head and eyes. But it was so good to be home. So good!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Busy, Busy, Longing for Simplicity

It seems like there is always so much to do. No one told me when I embarked on this adventure of performing and writing how much marketing and promotion would be involved. I guess you're probably thinking that I should have figured as much, but when you are running on the creative brain as I am – practical concerns are often out the window in favor of artistic, expressive ones. Now I find my days ever filled by the demands of answering emails, sending contracts, making contact lists, contracting book reviewers and trying to make sure that I haven't forgotten any other bit of business house-keeping. All the while what I really want to do is create more art. Funny though, I'm discovering that the more I create, the more time I have to spend doing the uncreative stuff that is necessary in order to share that which I have created. This really is quite a dilemma for me. I guess if I could have one thing for Christmas, I'd ask for a business manager – someone who would be as excited about promoting and managing my work as I am about creating it! Santa, do you think you have any of those sitting around at the North Pole?

I find myself so crazy busy right now – my to-do lists are growing increasingly longer and somehow the creative pursuits continue to get pushed further down the list. :(
I am going to have to learn how to balance my time differently. Maybe I need to spend whole days with my email server turned off so I can really devote my full attentions to creating. . . Don't get me wrong -- the promotional part is not all a complete drag, and I have learned to appreciate it more this year, namely because I've learned to see it as an opportunity to meet new people and expand my sphere of friends. And believe me, I have met some absolutely wonderful people through my work who truly do enrich my life.

At any rate, with all of this busy-ness, I've been reminded of a short piece I wrote while living in Spain. It was inspired by my cousin and something he did when he left the big city and returned to his roots – to life in a small town. The simplicity of it is what appeals to me now. In so many ways our lives are so complicated. I recognize the freedom that comes with simplicity, and yet with all I have going, it's hard to get to that place sometimes. I wonder if any of you can relate.

© 2005 Lindsay Bonilla

He spit out the window. Yes, that’s what he did. Rolled down the window and spit onto the black pavement as the car pulled away.
He spit on the big-city life – apartments built one on top of another, chemical exhaust clawing at his lungs, and neighbors that he’d never seen or met. Thousands of people running around in a maze with no end, relationships with no connection, lives with no tranquility.

He never belonged there in the first place.
He just got sucked into it – like we all do or will, inevitably.

He preferred the country life – houses in the middle of expanses, clean air, blue skies, and neighbors who had never been strangers.
Stillness, the people who mean something surrounding him, and abundant moments where he could hear himself think.

He’s different that way. Sitting on the front porch steps of his grandparent’s house, stroking the belly of an aged dog, listening to the silence – and remembering who he is.
Not twisting in the maze, drowning in a sea of distractions, obsessing over the noise -- and forgetting the only part of himself that means anything.
Like the rest of the world is so intently trying to do.

He’s always had a strange way of expressing himself -- one that I’ve never fully understood. But I understand what he did when he climbed into that car with his ratty old duffel bag – and I think I respect him more for it.

He spit out the window – yes, that’s what he did.
And then he left it all behind him.

* * *

How do you get to the place of simplicity with all that you have going on? I'd love to know! Maybe you can give me some pointers. Sometimes I stop and look out the window or watch the animals (hence the picture of the deer.) They remind me of a simpler way of life with less striving and busy-ness -- but more about the life lessons that animals have taught me later. Now I await your suggestions. . .

Book Review by Nancy Carty Lepri -- Lily and the City of Light

Author and Reviewer Nancy Carty Lepri took the time to read and review, "Lily and the City of Light," and I would like to share her review with you below.

The people of Htrae, besieged by poverty and hunger as well as greed and dissention, live below a mountainous city where the residents who live there are filled with joy. No one from Htrae knows how to get to the city, and when an old man offers to show the way, no one listens. Instead, they try to find it on their own, but do not succeed.

Ten-year-old Lily lives in Htrae and constantly gazes toward the glittering city, longing to go there. She searches for the old man to show her the way. A charismatic character, he informs her, she can only get there by giving away her heart.

Lily leaves him, dejected. She meets a beggar, realizing she can give her heart to this old woman. After doing so, the woman tries to sell it, but Lily demands it back and heads for home. Then passing the richest man in Htrae, she offers her heart to him, but he is too busy for her, so he gives it to his butler to lock away. After a week, Lily returns to reclaim her heart and gives it to a baby, who only wants to play with it.

Discouraged, Lily forgets about the wondrous city and giving her heart away. Then one day she notices a beautiful boy in the town square. Understanding that love means giving your heart away without seeking anything in return, she offers it to him, but he rejects her, causing her unbearable pain.

Soon she decides she does not want her heart anymore and decides to throw it away. Hearing a soft voice calling her, she pursues it and ends up before a king sitting on a magnificent throne. The king takes her torn and broken heart and offers her his heart in return, which is full of color and love.

Afraid to accept it, the king tells her the heart belongs to him and holds enormous love, thus demonstrating that the hardest part about giving your heart away is learning to feel pain and sorrow.

Finally Lily is in the beautiful city knowing the meaning of knowing love and trust, while the old man remains in Htrae, awaiting requests about how to find entrance to the city of light.

This delightful story, enhanced by whimsical illustrations, shows the sacrifice of giving one’s heart away while learning how to love unconditionally. A fantasy tale, this not only teaches a lesson, but offers a source of wonder and joy."

To learn more about Nancy and her writing career, visit: http://nancycl.webs.com/

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Waiting, Watching, Hoping

Sunday morning I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Christ United Methodist Church in Alliance, Ohio, where I gave a performance of my program, “Babushka: A Russian Christmas Tale,” for their combined Sunday school classes. The historic, classical-style sanctuary reminded me so much of the church that I grew up in, with its dark wood pews and railings, stained glass windows, the sound of the organ and the balcony wrapping around the top. The audience, comprised of both the young and young at heart, was great fun to work with – and little did I know that when I randomly chose one adult to be one of the three kings/wise men that I had chosen the pastor of the church! I wouldn't discover this until later when the service began and I saw him in his pastoral robe! One of the other kings, a young boy with lots of spunk, made everyone laugh, myself included, when after being coached to say that they were “three kings from the east” instead confidently proclaimed, “We're three guys from the north.” It really was delightful!

I think one of my favorite parts about my job is all of the people that I get to meet whom I would most likely never meet otherwise. After the show, I met a man who had just returned from a business trip to Russia and an older woman who told me all about the Christmas ornaments that her aunt taught her to make during the frigid South Dakota winters. I love the variety of experiences, the stories, the smiles that are shared with me. I feel like I leave each place I go with a wider circle of friends.

During the worship service, the pastor (aka Balthasar!) shared about the meaning of advent. He talked about it as a time of waiting on God's plans and said that this is precisely why advent is so difficult for the average American, or even the average human living in the 21st century for that matter. We are not good at waiting for anything. Think about standing in line, or traffic, or a slow internet connection – these little things are sources of frustration, annoyance and impatience. Our culture has done away with the idea of waiting as best as it can in favor of a my way, right away approach. But God has not. God still asks us to wait – to wait on Him and His plans.

The Old Testament reveals that God had promised to send a Savior, the Messiah, and the people of Israel were waiting for him. They had their own ideas of who that Savior would be and how he would come – with power and authority and military might. They weren't expecting a baby born in a manger. That was not their plan. But it was God's plan. And I suppose that's why it took the poor, the weak, and the foreigners of that time to realize who Jesus was while many of the scholarly religious people missed it. In my experience, these are the people in society who find it easier to let go of their own plans in favor of God's -- no matter how different they may be from what they had expected.

Today we wait for that same Savior. We wait to see him at work in the world and in our lives, and we wait for him to return and redeem all of creation. But it is important to remember that His plans are not our plans, and His ways our not our ways. And so we wait, and we watch. We look for signs just as the Wise Men looked for the star, but we recognize that He will probably come in ways that we are least expecting.

I've gotten fairly good at waiting and hoping in my plans (and anyone who knows me knows that I have a lot of them!). I've gotten really good at watching and looking for signs that my plans are coming to pass. But this advent, I pray that I will learn to wait on God's plans, even when I don't understand them and especially when they are different from my own. This is the hope we have in Advent – that God's plans are exceedingly greater than ours.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Happy Advent! Happy Season of Waiting and Hoping!