Friday, December 30, 2011

Ode to My Church

The very reasons that I love my church are probably the same ones that would make others go running for the hills. You see, we are a rowdy bunch. We are a motley crew. If you happened to stumble in our doors on a Sunday morning (or any other day of the week for that matter), you might think you had walked into a football game instead of a worship service.

At times we hoot and holler and cheer. Children run through the hallways and bounce off the pews. We have literally had fist-fights in the parking lot. (That last part is not something to be proud of, but it's the truth.) It's not to say we don't worship when we get together, but it may look somewhat different than the traditional puritanical version of church you might have in mind.

We are addicts at all stages of recovery. We are the fatherless, motherless, orphans. We are homeless, destitute. We are single mothers, single fathers. We are the guilty, the imprisoned. We are the unwanted, the forgotten, the misunderstood. We are the poor, the jobless, the helpless. We are the mentally, physically, spiritually challenged. I say 'we' because we are a body. We are one.

We are the humble, whose acknowledgement of the fact that we deserve nothing only helps us bask in the glow of God's grace, mercy and blessings all the more.
We are the broken who have learned that there's not enough glue in the whole world to put us back to together and no matter how much mending we do there are still plenty of rough edges.
We are the down and out who've hit rock bottom and understand that the only place left for us is in the Father's arms.

We have hurt each other and been hurt, but we don't walk away. We have poured ourselves out and been re-paid with evil, but we don't give up. We have turned our backs on those who have done good to us, betrayed them, but they still wait for us. Why? Because we are a body.

We are different, diverse, disparate. We do not hide behind a shiny veneer of smiles and perfect lives, and I'm glad. Because when we come together it all makes sense. God feels real and He is close. And I see Him all around, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places. The longer I stick around, the more I see Him, popping up to surprise me where I didn't think He could be found.

On a typical Sunday morning I could find myself surrounded by four or five children that are not my own, each trying to talk to me, sit in my lap, or otherwise disrupt the service. They are not 'distractions.' They are God's messengers to me of a world in need of love, attention, affection.

That is my church. That is the body. You are invited into it as well. By all means, come as you are, but by God's grace, don't stay that way.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas: The Season of My Discontent?

I love Christmas. It's probably my favorite time of year. It inspires me like almost nothing else (I've already written two published children's books on the subject and have two others at varying stages.) And yet, as much as I love it, it is also one of the seasons of my greatest discontent. Not discontent over the things I don't have or the gifts I won't get, but discontent with myself.

Every year when Christmas comes I find myself thinking about all the things I'd like to do differently or better. All the moments that slipped away. All the ways I'd like to be more faithful, more trusting, more given over to love my Savior with reckless abandon. Somehow I become focused on all the ways that I have fallen short. All the selfishness that still fills my heart. Often, I become plagued by guilt.

But I suppose that's exactly why Jesus was born. To save sinners like me. Christmas is all about the fact that man's attempts to make himself right with God, to clear his conscience, would never be enough. That only God's plan would be effective.

So as I think about the baby boy born in a manger, I can't help but praise God and be filled with hope. Like the shepherds and wise men, I want to bow down in worship and adoration of the One who came because He understood I'd never be good enough in my own merits. No matter how hard I tried.

On Christmas I celebrate that all of my failures, mistakes, messes and moments of missing the mark, have been swallowed up by the greatest LOVE the world has ever known.
Every other gift I could ever receive pales in comparison.

And so like Zechariah, I rejoice, saying:
Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited his people and redeemed them.
(Luke 1:68)

Along with Mary, I proclaim:
Oh, how I praise the Lord. How I rejoice in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation will call me blessed. For he, the Mighty One, is holy, and he has done great things for me. (Luke 1:46-49)

I celebrate the fact that "because of God's tender mercy, the light from heaven has broken upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace." (Luke 1:78-79)

Light for my darkness, life where there was once death, and peace for my troubled heart and mind. These are the precious gifts of Christmas that fill me with JOY!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sneaking in the Blessing

Advent is a time of year of big miracles wrapped in tiny packages. It is a time of finding the blessing in the least expected of places. It is a time for practicing what Mother Teresa said -- "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

Today it seems like everyone is only interested in the next big thing. Our houses get bigger. Our cars get bigger (please tell me why someone other than a soldier needs to drive a Hummer?) Our plans, hopes and goals get bigger and bigger.

And while my God is a BIG God, it never ceases to amaze me how He works in small ways. Seemingly insignificant ways. The kind of ways that if you blink, it's quite likely you will miss them. It's not to say that He doesn't work in the big ways too, for He certainly does, but I think some of His best gifts are the small ones.

Look at God's gift of the Messiah to the world. He could have made that quite the show. Lit up the skies with fireworks, scores of angels singing, trumpets blaring, clouds parting as Christ strode onto the scene blazing like fire, so radiant people would have had to shield their eyes.

Instead He sent a tiny baby. Born to two insignificant teenagers. In a lowly village that nobody thought much of. That was how God announced His greatest gift to mankind. Quietly. Humbly. Without fanfare. Without panache.

In fact, it's almost as though God tried to sneak him into the world. Undetected. I suppose that's the only way Christ could have ever understood what it means to truly be human. Despite his proclamations that he was the son of God, nobody believed him, I mean, really believed him. Even those closest to him showed by their actions after his death that they thought he was gone forever. Had he come with fanfare right from the beginning, the story would have been quite different, and Christ would never had the chance to experience what it means to take on human flesh, with all of its struggles, temptations, doubts and worry.

I like the idea of God sneaking His greatest gift into the world, initially revealing His intentions only to the lowly shepherds and an obscure group of foreigners from the east. I think it's this same thing that I love about my job as a storyteller -- the ability to sneak meaning into someone's life. Each story contains its own kernel of truth, and I don't have to say, "And the moral of the story is. . ." for each person to discover it. Somehow the story sneaks it's way in to the listener's heart, meeting them right where they are.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to say that God is sneaky or deceptive. He's not. His intention for all mankind to know Christ is clear. Only He didn't go about it in the most obvious of manners. He started small. Very small. You couldn't have gone much smaller if you'd tried.

Today I see so many people, myself including, waiting for the big things or else thinking that what I do needs to have a big impact. And yet, big things always start small. And if we are so busy waiting on big, we miss out on seeing all the good small things we can do. All the small ways we can experience God. And when we make room for the small things, somehow it's as if our hearts grow bigger.

It reminds me of the Grinch and his heart that was "two sizes too small." Until he met little Cindy Lou Who. And almost against his will he opened his heart to this one little child, not to all of Whoville but just to her. And once he let her in, it was almost as if a snowball effect occurred, and he couldn't help but let in the others, and all of a sudden his heart grew three sizes that day.

Our God is a God of the big things, but He is also a God of the small things. If He knows every hair on our head, every tear that we cry, how could He not be? When I get bogged down by the "big picture," the best thing I can do is stop and look at the small picture. See the smile of one of the children at my church and hold their small hand. Admire and laugh at the way my dog's ears stand on end. Lay my head on my husband's chest at night and hear his heart beating and feel the rhythm of his breath.

God has blessed me with many small things, tucking meaning into each and every one. But how easily I miss the majesty and marvel of it, consumed as I am by the big things. He is also given me many small things to do. And if I could get my mind off of the big things I want to do and just start doing the small ones He wants me to do, maybe He could accomplish infinitely more than all I could ask for or imagine. And maybe, just maybe He would sneak so much joy into my life that my heart would grow three sizes.

"But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, are only a small village in Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you. . ." (Micah 5:2)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Easy Yokes and Light Burdens

It's another one of those days where the best laid plans of mice and men don't seem the best after all. And thus, it's another one of those days where I need to learn to trust. Not to panic, but to trust. Sometimes it seems that there is a fine line between trusting God and doing my part. We talk about waiting on God, but sometimes what we are really doing is just waiting when we should be putting our faith into action while we wait.

Well, that point aside, as I've been learning about trust over the last few weeks, these verses from Matthew 11:28-30 came to my mind. The verses say:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I remember thinking to myself before, "What is Jesus talking about here? How can He call His yoke easy and His burden light? His yoke took Him to the cross. Where's the lightness in that? And yet, I have quoted this verse often enough with the understanding that when we are weary, stressed, down-trodden, frustrated, incapable, over-worked, etc, etc, that we can bring all of that to Jesus, and He will help us through, and yet the idea of His yoke being easy and His burden light didn't totally click for me.

And then I began to see it in a new light -- in light of His trust in God. I believe that what Jesus was trying to say was that His yoke was easy and His burden light because He trusted completely in the Father. Even though unimaginable suffering stood before Him -- in the form of betrayal, rejection and physical pain -- His faith in the Father remained unshakable. He could face each day in peace and rest because He had turned everything over to God. He wasn't holding onto any part of His life. No longer trying to do things His way. Just walking in faithful obedience -- and trusting God for the rest, come what may.

I am most often weary and burdened when I try to do things in my own strength. When Jesus puts His yoke upon me, it's as if He's saying, "Trust in the Father as much as I do, and together we will pull this load."

But in our way of doing things, we tend to yoke ourselves to the world instead of to Christ. We turn to the things of this world to give us peace and rest, and instead of helping us, they end up pulling us in the opposition direction, making us more weary and heavy-laden.

It is humility that allows us to trust in God, and Jesus was the ultimate example of humility. As long as we remain of the mind that we can do it all on our own, we will never have the rest for our souls that Jesus speaks of. Jesus also describes himself as gentle. Some translations say "meek." When I looked up the definition for meek in the dictionary, I found this.

Meek = Quiet, gentle, and easily imposed on; submissive.

A quiet spirit is one that is capable of listening to another. Submission has garnered a negative connotation in many people's books, but there is a difference between forced submission and submission that is freely given. And when we serve others with an attitude of submission, we will discover that it can be one of the greatest sources of joy in this life. Christ had submitted himself to God the Father. He understood that this was the only way to have rest and peace.

Trusting in God is the only path to finding rest for our souls. In the midst of all of his difficulties, Jesus had peace because He knew He trusted everything to the Father. He had put aside worry and doubt and a path based on our own efforts and was trying to point us to a much simpler path of trust.

What if every time something happened that rocked our world or pulled the chair out from under us or just really bugged us or that made us say, "This is not how I planned it," . . . what if at that moment we just whispered, "I trust you God. I trust YOU."

And what if we really did trust Him? Maybe then we could understand what He meant by finding rest for our souls. Maybe then we could have peace.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Trust Fall of Faith

Have you ever done one of those trust falls before? The kind where you stand with your body as stiff and straight as a board then fall backwards while hoping that the people behind you will catch you? I've been doing them since I was about 9 years old in my early acting classes.

We started easy with trust circles. Standing in the center of a tight circle of fellow actors, I'd fall forward or backward and get pushed gently around the circle. Once I'd gone around once, the circle would take a step backwards. This would be repeated until the falling was a little further each time. Trust was built up gradually.

But the scariest trust fall I ever did was while leading a mission team in Appalachia. We were staying at a camp that had a low ropes course for team building. One of the stations was a trust fall where you stood on a platform which had to have been at least 15 feet tall and fell backwards into the awaiting arms of your teammates. Quite a rush! (But maybe more so when I was standing at the bottom, hoping and praying that I and my team -- mostly made up of scrawny middle-schoolers -- would be able to catch some of the other members who weighed 250+ pounds.)

At any rate, this week it occurred to me that my faith in God should be like that trust fall. I should trust God so much that wherever I go, whatever I do, I have full confidence that His arms will be ready for me. Unfortunately, my trust is not always so complete. I want to sneak a peek behind me as if to say, "Are you really there God? Do you really plan to catch me?" Chalk this up to my limited ability to trust in God's promises.

On other occasions, I want to throw an arm back and catch myself. Chalk this up to my sense of self-sufficiency and my need to be in control. I'm only willing to fall a little ways, only willing to feel slightly uncomfortable, before I think I need to take over again. Essentially, I'm telling God, "I trust you only so far." When things start to get unpredictable, that's when my ability to fall back with reckless abandon seems to be disturbed. And yet, that is when I most need to do it.

For awhile now I have found myself confused and overwhelmed. Unduly stressed by a particular situation in my life and understanding that much of the stress has been self-imposed, due to my lack of trust in God and my tendency to try to micro-manage things instead of allowing them to happen. This epiphany was confirmed this week when I opened my Bible and randomly landed on Psalm 125 which begins with these words --

1 Those who trust in the Lord are as secure as Mount Zion;
they will not be defeated but will endure forever.
2 Just as the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people, both now and forever.

Secure. That comes from trusting God. Trusting in myself only leaves me assailed by doubts and speculations.

Surrounded. By God. Both now and forever. That reminded me of those trust circles from my early days. No matter which way I fall, God will be there. He surrounds me on all sides. There is no-where that I can fall that He won't catch me.

The trick is not to fear. Not to doubt. Not to give in to the temptation that I need to control things. Not to try to take over. Not to consider the circumstances as greater than Him. God is in control and His loving arms will not let me fall. And there is a great peace and sense of release in that.

So, Lord, no matter what happens, give me the grace to TRUST in YOU!

The Busy Excuse

If I had to choose the one Bible story that resonates most with me it would have to be the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42. Martha is the dutiful older sister, hurriedly trying to make the preparations necessary to have Jesus in her home. I imagine she was cooking, cleaning, setting the table, etc, all while her younger sister, Mary, sat at the feet of Jesus, refusing to give her a hand.

I am Martha in the story. I am a busy-body. I am always doing something. And when I'm not, I'm probably thinking about what needs to be done. And like Martha, there have certainly been times in my life when I have 'rebuked' the Marys of the world -- wondering how they can just sit there watching while I (and the other Marthas) do all the work.

We live in a society that elevates the Marthas of the world. A world that ascribes value to busyness in all its forms and which measures our worth based upon it. The busier you are, the more important you are, or so it would seem. Those of us who are the Marthas of this world often think that we need to be doing everything. In our homes, workplaces, communities, the world. We may be bent on making a difference in every possible way, and thus, consider our busyness synonymous with our service to God.

However, what if we've only convinced ourselves of this? What if, in fact, our busyness is nothing but an attempt to keep ourselves from the feet of God? To avoid going into His presence? What if we create more and more work for ourselves because we don't know how to be still, we don't know how to listen, and we are afraid to try? What if we only theoretically believe that our value as people comes to us from what Christ has done for us, and instead practice a way of life that makes it dependent on all that we are able to accomplish?

My pastor has a quote which he often shares that goes a little something like this.
A man with an excuse to God will never have an experience of God."

What if Martha's busyness was an excuse? What if her to-do list was nothing more than an attempt to stay out of Jesus' presence? What if all of her noble attempts at "service" were merely evasion tactics? What if I am guilty of the same?

When Martha rebukes her sister, she is actually rebuking Jesus and His values. She says, in essence, "Hello! Jesus! Aren't you paying attention? Don't you see how I'm working my butt of while my lazy sister is just sitting here? Why don't you tell her to get up and do something?!"

But Jesus responds with an answer that reveals to Martha the condition of her own heart. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

What happens when all that you have to "do" is taken from you? What happens when all of your accomplishments or your ability to accomplish things slip away? What then? Who will you be and where will your value come from?

Mary knew how to rest in the Lord. She knew how to draw all of her peace, joy, strength and worth from being still in His presence. She did not need a long to-do list or a string of tasks completed to feel accomplished. She did not have an excuse to God, and therefore, she had an experience of Him.

Marthas of the world, let's take note. And by God's grace, let's sit down and choose what is better. Let's rest at the feet of the One whose love and grace cannot be taken away from us.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The More We Get Together -- Thanksgiving 2011

Today is a day for celebration. A day to reflect on our blessings and enjoy them. A long-awaited day for many as they look forward to turkey, stuffing, and food galore. As a vegetarian, turkey hasn't been my thing for quite some time now. I do enjoy some good stuffing, but actually, less than I used to. What I most look forward to today is a chance to stop and be with family and loved ones. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for the delicious food, but honestly I could be eating mac and cheese from a box if I'm with the people I care about.

This summer before one of my performances the librarian led the children in a song. It's a song that I remember from my childhood but that I hadn't heard in quite some time. This time I heard it with fresh ears and increased perspective on life, and the simple truth it espouses is something that should not be forgotten, especially on a day like today. It goes a little something like this:

The more we get together, together, together,
the more we get together, the happier we'll be.
For my friends are your friends,
and your friends are my friends,
the more we get together, the happier we'll be.

There is a certain kind of happiness that only comes from community. And no amount of material wealth or gourmet food can ever replace that. The holidays are a good time for remembering this simple truth.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Free as the Fall Leaves

A week or so ago I sat near my front window praying, and I couldn't help but listen to the rustling of the leaves as they danced across the ground, propelled forward by the cool fall breeze. It was one of those days where the sun was shining, the sky couldn't have been bluer, and the leaves were painted in hues of indescribable beauty. But what really captivated me was the dead leaves scurrying along the ground. I noticed how free they were. Free to move, free to fly, free to go wherever the wind would blow them. Free as can be. It reminded me of how Jesus describes the Holy Spirit like the wind, saying that it blows wherever it wills and no one can see where it comes from or where it's going and so it is with people of the Spirit. (John 3:8)

I imagine that people of the Spirit are a lot like those leaves. They are free to go wherever the Spirit moves them. Why? Because they are not attached to anything in this world. I noticed the leaves that remained on the tree. With each gust of wind, they would ripple and flutter, but they never broke free. I found it interesting how they were only holding onto the branch by a very thin, seemingly fragile, stem, and yet no matter how fiercely the wind blew, they could not break free. So it is with us. We may only be holding onto the things of this world by a very thin stem, but even so, we are still attached. And if we remain attached, we will never know the freedom of being able to go wherever the Spirit leads.

I want to be like one of those free-wheeling, spinning, rustling, flying, dancing leaves. Unattached. Free to go wherever the Spirit wants to take me. Of course, the parable does not end here. To be like one of those leaves - only one condition is necessary. You have to die. I speak here of death to self. It is our own selfishness that keeps us holding fast to the branch, unwilling to let go. We are afraid to let go because we think if we do we will lose our very self. What we don't understand is that it is only through dying to ourselves that we can become our fullest, most fulfilled and best self. Only through dying to ourselves can we dance the dance of freedom and become people of the Spirit.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Flight to India" Film Premiere Recap

This post is long overdue, but to all of my friends in the blogger world, I thought I'd still better share.

My new film "Flight to India" premiered two weeks ago in Akron, Ohio with over 100 people in attendance. It was wonderful seeing some of the child actors from the film whom I hadn't seen in about a year and a half since we filmed it. Let's just say some of them had grown so much I could barely recognize them! It was also wonderful to have so many people from many different areas of my life in the audience -- family, friends of my family, church family, people I've gone to school with, etc. There was even a family that drove all the way from Warren to be there. This is an hour drive. I know because I've performed in Warren for the past three summers. That's how I'd met the family that came. The mother has brought her daughter to my shows the past two years, and she has participated both times. It was overwhelming to think of them driving over an hour to see a 35 minute film, but it really blessed me.

For me, the greatest part was being able to sit in the back and experience the crowd reactions. We had a very diverse crowd, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. As my sister pointed out, there were moments when the kids laughed, moments when the adults laughed, and moments when everyone laughed together. I got to see some of the children sitting on the edges of their seats, big smiles on their faces, and I couldn't help but smile myself!

When the film ended we had a reception afterward where people could purchase the film, meet some of the actors or just have some cookies and punch. Some of the greatest feedback came during this time.

One little girl whom I know quite well since I'm good friends with her parents said,"Could you be my babysitter?? My babysitters never do fun things like that."
(I was told by a few in the crowd that I could now probably command $50/hr. as a babysitter! haha!) Another little girl whose parents bought her a copy of the film was eager to get home so she could watch it again. A young boy whose grandmother goes to my church called it "hilarious." Those were just a few of the post-show comments from kids.

Unfortunately, the film's director, Peter Fields, couldn't be there that night, but it was with good reason. "Flight to India"(along with his other film "Turning Point" in which I play the role of Carla) had been selected to be part of the Colony Film Festival in Marietta! So he went to Marietta for that. We certainly missed him, but it was also quite exciting to have the film premiering in two locations on one night.

Now we are going to continue sending it out to other film festivals and see what happens. I'll also be taking it along with me when I go to performances and making it available that way. I would love to make a whole series of films around the same concept. It's just a matter of finding the time, and of course, resources! But with time and patience and the grace of God, I know it can come to fruition! :)

If you missed the premiere and would still like to see the film, it is now available on Amazon and can be purchased for $9.95. And while I think children will enjoy watching the film, my hope is that they will take it to the next level and allow it to be a springboard for their imaginations, acting out their own stories and adventures!

As I sign off on this post, I can't help but thank all of the people who were involved in the film. They made it such a joy to work on! From the actors, to their parents, to the entire crew. I can only hope that people will enjoy watching the film as much as I enjoyed being a part of it!

Lastly, as I said on the evening of the premiere, I'm also thankful for all the support I've received in all of my artistic pursuits. My husband and my mom especially refused to let me give up when things weren't easy and when it seemed like it would have been easier to have a "regular" job. I couldn't have done it without their faith and constant nudging. I've heard plenty of people say that you can't make a living as an artist. Some of these people have been close to me. But they are wrong. With perseverance and a love for the art form, you can do it. It's not always the easiest path, but in the end, it's been worth it. I've learned a lot about myself along the way, and I'm still learning. I'm grateful to see that there are other young actors today with parents and others surrounding them who support them and affirm that their dreams can become a reality.

At one point the thought of having a movie based on one of my shows seemed like a far-fetched dream. But God put all of the pieces together, and now it's a reality.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Third Children's Book Nears Completion!

Well, I promised I'd share as soon as I had some illustrations from my upcoming book, "O Christmas Tree!" and today illustrator Jack Foster was kind enough to send me a full-color illustration as well as a coloring book page for any little ones who might be interested. So, without further ado, allow me to introduce Treena the Christmas Tree as well as Mr. Marshall (aka Dad), Mrs. Marshall (aka Mom), and little Vicky, their daughter (in the coloring page)!

I am thrilled with Jack's vibrant portrayal of them, and I cannot wait to see the rest! If all goes well, "O Christmas Tree!" will be available before the year's end. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Only Way I Can Listen

I feel compelled to follow up my last post with a few brief thoughts brought upon by a facebook conversation I had yesterday with my friend Auburn. We've been trying to set up a time to get together for literally months. When my schedule is open, hers is booked and vice versa. The last I'd heard from her was a weeks ago and her schedule was crazy so it looked like it was going to be another few months before we could make it work. But I happened to see her on facebook so I sent her a message to ask if things had slowed down at all. She said that, yes, indeed they had, and that she'd been saying no to more things -- doing less and yet being given bigger and better opportunities by God. Then out of nowhere she said, "Resting isn't bad. God wants us to rest. That's the only way we can hear His voice."

I'm quite sure she hadn't seen my blog post and didn't know that this is exactly the area I struggle with, but I know that she understands because we have a very similar wiring. Her words resonated so deeply within me because they are so true for my own life. Oftentimes, it's hard for me to be open to what God would say to me. Why? Because I have so many deadlines to meet that I already know what the next move has to be. I'm not in a place where I can ask, "Lord, is this what you have for me? Or is it something else?" because for the next six months to a year I already have a slew of commitments and lists of expectations and projects I must complete for each month of the year, both work and ministry-related. So much for taking it one day at a time.

Sometimes I feel so busy that it seems hard to have meaningful relationships. I mean, it's hard to sit down and really be with people when my mind is racing with everything that has to be accomplished. But life should be about relationship, not activity. I know that sometimes activity can lead to relationship, and many wonderful ministry opportunities are even built around this concept, but for someone like myself, more often than not, the activity or my need to carry it on to completion, detracts from it.

I feel like over the next year or so I'm going to be going through a stripping and narrowing process where I limit some of my areas of involvement. I think I need this so that I can give my best effort and energy to what I'm doing, but more so, so that I can hear God telling me what He wants me to be doing. I also hope this means that I'll have more time for relationship. To sit down and be with people. To invite my neighbor across the street over for coffee more (okay, for the first time). To play board games with my 93 year old grandma. To bake cookies for the single mom next door. To do this freely with the assurance that it's exactly what I'm supposed to be doing and not something that's keeping me from my "real" work.

That's what I'm hoping for. I don't know if that makes sense or if you can understand or relate, but I'm learning that just because you can manage a lot of activity, doesn't mean you should.

I like the way the Psalmist puts it in Psalm 46:10 -- "Be still and know I am God."
Yeah. Good idea. I'm working on it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Sacrifice of Rest

I read a friend's blog this past week, and it made me stop and think. He was writing about the challenges of being a new adoptive parent, and how it has meant giving up some of his other activities. Activities that he loves and that are important parts of his ministry. He also wrote about sacrifice. Self-sacrifice. And the idea of death to self.

He mentioned that many times the things that we do that we think are "sacrifices," are actually things that we enjoy doing. And while they may require sacrifices of time and talent, they rarely require death to self, which is what Jesus desires of us. Like me, he is a writer, and in these first months of his son being home, he has needed to set aside his writing to care for the needs of his son. There is a death to self involved in this, because he admits that often he'd rather be writing than doing some of the other tasks that his current role as Dad necessitates.

His words made me think of all of the "sacrifices" that I make. How many are truly the kind that require me to die to self and how many play right into the things that I enjoy doing? "Doing" is an important word for me here, because I am a do-er. I thrive on being busy. On having things to DO. I always have. But lately all that I'm doing has started to feel like too much. Sometimes I feel like there isn't even time for me to catch my breath and rest my mind before diving into the next activity/responsibility. Most of the time, I have little idea what true rest, true Sabbath, looks like.

And then something occurred to me. What if for a person like me, a real sacrifice would be ceasing activity, not taking on more and more. This is hard for me. Because even now with all I have going on, I can still think of other ways I could, would and should be serving. The thought of giving up some of what I already do in order to rest, well, it almost makes me feel guilty. Like, "How can you think of doing less when there is so much more to be done?"

And yet, I think what I'm learning now is that life is seasonal. For the past few years I have been in a season of intense activity, so perhaps it's time for a season of rest. In the Bible the land was to be cultivated for six years, then in the seventh year, God wanted it to lay fallow so that it could be renewed.

As I wrestle with these ideas and what they mean for my own life, I am reminded of the fact that in a world that values constant activity and busyness, we often need the reminder that not only is it okay to rest, it is commanded of us. And just because I put something down for a season, it doesn't mean I can't come back to it later, at a different season. Maybe you are like me - a person who is constantly awash in activity. And although you are a good planner, who knows how to manage time well -- you realize that it has become too much because you have forgotten what it means to rest. Maybe for you, like me, self-sacrifice has less to do with how much you are doing and everything to do with how much you are willing to rest in the Lord. Personally, I'm rather stubborn, because the Lord has to continue teaching me this lesson, season after season. Now I pray for the strength not just to learn the lesson, but to be willing to live it out, even when it goes against my very nature.

(P.S. If you're wondering about the picture of the sleeping koalas, koalas are one of the animals that have no problem resting. They can sleep for hours on end!)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thank You, Borders!

Yesterday Borders Books and Music introduced me to an old, but dear, friend, and I'm very grateful. As most of you already know, Borders is in the process of closing all of its stores, which means that major discounts of 60-80% can be found throughout the whole store. Well, I happened to be in Cuyahoga Falls yesterday meeting someone for lunch and decided to stop in Borders to see if I couldn't find any deals on folktale books and the like. I happened to pass by the music department (which now consists of only one or two shelves) and saw some of the Putumayo World Music CDs looking back at me. But I didn't really need any CDs, so I continued around the store. However, I happened to circle back around and one of the CDs in particular called my attention since it was a kids collection of world music. I turned it over to read the back and couldn't have been more surprised to see the title of the first song, Fatou Yo, a song from Senegal. I was overjoyed!

This is a song that I learned during an African dance class that I took while living in Madrid. My teachers had been from Senegal, and they made us repeat the words like a call and response. They would never write down the words of the song for us because they said that that wasn't how they learned in their culture. "Just listen!" I can remember them telling us, and I can remember how frustrated I became at not being able to see the printed words on a page. This is when I realized how the methods of learning here are more visual than oral as in other parts of the world.

At any rate, we continued to sing this song throughout my two week dance class, and I wrote the words, no, the sounds, down as best as I could so I wouldn't forget them after the class was over. However I never really knew what the song meant. Despite that fact, I would go around singing it all the time. My husband even knows the song and has been made to join along.

At any rate, when I got into my car and popped it in the CD player, it was like a homecoming of sorts. Or like meeting a good friend that you'd only vaguely known before but who would now be living next door! And on top of that, the lyrics and their translation were included in the CD booklet!

There are no coincidences. I'm just thankful that something made me look at the back of that CD! Now, I can jam to Fatou Yo, and teach it to future generations, maybe even through World of Difference!

Check out this link if you'd like to hear it for yourself!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Can You Play the Background?

I could play the background.
I could play the background.
Cause I know sometimes I get in the way.
So won't You take the lead, lead, lead, lead, lead.
So won't You take the lead, lead, lead, lead, lead.
And I can play the background, the background. And You can take the lead.

A few weeks ago my sister introduced me to the song "Background" by Lecrae, and it has quickly become my new favorite song. I often listen to it on a daily basis. (Lecrae, if you're reading this, many of the hits on your YouTube video are mine!) The lyrics to the song describe the battle of every Christian artist -- how to attempt to do great things with the talent God has given you while being sure that the glory goes to His name and not your own. He calls it playing the background while allowing God to take lead.

If you're not careful being a performer/artist can easily become something that is all about self-gratification and self-glorification. Ask a lot of kids today what they want to be when they grow up and they'll say "famous" as if its a career path, not an adjective. They don't know what they want to be famous for, just that they want the attention and admiration of millions. Now, I'm not the sort of artist who steps onto a stage with thousands of crazy fans chanting my name often (okay, who am I kidding? I never do!), but that's a good thing, because if I did, the lines might get blurred. It's hard enough some days to remember the greater purpose in what I do, which is why I have to get back to basics sometimes.

I desire to be a Christian artist who points to God, not to myself. "A trail of stardust leading to the Superstar," is Lecrae's description. And I can't think of any way more beautiful to describe it. Sometimes, I know, I'm not that good at it. If I'm honest with myself, there are times when I get caught up in ambition and the desire for accolades as easily as the rest, which is why I have to stop and check myself. To come back to what God desires of me and pray for a clean heart and pure motivations.

I'm thankful to Lecrae for the lyrics of this song which serve as a check for my spirit and a prayer of my heart.

So, just let me shadow You, and just let me trace Your lines.
Matter of fact just take my pen. Here, You create my rhymes.
Cause if I do this by myself I'm scared that I'll succeed.
And no longer trust in You, cause I only trust in me.
And see, that's how you end up headed to destruction.
Paving a road to nowhere. Pour your life out for nothing.

If you haven't heard the song, it's definitely worth a listen. Even if you're not an artist, the words will have meaning for you if you are attempting to live a life that points to the Superstar!

Here's to hoping we will all have the grace and humility to play the background!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fifth Book Contract!

I got the exciting news this week that I've had a fifth book accepted for publication! The announcement really took me by surprise because I'd lost track of when I'd submitted this manuscript and upon following up with the publisher wasn't even sure that they'd received it. I was about to re-send it when I got the email that a contract for it would be forthcoming!

The title of this book is Jimmy Jolly and the Joy of Juggling. (Nothing like a little alliteration!) Like my first book, Lily and the City of Light, it was written during my senior year at Northwestern. When I wrote it, I never imagined it as a children's book. It was more me working out some of my own thoughts about my life and my priorities, and I often do this best through narratives. I think that's why I love C.S. Lewis' writing so much -- he uses metaphor and story to communicate and illustrate truth in a way that makes sense to me.

The story of Jimmy Jolly is one of finding joy in simplicity. In a world where children and adults alike are pulled into constant activity and the never-ending search for attention and accomplishments, Jimmy's story is one of finding joy in the little things. Jimmy starts out as a little boy who loves playing with his one, brightly-colored ball. But soon he learns that he can juggle two balls, later three, and so on and so on. After getting wrapped up in the need for attention that his juggling abilities have created, Jimmy is brought back to what is truly important by the wisdom of a child.

I hope that Jimmy's story will cause readers to think about what is truly important in their lives and that it will remind them, as it continues to remind me, that quite often, less is more.

I will definitely keep everyone posted on when this story will be available.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

True Strength

This has been a trying season of late. Not for me, but for so many of my friends and family members. Everywhere I turn I find people that are precious to me struggling financially, emotionally, with their own health and the health of their loved ones, with their careers and even in matters of faith. Some people reach out in desperation, with weeping and tears of grief. Others seem to be holding up under the pressure, maybe because they have too many other responsibilities to allow themselves to cave or maybe because they have such a strong support system that they don't have to. Others seem to approach their pain by closing themselves off, becoming bitter, sarcastic and pushing others away.

I have never walked a mile in any of my friends shoes, but I know I've been through pain before, and I know that I've approached it in a variety of ways. All I know is that we are not meant to carry our burdens alone. The Bible is clear that we are to cast our cares upon the Lord, and as if that weren't enough, we are also called to carry one another's burdens. Unfortunately, our culture is one that prides itself on self-sufficiency. Asking for help is considered a sign of weakness. I don't think anything could be further from the truth. To me, not asking for help when you need it is the greatest sign of weakness.

While I was running yesterday, I had my ipod on the shuffle setting. As I arrived at my front door, a gospel song came on and the lyrics said this:

I need you,
You need me,
We're all a part of God's body.
You are important to me,
I need you to survive.

When we learn to depend on others and allow them to depend on us, this is when true relationship, true community occurs. This is the body of Christ that is described in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. I wish more people, especially Americans, understood this truth and lived by it instead of stigmatizing those who reach out for help and admit their weaknesses.

Perhaps my favorite Bible verse is 2 Corinthians 12:9, in which the Lord says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Later Paul says, "When I am weak, then I am strong." When I come to the end of my own strength, (which is an illusion any way), when I come to the end of myself, then I can understand what true strength and power looks and feels like.

Illustrator Assigned to Latest Children Book!

I wanted to share the good news that my latest children's book, O Christmas Tree!, has been assigned an illustrator -- the talented, Jack Foster. He has a fun and colorful style, and I am really excited about working with him.

If you'd like to check out his work, you can visit his blog at

If I get any preliminary drawings from him, I'll be sure to share them here as well.

Also, here's a little teaser on the story itself.
O Christmas Tree! is the story of the Marshalls, a family completely wrapped up in their holiday traditions. Dad loves whipping up the perfect cup of eggnog; Mom knits Christmas sweaters for the whole family; and little Vicky can't get enough of singing Christmas carols. But what they all share is a special love for decorating the Christmas tree! But when their tree, Treena, throws them for a loop by unexpectedly coming to life, she teaches them a lesson about the true meaning of Christmas that they will never forget.

In addition to the book, which I hope will be released by the end of this year, I am also working on an interactive performance of this story in which yours truly will play Treena, complete with a full-body tree costume, and where members of the audience will be called upon to play the Marshalls. But as with all of my performances, the whole audience will be involved in one way or another! I'm hoping to have this performance ready for the holiday season and will keep you posted. If your church, school or other group is interested, please let me know!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Creating Summer Memories Storyteller Style

I have been having such an amazing summer thus far. It has been incredibly busy, with lots of travel and more shows in a week than I've ever done before, and yet there have been so many beautiful moments that have caused me to stop and say, "Wow! How lucky am I? Is it really possible that I'm earning a living at something that I love so much?"

How can I describe how great it is to see a parent pull out their camera with a huge smile on their face as they try to capture the special moment when their child is standing next to me, dressed as a parrot or ram or some other crazy character from one of my stories, and to know that I am helping to create a memory for this family? Something that they will smile or laugh about or share with others. . .

What words can I find to express how much it means to me, at the end of a long day of three shows, to have a parent come up to me and say that her and her daughter were at last year's show and that when they saw that I was returning to their library system, they made a point of finding a show they could attend before their summer trip to India? And not only that, but inviting the daughter's friend to come with them -- an outgoing friend who ended up playing an important part in the show when I had a very shy audience.

Speaking of shy audiences, in the last week, I had quite a few of those, more than usual. These are the audiences who are interested in the story but aren't much interested in getting involved and playing the parts. This is in contrast to the audiences I get where every hand is raised and I wish I had more parts to go around. The shy audiences can pose a challenge, especially when it's a small crowd and everyone is shy. That was the case at one of my shows on Saturday. But imagine my delight when the parents of one of the young children quickly jumped at my request for volunteers and dove into their characters with reckless abandon! The father even had to be called upon to play two different parts. In all of it, the look of delight on their daughter's face as she watched her parents pretend to be dogs, roosters and rams, was priceless.

I am a storyteller. A maker of memories. A bringer-together of families and peoples. A humorist. An improv artist. A bridge builder. A storyteller.

Lewis Carroll described stories as "love gifts." I could not agree more. Every time I tell a story I am grateful for the relationship it creates between me and the audience. Sometimes it's a relationship that lasts beyond those 30-45 minutes and extends to a year or two years from now when the same people come back to see me tell again. Or maybe it extends in other ways through a ripple effect that I know nothing about but that is very real all the same. I certainly hope so. Nonetheless, I am mindful of and thankful for the opportunities to meet wonderful people whom I would never have the chance to meet if it were not for my vocation as a storyteller.

It's funny because when I started World of Difference Ltd three years ago, I never intended to do it on my own. I enjoy working with people and feeding off the synergy that collaborative energies bring. And so that has been one of the biggest challenges for me in working solo. However, now, as the Lord has opened so many doors for me to perform, I realize that He has given me the desire of my heart by bringing wonderful people into my life at each place I go with World of Difference. Some of these people are now my biggest encouragers -- and their support has meant the world to me!

I can't even tell you how many times I wanted to give up when times got tough or things moved slower than I thought they should. How many times it seemed that something else, anything else, would be a better, wiser idea for a job. But somehow (with lots of support) I stuck it out, and that makes the many beautiful memories I'm creating this summer all the sweeter.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Time to Get Better

Can't believe it's been over a month since my last post. Admittedly, I say that way too much. I guess it's just the crazy rhythms of life, and no matter how much I attempt to become a more regular blogger, I can't seem to make it happen.

At any rate, I thought I'd share a few of my most recent realizations/revelations over the last month or so.

First of all, I got sick a little over a week ago. It happened just in time for the beginning of my jam-packed summer tour. And it just so happened that my first weeks were filled with lots of travel. I'm pretty sure many of the people behind me on the road thought I was a drunk driver, because let's just say, that blowing your nose while on the road does not make it all that easy to keep a straight course. I have blown through lots of boxes of tissue, and am still at it, but thankfully, have managed to have the strength and stamina needed for each of my shows.

But praise the Lord, I managed to get the worst part of the sickness, (the first few days when my head was throbbing and my body achy and exhausted) over with before I had to hit the road. It's funny though because when you are sick, you tend to evaluate things differently.

On any regular day where I have my health, I'm pretty absorbed by productivity. Is the kitchen clean? The laundry done? Have I responded to those emails? Made those phone calls? Did I get my run or other exercise in for the day? Have I made dinner? Drummed up some new business? Worked on a new show? Edited a few pages in my existing book or written a few lines for my new one? If the answer is no to more than a few of those questions, then, well, I would probably tend to consider it an unproductive day, and I'd probably be frustrated with myself.

But when I'm sick, I could care less about most of these things. All that matters is getting well. And if I have to lay in a bed sleeping and watching TV all day (something I NEVER do), then so be it! It has to be done so I can get better.

Somewhere while I was laying in that bed trying to recover, feeling free from so much of the guilt that would normally plague me at not having accomplished what I think I should have for the day, I think I learned a very spiritual lesson. It occurred to me that maybe that what God requires of me on a daily basis is not productivity so much as getting better -- daily trying to become better, not in a physical sense but a spiritual one. And the only way that can happen is through getting closer to God and becoming more like Him.

It's easy to do a lot of things and think I am being productive, but maybe I'm just fooling myself. Maybe I'm not getting anywhere nearer to my goal of being conformed to the likeness of Christ, maybe I'm just "doing stuff." Maybe I need to stop, and let the dishes sit in the sink and the emails get behind a day or two, so I can be in His presence and just allow my time with Him to make me better.

I have always seen my times of sickness as God's way of telling me to slow down. But once I've slowed down and recovered, it's easy to just pick up where I left off and speed up again. I've got a jam-packed summer, and yet somewhere in the middle of that, I'm trying to avoid that temptation to make productivity my goal. Life is certainly about more than my to-do list, but sometimes it takes something to slow you down to remind you of that.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ohioana Book Festival 2011

I spent yesterday at the Ohioana Book Festival in Columbus, Ohio.
It was a day of celebrating Ohio's authors, and I was privileged to be a part of it. I shared a table with the lovely and talented Betsy Snyder. If you have little ones, you should definitely check out her work. Her illustrations are super cute and are sure to delight readers of all ages! You can find her work at

Over breakfast before the festival began, I met a publisher from the Dayton area who expressed interest in taking a look at the YA novel I am currently editing. She gave me her card and told me to send it her way and that we could even discuss it when I'm in Dayton later this month.

After a full day of book signings, readings and chatting with other authors and illustrators as well as festival goers, it was time to unwind at a closing reception held at the Governor's Residence and Heritage Garden. It was a very nice time with good food where I enjoyed my hors d'houevers alongside two women who wrote about bicycling across the country, a man (and his Latvian wife) who writes about the history of theatre in Cleveland, and a woman who does radio programs for those who are unable to read. I met many fascinating people, got more inspiration/tips/ideas than I could handle, and hope to attend next year if my next book comes out in time for the deadline.

The reception concluded with a tour of the governor's residence.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Contentment Where Least Expected

I asked a friend at church recently how he was enjoying his new job. I expected him to give me the typical response that it was going well, paying the bills, etc. But the way his face lit up as he told me how much he loved his work and how much pleasure and purpose it gave him interacting with his co-workers and the customers he served caught me a little off-guard.

I'm telling you, his job is not the kind that most people would jump up and down about. In fact, when my friend shows up to work each day beaming from ear to ear, his co-workers ask him, "What are you so happy about?" His reply: "I love this job!" Their reply: "Are you serious?"

It was refreshing to hear him respond so positively about a job where I doubt he's making much more than minimum wage. And yet, he believes in the organization he's working for and believes in the impact he can have on peoples' lives through carrying out his tasks with a positive attitude. And this makes all the difference.

He told me that he'd had a similar job years ago -- one that hadn't allowed him to save much, but that had provided for all his needs and had made him happy. But all that happiness changed when his girlfriend came to his house one day and happened to get a glimpse of his paycheck. "Is this all you make?" she asked. "I know a job where you can make a lot more than this."

Suddenly, the job he loved no longer appealed to him. And he went off to work for another employer, where he began making lots more money. Unfortunately, when he had that extra money, he didn't spend it in the wisest of ways and it led to one of the darkest periods in his life.

My friend reflected on how happy he is now because he knows that he is right where God wants him. His position might not be one that the world bestows importance upon, but he is making a difference right where he's at with his positive attitude and his love for people over power and wealth.

His words served as a reminder to me. A reminder that moving up in the world is not always moving up. What seems like a promotion may not really be one -- it depends on what's important to you.

What are we willing to sacrifice to move up in the world? Are we willing to sacrifice time for our families, time for our friends, time for God? Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves?

It was funny because only a few days before I spoke with my friend, I had read this verse from 1 Timothy 6:6 -- "True religion with contentment is great wealth."

True religion is putting God and others above self, people above profits, self-sacrifice over self-serving. There is great contentment in that (though the world would have us think otherwise!), and on top of that if all of our physical needs are being met, that is all the wealth any of us should need. Thanks my friend for the reminder!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Blind Date Art Exhibit: You're Invited!

This month I am excited to announce that I will be part of a unique exhibit called BLIND DATE at the Anderson Creative in downtown Canton, Ohio. Here is a little bit about the exhibit:

"This month, Anderson Creative is proud to resurrect the inaugural exhibit which put us on the map in 2010 - BLIND DATE: The Romance of Word and Image. In this novel interplay between the written word and visual image, 15 writers and 15 artists from around the country have been selected to collaborate with one another. Each writer received a piece of art from an artist whose identity remained secret to them. Each artist received a piece of writing from a writer whose identity was also kept hidden. Their job was then to respond with a new piece or art or writing. The result? 30 paired written and visual works that will hang alongside one another throughout May as part of our exhibit, BLIND DATE. And what's even more fun? The collaborators will not meet one another until opening night, when everything is up on the wall!"

Two of my written pieces are part of this exhibit, and I am very eager to see how the artist (whom I've never met or spoken to and whose identity is unknown to me) will interpret my work! The exhibit opens this Friday, May 6th at 6:00pm and runs until the end of the month. I will be at the Anderson Creative this Friday for the opening which coincides with Canton's First Friday (a time of great food, fun, and art for the whole family in the downtown area) and would love to see you there.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


We've all heard it said, "If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all." But I think the opposite is equally important and bears saying as well. "If you have something nice to say, SAY IT!"

I started reflecting on this last night on my drive home from one of my performances at the Bay Village Library. The reason for that was this -- at the conclusion of the performance, a mother who had been sitting in the front row with her son, who I'm guessing was about five years old, approached me. She told me that she wanted to share something that her son had said when the story ended. Apparently, he turned to his mom and said, "Mom, you know what I wish? I wish that the story didn't have to be over." She then proceeded to tell me that her son had always been shy and that his participation in today's story was the first time that he'd gotten up to do something in front of people. He'd really enjoyed it, and so she was thinking about seeing what theatre classes might be available for him at the local theater.

All of this really meant a lot to me. To know that a child is so engaged in the story that he doesn't want it to be over -- what better compliment could I receive? And yet, I thought that it would have been so easy for this mother to just walk out the door after the performance without ever sharing that with me. She didn't have to take the time to seek me out and to share her son's words, but in doing so, she blessed me immeasurably and gave me so much encouragement. I wonder if even she knows how much those words meant and how it is just these sorts of moments and experiences that keep me going on the days that work gets tough.

And so I started thinking, how often do we think something nice about someone and then just fail to share it with them? Oftentimes, we are quite vocal with the things that annoy or irritate us. We are quick to point out when someone does something wrong. But what about the good things? Do we share those too or do we just keep them to ourselves?

I've heard a lot of people say, "Well, they know how I feel about them." These people use this as an excuse for keeping quiet. But do they really know how you feel? And even if they do, does it matter? What would it hurt to say it again? And who knows what encouragement that might bring to their day, their work, their life?!

I'm grateful that many people have taken the time to encourage me. I want to do the same for others, and I hope you do too! So, if you have something nice to say, you know what to do, SAY IT!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

If I Still Lived in Spain. . .

Lest any of you think that I all I do is sit around comparing my life here in the states to my life in Spain, let me explain. It's not like that at all. It's more like this. . . I'll be driving along and all of a sudden, something will hit me -- some way that my life would be very different if I lived in Spain.

For example, last week as I was driving along I passed the Strip here in Canton, and I thought it would be nice to stop at Panera and pick up my husband's favorite pastry. But the traffic was wild and I'd already passed the entrance, so I missed my chance. But if I lived in Spain, I would pretty much have to walk by a bakery at every corner and it would be so easy to pass by and pick up one for him every day -- along with a fresh baked loaf of bread for only 40 cents.

The same is true when I'm at home and realize I need one little ingredient for something I'm cooking. In Spain, when you realize that you need to pick up some milk or fruit, you don't have to get into your car and drive off to the grocery store. No, instead, every neighborhood has their own grocery and fresh market within walking distance. How convenient that was -- especially for someone who has now sworn off of processed foods as much as possible. These are some of the simple things I miss. Now here's a list of a few others.

If I still lived in Spain. . .

- I wouldn't need a car. I'd take the metro or the bus everywhere, and because of that, I'd have a chance to read a lot more books during my long commutes. (And I'd only pay about $40 for an unlimited monthly pass -- about the same price for one tank of gas here!)

- My husband wouldn't have to work on weekends and he'd have more than a mere week of paid vacation. This is probably one of the hardest ones of all for me. In Spain, workers of all types have a month or more of paid vacation, along with plenty of other holiday days throughout the year.

-- Estith and I would most likely be on vacation right now. This is of course, Semana Santa, or Holy Week; however, that doesn't seem to mean much here in the US. Estith has to work Good Friday and Saturday of this week. I suppose I should be thankful that he has Easter Sunday off, and I am. But come on, is it too much to ask for even a few days during the most important Christian holiday of the year? I guess so.

But before you think I hate my life here, I better switch gears for a moment.

If I lived in Spain, there are some things I couldn't do. For example, I wouldn't be able to see my family very often (and I'm very happy to have them close by.) I also probably wouldn't have been able to start World of Difference, or else, it probably would have taken a lot longer to build it being in another culture. Also, I love all of the greenery -- the trees and grass that are everywhere here in Ohio -- you certainly don't see that much in Madrid (although maybe in other parts of Spain I could find that).

So it's not that I begrudge everything about my life here. . . but I'm telling you, when it's a Saturday or a Sunday and my husband is working an 18 hour day, it's not hard for me to remember the numerous weekends we spent in Spain, visiting different cities because it was just that easy to hop on the train and get lost in places filled with history and fascinating architecture. It was easy because Spanish culture values time in a different way than we do.

When I think about that, it makes me think about all of the time we Americans spend working, and at what cost. Sometimes it makes me want to do something rash . . . like really live in Spain again.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Dancing Pig: A story from Kenya

I feel compelled to share a story told to me by my new Kenyan friend, Marion, whom I met at the Writer's Conference I've been attending in NY. Whenever I meet people from other countries and cultures, the storyteller in me can't help but ask if they don't have some little folktale or anecdote they can share with me. Below is a version of the Kenyan story she told me.

* * *


At one time the animals in Africa decided they would hold a party. Of course, what party would be complete without a feast? And what would be better to feast upon than a roast pig? So all of the animals set out to find one. However, no matter where they looked they couldn't find even one little porker. It appeared that the animals would have to do without roast pig for their main course. Instead, they set about making preparations for the music and dancing, an essential part of any African party.

Well, when Pig got word that a party was being held, he could hardly contain his excitement. He loved music! He loved dancing! He didn't want to miss all of the fun. So on the day of the party, Pig went to visit a squirrel who lived in his village and said, "I want to go to the party, but I don't want to be eaten! Maybe you can help me."

"Sure," said Squirrel. "I'd be happy to help. I'll sneak you into the party and find a place for you to hide."

"Great!" said Pig. "I'll see you tonight!"

That evening, true to his word, Squirrel took Pig to the party and found him a hiding place. From his safe spot, Pig could smell the rice and ugali cooking. Yum! But he didn't come out to have a plate -- it was too dangerous. And contrary to popular belief, he wasn't such a pig that he couldn't hold his appetite.

Then the music started. The beat of the drum moved the dancers to the floor where their legs leaped, their arms swung and their bodies swayed with the rhythm. Pig watched the spectacle in delight from the safety of his hiding spot. But suddenly, Pig began to feel the beat at the tip of his corkscrew tail. He tried to hold it in, but soon his tail started to wiggle. That wiggle worked itself from the tip of his tail all the way to his backside, which started to shake. Suddenly, he could hold it back no longer. Forgetting the danger, he jumped from his hiding spot and began to dance for all he was worth! He was having such a wonderful time that he didn't notice that the other animals had stopped dancing. He didn't notice until they came and pounced on him, sinking their claws into soft pink flesh. They threw poor Pig into their soup pot and served him for dinner -- all because he couldn't keep the rhythm out of his tail.
* * *

I will refrain from giving my interpretation of the story. I'm far more interested in hearing yours. Please comment and share your thoughts!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Storyteller

I love my job. There's not much more to say than that. So what is a typical day in the life of a storyteller like you may ask? Well, there are no "typical" days, but let me give you a glimpse into one day - today.

Magical Moments
I began my day bright and early as a guest at Bethany United Church of Christ. I was there to perform my show, "Lily and the City of Light," for their combined Sunday school classes -- meaning everyone from children up to older adults. In my interactive telling, many children came up to take on the characters in the story, but what happened towards the end was truly amazing. The last character in the show is the King. I turned to the crowd and said, "Hmm. . I wonder where the King is?" A hand shot up in the second row and before I knew it a man was on his way up making his way towards the designated "throne." This man happened to have Down Syndrome. He sat down in the chair, assumed the King's robe and crown and sat up as tall and stately as he could. It was evident to all that something magical was about to happen. There is a point in the story where Lily is offered the gift of a beautiful new heart to replace her dirty, beat-up heart. Before accepting it, she asks the King -- "But whose heart is it?" The typical response which I give the King to say is: "This is my heart, but I want you to have it." However, before I could even get the first words out of my mouth, this man held out the heart to the girl and said, "This is the heart of Jesus Christ." I don't know if words can do the moment justice. In fact, I'm certain they can't. It was beautiful and remarkable and profound in ways that defy explanation -- in ways that only a heart can understand.

Yes, This Storyteller Makes House Calls
After the morning at the church, my next stop was a Cafe in Berea where I was to be performing at the birthday party of a 7 year old girl. She had seen my show, "The Monkey and the Crocodile" at a library last year and had greatly enjoyed it which had led to her mother setting up this party performance. The theme of the party had actually been designed around the theme of the show I would be performing. I know because I received an invitation and saw how closely they were tied together. When I arrived at the party, I walked in and began to scan the room for the mother and the birthday girl. Imagine my surprise when the mother spotted me, introduced herself and then informed me that her daughter was not at the party. She'd fallen sick with strep throat a few days prior. She'd been on antibiotics and the doctors had said that she wouldn't be contagious and would be able to attend her party, but she'd woken up that day and just hadn't felt up to it. Her parents hadn't wanted to cancel the party on such short notice, so there was the mom, hosting a lovely party complete with food, balloons, party favors and entertainment, for everyone else's children while her daughter remained at home with her husband. I felt so bad for them. Then her mother told me: "She isn't upset about missing the party or her friends or any of the rest of it. She was just upset about missing the story. So I was wondering if after you perform here at the party if you might be willing to go to our home down the road and just tell the story to her." How could I resist? My heart went out to the girl and her family. Of course, I said yes. So once I'd finished telling the story "Dog Tails" to a crowd of eager party-goers who each had their own dog tails provided by the mom via Oriental Trading Company, I headed on over to the house where the young girl and her father were waiting for me. When I walked through the front door, I found the girl sitting on the couch in a jumper. Her father informed me that she had changed out of her pajamas just for the occasion. And so I told them the story -- with her and her father playing each of the parts. To see the smile on her face and the flair with which she said each of the lines was priceless. To watch her giggle as her dad portrayed the wolf in the story and tried out different voices for his character was nothing short of delightful. To be able to facilitate an experience like that where a father and daughter could enter into the world of imagination together, well, let's just say that to be part of something like that is truly priceless. Again, it positively defies words.

It's days like these and experiences like these that remind me that there is nothing else I'd rather be doing. As a storyteller, I am privileged to meet so many different people. And these people open up not only their hearts, but also their homes, to me. In many cases I start out almost a complete stranger. But through the power of story and the interactive nature of my work, I never leave that way.

My job does not offer me a robust benefits package. There is no 401k or insurance plan, no vacation time or paid holidays. Really, there is not even a steady paycheck -- I work if and when the work comes, and some seasons are fuller than others. But for all my job may be lacking, I cannot imagine myself doing anything else -- for it is filled with experiences so magical on which I could never put a price tag. To be both a witness and a facilitator of these moments is a tremendous gift for which I am extremely grateful.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Boundaries and Rules

A few weeks ago we had a terrible ice storm here in Northeast Ohio. The ice storm caused the power in our house to go out for over 24 hours. So rather than stay in our home where the temperature was steadily dropping, we decided to seek shelter at my parent's house.

Now an interesting thing happened while we were there. You see, our 5 and a half month old dog, Blitzen, is still in the process of house-training. Estith and I often laugh because when he has to go outside, he makes it very clear to us. He barks. He growls. He howls. He stares. He will even try to nibble at your leg if you don't take his other signals seriously. This happens just about every time he has to go out without fail. However, while we were at my parent's house, I discovered that Blitzen had had a few accidents. These accidents occurred without any previous warnings. There had been no barks, no growls, no bites to warn me that he had to go, and I began to wonder about the cause of his relapse.

Then it occurred to me. In our house, we have gates up all around the house and doors that we can close in order to limit Blitzen to one small area of the house -- primarily, the kitchen and living room. In my parents' house, on the other hand, everything is very open. Blitzen had free range of the house without any gates or doors to confine him. He could easily get out from under my watchful eye, do his business and return without me even knowing it.

His behavior made me reflect on the importance of boundaries. Anyone knows that it's a bad idea to bring home a brand new puppy and give him free range of your house, unless you want your carpet to have a permanently foul odor. We also know that it's a bad idea to hand a 16 year old a set of car keys and tell them they can come home whenever they feel like it. I'm sure that in both of these cases, the puppy and the 16 year old would like to have such complete freedom. However, there is an equally good chance that they would not know how to deal with it well, and eventually would have to pay some consequences which might not be too pleasant in the long run.

Make no mistake, I fence Blitzen in because it's convenient for me. I don't want the hassle of having to clean up all of his messes, and I certainly don't want to deal with any foul odors. But I'm fairly certain that Blitzen is not going to enjoy being in a room covered in his messes for very long either. So the boundaries protect him too.

A lot of people are quite skeptical of rules. And I'll be the first to admit -- if rules are bad, I'm not saying they shouldn't be challenged. However, rules, in general, are meant to protect us -- sometimes from other people, but every bit as often from ourselves. I think about the 10 Commandments. Here's a list of rules that a lot of people don't want to follow because they feel it limits their personal freedom somehow. And certainly it does. However, these rules, when followed, are not burdensome. Rather they are boundaries that keep us from making a mess of our lives and the lives of others. They protect us.

As Blitzen demonstrates his trustworthiness over the course of the next months, I will be able to take down some of the gates and barriers that prevent him from having full range of the house. It's not that I'll be changing the rules. The difference is that he will understand the rules without needing to be told, without needing that visual reminder. The Bible speaks of a day when God's law will be written on our hearts and minds instead of on stone tablets. When we grasp this and allow the rules to become part of our very DNA, we have more freedom than we ever imagined. Not freedom to break rules, but freedom to live by the rules that give life.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Full Armor

People say that getting a new puppy in the winter is a pain. And when they do I imagine they are referring to all of the times that you have to take the new puppy outside in the cold weather. But I didn't have the option of getting my dog in the summer because summer is way too busy for me, so winter had to do. At any rate, these people are right. Taking the dog out into the cold hour after hour is a pain, but I don't mind the cold so much. What I mind is the fact that I have to put on my boots, gloves, jacket, and hat to go out; then come back in and take it all off, only to repeat the cycle numerous times throughout the day. It definitely cuts into my productivity and takes up a lot of time.

Many of you will be familiar with the Bible's exhortations to put on the full armor of God. As I struggled in and out of my winter clothes today, I couldn't help but think of this passage which comes from Ephesians 6:11-18 and says:

11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

This is quite a list, and this full armor wouldn't be a pinch to get on and off. I can't help but feel like what I have to do to get ready to go out into the cold is a lot like getting fitted with this armor. Putting all my winter "armor" on takes time, and then it's a hassle to take it off -- especially if I'm doing it only 5 minutes later. But unlike my winter armor, God's armor is not meant to be put on and taken off all day. We're meant to put it on and leave it on. If we don't, we're going to waste precious time and be less productive for the Kingdom.

And yet many of us live like this armor of God is something we can put on when we feel like it and take off when it's inconvenient or makes us stand out in a crowd. We've got to get over that mentality and appreciate the fact that we are meant to live in it 24/7. First, we've got to take the time to get into it. Then, we've got to live with the courage, conviction and abiding faith that allows us stay in it.

Frozen on the Outside

It's been cold. And snowy; and wet; and icy. All of the conditions that make me not particularly excited about going outside. My dog, Blitzen, on the other hand, thinks this is the perfect weather for playing. (Yes, I'm sure his name doesn't help the fact. I'm starting to think I should have named him Sunshine or some other summery-sounding name.) Blitzen doesn't seem to mind that our backyard is like a giant sheet of ice that sends him slipping, sliding and sprawling. He doesn't care that I have to make an effort just to keep my balance; at times, forcefully pushing into the snow/ice mixture to try to get some sort of grounding for myself. Blitzen is fascinated by all of the changes that have taken place outside and loves exploring them.

Blitzen particularly loves the tall evergreen tree that sits at the border between our property and that of our neighbor's. He loves to run underneath it and then wildly run back out. But a few days ago when the storm first began, he was quick to notice that the tree was different. It's branches were frozen and rigid instead of soft and pliable. In order to prevent myself from falling due to Blitzen's constant tugging at the leash, I too had to get close to the tree, and as I looked closer, I discovered something interesting. While the outer parts of the branches were frozen solid, the branches closest to the trunk retained their life and vitality.

I couldn't help but draw a parallel to our lives with God as I observed this tree. When we are exposed to the world and the fierceness of the storm going on it and all around us, it is so easy for us to become frozen and cold, and in a lot of ways, dead. This is why we need to stay connected to Jesus -- for the parts of us that stay closest to God stay alive and vital despite the storm. As I reflected on this, I was reminded of Jesus' words in John 15:5 which say: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Jesus is the vine -- or in this case, the trunk of the tree. Oftentimes, we are busy spreading our branches and spreading our influence on our own. We want to see how far we can get -- we keep stretching and stretching and forget that the most vital part of us is not how far outward we can grow, but how deeply we can take root. Winter is a good reminder of this.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Time: It's NOT on My Side

Hello everyone. After over a week hiatus, I am back to the blog. Believe me, it was not for lack of things to share with all of you. I never seem to be lacking for that. Instead, and as is it is most of the time, it was for lack of time. Over the past few months I have learned and/or concretized the following lessons:

  • There will never be enough time.
  • Things will not spontaneously slow down.
  • The phrase to "make time" is very accurate.
Let me explain. . . I had a very busy summer. Summer tends to be my busiest time of year with work because that is when the libraries are in full swing with their summer reading programs. Last summer I did 55 shows in the span of two months. I remember thinking during this extremely busy time, "Once the summer is over, things will slow down. Then I'll have more time." Right? Wrong!! Once the busy summer of shows was over, it seems that my calendar filled up with a million other things. These things kept me busy and pretty much without a break straight through to Christmas. Around Christmas, I finally slowed down a bit. But I don't think it was because I ran out of things to do. It was because I decided that I had to make the time to stop.

Now after my short reprieve, January is in full swing, and as I look at my calendar, I can see that things are not going to slow down for a long time -- in fact, I've already got lots of different deadlines to meet all the way through August of 2011. And I know that soon that will stretch itself into September, then October, then -- well, you get the idea.

I used to believe that I had busy seasons and not so busy seasons with work, but now it occurs to me that in our modern world, all of life is a busy season. We have to be very intentional about stopping. We can't wait for things to slow down because in most cases, they won't. We have to carve out time for rest, for putting family and friends first, for stopping to smell the roses, etc. We have to make time for what's important or else time (or our lack thereof) will make us into busy, self-centered, preoccupied people that we would never want to be.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Search for Happiness

I recently read an interesting book called, "Hector and the Search for Happiness." If you have the time, it's a quick read and offers some interesting insights on what makes people happy. It's about a psychiatrist who travels the world trying to figure out what makes people happy. He begins his search because he wonders why some people who have everything you would think they'd need to make them happy are miserable, while those who have next to nothing are quite happy.

Over the course of his journey, he comes up with a list of lessons about happiness. They are each good things to consider when we evaluate our own happiness or lack thereof. Below are a few of his lessons which I've found to be thought-provoking.

  • Making comparisons can spoil your happiness.
How many times are we unhappy not because our lives are 'missing' anything but rather because we are all too aware that someone else has it much better than we do. A better job, more education, nicer house, more recognition/status, etc. If we didn't have the comparisons to make, we would stand a better chance of being happy.
  • Many people see happiness only in their future.
We miss out on lots of moments of happiness here in the present because we are too busy looking for it in the future. We say things like, "Once I've paid off my house. . ." or "Once I make more money. . ." THEN I'll be able to enjoy my family, pursue this dream, etc. The list goes on and on. If we can't be happy in this moment, what makes us think that we'll be happy in the future?
  • Many people think that happiness means having more money or power.
I think most people already recognize this as an assumption about happiness. Even if we don't necessarily believe it, how often do we live as if it were true? Once again, we often delay certain things we could do in the here and now that would give us happiness and quite possibly bring happiness to others as well because we are too concerned with having MORE.
  • Sometimes happiness is not knowing the whole story.
There are a lot of examples of where this can be true, but here's one from my own life. Before I'd traveled overseas and seen the extreme poverty that many people live with each day, it was easier to enjoy luxuries of any kind. However, knowing what I now know, some of the things that once made me happy make me pause and say, "Can I really enjoy this in good conscience?"
  • It's a mistake to think that happiness is the goal.
This is perhaps the most interesting one to me and perhaps the hardest one to get my mind around. We often live as though happiness is the goal, and so much of our modern culture propounds this way of life. And yet, if we work to make ourselves happy, can we really do it? Or does happiness come from something else? Are we more likely to become happy by working to make ourselves happy or by considering the happiness of others above our own?

We all want to be happy. I don't know anyone who would rather be miserable than happy! But perhaps we have to let go of some of our long-held, cultural assumptions to truly experience it or else to recognize that we already are happy.