Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Culture Continues

Now that I'm back in the city, I'm continuing to "get cultured."

A friend recommended the new romantic comedy P.S. I Love You. That same friend made it sound like I was going to laugh myself silly because she mentioned that Harry Connick, Jr. had some pretty funny lines. Being a sucker for romantic comedies, I went to see it yesterday.

I think I only laughed at a few lines. I spent the rest of the time digging through my purse for Kleenexes and making sure that my throat hadn't swollen shut. I don't think I've cried through an entire movie like that before. (The only one that might come close is Man Without A Face, which I did not see in the theater.) The gist of P.S. I Love You is sweet, but I think it has been mislabeled as a "romantic comedy." I would have enjoyed it more if I had watched it in the privacy of my own home with a full box of Kleenexes nearby.

Today, I finally made it to the last presentation of God's Trombones at a local theater. For those of you who are unfamiliar with God's Trombones, this particular production was conceived by Rudy Eastman and is described as a "classic holiday celebration based on the Negro sermon poems by James Weldon Johnson."

I was hooked from the moment I stepped into the intimate theater, and it only got better from there. I sat beside the lead actress's grandmother, who is one particularly proud (and entertaining) grandma. She attempted to dialogue with her granddaughter throughout the show and offered up resounding praise every time her granddaughter hit incredible notes. The "soulful" show lived up to its advertising: "a musical celebration that . . . lift[ed my] spirits and rocked [my] soul."

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Rare Showing

Last night, an independent filmmaker treated our little town to a showing of his award-winning thesis movie, Doki-Doki, along with approximately twenty minutes of his award-winning upcoming feature, August Evening. The filmmaker, Chris Eska, grew up near my hometown and is the brother of my good friend from high school.

When we were growing up, Chris excelled in math classes and math competitions, so it surprised me when I learned that he was heading to UCLA Film School. But the same focus that he formerly dedicated to math has now spilled over into his movies, which he writes, directs, and edits.

His unique movies tell cultural stories about love and family. The stories are so compelling that the subtitles aren't a necessity but rather aid the audience in grasping some of the subtleties, like portions of the humor in Doki-Doki.

Chris showed the movies as part of a fundraiser for the community's learning center. And based on the well-attended showings, the community is clamoring for more cultural events like this one. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing the full-length version of August Evening in theaters this spring.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Lessons from the Piano

As a youth, I spent many hours seated at the piano, attempting to learn piece after piece for recitals and contests. I didn't start taking lessons until I was in the fifth grade, which meant that I was about four years behind most of my friends. In an effort to catch up, I took lessons each summer. And amazingly, I eventually caught up with my friends and continued taking lessons long after they lost interest in piano.

Yet, no matter how many hours I practiced, I never reached the point where I could sightread a hymn and play it smoothly the first time through. I struggled to play "like a natural." Instead, playing the piano was always work, and I'm sure it sounded like it as well.

The other day, I sat down at the same piano where I logged countless hours as a tween and teenager. It felt a bit awkward because it's probably been about seven years since I played that piano or any piano for that matter. I attempted to play some songs from books that I used in junior high and high school. And while I played (or tried to play), I made a few interesting observations.

For one, I made the same errors that I made many years ago. The wrong notes stood out audibly and visibly because the books still contained circles around the notes that I had missed when I played the songs for my piano teacher back in the day to "pass off a song." I noticed that my choice to ignore the fingering instructions had resulted in the wrong note resounding. (When the book says to use a 2-5 fingering, the choice to use a 1-5 fingering will always result in discord, as will waiting too long to release the pedal.)

I also noticed that my timing was off. I wanted every chord to be played on the down beat. And so that's when I played them. Nothing makes a song sound totally skewed like mixing up the beat or adding five beats to a 4/4 measure.

After pounding away for a while, I stepped away from the piano and tried to figure out why I was so frustrated.

Part of the problem was that I believed that eight years of piano lessons taken fourteen years ago should enable me to play the piano well today, even despite my lack of practicing. And could it be that those markings in the piano books reminded me of places that I've marked in my Bible that I want to live up to but have failed to put into practice? And that like the fingering pattern instructions, I've often ignored God's instructions? And that my attempts to force the tempo and timing of the songs are a reflection of other times in my life when I've tried to force the timing of events instead of turning over control?

As I pondered these thoughts, I couldn't help but smile. That old piano continues to teach me about music, and now it's teaching me about life. I think I'll be its student for a long time to come.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

With love from me and Annie (the sweetest dog ever)

Christmas Traditions

(The Nativity in Ice! at the Gaylord Texan -- 2007)

I arrived "home" Thursday and have spent the past five days relaxing and enjoying time with my family. Normally, it seems like we have so much to do and that we need to rush through each event or task. But this year, we've been able to continue some of our favorite traditions and add a few new ones without feeling rushed.

My family always enjoys playing games, and this year we've played multiple games of Yahtzee, Greedy, Apples to Apples, and Imaginiff. We've eaten all our favorite Christmas treats, including homemade gingerbread cookies, chocolate covered pretzels, spritz cookies, and four-layered dessert. We also participated in the Christmas Eve candlelight service. These family traditions are as familiar as spending time with good friends.

Our new tradition involves gathering each night to read the Advent devotional together. For me, it has been a time to re-center and get my focus off the many secular aspects of the season.

Wherever you are this Christmas Day, I hope that you are having a wonderful time celebrating Christ's birth.

Friday, December 14, 2007

New Favorite Christmas Song

Each Christmas season, I find a new song to add to my collection of "favorite Christmas songs." In the past, I've chosen songs because their melody stuck with me. This year, my chosen song possesses incredible lyrics. Drum roll please for "How Many Kings" by the group Downhere:

Follow the star to a place unexpected
Would you believe, after all we've projected,
A child in a manger?
Lowly and small, the weakest of all
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mother's shawl -
Just a child -
Is this who we've waited for? 'cause...

How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that is torn all apart
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Bringing our gifts for the newborn Savior
All that we have, whether costly or meek
Because we believe.
Gold for his honor, and frankincense for his pleasure
And myrrh for the cross he will suffer
Do you believe?
Is this who we've waited for?

All for me...
All for you...
You can listen to the song here. You can find the song on a compilation album entitled Bethlehem Skyline (2006).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Museum Musings

Inside the display case, a thick, circular piece of glass encases a thin sheet of gold that has been intricately cut to depict the scene of Jonah and the whale. A marble casket contains engravings of Pharoah, Moses, and the Israelites. A gold ring boasts a gemstone with the carving XP (chi-rho or Christo).

Yesterday as I strolled the exhibit of the earliest Christian art, I marveled at how so many people responded to the Bible stories that they had heard by using their talent--whether it be painting, sculpting, or jewelry making--to create a lasting work of art that displayed their faith.

I also stood in awe over how such items had withstood the test of time. Many of the items on display dated back to the third through fifth centuries. Yet, they were not discovered or uncovered until almost 1,300 years later. Imagine being the farmer or vineyard owner who was simply going about his business when he discovered an amazing piece of historical biblical art!

What these early Christians did inspires me to repond, not with passivity, but with creative action. I may not have the talent to paint, sculpt, or design jewelry, but I can attempt to craft words and pray that they be used for years to come to tell of His faithfulness.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Sensory Overload

Last weekend, I spent eight hours running errands. The bulk of those related to Christmas. I shipped packages, bought things, returned things, and bought some other things. When I returned home, I felt worn out, as if I had put in more than a full day at work.

Throughout all that driving around, I saw tons of lights, decorations, and people; heard many bells ringing and Christmas carols playing; and fought lots of traffic. It was sensory overload for this minimalist.

Our Advent devotionals last week focused on getting prepared for the holidays so that we can rest in Christ. I am not finished with all my holiday preparations, but I chose to start my rest a little early. And so this week, I've focused on the natural beauty that God has on display every day. Gazing on things like the fall leaves helps the season feel much less hectic. It was the type of rest my sensory overloaded brain needed.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


It’s hard for me to believe that Thanksgiving was ten days ago and that I’m just now getting around to writing about it. The reason that I haven’t written until now is that I finally lived in the moment and spent much time simply visiting with my family.

For the first time in six years, my sister came home for Thanksgiving. Because she used to live on the East Coast and now lives on the West Coast, she normally comes home only for Christmas. But this year, she treated us to a visit at Thanksgiving.

And because my sister is the only one in our family who has cooked a turkey, she taught Mom how to cook one. We all pitched in to make the side dishes and desserts, and we created quite a spread. (Only after we had eaten to our hearts’ content did we realize that we had failed to take a picture.)

In addition to our normal tradition of baking while I’m home for Thanksgiving, we created a new family tradition. We are not a family who enjoys fighting crowds, so we did not “drive to the city” to shop at the mall on Black Friday. Instead, we deemed the day “rake and bake” day. We raked for two and a half hours, rested, and then started some of the holiday baking.

I wouldn’t trade that time that I spent with my family for anything. And yet, the planner in me is having trouble dealing with another first: this is the first time that I haven’t gotten my Christmas cards in the mail in time for them to be delivered on December 1. How gross is that? I don’t know where I got that superficial deadline. After all, I don’t win anything for getting my Christmas cards out by a certain date or by being the author of the first Christmas letter to arrive in people’s mailboxes. If anything, I probably perturb people who are still digesting their Thanksgiving.

So this holiday season, I’m trying to truly focus on relationships with my family and friends. And my Christmas cards, well, they’ll get there when they get there.