Jan 132014

Just before Christmas I became aware that my church, the church where I work and worship, was on the list of local churches being targeted for protest by Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) while they were in town for the Golden Globes. (To protest, not to attend.) My first reaction was sadness: “Why can’t we all just get along?” Then I started doing a little research.
My first thought was that WBC was truly a church that just held more conservative views than my own. That could not have been further from the truth. WBC is an organization that proclaims hate pure and simple. It’s even in the name of each website that they operate. Their agenda is to proclaim God’s hatred for just about everything and everyone. According to the WBC website, our particular church was targeted because we allow the ordination of women.
As our church prepared for the visit with additional security, conferences with city officials, and increased communication with our congregation and our sister churches, our pastor wrote a blog post addressing the upcoming visit. Concerned citizens organized a group of counter-protestors that planned to appear at each of the four churches that were targeted.
This morning, the event itself was, dare I say, fairly uneventful. The counter-protestors arrived first and stood on each of the four corners of the adjacent intersection. They talked and greeted each other with smiles and handshakes, while holding their flags and signs.

caroline's wbc

A small handful of people arrived representing WBC and stood on the corner opposite the church. Their bark was certainly worse than their bite. They weren’t particularly loud or confrontational from what I saw and their signs were rather ridiculous. They simply stood still and sang along with music playing from an ipod (I guess God doesn’t hate Apple). They didn’t march, chant, or advance on anyone.

The counter protestors sang Jesus Loves Me and cheered for our veterans (a frequent WBC target) and for our God whose message is one of love. I kept myself busy showing people how to access our restrooms and talking with friends and neighbors. Our worship service went on as usual at our regularly scheduled time with a few more friendly faces than normal. Everything seemed a little brighter and more meaningful as we sang, read scripture, and heard our pastor’s take on the power of interruptions like the one we had just lived through.
On the short list of the good that came from this morning’s visit by WBC are unity, personal growth, connections, meaningful conversations, supportive interactions, mutuality, renewed strength, and clarity of vision. We may not all be in agreement on all the issues, but quite a few people stood united against hate today and that is never a bad thing.

 Posted by at 21:40
Jan 022014

They say if you want to enjoy something more, learn about it.  Who is ‘they’?  I confess, I’m not sure.  I think I heard it in a TED talk…

Regardless, I’m going with this because I’ve found it to be true.

On my recent trip to London, I enjoyed the sights that I had researched much more than the ones we just stumbled across.  Even better, I was able to enjoy everything again after we came home and I googled it all.  Really!  How else would I have known that the tile work in the Tube station by our hotel was done by the same guy who created the giant naked Newton statue outside the British Library?

Learning about something after you experience it can be as enjoyable as knowing about it beforehand.

After attending an Arturo Sandoval concert, my son and I watched the HBO movie about his life.  Recognizing music from the concert when it played in the movie brought an extra level of connection and understanding more about Sandoval’s personal journey made everything that happened that night even sweeter.

I relish diving in and learning the story behind the story or finding the connection between things.

This is one of the reasons I love listening to podcasts.  Among my favorites (besides the TED talks) are WNYC’s Radiolab and Stuff You Should Know (from howstuffworks.com).  Radiolab focusses on connection and exploring cultural and scientific discoveries, research and concepts.  Stuff You Should Know, hosted by the lovable Josh and Chuck, tackles topics ranging from Fecal Transplants (look it up!) to Mortgage-backed Securities with an occasional Zombie thrown in.

So what do you enjoy?  How about kicking it up a notch with some knowledge? I dare you!

 Posted by at 14:45
Mar 192013

She froze – ears at attention, tail on guard.  I followed her gaze and understood immediately.  She looked at me questioningly and then back across the road.  The beasts on the other side were obviously alert to her presence.  They stood placidly chewing yet somehow taut and ready to spring into action.

She shied away from their massive forms and began to whimper just slightly. Straining at her lead, she backed away while managing to advance down the trail.  Her head pivoted as her eyes bounced from theirs to mine trying to assess the level of danger.

I named her fear and placed my hand reassuringly on her head and that’s when it happened.  Seemingly without cause or warning one of them began to run.  The others joined in, herding us along as they paralleled our path.

We made halting progress as she continued to keep one eye on the stampede and one eye on me, waiting for permission to bolt for home.

Just then each creature came up against the barbed wire at the edge of the pasture, her adrenaline slowed to a trickle and she returned to her easy gait: eyes on the path ahead, nose in the air ready for the next great adventure.

 Posted by at 16:19
Mar 092013

Imagine you are a fish.

The fins, the scales, the bulgy eyes.



Spending your life in water. Gliding through plants and rocks. Turning around to glide back through the same plants and rocks again and again and again.




You’re inside a fish tank. What’s in it?  Plastic plants or real ones? Is there a treasure chest or a ceramic castle you can swim through?

What size is your tank? Is it one of those round little fish bowls or is it a massive tank filled with gallons of water?

Now, step back for a moment.

You are not a fish.  

There are no glass walls that allow you to see out, but keep you in.

There is nothing confining you or defining the limits of your life.

Or is there?

What limits have you put on yourself? What limits have you allowed others to put on your life?Who told you that you couldn’t go there or do that? Who did you allow to put you in a fish tank?

You are not a fish.

 Posted by at 12:49
Jan 202013

Tonight I was blissfully happy.

My teenage son, Sunshine, his friend, and I were given free tickets to the Arturo Sandoval Save the Music concert at our beautiful local theater.  I could not keep the grin off my face. I sat on the edge of my seat with tears in my eyes watching teenagers, classmates of my son, play in the first ever Arturo Sandoval Institute Allstar Student Jazz Band opening for Arturo Sandoval himself.  I was filled with pride and joy as I watched kids I ‘know’ step up and play with skill and heart. One of them even got to sub in with Arturo Sandoval’s band at one point.





As a bonus, the actor Andy Garcia introduced Sandoval and then played bongos in his band. (Yes, he actually plays the bongos, as well as the conga and piano.)  





Sunshine had his own fan boy experience watching sax player and band leader Gordon Goodwin play as part of Sandoval’s band.


Arturo Sandoval was wonderful.  He’s not only musically talented, but he’s very funny and a great teacher.  His banter between songs was priceless.   Paying tribute to his mentor, Dizzy Gillespie, in words and music, he explained how Gillespie helped invent Be-Bop when Swing was all the rage.  He confessed that growing up in Cuba, music saved his life.  It was in 1990,when Sandoval was on tour with Dizzy Gillespie, that he was able to defect to the United States from Cuba.


Not one to take without giving, he has created the Arturo Sandoval Institute to preserve instrumental music education in public schools and universities worldwide. Part of the proceeds from the night go to our city’s arts organization as well as our local school district’s educational foundation.  

I find it hard to put in to words just what watching good live music does to me.  It’s as if my soul wants to leap out and dance.  When I watch kids or teenagers pour their hearts into their music, I can barely contain myself.  It is one of the most transcendent things I’ve experienced.

Tonight, I am grateful to my son for asking his band teacher for an extra ticket for his mom.  And, once again, I’m grateful for music.

 Posted by at 09:17
Jan 092013

Anne Lamott has a new book out called “Help. Thanks. Wow.” It’s sub-titled “Three Essential Prayers.”  I know this only because I heard her interviewed on NPR.  I haven’t read the book, but I did purchase it: I gave it to my sister-in-law for Christmas.  This hasn’t stopped me from thinking about these three prayers: Help. Thanks. Wow.

I’m not very good at the first one: Help.  It’s not asking God for help that trips me up, it’s asking anyone.  Truthfully, it’s not just asking for help, it’s accepting it too. For years, accepting help meant admitting that I couldn’t do it myself.  I didn’t like that.  

I still don’t.  

I like feeling capable. 


I’m getting better at asking God for help, or so I thought.  Being weaker than the Creator of the Universe carries no shame, right?


Seriously, there are some things that I just can’t figure out and, after struggling on my own, I’ve finally thrown up my hands and tossed the problem to God.  That’s how it looks in my head, as if God and I are playing some cosmic form of catch with this rubik’s cube of a situation that needs to be twisted and turned until it is restored to order.

I did it the other day.  Hubby and I were talking about the future: sending Sunshine off to college, dealing with the guy that hasn’t paid us for work after 9 months, Hubby’s career –  mostly things that I can’t control, don’t want to control, and shouldn’t control.  So I lobbed it up: “I trust you, Jesus.”  

Honestly, that’s all I said in my head: “I trust you, Jesus.” and I repeated it over the next few days.  When I woke up in the middle of the night and started worrying. When I woke up in the morning and started obsessing. When I looked at our bank balance and started panicking. “I trust you, Jesus.”

At the same time, I made a list and a plan and started baby stepping through that plan.  Just in case God threw the problem back to me.

And then it happened.

Something changed.

God answered.


Hubby got a call for an awesome gig, a chance to travel with good pay for just long enough, but not too long, to an exotic location.

He accepted the gig and my prayer became both “Thanks!” and “Wow!” at the same time.   But, wait…..

This is so outside of what I was expecting that I’m having trouble accepting the answer.  I keep thinking it will fall through, they’ll hire someone else, the timing won’t work out, something bad will happen.  While I am saying “Thanks.” and “Wow”, I am also saying “Wait. Really?  Seriously?  Are you sure?”

I don’t know what it is, but I just can’t wrap my head around this answer.  I’m not sure if I’m doubting God or the magnitude of His goodness, but this is really hard for me to accept.  I’m a little surprised at my lack of faith, or whatever this is.

I know God answers prayer.  

I know God answers my prayers.   

Maybe I have been keeping my prayers general lately. You know “Bless so-and-so.  Help so-and-so.” This was another general prayer- my version of ‘Help’- and God came back with a zinger right down the middle,  an answer so ‘perfect’ that I couldn’t have dreamed it up.  Let’s be clear: I NEVER would have dreamed this up.

Maybe that’s the point.

Looking back over my journal from the last week, I actually did spend some time with Ephesians 3:20: 

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!

I guess he can.

As the details fall into place and Hubby makes arrangements, I’m still repeating “Thanks. Wow. Really?”

And God keeps answering “Yep.”

 Posted by at 19:27
Jan 022013

westminster-tube.jpgWe woke early on our last morning in London to give ourselves a few more hours of sightseeing before the tour bus came to take us back to Heathrow.  Having skipped a few key sights, we hopped on the Tube and headed for Westminster by way of the Embankment.  Our first stop was the Battle of Britain Memorial on the shore of the Thames.


The memorial is really amazing. It was dedicated in 2005 to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Battle. It highlights various events in the nearly four month long siege designed to annihilate the Royal Air Force.



We headed back past the House of Parliament. The bobbies were particularly laid back that morning.



Just past Big Ben, we finally made it to Westminster Abbey, church of the royals, which dates back to 1065. It has been the location of countless coronations, weddings and funerals since then. 



We didn’t have time to take the 90 minute guided tour of the inside since we were on the clock, but the Gothic facade was absolutely gorgeous. The detail on every bit of the building was overwhelming. I can only imagine how beautiful it is from the inside.


As we stood outside and marveled at the majesty of the area, we spied a little stone church wedged between the House of Parliament and the gorgeous Abbey. It was called St. Margaret’s Church and is the working church for the House of Commons.  It turns out it is also the burial site of Sir Walter Raleigh (See Tower of London).

As you stand with your back to the Abbey, there is a beautiful lawn and courtyard ringed with statues, monuments and other important buildings.  It is said that if you drive a vehicle onto the lawn, it will sink into the Underground.


We headed west from there and found ourselves outside the New Scotland Yard (boring office building).  Just a few blocks up, we stumbled across the back of the Royal Guards where they were either training or holding tryouts. It was pretty cool to get a glimpse behind-the-scenes.


We walked a bit further along St. James Park. It was really beautiful even though it was drippy and cloudy.  st-james-park.jpg

squirrel.jpgThe squirrels in the park were especially friendly and Hubby held a rather long conversation with one of them. 

diana-walk.jpgThey park was also home to some rather fat pigeons, one which we named “Winston.”  


As we got closer to Buckingham Palace, we came across the Princess Diana Memorial Walk.

Our first sight once we got to Buckingham Palace was of the Queen Victoria Memorial out front. It is rather unmistakably her.


The palace itself was rather unimpressive and I kept thinking that couldn’t be it.  After the gothic splendor of the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, the ‘palace’ seemed plain and unimpressive.  After being extremely underwhelmed by Buckingham Palace, we headed back to the hotel to pack for home.

 Posted by at 15:27
Jan 012013

Faced with our last night in London, it was time to get serious about what we wanted to do.  Being unable to function without eating, we headed to a local pub for fish and chips.  Since it was tea time when we arrived, we were the only ones there.  Our waiter was from Hungary and very chatty.  He apologized to us for the weather and couldn’t believe it when we explained that living in Southern California, we get tired of sun all the time.  He assumed I wanted white wine with my fish – um, wrong.  I managed to get him to bring me a beer and we had a very nice meal.


Once fortified, we headed off to Covent Garden to shop the markets.


It was beautifully decorated for Christmas and full of activity even though it was raining and near closing time.  The area has a rich history with performers and artists and is home to the Royal Opera and St. Paul’s (the actor’s church). 


It is said that the first British performance of Punch and Judy took place here in 1622.   The night we were there, we saw street performers ranging from opera singers to break dancers.  acrobat.jpg

Hubby’s favorite was an acrobat who also told jokes as she performed.


We were able to shop the various markets and buy some Christmas presents.  I had been looking all trip for a ring for myself and finally, I found one!  There was a vendor selling sterling silver rings and I immediately fell in love with a square one.  I put it on and haven’t taken it off since.

As the markets closed for the night, we again wandered back towards the hotel to make the most of our remaining time.

agatha-christie.jpgSometimes the things you see on London streets are completely random like an Agatha Christie memorial or a post in the middle of the street declaring that you can not dig there.  (Is this an issue?)strictly-no-digging.jpg

I don’t think Starbucks in the US would get much business if they piled their garbage outside every night, but in London, everyone does it. Go figure.


Piccadilly Circus is pretty gaudy and held no appeal for us.picadilly-piano-bar.jpg

I think the Piccadilly Piano Bar and Comedy Pub may make the list for next time….Sounds intriguing!

 Posted by at 16:17
Dec 312012

The pastor of the American Church in London used to be part of our home church and that’s how we were invited to London to sing for the Thanksgiving Service at St. Paul’s Cathedral.  As part of the package, we also got to sing and help lead worship at the American Church in London the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Their sanctuary is a big open space featuring tall arched windows with tinted glass panes.  Each window sill was decorated with a white orchid and candles.


As we arrived Sunday morning, the worship leader (who was also the choir director/composer for the St. Paul’s service) threw a packet of songs at us for Congregational singing – a few hymns, a few choruses, and a song we didn’t know.  We ran through everything, and with a healthy dose of faith, lead the service.  mackenzie.jpgOur organist opened the service with a beautiful prelude and we sang an arrangement of Psalm 118 as a call to worship.   My take away from the sermon was the thought that we are chosen by God because God chose us- not because of anything we have done.

The result of him choosing us is that we are to be a blessing to others.  John 15:16 says “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”


After singing a few more songs, we closed the service with the same benediction that brought tears to my eyes the first Sunday at GPC: “You go nowhere by accident!  Wherever we go, God is sending us.  Wherever we are, God has put us there.  He has a purpose in our being there.  Christ who indwells you has something He wants to do through you where you are.  Believe this, and go in His grace and love and power.”

acl-cross.jpgThis brought everything full circle for me and I started to think about what God’s purpose was for me in London.  While this may be a question that has many answers and continues to evolve, I came up with the following:

Being in London

-broadened my perspective on the world

-broadened my understanding of God and his effects over geography and time

-gave me perspective on my own life, showing me more of what is possible

-strengthened my ties to wonderful people

 Posted by at 16:21
Dec 302012

Somehow, we never quite got the hang of three meals while we were in London.  We either ate too much or got hungry at the ‘wrong’ times.  In an effort to fix this problem, we opted to eat cake for dinner on Saturday night.  We stopped at Patisserie Valerie (another place that was recommended to us) and chose a piece of lemon cake and a piece of chocolate cake to take back to the hotel.  slicetreatbox.jpg

We popped in to Starbucks to get some hot chocolate and forks while we checked our email.

When we arrived back at the hotel, we bumped into one group that was headed out to the theatre, another that was having cocktails in the lobby before heading to dinner, and still another that was dragging themselves home from a day trip to the Cotswolds.  As we traded stories and savored friendships, I marveled again at the awesome opportunity we were given.


 Posted by at 19:10