If these were your last words…

Several days ago, we watched The Spiderwick Chronicles with our grandson. At one point in the movie, the three children find themselves in a situation they are not sure they will get out of alive…and the one who has fought most against changes in the family and who has given his mother the most grief has an epiphany. His last words to his mother that morning had been “I hate you!” And he now realizes that he might not have an opportunity to leave her with an expression of the love he really feels.

That’s gotten me thinking… Whenever I leave family members–whether husband, child, grandchild, parent–am I leaving them with words I would want them to remember if I didn’t have a chance to change them?

There have been times when I have been really frustrated…stomped out the door, shutting it just hard enough–but not hard enough to break glass–and gotten in the car to run an errand or go somewhere. When I calm down, I find myself wondering if that’s really how I would want to leave the person I was angry at…

So, I’m trying to change. That doesn’t mean that I won’t still be irritated or angry at times…or that I won’t say things I might regret later.

But what it does mean is that I’m trying to watch my words so that if something happens, my last words won’t be something I would regret leaving with a loved one. I want them to remember me with joy, not with regret over harshness that masks the way we really feel toward each other.

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The Truth…?

So just how old are the Chinese gymnasts? 13…14…16?

If they’re under the regulation age, do they understand that they are breaking the spirit of the Olympic rules? And how do they feel about that? Or are they so steeped in the “winning at any cost” mindset…or in obedience to the state…or the importance of “face”…that they emotionally can’t do anything about it?

They are fantastic gymnasts–that much is clear. But are they also children who are being exploited by a government to prove they will do anything to win?

I have appreciated the comments of Johnson and Luitkin who have chosen not to join publicly in the controversy about their competitors’ ages, regardless of how they may be feeling personally.

“You shall know the truth…and the truth shall make you free.”

Knowing that they have obeyed the rules would–I think–make the American gymnasts feel better about knowing that they did the best they could.

Is Perfection Really the Ultimate Goal?

The Olympics have given me some food for thought–the Olympics and a small calendar on my desk containing quotes from women. This last weekend, this was the quote: “In order to go on living one must try to escape the death involved in perfectionism.” – Hannah Arendt

Perfectionism is an issue I’ve struggled with in a negative way for years. It has caused me to be impatient at times, both with myself and others. Recognizing the willingness of others to share their gifts and talents is pretty easy–but when they’re not offered perfectly, sometimes I’ve cringed.

Of course, in the Olympics, perfection is what is sought for–that’s what wins the gold. But is that really the ultimate goal?

I think one of the things that made me wonder is an article by sports writer Joe Posnaski in The Kansas City Star yesterday. He was writing about Shawn Johnson and her gold medal on the balance beam. She’d been doing her warmups–and making mistakes she hadn’t made in years. I can’t even imagine what must have been going through her mind! Then suddenly her coach–who grew up in the Chinese gymanstic system–told her to quit practicing…to forget about the judges, the scoring, medals…everything but just performing. It wasn’t worth getting sick over–balance in life was more important!

So what did she do? Went out, had fun…and won the gold!

Is it wrong to aim for perfectionism? I don’t think so. I believe that’s a valid goal…but I think the ultimate goal has to be doing our best–in whatever endeavor we’re involved in. Sometimes it will be perfect–but often it won’t be. But as long as we’ve done our best, I think that’s what allows us to “go on living” as Hannah Arendt said.

They’re incredible!

I don’t know if you’ve been watching any of the Olympics…but there have been some incredible moments there!

Obviously one of them that everyone is talking about is Michael Phelps and his 8 gold medals. Yes, he is an incredible swimmer, but one of the things I appreciated was his acknowledgement that he couldn’t have done it without his teammates–and his appreciation of them.

Then there’s Dara Torres. Watching her before the finals of the 50-meter freestyle–when you would expect swimmers to be so totally focused on what they needed to do in order to win–she was also aware that another competitor had a problem with her suit and took the initiative to ask the judges to wait to start the race until the suit was fixed (because they didn’t have to delay the race)…and then also went to the other swimmers to keep them calm and focused. What an incredible act of sportsmanship!

There have also been the gracious comments of Shawn Johnson, disappointed at times in her quest for gold, and yet supportive of her teammate Nastia Liukin…and refusing to take reporters’ bait in questions about the ages of the Chinese gymnasts who beat her. And Nastia–who gave her friend and roommate a “go-get-em” hand as they changed places for the floor routine…and who persevered through some marks that were not as high as expected to win the gold and–in some ways–live out both her dream and assuage father’s sense of failure at just barely losing the gold 20 years earlier.

Melanie Roach–the American weightlifter who finds stress relief in lifting twice her weight over her head. Stress relief?!? That would put me in bed for months! And on top of that, she’s dealing with a husband who’s a state representative–and three kids, one of whom is autistic. But she’s found ways to find the balance she needs in order to cope with everything.

And have you seen Usain Bolt from Jamaica in his track competitions? Such a fantastic runner–making his incredible speeds look so simple and easy!

There are so many gifted athletes at the Games–I think they’re all winners just by virtue of being there. I wish there was a way to know all of the “back” stories–the personal stories of why they do what they do. Not just the stories of the medal winners, but also the stories of those who dodge bullets in order to train…who work to train for Olympic events in places where there are no facilities even close to the kinds of venues they’ll be competing in…who have dreams that they are determined to pursue…

They’re incredible!

“They will know we are Christians by our love…”

I thought about this song this morning as I was teaching our senior high class…

The reason it came to mind was because of a couple of stories I heard recently. In one of them, a young single mother, working as a waitress, had worked really hard to meet the needs of an after-church crowd at a nice restaurant. After they left, she saw what looked like a $20 bill on the table. She was really excited because this meant that she could pick up some much-needed supplies for her baby. However, when she picked it up, it was only a look-alike. On it was this note: “Were you excited when you thought this was a real $20 bill? How much more excited you would be if you only accepted Jesus as your savior.” The friend who was working with her–and who told this story–said that the young woman was really let down…and wondered how Christians could be so cruel as to pretend to lift someone up, only to drop them.

In the other story, a man indicated that one of their favorite restaurants would now be closed on Sunday. They had been closed on Monday, but they were now going to reopen that day and give their staff Sunday off. They knew it would cause them a significant loss of income–but it wasn’t for any religious reasons. When the owner was questioned as to why, the answer was this: “The Sunday crowd was rude, unappreciative, demanding, and difficult to work with. The restaurant was having problems getting staff willing to work on Sundays because they did not like the abuse they had to take from customers.”

I have no problems with people bearing a witness of their beliefs. But my dad had a saying that he often used: “What you do speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say.”

The Art of the Flute

Last night I had the opportunity of hearing the International Flute Orchestra in their first public performance in the United States. This group of professional flutists travels each year to different countries, working with flutists in those countries and working to improve relationships between the host country and the United States.

I thought I knew what to expect–but I didn’t!

I knew what a flute looked like–doesn’t everyone? I realized, though, that what I was familiar with were the piccolo and the C flutes. I’d never seen a contralto or contrabass flute! They’re an unusual (and rare) instrument–apparently quite expensive and a challenge to travel with. The flute orchestra had 3 of them!

They played music around the world–arrangements of classical pieces, folk songs, and original works written specifically for them.

We were fortunate in that their national convention had just ended in Kansas City, and the orchestra took advantage of the opportunity to perform on the Dome and Spire Series, sponsored by Community of Christ.

I thought that maybe after a little while I’d get tired of hearing the flute sound, but the variety of instruments (piccolo, C flutes, altos, bass, contralto, and contrabass) provided a depth of sound I’d never heard before. Some of the pieces I was familiar with in their original orchestral versions–and wondered what they would sound like being played by only flutes. Yes, it was different in some ways, but fascinating to listen to.

Apparently flute choirs and orchestras are becoming quite popular in the United States, although most are not as large as this group–which is composed of approximately 40 professional and/or college-professor musicians from the United States and Canada. I’d heard a flute ensemble before–6 flutes (the “traditional” flute), but hearing this mix was just incredible.

If you ever get a chance to hear this group–or any other flute orchestra ensemble–I’d encourage you to do so. And go with an open mind–you’ll be surprised at the range of sounds you’ll hear!!

Connections

You never know when or where or how you’re going connections with someone!

When I flew back from California (attending the Hymn Society Conference and visiting with my brother and his partner), I was on the side of the plane with two seats. My seatmate was an elderly lady who–at least at the first part of the flight–didn’t seem interested in visiting. She was pleasant enough, but she spent much of the time dozing.

That didn’t hurt my feelings. I had some reading I wanted to do, and I was really rather tired from all the activities of the last couple of weeks.

However, about halfway through the flight, we passed through some incredibly white clouds–clouds that looked like you could bounce on them. My seatmate was studying them, and so was I. She turned and made some innocuous comment about them…and one thing led to another.

She had an accent, a German one I thought. So I asked her what part of Germany she was from. Her response was that she was actually from Hungary…and now lived the next small village over from where my brother lives. What a small world! My brother had lived in Budapest for several years when he was beginning his teaching career!

When I asked her what brought her to the United States, she debated about how much of her story to tell me, and then decided to give me many of the details, historical details I was not at all familiar with.

At the Yalta Conference in 1945, when Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt basically carved the world into spheres of influence, Stalin was given permission to import “guest workers” from conquered areas under his control. Maria (my seatmate) was the age they were looking for–women between the ages of 17 and 35. She was sent to Russia to work in a mine.

When her time was up, she returned to her home, but not for long. The authorities wanted her to go to the surrounding areas, encouraging others to sign up for the guest worker program–telling them what a great experience it had beeen. But she refused. She said she had worked but would not tell lies to other young women. There had been 70 taken from her home town–and 12 came back alive.

She had an aunt who had emigrated to the United States and so she was working to find a way to join her. At that time the United States did not have political asylum–the only way she could come was (if I understood her correctly) if she was in the medical field or a religious person. She went to her Lutheran pastor who filled out the paperwork and then told her, “Maria, I have lied, but I think God will forgive me. I said you were a deaconess–but you do not have to do that.”

She told me more about her life after she was here–the trials she and her first husband went through in trying to buy land in Colorado…only to discover that the man they had bought the land from sold the water rights separately. In trying to take him to court, he had strong political connections that caused them to lose their suit…

Her life here has not always been easy–but she still carried a positive spirit, even though she’s had to give up her home and now lives in a nursing home.

Connections…you make them at times and in places that are totally unexpected! But what a blessing they can be!!