May 27 2014

The Violinist of Versailles, part 2. Words of a stranger.

The Violinist of Versailles and family

The Violinist of Versailles and family

I never met her. I didn’t even know her name; so, I dubbed her The Violinist of Versailles. Her small violin and her even smaller hands brilliantly played the notes that touched the deep places of my heart. She closed her eyes, and her little angelic face demonstrated how to play simply for the love of the music. Pure emotion. Pure intuition.

She taught me something that day. As a writer, it’s quite easy to get caught up in varied definitions of success–books sold, or contracts secured. This career path threatens daily to become a tally sheet of rejections. Since I saw her, the Violinist of Versailles, I have been reminded to close my eyes, shut out the audience and the critics, and let my fingers translate the images that play like a movie real inside my head. To write simply for the love of the craft as she played for the love of the music. 

I wrote about her, how she touched me that day and I thought it ended there. But, for reasons beyond my comprehension, the story has grown. After posting a blog about the Violinist of Versailles, and telling my story of that day, I received a remarkable email. It seems only fitting that the one who penned the email should be allowed to share his story in his own words. 

Here is the email I received.

My time never seems to be my own. With two daughters, Jordi now 6 and Ali now 8, I spend much of my free time focusing them on practicing their music. When we’re not practicing, I patiently bide my time at The Conservatory awaiting the conclusion to their lessons, practices and rehearsals.

Most of the time it is like corralling feral cats. Making things worse is that this is the pre-summer concert, examination and competition season. The busiest and most stressful musical season of the year.

Bored, I sat by myself in a giant concert hall this past Saturday. A thumbnail orchestra of miniature musicians was on stage, and I was working very hard to ignore them as they repeatedly practiced snippets of the great masters. Accompanied by the frenzied grunts and noises of the concert leader, Bach and Beethoven washed over me, and I was intentionally oblivious. 

As Ali was called to the piano to accompany Jordi on the violin to rehearse Paganini for their upcoming concert I was intentionally oblivious. 

My self-imposed ignorant bliss was disturbed when they yelled at each other, snipping about tempos, cues, and rhythm. While the Instructors got them back in line, for some reason glancing at me disapprovingly, I consciously tried to melt into my seat and disappear while I began an in-depth inspection of the contents of my cell phone. The sounds of their music retired to the background of my consciousness, and although the reason why I leave work early to bring them to music was plain as day and resounding in my ears, it somehow escaped my attention.

I was searching my phone for a particular picture, but in my distraction I searched the internet instead. Rather than viewing the photograph I was looking for on my phone, I found myself reading your blog on the Violinist of Versailles.

As I read your words, the beauty of my daughters’ music began to surface from where I had pushed it into the background. Somehow with all the rushing, coaching, teaching and practicing I had lost focus of the reason why. 

What you describe was familiar to me, and as I approached the end of your blog their music roared in my head like a storm, undeniable and insistent. Your words reminded me of their brilliance – a brilliance of which even they are unaware. Little girls who are made of music, to the point that they even sing in their sleep.

When I finished reading your blog I viewed the picture of the Violinist of Versailles. Then I looked at the stage, and there she stood in real life before me. Eyes closed, miniature violin under her chin creating the music of the angels. The Violinist of Versailles. 

I don’t mean this figuratively – I am being quite literal. Jordi is your Violinist of Versailles. And your words, words from a stranger whispered into the wind, found their way home and reminded me of the value of the hours, days, weeks expended by these two little girls in perfecting the art that is their music.

I will never forget our experience standing in line at Versailles. Jordi won’t travel anywhere without her violin, and that day was no different than any other in that respect. She was only five last summer, and although she was used to playing to large audiences at concerts, the huge crowd of people in line on the cobblestones was very intimidating. Standing in the sun with no shade, having pre-purchased tickets just to stand in that lineup, everyone seemed so upset and dejected, and Jordi just wanted to cheer them up. Although it sometimes recedes to the background of my recollection, I will always remember my pride at her concert at Versailles.

But, like writing, music sometimes feels solitary. With electronic media it is even less personal – broadly distributed, its worth sometimes feels diluted. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that your art touches an audience. It is difficult at times to comprehend the size of the audience, or foresee the effect it will have on that audience.

Thank you for sharing your feelings about how Jordi’s music touched you. You have returned the favour – I am your audience, and your words have now touched me.

As I read this email, tears fell down my cheeks. “Words from a stranger.” I’m afraid I cannot portray such a profound moment in the magnitude it deserves. Maybe if I could it would no longer be profound. I don’t know. But I do know this–we are all strangers and our words have the capability to soar and move above the ancient ground upon which we tread. Just like the notes Jordi played that day in Versailles. 

I still have never met her, but she has a place in my heart. Notes and words strung together like bits of yarn and twigs to build a sort of nest in my heart for memories to live.

I’m grateful for words from a stranger. Thank you, James, for your words likewise whispered into the wind. And thank you Jordi, for sharing the unforgettable that day. 

May 8 2014

Life is a Teacher

Life is a teacher.

Life is a teacher.

Life is a teacher.

I remember saying that just the other day. Chances are I was being sarcastic, but the profundity reverberated back and hit me square between the eyes. Indeed, life is a teacher. Not teacher as in fourth grade, double check you did your spelling homework, kind of teacher. More like, ancient college professor who doesn’t care or even seem to notice if you show up for the oft monotone lectures on the bonding of atoms, kind of teacher.

Life is always teaching, with or without our consent. The question is, “Are we paying attention?”

I think our tendency is to want to be the teacher. We dominate our to do lists. Strive for accomplishment. Paint a reality that leads us to believe we have any control over anything. We steal the pointer from the decrepit instructor and we point it around and tell the circumstances in the room who’s the boss.

Our children have been raising lambs for 4H. And long story short, we had to put one of them down last night. All of us have grown to love the gentlest lamb in the bunch.

This culture of winning and striving and controlling has provided a great deal, but it has left us barren in the face of death.

Death is also a teacher. Only this teacher doesn’t surrender her pointer stick or her podium. When she speaks, we are silent, and as her voice whispers a final breath, all our accomplishments and striving and control are rendered mute. The words we use in the classroom of life have no bearing in the silence. 

But if we can be silent for a few moments in death’s classroom, we witness a great paradox. In a few words, death teaches us about life. She points to our aimless strivings and our lust for control. She draws us back to reality. The reality that declares the only control we may have is over ourselves–our words, our actions. She teaches us how to live better. To live in honesty and vulnerability. To live in reality.

Death raises her pointer stick, points back to the classroom of life, and whispers, “Pay attention.”

Dec 6 2012

Platform 9 and 3/4

“The Sorcerer’s Stone” Platform 9 and 3/4

Oscar Wilde once said, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” I think that might be one of those chicken versus egg kind of questions. You know, which came first? But in this instance, I believe Oscar is right.

The other night we were watching the first Harry Potter movie (The Sorcerer’s Stone.) I think it’s safe to say that we view art through current circumstances. And in this case, I couldn’t help but feel as though that movie was imitating our life. Or our life is currently imitating that movie? Was it the chicken or the egg?

Anyway, we had grown quite used to living under the stairs. We were accustomed to meeting the expectations put upon us by ourselves and others. We followed the rules. And then something changed. An invitation of sorts.

We accepted the invitation. It meant David retiring and us moving out to the country. We made our way to the train station and stood perplexed at our ticket. There is no Platform nine and three quarters. Now what?

Oh! We run full speed ahead straight at a brick wall! Of course! Why didn’t we think of that?

Leaving behind all that we know, full speed and unlimited internet, the camaraderie of the department, and the security of a schedule, to name a few, has left us running at a brick wall. But we are running. Full speed ahead. Uprooting or making a change of any kind feels like running straight at a brick wall somewhere between platform nine and platform ten and hoping not to splat.

And it isn’t the first time we’ve done this. I remember  when David was diagnosed with PTSD and it felt like we were running straight toward  a brick wall. No idea what was on the other side or even if we would make it to the other side. But we ran. We ran toward help.

We made it through the brick wall and found help. And that helps us believe. It helps us believe that this time, what lies on the other side, is a magical place beyond our wildest dreams.

Reality check. Perhaps we won’t see that this side of heaven but maybe we will find an adventure. At the very least.

Are you running at a brick wall too? What do you hope to find on the other side?

Jul 13 2012


Can you spot the flowers?


To conclude our mission trip to Mexico we had a time of sharing. Highlights. Challenges.

One of my teammates shared the profound. She was struck by the amount of hope demonstrated in unexpected ways. At first glance, all that could be seen was poverty. But as the days progressed, her perspective changed. In the midst of destitution and dirt, hope sprang up. The smiles of children, the wash hanging on the line outside, the bright pink and yellow houses. The tiny patches of flowers in unexpected places.

Small evidences of hope. 

As she was sharing, my perspective was challenged as well. I, who have much in terms of possessions, struggle with hope. It’s not that I don’t believe everything will work out. I do. There is an undercurrent of faith, a confidence that a sovereign God is at work. But faith is not hope. I believe God will work all things out but what do I do in the interim? Do I hope? Do I look expectantly at the good that He has promised? Or do I merely exist. Drawn through life on the tide of faith, never hoping or anticipating that good is close. That God is close and He is good.


My internal dialogue has resembled a grey donkey with a similar grey disposition. “It’s raining again. It always does.” Downcast head and monotone voice. A cuddly donkey burdened by life and void of hope. I’m a lot like Eeyore. Not being like Eeyore takes practice. And it has occurred to me how I am out of practice.


Faith is believing that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He said He will do. And hope, hope is the excited anticipation of seeing just how He will do it. Faith is the soil. It is the foundation. The solid earth we build our lives upon. And maybe hope is the tiny garden of flowers so lovingly tended outside the house that has a dirt floor and no roof. Or maybe hope is the bright blue house surrounded by wreckage, need and hardship.


So today, I pledge to practice hope. To build my life on the foundation of faith. To believe in a God mighty and capable. But also, to take a moment to tend to my garden. The tiny patch of beautiful flowers. To anticipate. To marvel at the creative ways God will bring about His plan. To hope in the unexpected.

Jun 29 2012


My family and I are getting ready for a short term mission trip to Mexico. The last time I was getting ready for a short term mission trip to Mexico, I was in high school. Four score and seven years ago.

I will never forget the preparation for the first trip. My youth pastor sat us down at one of the meetings to watch a video. It was Loren Cunningham, the founder of Youth With a Mission. I was so impacted, I still remember the point of his message.

Missionaries have no rights. 

You do not have the right to a comfortable bed. You do not have the right to a warm shower or a shower of any kind for that matter. All those things that we accept as rights are more in line with what the rest of the world would call privileges. Clean bathrooms, potable water from the faucet, indoor plumbing…privileges.

Since those many trips to Mexico and other adventures, I have discovered that the relinquishing of rights is required of more than just missionaries. Anyone who would call themselves a disciple has been given that same charge.

Disciples have no rights.

Our contrived ideas that 12 men sat at the foot of the Master with legs and arms crossed taking notes are devastatingly misplaced. Jesus told them to follow Him. He told them to bury their dead, sell all they had, become as dependent and single minded as children. To relinquish their rights.

There are times when my children try to exercise their rights. Often they attempt to evoke the fifth amendment. They falsely believe that they do not have to say anything that may or may not incriminate them in an illegal or inappropriate activity. That does not get them far.

But I also will try to invoke my rights. The Declaration of Independence tells me that I have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And yet…

He [Jesus] called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

I struggle to relinquish my rights. I find myself often ready to stage a coup against those ills and injustices done to me. I am ready to rise up and defend my position. I whine and complain. I feel entitled. I want to grab the situation with both hands and force it to yield to my vision of how it should be. To take no prisoners. To exercise my rights.

And yet…I am asked to lay down my rights. To relinquish control and to become dependent upon the Giver of Life. Like a child. Unless I change.

I have no rights.

I don’t like it. I fight this idea on a daily basis. It goes against every grain of my fiber. But that’s the point. The coup that must be staged is within my heart. My self-righteousness and pride and self-assurance must be extricated by the roots and surrendered.

How about you? If you are wondering if you hold onto certain rights, watch your attitude today. And I will do the same. May the coup begin!

Jun 14 2012

Decisions, decisions, decisions

This is an actual sign in the middle of Nevada.

My husband stumbled upon this photo that he took on one of our camping trips. He suggested I write a blog post on it.

“Yeah. That’d be cool.” Feigned enthusiasm.

“You could write about choices,” he says.

“Yeah. That’d be cool.” More feigned enthusiasm. In my head, I’m thinking something else.

Choices? I don’t want to write about choices. Acknowledging choices means having to make them. And I don’t want to. (Whine and stomp added for effect.) My natural tendency is to set up camp in front of the sign. Indecision begging me not to commit. To cling to the hope that I don’t have to chose.

However, upon embarking on this blogging journey, I committed to embracing it. I chose to write on life, faith and writing. And since I didn’t specify whose life, that leaves my life by default. Blah.

So fine. Choices it is.

“This way” or “that way?”

It didn’t take long for me to recognize what choice I am currently facing. In a nutshell, I am forced to chose what I will do while I am waiting. My agent recently submitted a proposal for a novel I wrote. And I’m waiting. I’d like to think I’m waiting for a book deal. Then reality sets in and I realize I’m probably waiting for numerous rejection letters.

When I’m waiting for my children while they are at piano lessons, I read a book. When I am waiting at the grocery store, I pretend not to read the magazine bylines. When I am waiting for the lasagna to cook, I check Facebook. But this waiting, this is different. I’m not waiting for an hour. I could be waiting for months. Life must continue in that interim.

What will I chose to do while I wait? And the two choices appear like a neon sign in the arid dessert.

This way or that way.

On the one hand, or this way, I can choose to be content. I can chose to live in the moment. To lay down the outcome and trust. To recognize, book deal or no book deal, all I have is today. Or I can go that way. I can chose to wrestle for control of the future. To attempt to hold the unknown in my hands and mold it into something of substance. Like holding water in my hands and squeezing it until it becomes ice. Not improbable so much as downright impossible.

Perhaps both paths lead to the same outcome. Perhaps, next week (that’s called optimism), my agent will call and say a book deal is on the table. Perhaps the choice isn’t where I end up, but who I have become by the time I get there.

But either way, this way or that way, I get to choose.

May 23 2012

Tiny Bubbles


Have you ever seen a toddler play with bubbles for the first time? Their fascination is captivating. They follow and chase the free-floating orbs with euphoria. A small round ball, a tiny bubble drops and every ounce of attention focuses. With arm outstretched, they waddle hurriedly to capture and claim the treasure. The bubble continues to fall and explodes, sending small droplets of soapy goo to the adjacent blades of grass.

The toddler stops suddenly. Frozen. Staring at what was. And then, the lower lip juts out and their brows furrow. Liquid disappointment falls down their cheeks.

Shattered bubbles are painful regardless of age. Dallas Willard says, “Reality is what we learn when we find out we are wrong.” When the bubble pops, reality is there to stare us in the face. The world is brimming with tragedy and pain. Suffering and destruction. Our rainbow like, soapy clean bubbles cannot shelter us. Our illusions of safety are fleeting. But security, that is an altogether different matter.

Death’s shadow passed by again last night. My husband missed the first two innings of another baseball game tending to a “clean up” effort of another demonstration of man and car vs. tree. Tree won. A few days prior, he was called away from an award dinner to an officer involved shooting. All officers are fine. Suspect died in the gun battle he started.

The world is a dangerous place. Death and pain run rampant and try as we might, our small, gossamer, self-constructed bubbles are no match. Fragile and translucent. They don’t stand a chance against the razor-sharp shrapnel of everyday life.

Not everyone lives with such demonstrative examples of this. But no one is exempt. No one can walk through this life unscathed. And yet, we put forth great effort to try. For many years, especially with small children under foot, our motto had been, “Safety first.” Often spoken tongue-in-cheek, none-the-less it was applied with vigor and vigilance.

But what is left when the bubbles burst?

We are not safe from pain and trouble. We are not immune to suffering or tragedy. Our hope cannot reside in the residue of tiny bubbles. But who needs bubbles anyway? Our eternity is secure and sheltered in the capable hands of the Almighty God.

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)




May 4 2012

If you give a mouse a cookie…

You know that cute little children’s book? A simple act of giving a mouse a cookie turns into something way bigger and unexpected. I’ve never given a mouse a cookie. It makes an adorable children’s book but frankly, I have no intention of willingly giving a mouse anything except a bit of “d-CON.”

But it makes me think…what would I do? What if I gave God permission?

It’s a beautiful afternoon. Sitting beside a quiet brook and listening to the birds chirp. Communing with God. All is right with the world. In a moment of rapture, you tell God that He can have His way. You give Him permission to orchestrate your life as He sees fit.

Something occurs in that enchanted moment. Unseen and relatively unnoticed. A covenant is made. Not a contract signed with ink but a contract signed by the blood of the Lamb on the flesh of your own heart.

I have needed to be reminded lately, that I indeed gave God permission. My peaceful has been replaced by chaos. The world is upside down and inside out. The wheels have fallen off the bus and I can’t even find them to reattach them. “What is going on?” I wonder, often out loud like a crazy person.

And then I hear this…

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. (John 6:67 NIV)

In other words, “When things don’t happen like you think they should, are you out?”

The world stops. A question has been asked and it demands an answer.

Am I out? But He has never disappointed. Over and over He has taken the broken trinkets and  baubles I seem to keep collecting. He takes the heartache and confusion that seem pointless. And then, He uses them to create something I could have never imagined. He incorporates every part into something that has value. A piece of art that proclaims with abandon that He alone is God. That He alone creates and He alone redeems.

I stop looking for the bus wheels and I give Him permission again. Well said Peter.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)


Apr 13 2012

What am I doing here?

Prison cell

Did Joseph ever forsake the dreams and visions of his youth? There he sits, in a jail cell in Egypt. Being sold into slavery was bad enough but to then be thrown into prison unjustly? I wonder if there were any conversations like this…

“OK God. Just checking to see if you got my new address? I’m pretty sure you knew I was no longer in my father’s house. Thanks for sparing my life by the way. Trying to keep perspective. But the most recent event is the transfer from Potifer’s house to prison. Just making sure you have my current info.”

“Joseph, I’m right here.”

“Right. Well, since we don’t have anywhere to be can I ask you something?”


Joseph sits on the hard dirt floor with his arms wrapped around his knees. His focus stays on the ant scurrying past. He smirks. Even the lowly ant may come and go as he pleases.

“Remember those dreams I used to have? The sheaves of wheat bow down. Those ones. Remember?”

“Of course.”

Joseph waits for the Creator of the Universe to say more. The ant changes direction and God remains silent.

“Uh, can we talk about those?”

“What about them?”

“Well, I just mean this is about as far away from those as possible.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

“Really?” Joseph tries to keep his voice in check. The frustration mingles with anger but he cannot forget to whom he is speaking. “All right.” He sighs. “Could you at least let me know what to expect next?”

“I already have. That’s what the dreams are about.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense!” He bounds to his feet.

“I get that it doesn’t make sense to you. But it makes perfect sense to me.”

“Wait a sec.” Joseph stops pacing and faces the stone wall. “Are you telling me those dreams are going to be fulfilled?”

“Yeah. Why not? Yes, Joseph you are in prison. Do you think I looked away for one minute and the plan got away from me? Let me ask you something.” Joseph braces himself for a question from the mouth whose very spoken word hung the stars in the sky. “Did I go too far?”, he wonders.

“Do you think I would give you a dream and not prepare you for it? Do you think you were ready to see those dreams fulfilled while you were still a teenager and a daddy’s boy?”

The force of God’s questions puts Joseph back on the dirt. He cradles his head in his hands and tears stain the red packed earth. He braces himself for the lecture from the Almighty.

But God is silent. In the void of conversation, a warmth falls over Joseph’s shoulders. His breathing evens and the chisled lines of the cell walls blur. A weightless sensation envelopes him as the presence of God surrounds and supports him. Comforting. Sustaining. Solid.

Are you someplace you thought you’d never be wondering how you got there?

And then the Great I Am speaks.

“I am with you always. Do not worry about the dreams or how they will come to pass. Focus on Me. The One who will never leave you. And trust Me that I am still at work.”