Messengers of Peace and Love

Posted on 12/21/2017 07:33:00 AM
It's been awhile, poor, neglected blog.  This year has seen lots of change and happenings both good and bad. I'd like to wrap it all up at some point with a quick overview of our travels through the world.  Maybe I'll get to that before the end of 2017.  But today, I am trying to make a Christmas for my family without really having my heart in it, just knowing that we are all safe and together and maybe that's all you get sometimes.  

I was asked to give a sermon at church the week before Christmas.  Like most of the times I am asked to speak in church, I thought long and hard about the topic assigned to me and then spoke about a completely different thing.  But it was an important Thing.  And a lot of people have asked me for a copy or to read it if they weren't there.  So, while I've never much enjoyed using this format to display to the world things as sacred and personal as my spiritual feelings, I'm going to repost it here because mainly, I want to remember that at one point in my life, I felt like this.  And everyone needs a reminder sometimes.



Messengers of Peace and Love
Sacrament Meeting Talk 12/17/2017

In Moses 1:39, God says to Moses:

For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

I was not asked to talk about this scripture today.  I was asked to talk about this one Matthew 10:39:

He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

And I was asked to relate this to how we can be messengers of peace, knowing this.
I’m gonna try to get there, but in a bit of a roundabout way, so bear with me.

In this scripture – the first one about God’s work and glory, not the second one I'm supposed to be talking about – there’s something problematic that’s been rolling around in my head for a while now.  The way I understand it, God is not a god on the weekends and a dentist during the week.  He does this full time.  This is all He does.  His “job” is to bring people to Him.  So as I have been pondering this verse – exactly one sentence describing God’s entire purpose – I wonder, “How’s that working out for you, God?”

Yes, missionary work spreads the Gospel and there is, of course, much good in the world that we often just choose to overlook because we’re busy fearmongering with the rest of the 24-hour news cycle. But isn’t even the fact that we overlook it problematic?  I really do wonder what progress toward that goal humanity has made recently.  It seems rather bleak, when you think about it.

Millions in this world are in pain and experiencing difficulty.  Many in this very room.  Millions deny God or goodness, choose darkness over light, die without ever having had a chance to know more or better.  Some do choose the light and are affected by the choices of others through no fault of their own.  And still more suffer through no fault of anyone’s – earthquakes, floods, fires – just because that’s the way life is and God doesn’t – or maybe He can’t – step in and alter events that were set in motion millions of years ago. 

And then there’s how we as human people react to it.

We have more access to one another than ever before in human history.  We can talk to people continents away and hear back in the blink of an eye.  We understand diverse languages and places in seconds with the help of a small, excellent rectangle most of us carry around in our pocket.  We communicate more than ever… and yet we listen less than ever.  The world’s information is literally at our fingertips and instead of using it to come together for good, we very often use it to divide us.  In many cases, it seems like it’s two steps forward, two steps back for God’s purpose.  How is that working out?

So either God is failing miserably at His purpose, or….

…there is much that we do not understand.

For me, someone who tends be a bit left-brained with this kind of stuff, God, the power of God, the priesthood, the Holy Ghost, all of it… is the power that binds the universe together.  Keeps the earth spinning, our hearts beating. 

And the conclusion that I’ve come to is that we feel that power – maybe just a tiny bit of it - when we love.

There’s a hymn in our hymnbook that goes like this:

Earth, with her ten thousand flow’rs,
Air, with all its beams and show’rs,
Heaven’s infinite expanse,
Sea’s resplendent countenance—
All around and all above
Bear this record: God is love.

The scripture reference for this hymn is 1 John 4:

7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

8 He that loveth not… knoweth not God; for God is love.

In that chapter, John goes on to teach us more about the nature of that kind of love.

9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

12 No man hath seen God at any time. [But…] If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

So back to my original assignment:

He that finds his life shall lose it: and he that loses his life - for my sake - shall find it.

But first, a story.

The morning was much like any other red-eye flight for Todd Beamer. An early alarm, a hurried shower, quiet goodbyes to the wife and kids and out the door.  His plane was delayed that morning due to traffic and it took off almost an hour behind schedule. I imagine passengers boarded the flight tired and a bit grumpy due to the delay.

Todd’s flight was just getting airborne when the first plane hit the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001.

About 45 minutes into United 93’s flight, terrorists stormed the cockpit and killed the pilot and copilot. They told the passengers they had been hijacked and shuffled them to the back of the plane. Some passengers made calls to loved ones, where they heard the news about planes hitting the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Word spread among the passengers.

Todd made a call and was forwarded to an airline supervisor named Lisa. He informed her that the plane had been hijacked. He told her terrorists had knives and a bomb. At one point the plane made a sharp turn and Todd yelled into the phone, “We’re going down!”

It’s impossible to know all the events that transpired on that plane, but you have to believe Todd and the other passengers were connecting the dots at this point. They probably realized the plane was headed toward another important target on the ground. For awhile, the runaway plane was rumored to be headed toward Chicago. It turns out United 93’s intended target that day was Washington D.C., probably either the Capitol building or the White House.

To Todd and the other passengers, I suppose the target hardly mattered. United 93 was going nowhere good, and it was becoming clear this would likely be their final flight.  It was also clear that many more would die if they didn’t do something.

The details of exactly what happened next aren’t totally clear, but Todd and a few around him decided to fight back. He and some other ordinary passengers and two ordinary flight attendants planned to force their way into the cockpit and steer the plane into the ground. These ordinary people made an extraordinary choice to sacrifice their lives in an attempt to save the lives of others.

You’ve probably heard that thought experiment about the man standing near the tracks as a train bears down on a group of five people who will surely be killed.  He sees a lever that could divert the train to another track, but there is a workman on that track doing maintenance. A single push of the lever would divert the train and, while killing one innocent person, save the lives of five others.  Five would die if he does nothing, weighed against the option of one death, but it will be his doing.  It’s an ethical dilemma — what should he do?

Todd and the passengers on United Flight 93 chose option C that day. They chose themselves.

Still on the phone with Lisa, Todd recited the Lord’s Prayer and then the words to Psalm 23. He asked Lisa to call his family and let them know that he loved them.

“Are you ready?” Lisa heard Todd ask someone else on the plane.

“Let’s roll.”

United 93 crashed into the ground in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing all of its passengers but sparing hundreds more of the plane’s original intended targets.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

…and he that loses his life for my sake  – meaning for love’s sake because God IS love – shall find it.

Many people have actually, physically, lain down their lives for love of God or friends. Thankfully, very few of us in this room are called to do that.  But that doesn’t mean this scripture doesn’t apply to us also.  In this context, for me, here is the real meaning of “laying down my life for His sake”: Can I love with a Christlike love?

Am I strong enough to love others, even when it’s hard?

Am I kind enough to allow others to follow their own path without judging what I might have done had I been on it?

Can I become good enough to continue on my own path, even when other paths might look easier or have more company?

Do I respect the agency that God gave me enough to allow others their own?

Can I love myself and my fellow man without reserve, without contingency, without judgment?  Just… love.

Look, there are a lot of things about the Gospel and the Church, about God, the Universe and Everything, that I don’t really understand.  When I was serving a mission, I actually, physically wrote down a list of questions to ask God next time I see him.  Most of those things, I’m still waiting for the answer on.  And waiting and waiting.  When I was a kid, the older people in my congregation used to bear their testimony and say that they knew the Church or something in it was true “with every fiber of [their] being”.  Personally, I’ve never really related to that phrase.  I don’t really know anything with every fiber of my being and there have been things that I was pretty darn sure about that turned out to be wrong later, so I don’t tend to like absolutes.  But here’s one thing I do know - if not with every fiber of my being, then more so than I know anything else - that everything about the Gospel is, or should be, rooted in love.

Because what you do matters. 

The smallest act of kindness… the simplest expression of love… it grows.  It reverberates throughout the world, through the universe.  And it’s a light that’s more powerful than any force of darkness.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son. (John 3:16)

Brother and sisters, this is the real good news that the angels proclaimed to the shepherds that night so many years ago.  That God loves us.

And on earth, peace. Good will toward men. (Luke 2:14)

It is only through knowing that and being on board with not just feeling His love for us, but also sending that love back outward in turn, that we can lay down our lives for His sake.  We can be messengers of peace by sharing the LOVE of God and Jesus Christ.  And to paraphrase David O. McKay and Jackie Kennedy, if you fail at that, nothing much else matters.

God gave us this amazing world to enjoy and take care of because of His love.  Not because we are that lowly and needy of it. Not because we’re sad, pathetic creatures without Him.  Not because we’re bad, bad rebels and we’ll never ever be any good without His grace.  But because we… are worthy of His grace.  Trials that we encounter and overcome strengthen us because of that love.  He gave us each other to lean on because of that love.  He loves me.  He loves you.  He loves the person on the street corner and the person in the penthouse apartment.  He loves us, not in spite of what we are, but because of it.  Each one of us with our strengths and our weaknesses, with our good decisions and bad, each of us, He loves for what we bring to this human existence of a table. We are all needed at the table.  And because of that love, Jesus Christ – somehow, in some way I don’t fully comprehend, but I’m okay with saying there is much I don’t understand - opened the door to allow us to progress and enjoy that fountain of love in more ways than we could ever imagine.

And knowing that?  

 Well, knowing that gives me peace in return.


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To Gillian on Her 17th Birthday

Posted on 10/20/2017 04:57:00 PM
When I think of death, and of late the idea has come with alarming frequency, I seem at peace with the idea that a day will dawn when I will no longer be among those living in this valley of strange humors. I can accept the idea of my own demise, but I am unable to accept the death of anyone else. I find it impossible to let a friend or relative go into that country of no return. Disbelief becomes my close companion, and anger follows in its wake. I answer the heroic question 'Death, where is thy sting? ' with ' it is here in my heart and mind and memories.' 

- Maya Angelou

Angel of Grief is an 1894 sculpture by William Wetmore Story which serves as the grave stone of the artist and his wife at the Protestant Cemetery, Rome


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Paint!

Posted on 1/05/2017 08:53:00 PM
Hey, here's my cat, surveying the Christmas aftermath and saying, "Don't look at me, I didn't do it."


I adore this picture.

On to other things.

There was some, shall we say, "overlap" between purchasing the house we are living in now and selling the old house.  It was the source of much stress and anxiety for me during an otherwise difficult year of stress and anxiety.  We moved out and then did projects on the old house to improve the sale-ability of the house and it was a good idea and all worked out in the end, but oh lordy how I never want to go through that again.  By the time we sold it, it was better looking than it ever had been and I learned two things:
  1. The idea of doing all the improvements to the house after you move out and not getting to enjoy any of your investment of money, discomfort and hard work is pretty stupid.
  2. After painting literally every surface of every room in that house, neither of us wanted to pick up another paintbrush for the rest of our natural lives.
So we declared a year-long moratorium on painting in the new house.

That moratorium extended organically to twenty-two months out of a combination of business and laziness... mostly laziness. 

We didn't love the Apartment Off-White this entire house had been painted top to bottom, nor the eggshell finish that stains and marks if you so much as look at it cross-eyed, but it sure beat washing out another paintbrush.

But finally in November, I gave it to a deep desire for color and gingerly bought a gallon of turquoise blue paint.  I know you're going to say this is nowhere near "turquoise" and I'll probably agree, but I pulled the color from Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin palette and that's what he called it so I'm not gonna mess with the Master. 



It actually came out more in between Turquoise and Midnight, but I pretty much love it and I'm not gonna complain.

This was a great way to ease my way back into painting projects because I only had to paint half a wall and it required no taping, no plastic on the floor, no standing on ladders, no cutting in at the ceiling joint, and no painting anything with my arms raised above my head. In fact, the whole thing took me a couple of hours one afternoon and a little less the next. My life was hardly disrupted by it. Woo hoo!



Then I got cocky.

The KoH has recently changed jobs and due to reasons! and use or lose leave, he ended up with a little over week off in between Christmas and New Year.  It's actually one of the reasons we had such a nice holiday.  In our whole marriage, we've never both had this time off together before.

My favorite color in all the world in Frank Lloyd Wright's Cherokee Red and I've always wanted to do a room in Venetian Plaster that is that color.  So, inspired by the vast improvement a little splash of color gave the kitchen, and the vast emptiness of a week without work and work projects and getting up for work and going to work, we made plans to burn a couple of our holiday days with a plaster project in the living room.

And so it begins.


   
Owing to my little obsession, I've been to a lot of Wright buildings in my time and let me tell you, Cherokee Red is a tricky color.  What Frank calls Cherokee Red in one building is vastly different than what he calls Cherokee Red in another building. The FLW signature tiles are supposed to be Cherokee Red, but in person, these always look way too bright red to me to be anything close to Cherokee.  The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust uses Pantone 173 for Cherokee Red. The floor at Taliesin West is also supposed to be Cherokee Red but that's not nearly as orange as Pantone 173.  The Cherokee Red at Fallingwater is more brown to than all those things and ultimately I don't think Frank Lloyd Wright even know what he meant when he called something Cherokee Red. But I went to a couple of [insert name of big box hardware stores here], armed with my precious Pantone color swatch book (man, those things have come down in price since I last had to buy one) and a dream.

Eventually, I found a couple of suitable options and settled on one.  Then finding tint-able Venetian Plaster was a trick because employees of both large big box hardware store chains tend to look at you like you have grown a third ear in the middle of your forehead when you start talking about anything but satin and semi-gloss.  

Paint desk guy: "Venutian what?  I do not think that is a Thing." 

Me: "I know it's a Thing.  And it's Venetian, not Venutian."

"Well, we don't have that Thing."

"Actually, look here on my phone. This is your store's app.  It says you have this Thing on aisle 9."

"Hmm.  Guess we do.  But we can't tint it."

"See here where it says in the description of the Thing You Don't Have in your store's app?  It says it's is tintable.  That means that Thing You Say You Don't Do To The Thing You Say You Don't Have is possible."

"Well, we can only tint it these three colors."

"The company's website says you can color match it."

"Yes, but we don't have that color in our computer."

"We if you can color match it, can't you just use this swatch from your paint colors rack as the thing to color match it to?"

"I dunnoo......"

"Just give me my Thing."

Eventually, I got my Thing and even after I watched like fifteen videos on how to put it up, I still needed The KoH to help me understand it because when I saw the technique years ago on Trading Spaces, they did it differently and I couldn't wrap my brain around it.  It's good to have a partner in crime.

This is not really paint.  It's not applied with a paintbrush, but with a trowel or a drywall knife.  Which is interesting.  Now that I've done it once, I kind of get it, but if I'd known then what I know now, it would go a lot smoother.

Step one:


 

Once that is done, on to step two:



I know it looks like we could have just covered the entire wall in the first place, but it actually does matter that you do this step a day later than the first step.  I would have been just as happy to leave it like this because I think it looks like suede, but the texture of the wall was displeasing.

Step three, not pictured, but it looks a lot like step two because we should have just done step two a lot thicker.  Step one also actually.

Step four: sand it all lightly with fine grit sandpaper and then spend two weeks removing red grit and dust form your bookshelves, books, underneath your fingernails, your hair, the corners of your eyes, etc., etc.  This step also not pictured because my camera lens seems to have a film of red covering it.

Step five: burnishing.

This involves taking a metal drywall knife and using all your strength to rub a section of the wall until it doesn't feel like old sandpaper and it becomes polished and shiny in spots.  From me to you: this part suuuuuucks.  You really have to want this if you're going to get through it.

It's also good if you have some indentured servants to help.



The bigger indentured servant was the most helpful of them all, because as it turns out even at my best, I don't really have the strength or weight to put my back into it and do this properly.  Also, I was nursing a really awful head cold at this point in time so I would work for about a minute and a half and start to get dizzy and have to sit down with my head between my knees. 



Eventually, he took a big, metal cement trowel and rubbed the wall vigorously with it until it responded with gorgeous veins, lines and splotches.  I know that sounds a bit sexual and it is.  That's right, baby.

He's my hero.



I could not be more pleased with how it turned out.





And now it's probably going to be another six months before I can think of painting anything again.  

Totally worth it.

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Mrs. Peacock's Piano

Posted on 1/04/2017 05:52:00 PM

Hello, 2017.  May you be a damn sight better than the old year.  You kind of have to be.

When we first saw this house at the open house weekend, there was an old painted red upright piano in the basement.  It was there for inspection and every time we were able to take a look at the house, though other things, like an old church pew in the carport that I desperately hoped they would leave, disappeared.  During our settlement, the previous owners, who grew up in the house, said that they would remove the piano if we wanted them to but that they'd prefer to leave it all other things being equal because they had no place for it.  They explained that a woman named Mrs. Peacock had given it to their mother and it had been there since they were very young children.  I don't know if they painted it or it was always like that but I do know that they'd always just called it, "Mrs. Peacock's Piano."  

Between the two of us, The KingofHearts and I have fixed our fair share of things over the years.  We dragged home one unplayable piano from some woman's garage/construction site The KoH worked on and for the cost of a $30 bag of plastic piano joints, a bit of wood cleaner and some elbow grease, we turned that thing into a real piano that we used for almost a decade. It was the piano the girls first learned to play on until a few years ago a friend gifted us her father's beautiful spinnet piano when he was moving into a smaller space and didn't play anymore.

So, to say the least, we were pretty confident in our piano-restoring abilities and told the owners we'd be happy for them to leave it for us and we'd try to make it playable again.  

However... once we moved in and took a closer look at Mrs. Peacock's piano, it turned out to be in much worse shape than we had originally anticipated.  Restoring it would entail way more money and time then we really wanted to put into it and my suspicion was that even then, we would not really end up with a decent sounding instrument anyway.  So we decided to get rid of it eventually to free up some space in what was now The KoH's wood shop.

Then it sat there for a long time - over a year.

We talked about putting it outside and making into a planter... or a fountain

We talked about cutting the legs off of it and using them to prop up a cabinet where the KoH stores his handmade swords and knives.


We talked about letting the kids take a sledge hammer to it and bringing out the pieces one by one for the garbage collectors to take.  That one felt unnecessarily mean.

We talked about mailing the pieces one by one to my mother... like Radar did with a Jeep in M*A*S*H.  I'm sure she would have appreciated that.

Ultimately, I felt badly about destroying the piano that had been in the house since the 1960s and I decided that Mrs. Peacock's piano - or at least a part of it - belonged with the house. So I pulled off the front panel - which was really quite beautiful - one day last summer and refinished it with antiquing glaze.  


Then I hung it on the wall in the stairwell, alongside some antique windows a friend had given us, which we were using for decoration.


(There are several more of these windows decorating our basement.)

I loved it.   

Eventually, I secured an antique copy of a song that means a lot to me, one of my all-time favorites: "Without a Song,"  That music now sits on the desk to the side of the filigree.

That got me thinking.  What more could we do with Mrs. Peacock's piano so it can live harmoniously among us?

I didn't like the idea of putting it outdoors, because it'd be only a matter of time before the whole thing was destroyed in the weather.  Then one day, The KoH and I hit upon the idea of making it into a desk.  One afternoon he and The Caterpillar removed the keys and hammers and most of the other inner workings from the cabinet, cleaned everything up, and replaced the keyboard desk with a plexiglass cover because, as it turned out, you could see the unique serial number and maker stamp inside, which was pretty cool.



Then they added lights for better homework doing-ability.


I think it is beautiful.

In the meantime, I took some of the hammers and dipped them in resin for unique jewelry opportunities. 


The latest project was completed over the Christmas vacation when I caught a cold and with it, the inability to sleep past three am.  Putting together these piano key sets was actually really fun and done mostly done with leftover materials in The KoH's shop for $0, at least until his router broke in the middle of carving out the edges of the plaques I'd cut and I had to go buy the wood plaques that I glued them to. So like $24.  Still not a bad deal.


Funny story. I came up with this idea out of my very own head and thought I was the most unique-thinking individual in the world for it. Originally, I wanted to do this, but too many of the keys were broken and damaged beyond repair or display quality.  I had all kinds of ideas about adding some of the hammers and other bits of the piano along with music, all modern art-y style, but in the end, I settled on just putting together a few sets of in-tact keys, cleaning up the old ebony and ivory (Did you know that the best way to clean ivory piano keys from the 1800s is with toothpaste? Let that sink in for a second.), staining the wood, adding a bit of hardware and then mounting them on three separate wood plaques. About halfway through the project, I took a look on the interweb and found that not only am I not the only person who's thought of using piano keys as artwork, but see the first hit in this google search? I'm not even the first person to come up with this particular design and place it in a stairwell.  I hate it when other people have my ideas before me.

At any rate, they now live with the face board on the stairwell wall.




I'm still working on a way the ebony from the black keys will become jewelry and The KoH is making the pin board into a jewelry hanger for The Dormouse and there might be a flower bouquet or two to make from the rest of the hammers.  We have more ideas than time and effort, it turns out.

And that's how you cannibalize a piano, my friends.  And how Mrs. Peacock's piano came to be a permanent fixture in this house. Where it belongs.

I think Mrs. Peacock, where ever she is, would be pleased.

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Washington, D.C. Metro, United States
Married, 40ish mom of two (or three, or four, depending on how you keep score) who stepped through the lookinglass and now finds herself living in curiouser and curiouser lands of Marriage, Motherhood, and the Washington, D.C. Metro Area.

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