Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Crayon Box

Dedicated to my parents, Dr. Olaf Lawrence Bernard Lee and Mrs. Marlena Caroline Testa Lee, both who loved me well and who taught me to think outside of the box and color outside of the lines.

It is one of my earliest memories  - a long, dark stained, rectangular, oak table, child’s height, with two antique school chairs positioned in an inviting way.  The table beckoned to me each time I would pass its strategic location at the bottom of the steps, close to earshot of the kitchen.  The table was adorned with recycled cookie canisters filled with crayons, collected from the various boxes that Crayola had to offer. There were also reams of newsprint paper, calling to me.  This was a place where the majority of my free time would be spent creating art projects as I was growing up.  The table so perfectly sized, the array of colors, the blank pages waiting to be filled became my world.  Here is where my “books” of International Girls from Around the World, and Little Mouse Adventures would be written, edited, and of course, published with staples and a hand-made cover.  My parents would eagerly wait for the new series, and then sit with all the time in the world, reading the penciled words and admiring the stick figures with “ooos” and “aahhs” as if they were holding a book that had won the Caldecott Award.

My parents’ encouragement didn’t stop with art.  There were the “concerts.”  Weekly ones offered in the piano loft, where my mother’s beautiful Steinway was kept.  The concerts always had tickets and a program with at least three pieces from the latest book of Bastien Beginning Piano or Faber and Faber.  My parents would attend with all the patience and courtesy and applaud at all the appropriate times – all the way to my final bow. They never seem to tire of attending nor grow weary with my repeated pieces of “Run Away Pablo”, “The Enchanted River”, or “Circus Maximus.”

I also planned plenty of “church services.”  The most memorable being the evening I secured my father’s very large drafting paper and proceeded to design an orphanage.  I was ten.  I felt certain that, one day, I would build an orphanage in Onslow, Australia someday and needed to create a vision for others and raise money to do so.  When my parents returned from a dinner appointment, I had turned our living room into a church sanctuary rearranging the furniture just so.  The fireplace hearth made the perfect platform and the candlestick was my microphone.  I had push-pinned my plans for the orphanage into the wooded mantle.  I started by church service with a song, accompanying myself with the ukulele.  I then preached a stirring sermon on the needs of poor and Jesus call for everyone to help!  I finished by passing around the offering basket to my parents and younger brother who was also summoned to this momentous occasion. God bless my parents, of course, they gave generously and shared something with my brother so he could help out the cause. 

Time passed but the creativity and ingenuity continued…

When it came time to study art in college, I often would bring home my rudimentary projects with beginner strokes and disproportionate still life drawings. Of course, to my parents, Picasso just walked in the room. They professionally framed almost every one of pieces from Art 101 and made it the focal points in many rooms of our house. 

As for my concerts, I continued to study music through out my high school and college experience studying with experts.  My parents drove me often to Chicago for flute lessons with the editor of Flute Talk Magazine and my private flute teacher.  They felt she best understood me and caused me to “sing and dance” when I was playing my Hanes instrument.  My parents were always there whether I was singing a solo or in an ensemble, playing my flute, or performing in musical theatre, cheering and applauding as my greatest fans. They were there for me in audience when I sang in a choir at Carnegie Hall just a few years ago, beaming down from the balcony.

As for my dreams and ideas - rarely a meal went by without a discussion that involved our next trip or some half-baked idea that just needed a little more time in the oven of ingenuity.  They would take my ideas with such seriousness and attention – always treating it like the next best invention or inspiration.  One of those dreams, drawn on napkin at dinner, was a home-school academy, which eventually would become Hand In Hand Christian Montessori, one of the largest Christian Montessori schools in North America.

And so I named my blog The Crayon Box for a variety of reasons but the deepest one is embedded in the soil of my home environment.  Together my parents created a space that allowed this brown-haired, average girl from Minnesota to believe that she truly could create something, share a song, and make a dream become a reality.  I dedicate more than this one blog to them – I owe them everything and thank them for a colorful life of out-of-the box thinking.  I thank them for simply believing in me….

I ask, who’s in your balcony cheering you on?  Who are you applauding today?? May we all steward well the ones in our care who have tiny, fragile dreams and scratch art to share.   Who can say what those small beginnings will become tomorrow with a bit of belief and abundant love?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Traveling Eastward

Dedicated to the Hand In Hand Community Families: Wohler, Hill, Jacobs and Vallejos, who are just now, traveling eastward; and to the loved ones of Beth Wood, Susan Jakubiec, Myra Arnold, Mary Pat Hiller, Steve Whiting and Sue Shields who have made it safely home.
Traveled east lately?  We have.  With our children attending east coast colleges, we have made the trek to new territory, our footings finding unfamiliar ground. Speaking of traveling, several years ago, the students of Hand In Hand performed an original musical of “Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” It was her maiden voyage, under the creative director, composer and narrator, Kevin Norberg. Eastward is an important concept in the C.S. Lewis books and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader is no exception. The crew is sailing eastward – always eastward – and finally, Reepicheep sails into “Aslan’s Country!” C.S. Lewis has given us the gift of Narnia; a world that is beyond ours that speaks of truths of God’s World and God’s Word. It is a transcending experience to be immersed in the story, especially in song and narration.
Traveling either literally or in literature can be an enriching, life-changing experience. But, to get serious for a moment, beyond dorm rooms and storybooks, we are on a similar journey through life, spiritually traveling through life is marked with the same milestones, roads, detours, and destinations. One destination that is marked for all us is death. Death is one thing we know will happen, we just don’t know when. The moment when death comes unexpectedly and suddenly turns an expected destination into devastation.
Traditionally, east has often meant “Godward.” (Narnia Series Devotional). Have you ever noticed that it is the first direction mentioned in the Bible? In Genesis 2:8, it says, “The Lord made a garden in a place called Eden, which was in the east, and He put the man there.” Did you know that the traditional design for churches had the altar at the east end? Ezekiel 43:2-4 says, “And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the east; and the sound of His coming was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory. And the vision I saw was like the vision, which I had seen when He came to destroy the city, and like the vision, which I had seen by the river Chebar; and I fell upon my face. As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple. Then, he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate, that faces toward the east...”
We travel but we are not alone.  Day by day we seem to journey, making plans and promises, trusting in God to see us through the unseen. Sadness overwhelms us at times and quickly followed by unspeakable joy.  How is it possible that sadness and joy are mingled so closely in the human experience? One family takes a glorious vacation or visits children in eastern colleges while yet another takes another frightful journey to the emergency room to visit loved ones or lingers in a hospice setting.
The floral sofa in my office and my over-crowded email in-box has contained far too many friends expressing that their “traveling plans” have changed.  Due to life-threating cancer and illness, detours and disastrous news have sidelined many. They thought they were headed one direction only to find a U-Turn in the road of life. My Kleenex box emptied with tears of trials and fear.  At the moment, I have no words. Four specific families at Hand In Hand, facing changes in “travel plans” – but are still headed eastward. Many other dear friends and faculty have already said good-bye to dear ones when there was more to say and more life to live. 
These moments bring up that question - how do you navigate through these troubled waters? It beckons us to love each other well.  Check in with one another.  I admit I am not always sure how to navigate this.  I am afraid to ask someone how he or she is doing.  Worried I am talking about a forbidden subject. So I remain silent and offer a smile. I need help to know…what’s a friend to do?  What’s a community to do? Recently I attended the Global Leadership Summit, and the timely topic of grief took center stage as Bill Hybel interviewed Facebook guru, Sheryl Sandburg. Her newest book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, has been written as “a primer for those who are bereaved, to help them recover and find happiness. When she lost her husband, Sheryl Sandberg also lost her bearings. Now she wants to help others find a way through grief” says Belinda Luscombe in the New York Times. The book speaks of the sudden loss of Sheryl’s 50-year-old husband on his birthday vacation, who went for the gym for a typical daily workout, and never returned because his heart gave out. She writes of how she got through it but what was helpful from others around her as she grieved.
At times like these, I find prayer to be the sweetest consolation. Jesus is truly nearer than breath itself and I whisper “help me Jesus” so often. I also offer this prayer, taken from an Narnian Series Devotional written over 30 years ago that speaks to us in the here and now as we travel together…. it is for all of us wherever our travel takes us today or tomorrow.
“Lord of the Utter East, you know where we are on our life voyages. Preserve us from death, water curses, and dark island dreams. Give us the courage to endure rough storms and dull calms. Keep showing us how to get to your country from our world. And help us to know you better here.”
Amen and Amen.
 (Excerpts adapted from an out-of-print Narnia Devotional. Additional text and ideas from a re-print of a Handle Article 2011 written by Michelle Lee Thompson).

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Matter of Respect

Just a warning - today my Crayon Box is a Soap Box.

I just learned that NFL cheerleaders of the Dallas Cowboys are planning on going topless at next Sunday’s game.  They, in unity, have decided to do this because of the oppression that women have suffered throughout the centuries.  With the constraining, restrictive attire that is thrust on women, plus the blatant discrimination between men being able to go shirtless at games and women needing to cover up – these brave women are fighting back and taking a stand.  Other NFL cheerleading teams are planning to follow the example, including the Minnesota Vikings cheer squad.  They will be linked arm and arm, defying age-old norms, and taking their issue public.  In an interview, one Dallas cheerleader sees this act as a protest not just against men in general but specifically against the male President of the United States, the male founders of this country, the male authors of the constitution and the vast majority of males who lead the military. These women have simply had enough.   They encourage other cheerleaders to follow suit at every level, even high school. Bare-chested is one way to get attention and get an important point across.

I am bluffing of course.  There is no such rally being planned that I know of but I am keenly aware of a similar situation that I am wrestling with even now. The person in the apex of the controversy is Kaepernick and that dilemma is kneeling for the National Anthem.

Colin Rand Kaepernick (/ˈkæpərnɪk/ KAP-er-nick;[1] born November 3, 1987) is an American football quarterback who is currently a free agent. Kaepernick began his professional football career as a backup quarterback to Alex Smith, and he became the 49ers' starter in the middle of the 2012 season after Smith suffered a concussion. He then remained the team's starting quarterback for the rest of the season, leading the team to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1994.
“During the 2013 season, his first full season as a starter, Kaepernick helped the 49ers reach the NFC Championship Game. Kaepernick signed a six-year contract extension with the 49ers, worth up to $126 million, including $54 million in potential guarantees, and $13 million fully guaranteed.
“Over the next three seasons, however, Kaepernick and the 49ers failed to qualify for the playoffs. Kaepernick's performance was pointed out as a major reason, which led to him being benched multiple times over that span.
“During the 2016 season, Kaepernick gained nationwide attention when he began protesting by not standing while the United States national anthem was being played before the start of games. His actions were motivated by what he viewed as the oppression of people of color in the country.[2][3] Kaepernick's controversial behavior prompted a wide variety of responses, which included additional athletes in the NFL and other American sports leagues protesting the anthem in various ways.
“Following the season's end, he opted to drop out of his contract with the 49ers to become a free agent. His free agency status has also been the subject of discussion and controversy, with some believing that his protests, and not performance, were the reason he was not signed with a team for the 2017 season. “ (

Kaepernick’s initial action has sparked a wild-fire among National level sports teams, and most obviously in the National Football League.  The fire hasn’t stopped there as it has spread to colleges, universities, high schools and even third grade teams in small hometowns. 

Kaepernick’s example and the avalanche that followed have prompted comments from the President of the United States, main-stream media, talk-show hosts, late night radio personalities, Facebook fanatics, along with teachers, coaches, mothers and fathers and even simple bloggers like myself. 

The heart of the matter and the heat of the debate seems to be…

Is this about race or respect?

Just because people have the right to kneel  - should they?

Our entire civilization is built on basic tenants of respect. Nudity in public, using profanity during sporting games or in interviews, or even simpler things like budging in line in a grocery store are just simple forms of respect that we follow everyday.  They are unspoken boundaries of honor and ways we treat one another.  So just because you can streak naked, swear and budge, doesn't mean you should. After all  it is not only disrespecting society – it really is disrespecting yourself. You honestly gain no ground for your cause when you are disrespectful. 

Standing for our National Anthem is one of those respectful acts. For three minutes, regardless of race, creed, religion, ethnic origin, or gender, we STAND united under the red, white and blue.  It is a few minutes we take a break from our politicking and bickering to stand quiet, side by side, soldier straight, and honor something.  To say, with our hats off, and our hands on our hearts, we are grateful.  We relive in those three minutes the three centuries of blood-shed and lives-lost. To honor something bigger than ourselves.

T o   s t a n d   b e c a u s e   w e   c a n .

So while the Kaepernicks have the right kneel, (because those same soldiers who are now being disrespected, gave Kaepernick and others that right), we also have the right as paying customers or common citizens to take issue with the disrespect.  We can say no.  We can instruct our children to find a different venue to protest.  We can insist that there is a better way to take issue with something. 

We can look to examples like William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela – who showed us what peaceful, respectful and true civil change and discourse looks like.  We can follow our Lord’s example who “wasted” a miracle on paying taxes to a corrupt Roman government and offered these words “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s.” Ultimate respect.

At the Flag Ceremony last week, I asked the children of Hand In Hand Christian Montessori to stand soldier straight and honor the colors, singing God Bless America.  “When you respect the flag,” I announced,  “you respect your parents and your leaders. You show gratefulness for the price paid for your freedom to attend a Christian school and worship God openly.  Albeit not perfect, we live in the greatest country on earth.”

Stand up. It is a matter of respect.

Click here to listen to Anthem Lights, a Christian music group from Nashville who released a medley of their favorite American-themed tunes sung A Capella. The medley includes the Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful among others.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Feasting while Fasting

My daughters, husband and I are doing something we haven't done before - fasting.  For 21-days, starting tomorrow, we are going to deny ourselves the things we really like the most (they all slightly rhyme)- cheese, meats, sweets, wheat, treats and a host of other little things.  (Yikes! Did I mention no chocolate or coffee?)  We are gingerly attempting the Daniel Fast, a 21-day, Biblical approach to the denial of "choice foods, meats and animal by-products" as suggested in the Holy Scripture in Daniel.

Why are we doing this?

For one, our church leaders suggested it.  As a church, we are all embarking on a fasting journey hoping to generate regeneration in our church family. Two, as a family we are asking for a spiritual, physical, emotional, physical and mental jump-start.  Three, I want to focus on a larger cooking variety, eating cleaner, back-to-basic foods, and tending to my family more than I have in the past. Finally, we are desiring the Lord more than we want cheese and chocolate - and other things that have become our normal ways of life.  My sixteen year old said "when I get hungry, I am going to write a prayer request on a notecard, and focus on that until the hunger pangs die down." While I have obstained from things in the past (caffeine, chocolate, Facebook), I haven't ever done a strict food-forbidden fast before.  This is a really a new experience. And my whole household is embarking with me. 

Why does it feel like we are standing on the edge of cliff?

In her book, "The Ultimate Guide to the Daniel Fast,"  Kristen Feola writes about the many advantages of fasting and ways to really enhance your fasting experience.  She guides you through the oxymoron of fasting. Fasting empowers us while enabling us to be dependent on God.  Fasting is about food and fasting is not about food.  Fasting is about you and fasting is not about you.  Fasting is a battle and fasting is about getting the victory. And first and foremost – fasting is about Jesus and will be life-altering if we fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfector of our faith (pages 19-22).

We feel as if we are getting our hearts ready, now we need to commit our heads as well. We started by cleaning out the fridge and the pantry.  We found a big box and labeled it “forbidden.”  We put all the things we truly love eating in that box.   Foods in the fridge that are now off limits we tucked in the corner and covered with red tissue paper signifying “stop!”

So let the Fast begin.

And now the sequel…

We completed the 21-day fast.  We survived. Really.  More than surviving, we were thriving! And now that it is done my husband and I can honestly say, “w e   w e r e   f e a s t i n g   w h i l e   f a s t i n g .”  My husband agreed that he never felt better.  My headaches were virtually non-existent. (Hard to say if it was the Daniel Fast and the absence of caffeine and chocolate or dairy OR MyPillow.Com pillow that I received for Christmas!)  We feel stronger, clearer, more intentional and above all – experienced the promised “fast forwarding” that fasting brings. The results were undeniable.  Events, conversations, appointments, ideas were plentiful and it seemed that everyday there was a deluge of heavenly blessings.

Healing happens at the table of the Lord!

We found Jesus in the Fast and learned He is the Lord of the Feast!

We spent quality time together cooking, baking, trying new recipes.  We encouraged one another and really cared how each other were faring along the way. It was an incredible family experience.

And now that it is over, what do we do next? Did we learn anything about ourselves or our three-times-a-day routine? Yes, we did. Here’s a few “take-aways” from the fast, which have now become apart of our health and wellness lifestyle:

1)   Vegetables are the main part of the meal. Repeat – vegetables are the main part of the meal. We have had zucchini and squash-spaghetti which are now a family favorite instead of pasta.  That says something coming from an Italian!
2)   Fruit and nuts and seeds are now a main stay for breakfast and snacks instead of cheese, cheese, and more cheese.
3)   The three ABCs of brain-health are avocado, beets (either juice or pickled), and coconut oil/products. We are putting these three things in many things!
4)   Drinking spring water first thing in the morning and throughout the day is essential.
5)   Deliberately cutting out all “added sugar” as much as humanly possible. This really is the silent killer and seems to be in everything! This takes work but there are granolas without sugar and peanut butters without sugar.  This does not suggest going “sugar-free” which is a chemical alternative.  This means going without.
6)   Popcorn and baked chips with salsa are the go-to snacks.
7)   We can eat a whole lot less than we thought and still be plenty full and satisfied.
8)   Smoothies with almond/coconut milk are really good and good for you.
9)   Date honey is the best replacement for a sweetener.
10)                 We absolutely need meat and eggs as protein sources.  Beans do not cut it.
11)                 Kale, brussel sprouts, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, green beans and green peppers are all must-haves on the shopping list.
12)                 Cheese and chocolate and coffee are good. They are feel good foods – and I really like them. Plus, I am in love with alliteration, so it works for me! 

And the list goes on as we discover and try new ideas.  I just made a smoothie today: coffee (fair-trade, Columbian), almond/coconut milk, hemp seeds, cinnamon, and one banana.  All I can say is “more please!” 

It’s just another way that once again, God’s ideas of clean eating and living, as described in the Bible and especially the Daniel Fast, allow His People to feast while fasting. There is peace, grace and healing at the Table of the Lord.

Enjoy this amazing Chris Tomlin song with video sounds and sights of the “Table of the Lord!”

Come and feast friends.