50 Days to 50 Years: Day 13, morning coffee with Beth Chamberlain, morning Yoga with Ali Jo, and lunch at Auntie Em’s Kitchen with Vicki Schmidt

19 07 2016

“When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.” — Helen Keller

Tuesday was packed to the brim with goodness: the goodness of beautiful lady mentors, beautiful Yoga, and delicious food and drink!

I jetted out the house earlier than usual so that I could meet Dr. Beth Chamberlain at Peet’s Coffee in Pasadena’s South Lake area. Beth is the wife of Pastor Scott Chamberlain, the campus pastor at Montrose Church Pasadena-Bresee. She is a very beautiful soul, with the most gorgeous eyes that drip with awareness and compassion. She is the type of person that I would like to be: someone who has such an incredible weight and presence that you are content to just be around them. I also admire her and Scott because, like Hermione and Samuel, they adopted two children that were not their own. The Chamberlains pastored in Skid Row for many years, and took on the care of two African-American boys connected to their mission, and raised them along with their own two children. That really does take a special kind of heart, and speaks volumes of who Beth and Scott are as people of God, and humans in general.

I wanted to ask Beth some insightful questions to get to know her better, but like the skilled counselor that she is, she turned it around and asked me some very deep and thought-provoking ones. So I talked about everything from my childhood in Chicago to my best and worst birthdays to date.

It was all too short for me, but Beth had to get to her office. So we hugged, took a selfie, and she was off to the rest of her day. It’s been six years since I’ve had a traditional job, and I’m always reminded how blessed I am that I don’t have to do that any more.

Since I was already in Pasadena and had to teach at noon, it only made sense to get in a 9:00 a.m. C-2 with Miss Alexandra Johansen!

Ali Jo is our beautiful, Amazonian, North Los Angeles Lead for several of the CorePower studios, and another exceptional human. I had the opportunity to be a coach in one of the Teacher Trainings she led, and it was one of the best experiences all around. I greatly enjoy Ali Jo’s classes for their complex simplicity, and her phenomenal cues. She is a young lady with a lovely presence and a generous heart. I used to throw an annual tree trimming party around Christmastime, and I asked people to bring an ornament for the tree. Ali Jo not only brought an ornament, but gifts for my dogs! How cool is that?! She is blessed with a gorgeous beau named Dana (of whom I greatly approve—not that it matters) and a cool bulldog named Joe who I would love to steal from her for a play date with my fur babies… One day.

As usual, Ali Jo set my morning off right, and my noon class was exceptionally sweet with focused students and good energy. Then it was off to my afternoon break, where I met Vicki Schmidt at Auntie Em’s Kitchen in Eagle Rock!

I only know Auntie Em’s because they have some slammin’ coffee and great bakery items. I had never sampled their lunch items, but I was happy to have the opportunity to do so with Ms. Vicki.

As I said in Day 16, Vicki has a special needs son named Jimmy. He is actually an adult, but still needs round the clock care for a variety of ailments. So when Vicki is not working, and able to get nursing help, she finds time to be with her friends, of which I am glad to be counted among them.

Vicki attended CCN long before Lynn and I came, but due to needing to care for Jimmy, and her daughter Traci’s illness, she didn’t attend often, so I hadn’t formally met her. For about two years I would hear about this woman named Vicki and her daughter Traci; Traci was often on the prayer list, because she had undergone a bone marrow transplant for a rare lymphoma, and was currently in remission. In my mind, I assumed Vicki was this 30-something mother, and Traci was a little girl. When I finally met Vicki and Traci, I was surprised to find Vicki to be a mature woman in her late 50s, and Traci was the 30-something mother—with kids to boot! We had a good laugh over that.

Vicki has been going through a painful and energy-sucking divorce; yet despite that, and the constant ups and downs with Jimmy’s care, she always bears a beautiful smile, a ready hug, and like Dr. Beth, an exceptional listening ear. She’s also incredibly fun and funny, bearing the cutest giggle when something strikes her as humorous.

Thankfully the ugly heat wave predicted this week had not hit yet, so we sat outside and knoshed on Quiche and a Pulled Pork Sandwich. It was obvious that we were both exceptionally hungry, as neither one of us took a food picture. In between bites of the really good food, we caught up on our lives and mutually encouraged each other. Vicki is also part of that group of CCN friends who have seen Lynn and I through hell and high water, and she is always faithful to check in on how we are really doing, instead of  assuming that just because we don’t have any crises going on that we must be fine.

When we decided to split a Strawberry Creme Bread pudding, and the waitress brought it out, it was a sight to behold—so a picture was not only required, it was an imperative!

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Of course, we smashed that too. Auntie Em’s did not disappoint!

Vicki had to get home to Jimmy, and I had to get back to the studio to teach my 5:30 p.m. class; but it was a wonderful completion to a day rich with women of exceptional gifting and generous spirit. A person is fortunate to have one of those in their life, and I am blessed with three.





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 14, Bea Bea’s Brunch with Dave and Meegan

18 07 2016

“Happiness is time spent with a friend and looking forward to sharing time with them again.” — Lee Wilkinson

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The bunch at Bea Bea’s in Burbank really know how to do breakfast. They offer the usual breakfast fare, but with specialties like “Thai Tea Pancakes” or “Green Tea Monster”, and their menu items have fun names like, “Jumpin’ Jacks”, “Pooh’s Sunrise”, and “Chocolate Tuxedo”. Unbeknownst to me, Meegan had fallen in love with the place when she had to go out to Burbank for her hand therapy. So when we were deciding on where to meet for this 50 Days to 50 Years challenge, and I mentioned Bea Beas, her eyes lit up. Score!

An added bonus: I got to see the Weilands on Saturday, and on Monday—so blessed!

Lynn and I met the Weilands at Congregational Church of Northridge, and we all hit it off right away. We are in the same age wheelhouse, although Dave, Meegan, and Lynn have already crossed over to the 50 club. Lynn and Dave are both Valley boys born and raised, but with parents of Midwest stock; so they share lots of similar growing up experiences and values. Dave is a sound engineer by trade, and Lynn is an electronics geek, so they can talk ad infinitum about esoteric minutiae that would bore the rest of us to tears.

Meegan is the baby girl of a large family, and so am I; so our growing up experiences also paralleled. She is a creative genius, who can craft or crochet anything. There was a time when I had a baby shower to go to, and wanted a unique present. Meegan went into her stash and pulled out the most beautiful baby caps and blankets—stuff that she had on hand, just in case someone needed it. That’s the kind of people they both are: committed, prepared, and generous beyond measure.

We barely knew them when they helped out at our wedding. And as our friendship has grown, they have been our supports and encouragement through some toxic years. From taking care of our dogs when Lynn was in the emergency room, to letting us hang at their house when we were in between situations.

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The New Living Translation of Proverbs 17:17 says “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” When you find people who are constant through the highs and lows, treasure them, because they are rare.

The Weilands are such treasure, and I am thankful they choose to call us friends.

 

 





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 17, Craft Burgers at Morrison with Bob McNelis

15 07 2016

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” – C.S. Lewis

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You’ve heard the phrase, “The family that prays together stays together.” Well I believe, “The friends that sing together become lifelong friends.”

Lynn and I met Bob as part of the worship team at the Congregational Church of Northridge, and we all sang together the better part of the 8 years that we attended. Bob is a mellifluous tenor that I loved harmonizing with. He has an equally delightful laugh; and as you can see, we do that a lot when we get together, and it always serves to brighten my day.

Bob is a gem of a human being. Mostly raised in the South, he has the sensibilities of a southern gentleman. He also has a deeply compassionate heart, and truly cares for people. In a multitude of ways, he has been a true friend to Lynn and me.

Bob is also a talented actor. Brent Spiner, “Data” of Star Trek The Next Generation  is his doppelganger. If Brent’s name was still household, he could probably milk it, especially in this age of social media… but that’s not Bob’s style.

Bob is also a gifted conversationalist. We talk about everything from politics, to pop culture, to books, psychology, to film and television. He is a genuine listener, who truly looks for insight and ideas from others, not just ways to refute your opinion if he feels it is wrong. This makes him a pleasant presence to be around, especially with more bombastic types.

So of course, there could be no way that I could celebrate the people who have shaped and transformed my life without including Bob. And in his always-game-for-an-adventure fashion, he came along for the ride.

Morrison is a fairly new local haunt in Atwater Village, and I just love it. Not only is the food the bomb diggy, but the drinks are top shelf. They have a $6.00 Happy Hour which I have frequented more than a few times; so it seemed the perfect place to spend a Friday afternoon.

For the second day in a row I ordered a Classic Burger with all the fixings (eggs and all), and we shared Cheese Fries with Bacon Jam (Hello!). And it wouldn’t be a visit to Morrison without ordering my favorite Moscow Mule. Bob ordered a Filet Mignon Burger and a diet coke. All types of ironies with that one, but we’ll leave it at that.

We decided to split a Key Lime Pie for dessert. I was expecting a sliver of green with some lime slices and whipped cream. So glad I was disappointed! What we got was a gastronomical delight: a cheesecake consistency surrounded by whipped cream and drizzled with caramel, with a side of vanilla ice cream with a sprig of mint. Morrison now has the reputation not only for great drinks, but great desserts!

Bob started attending another church around the same time we moved on to Montrose, so we don’t see each other as often. But he always reaches out to us and continues to stay in touch. There are so many people who simply allow the drift to happen once the social unit that first formed the friendship is gone.

I appreciate that he honors us as his friends and continues to include us in his life. Thank you, Bob for being a valuable part of our survival.

 

 





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 19, Hope for the next Generation

13 07 2016

“We’re hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in. And we’ll put you in your neighborhood, and we will help you resolve some of the problems you’re protesting about.” — Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown

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I do not have any children of my own, but I do have grand nieces and nephews; and I mourn for the world we are making for them. Just looking at our two presidential choices lets you know that we lack integrous leaders who can speak to the tragedies we have been facing, and offer an example for our children to look toward.

Like cream, Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown has risen to the top. With the recent murders of four Dallas police officers, his handling of the ongoing situation, as well as his honest and forthright assessment of the role of police in society, and being a black man in uniform has been refreshing, transforming, and has set a much needed tone in the conversation of police brutality and urban violence.

A New York Times article said, “He was hurting, self-effacing and, as he put it, a little fried. At a news conference on Monday, he spoke about the crisis facing law enforcement, his experience as a black man in Texas, guns and division, and what kept him going — ‘God’s grace and his sweet, tender mercies, just to be quite honest with you.'”

Another refreshing thing: someone who speaks of God and actually means it.

I believe Chief Brown will be a voice in these days of unrest. My prayer is that more leaders like him begin to rise; our nation, and the next generation, desperately needs them.





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 23, Griffith Observatory with the Velas!

9 07 2016

“Beautiful memories are like old friends. They may not always be on your mind, but they are forever in your heart.” — Susan Gale

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Hermione and Samuel Vela are longtime and lifetime friends. Hermione and I met at The Church on the Way back in the mid-90s. While we knew each other, our relationship was mostly seeing each other on Sundays and at college and single’s group activities. I started attending a particular single’s group at the megachurch, and met a unique and stellar young man named Kelly Rivers. He invited me to his “Breakfast Club” early on Thursday mornings, and I discovered that Hermione and several other friends I knew were a part of it. That helped to change the nature of our relationship, and we started building a friendship outside of the group. However, when she asked if I wanted to meet one-on-one for accountability and prayer, well that pretty transformed us individually and corporately.

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Charles Finney said, “Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.”

He is right. Hermione is a sister of my heart, as well as my family, and much of that is a result of the time we have spent together in prayer. The older I get, the more I understand how rare and how precious this bond is, and I am grateful to have it.

Hermione has seen and prayed me through depression, family reconciliation, loneliness, financial stress, faith struggles—the highs and the lows over two decades. I saw her come together with Samuel, and she and Samuel saw my coming together with Lynn.

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She was there to welcome my sister June and niece Gabi to California, and she was there to support me as June battled illness after illness, left to go back to Chicago, then returned to ultimately pass away. Hermione and Samuel grieved with us when June went to glory, and was there to support us as we navigated that grief.

Through upheavals, moves, and times of inertia we have maintained a quality friendship and a prayer partnership, and I am thankful and blessed that the quality of the friendship gets richer as we advance in years.

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One of the great privileges of lifelong friendship is to see the growth of family and relationships. Over the last several years, Samuel and Hermione have chosen to foster and then adopt two children: Jaxin and Yolanda. They are brother and sister, and as is the plight of many foster children, their lives have not been easy and their hurdles are often high. It takes a special heart to not only welcome these children into your family, but to work and fight to help them leap those hurdles and become who God created them to be; not what hard circumstances deformed them to be. Samuel and Hermione have those beautiful hearts, and I admire and revere them for this.

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Juggling schedules with children takes a certain type of art, but we were able to get together to celebrate their contribution to my 50 Days to 50 Years. We spent the evening at Griffith Observatory for their “Star Party”. Once a month, the observatory encourages amateur astronomers to bring their telescopes, and the staff have their own set up to assist interested parties in seeing constellations, the moon, and even some of the planets.

I brought a picnic of hot dogs, potato salad, vegetarian casserole, tacos, and brownies, and we knoshed, talked and watched all the buzz around the telescopes. We got a few views through telescopes of the moon, but for the most part we just spent time enjoying each other’s company and getting to know Jaxin and Yolanda a bit better.

Griffith Observatory is awesome for 360 degree views of Los Angeles, from Pasadena to the beach. We were able to take in the entire city from sun up to sunset, and enjoy the lights of the city that make Los Angeles look stunning.





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 25, Morning Coffee with Roger Barkley

7 07 2016

“You can tell a man is clever by his answers.
You can tell a man is wise by his questions.”
— Naguib Mahfouz

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I was extremely blessed to have Pastor Roger Barkley kick off Day 25 of these 50 Days to 50 Years at Priscilla’s in Toluca Lake. I had heard of Priscilla’s, and drove by it a million times, but never stopped for coffee—it was definitely worth the trip!

I have been fortunate to have two spiritual fathers in my life. Glenn Kirkpatrick was instrumental as a healer and a covering, who opened the way for Lynn to come into my life. Pastor Roger Barkley has been a spiritual father and shepherd to both me and Lynn for over 8 years.

Roger married us, and was a spiritual shepherd and support for my sister June as she walked through the last days of her battle with cancer. He was the first one there for us when she passed away, and gave the eulogy at her memorial service. Roger walked us through the grief of her loss, and the compounded grief from the loss of jobs, home, finances, and stability.

For many years he has been a touchstone for bedrock faith, resilience, and the gentle, brooding presence of the Holy Spirit.

So it was a delight to catch up with him, and on the happenings at the Congregational Church of Northridge (CCN). Roger asked some very insightful questions (as only a good shepherd can) about Montrose Church (our new church home), and what drew us in and keeps us coming. He honored me further by commending me for embracing and pursuing life on the entrance of this new decade. “You are someone who is open and committed to growth, so this next decade is going to be rich and fulfilling for you,” he said.

Coming from the wisdom of 69 years, that holds great weight. Roger is vibrant and still pursuing life to the fullest, and supporting the spiritual life for an entire congregation—so his words and support are of great worth.

We would have been hard pressed to get through those difficult years had it not been for Pastor Roger and the CCN, and we are thankful that even though we have transitioned to a new church home, we still maintain a friendship with him, and other members of CCN.

Like anything that matters, his resilience was not easily acquired. Roger’s faith journey is a testament to God’s hand, and how he uniquely weaves his plan for every life. Roger lived the first part of his adult life as an atheist before powerfully encountering the living God. The encounter was so profound that he left a high-powered career in sales and pursued the ministry. That alone is amazing; but the subsequent years of pursuing ministry and living life has been peppered with pain and suffering, highs and lows, and health struggles for himself and his loved ones. So when he expresses understanding, compassion, and gives counsel, you know it comes from a deep well of empathy and experience, and not just momentary emotions or spiritual platitudes.

What most blessed me about our time was his prayer before we parted. With the recent tragedies in our nation and around the world, there are many who are mocking those who offer prayers, as though the fact that these evils exist and continue is an indication that prayer is anemic, and makes no impact. Roger, me, Lynn, and many others that I know are a testament to the truth and power resident in prayer to not only mark a life, but cause it to overcome and thrive; not in an instant, but over the long term.

Without prayer, action and activism devolve into human error and destructiveness, and we are seeing this play out in our nation in ways that make me sick at heart. So do your activism and your outcries, but what will truly change these situations are inviting God’s power through prayer. No other way.

What many fail to understand is that the power is not in the mere act of prayer, but to whom the prayers are directed. Through Roger’s spiritual leadership, we have always been pointed to Jesus, and our prayers are directed to the one who came to save and give life, and that to the full. Because we have that fullness, we can be conduits of it to a world that is dying and desperate.





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 29, Sunday Worship, Sunday Fun!

4 07 2016

“An authentic life is the most personal form of worship.
Everyday life has become my prayer.”
— Sarah Ban Breathnach

Day 29 began with corporate worship at the Montrose Church. The authenticity of Pastor Dave Roberts, and his exhortation to us to live authentic and relevant lives is part of the reason we are excited to be in service every Sunday. We mostly attend the Pasadena-Bresee campus in the evening, but we change it up when we have an evening engagement or I have to work. So yesterday we attended the 10 am at the Montrose campus and got to see people we normally don’t on Sunday. Lynn ran into Bruce, a fellow he carpooled with to the Men’s Retreat in February, and I ran into Sandy Cortes, from my Women’s Bible Study small group. Sandy was kind enough to help me out with a medical appointment a few weeks back, and she is like my spirit sister; she is a delight to be around and her cooking is awesome.

At Jana’s birthday tea, she was wearing a pair of lady bug earrings—I told her I collect ladybugs! Then today, she was wearing an ebony elephant necklace, and I collect elephants too. Suffice to say we find commonalities we share every time we get to meet.

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Montrose is a lovely community, and they have a Sunday Farmer’s Market and car show; so after service we walked down to Honolulu Avenue and took in the produce, wares, and the classic cars. We returned home after a few hours, and I made cornbread to go with a delicious late lunch of Crockpot Chili. I’m doing as much as possible to not spend too much time in a hot kitchen, and Crockpots help this tremendously. Then we headed over to Memorial Park in La Canada-Flintridge to take in an Eagles cover band called “The Long Run“.

My new friend and social butterfly Jana had expressed interest in this event posted on Facebook, and Lynn and I love the Eagles. There are very few bands I want to see live. While live concerts are awesome, the money and mess that goes along with them is not something we like to subject ourselves to; but it would have been so great to see the Eagles live. Alas, Glenn Frey is no longer with us, so that one will never happen. But a good cover band will do in a pinch!

Lynn and I arrived at the park first, and scoped out some spots for all of us. Jana said her husband Mark would come at least for a little bit, and her daughter Becca was also planning to come. We found great seats just a few paces from the bandstand and straight on where we could see the band. Jana, Mark, and Becca found us, and we settled in and waited for the music to start.

It was a rocky start, though. The sound was not on point, and Gary Grantham, the lead singer who does the Glenn Frey vocals left much to be desired. Jana and I looked at each other, hoping that this wasn’t going to be a total dud. It turned a corner with the other vocalists: Bill Worrell doing the Timothy B. Schmit highs, Chris Sobkowich working a great impression of Joe Walsh, and Chris Varosy doing the Don Henley vocals, keyboards and percussion. That’s when it popped—the band seemed to hit a groove, and so did the audience. When Chris Varosy ended the first half with “Desperado”, the crowd went wild, and rightfully so. He did the song justice.

Mark and Becca left, so during the intermission Jana and I strolled through the park to see if she knew anyone. This area of town was virgin territory for me, so I wasn’t expecting to see anyone I knew. Boy, was I wrong! We spotted Betty Smith, the co-leader of our small group, and her husband, along with two people that I personally knew and Jana didn’t: Denae and Patrick, clients at CorePower, who used to regularly attend my early AM classes in Sherman Oaks! They were delighted to see me, and I them. They lived in the area, and were friends with Betty. We caught up, and I let them know my new teaching schedule and studios. Hopefully I’ll get to see one or both of them again in class soon.

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The rest of the night kicked into high gear when “The Long Run” came back with “Tequila Sunrise”, “Peaceful, Easy Feelin'” and “Hotel California”!

I decided to go “Live” on Facebook as Lynn and I sang along with the band:

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Betty tracked us down and encouraged us to get up to the stage and dance. I told her when my favorite Eagles tune came on, I would dance with her. Wouldn’t you know it, when the electric base line of “Life in the Fast Lane” started, I popped up and joined Betty at the stage. Lynn and Jana followed, and we joined folks up front line dancing, rocking out, and generally having a fantastic time. The band’s encore of “Heartache Tonight” was even better, and had most everyone out of their seats. Normally, we would have gone to Eagle Rock Park and seen their fireworks show by ourselves. While its nice, the communities of La Canada, La Crescenta and Montrose put Eagle Rock to shame—particularly in its friendliness. We have gone to Eagle Rock Park consistently for three or four years, and never met anyone new or felt welcomed by those around us. Thanks to our new friends at Montrose Church, we have been introduced to this warm, friendly enclave where people actually say “Hello” to you in the grocery store. It’s quite a change. We’re so glad we chose this instead, not only for the fun musical experience, but for the community, camaraderie and the unexpected meeting with old friends and new. I could not have planned a more cool evening had I tried.