Be Thou My Vision…

A “mantra” for the new year. Also one of my favorite hymns.

This evening I got in that mood again – the ooey, gooey, too much in-my-head-writing mood that I used to know more frequently when I spent my spare time writing blog posts and short stories. (That I would be humiliated by if anyone found them.) Now I waste time on social media  stalking “friends” who are far away, reposting dance videos and art to make me look cultured, some recipes, but mostly watching cat and dog videos… inspiring for certain.

When I got the crazy idea I should spend my quiet new year’s eve reflecting, being sentimental, writing about my past year and making plans for the new year, I asked the Lord, not in any coherent words, but more a subconscious kind of asking – what should be my focus for the new year? As soon as the thought crossed my mind other thoughts crossed too, and before I knew it I was pouring myself another glass of wine, washing the dishes, petting the cat… when I noticed I was humming and then singing a hymn. “High King of Heaven, my victory won…” I love it when the Lord does this. It seems to be one of the ways he captivates and retrieves my wandering mind…
What does Be Thou My Vision have to do with my new year? He guided me to the book 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymns. I was amazed to discover that this hymn came from an ancient Irish prayer, written in the eighth century 400 years after Saint Patrick evangelized the Druids in Ireland, and translated in 1905 by Mary Elizabeth Byrne, a scholar in Dublin. It was set to tune by Eleanor Hull of Manchester, England. One of our most timeless hymns, it resonates with my constant pleading the Lord for vision – for my life, for my art, for the last two and a half years my thesis concert. (Another thing he’s teaching me is to pray with an attitude of thanksgiving and faith that he has already given or done what I ask, rather than pleading for it.) I feel distracted and unclear a lot of the time, the complexities and anxieties in my own thoughts ousting clarity. I know only he gives me purpose and vision, and I constantly have to remind myself to submit my will and my vision to his. I’m learning, due the wise words of Madeline L’Engle, that I am not the master of my own life nor art, but a servant of the Master Creator’s  masterpiece – I serve his work that he has an immaculate vision for it that will not fail. I can trust that, no matter how long it takes and no matter if I ever see the completed masterwork this side of life, he will accomplish it and it will be good.
The more I submit to his will the more I see the vision for the masterpiece more clearly. The fog and fear and anxiety strips away. There is still a lot of work to be done, and I learn every day some new way I fail and have to start again. But knowing I serve his masterpiece takes a lot of stress off myself and I can focus again on the task.

Before I get too carried away, let’s take a look at some of my past new year’s goals with fresh eyes and clear vision. How can Be Thou My Vision infuse some of these with clarity and steam for goals this year?

To be honest, I often cringe when I look at my past goals. I have thirty of these written on my blog, “30 before 30”, which I have not looked at in a number of years. If my blog were a journal it would have cobwebs on it by this point. I went through a couple years ago and deleted the majority of the foolish ones. They are so telling where my heart and priorities have lain. Many of them are good things too:

#1 Backpack Europe before I turn 25 (because Euro rail is cheaper). Hmm I guess I’ll have to postpone this one, until I get a real job and can afford the full post-25 adult price.
#2 Get a “real job” and save money. I think I should have thrown that one out long ago. How about get a job that has a contract for more than 6 months and/or benefits?
#4 Pay off my student loans. hmm well, I started once before grad school. I will have to start again soon, with that real job…
#8 Get married and start having kids. Before 30, mind you! Isn’t it funny how 30 seems to get younger the closer I get to it?
#12 Get a Master’s degree in something useful. I’m pretty sure I made this one because my undergrad wasn’t very useful. Well, too bad my Master’s isn’t considered “useful” either. At least I didn’t go into more debt.
#15 Put a down payment on a house. Well, still have a year a half to scramble into that one…if I can ever get a job and decide where I’m living!
#18 Get my Pilates certification. Woohoo! made one!
#26 See the Grand Canyon. Totally doable. But if I still haven’t done it in the past 28 years when I grew up in one state over and visit my parents at least once a year, this is going to take some initiative.
Alright. This list is about a lot of different action goals. I’ve added quite a few other goals each year, usually to do with training, diet and health, spiritual devotion and prayer, and usually something about using my time better… the last one will definitely reoccur this year. But these are still actions, and when I make action goals I frequently disappoint. When I ponder Be Thou My Vision, it has to do with the attitude of the heart.
Setting the attitude of my heart on things that are lasting, an eternal mindset, strips away the fog, fear, anxiety. This is also something the Lord has been revealing to me about Beauty through my thesis concert. What makes someone truly beautiful? A heart that belongs to the Lord. He is Truth and Perfection, the ultimate revelation of Beauty. The first verse of the hymn reads, “Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that Thou art; Thou my best thought, by day or by night, waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.” A heart that is submitted to and longs for the Lord – that heart’s vision will be clear because it is illuminated by his radiant presence. Being in his presence is the best feeling in the world. His presence pierces the darkness and brings tears of joy to heal the sadness and pain. Lord knows there is a lot pain and hardship I endured this year. He never left me. His presence was a comfort to me, but also something I too quickly left or discounted. Practicing the Presence, as 17th century Brother Lawrence did – is a difficult task for anyone living on planet earth with unending distractions and needs.  Yet that is the best way I know how to submit the attitude of my heart to Him. Willfully choose to set my thoughts on him and surrender to his Spirit, his vision, his beauty. Thank God for the grace he offers through his Son Jesus Christ for all the times I fall out of practice. Let this year be a year of practicing the Presence and, not in any task-oriented, legalistic sort of way, a joyous constant surrendering of my heart to eternal Beauty.
Photo on 5-8-15 at 7.28 AM #2
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Beauty in Unexpected Places

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One of our maintenance staff stopped me in the hall today. I usually pass by them, saying hello and sometimes stopping to chat with one of the older ladies I’m friends with, Evelyn. It’s easy to learn their names because they’re embroidered on their blue janitorial shirts… I kind of have an unfair advantage and didn’t realize they might not all know my name, although we see each other everyday after 4:30pm. That’s why it wasn’t a surprise when he asked, a bit hesitantly: “What’s your name, miss? … If I may ask?” I told him, and glanced at his jacket as I asked his. I admit I didn’t really know this man’s name, although I’d heard it before – I usually recognized him as the man with one lame arm, that I sometimes feel pity for when I see him dutifully sweeping some corner under our five-floor spiral staircase, or pushing that massive waxing machine with his one good arm – and he always does it so cheerfully. “Woodrow. “Wood or Woody,” he confirmed. I felt the corners of my mouth turn up – just a little, not too much. He continued, “I’ve been meaning to tell you how much I appreciate that you’re always smilin’ and that you’re always kind,” he said thoughtfully, then paused, “that’ll take you far in life.” I stood directly opposite him in the hall by the water fountain, he holding a broom in his good hand, me with my leg brace and carrying my black laptop bag. I put my back against the call board in case anyone needed to pass by. “Thanks,” I muttered, then something else about being fortunate to still be doing what I love… I really wasn’t been feeling it today. Honestly, I thought to myself, I don’t know how I’m going to get a job next year. I’m tired of barely being able to pay my bills and if I don’t stop injuring the only instrument I have that my entire vocation depends on, I don’t know what I’ll do… It’s the first time in 28 years I haven’t had some naive, ambitious answer for the ugly reality of ‘how are you going to be able to sustain living and dancing’?
“How much longer do you have?” Woody asked. “This is my last year in the MFA program,” I said, relaxing a bit and setting down my bag. I liked this old man. I could see his big, gold tooth through his smile clearly for the first time, perhaps because I stopped for long enough and actually have him my full gaze, there in the dingy light. He seemed as excited for me as I should have been as he asked about my future. Again I had no definite answer, but told him about how I’ll probably teach in a university like this one day because that’s the most stable job I can expect to get with my degree. I wondered what dreams this old man had at one time. Does he still have dreams? Ambitions? What struggles has he fought to keep going through life with his deformity? “Well, I know you have a bright future ahead,” he told me. “Soon you’ll be up there looking down on the rest,” he said, waving his hand in the direction of our state-of-the-art theatre one floor above us. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” I said with a chuckle. He sighed and motioned it was time for him to go. “Well, keep that smile. I know I-we really appreciate it,” he said, motioning to mean the rest of the maintenance staff. “Your attitude, your kindness – they’ll get you far. I know you have a bright future ahead. I can see it!” His eyes lit up as he said it; he picked up his broom and waved goodbye as he headed off. I was glad too, as I picked up my bag, because I had started to tear up and I knew it was beginning to show. “Thanks Woodrow, I appreciate it!” I said as I picked up my bag and turned the corner to walk as fast as my bum leg would allow As soon as I stepped into the sun outside I burst into tears. My heart was so heavy, and touched – yet I didn’t quite understand what had happened back there. I sobbed as I walked toward the red brick parking garage in the humid Florida sun.
Kindness hasn’t gotten me far in this cut-throat, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps life, I thought to myself, and it certainly has done nothing for my professional career. In fact I often feel overlooked and under-appreciated. Why do I keep trying to do this? I ask myself. The psychological income I receive certainly doesn’t pay my health insurance and surgery and physical therapy costs… I always thank choice and fortune for shining down on me. This man who offered me rare appreciation… Why not do it for him? For the millions of other people who don’t have the choice to pursue their art? I why am I still here dancing if it isn’t to make a shared human experience and to illuminate Beauty to color this harsh world… Perhaps the old man has a point.

New Year-ish 2013

Here’s to a rather late start to a new year – 2013 is going to be a year of expectancy for me and Matt. I am reminded that I don’t march to the same beat as everyone else, and my life certainly does not follow the same pattern as everyone else. Neither does his. We are each different from the “norm” for different reasons, that is, if the “norm” is living the American dream. We are both poor performing artists who want to be making music or dancing rather than working mundane jobs, and our lives for different reasons have taken the long away around getting to those things that people are supposed to be doing in their late twenties, getting a boring job and making boring money, living a cushy life, getting married, having kids.  The only thing I can count on is that the Lord brought us together for a reason and He has good plans for each of us, to fulfill the dreams and desires He gave us.

I began to get sad tonight about how my life isn’t following the “American Dream” like so many of my friends’ lives are, until I was reminded that the American Dream is not really what I want anyway.  I want the dreams the Lord has for me.  In 2013, I am content to know that the Lord is leading me, and that the trajectory of my life will look and always has looked different from most of those around me.

In Psalm 37:4 there is a promise: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord. Trust in Him, and He will act.”

I am beginning to see evidence that my dreams are being revealed and He is indeed giving me the desires of my heart. He is so good! He can always be trusted. I am looking forward to the things He has prepared for this year. I have given my heart, my dreams, my desires to Him. He is my all and He is worthy of trust. What lies ahead that I cannot see I entrust to Him…

I entrust to the Lord what happens in the next 3 years as I enter graduate school. My relationships, finances, talent and gifts I also entrust to Him. I trust Him to work out the details of my M and my relationship and to provide the necessary funds for living expenses when I move to Florida. Thank you Lord for opening the doors so far, and thank you for the peace you have given me about this new step. As easy as it is for me to be impatient with things like relationships, I trust your timing. I’ve seen You give my dancing back to me and I am beginning to see how You are keeping Your promise to use my talents; You raised me from despondency and self pity. You have given me joy.

Let me shine my light in the darkness. Give me favor with my employers, coworkers, fellow students, and those I come in contact with.

Peanut Butter Christmas Fudge

Some of the wonderful things about being home for Christmas is relaxing and not doing much, sleeping in, making Christmas gifts, playing in the snow, and making and eating lots of sweets and Christmas goodies. My favorite thing is the fudge – I use an easy microwave recipe that’s been in the family for years, and often a peanut butter fudge or divinity. Here is a recipe for the five-star peanut butter fudge Food Network recipe from Alton Brown I used this year. I can give it five stars, only don’t ask me how it handled in my stomach. If you think you can resist eating more than one piece, go ahead and make a batch or two to share. 🙂

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DONE with chocolate chip cookies

This girl is d-o-n-e with chocolate chip cookies. Unless they have whole grain flour and organic chocolate chunks…

I am usually a cookie fiend – that’s why I don’t keep sweets in the house. My dad always wanted my sister and I to make him cookies when we were growing up, and I soon become addicted – and obsessed with baking. Last year I found out from my German flatmate in England that my name, my dad’s family name Krumel was the German name for the big Sesame Street Cookie Monster – “Krumel Monster”, which I love to share now, and have probably written in too many blog posts.

Sweets are the only bad thing in my diet, and that is because when I eat them it is often out of control. This year I committed to giving up white sugar. I really want to get all processed white crap out of my diet, but I have to start with one at a time, and this one is the most difficult to tackle. I have had several major set-backs, usually surrounding “that time of the month” or at friends’ houses or at parties or when we have sweets at the office. I don’t keep sugar in my house except for the times I make excuses to bake something for friends because, honestly, I want a “taste” (a rather large taste it ends up being too).

One of those moments happened today. It has been a long week full of deadlines and staying up till 2am, so I am glad to have ballet and work this afternoon canceled. I am house sitting, and decided to bake cookies for the house family once they get back, to replace the ones I ate. What better than chocolate chip cookies, the great American tradition? I hate to brag, but this batch turned out the closest to a cook book picture I have ever done – but I won’t brag for long. They tasted awful! I kept eating some of the dough to get my sugar fix and feel-better remedy, but it didn’t help. I don’t know why I keep going back to sweets for comfort and stress-relief. Real good quality chocolate does help, but these chocolate chips tasted like plastic in my mouth – maybe it is because I have been consciously avoiding sweets these last couple months, and it is starting to set in and my taste buds are recognizing the switch – I thought surely my few set-backs have ruined my efforts, but they were vegan carob and cocoa brownies, not chocolate chip cookies. This time I made the real deal – with Nestle semi-sweet mini chips, real butter and eggs… and I literally felt sick (it’s not the old wives tale of raw eggs. It’s stomach on crap-overload.) Half an hour later, I am feeling the low from the sugar “high”, and this is without having completely cut sugar from my diet in the last two months! I hope I remember the awful plastic-y taste and sluggishness I felt after eating that cookie dough/cookies so I don’t do it again. I would rather waste my sweet indulgence on something better, and maybe of a little more nutritional value – chocolate chip cookies have a nutritional value about the same as Easy Mac – nadda, unless you count the calcium from the chocolate chips and butter, and the vitamins from the eggs.

After all, this great American tradition of ours ain’t so grand. It’s only 80 years old (Ruth Wakefield invented chocolate chip cookies in 1930) and has aided in the national “Western diseases” of obesity, diabetes, and cancer. Forgive me for being so negative; I still love to bake, but am getting more and more fed up with the white, refined crap we (myself included) are sold by commercialism and organized agriculture and force our bodies to try to recognize it and do something with it. I have a sweet tooth and probably always will, but I can re-teach my body good from bad.