Thursday, April 17, 2014

MTV music video is done. Oh buddy.

I've been on a social media fast for Lent. I've also put a hold on blogging for awhile.

I'll probably write on my thoughts on that soon.

But, I break my blogging break to bring you our Chinese music video debut. If you missed the details about the filming, here they all their blackmailing material glory.

Since the release of this video, we've had friends text and tell us they've seen it in their hotels and on the bus. As you watch, notice the lack of close ups on my fingers as I play the piano. It might be because they had to bring in a piano teacher to show me how to position my hands. It might also be that once I learned how to position my hands, I just pretended to type my name like it was a keyboard.

Yes, I still have the dress.

For a single that's put out by someone with actual musical talent (unlike me), check out this new single:

It will bless your soul.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Little Blogging Break

I'm taking a blogging break. I could take your hand and walk you down a romantic diatribe of why I need to step back for a bit. Here's the bottom of it:

I'm tired.

I have an uneasy feeling that 2014 is going to be a year of me coming to terms with my weaknesses. One of my disillusionments is that I can do anything I want to. I've bought into the American mantra and now I'm tired.

I don't have a theme or a word for this year. Only a task: Lose Control.

I am hoping that my brain will find its functionality in the next few months and I'll pick up writing again. I need writing, so I'm praying that the Lord would refresh my soul in the next few months and I'll be back at it soon enough.

We also started watching Downton Abbey. That's not helping me with setting healthy margin in my life.

I just jumped into the instagram game. Thank you 21st century. I'm going to try and still post pics there if you want to follow along, you can find me here:  cvaughn

Until then...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My First Magazine Article Published!

Hey guys!

My first magazine article was published today and I'm pumped. This whole magazine article thing could get addictive. You sit down, write, edit, and only self-doubt for a page or two of a Word document. It's bliss.

This online publication is fantastically encouraging, especially to women who are involved in overseas work. It's clean, beautiful, and symmetrically laid out. I have issues with symmetry.

I wrote about how the neediness of Mary Magdalene makes me panic. Here's the first little bit:

Mary Magdalene freaks me out. Her underlying, desperate neediness with Jesus can be unnerving. When I read her stories I picture a pasty, scrawny seventh-grader pathetically eager to join the kickball game at recess.

The rest can be found here. 

Check it out and while you're at it, browse the rest of the site. It really is that good. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Getting Kids Writing

My kids have been writing in journals since they could form a coherent sentence. While I've had to veto words like 'Poop' and 'Butt,' I've loved watching their minds open to imagination. I feel like imagination is what lets us humans breathe. It's in those moments of creative abandon that I feel we are truly human. It allows us to breathe in our souls and breathe out things created by a force other than reason and logic.  In this post I'll focus on some helpful websites. Once I locate my motivation I'll post about some original ideas. But man that motivation can be an elusive creature to find sometimes.

Here are three of my favorite writing prompt sites for middle/high school students. I loved these because they are based on pictures or .gif files to get their brains cranking out creative energy.

Writing Prompts

Photo Prompts

Wilson College has a list of some fantastic prompts that will get high schoolers writing a more lengthy passage. If you have an advanced Jr. High student I think they can handle most of these also. 

A sample entry:

 Describe the room of one of the following: a high school student about to drop out; a cashier who has just won the lottery; a faded movie star who still thinks she's famous; a paranoid person, etc (see full list of suggestions in What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers). Be as detailed as possible.

A few favorites for elementary age:

Age K-6. You can choose the age-appropriate level on the first screen. 

These are fun ones to get them writing more short story types of entries. They are geared towards maybe 3-5 graders. These have spurred on many that I can take and branch off of to create my own prompts for them. 

Here are a few:

  1. Imagine if cows gave green juice instead of milk!  What would the world look like?
  2. Imagine that all the streets are rivers? How do you get around?
  3. What would happen if it really did rain cats and dogs?

If you're a Pinterester, here's a board with tons of links to great writing helps for elementary-aged students.

All ages:

This site (Daily Teaching Tools) has 180 journal prompts, one for every school day. These are fairly age neutral, maybe tweeking a few so as to make them fit the specific age-level. There are so many here that even if you only journal once a week you'll have plenty to pick from. 

Here are two examples:

 *Write a thank you note to a friend who gave you onion and garlic-flavored chewing gum.
journal writing prompts
 *Draw an imaginary constellation. Write a story such as ancient people might have told about it.

This site has some thoughtful questions to get them thinking about worldview and current events. This is maybe for slightly older kids, but some of them could be modified for a younger writer. I have found that my younger kids can be asked some pretty deep questions and they actually have insightful ideas on how to answer them. For younger kids, you could even use some of these but have them answer them orally while you write their answers down. 

Here are a few they gave:

  1. What do you like and dislike about elderly people?
  2. Do you believe in ghosts or spirits? Why or why not?
  3. Write about a time you had high hopes for something and got let down.
  4. Is war ever justified?

And remember, journaling is all about creativity. I try not to correct spelling or grammar in these. I just want them writing and expressing their thoughts. I do veto certain words because well, not every story has to end up with pooping horses.

I hope this helps. If you've got other sites that have been helpful, leave them in the comments so that others can steal them too. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Raising or Resenting our Kids

In my brief years of raising children, I have discovered that parents fall into one of two categories. Either parents become resentful or satisfied as their children grow up. The resentful parent will go through their children’s younger years pushing them from behind; hurried for them to become independent. They become tired and resentful because it requires so much from them. Or they jump in with both feet and become satisfied and thankful for their children. Consequently they experience the joys alongside of their kids. I realize that these are clear-cut categories that are actually murkier in real life. In general though I think that parents can be fit into one of these two categories of thinking.

The idea of becoming parents is tempting and satisfying because it’s the next logical step in life. I think that most people get to a point where they are prepared for parenthood, but not prepared for the sacrifice. Those who accept the sacrifice as a reality and even as a gift end up becoming parents who see kids as a joy instead of a burden.

As Christians we cry out our life’s goal as becoming more and more like Jesus. While this is an important goal, we need to remember Jesus’ life as a whole. We prefer to live like Jesus when he was showing mercy to the hemorrhaging woman or restoring the demoniac. We lay him out at the last supper, feeding and washing the feet of the disciples. Our minds seem to skip past the betrayal, suffering, mockery, and pain Jesus experienced here on earth. We picture the wonderful times he and the disciples spent feeding thousands and fishing late into the night. Or the times he had to rebuke the disciples for going about healing in a wrong way. He even went so far as to call Peter a name-Satan.

But Jesus continued to walk with them. He looked to the disciples as his children. Children who would get messy and say inappropriate things in the market. He was going to be needed to bind up wounds and explain why people gossip. He didn’t look down at them as children unworthy of his time or resources. He understood that his time with them would be short. He also knew that they would turn from him, thankless for the lives that he had given them. Yet he continued to walk with them, not resent them.

Did he have other things to do?  Sure. People from every crevice near and far wanted his attention. But over and over again, we see him piecing off and living with his disciples. He didn’t see his nurture and care for them as a waste of time. He saw it as part of his purpose on this earth. To help them understand what the Kingdom of God was like by knitting consistency and trust into the hearts of the disciples.

When we treat our kids like they are a burden or getting in the way of things we’d rather be doing, we are knitting holes into their understanding of the Lord. These holes add up to a shoddy, weak understanding of a faithful God. We won’t be perfect, but if we are consistent, repentant, humble, and honest then at least all the strings will be attached. The knitting might look lopsided or the wrong color, but at least there are not holes and gaps that are difficult to fill after that little one is old enough to fill it with other things. Let’s commit together as parents to put our whole selves into the task of parenting. To teach our children that committing to them is not only our gift to them, but a gift to us as well.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Our MTV Movie Debut

I have had a dream of being a rockstar. Flipping my hair in an "I don't really care that I'm singing, playing guitar, and all of you are chanting my name" kind of way. Ripped jeans, cool scarves, and swanky coffee shops. When I sat down this weekend to play the piano in an MTV movie, this is not quite how I envisioned my rockstar debut as going. 

 Several weeks ago, our landlord asked us for a favor. Favors are how things are done over here. So we agreed to perform in an MTV movie about a man named Milton Gardner

We did hair and make-up for a really long time. This whole getting pretty stuff takes a long time, that's why I don't do it very often. They tried putting make-up on Makaria. I just stood by and laughed. She looked like she had run through a dust storm, tripped, and dragged her face through a sand pile. After the make-up artist looked up at me with desperation, I told her that none of her make-up would look right on my gloriously black child. 

They spent forever on my hair. I then went to another hair lady and she did it all over again. 

As we started shooting the first few scenes, I realized that I had received no direction from the director. I cannot play the piano, so I just pretended like I was typing my name on a keyboard. That is apparently not correct. They called someone in to teach me how to put my hands and gave me direction on where to look and when to smile. 

Kesed managed to get a picture with the most glamorous Chinese woman on set. All before lunch. 

Malachi and Charis had to jump rope in a scene. The Chinese kid got the ax when we heard the director tell him, "You are an ugly jump-roper!" This took several takes because Malachi had to run in while Charis was jumping. The smaller kids had to be jumping up and down, counting, and clapping. There was lots of hand-eye coordination happening and well, you're dealing with 8 kids under the age of 10. 

The director was so patient though and did a fantastic job instructing the kids. Another time he told a Chinese boy, "You are handsome, but you're a wuss!" 

I was supposed to be teaching a music class. Without knowing how to play the piano or any ability to sing, it required an Oscar-like performance. I'm really not into theatre, so this was quite a stretch for me.  But getting to watch my kids learn what it is like on a real life movie set was totally worth every hour we spent on that mountain. 

Then they had Malachi (who was playing Gardner as a young boy) and a boy climb a 1,300 year old tree. It's a local historical landmark that I'm sure we didn't have permission to be climbing. They made a call to local officials to take a sign down because it was interfering with the shot. They made the call, but I'm not sure they ever got an answer. The kids yelled and jumped while the tree climbers beckoned them to come up. 

Then we headed to a grassy area to play ball and other games. 

All the family actors.

Then they brought out the piano that I was supposed to be gaily playing while the kids pranced around the yard. 

We headed to another location where at one point, my son and a girl were dangling from a large wall. 

The director explained things to the kids and kept commenting on how wonderfully my children were being raised. I was so humbled and also proud of how well they did.  

They told Selah that had she been a few years younger, she could've performed too. The kids spent lots of time watching playbacks with the director. 

In the middle of the shoot, an old woman shuffled by to fill her bucket at the well. We were making a movie and she was trying to cook dinner. Look how tiny she is! She would've taken me out in an arm wrestling match, no contest. 

We had to buckle down the mountain a ways to get to the ancient well.  

Losing daylight, the director asked for everyone's iPhones. They shot the second half of the scene being lit by seven iPhone flashlights. 

The Chinese boy dropped his bucket in the well and no joke, 2.3 seconds later a mysterious 80-year old man come bouncing up onto the well. He hoisted himself down into the well and fished out the bucket with his feet. Then he pulled himself back up! WHAT?! Nobody knew where this guy came from. But all three of his teeth were beaming as we clapped his heroic rescue. 

We aren't sure when the movie is coming out. They still have to come over one more time to film a dinner scene. They have said that they will give us a copy when it's finished with production. It was a long 12 hour day on the mountain, but we learned a ton and had a blast doing it. 

And somewhere along the way my dream was full-filled of being a music star :).

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Flower Grandpa

A few weeks ago I started trying to breathe in people's stories. Not in the nod your head and smile kind of way, but in a slow me down and let me understand you kind of way. 

While I am boiling dumplings at my archaic stove, this man has become a mini-series of stories for my mind to enjoy. Daily he wanders downstairs to water his plants or dry out red beans in the afternoon sun. His lanky shoulders tower over dainty dandelions as he steals dirt and puts it into his house plants. He shifts the dirt into piles so that passersby won’t notice what he’s doing. But I see. I watch his sly grin purse as he pats down the new dirt and he gingerly tends to the garden already there. As if being gentle minimizes the fact that he is stealing their dirt.

My kids roll through and talk to him. I watch him teach them about uses of the sunlight and how much water to feed a potted aloe plant. He laughs and sometimes scolds as my kids take off their shoes to run around in bare-footed freedom.

I’ve never seen a wife, son, or daughter with him. But his connection with his plants has become a stop in curiosity for me. He tenderly wipes their leaves with a soft rag. The flowers are spoken to. I haven’t listened to what he is saying, but I imagine he is telling them that he will be back tomorrow. That tonight it’s going to rain, so they will need to be brave. But he will be back tomorrow. As he exhorts the tiny dandelions all tucked in for the night, I see his sense of purpose straighten out his shoulders.

With retirement he was replaced by talent and youth. That did not go unnoticed. But he walked into retirement determined to find his place. While he is no longer a manager of hundreds of people, he knew he could be a manager of a few. He knew that instead of letting retirement be defined by self-indulgence and pity, he could still serve someone else. He walks down those concrete stairs each late afternoon, looking around to try to find a need to be met. It requires keen observation to see a need that is buried beneath the surface of things. It requires patience and thoughtful digging to bring resolution. But because he is willing to engage the world in such a way, rows of dandelions march through the summer breeze in confidence. My kids run downstairs to ask him questions because they know he will take the time to answer. He is present. Presence sees the person in front of you not as a task but as a story.  And in that presence he is listening.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Entrepreneurial Fails

Last night, the hubs and I went on an all too rare night out. We joined the other 6 million people in our city who went out to eat during this holiday week. Within 25 walking steps of each other, I snapped these few pictures. This top one was my favorite. It's a coffee bar/cat playground. No joke, you go in and buy something to drink. As you do so, cats are walking around and on the tables. It was filled with young college girls are sitting on the floors, hanging out with the cats while drinking green tea. 

Next up was a "Unique and Artless" children's play place. At least they aren't faking a creative billing. You walk in and play. There is no creative art happening. But at least those wide-eyed non-Chinese children decals look happy in their non-tactile play place. 

Rounding the corner, we ran into sushi cakes. That honestly sounds like slang for cow patties. But in case you are looking for an edgy kindergarten birthday party snack, Sponge Bob sushi cakes will definitely do the trick. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

East-West Wedding

Some friends of ours got married on Saturday. The wedding was a mixture of western and eastern ceremony. A few dozen tables were set outside as the bride processed around the audience. 

This was one of the most fun Chinese wedding because there was very little smoke or loud drinking and lots of good friends. 

Two of the girls were flower girls and Kesed was a ring bearer. By ring bearer, I  mean that he held a basket of flowers with the rings thrown in among the petals. 

The other ring bearer was MIA until it was time to stroll down the isle. I actually don't think he knew that he was performing this prestigious task. Kesed spent his time walking down the isle and whispering directions to his friend. Kesed carried the rings while I had hot flashes and nightmares of the rings flying out of his basket into the abyss of the dark night. 

The girls held the veil and tried not to trip down the stone stairs. They did a fantastic job. 

Behind the bride, there was nose picking and dress adjusting, but no major missteps. 

They were a beautiful couple who loves the Lord. We are grateful for them and for so many people who came to celebrate them. 

Halfway through, Malachi pulled up a stool and sat next to the bridesmaids. 

At this point, the doves were released. I think the doves might have been slipped something because they flew drunk. They flew into each other and dive bombed tables. It was fantastic. 

Here's Selah with one of the poor dizzy birds. We are grateful we got to be a part of their day and thankful for what the Lord has done in them both!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Today this man reminded me...

There is a single ,particular group of people that I find nearly impossible to love unconditionally. The Chinese grandparent. I historically have seen them as demanding, critical, and inflexible. A few months ago I started having a "What Would Jesus Do?" moment. He would clearly not avoid old people. So I've started to take time to either ask them their stories or pause and remember that they have a story, even if I don't get to hear it. It's been in their stories that I've found a softening and appreciation for all they have been through.  

Pining through the suburbs of Shanghai where even the food smells rich, this man slowly shuffled down the uneven backstreets. Passing them I felt the heavy determination of his legs as he forsook his wheelchair, opting for independence instead. It seems as if a stroke kidnapped his dreams and mocked his future. Walking, I watched his history rolling passed him like a silent film.

A smokey room parts as the younger version of him blinks his watery eyes and spots his bride for the first time. She shifts in her chair and allows the right corner of her lips to fold gently into smile. She turns away but through the wisps of her dark tussled hair, peeks in his direction, willing him over to her. As they begin talking, words seem to be spilling into a river of comfort. As if somewhere before their lives had met and shared the same waters.

The conversation began to carve into the earth, permanently marking out a future. Contours of a marriage, banks of parenthood, currents of traveling the country together.  

As they married and started a family, they held onto dreams like a well-worn quilt. Tucked between the two of them at night, laid down to be forgotten as they drifted in and out of work each day. Their hopes became grey hairs and arthritic knees. At times forgotten. Maybe not forgotten as much as fictionalized. With age came a reality that needed to be attended to.

After his wife died, his mind surrendered. Actualizing dreams without the person who conjured them with you somehow made them seem child-like. Hoping seemed like something left for people with plenty of time left. He was running out. Future was no longer measured in years, but in moments.

As I watch him place his feeble arms onto the security of the wheelchair, he shifts his feet forward. For a brief moment he wants to feel his independence holding up his entire self. He wants to be reminded that his body is more than a shell. He has not forgotten how to hope, his hopes have just become a matter of the daily. See, he doesn’t’ have time to wait on ‘one day’. He is living in the now because there is no guarantee of a later. His stiffened arms and locked in grimace are a reminder that to wait is to squander. To wait is to let fear win. So he bears down on his weakened legs and tries to walk. It is slow. It is full of labor and pain. But aren’t all things worth hoping for full of those? Demanding hope to be pain-free and easy is minimalizing hope to a simple wish. Wishes don’t keep us alive.

  Hope does.
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