plane picI have always wanted to write a story from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, and now have my chance, as I recently became one myself. Why imagine unreliable fiction when you can report unreliable facts? The following is the account (according to me!) of my final hours in Prague when, due to sleep deprivation, experienced brief short-term memory loss and a panic attack. While I put myself in a vulnerable place in telling this, I hope my experience points readers to Christ, the ultimate Friend who never forsakes or forgets us, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. I also hope it honors my special friend, Hannah Piedt, who reflected Christ’s love to me on this day.

* * *

It is my last night in Prague and not everything is right side up. Just a moment ago I stood on top of the clock tower, staring over the edge and feeling dizzy, but in my right mind. Then down the elevator I came, like Alice down the rabbit hole, and walked into a Wonderland where people float and streets turn sideways.

Back to the hotel I flit, up the stairs and into my room. Hannah and I talk and pack our bags, but for me it is through a mist gradually thickening. I move my belongings from one space to the next. I know I am supposed to put them in my suitcase, but I can’t quite recall how to do that.

“Why don’t you just go to bed,” Hannah suggests. “Finish in the morning.”

I stare at her blankly.

“Okay.” I finally say.

* * *

My life is a picture book. No movement. No sentences. Perhaps a word that crescendoes in here or there. One page, then turn to the next. Another page, then turn. But what happens to Alice between the pages?

I stand over my suitcase and look blankly inside. How did I get here?

Turn page.

I lie awake in bed and hear an incoming text. Hannah is awake, too. What is she saying?

Turn page.

I sit in the hotel lobby and talk on the phone. What are we talking about?

Turn page.

Now there is nothing for a long time.

* * *

The mist has turned into a flood, sloshing through my brain. Someone shows me a photograph of my sister on his phone. Why can’t I see it? And why can’t I remember what my sister looks like?

Turn page.

I stand in a line of people. Sunlight comes through the window, so I guess it is morning, but it doesn’t feel like morning. It doesn’t feel like afternoon or evening or night, though, either. It really doesn’t feel like any time, and at the first second of this “no time” time, I become uncomfortably conscious of my heartbeat. A racehorse is inside of my chest, dashing toward a finish line, faster and faster, but the finish line never comes, and with my racehorse heart racing and my sluggish mind sloshing, I start to dissolve.

Turn page.

I sit in my seat on the plane. Window on the left. Hannah on the right, holding my hand. I don’t know when she grabbed it, but I’m glad she did or else I don’t think I would currently exist. I heave breaths; in and out, in and out. Then something that feels like a windshield wiper clears my forehead and the plane goes from blue to deep copper.

“Are we… are we on a different plane?” I gasp.

I squeeze my eyes shut and rest my head against the seat in front of me. Hannah’s calm voice leans in.

“No,” she says. “We are on the same plane. We’re getting ready to take off.”

Tears fall, and I feel the windshield wiper again. From copper to white, clean and clear.

Same question: “Are we on a different plane?”

Same answer: “No.”

More tears, and anxiety builds as the world drops away. I fight to remember, but it is like clenching too tight to a slippery pebble. What city was I in? Why am I here? Where am I going? I cannot answer.

My family. Suddenly I think of my family. I must have one. But who are they? Where are they? I can’t picture them, don’t know their names.

“My family!” I cry. “I am afraid I will forget my family!”

Hannah’s voice again.

“It’s okay,” she says. “This is temporary. You will not forget your family.”

If I don’t dissolve first, then maybe I’ll take off like a rocket.

“Can you think of any Scripture you remember, Anna?”

Scripture. With that one word, I remember something. I am in my basement with my father. I am scared, so he reads to me.

“Psalm 91,” I gasp. “He who dwells in the shelter of the most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust!’ For it is He who delivers you…”

I struggle to remember the rest of the verses, and the windshield wiper comes again.

“What about songs? Can you think of any hymns you remember?”

Hymns. And with that word, another memory. I am once again afraid as I stand in the back of a crowded chapel filled with strangers. But I sing.

And then something else. I am on a hospital bed, heaving great breaths, much like I am now. But even there I remember a song.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” I gasp. “Let’s sing that one.”

So Hannah and I sing. I don’t remember all the words, but Hannah fills them in. When we finish I say, “Another one, another one!” and because this is helping, we sing many more. Between one of the songs I realize that I am not in this world alone. Hannah is by me and is not leaving me. I remember her.

“You are Hannah, right?” I say. “You are my friend. I remember that!”

“Yes,” she says. “I am your friend.”

“A friend loves at all times,” I say.

Then I think of something else, and this is not a memory, it is a bright beacon of reality that shatters fear. It is that same beacon that was in the basement, and the chapel, and the hospital bed. It is not so much that I have remembered it, but that it, rather He, has not forgotten me.

“Jesus died for my sins and I am going to heaven when I die,” I sob. “I remember that, too!”

The blunt, childlike statement is, at that moment, anything but comical.

“Yes!” says Hannah. “That is right, and that is the only thing you need to remember right now.”

We continue to sing, and even though the windshield wiper comes and the plane changes color, I do not dissolve.

Turn page.

* * *

My eyes flicker open, head heavy on Hannah’s shoulder. Alice has returned from Wonderland.

“Where are we?” I ask.

“We just landed in Amsterdam.”

The flood, the racing, the anxiety is gone, but confusion lingers.

“What happened?”

My friends use words like “sleep deprivation” and “dehydration” and “panic attack” and I have a feeling this is going to make for a good story someday. But not today. Hannah leads me off the plane and I notice that she carries my bags.

“Did you pack those?” I ask.

“No,” says Hannah. “You did.”

“But what about my suitcase?”

“You packed that, too. You checked it in this morning.”

“I don’t remember,” I say. “I don’t remember any of this… I don’t remember how we got here. Was I acting weird?”

“Yeah,” she laughs. “It was especially fun this morning when you were falling asleep in line going through security.”

My eyes widen. Then I smile. Maybe it is a little funny, even today.

* * *

Hannah finds my travel documents because I don’t remember where they are. When I present my passport to the guard he takes a closer look at my face and frowns.

“Ma’am,” he says in a thick European accent, “You might want to go have a look in the toilets. Your face is black.”

Apparently even in an incoherent state, I still managed to remember mascara. I go to the “toilets” and wipe my face, not only of the makeup, but also of the past twelve hours. It will take me days to feel myself again, but the book has closed and this chapter, at least, is finished.

* * *

It is the next day and Hannah fills me in on the details of the event that are either forgotten or unclear.

“Tell me everything,” I say. “I want to know!”

She obliges and tells me and repeats certain things if I want to hear them again. I tell her what a good friend she is, but she doesn’t make a big deal of it and just says that she had been praying that God would show her how she could support me on the trip, and that He showed her how to support me in an unusually literal way. We laugh and talk of other things and dream of what we’re going to do this summer and now the cares of yesterday seem very, very small.

Perhaps this is how it will begin in eternity.


camer picWhenever I mention to someone that I’ve never been out of the country I’m always met with a blank stare and then a, “Oh… like, you mean… besides Canada?” to which I’ll then affirm that I do indeed possess the knowledge that the region to our north is an individual nation and no, I have not even been there. I will soon end this repeated dialogue once and for all, as I am traveling to Prague in a few weeks to attend orchestra sessions with the City of Prague Philharmonic, one of which will be to record some of my own musical compositions. It doesn’t really matter whether the sessions takes place in a European capital or the South Pole – I’d be ecstatic either way – but going to an exciting city like Prague is a plus. 
As I learned from my traveling millennial friends, the first step to going out of the country is to apply for a passport, which requires a unique passport photograph.

* * *

The day the trip was finalized, I headed out the door to Walgreens. I had been like a junior high girl on school picture day, carefully choosing my outfit, arranging my hair, and applying my makeup. As I drove, I imagined what it would be like:

I would walk up to the counter and say, “Good morning! I need to get a passport photo.” The employee at the counter would say, “Oh really! How extremely interesting. Where you going?” and then I would say, “To Prague!” and he/she would say, “What a miracle! I don’t recall the last time anyone went to Prague. Why are you going there?” to which I would reply, very modestly and shyly, “Well, if you must know, I am going to record some of my musical compositions with a symphony orchestra.”

What would ensue would resemble the opening number of a Broadway musical. The employee at the counter would call out, “Did you hear that ladies and gents? She’s going to Prague to record with a symphony orchestra!” Then the other employees – probably about thirty of them total, all tap dancers – would appear with jazz hands waving. There would be ten different light cues, five costume changes, and a key modulation at the end as the scene culminated with the company handing over a photograph of yours truly resembling Grace Kelly on the cover of the 1955 edition of Life magazine. To say that I had high expectations for my local Walgreens’ customer service is perhaps putting it too lightly.

* * *

I walked into Walgreens and saw a sign at the back of the store that read, “Passport Photos.” I went to the counter where a high school-aged boy stood, his hair falling into his eyes.

“Hello!” I announced, “I am here to get a passport photo taken!”

“Okay,” he said. “Stand over here.” He pointed to a white wall behind him, looking slightly bored.

I was taken aback by his lack of interest; perhaps this was a more common ordeal than I had thought. But no matter – nothing was going to injure my enthusiasm. I obediently stood against the wall. The boy raised the camera, then lowered it.

“You better take those off.” He motioned to my sparkly silver earrings.

“Oh, right! Sorry,” I said “Okay.” I took them off.

“And your hair,” he continued. “Tuck it behind your ears.”

I regretfully pushed my carefully assembled strands behind my now naked lobes. But I was unaffected, and cranked out my best Walt Disney World-ready smile to make up for the missing elements. The boy lowered the camera once again. He looked just a little more bored than when I had first arrived.

“No smiling.” he said.

“Right!” I said, “Got it!” It took a minute to register that this would mean changing my current facial expression. “Oh! Like, stop smiling. Like, just… look at you. Okay.”

It briefly flashed through my brain what my sister had told me a few years ago when she was on a Project Runway kick: “Smile with your eyes; at least, that’s what Tyra Banks says.” So I tried to emulate Tyra’s peepers while also trying to turn my mouth up just slightly, also fighting the urge to grimace as the boy thrust the camera what felt like ten feet too close to my face. You can imagine the incongruous countenance this created.

“Okay,” the boy said once he had clicked. “Now you can wait for about ten minutes while I get this processed.”

I meandered around the store feeling a little deflated, but also recognized that, even if the boy had asked where I was going, he really didn’t seem like the tap dancing type.

It wasn’t until I was alone in my car that I actually pulled out the photo to take a look. I gasped in horror. Surely this woman pictured could not be me! Forget Grace Kelly and replace one of the Marx brothers, complete with furrowed brow. Yikes! Tyra’s advice had certainly not done me any favors. I considered my options: burning it, shredding it, or mailing it to Timbuktu. In the end, practicality won out over vanity.

* * *

I am now the proud owner of my very own passport. I have allowed only a few select loved ones to view it, all of whom I feel confident that the photo will not alter their opinions of me. While they remain loved ones, they do agree that it is a terrible likeness. Of course, they don’t outrightly say this; the conversation usually goes something like this:

ME My passport photo is the worst picture ever taken in the history of humankind.

LOVED ONE Oh, it can’t be that bad.

ME Believe me, it is.

LOVED ONE Let me see.

Loved One looks at photo and attempts to stifle some sort of animated expression, usually the widening of the eyes.

LOVED ONE Oh! (pause) Hmm.

That “Oh! Hmm” says it all. Fortunately, the only humans needing to see the photo will be total strangers who I will most likely never see a second time. Then again, maybe airport security will stop me because they will refuse to believe that such a lousy picture could really be the image of the charming girl they see in person. I, of course, would take this as a compliment, though I’m sure my travel party would be less than enthused. However, it certainly would make for a very entertaining musical number.

About one month ago I completed the writing process for Majesty, the final work in a series of three, following Messenger and Messiah. To complete this trilogy is exciting, and also surprising, as only fifteen months ago I didn’t know this project would exist! I am thankful for the opportunity to study and meditate upon three incredible passages of Scripture and create songs that reflect the powerful emotions and truths of these stories. Messenger follows the book of Malachi, Messiah tells the story of Christ’s transfiguration as recorded in the Synoptic gospels, and now Majesty concludes with the two witnesses who come to prophecy in Revelation 11.

I look forward to presenting Majesty for the first time on Sunday evening, March 26. The piece will be presented during the 6pm service at Grace Community Church in Hudsonville, MI. It is about fifteen minutes in length and features three soloists who portray various characters from the passage. All are invited to come!

In writing Majesty, I came across a verse in Romans 11 that refers to “the kindness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22). This small statement carries much weight, and for me it lended insight into the passage of Revelation 11, as well as the book of Revelation as a whole. Revelation tells about the judgment of the wicked and the reward of the righteous; God’s great severity and God’s great kindness. In Revelation 11, God sends two witnesses (whom I strongly suppose to be Moses and Elijah) to earth to proclaim the gospel. These witnesses cause plagues to happen on the earth, and with deadly fire from their mouths they kill anyone who dares to come against them. Their actions reflect the severity of God’s judgment, encouraging people to repent and believe in Christ, who thus will be welcomed into God’s lovingkindness. These witnesses are an extreme grace, a final call from God to His people to turn to Him. In my study of this story, I was moved by the great mercy of God to reach out to His people. My hope is that those who listen to Majesty will turn back to this passage of Scripture and recognize the kindness and severity of our King.

IMG_1262

The time for Kickstarter 2017 has finally come!! The campaign to record Messiah and Majesty was launched this morning, and I have 30 days in which to raise the needed funds. Please take a minute to watch the video and consider taking part in this project HERE. I am excited to take this next step!

unnamed

In my post The Story of Messenger, I introduced the idea of there being two additional pieces to accompany Messenger called Messiah and Majesty. I wrote Messiah this past fall and performed it this past Sunday with piano and three vocalists, and am currently in the midst of writing Majesty. It has been exciting to see doors opening for the production of these two pieces, as David Clydesdale has agreed to arrange these two works, and both he and Brian Felten are traveling to Prague this spring to record with the City of Prague Philharmonic for various other projects. Because of this, it is possible that the recording of Messiah and Majesty could be tagged on to these other sessions. I will begin another Kickstarter campaign within the next couple weeks to raise the needed funds. I don’t know what God has in store, but I am taking this step, as it seems He has led in this direction. I have full confidence that He will provide according to His plan. I will be certain to post again once the Kickstarter is launched – hopefully sometime next week! More to come soon. 🙂

16251738_1142020219229855_6130603827313444834_o-1
Messiah performance – January 22

 

 

I recently watched a video featuring author Elizabeth Gilbert called “Your Elusive Creative Genius.” Elizabeth begins her Ted Talk session by raising concern that the modern creative has a reputation for being emotionally unstable. She notes that several artists since the twentieth century either committed suicide or were “undone” by their work. As a writer, Elizabeth is uncomfortable with this idea and wonders if it has to be this way. Better, she says, if we “encourage our great minds to live!”

Elizabeth looks to the past in order to offer a solution. She tells of ancient times, when people didn’t believe that creativity came from an individual, but rather from a divine outside source. In ancient Rome the word “genius” referred to a spirit that existed to assist the creator with his work, not the actual person. This “genius” protected the artist from both sides of pride: one could never fully take all the credit if the work was good, nor all the blame if the work was bad.

Elizabeth then fasts forward to the rise of rational humanism and points out that this new frame of mind put the individual as the source of creativity instead of an outside entity. She believes this mindset put too much responsibility on the artist himself and has been killing off great creative minds ever since. Elizabeth ends her talk by encouraging her listeners to dismiss the thought of their extraordinary aspects coming from themselves, but to believe that they are on loan from some “unimaginable source.”

I found this talk fascinating and absolutely agree with Elizabeth about today’s stereotype of an artist, having thought many a time myself that this modern age of human-centeredness has led to the devaluation of both art and the artist. As Elizabeth rightly points out, this narcissistic outlook has led to the destruction of both the successful and unsuccessful, as the former dissolves into meaninglessness and the latter into despair. What seems painfully obvious to me is this: humans were not created to be worshipped, but rather to be worshippers.

I appreciate Elizabeth’s reference to the ancient Greeks and Romans, especially the insight that the word “genius” used to be a divine outside source, not an individual. I might add that these words from the Creative Genius Himself, found in the book of Job, only enriches and fleshes out this concept:

Have you ever in your life commanded the morning,
And caused the dawn to know its place,
That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
And the wicked be shaken out of it?
Have you entered into the springs of the sea
Or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you understood the expanse of the earth?
Tell Me, if you know all this. (Job 38:12-13, 16-18, NASB)

No, humans certainly are NOT creative geniuses! And yet this does not bind, but rather frees, at the realization that the true Creative Genius is not an elusive spirit or unknowable entity, but one God who has interacted with mankind on a personal level ever since His masterful creation of this world. He created man in His image to be creators themselves, that they might craft works that reflect His glory. These are the truths that give me joy and freedom in my own creative work, and dismiss the depressing modern idea that I am an end to myself. Instead, I say with Job, “Behold, I am insignificant. What can I reply to you? I lay my hand on my mouth,” (Job 40:4) and sing with the psalmist, “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven.” (Psalm 138:13, NASB)

dawn-landscape-mountains-nature

film-picA trip to La La Land this winter costs $7.50 (if you use the coupon before 1pm) and lies within a twenty minute drive away from any given location in West Michigan. And no, I’m not talking about Los Angeles or a pre-planned daydream.

La La Land, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, opened December 9 to select U.S. cities, but just arrived in Grand Rapids on Christmas Day. The film opens with a song and dance sequence more about the sport and spectacle of a large-scale movie musical than plot, but story drives the show for the remaining two hours of the film, telling the tale of Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone), two no-names attempting to fulfill their dreams in Hollywood. Sebastian, a pianist, longs to open his own jazz club, and Mia, an actress, aspires to land just one of the many roles for which she’s auditioned. The down-and-out pair meet and – surprise, surprise – after a few pieces of witty dialogue, along with a tap dance number, end up falling head-over-heels.

Classic movie aficionados will appreciate the multiple references in La La Land  to films from the 40s and 50s. I especially enjoyed the subtle nods to Casablanca hidden in the dialogue and storyline. Times have changed since Bogart’s time (e.g. cell phones and gluten-free pastries) but the general flavor of the movie is a complete throwback to the good ol’ days of Singin’ in the Rain with prolonged dance sequences, colorful costumes, elaborate sets, and a lovable hero and heroine.

Perhaps the most surprising part of La La Land is the conclusion, which hit me like a brick the first time I saw it. While it was unexpected, the ending adds depth to the story that I hadn’t foreseen. After watching It’s a Wonderful Life only days before viewing La La Land, I was struck by the parallel themes; both films communicate similar messages from opposite points of view. As a dreamer and aspiring creative myself, I found my thoughts trailing back to these themes, carefully considering what they meant for me personally.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed La La Land and recommend it to anyone who likes music and art in general. The songs are catchy, the musical score is beautiful, and the cinematography is exquisite… La La Land is a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. Since it’s rare to find an original musical in movie theaters these days, particularly a musical as old-fashioned and clean-cut as La La Land, I was thrilled to discover this fresh cinematic treasure.