On the Stage of Life

Words. Words have power.

The power of the word is real whether or not you are conscious of it.

Behind every word flows energy.

– Sonia Choquette

 

Picture4Think back over your life. What words have defined you? What words have you ALLOWED to define you? I know children whose parents have told them they were “a mistake.” Do you think that child is capable of ever forgetting those words? Then there are others who’ve been told, “You’re a mess; you’ll never amount to anything in life; you’re not smart enough; you’re not good enough; you’re ugly; you’re dumb; why aren’t you as beautiful and talented as your sister”…and the list goes on. Those words are hard to forget – they leave a scar. They haunt you for life.

Someone once told me she wished she had just a fingertip of my artistic talent. I reminded her that all it takes is the desire, and it sounded to me like she had that. She replied that she had been told by her parents that she didn’t have any artistic talent at all. For years she had accepted those words spoken over her. I talked her into signing up for oil painting classes, and she produced amazing paintings that now grace the walls of her home, but she wasted some beautiful, creative years to get to that point.

In thinking over some of the “defining words of life,” I decided to come up with a list of some of the power players, and then turned the list into a play. Maybe you’ll recognize yourself as one of the main actors. This is literally a WORD PLAY. I’ve entitled the play:

 ON THE STAGE OF LIFE

SCENE ONE:

Abused, battered, bruised, judged, scorned, afflicted, despised, disdained, condemned, heartbroken, abandoned, unwanted, broken, intimidated, demoralized, oppressed, immobilized, paralyzed, confused, discouraged, threatened, defenseless, deficient, inadequate, rejected, insulted, mocked, rebuked, bashed, slammed, blinded, injured, scarred, debilitated, rattled, caged, sickened, condemned, tortured, denied, overlooked, blamed, shamed, accused, embittered, trampled, shattered, emptied, drained, undone, destroyed, defeated…..

 SCENE TWO:

JESUS (enter stage left)

Faithful, loving, compassionate, accepting, saving, forgiving, healing, gracious, cleansing, purifying, understanding, guiding, uplifting, encouraging, gifting, filling, affirming, inspiring, supporting, powerful, competent, abounding, sufficient, unfathomable, unsearchable, unlimited, boundless, victorious, sustaining, upholding……..

SCENE THREE:

Loved, wanted, created, rescued, cleansed, healed, restored, delivered, chosen, filled, inspired, sustained, cherished, forgiven, redeemed, embraced, cradled, covered, protected, soothed, comforted, supported, accepted, uplifted, encouraged, strengthened, rested, refreshed, revived, gifted, enlightened, empowered, enabled, fulfilled……..

Curtain call.

Standing ovation!!

We’re all players on this stage of life. In which scene do you find yourself? I hope you’re allowing the energy of positive, affirming, God-inspired words to flow through your life.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:3

He sent forth his word and healed them. Psalm 107:20

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Genesis 1:3

The very breath that God used to speak forth the creation of the world, and bring light out of darkness, is the same breath He breathed into you to speak forth your words. They can be creative, illuminating, life-giving words, or they can be dark, haunting, destructive words. The power is yours; choose wisely…and remember… “Men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37

 

 

My God

Here is how I describe my God…how do you describe yours?

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GOD DESCRIPTORS

His position is SUPREME Col. 1:18
His greatness is SURPASSING, UNSEARCHABLE and UNFATHOMABLE Psalm 150:2; Phil. 3:8; Psalm 145:3
His majesty is GLORIOUSLY SPLENDID Psalm 145:5
His garments are SPLENDOR, MAJESTY and LIGHT Psalm 104:1-2
He lives in UNAPPROACHABLE light. 1 Tim. 6:16
His presence is BRIGHTNESS Psalm 18:12
His image is INVISIBLE Col. 1:15
His splendor is ABOVE THE EARTH AND THE HEAVENS Psalm 148:14
His glory is GREAT, ALL-SURPASSING, ABOVE THE HEAVENS, and ENDURES FOREVER 2 Cor. 3:11; Psalm 104:32; Psalm 8:1; Psalm 138:2
His kingdom is GLORIOUSLY SPLENDID and EVERLASTING Psalm 145:13
His throne is FOR EVER AND EVER Psalm 45:6
His righteousness is EVERLASTING, ENDURING FOREVER Psalm 111:3; 119:142
His kingship is ETERNAL and OVER ALL THE EARTH 1 Tim. 1:17; Psalm 47:7
His reign is FOREVER Psalm 146:10
His renown is EVERLASTING and ENDURES FOREVER Isaiah 63:12: Psalm 135:13
His wonders are REMEMBERED Psalm 111:4
His dominion is ENDURING Psalm 145:13
His name is HOLY and AWESOME Psalm 111:9
His name is GLORIOUS and HOLY Isaiah 63:14; Psalm 145:21
His name alone is EXALTED ABOVE ALL THINGS Psalm 148:13; Psalm 138:2
His name alone is EXCELLENT. Psalm 148:13
His name is ABOVE EVERY NAME Phil. 2:9
His name is REMEMBERED IN ALL GENERATIONS Psalm 45:17
His name ENDURES FOREVER Psalm 72:17;135:13
His creation is BEFORE ALL THINGS Col. 1:17
His voice is POWERFUL,  MAJESTIC, UPON THE WATERS, THUNDERS, BREAKS THE CEDARS, DIVIDES THE FLAMES, SHAKES THE WILDERNESS Psalm 29
His Word is FLAWLESS and ETERNAL, and EXALTED ABOVE ALL THINGS Proverbs 30:5; Psalm 119:89; Psalm 138:2
His Words are TRUE and RIGHT Psalm 119:160; Psalm 33:4
His fear is THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM Psalm 111:10
His law is PERFECT, RIGHTEOUS, ETERNAL, ENDURING, TRUE and DELIGHTFUL Psalm 19:7; 119:91,142,160,174
His statutes are RIGHTEOUS, TRUSTWORTHY, LASTING FOREVER and FOREVER RIGHT Psalm 119:138,144,152;19:7
His truth is ABUNDANT Exodus 34:6
His right hand is FULL OF RIGHTEOUSNESS Psalm 48:10
His counsel is EVERLASTING Psalm 33:11
His promises are FAITHFUL and THOROUGHLY TESTED Psalm 145:13; Psalm 119:140
His faithfulness REACHES TO THE SKIES; ENDURES FOREVER and CONTINUES THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS Psalm 57:10; Psalm 117:2; 119:90
His compassion is GREAT Psalm 119:156
His kindness is MARVELOUS and LOVING Psalm 17:7; 31:21
His teaching is LIGHT Proverbs 6:23
His precepts are RIGHT, TRUSTWORTHY, STEADFAST, FAITHFUL, UPRIGHT and SUSTAINING Psalm 19:8; Psalm 111:7-8; 119:93
His commands are TRUE, DELIGHTFUL, RIGHTEOUS, BOUNDLESS (Even though all other perfection has its limits.) and UNFORGETTABLE Psalm 119:151; 119:143; 119:172;119:96,176
His ordinances are SURE and ALTOGETHER RIGHTEOUS Psalm 19:9
His judgments are UNSEARCHABLE Romans 11:33
His power is MIGHTY, ALL-SURPASSING, INCOMPARABLE and MAJESTIC Psalm 147:5; 2 Cor. 4:7; EPH. 1:19; 2 Thes. 1:9
His works are GREAT, POWERFUL, WONDERFUL, AWESOME, MARVELOUS, FAITHFUL, JUST and TRUE Psalm 145:6; Psalm 111;6-7; Psalm 9:1; Psalm 33:4
His acts are MIGHTY Psalm 145:4
His ways are RIGHTEOUS and PERFECT Psalm 145:17; Psalm 18:30
His deeds are GREAT, GLORIOUS and MAJESTIC Psalm 145:6; Psalm 111;3
His riches are UNSEARCHABLE and GLORIOUS Eph. 3:8; Eph. 3:16; Phil. 4:19
His mercy and grace are GLORIOUS, INCOMPARABLE, SUFFICIENT, ABUNDANT, RICH and FULL Eph. 1:6; Eph. 2:4,7; 2 Cor. 12:9; Romans 5:17; John 1:16
His patience is UNLIMITED 1 Tim. 1:16
His peace TRANSCENDS ALL UNDERSTANDING Phil. 4:7
His energy is EMPOWERING Col. 1:29
His hand is MIGHTY Exodus 32:11
His gift is INDESCRIBABLE 2 Cor. 9:15
His goodness is ABUNDANT Exodus 34:6; Psalm 145:7
His understanding is INFINITE and LIMITLESS. Psalm 147:5
His paths are BEYOND TRACING OUT Romans 11:33
His Church is HOLY and WITHOUT BLEMISH Col. 1:22
His praise is ETERNAL, ENDURING FOR EVER AND EVER Psalm 111:10; PSALM 45:17
His covenant is ORDAINED FOREVER Psalm 111:5,9
His love is UNFAILING, SURPASSES KNOWLEDGE, ALL-ENCOMPASSING, RICH, PRICELESS, EXCELLENT, REACHES TO THE HEAVENS and ENDURES FOREVER Psalm 32:10; Eph. 3:19; John 3:16 ; Psalm 145:8; Psalm 36:7; Psalm 57:10; Psalm 136:1
His help is EVER-PRESENT Psalm 46:1
His arms are EVERLASTING Deut. 33:27

STAND IN AWE OF GOD. Eccl. 5:7

An Angel to the Rescue

e458e80815dc3632c2f5e6e09b7faf35I had pulled up in front of the local Thrift Store to deliver a rather large box of donations. As I lifted the box out of the trunk of the car, I set it down on the pavement. I knew it was too heavy to carry in, so I decided to drag it. I was stepping backwards and failed to see a slight raise in the sidewalk, and down I went. There I sat by my box, feeling rather sheepish, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted someone approaching. How nice, I thought. Someone’s coming to help me. My next thought was that this person reminded me of Aunt Bea (from the Andy Griffith Show.) She was a sweet looking older lady dressed in an old-fashioned coat. She had a look of concern on her face, but never said a word. She set down her old-fashioned purse and positioned herself behind me placing both hands under my arms. In one deft swoosh, she had me standing on both feet. I stood there totally amazed that anyone of her stature could pick up dead weight with such quick ease of movement. As I turned around to thank her, Aunt Bea and purse had vanished!

There is no other explanation than what I experienced was the help of an angel unaware. Yes, I believe, according to the Scriptures, that there are angels all around us and that they are sent to minister to us in the time of our need. Sometimes we recognize them as such, and other times they pass us by unnoticed because they tend to blend in with those around them. In Psalm 91:11 we read, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” I know this Scripture is true, for I have personally experienced it many times in my life. The rest of Psalm 91 reminds us that God rescues and protects those who love Him and acknowledge His name, and He promises to be with us in the time of our trouble. Yes! When you are down, He will lift you up!

The Music of the Far Away

Ken _001I turned onto Interstate 35 North to begin my long journey home to Illinois from Olathe, Kansas. I had just said my final good-bye to my brother, Ken. I knew it was probably the last time I would see him this side of heaven. It had been four months since he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 mesothelioma, a slow growing lung cancer. It became painfully obvious that he had contracted this dreaded disease as a young sailor aboard the aircraft carrier, the USS Ranger, during the Vietnam war era.

I couldn’t hold the tears back as I watched a train pass by. Trains had been a big part of Ken’s life as a dispatcher for the Burlington Northern Railroad.  How would I break the sad news about my brother to our 92-year-old Mom? As of yet, I hadn’t told her about his illness. I knew I needed to, I just didn’t know how to go about it. Not only did Mom have dementia, she was almost completely deaf, and it was extremely difficult to communicate with her. My husband Steve had stayed home with her as she was unable to travel. Mom had lived with us for twelve years at that point. I remember how many times she had asked to see her son, and I tried the best I could to explain to her he wasn’t able to travel. I was always amazed that, for the most part, she remembered who I was, and remembered she had a son.

I dreaded the hours of travel ahead of me. I reached for the radio hoping for some distraction. If only I could find a good Christian station. I needed some “soul comfort.” Amazingly, the most beautiful, quiet, soothing voice came on announcing a familiar song about heaven. I was mesmerized by the voice. I felt a blanket of peace fill the car as my eyes welled up with tears. I began singing along. Then another song about heaven followed. That was beautiful. How come I’ve never heard that song before? Then came a beautiful rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, followed by Beulah Land….then other magnificent songs of heaven I’d never heard before….followed by an inspiring version of The Holy City, and When We All Get to Heaven….and the songs went on and on, mile after mile, one song after another about heaven. From time to time the calming, quiet, male voice would come on sharing a few remarks and announcing the next song…..another song of heaven.

Had it really been six hours that I had been driving? It seemed only a few minutes. The soothing, peaceful voice had never left me. The songs of heaven, the sweet, comforting music of the far away, had followed me all the way home. Traveling through four different states, I never once lost the station; there had never been any static interference; there hadn’t been one station break for commercials, weather or news. As I pulled into the driveway of our home, the final strains of a beautiful hymn faded into the quiet of the moment….

1016127_396260830492929_732820389_nI sat and listened to the end…

O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee…

O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to Thee

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

And feel the promise is not vain,

that morn shall tearless be.

 

Ken passed from this life October 27, 2012, embraced in the loving arms of Jesus, and slipped into the warm, waiting arms of his earthly father whom he had dearly loved and missed so very much. They were joined by our sweet Mom on May 25, 2016. Some tearless morning, I will see them all again.

Thirty Minutes in Hong Kong

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My year of teaching English at a university in Shanghai, China was quickly coming to an end, and I found myself swamped with grading final exams, reports to be submitted, sorting and packing, and a round of farewell dinners and parties to attend. It finally dawned on me that I needed to make reservations and purchase a ticket for my flight home. I had waited until the last minute, not realizing the mass exodus of teachers and other foreigners leaving during this same time frame, let alone Chinese travelers.

One evening, as a group of teacher friends were sitting around visiting at our apartment, the topic of everyone’s travel plans came up. I shared that I had purchased the last available ticket for the next two weeks which only allowed me a thirty-minute layover in Hong Kong before catching my connecting flight to Los Angeles. It got really quiet, jaws dropped, and everyone looked at me as if I had lost my last ounce of common sense. I could certainly understand why they would think that, but for some reason I was rather nonchalant and unconcerned about it. Everyone shook their head, “That’s impossible! You’ll never pull that one off.”

“Well, it was the only flight I could get out for the next two weeks, so I’m going for it,” I shrugged.

The day of my departure I left without the least bit of apprehension. (Looking back at the scene now, I have to wonder at myself. For international flights, they usually advise you to arrive three hours early.) When my flight from Shanghai landed at the busy international airport in Hong Kong, I knew I needed to exit my plane and move fast. There would be no time to waste. I walked out onto the crowded, bustling concourse and didn’t have a clue in which direction to turn. It was then that I noticed a very official looking Chinese lady dressed in what appeared to be an airport uniform. She was standing in front of me, holding a clipboard and surveying the passing crowd. I walked up to her, and not knowing for sure if she even spoke English, I simply showed her my ticket. She looked up, didn’t speak a word, and motioned me to follow her.

For the next fifteen minutes I followed my Chinese guide as she led me up one escalator and down the next; down one long corridor to the next. Then we walked across a balcony. As I looked down over the railing, I noticed what seemed to be hundreds of people waiting in line to have their baggage inspected. We went down another escalator, through a back door and a back corridor, and across another long concourse, when my escort stopped and pointed to a door being closed by an airport attendant. I hurriedly gave my thanks and scrambled across the departure lobby now full of empty seats. The assistant kindly opened the door and allowed me to squeeze through. I managed to barely enter the cabin of the plane before the door closed behind me. It wasn’t hard finding my seat as it was the only vacant one left. I looked around and it seemed everyone was sitting there staring at me as if to say, “Where have you been? Hurry up and sit down!”

As I sat down and buckled my seat belt, the plane began to back out of the gate. The stewards had already gone through all the required safety procedures. Within minutes, we were airborne and on our way to Los Angeles! I sat back and relaxed, rather pleased at how smoothly everything had gone. My friends would be incredulous. No problem. Piece of cake. Then it hit me. I hadn’t gone through customs, baggage inspection, or even security. I didn’t even have a boarding pass.  How did I manage to get on this flight, anyway? The prospect of arriving in Los Angeles without my two suitcases began to sink in. How could they possibly be offloaded and transferred to another flight in the space of half an hour? I was planning an overnight stay before catching a flight home the next morning. Would my suitcases remain in Hong Kong? How would I even track them down?

Arriving in Los Angeles many hours later, I made my way to baggage claim with the other passengers and waited anxiously at the carousel. Did my suitcases even make it? I held my breath. Soon the familiar hum of the conveyor belt kicked in. Everyone’s eyes (especially mine) were glued on the chute, when out popped my two suitcases – first ones onto the belt! I was beyond thrilled and relieved, and breathed a prayer of thanks to God. It was obvious. He was the one who had orchestrated this incredible journey, this amazing year, from beginning to end. Thirty minutes in Hong Kong? My friends were right…I couldn’t do it, but God did!

Oh yes…there was one thing that did get left behind in China — my heart!

 

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Thirteen Chinese Bibles

th-2During the mid 80s, which seems a millennium ago, I spent a year teaching English at a university in Shanghai, China. Three years prior to my arrival, the Chinese government had surprisingly softened their stance against freedom of religion, and had made public statements to that effect. However, as foreign teachers, we still had to be careful and sensitive to the issue and were certainly not allowed to do any proselytizing. We were told we could share any religious beliefs pertaining to western culture and traditions in our classes, and that we could answer any questions relating to religious matters if the inquiries were initiated by the student.

I was on a team with three other Christian teachers, so of course we enjoyed sharing our faith and our cultural traditions during Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. One memorable experience I had was setting up a little cardboard nativity set and sharing the Christmas story. Afterwards, the students gathered around to get a closer look. They were just fascinated with the story, most of whom had never heard it before. I was amazed as they stood with reverent awe and pointed out the various characters and quietly reviewed their names.

One student began reciting, “These are the wise men, these are the angels, this is Mary and this is Joseph, Jesus’ father.” Another student immediately spoke up and corrected him, “You mean Jesus’ step-father!” I was pleased to see how they had absorbed the key elements of the story, and could sense a real hunger for God, but also a fear and hesitancy to even broach the subject. Even though there had been some significant relaxation on religious matters from the government, it was still difficult to purchase a Bible anywhere, and when you did, your name was registered, which caused some angst and hesitation.

During our holiday break for the Chinese New Year, my colleague Helen and I decidth-1ed to take a trip to Hong Kong. At that time, Hong Kong was still under British rule, so it was easy to find Christian bookstores and purchase Bibles. Both of us decided to purchase as many Chinese Bibles as we could possibly stash away in our suitcases. I purchased thirteen Bibles, and Helen about that many. We never had any fear about being caught, as we didn’t feel like we were doing anything illegal. We had never been told we couldn’t bring Bibles into the country.

However, when it was time to re-enter China, we had to go through baggage inspection, which was no surprise to us, but we still weren’t the least bit apprehensive – for some reason. At the train station we waited in a long line for baggage inspection, chatting away with each other and never did notice any other Americans in line ahead of us. The next thing we knew we were waiting behind two tall young men, who appeared to be American. I remember being surprised, because in our long wait, we had not even noticed them. (When you’re in a foreign country, Americans tend to quickly identify each other and strike up a conversation.) Their suitcases were being inspected rather thoroughly, and everything was being dragged out. The two began laughing, when one of them turned to the other and blurted out, “They must think we’re trying to smuggle in Bibles!” This was followed by more snickers and laughter. The guard/inspectors quickly replaced everything into the suitcases and waved them on. When Helen and I walked up they rolled their eyes at us, and waved us on as well, never inspecting our luggage. It was obvious they thought we were traveling with the two American men.

Upon arriving back in Shanghai, I carefully stored the Bibles in the back of my closet. Throughout the remainder of the year, I had exactly thirteen students come to me privately, asking for a Bible! I was so grateful that I was able to quietly honor their request. I’ve often wondered about them. Did they read their Bibles? Were their lives transformed? Did they share their Bibles with family and friends? One student did come to me later and ask, “What does ‘Emmanuel’ mean? I was happy to tell him that it meant ‘God is with us.’ Even though I lost contact with these students over the years, I know that God is still with them.

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The latest news out of China, in regard to religious freedom, is not good. Christians are suffering renewed and intense persecution, churches are being shut down, and Bibles are now being confiscated. Once again, the government is tightening their grip. It would be wonderful to know where those thirteen Bibles are right now. I am forever grateful Helen and I were able to get them into China when we did…and that God provided His protection and covering for us! I know the Word of God is powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and has the ability to tear down barriers and cut into the darkest corners of the world and spread Light.

A Treasured Photo

IMG_3255One of the most memorable experiences of my life was the year I spent teaching English at a university in Shanghai, China. Some of the Chinese, such as my students, became dear friends over the course of the year I was there. Others, total strangers, briefly crossed my path, but I was fortunate enough to capture their beautiful faces on my camera, and they now hang in the art gallery of my mind.

One photo was such a treasure, that I made a charcoal drawing of this beautiful face, and it has hung on the walls of my office for years, with the original photo tucked in the corner. For the Chinese New Year break, (back in the day), my friend and colleague, Helen, and I made plans for a trip to Hong Kong. On one of our stops, rather late at night and still quite a distance from Hong Kong, we stopped at a little corner dive for a bowl of noodles. We were pleasantly surprised when an elderly gentleman (with the look of a classic Chinese scholar) struck up a conversation with us in fluent English. More often than not, when we were approached by strangers, it was usually someone wanting to practice their English, and the subsequent experience became burdensome and tiring.

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With my friend Helen

However, this gentleman shared fascinating stories with us of his time in America when he worked on the railroads. It was such a pleasant visit, we totally lost track of time, and didn’t even notice anyone else around us. Realizing the lateness of the hour, Helen and I shared our farewells and gathered our belongings. As an afterthought, I grabbed my camera and asked the gentleman if I could take his picture. This made him happy and he broke out in a big, toothless smile. As luck would have it, I was completely out of film. (That was back in the day when you had to place film in your camera and wait to have it developed.)

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Guilin, in southeastern China

I apologized to the sweet man and expressed my disappointment. At that moment, a young lady walked up that had been a silent listener to our conversation. She introduced herself and told us she was from France. She, too, spoke fluent English. She very kindly offered to take the man’s picture for me, and told me if I gave her an address, she would be happy to mail the photo to me. I was surprised by her kindness, and gave her an address but couldn’t help wondering if she would actually follow through on such a generous offer to a stranger.

Several days later, Helen and I were walking the streets of downtown Hong Kong (at that time, a city of 6 to 7 million people)  bustling with New Year’s fervor and throngs of people. We were on a mission to find a good “western” restaurant and were in the middle of a difficult decision: steak, hamburgers, pizza, or spaghetti? At this point, anything but rice and cabbage sounded pretty good. This would be followed up with a hunt for a good dessert: chocolate cake or maybe apple pie, if we were so lucky. (We were craving western food and wanted to take good advantage of our stay!)  We were enjoying the shopping and the hustle and bustle of the street when, out of nowhere, up walked our friend from France! Helen and I were so stunned, we were totally speechless. The young French lady didn’t seem the least bit surprised. “Oh, Hi!” she said, as she casually opened up her bag and pulled out a photograph. “I have your picture for you,” she shared, as she handed me the photo and walked off. We barely had the time to thank her and say good-bye before she disappeared into the crowd.

Helen and I looked at each other in total disbelief. The odds were about 7 million to 1 that we could possibly have run into our friend from France on this busy street in Hong Kong; how close we could have come to missing her had we walked into any number of untitled_46restaurants. What were the chances she would have had the film developed so quickly? That made the odds even greater. We had no idea she even had plans to visit Hong Kong.

The whole experience was so amazing to me that I decided to memorialize it with a charcoal drawing of my Chinese scholar.  Such encounters just make you pause, wonder in awe, and cherish the memory for the rest of your life.