Easter Painting by My 80-Year Old Mother Keiko

3-21-14b-1“Happy Easter!” by Keiko Nishiguchi

Keiko brings the happiness of spring and the joy of Easter to life in this, her latest whimsical piece — oil on canvas.

Mom Easter 201480-year old Keiko Nishiguchi began painting at age 72 upon meeting a master painter in Honolulu.  She enjoys experimenting with different colors and concepts, and she spends two hours a day painting with oil on her canvas.  She is a mother to three daughters and a grandmother to two and resides in Honolulu with her husband Harry in a condo building which was once used for a shoot for the hit TV show, LOST.  They enjoy daily walks in Waikiki.

Valentine’s Day Painting by My Mother Keiko

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“Happy Valentine’s Day!” by Keiko Nishiguchi 80-year old Keiko Nishiguchi began painting at age 72 upon meeting a master painter in Honolulu.  She enjoys experimenting with different colors and concepts, and she spends two hours a day painting with oil … Continue reading

So You’re Too Old To Lead Worship — Now, Deal With It.

photo-23I digress from my usual posts about parenting, because I’ve been seeing several internet posts on the subject of worship leaders getting forced out for being “too old.”  I know, I don’t think that’s good, either.  One would think that, of all places, the Church would want to encourage generational diversity in leadership up front, but sadly that’s often not the case.

But you know what?  That’s the way it is, so deal with it.

Complaining bitterly doesn’t do much good, and we shouldn’t plant seeds of resentment and cause division in the Body, so I decided to take some action…after a period of mourning and wallowing in self-pity, that is.  Here are some suggestions and pointers coming from my own journey as a middle-aged worship leader:

1.  Confess your own anger and bitterness.

In Ephesians 4 we read, “31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  Perhaps the pastor and the board of elders were wrong.  Maybe you resent being replaced by a perkier, fresher face.  I don’t blame you.  However, it does no good to remain stuck in anger.  We are all imperfect people trying our best…even the senior pastor.  Let’s move towards a place of grace and forgiveness.

2.  Start mentoring

You’ve probably learned a lot in your life and what you think is common sense might be completely new to someone younger.  It’s time to pass along that knowledge, whether it be by mentoring formally or informally.  I recently became certified as a voice coach and began teaching — and I love it!  All of us eventually have to get off the stage, so the more gracefully we can do so, the better.  Why not help raise up the next generation of worship leaders?

3.  Update your sound

Be honest — is your music style getting a little stale?  If you’re still stuck in the 1970′s Jesus Movement music, 80′s techno, or 90′s grunge, it’s important to open yourself up to some more contemporary sound. Listen to some current music out there.  You might be surprised to discover songs that express worship in a whole new way.  Take some lessons and learn current playing styles for piano and guitar.  After I became a mom, I decided to take up the guitar to sound more “today” and also took voice lessons to learn the current singing style for pop music — and they paid off. This issue is not unique just to our industry; people in many other lines of work continue to improve, learn, retool, network, and market themselves.  Likewise, we should never let ourselves get complacent and out of touch.

4.  Update your look

Let’s take a good look in the mirror.  Have we let our appearances slide over the years?  Have you not been taking care of that “temple” of yours? I know it sounds shallow, but who really prefers old, haggard folks leading us up front?  We might be able to regain some youth and vigor just by losing some weight, updating our hairdo, improving our wardrobe, and getting in shape.  If you’re still sporting the 90′s permed hair and/or mommy jeans, you are screaming, “I’m over the hill!”  Sure, you want to keep it age-appropriate, but you can certainly look modern and up-to-date with a simple style makeover and maybe buy yourself a little more time.

5.  Find another venue

If after all that effort, you still find yourself getting ushered off the stage, perhaps you can find a different venue to continue using your gifts.  Smaller churches are more likely to use people of all ages and also appreciate a more “seasoned” worship leader.  You can sing for kids, seniors, prison ministry, Sunday School class, etc.  The stadium-sized sanctuary with bright lights might no longer be for you, but there’s no limit to how God can continue to use you!

6.  Remember: what goes around, comes around

Maybe all that church music war between traditional vs. contemporary music we heard about when we were coming of age was the same as the struggle that’s happening to us right now.  We thought the good times would never end…but we were wrong.  And honestly — if we continue to fiercely guard our fiefdom, then we all grow old together until the whole church literally dies off.  We must have a change of guards.

By the way, for you younger folks who just ran us off of our playground, remember this: don’t get too smug and complacent, for you too will someday be getting replaced by kids who are still in diapers today.  Mark my words.

Grace: The Most Precious Gift I Gave and Received this Christmas

iStock_000022043493XSmallDavid and I attended an afternoon gathering at our church a few Sundays ago, a few weeks before Christmas.

After a couple of songs, the host pastor urged us to greet our neighbors.  We turned to a couple sitting a few rows behind us. “I’m Junko,” I said, as I extended my hand to shake the man’s.

“Junko! I’m ‘Corey’,” he said, in a hey-I-know-you sort of a way, and I took a second look at his vaguely familiar, smiling face.  Hmmm…who was he again? His wife was explaining to David that they were just visiting that day from Los Angeles.

After everyone took their seats and the place quieted down, the senior pastor came out and began speaking.  My mind, however, was flipping through my mental Rolodex.  Then I got it.

Oooooh, THAT Corey!

This guy still owes me money from 1994!  If you add interest, we’re talking about over a thousand dollars.  At that time, he was promoting a Christian music festival with some “Christians” he had met in prison while serving time for a white collar crime (that should have been my first red flag), and they signed me up as one of the acts.  I was just releasing my debut album, still naive and trusting of everyone. They promised me a generous appearance fee and I, in turn, hired a band.

The day of the festival arrived, and it turned out to be a complete mess.  It was the hottest, ugliest day in LA that year, and attendance was low.  None of the amenities that they had promised — food, ATM machines, green room — came to be, and the people were upset.  Some of the biggest acts in Christian music in the 90′s backed out at the last minute when they sensed that they would be stiffed.  I dutifully performed, even though I had gotten rear-ended on the freeway on my way there.  Then I discovered that my CD’s were stolen right off of my merch table!  It was a horrible day.

Corey and his friends promised to pay me, but I never heard from them again.

I had long ago erased this unpleasant experience from my mind, but it’s amazing how powerfully memories can come back.  As our pastor spoke, I was trying to keep anger from welling back up and kept searching for the quickest exit.

As soon as the meeting ended, Corey and his wife came dashing over to us.  They must have been doing some strategizing during the sermon.

“Hey, we know a bunch of things happened about 20 years ago, but we just want you to know that we are so, so sorry for what we did to you,” they said to me.  “We were foolish and dumb, and what we did was not fair to you.  Please forgive us.”

I was floored!  They’re trying to make amends!

I was then reminded of the conversation I had just had that morning at church with Howard, an 80-something widower.  He was telling me about the full life he’s lived, even as his hand shook with tremors.  “I have some friends who are now alone and bitter.  I don’t want to be bitter!  I want to keep enjoying life, so I’m not looking back,” he declared with a smile as his coffee dribbled out of the cup in his trembling hand.

“Of course I forgive you,” I exclaimed, as I hugged Corey and his wife.  They looked relieved, as if I had been that last person to cross off the list from their 12-step program.  They thanked me for my graciousness and wished us a Merry Christmas.

* * * *

As they left, I thought of the many foolish things I’ve done over the years and the people I have wronged and hurt.  The couple had more courage than I to make amends.  I should be the one thanking them for this chance meeting, for it was a huge lesson in grace.  Not the grace I extended to them but the grace given to me by God…in spite of myself.

Thank you, Corey, and thank you, Howard, for this most interesting and important gift I received for Christmas this year.

More Paintings from the Birthday Girl — My Mom, on Her 80th!

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“Water Lily” “Red Bird in Paradise” “Happy Day” (special whimsical painting for her grandkids) About the artist: Keiko Nishiguchi began painting at age 72 upon meeting a master painter in Honolulu.  She is a mother to three daughters and a … Continue reading

I Met Someone Who Is In A Polyamorous Relationship…And She’s Really Nice

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iStock.com

Until last week, I had never heard of the term polyamorous, let alone that such a relationship existed.  That all changed when I met “Rachel” from Canada recently at a conference I attended in Los Angeles.

This particular career enriching workshop drew people from all parts of the world, and my colleagues hailed from England, Australia, Uruguay, Japan, Canada, Philippines, and from all over the US.  I was enjoying lunch on the first day, sitting in the warm California sun at a table getting acquainted with three foreigners, when somehow the topic of online dating sites came up.  Katherine, a young lady from London, was lamenting that the online relationship which she had high hopes for didn’t pan out, when Rachel (who had clearly mentioned to us that she is married) chimed in.

“That’s how I met my boyfriend.”

Naturally, I asked, “Oh, so is that how you met your husband?”

“No, my boyfriend.  And my husband met his girlfriend that way, too!” she added with a laugh.

Although the four of us each spoke English–albeit with varying accents–we all looked puzzled at Rachel as if she were suddenly speaking to us in a foreign language.  That’s when she added, almost nonchalantly:

“The four of us all live together.  We are in a polyamorous relationship.”  She took another bite of her kung pao chicken.

My mind went off in a spin while I tried to comprehend this conversation.  Is this a normal thing in other parts of the world?  In Canada?  Rachel was really fun and nice and, at least until that moment, seemingly normal.  Well, except for her purple hair, but she is a musician, after all.  Earlier, we had talked about our favorite foods, my husband and kids back home and her husband back at the hotel, and the fact that they didn’t have any kids…although she teaches music to a lot of children.

She continued, “After ten years of marriage, we decided to spice things up a bit.  So we searched online.”

“Are there a lot of other people looking for the same thing?” inquired Katherine.

“Oh yes, there are dedicated sites for people like us.”

Eric, a newly engaged young man also from London, asked with a stutter, “So, how does this work, arrangement-wise?”  Katherine and I were glad that he was the one to broach the question.

“Well, we have a two-bedroom flat, and we all live together quite nicely.”

Before we could ask the next question, she clarified: “We have an organized schedule where we go four nights with one, three nights with the other.  Some people are not all that organized and never know what goes on from one night to the next, but we prefer it this way.”  We all took another bite of our lunch and chewed for a few seconds, mulling over what to say next.

She continued with a laugh, “Oh, and we don’t do any of those kinky things with the whole group like some people like to do.  We keep it strictly in pairs.”  I wondered if this was a closed loop where the boyfriend and the girlfriend also get along.  Did they get to interview each other before they got into this thing?

At that moment, Eric got an overseas phone call from his fiancee, and I got up to refill my drink.  Before we knew it, it was time to resume our afternoon session so we all walked back to the venue.

We didn’t bring up the topic again the rest of the conference.  We were all very busy, after all.  I never did get to meet her husband who was mostly site seeing while we were attending the conference, but I imagine he is pretty regular like the rest of us, too.

Knowing human nature, though, I just can’t imagine this whole polyamorous thing working out very well in the end, but who knows.  As for us, after ten years of marriage, David and I decided to “spice things up” ourselves by having kids.  Me, David, Josh, and Meg all happily living together under one roof.

I think that’s amorous enough for me.  How about you?

Oil Paintings by My 80-year old Mother, Keiko

In honor of my mother’s upcoming 80th birthday, I would like to proudly display some of her artwork.  If you think you’re too old to start a new hobby, think again.  She only began painting 8 years ago!  These are some of her oil paintings:

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“Tulip”

She painted this one as a gift to commemorate me and David’s 25th wedding anniversary.

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“Ducks in a Row”

This one was a special painting she did for my daughter Megumi.

About the artist:

Keiko

Keiko Nishiguchi began painting at age 72 upon meeting a master painter in Honolulu.  She is a mother to three daughters and a grandmother to two.  She resides in Honolulu with her husband Harry in a condo building which was once used for a shoot for the hit TV show, LOST.  They enjoy daily walks in Waikiki.

Keeping the End in Mind — Lessons on Motherhood from the Gym

iStock_000015205697XSmallThe middle aged lady snuck in late to the weightlifting class.  Obviously a newcomer, she tried to hide in the back, but the class was completely full.  A nice person in the back directed her to the front where there was the last open space between me and the mirrored wall and kindly fitted her with the lightest of the weights on a barbell.  I helped position her riser and showed her how to grab the apparatus with her trembling and ring-less hands.

She wore a long-sleeved everyday shirt and wore baggy sweatpants over her grannies which kept peeking out with every bend of her body which, though not overweight, carried not one extra ounce of muscle.  Gray roots belied her tired blond which was pulled back into a pony tail with a scrunchy.  She had a kind smile and kept apologizing for her very presence.  “I’m sorry to bother you,” she repeated, as I gave her tips on form while the class continued with various weightlifting drills to music.

Recent divorcee?  Midlife crisis?  I wondered, as she began to exercise, perhaps for the first time in 30 years.  Or ever.  She responded surprisingly well to the instructor’s cues.

“I bet you were an athlete growing up, weren’t you?” I asked during one transition between sets, partly to encourage her but mostly out of curiosity.

“No, I was always a wimp,” she laughed through her Tootsie glasses.  (And if you just understood what I meant by that, then you are almost as old as she is).

I bet her kids and husband — ex- or not — never helped her get in touch with her inner athlete.  You go, girl!

Although she tired easily and could not make every repetition, she didn’t quit.  When the instructor called for increasing of weights for certain muscle groups, I encouraged her to keep her barbell as is…at 2.5 pounds on each end.

“Don’t want you to get injured,” I said, but I also didn’t want her to get discouraged. It’s so easy to go too hard on the first day, then never come back.

Somehow, the topic of pie crust came from the instructor on the mike who asked for a show of hands if anyone had actually made it from scratch.

This lady raised her hand.

I bet she spent all her life giving of herself to her family, always putting herself last.  She stayed up late each night doing laundry and making pie crusts from scratch, for goodness’ sake!

I pictured her, maybe in one or two more years, showing the results of her consistent efforts at the gym — new definitions on her arms, abs, and thighs.  I pictured her with a cute, updated haircut with color that better matched her skin tone.  I also pictured her in a more form-fitting and revealing athletic outfit from lululemon like the many regulars in the class.  I pictured her a confident woman, an empty-nester, enjoying life and contributing to society in ways she could not while her kids were little.  I saw her whole and complete.

And that’s when it dawned on me — God pictures us whole and complete already, too.  Not saying that being athletic and in shape is the definition of being whole, but He sees us already as the complete person He has meant for us to become all along.

He took a stuttering, bumbling, hot-tempered man like Moses and an overly-spontaneous fisherman like Peter and used them to change history. The Lord always kept the end in mind as he patiently worked with them. The same God can also take a fumbling, stressed out, insecure, and imperfect mom like me and make something out of my life, because He already has the end in mind.  God already sees in me a confident and competent mother to my children.  Maybe not a Tiger Mom, but at least a Panda Mom.

“Thank you!  I’m coming back on Thursday,” she said enthusiastically as the class ended.

I sure hope so.  You have no idea how much you encourage me today, so thank YOU.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

- Philippians 3:14

Murder, Manhunt, and Manifesto

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(KABC photo)

My hometown of Irvine has been all over the news today due to a rare murder and the manhunt for the suspect, Christopher Dorner.  Irvine is consistently rated one of the safest cities in the nation, which makes this crime so alarming.  But what is most alarming of all is that this man, a fired ex-LAPD police officer, wrote a vitriolic manifesto describing his rage and what he planned to do about it.

He is angry that he has been wronged, and he is out for revenge.  He is out to kill.

We don’t know the full story, so I can’t be the judge here.  I’ve read reports that he was depressed.  Maybe by serving in the military, he suffers from PTSD.  Maybe he has a history of mental illness.  Nevertheless, from all the reports I’ve heard on the news so far, there is no doubt that he is very, very angry.  Angry enough to murder a young engaged couple in Irvine and a police officer…so far.

Coincidentally (or not), we were studying anger in our Bible study just yesterday.  This comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5;21-22).  Our study leader pointed out that in almost all cases of murder, anger is at the root of it.

I was also reminded of the verse in Ephesians 4:26, “In your anger, do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”  Well, I’m pretty certain that Chris Dorner let many, many suns go down on his anger while simmering and raging about the wrongs he suffered, perhaps over decades.  I wouldn’t doubt it if he was rightfully angry about some of these things.  But instead of letting go, he let them fester and fester until…

Although I have not experienced the level of anger Mr. Dorner was evidently harboring, I am convicted today about my own issues with holding onto anger.  There were work-related conflicts that happened over 10 years ago that I’m still smarting over.  I can think of friends who betrayed me when I was in high school.  How I need to let go of them!  I know exactly what the Scriptures is talking about when it says, “do not give the devil a foothold.”  Anger can open the heart to much ugliness.

Sometimes, all attempts to work something out between me and the other party fails.  Then, it’s up to me to forgive, let go, and move on.  Although it’s not easy, it helps to keep in mind a couple of things:

1.  People are people, and they are imperfect.

Give them grace when they slip up and transgress against us, because someday we will be transgressing against them, too.  Maybe we should all lower our expectations on our boss, friend, spouse, parent, etc., because they are just as fallen and deprived as we are.  One time, I was sharing about something hurtful which someone I (used to) respect said to me.  Then someone casually said, “Maybe he didn’t really mean to hurt you.”  Most of the time, I would have dismissed her comment as platitude, but somehow it dawned on me that day that my friend, thoughtless as he might have been, wasn’t out to purposely hurt my feelings.  How liberating it was to realize that and how much easier it was to then forgive!

2.  The easiest way to let go of our past anger is to stop thinking about it.

The brain has a wonderful way of disconnecting the synapses when you stop making that connection.  I’ve actually completely forgotten about things I stopped remembering.  Praise God that we have this wonderful ability!  Sometimes, this ability pops up at the most inopportune moments, but let’s use it to our advantage!

I don’t know how this manhunt for Chris Dorner is going to end.  But for now, I’m going to do my part to try to make my world a better place.  And you?

Mary’s Farfalla with Grilled Chicken

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My 14-year old son Josh loves anything cooked by his best friend Sammy’s mom, Mary.

“Mom, can you make me sandwiches like the ones Sammy’s mom makes?” I oblige by going to the supermarket and calling Mary on the cell phone in the aisles, asking her the exact brand of the bread, mayo, cold cuts, and cheese. I want to make sure that I reproduce her amazing sandwiches perfectly.

Last month, Josh came home from an overnighter at Sammy’s.

“How was your time there?” I ask.

“Oh, the toast at breakfast…” he replies dreamily, which forces me to get on the phone once again.

“Mary, what is the secret ingredient of your toast? Josh says it was so good.”

Mary replies, “Smuckers.”

So the next morning, I serve my son toast with butter and Smuckers.

“That’s pretty good, Mom,” he declares. “But not as good as Sammy’s mom’s.”

Of course.

He then spends the next couple of days gushing about this pasta dish he had at Sammy’s house.

“What was in it, Josh?” I ask.

“Well, it had bow tie pasta, pesto sauce, grilled chicken, and toasted pine nuts.”

“Mmmm…I love toasted pine nuts, but it’s so easy to burn them,” I remark.

“Yeah, good thing Sammy’s dad likes burnt ones. He didn’t let her throw away the first batch.”

Well, it was good to know that Mary is human, after all.

From the description, it sounded like a dish I would also enjoy, so I called Mary one more time. I got her recipe and made it for my family, and it was a hit. Even Josh thought it was good. Of course, not as good as when Sammy’s mom makes it, but good enough!

Here’s her super secret recipe for you all to enjoy:

FARFALLE WITH GRILLED CHICKEN & PESTO CREAM

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp. pine nuts
  • Pesto Butter (recipe follows)
  • 2 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 10 oz. dry Farfalle (bow tie shaped) pasta
  • ¼ cup dry white wine (or water)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • Salt
  • 2 tsp. chopped roasted red pepper (dry)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1- 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup lightly packed parsley (fresh)
  • ½ cup lightly packed basil leaves (fresh)
  • 1 green onion (including top)
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • ¼ cup butter (melted)

Directions

Spread pine nuts on baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned. Prepare Pesto Butter. Cook chicken in frying pan until cooked through. Cut chicken into ½ inch wide bite-size strips. While chicken is cooking, boil pasta just until tender, drain well and set aside. In a wide frying pan, combine Pesto Butter and wine. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until bubbly (about 2 minutes). Stir in cream and bring to a full rolling boil, stirring often. Season sauce to taste with salt then add roasted red pepper (2 tsp. can be too spicy for kids – I use about 1), pasta, chicken and Parmesan cheese. Mix lightly using 2 spoons. Sprinkle with remaining pine nuts.

Pesto Butter

In a blender or food processor combine 2 tbsp. pine nuts, garlic, coarsely chopped parsley and basil, green onion, olive oil, butter and pepper. Whirl until well combined (about 2 minutes).