17 February 2014

Valentine's Day - A Day to Celebrate God Within Us (Audio)

ITP #32: If God is Love, and Valentine's day is a day to celebrate love, then shouldn't Valentine's day be a day to celebrate God? On this week's Inside the Pomegranate, Anush shares some thoughts seeing the beauty and love around us, and appreciating the God within.
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for epostle.net
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Valentine's Day - A Day to Celebrate God Within Us

Valentine's day has always been a favorite day for me.  What a beautiful day to celebrate love.  I think this was set in motion in my childhood.  My father was big on Valentine's Day.   He was a romantic, and would send my mom flowers.  It was a given.  I remember coming home from school with expectations of seeing what kind of flowers my mom got each year.  Always red (my dad's favorite color).  Roses, antheriums, gladiolas, tulips.  There were also presents for us.  My father was a pharmacist, within a larger store equivalent to say, a Walmart.  So he would come home with heart-shaped boxes of candy for each of us kids, along with little stuffed animals, mugs, whatever caught his eye.  Pre-Valentine's day, there were valentine's to choose to give to our classmates.  And I'd come home with my brown lunch bag decorated with pink and red construction paper hearts (of course) packed full of those little valentines from my classmates.  Fun times.

And I still love Valentine's day.   On Valentine's Day morning, during my prayer time, I was thinking about the concept of "God is Love".  And with all the preparation for Valentine's Day and talk about love, I started thinking about this day of love and how it ties in with God.  And so here it is.  Valentine's day is a day that we celebrate love.  And since God is love, and Christ is love incarnate, this beautiful day takes on new meaning.  Now stay with me and think about it.

What happens when Valentine's day approaches?  We head over to the store to buy our valentine cards...or we bring out the paper and pens and create our own.  We think of our loved ones regardless of their shortcomings.  I mean, if you purchase your cards, you read through the messages to find the one that best suits your love.  From sappy to funny, they all focus on the good qualities not the bad.  For that one day, we don't focus on the fact that the lightbulbs didn't get replaced, or the trash didn't get taken out, or that I leave shoes all over the house wherever I take them off.  We focus on the best in one another.  We accept one another's shortcoming and we appreciate what we do have together.  Right?

Isn't that what God does?  He understands that we are not perfect.  He accepts us with all our flaws and quirks and loves us unconditionally.  He is there for us always, whether we take the time to acknowledge Him or not, and he doesn't care if the dishes didn't get done.  And though, I'm sure He doesn't like us sometimes, He loves us ALWAYS!

And then what about the candy?  Life is sweet.  God gives us that sweetness.  The sweetness of love, the innocence of children, the ability to love.  As God is love, and we are created by God, we are created with the ability to love one another.  That love factor is implanted in each and every one of us.  It's part of our genetic make up ingrained in each of us.  But just like the God-given talents that each of us possess, it's up to us to nurture those talents and build them up. The same is true of love.  In other words, we have the tremendous capacity to love one another, and to embrace one another for the unique individuals that we are, but it takes practice?  Are we looking at the glass as half empty? or half full?  Are focusing on our loved one's faults or are we seeing them as beautiful as is?  That's the hard part, right?

And then there are the Valentine flowers.  Take a look at those flowers.  Colorful, beautiful, delicate and
intricate.  Have you ever tried mixing colors to paint a flower, or anything in nature for that matter.  The sunset, the sunrise?  It's not just "out of the tube" color.  It's a mixture.  If you're looking at a red rose. The color is not just Alizarian crimson or scarlet lake.  There are all kinds of colors within those shadows and highlights.  There is beauty in the highlights and the shadows.  Just like there are lessns to be learned during our dark days and the light happy ones.  The love that God has for us, and instills in us...and ability to see the beauty around us, are all put there by God. We delight in that beauty. The colors, the fragrances, the way it all fits together to make our lives that much more pleasurable.  Even when our days get a little cloudy, or downright dark, the beauty is still there if we can only see beyond the darkness and look toward the light within.  Because God is always there.  Love is always there.

In searching for quote on love, I came across this quote by John Lennon:
                            "We need to learn to love ourselves first in all our glory and imperfections.  
                            If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others 
                            or our potential to create."\
I glossed over this quote at first.  What didn't appeal to me was the part about loving ourselves. Self love.  It kind of comes off as being proud, boastful, conceited.  Right?  But it's not that at all.  I have been doing a lot of soul searching lately.  A lot of writing about the little things that make me tick.  And one of my biggest problems has been my lack of self-acceptance.  "Love ourselves first in all our glory and imperfections" it says.  That's a tough one.  But I am so much more than my "parts", you know?  We can learn to love ourselves imperfectly.  Simply as being God's creation with a capacity to love and radiate His divine love and light to others.  When we can put aside our own failings...our own flaws and shortcomings and just accept ourselves - love ourselves - we can then throw away the self-absorbed negative speak that goes on inside us and understand that we are all part of God's creation, no better or worse than anyone else,  we can then focus on accepting others as they are, and creating a beautiful and sweet world for all.  A world where we see the beauty of God's love in each person and open up our hearts and minds to spreading that love and kindness to others.  Here's another nice quote I came across.

So what are your thoughts on this?  I love Valentine's day.  It's a day of love...and therefore it's a day of God.  It's a chance for us to look beyond the petty - as God does.
                       To see the potential and beauty in our loved ones - as God does.
                                   And to love one another unconditionally and to celebrate God within us,
                                               and give thanks for the love and beauty around us!

I hope you all had a beautiful Valentine's day and that you carry the message of love and beauty forward everyday.

10 February 2014

Finding Dad in Arizona (Audio)

ITP #31: Even when they're gone, our parents are with us. They live on through our children and the talents they possess. In this episode of Inside the Pomegranate, Anush shares about her weekend in Arizona: the Tuscon Bead, Gem & Mineral show, taking in the sites of Tempe and beyond.
Link: Release the Fear - sculpture
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Finding Dad in Arizona

Panorama of the Tempe Center for the Performing Arts and the beautiful bridge and lake walk
The flaming saganaki!
We just got home from a whirlwind trip to Arizona!  We left on Friday and drove through to Tempe, which is about 6 hours away, and where my nephew and godson Varoujan lives while working on his masters at ASU.  We traveled to Arizona for the annual Tucson Bead, Gem, and Mineral Show. This is a major event that takes place every year in February.  And I've wanted to attend this show for many years but inevitably something would always come up, and we wouldn't be able to go.  But this year, I guess the stars lined up and both Neddy and I were able to get off work.  The show is such a big event that finding a hotel room without signing off on your first born is unheard of.  Tucson is about and hour or so's drive from Tempe, so we decided to get a room there. Plus, it was nice to be near my nephew and get some time in together.  So Friday night we were able to walk around the village near ASU and go out to a Greek place for dinner.
The beautiful Phoenix Library...entire back wall is a
panoramic view of the city
We got to experience something called a "flaming saganaki"....some flaming cheese that Var and Neddy ordered.  We got to see the studio where Varouj works on his architectural projects  And we got to hear about some of the cool things that he and his team are working on in the Utah desert.  And then the added bonus of the weekend was that Var was able to join us on Saturday and come to the show with us.

So Saturday morning, before we headed out to Tucson, Varouj took us to the Phoenix library which was just this amazing building...beautiful, modern but still organic in shape.  I can't do it any justice in describing it, but here are the photos.  It was really an architectural masterpiece that was so inviting that it just made you want to use the space.  There was a special section for teens only, and when we walked through I noticed that kids could check out musical instruments if they wanted to play.  Isn't that a cool idea?  The space was amazing. I noticed this about Arizona architecture:  they utilize the natural light and the position of the sun to either light, or cast shadows on the structures.  So well thought out.

Release the Fear - sculpture made of
weapons of violence
On the way out to Tucson, we passed this sculpture on a median.  It looks like the shape of a modernistic person with their hands up in the air. Kind of in a pose of rejoicing.  Varouj told us that the entire sculpture, from the base to the figure, was created with weapons used in violent acts collected throughout Arizona.  It's an 8 ton statue, and the base has the actual weapons fused to it, and it looks like the statue is rising up from the base.  It's called "Release the Fear".  The artist is Robert John Miley, and artist who promotes the power of education and art to combat violence.  I thought it was so powerful and beautifully done. Click on the link and you can read more about it.  But here's a photo.

Beautiful Beads from Afghanistan
Checking out the handmade beads 
After that we headed on the I-10 toward Tucson.  I had no idea what to expect.  Only that it was supposed to be the end-all/ be-all bead show.  And it was. And then some.  The show is spread out all over Tucson. They even had shuttles that will take you from location to location.  We started off at the bead show which was in a large hotel.  Not only were the meeting rooms, ball rooms and outside areas filled with vendors, but so were all the hotel rooms on the first floor.  Imagine walking down a hotel corridor, and each room is a different vendor with beads, jewelry making supplies, finished pieces, or findings. I was able to get some new tools for working with the metal clays that I use for my pomegranates.  I learned some new techniques. Saw some amazing handmade beads, and stocked up on supplies from vendors that I usually only do business with online.  I know I had no idea that it would ever be this big of an event.

My weakness - beautiful
ethic beads from Africa
is it a plant? Is it a horn?
It's a fossil!
All this and it was only the first location. When you check in at the bead show, they give you a big event magazine and in there are not only all the vendors, but a map of all the locations in the city where there are more vendors/more venues.  I was looking up the location of the next bead show location, but I had already spent a lot.  I know myself well enough to know that if I went to the bead show, I'd definitely be buying stuff buying MORE stuff than I already did! There were a lot of locations for minerals and gems.  I thought the guys would like to go to the gem and mineral show.  And boy was I wrong.  It wasn't just the guys that enjoyed that part.
Beautiful amethyst crystals
I was totally blown away by it. There were ten foot high quartz crystals, 4-5 foot tall geodes filled with beautiful amethysts, and fossils that were millions of years old.  I was really amazed by a fossilized flower - something so delicate - preserved for millions of years. You could see the seeds, stems and petals and they were all preserved in stone.  All this was taking place under huge tents in vacant parking lots (that were hardly vacant).  I'm talking about huge tents...like the kind you see in revival meetings.  Like a big top.  There were all kinds of gemstones, rocks...polished and unpolished, turquoise from various mines, mounds of magnetic hematite...and meteorites.  There was a meteorite on display that was the size of a canteloupe. Neddy told me to pick it up.  I took my one hand and tried lifting, no way.  It was over 30 points.  Just solid metal.  My husband Ned, being an alien himself, was so excited to find such a great display of meteories.   It was all really interesting.  and so were the people that were there.  We saw a few that looked like they had come straight from Burning Man (maybe they had!)  And again, this was just at
The back wall of the Phoenix library
this second location.   Imagine 20-30 locations all around the city, and the show is going on for two weeks. There's no way that you could cover it all in one day, let alone during a 2-3 day weekend.  Anyway...it was such a cool thing to do, and we'd definitely like to go back and try it again...but stay longer and see more. As cool as it was, it still wasn't the BEST  part of the weekend.

The best part of the weekend was spending time with my nephew.  It was a rare time spent since when he's back in L.A., we see one another at church and family functions, but not like this past weekend where we got a chance to talk, watch the Olympics, eat, "oo and aah" over beads, walk and enjoy the day together. And I got a chance to appreciate what an amazing guy he really is.

My ever so talented nephew and godson, Varouj and me
It was a full weekend.  And Ned and I really had a great visit, and we were talking about it on the drive home.  The three of us had spent a beautiful morning walking by the river in Tempe, sunny but cold and windy.  Just the type of day that my father would have loved.  Today is the 23rd anniversary of my father's passing.  It's really hard to believe that so much time has gone by.  My father was only 58 when he died.  My daughter Ani was 3, my son Nareg was 9.  My nephew's Varoujan and Sevan, 4 and 2, I think.   My nephew Varoujan is my father's namesake.  This weekend, I got to see first hand that my father still lives on through my nephew.  It's not that he looks anything at all like my father.  But Var is incredibly talented, as was my dad.  My nephew shares my father's musical ability.  Babajan was a self-taught violin player.  He worked his way through pharmacy school playing gypsy violin in a restaurant.  But he didn't stop at the violin.  He could pretty much play whatever instrument came his way.  Mandolin, oud, doudouk, kemancheh.  Our home was always filled with music.  My nephew shares this musical ability.  Piano, self taught on clarinet so well that he played in the USC marching band, guitar, doudouk, oud, and he accompanies our church choir for the badarak. I wish I could do that.

But that's not the only similarity.  It's the creativity.  I saw it in Varoujan this weekend.  He is working on his
This is the fossilized flower I was telling you about.
Masters in Architecture.  As he was showing us the bridge at the Tempe Center for the Performing Arts, the river that runs next to it, the artistry of the design, I could feel my dad there with us...and he was beaming with pride.  My father was very much in tune to his surroundings, just like my nephew.  I remember walks with my father where he would notice the quality of light, the colors of the environment around us.  And there we were this morning on a walk, and taking in the surroundings, and Varoujan commented the way the water poured off the fountain, the colors, the deliberateness of the design.  Very Babajan-esque.

As a pharmacist, his job didn't allow him the creativity that he needed.  So after work he would find his creative release through music usually, or other projects.  I remember going to the bead store with him when I was a kid.  If my mom needed the perfect necklace to complement her outfit, he would make it for her. When my mother bought my dad a book on oriental rugs, he created a mini loom and learned the knotting techniques and wove mini versions of kilims in our kitchen.  Varoujan is very much like that.  He's a skilled woodworker, a builder, and has vision to see in his mind the way the completed outcome will turn out.  Like the zeroscape he and my sister in law created in their front yard replacing the lawn with native, drought tolerant plants (and making look great!)  Which is not always easy.
Walking the bridge in Tempe with Var and Neddy
My father's pride and joy were his grandchildren.  He saw only 4 of the 8 grandchildren that he and Mamajan share.  And because he died so young, he didn't get to see how beautifully they have grown up.  I always feel so sad that my children didn't get to know Babajan for the wonderful  grandfather he was.  And sad that they were deprived of the fun, the laughter, the music, the creativity that he brought to our family.  I can feel my dad at different times throughout the year, namely when we have important family events.  And then when weekends like this happen, I realize that he is still very much with us. And he lives on through his children and grandchildren.   I can feel his presence and I can also feel his pride of his grandchildren, and I know his spirit walks with them all.

On this 23rd anniversary of Babajan's passing, I'd like to share something he taught me.
The 10 foot quartz crystal
In my old home, I had it painted on the wall of my kitchen, and I think I'll paint it in my entry way.  He said, "Always buy lemonade from children; feed the homeless, and tip street musicians."  That's the kid of guy my dad was: sensitive to children and the dreams that they have; compassionate to those that are not fortunate enough to have the home and family that he had; and in tune to the artists of the world that make our lives more beautiful.

I miss you dad!  And I'm proud of you Varouj!  Thank you for sharing yourself with us this weekend - both of you!!

03 February 2014

Family Connections (Audio)

ITP #30: Whether you're sharing a home together living under the same roof, or sharing memories together across the globe, the tie that binds the family together is love. This week on Episode 30, Anush explores that connection, on Inside the Pomegranate.
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for epostle.net
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Family Connections

I really had a beautiful week.  It all started last week with my birthday.  It was such a wonderful day that I was on this pink cloud when Monday came around. I met a new homeless friend, Joseph who is only 19.
I've shared with you my desire to have a job where I can work with the homeless or needy population.  And for a while I was so down on being where I am at my office job.  But I have also been working on surrendering my will and focusing on being grateful for what I DO have rather than what I don't.  And this week showed me that I am where I need to be for now.  Because of my job downtown, I may not be working directly with the homeless, but I do get to interact with them.  Because of our In His Shoes homeless outreach, over the years, I've made some contacts with various agencies that may be able to help him.  And so for now, Joseph  was able to use these resources to take a shower, wash his clothes, and get cleaned up.  He is still on the street, and we're still working on getting him off the street and into a shelter with a program to help him get a job and some life skills.  Like I said, we're working on it.

The first few times I met Joseph, I gave him money and  food on my way into the office.  The next time I saw him, he was sitting on the corner of 7th and Fig with his sign, and I was stopped at the red light waiting to cross, and I asked him, "So what's your story?"  I think I surprised him.  "What's my story?"  "Yeah, why are you here?  what brought you here?"  So we started talking.  He's here from Portland, Oregon.  When I heard that I said, "Portland?  You left Portland to come here?"  After all, I loved the Oregon coast and I even took that little quiz on Facebook, you know the one -  "Where should you live?" - and outcome said that I would be a perfect fit in Portland!  He asked me if I had ever been to Portland (I hadn't)...and if so, have I ever spent a winter there.  He said it was bitterly cold.  And if you're homeless you won't survive on the street.  So he came here to sunny southern California.  And then his first week on the street his phone and ID were stolen.  Talk about bad luck.

So what is this 19 year old kid doing homeless?  I asked if he had family.  His mother died when he was very young of lymphoma.  And he had never known his father.  "Who raised you, I asked?"  He said he did...he managed.  He slept wherever he could at different people's homes that took him in.  I asked if he had gone to school.  He was able to graduate high school, but only because his old girlfriend's parents had taken him in and allowed him to stay with them. And that was pretty much it.  No family, no support systems. Completely on his own.

But I can still see hope in Joseph's eyes, and that is what is needed for him to help himself to get off the street.  There are r
esources out there, and connections that need to be made, but he will need to be persistent and patient, to try to make a life for himself.  It's very difficult with out family and a support system.  And I'll take my own advice now and be just as persistent in trying to find him some help.  With that, and continued prayer, I am hopeful that we'll be able to help.

We get so much love and support from our families.  This is a huge blessing.  This week, we had family visiting us from Argentina, and as I was trying to think about what to share with you, I was thinking about Joseph, my week's events, and it all came together.  Family.  In Armenian, the word family is "Undaneek". Literally it translates to "under the roof".  In other words, people that share a household...or are under one roof.  And in a practical sense, that's true.  But there is extended family, and then family of the heart as well. Like I said, my cousins are visiting us from Buenos Aires.  I never really thought of how we are related at all. Only that we are cousins.  When I was a kid, my grandmother would tell us about our our Uncle Nubar, Auntie Zabelle and Uncle Gughmez in South America. She would share letters with us that contained photos of them, and my cousins. My Uncle Gughmez came to America to visit grandma in the late 70's and we had a great time showing him all around our city and getting to know him.    Some thirty-five years ago, when I married Ani's dad, my South American cousins made the trip and came to our wedding.  And I got to meet them.  Making connections.  When my sister Sona got married, my cousins again came out.  My cousin Sonia was even in her wedding.  And through the years my family has kept in touch.  It wasn't really until a couple days ago that I tried to figure out HOW we were related.  It turns out that my grandmother (who had gone through the genocide), and Uncle Noubar's father were first cousins.  That goes wayyyy back, right?

But here's what I'm getting at.  Two nights ago, my sister in law and brother invited us over to dinner to visit
Bonding time with cousins:
Anush, Madilyn, Philip and Nicole
with our cousins.  We shared a very fun night with my cousin Martha and her husband Tato, and their two children.  We were hugging, laughing, reminiscing as if we see each other all the time.  There is this family bond there.  And although we don't see them for years at a time, there is love there that bonds us together and we can pick up right where we left off.  We are family in the true sense.  And this trip, Martha's kids were able to bond with my sister's Sona's kids.  And the bond is made and will continue.

On our way home that night, Mamajan and I were talking about what a nice evening we had.  We owe this family bond to her, really.  Even though the relationship is on my father's side, it was always my mother that kept the connections.  It was mom that would write letters and update their family with our news.  And it's always been my mom that connected our relatives in Armenia as well, again on my father's side.  Interesting. So we talked a little bit about that on our drive home as well.

My mom  is the child of genocide survivors.  Because of this, other than her mother and father, brother and sister, she had no family to grow up with.  Her grandparents, aunts and uncles had been killed by the Turks. Her parents where left orphaned and met in the orphanage in Aleppo.  It actually wasn't until my grandmother was in her 30's that she found out that her two brothers - two out of the six children - had made it through the genocide and were living in France.  They reunited.  My two uncles in Marseilles, had started their families there...and so we have cousins there in Marseilles as well.  My mom grew up knowing that she had family, but they were overseas.  Mind you, in those days, there was no internet, and calling overseas would have been way too costly.  So she wrote letters to the family that she longed for.  And they wrote back.  When my mom was a teen, her cousin Rouben came to America and spent a year or so living with them.  Finally, family.

And then when Mamajan married Babajan, his my father's family became my mother's family.  Whether they were in Armenia or Buenos Aires, her longing for family kept it all together.  Mom shared with me what my Uncle Gughmez had told her back in the 70's.  He told her it was important to keep the ties of family tight, because the world was uncertain.  If there was turmoil or problems in one country, you would always have a home with your family abroad.  My nephew just returned from a work study in Buenos Aires.  He spent 5 months working on his Masters degree there.  And he was able to make his own connections to our family there who opened their hearts and home to him during his stay.  Deeper connections made.

Our stories are not uncommon though.  We're Armenian.  Those that made it through the genocide were scattered all over the world, having to fend for themselves and rebuild their lives.  Holding on to each other, blood relations or "family of the heart" in order to survive.  Our immediate families include our grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, inlaws, and an array of  "aunties" and "uncles" that are close enough to be family...and so they are!  When I've spoken of our family get togethers to my non-Armenian friends, they've been blown away by my refering to cooking for a small group of 20 or so "because the whole family won't be able to make it."  We've been brought up to view the family as sacred.  And to cherish the family ties that bind us together whether connected through bloodlines or not.

In a sense, I think the internet has kept those connections together for the new generation.  I know that my niece will now add her South American cousins to her Facebook friends, and they will be able to share their lives together as well.  But I'm also seeing the downside to it too..  My mother is a letter writer, and I think that's a lost art.  As much as I love to write, my letters to family are through email.  Here today, and in your computer's trash bin the next.  They are not lasting...unless you file them in a folder, but even that is fleeting.  How many things moved things to a folder to save only to lose track of where I've saved them on my laptop.  As Mamajan gets older, I'm understanding that perhaps I will need to take over that gift.  The gift of tieing us all together through something more permanent...the handwritten letter.  Before the internet, I too used to write to my cousins in France.  I had met them when my mom and I took a trip when I was a teen. We wrote the first year or two, but through the years, I stopped writing.  I couldn't write in French and I'm not confident in writing Armenian.  My cousins can't read Armenian, and didn't read English...so we stopped.  But now I'm thinking that it doesn't really matter what language I write in as long as I write.  The letter will always get translated one way or the other, and the true language of the letter will be love.  Love is understood by all.

We are so very blessed to have this beautiful family that spread out worldwide.  Family in Armenia...family here in the states, family in Buenos Aires and Marseilles.  And then I think of my family of the heart...in London, in Australia, in Japan...all over.  Beautiful connections of love and support to share the ups and downs of life with.  God bless all our families and keep us tied together with love always.  And to my cousins Martha, Tato, Philip and Anush, have a safe trip back....and we miss you already!