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By: Joseph C. Phillips

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In My Opinion
By L.N.P.

"Adventures in Museum Land "

If there's one thing I've learned over the past few months, it's never to believe that you know what you're going to be doing a year from now. Most of us get to a certain point in our lives when we think we can actually make a plan; we smugly assume that we have a pretty good idea of what's in store for us in the future. In fact, there's a wonderful passage in the Bible where the apostle James says: “ Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business, and make money. Why, you don't even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes .' ” (James 4:13-14) His point, of course, was that only God knows the plans He has for you, and what YOU plan is subject to God's will. I love those verses, but they had never spoken to me so directly as they have recently.

I left the museum design field five years ago to join my husband in his web development company. After twenty years of researching, writing and project managing for museums, I was ready for a change, and my husband and I really enjoy working together in our own business. True, many of my skills could not be used to full advantage, and my years of training were only partially transferable. But, the trade-off was a good one; I learned a slew of new skills, we worked for ourselves, and the pressure was far less intense. I was so sure that I would never be returning to the museum field in fact, that when we moved a year and a half ago, I finally threw out the majority of papers and documents representing my former career; why hold on to stuff I'd never need again?

Then all of that changed with a phone call. About six months ago my good friend and former associate William called with a question; would I be willing to work on a Master Plan for the re-design of the George Bush (Sr) Presidential Library and Museum? Now, as a museum designer, there is nothing more alluring, nothing more prestigious, than working on a Presidential Library. It's the pinnacle, the project you dream about but never get the opportunity to do. Yet suddenly, through a series of miraculous events, William HAD that opportunity, and he wanted me to share in it. At first, it was a no-brainer; I signed up for one day a week consulting and writing, plus two trips to College Station, TX (home of the existing Library and Museum) and a final presentation trip to Kennebunkport, Maine. It would be exciting, stimulating work, and I was enormously grateful. Most of all, it seemed like a “God-thing;” God was putting my spiritual gifts to use once again, taking advantage of all my training so that I could help tell this particular story the way it was intended to be told.

I couldn't have worked on the storyline for the George Herbert Walker Bush Museum five years ago–not with any effectiveness or clarity of vision. But a lot had changed in my life since then, and this was just further evidence to me of God's perfect timing. I was now able to see and articulate the former President's core values clearly: his devotion to service, his integrity, his sense of fairness and compassion, his faith in God, his love and loyalty to family and friends, his commitment to duty, honor, country–all virtues that I had come to cherish and admire. I WAS the one to convey his life story, not as it had been done before, as a “resume on the wall,” but as a testament to a life well-lived.

Nevertheless, the one day a week job turned into six, and the workload to complete the Master Plan was intense and demanding. Although I had my husband's total support, there were times when he felt abandoned, and I felt the pressure of leaving him in the lurch as I struggled to meet my deadlines. Ultimately, the final presentation was to be in front of the Museum Advisory Committee, and, more importantly, George and Barbara Bush. That had to be my first priority.

Planning for that trip required more than just the research, floor plans, drawings, graphics, writing of the 45-page Master Plan, Power Point presentation, coordinating with William (the Project Designer) and Carla (the graphics designer), and long nights and weekends of deciding what we'd say and how we'd say it. It also required buying the perfect suit, shoes, and jewelry to match in order to stand before these people and feel attractive and professional. In fact, we all bought new clothes; we were presenting to a former President of the United States!

And we did a lot of praying. Praying for guidance and wisdom and stamina. Praying that we were doing God's will. Praying that we'd have a safe trip and that all our computers and projectors would work. Personally, I prayed that I wouldn't say something dumb or make a fool of myself. I was never quite bold enough to pray that the President and the Committee would love everything we proposed and hire us to re-design the entire museum. I left that one to God.

When we got to the airport in Portland, Maine, our luggage had not arrived. We were told it would be delivered to our hotel in Kennebunkport some time the following day. We were concerned, but we were fortunate enough to have left a day to rehearse before the big presentation, so besides the inconvenience of having to sleep in our traveling clothes and buy toothbrushes, it wasn't too bad. The next day we set up all our electronic equipment, ran through our presentation and took notes on things that needed to be tweaked. We also called the airline fifty times in an attempt to locate our missing luggage. By 3 PM, when no one could tell us if the luggage had been found or if we had any chance of receiving it in time, we hurriedly went on a shopping trip; the presentation was at 7 AM the next morning and we couldn't take the chance that we'd be presenting in our rumpled jeans. I found a dress two sizes too big for me, but it looked half-way presentable. We all scrambled to buy the things we needed: make-up, razors, hair dryers, deodorant. Then we returned, exhausted, to our rooms to do our final run-through and honing of the presentation.

At around 8 PM, William's power cord blew up. He'd had the foresight to bring a back up of everything: projector, computer, speakers, the works, but the back-ups were in the missing luggage! Without the cord, we were dead; we couldn't give the presentation we'd spent hundreds of hours preparing. William drove off into the night to find the nearest Circuit City and Best Buy-about an hour away-while we prayed that he'd find a cord. (Actually, we also prayed that he'd be safe, because besides everything else, it was pouring rain in this beautiful summer resort town, and he had no idea where he was going.) He returned safely, but without a power cord; neither store had one. We were on the brink of a major disaster. That's when God intervened.

The receptionist at the Colony (the historic landmark hotel where we were staying, with the old and faulty wiring that had caused the blow out in the first place) noticed that our cord looked a lot like the cord to her laptop. The third person with us (the man who'd hired William and me) promptly offered her $200 in cash to go get the cord, but she said she couldn't leave her post. Finally, she asked her mother to bring the ($200) cord to the hotel, with none of us even knowing if it would fit. Amazingly, when it finally arrived at the front desk, the cord fit and we were back in business.

The next morning the rain had almost stopped as we made our way to the conference room. Across the table from me were the former President and Barbara Bush. Our airline woes and mismatched clothes broke the ice and engendered laughs and the sympathy vote. When it was my turn to speak, I felt calm and assured, locking eyes several times with the former President and First Lady. William's presentation went flawlessly, and all our extra efforts paid off: segments that were particularly moving actually brought Mr. Bush to tears, and the entire Committee applauded on three separate occasions. During the intermission, President Bush put his arm around my shoulder, his deep blue eyes twinkling, and told me we had gotten it just right; Mrs. Bush stopped me to tell me that she loved it. It was an awesome experience, capped off by their unanimous vote to proceed with hiring us to re-design the entire Museum. The sun came out as we left the room, still stunned by the incredible reaction to our presentation.

As I now get ready to embark on a two-year journey of intensely hard work back in the museum design field, I find myself reflecting on several things. First, of course, is the point I began with; none of us knows what is really in store for us tomorrow; all we can do is trust in God's plan. Secondly, pray boldly. I prayed for all the small things, but God delivered the one thing I really wanted. So, we were tested and tested as all the small things went wrong, but we kept our faith. And in the end it pulled us through, but only because He knew what really mattered. And finally, if you work hard enough, care deeply enough and convey your convictions with passion, no one cares what outfit you're wearing, even if it is two sizes too big.

Send me your opinions at LParis@netlistings.com

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