Monthly Archives: July 2013

Pieces of Peace

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Reading, Writing and Rain

Sitting on my comfy couch one Sunday afternoon recently, I found myself enjoying a little moment of Heaven right in my living room. My sweet husband had gone out to do some errands and to see a movie (this was not the Heavenly part!), and I was snuggled up with tea on the table next to me, a book in my hand and the dog, affectionately known as Our Boy Roy, curled up on top of the quilt in my lap.Image

The sky was cloudy and grey, and soon I began to hear thunder. Not sharp claps of thunder, but low rumbles, the kind of thunder that can lull a person to sleep. After a few minutes of this, raindrops began their gentle, percussive dance on my windowpane.Image

I closed my eyes for a moment to take in the stillness, thinking that life is sweetest at moments like these. It was a chance to give thanks for all my blessings. Life can be so hectic and fast-paced most of the time that these little pieces of peace are rare. As I sat feeling the knot of stress behind my sternum gradually unclenching, I wanted to write and try to capture the stillness of the moment…but first I wanted to feel the moment.

In my desire to share the patchwork and potpourri of my life, there is a balance I have to strike between documenting an experience and experiencing the experience. Sometimes my world swirls around me in what seems like a great big tornado of crazy! My Sunday piece of peace reminded me of what stillness feels like, enabling me to savor it, and to share it.

The Confidence Charms

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Musician Superstition

Lots of people have superstitions. Black cats and sidewalk cracks don’t bother me, but I always knock on wood. I can’t help it, it’s something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. I don’t even remember how it got started, or when. I only know that I have to do it. It’s almost pathological!

Athletes, performers and musicians often have some ritual that they follow, or some lucky garment or charm that they wear or carry. I don’t believe in luck. Luck, to me, implies something randomly working out well. I don’t believe in random, either. I believe in preparation, blessing and confidence.

That being said, I have a musician superstition of my own, a set of confidence charms that I wear for every concert, solo, audition, interview or any other occasion (musical or otherwise) when I feel like I need a little extra confidence. The collection has grown over the years. When I was a teenager, my only charm was a simple, small gold treble clef that my parents had given me for Christmas or a birthday. I wore this pendant for every musical event that was important to me, from wedding solos to All-State Chorus auditions and performances, to my college choir tours and voice recitals. I gave this charm to my friend Kathryn as she was graduating from college the year after I did. I found a replacement treble clef shortly after that and began wearing it, but it didn’t look like the original.Image

At some point I added the gold heart locket that my sweet husband, Jeff, had surprised me with for Christmas one year. On one side it contains a photo of him on our wedding day. The other side has a picture of our first dog, Ernie The Wonder Beagle.Image

After Mama died, I purchased a tiny gold and ruby cross pendant. Ruby was her birthstone and I wanted something in ruby to honor her.Image

I began wearing the cross with the locket and the treble clef, sometimes on a necklace, sometimes on a bracelet. Later on I found another treble clef charm that looks more like my original one, so I added it to the collection.ImageThe most recent addition is a tiny broken watch, and the story that goes along with it. Mama was notorious for over-winding watches, and her old jewelry box contained several little ones from the 1950’s that no longer worked for her over-zealous winding habits. I added one of them to my collection of confidence charms while I was doing a ministry class in a hospital last year, as a reminder that the present moment is all we have.Image

I wore my charms every night I was on call at the hospital because I never knew what a given night would hold and I definitely needed confidence. Countless times I touched those charms as I prayed for a patient, a family member…for wisdom and compassion as I tried to minister to them.

The charms are currently on a gold charm holder pin, which has been their configuration for a while now. I also have a charm holder pendant that I can wear on a necklace and will probably alternate between the pin and the necklace.Image

Some people might think my confidence charms are silly. I will just say that they are sentimental. Each one has a special meaning and history. They are beautiful to look at and soothing to touch. When I have a special occasion or a challenging day, wearing them makes me feel more peaceful. Someday, along with the rest of my belongings, the charms will be passed down to someone I love, and I hope they give that person the same sense of peace and calm that I wear them for. And I hope that person will feel the love that is passed down with them.

Family Resemblance

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Who do people really see in me?

Several years ago, I started working on a “family heritage” scrapbook, thinking if would be a fun little distraction. As it turns out, the project has taken on a life of its own. It has proven to be a pleasantly absorbing activity for me, something I can get lost in and hours go by before I know it. It’s nice to have something like that in your life. And it’s fun to play around with the pictures, trying different ways to arrange them on the page, experimenting with varying colors of background papers and embellishments, and deciding what I want to write about the people and memories those photographs hold for me.

Sometimes in looking through old family pictures and papers, likenesses between people become clear. Maybe you were always told that you resembled your father or your aunt, or that your laugh sounded like your mother’s (all true for me). Maybe your parents’ report cards bear a remarkable likeness to your own (your A’s in math and English, or C’s in some other course, mirror one or both of them, perhaps). I had the delight of looking in Dad’s senior yearbook from high school and seeing his picture where his classmates voted him “Most Talented”.Image

And I had the same very good fortune to be voted “Most Talented” when I was a senior in high school some 27 years later.Image

I scanned the pictures from both yearbooks into my computer to build a scrapbook page with them…two generations of family and music, side by side. I worked for a long time to get that page just right, because it means a lot to me to share this with Dad, and I think he will enjoy seeing it and confirming that his love of music was indeed passed on to the next generation.

As a child of God, I wonder about my resemblance to Him. Do people see His character in me, my actions and my words? Do I look and sound like my Father? Is the melody of my life one that is pleasing to His ear?

Who do people really see in me?

Little Pink Bible

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Jesus, girl power and a funeral

One of my favorite treasures is my little pink Bible. It was a gift from Mom and Pop Cutshaw for Christmas one year. I had been wanting a small, pocket-sized Bible that I could carry everywhere with me, for quick reference and portability. It has my first name embossed on the front in shiny silver letters.

I sometimes wonder if I own too many Bibles, and if that could be a sin somehow. It might be different if I didn’t read them, but since I do, maybe it is OK that I have so many. I have several different translations because they help me to understand what I am reading. I have a few Bibles that belonged to Mama, and they won’t be going anywhere until I have died and someone passes them along to the next generation, probably filled with poems, clippings and pictures, like they were when they came to me. I have several One-Year type Bibles that I use for daily reading, again in various translations that I alternate year by year. And yes, I read it daily. It’s a discipline that has taken shape over the years and now it is as much a part of my life as breathing and food. And just as nourishing.

I am not a minister in the official-trained-ordained sense of the word, but I took a ministry class last year which opened my eyes to all kinds of spiritual service and allowed me wonderful opportunities to offer pastoral care to people in need. Many friends and family members supported me in seeking this opportunity and in fulfilling it once I was accepted into the program. My cousin, Judy, was a very vocal believer in this process and in my efforts to learn through it.

Toward the end of last year, Judy’s mama, Betty, succumbed to years of health problems and passed away in December. Because of my recent ministry experience, and because she loves me, Judy asked me if I would serve as chaplain and preach her mama’s graveside service. After I made sure that it was permissible for me to do so, I accepted this invitation with joy and deep gratitude.

What an incredible honor…and responsibility. Judy and I met at a coffee shop to talk about memories from Betty’s life, favorite scriptures, poems, even a funny story or two to share both laughter and tears at the graveside. Betty had an independent streak and had been quite the feminist in her lifetime, a trait that sometimes made for awkwardness between her and her husband, Crawford, on election day. She cast her last ballot in the Presidential election of 2012, an absentee ballot from the hospital, and quipped that finally Crawford, who had passed away in 2011, would not cancel out her vote! Politics aside, Betty and Crawford both spent their lives serving Jesus and living by the principles He taught, each in their individual ways.

It was cold the day we buried her, and I showed up at the cemetery in all black from head to toe, except for one thing. I conducted her graveside service using my little pink Bible. Judy said that would have pleased Betty very much, the pop of pink and the girl power of a female chaplain. As I read from that little pink Bible, my thoughts were of Betty and our family, and of all the ones who have gone to Heaven before us. And I gave thanks for Mom and Pop Cutshaw, who had given me this wonderful gift so many years ago, a gift that helped me to send off my beloved family member with laughter, tears and prayers.Image

Bobbing For Inspiration

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Giftedness in the family

I’ve been writing blogs for about a year and a half.  Throughout my life, I have kept journals, usually in times when I’ve been depressed and overwhelmed.  And I’ve written lots of really bad poetry over the decades as well, again during periods of deep pain and distress.  In my wildest of dreams, I would love to publish a book.  I’ve heard that every person living has a book inside them…and for most, that’s where it should stay!  Mine is most likely one of those.

Reed, my brother, is the writer in the family.  I have always joked that he’s just waiting for the generation ahead of us to die off and then he’ll hit the market with a scathing family tell-all that will sell millions and he’ll be able to live the fancy life forevermore, Amen.  Image

I think he and I see our family and our world in very different ways, and we probably always will.  He is more realistic, but also more of a risk-taker in making his dreams happen.  I like to dream, but I require a certain kind of security to function comfortably.  He wrote a book that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.  He has written dozens of magazine articles and interviews, as well as overseeing and writing publications for his companies when he worked in the corporate world.  People like what he has to say and they like how he says it.Image

I went to a party years ago where he was signing books and got started talking to a lady there after Reed introduced us.  In the course of our conversation, she leaned in conspiratorially and said, “You know, your brother is really an exceptional person,” as though she was sharing a big secret of which I was unaware.  Without blinking, I responded, “Of course he is.  We come from a long line of them, and he is exceptionally exceptional!”  Image

Since I began writing my blogs and sharing them, people have started saying that I should write a book.  Aunt Helen wants me to write about the family history, and I agree that those stories need to be kept alive for the simple reason that no one could make that stuff up!  But I always say that Reed is the writer, and he is.  All I do is share stories, memories and the feelings that come with them.  I don’t write with any kind of eloquence or expertise.  Reed is the smart one, the gifted one, the big brother who inspires me.

As different as we are, we also have much common ground.  We share parents and genes, memories and experiences.  We know what it was like to lose our Granny when we were kids and how it changed each of us forever.  We know what it was like to grow up in that house, the good and the funny, the traumatic and the damaging.  I’d take a bullet for him and I believe he would for me.

Last summer I had weight loss surgery and it was a big, invasive deal.  As much as Reed hates hospitals (and he HATES them), he came and kept Jeff and me company back in the pre-op area for a couple of hours while the doctors and nurses did their final preparations before my operation.  As they got ready to wheel me back, I kissed and hugged Jeff and we exchanged our “I-love-you”‘s.  Then Reed leaned down to hug me and I said, “I know we don’t usually do this, but, I love you.”  You know, in case I died or something, I didn’t want to leave it unsaid!  And he said he loved me too.  But his showing up there had already said it for him.

He writes words, but he lives actions.  He shows up.  He dreams, and he lives on his own terms. As I go through my life bobbing for inspiration, I can always find it in him.Image

Violets Are Blue

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Sometimes I wonder about the tiny miracles

Every spring, without fail, the violets catch me off-guard.  They shouldn’t come as a surprise.  They pop up as part of the rhythm of the seasons, the cycle of life on our planet.  But still, somehow, their appearance inspires wonder in my heart.Image

Sometimes our world is a very cold and ugly place, after all.  Crime, poverty and injustice are everywhere.  People do horrible things to one another for all kinds of crazy reasons, or for no reason at all.  People commit the unforgivable.

But for all its atrocities, our world is also a place of astonishing beauty.  Flowers bloom, butterflies flutter and children laugh.  Love happens.  The unforgivable, somehow, is forgiven.

I have heard it said that violets are the symbol of forgiveness, because it is only when they are crushed that they reveal their sweet fragrance.  It makes me wonder about the fragrance I waft into my world when I feel wronged.  Am I able to forgive and spread sweetness when I’m crushed, like a violet?

God made the violet so tiny, yet so beautiful.  I am always amazed at His creativity and attention to detail.  Why bother to craft something so small with such exquisite care?  It is just what He does.  Forgiving me is something He does, as well.  If He can forgive me for my offenses, what right do I have not to forgive those who offend me?  Lord, help me be like the violet, spreading sweetness when I am crushed.Image

Angels Among Us

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Comfort in plastic and concrete

 

Shortly after Mama died, I was at the house with Dad and I saw something in the kitchen I had never noticed before.  On a small hook next to a cabinet hung a few little plastic angels suspended by metallic gold thread.  They were tiny and cheap, and I found out later that they glow in the dark!  I don’t know where she got them, if they were a gift or if she had bought them herself.  I can imagine that they might have been attached to some sort of small present as part of the wrapping.  Seeing those little angels at this time of bereavement brought me an odd sort of comfort, and I asked Dad if I could take them home with me.  I don’t think he had ever noticed them hanging there either, and he gave me his blessing to take them home.  

I later received a catalog in the mail and, as I was looking through its pages of gadgets and knick-knacks, a picture of Mama’s kitchen angels jumped out at me!  They came in sets of 10 and were very inexpensive, so I bought a bunch of them.  I figured I would use them in craft projects, gift wrapping and the like.  When Mom Cutshaw died, she had requested a closed casket, so I asked one of the funeral home men to slip one of them into her casket, as a little temporary parting gift from me.  And again, one of these little plastic angels gave me a peculiar sort of comfort.Image

Before and since, I have collected angel figurines and jewelry, and I enjoy taking photos of angels where I see them.  A church near my house has a beautiful angel next to its majestic red front door.  She is almost the size of a real person.  On my way home one afternoon when the sunlight was especially pretty, I stopped to photograph the church, its arched door, old-fashioned bell, historic cornerstone and steeple, and especially that lovely angel.Image

From the street as I drove past, she looked like she was made of marble, but up close, I could see that she is really made of concrete.  Whoever made her gave her detailed wings, a flowing, drapey gown, praying hands and a serene face.  A face I found, again, strangely comforting.Image

 

I took a class last year that had students fill out a form and answer questions regularly before our individual meetings with our supervisor.  One of those questions was, “Where have you found God this week?”  In my faith and my worldview, I find Him everywhere, in big things and small ones…because I choose to look for Him everywhere.  I’m not saying that I can always make sense of what He’s up to or that I understand how He’s working all the time, because I don’t.  But I know He’s there.  

I have found Him in the most unlikely places, maybe more often than in the confines of a church building.  I’ve seen Him in the faces of people who, stricken with their own grief, somehow manage to reach out and comfort others.  I have felt Him in the embraces of my family and friends when no words could offer solace.  I have heard Him in music and birdsong and the sound of ocean waves.  And He has sent me comfort and peace in the form of angels.  Even (or especially) in Mama’s tiny, glow-in-the-dark plastic angels.