Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Queen Of The Snot People

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Springtime in East Tennessee and the glorious paradox…

The Dogwood Trail signs have gone up in Knoxville in anticipation of the Dogwood Arts Festival and the beautiful springtime blossoms that are on the way.  The Bradford Pear trees are already blooming.  If sneezes had a face, the Bradford Pear would probably be it.  The temperatures are moderating, and after the crazy winter we endured during February, the change of season is a welcome one.  But spring does bring its own set of seasonal allergy symptoms.

I’ve suffered with hay fever for decades, as many East Tennesseans do, and different seasons with their various kinds of plant life will cause different symptoms.  Eyes that itch/sting/water, sneezing, drippy/stuffy noses, headaches, fatigue, coughing, congestion…and crankiness.  Even the dog has allergy symptoms in the spring and fall.  We do what we can to keep on top of his sneezing and itching with medication.

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As a singer, I try to stay on top of my allergies as well, because the mixed multitudes of mucus that happen make a difference in how my voice feels and sounds.  It is a constant balancing act of antihistamines, decongestants, hydration and prayer!  Years ago, I went to my family doctor, affectionately known as Dr. Awesome, for yet another sinus infection and he came into the exam room and asked how I was doing and why I had come to see him.  I replied, “I am The Queen of the Snot People!”  He roared with laughter, checked my ears, nose and throat, gave me prescriptions and said he loved how I described my symptoms.  (I figure I might as well keep a sense of humor, especially at the doctor’s office, because usually that’s the only thing I can control there—modesty and dignity usually fly out the door!)

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Here’s the thing, the glorious paradox.  As snotty as I am this time of year, it’s worth it to be able to enjoy the incredible beauty of God’s creation.  The winter is giving way to spring’s vibrant color in flowers, grass, trees, and the returning birds and bees.  My senses can rejoice in the glory of nature all around me, in sight, sound and scent.  How blessed I am to have the chance to take in such great majesty in even the tiniest of these miracles.

Gracious Lord, thank You for the loveliness of Your creation.  And thank You for each sneeze reminding me that my immune system works!  Forgive me when I complain and keep me mindful of the beauty all around me.

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Keeping The Luster Alive

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Recollections of a radiant soul…

Yesterday I, and an army of my friends and musical colleagues, learned that our friend and fellow musician, Luster William “Bill” Brewer, had died.  Following the initial impact of this news, there was a flurry of text messages, e-mails and posts on social media.  My own Facebook page exploded with tributes, expressions of sadness, shock and later on, many pictures of our friend from healthier days gone by.

Bill had been diagnosed with throat cancer about a year and a half ago.  As a singer myself, I cannot fathom the horror of such a thing.  Throughout his treatment, he continued to teach at Pellissippi State Community College, where he had found a home as the head of their music department for the last 15 years.  Just last week, after his cancer had returned and he had undergone another treatment, he had gone on a tour of Portugal with his choir, having been medically cleared to travel, but not well when the trip started.  He had to return home before the tour was finished, going into the hospital where he eventually died.

It was typical Bill to have gone on with his students even though he was ill.  He loved making music and he especially loved the people he made music with, students and peers alike.  He was a longtime fixture in Knoxville Choral Society and Chamber Chorale, having served as KCS President and director of Chorale for a number of years.

It was in this capacity that I got to know him.  In 2009, after an 11-year absence, I re-auditioned for Knoxville Choral Society with great fear and trembling.  I had hardly sung at all in those years and I was afraid my voice might be so far gone that there was no hope of recovery.  Enter Bill Brewer, who heard my audition and not only recommended my re-admission to the chorus but chose me as a soloist for the Christmas portion of Handel’s “Messiah” which we performed that fall.

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He was thrilled to conduct “Messiah” with KCS for the first time and wanted his score and baton in the picture I asked for with him.  (The remainder of the program was Bach, which “Doc” Eric Thorson prepared, conducted and chose his soloists for.)

Following my weight loss surgery in June 2012, I experienced a lot more pain during recovery and for a longer time than I had expected, so I missed some early outings with chamber chorale as they performed portions of “Chronicles of Blue and Gray” in advance of its world premiere that November.  I e-mailed Bill explaining my situation and told him that if he needed to replace me in chorale, I would totally understand.  He was gracious and kind, telling me that when I was able to return my spot would be waiting for me.

And what a return it was!  The first rehearsal for the whole chorus arrived, and I got to the church where we practice feeling insecure about my appearance, wondering if the pounds I had lost since surgery would be noticeable.  I looked and felt peaked and pale and…vulnerable.  When I walked into the vestibule there were a dozen or so of my fellow chorus members milling around, paying dues and purchasing music.  And there was Bill, who squealed at my arrival and began a round of applause, making it a triumphal entry for me.  He came over to hug me, and then very tenderly cupped my face in his hands, saying, “Oh, LOOK at you!  Look at your little face!  How do you feel?”

That was always Bill, caring about the other person.  He was a Southern gentleman in the finest tradition, dedicated to Jesus, to his wife Sharon and to the music and musicians he loved so greatly.  He was also a total goofball, with a mischievous sense of humor, a twinkle in his eye and a laugh that could crack glass.

We have all heard the question, “What’s in a name?”.  Bill’s given name was Luster William, Luster after his father.  In Bill’s case, he indeed possessed a luster, a glow and radiance of heart and soul from which everyone who ever met him benefited.  I want to keep the Luster alive, remembering Bill, his laugh, the music we made together and his tender touch cradling my face in his hands.

My Hundred Pound Present

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A reminder of the miracles of weight loss…

For anyone who may not be aware, I underwent weight loss surgery on June 6, 2012.  The process for this was a long and arduous one, filled with moments of both humility and humiliation.  As I wrote elsewhere, the hardest part of the whole thing was making the decision to do it, because I had to “suck it up and get humble for a minute”.  Admitting that I needed help was a difficult thing, but, as most weight loss surgery patients will agree, it really was my last resort.  After battling my weight for decades and finally deciding one last time to begin exercising and eating more wisely, I started that process only to lose 9 pounds before getting stuck and then injuring my “good” ankle (the “bad” one having been broken years before and then surgically reassembled).  Weight bearing exercise was impossible and I realized I needed a drastic intervention to help me reclaim my health.

Surgery prep happened during the same period I was completing an extended unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at our local teaching hospital.  The timing was totally a God thing, and I am convinced that each effort enhanced the other.  My unit of CPE placed me in a peer group of strangers who poured unconditional acceptance and support into me throughout both my hospital experience and the concurrent surgery preparation, becoming treasured friends and chosen family by unit’s end.

My hundredth pound came off on January 6, 2013, which in the church calendar is Epiphany.  That’s one sure way I’ll always remember the date, because it was an epiphany indeed!  It was also my 7-month surg-i-versary.  More pounds came off in the months that followed, and I was grateful for every one of them.  I still am, even though I have experienced some “bounce-back”, as many weight loss patients do.  I am working to get the pounds I want rid of to go away once more.  It’ll be a lifelong process, as will blood tests for nutrient levels and tweaking my nutrition.  I knew going in that these things would be part of The New Normal.

I decided I wanted to treat myself to a Hundred Pound present, to commemorate my journey and to have a tangible reminder of God’s faithfulness along the way.  So the search began for my chosen symbol, a small diamond cross pendant.  I knew what I wanted, and as a lifelong jewelry horse, I was a pretty savvy shopper.  It took a while to find just the right thing…but, like losing that hundredth pound, it was worth waiting for.

The thing is, I’ve never been one to wear a cross.  For a long time, I just couldn’t bring myself to wear the symbol of crucifixion.  I realized over the years, though, that the cross is a symbol of faith, hope and new life, not just a picture of Christ’s torture and death.  What better symbol could I choose to remind me of my own hope and new life than that?  And what possible symbol could be a better reminder of God’s constant companionship, comfort and help along the way as I adjusted to The New Normal?  What better reminder of second chances and redemption?

Because, for me, the weight loss journey has been very much a spiritual odyssey.  There has been a lot of prayer, especially during those early days after surgery, when my recovery took longer and involved a lot more pain than I had anticipated.  There have been many long nights of the soul when I cried and leaned into God because I had come to the end of myself.  And as I have experienced bounce-back and regained a few of the pounds I had lost, there is renewed prayer that God will help me minute by minute to make wise choices, and that He will comfort the hurting places that I want to feed with unhealthy foods.

I wear my cross often, usually paired with a diamond heart that Sweet Pea gave me for our 15th wedding anniversary.  My fingers find their way to my charms throughout the day, touching them and remembering the love, comfort and hope they represent.  Thanks be to God for second chances!

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The First Friends

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And the blessings of a large extended family…

Mama was the youngest of 9 children, and Dad was the youngest of 6.  With that many aunts and uncles, most of whom had some kids, I’ve got cousins in abundance, some on Dad’s side whom I’ve never even met.  And many of my cousins are clustered fairly close together in age, which means most of us are in or approaching our 50s.  It hardly seems possible that we’re adults, let alone eligible for senior discounts!

A bit of wisdom shows up on social media from time to time which states, “Cousins are the first friends we have”.  My history seems to agree with this statement.  Before going to school or to Sunday school, my cousins were part of my life.  And even though our lives have taken us far afield from one another, we are family.  We share history, DNA and many of the same memories.

Our lives are busy, though, and it’s difficult for us to get together.  Even the bunch of us who live in the same city don’t manage to see each other very often.  And frankly, I’m just in closer touch with some of them than with others.  Social media has been a real blessing,  enabling us to have at least a little glimpse into each other’s daily lives and activities.  I enjoy seeing what my cousins are doing, and what their children (my 2nd and 3rd cousins!) are up to.

About this time last year, I had the chance to spend a day with my Aunt Helen and my cousin Lisa, as well as sharing a meal with Lisa’s brother Mike and his daughter Haley.  During the course of our visit, Lisa shared an old photograph with me.  I think it is the only one in existence with this configuration of the cousins all together, and it’s a treasure I am thrilled to have.  The picture was made at Lisa’s 8th birthday party, and I can only imagine the effort it took to get all of us kids to be still long enough to snap it!

Today another member of our group celebrates a milestone birthday, entering the world of senior discounts and AARP mailers.  I don’t think of us that way though, at least, not most of the time.  I think of those long summer nights playing Fox & Hounds, birthday parties with homemade ice cream, Barbies and army men and that old Fisher-Price barn that moo’ed when you opened the door.

I think of how young we were.  How young we always will be, if only in memory.

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