Category Archives: faith

Time To Go Home

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Timing is all…

Wednesday, August 30, 2017, was an intense day.  My emotions ran the gamut from profound sadness to overwhelming love to incredible joy, over the course of both hours and moments.  I’m actually still trying to process it all, and in doing so, I’ve spent a bit more time lately just keeping to myself and being still.

It was the beginning of my work week as Wednesdays always are, but with a distinct change in the middle of the day when I took a 3-hour lunch to go and sing for a funeral at Messiah Lutheran Church, where I sang and served from 2013-2016.  The associate pastor’s mother had died, and I adore both pastor and mom.  Being asked to offer music for this occasion both honored and humbled me, as I would have attended the service even had I not been singing.

Even the most seasoned of musicians sometimes feel nervous, especially when called upon to provide music for funerals and memorials.  It is only natural.  And nerves visited me as well.  My friend and #firsteverworkhusband Martin, knew how much I love this family, and how important the service was to me.  We exchanged messages first thing in the morning and throughout the day.  I had gathered a little token of love for Pastor Pauline to take with me and give her prior to the service, along with a big hug.  A reminder that she has not lost her marbles.

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As I had predicted, my singing was not easy or perfect, but it was, as I told Mother Farrington’s grandchildren afterward, with my speaking voice breaking,  “…a way for me to love your family…”  Reuniting with my former “choir boss”,  Joan, to make music for this service comforted me, and being back among this church family warmed my heart and made me feel loved.  As I have come to understand, musicians and people of faith are all part of the same family;  we never really say goodbye and we always recognize and welcome one another back.

I left the fellowship hall and I walked to my car with tears of sadness, gratitude and love…and I thought the intense part of my day had passed.  Knowing that Martin had held space for me meant the world to me, especially with everything he has endured this year…a transitional period in his relationship, his health, undergoing medical procedures, and his living situation, including being without a home for months and staying with friends/family, and in shelters ranging from tolerable to hellish.  His, and my, fondest wish, had been for him to find a place to live, and that process seemed to be taking longer than forever to happen.  Until this intense day.  Almost the minute I returned to work, Martin ping’ed me with a message.

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Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that feathers are for me a symbol, a powerful reminder that God is there, looking out for me and my loved ones, sending comfort when I need it in a language I can understand.  When this teeny feather floated down after the funeral and landed on the program, I assumed it was just for my benefit…turned out to be a harbinger of Martin’s wonderful news as well.  That his housing came through at the same time I sang and we were commending Mother Farrington to her home in Heaven…seemed, and still seems, especially poignant, and fitting.  For her, and for Martin, it was time to go Home.

Home.

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Duets

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Longtime friendship, faith and music…

As an incoming college freshman in the fall of 1982, I was meeting tons of new people and enjoying the process of finding my place in what was essentially a new world.  I realized quickly that some of these new people would be acquaintances with whom I’d share the occasional class, some would become close friends throughout the 4 years of school…and some would remain in my life for the rest of my life.  Then there were the few who came into my life, vanished from it and reappeared years later.

Marc was one of that last category of people.  We met as freshmen at Carson-Newman College (now University) and, as we were both music majors, we had a number of classes together.  I liked this fellow right away. His boyish good looks, beautiful tenor voice, easy smile and sweet spirit drew me to him immediately and we became fast friends.  Spring semester found us both singing in A Cappella Choir and sharing long hours on the bus together as we toured during spring break.

He decided the following year to change schools, and we lost touch after that.  I often joke that he “abandoned” me, (which always gets an eye-roll and a quick retort!) but I realized he was following God’s path for him, just as I followed mine by remaining where I was.  I thought of him so often in the years that followed…but I never followed through on trying to find him.

Flash forward to 2011, the beginning of the season for Knoxville Choral Society.  I was talking with my friend Tina and heard the name “Marc” and asked what Marc and where?  She pointed in his direction, I turned, and he and I both looked in shock at one another, recognizing long-lost faces and voices and yelling, “YOU!”  And pointing at each other like we were school children.  Hugs and laughs and stories followed…and the reconnection was forged.

He started singing at Messiah Lutheran the year before I did, and after I joined him there, we were blessed to sing in the choirs together, and to join our voices on many duets.  Our voices blend in a way that I can only describe as magical…and together, we have been able to create and enjoy some truly memorable moments.  When we sing and things are working right, the joy I feel is almost overwhelming.  He left Messiah and went to Ebenezer United Methodist, where I ended up accepting a call a couple of years later (I fear he will tire of me “following” him from church to church!)  And there, too, we have shared duets and delights, and I hope those continue for a long time to come.

Musicians are people first, and as such, we bring our issues with us every time we sing.  Sometimes those things keep us from achieving our musical and spiritual best. And sometimes, for lack of a  better description, we are blessed to be able to “sing them out”, experiencing catharsis, cleansing and healing.  Those moments, I believe, are little glimpses of Heaven on Earth…and I am so grateful to be able to share them with Marc in a way that only the two of us can fully comprehend.

Today, on Marc’s birthday, I share this thumbnail sketch of him, our friendship,  and our partnership in music and in faith.  And I share some pictures from the last few years, a little sad that there are none of us together from our college days. But I am so grateful for the renewed connection with him, my partner in crime…and in duets.

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Dog Days

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Love beyond understanding…

There is a commercial for Subaru that makes me weepy almost every time I see it.  Willie Nelson sings “You’re my buddy, my pal, my friend…”, as a man prepares for a road trip with his dog, with a close-up shot of a bone-shaped birthday cake decorated with the number 14.  The spot goes on to show the man and his dog marking activities off what looks to be the dog’s bucket list.  The tag line is, “Love—it’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru”.

Now, I realize that that ultimate goal of the commercial is to sell cars.  However, there is a category of advertising known as “image-building”, into which this particular spot falls.  Instead of listing specifications about safety ratings, gas mileage and dealer incentives, spots like this instead help the viewer (or listener in the case of radio advertising) build an emotional connection with the product.  I can imagine the pitch meeting for this particular commercial, with creative service professionals discussing how they could target pet owners as potential buyers for this car.  That’s their job, and in this case, they performed it extremely well.

When I see this commercial, I can’t help remembering our first dog, Ernie The Wonder Beagle.  He was actually a Beagle-Basset mix, adopted from the local shelter and estimated to be 1.5 to 2 years of age when we took him home.  We enjoyed nearly 11 years of unconditional love with him, even as we became acquainted with his emotional issues.

It was pretty clear that at some point he had suffered abuse, and possibly starvation.  He was skittish around people he didn’t know, especially men, for a long time.  But with time and love, he learned that he could trust us, and could trust the people we trusted.  He especially seemed to enjoy it when he had a chance to see The Aunts at Dad’s for Christmas Eve and he was quite affectionate with them.

He was both extremely sensitive and ridiculously funny.  Countless times he emerged from our bedroom with a cotton swab he’d swiped from a wastebasket hanging out of his mouth like a cigar.  He “stalked” his stuffed toys by circling around them on the floor before grabbing and shaking them with all his might, eventually throwing the offending toy down and descending on it in a growling, playful frenzy.  He listened to 11 years of tears, joys, secrets and meltdowns from me, served as a heating pad when I was cold or had backaches or cramps, showered me with kisses and snuggles every day when I came home from work.  He loved me when it felt like no one else in the world did, or could.

For about the last 11 months of his life, Ernie lived with cancer, and we lived with it as well.  We and our veterinarians exercised our best judgement regarding how to give Ernie his best chances for both survival and a decent quality of life.  There were several surgeries to remove tumors, multiple rounds of steroids and other medications trying to keep his cancer at bay.  He was a brave little fighter, much more so than I was during his illness.

In the end, though, the cancer took him from us.  Ten years have passed since he died.  A couple of months after he died, we adopted Our Boy Roy, who came home with us on the same day that Ernie had, September 4…Ernie in 1996 and Roy in 2007. Roy’s adoption is a story for another blog post, one I will get around to writing, eventually.

As wonderful as Roy is and as much as I love him, I still miss Ernie every single day.  Our pets provide us with a kind of love that is beyond understanding or explanation.  We humans would do well to emulate the kind of simple love our pets give us and share that love with other humans.

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Above, me with Ernie shortly after adopting him, September 1996, and on his last night at home, July 4, 2007, before he went to the hospital for the last time.  He died one week later.

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One of the best friends of my life, Ernie The Wonder Beagle.  God rest his little Beagle-y soul.

Five Years And A Thousand Words

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My own personal D-Day…

Today, June 6, 2017, is the 5th anniversary of my weight loss surgery.  I kept a blog chronicling my journey from the initial consultation with my surgeon on October 25, 2011, through the 2-year anniversary of the surgery itself, writing the final post on June 6, 2014.  Those stories, trials and tribulations still live in Cyberspace at:

http://www.incredibleshrinkingdiva.blogspot.com

I hope people still stumble across that blog and gain some insight, inspiration, information and humor from it.  For numerous reasons, I did not include photographs in that blog.  It just was not part of the journey I felt like sharing at the time.  However, I admit there is truth in the adage that, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.  So on this, my 5-year-Surg-I-Versary, I am posting some before-and-after pictures…with some caveats.

I have bounced back from my lowest weight, more than I would like.  And I am working on shaving some of those pounds away.  It is a lifelong journey and my weight will always be something of a struggle.  That is all part and parcel of this process.  Even with my bounceback, I am profoundly grateful that I am not where I started.  I am stronger and healthier than before surgery and I am free from the hip and ankle pain that drove me to pursue surgical intervention after having exhausted every other means available to me.  Weight loss surgery is a true last resort and should only be considered when all other measures have failed.  Knowing all that I know now, I would make the same decision.  For me, it was what I needed, when I needed it.

So, here are some pictures.

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With my longtime friend Mary K. Briggs, April 2010 and March 2017

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With my husband, Sweet Pea aka Jeff Cutshaw, August 2010 and April 2016

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With friend and singing partner Marc Hampton, November 2011 and April 2017

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With mentor in music and weight loss Eric Thorson, November 2010 and December 2017

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With Delta Omicron sisters and friends Allison Hendrix and Ann Jones, July 2009 and July 2015

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Me.  Just plain old me.  July 2009 and April 2017.

I’m not where I want to be, but thanks be to God, I’m not where I used to be.  Life is good and I’m healthy.  I am blessed and greatly loved.  I am thankful.

Memorial

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Five years ago this weekend…

I know that Memorial Day is a tribute to our brave armed services members past, especially those who gave their lives in service to our country, and I am grateful to live in a place that observes such a holiday.  America is not perfect and the great experiment of democracy is still very much that, an experiment.  This post is not about politics or patriotism, however.  I have other people and events I’m remembering this weekend.

Memorial Day weekend Sunday, 2012, I took the pager for my last overnight on call during my extended unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE.  We had already celebrated our graduation and I’d presented my final self-evaluation to my peer group and received their evaluations of me during the unit.  This last on-call night was all that stood between me and my final evaluation from my supervisor, an insightful pastor and educator who managed both to bust my chops and to affirm my gifts for ministry during our time together at the hospital. I needed someone to provide both these things for me and I received them in spades from Randy, for whose insights I am forever grateful.

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I’m sure I hoped for a calm night as I dropped off my belongings in the small on-call room with its bed, toilet and sink, desk and lamp (the shower was down the hall and everyone on call took turns taking hurried showers and praying not to get paged while we were in there!).  This was my home away from home 2 nights a month from January through the end of May that year. I didn’t get to spend a lot of leisurely quality time there, as Sunday nights were notoriously busy!  Looking through my notes from the unit I remembered each patient who came through, each page to a room I received, hugs and prayers and tears shared.  And laughs, too, with my peer group and mentors, other staff members, patients and families.

My last night on call was typical of every other Sunday night I spent there, crazed, rushed and filled with the sounds of the pager beeping with one trauma after another…with one notable exception.  Every time I was on call and a code was called because a patient had gone into cardiac arrest, I watched as the transport team, doctors and nurses resuscitated, defibrillated and revived the patient, achieving at least a brief reprieve between life and death.  This last code did not end that way.  The patient did not come back.  It was the only time I saw that happen, and it has stuck with me.  As the chaplain on call, I sat with and attended to the family as the doctor explained what had taken place, offered presence and care while they attempted to absorb the news, and when they asked me to pray, I did so with solemn gratitude for the privilege.

It is a sacred space we occupy when someone dies.  Sharing that space with my own loved ones, and with acquaintances and strangers during my time as a hospice volunteer and working through the extended unit of CPE, honored, humbled, taught and blessed me in ways I am still processing even now.  Presence in that space has informed the ways I interact with everyone in my life, and it will continue to do so until it is time for me to be the one who dies.  I pray that the people who share that space with me and my loved ones when the moment arrives will draw comfort, strength, insight and peace from being there.

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Holding Space

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Learning by doing…

Recently while reading I came across a phrase and a concept that instantly struck a chord inside me:  holding space.  Specifically, holding space in my heart for others as they walk their path in life, especially when that path is a difficult, painful one.  It is actually something I have been learning to do my entire life.

Sometimes I’ve described this concept with the following phrases:

“You are in my prayers.”

“I’ll be remembering you.”

“I’m thinking of you.”

“My heart is with you.”

During my work in CPE, I learned that the work of the chaplain is mostly about meeting and caring for people where they are, walking alongside them in their pain, providing compassionate presence, sometimes without words.  It is often uncomfortable simply to “be” with another person, without trying to fix what they are enduring.  We want to fill the silence with words, or noise, or activity.  Often what is needed is for us just to sit with someone, quietly.  These are ways we hold space for a person in need, or in pain.

I remember the morning a few years ago when my friend’s father was actively dying and ultimately passed away, when my friend and I sent Facebook messages to one another as she kept vigil at his bedside.  Just four months ago, another friend and I exchanged messages and a photo as he lay with his beloved dog while she died.  Even though I was unable to be present with these friends in a physical way, I was able to love and care for them…holding space.

The truth is, I’ve been learning how to hold space all my life…I just didn’t know it was called “holding space”.  And that phrase may be one that comes and goes away, replaced by another “concept-of-the-moment”.  I do like the idea, though, especially when someone is of a different faith tradition from mine, or from no faith tradition at all.  Sometimes telling someone that I am “praying” for them might hold negative associations, if the church has hurt them (which happens so much more often than we want to acknowledge).  Sometimes my own spiritual life is not such that I can truly pray…but I can always hold space.  God hears what I can’t say, and the person I am caring for knows they are being remembered with compassion and tenderness.  I’m holding several people even as I write this, people dear to me who are enduring pain that I cannot begin to imagine.  I communicate as best I can with them, and when we are not talking or writing, my heart is with them…holding space.

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Alone

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Strength and struggle…

I am having a hard time right now.  It’s not easy to admit this, as I am usually “the strong one” and “the good girl”.  People come to me with their troubles, secrets and struggles.  And usually that’s fine.

Sometimes, though, I am given information that I don’t need, or want, to know.  Sometimes people tell me things they wouldn’t even tell their best friend.  Does this make me a real friend to them, or just a dumpster for something they needed to purge?

I haven’t been my best self lately for a number of reasons.  I’ve been distracted, preoccupied, unfocused.  Not feeling like a strong woman or a good girl.  Sometimes I wish I could stop time and escape from reality for a day, or even just a few hours.

I don’t want so much to lose control as much as just to…relinquish it, if only for a little while.  I want to surrender to the strength of someone else.  I want it to be OK for me to be vulnerable, even weak.

Being too strong for too long just leaves a person feeling alone.  I know I’m not truly alone, but my struggles are mine alone.  Nobody can live my life, walk my path or fight my demons except me.  And some days, I don’t have much fight left.

It will work itself out in time.  I’ll find my strength again.  And I’ll return to being my best self, intact for the people I care for, and able to care for them properly once more.

Just not today.

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