Category Archives: family

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.

Travel

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The paths we tread…

I spent a night over my weekend in Asheville, visiting with a friend going through a difficult period in his life.  We shared some food and caught up with each other’s lives since the last time we had a chance to be in the same space together.  Even though we are in touch daily through the magic of technology, it’s still a joy to share real face to face conversation in the same room!  Simple pleasures.

The drive from Asheville to Knoxville coming home took much longer than normal due to rush hour traffic and, more notably, to road construction and lane closures.  Departing from my usual habit of listening to music while on the road, I chose to forgo any radio or CD, listening instead to the road and to my own thoughts.  It gave me a chance to absorb my surroundings and to imagine the lives of the people in the vehicles sharing the road with me.

What are their stories, I wondered?  I had just said goodbye to a friend I love like family, not knowing how his current situation and challenges are going to work themselves out, but grateful for the chance to visit and share meals, laughs and tears with him, however briefly.  As the road whizzed (and sometimes crept!) under my wheels, I began to ponder the people in the cars and trucks nearby.  To where, or from where, are they traveling?  The woman in my rear view mirror was on her phone, smiling and chatting with some unseen party.  To my right, a man in a pickup was obviously listening to music, and greatly enjoying what he heard.  Several people on motorcycles buzzed past me going WAY too fast…I had to wonder, “What is the hurry?  Is the enjoyment of the speed worth the danger you place yourself in, as well as those around you sharing this stretch of road?”

Here’s the thing.  Every human being I encounter is traveling a path, just as I am.  We each have a journey along which we learn lessons, finding joy and love, heartache and misery.  Each person’s path intersects my own, where it does and when it does, for a reason.  Our paths may cross but briefly, for a mere moment.  We may travel parallel to one another for a while and then take separate forks in the road.  Now and then, though, I have the joy of meeting a kindred soul whose path merges with my own, and we walk hand in hand, sharing the road with all its varying landscapes and its smooth and rocky patches.  Whether this path is with a mate, a friend or a family member, the road is richer and more beautiful when traveled together.

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Respite

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How decades can vanish in an instant…

Last May, Jeff and I went to Destin, Florida for a vacation.  We used to live and work in the area and every time we go back for a vacation, we drive through that same little town on our way to the beach.  And every time we do, I always remember the people we worked with and wonder whatever happened to them.  Last year I finally did some research and found out about my favorite one.

Martin was my first ever “work husband”, at my first radio job, so early in my career that I didn’t even have terminology for what that relationship was!  He worked the same midday air shift time as I did, in the FM studio while I was on the air in the AM side next door.  I couldn’t begin to count the times he put his side on “auto-pilot” for 10 or 15 minutes and came to stand in my doorway to talk and laugh with me.  He left the station, and radio, in 1989, about a year before the company was sold and everyone else was laid off, resulting in Jeff’s and my return to Knoxville.  We lost touch with many of our connections from there, including Martin.  But I often thought of him and wondered how his life had worked out.

Flash forward to last year’s vacation when I searched his name on Facebook and found several entries, including a face with a smile that was warm and familiar.  I sent a message and introduced (or re-introduced!) myself, apologizing if he was not the Martin I remembered and saying to have a nice day, and if he WAS the Martin I remembered, I hoped he would get in touch.  It was, and he did, and we became Facebook friends and began a correspondence.

Over the ensuing months Jeff and Martin also connected on Facebook…but the more substantial communications were between Martin and me. (I was always a letter-writer…now I am also a message-sender!)  We all decided that a trip to Asheville to visit Martin was in order, and I couldn’t help thinking it was a little ironic that we had all met 500 miles away in Florida only to end up living a couple of short hours apart.  Other things developed over the ensuing months as well, resulting in much more frequent messages between me and Martin…changes in his health and home life, a hospital stay, drama, frustration and sadness as he is in a transitional life stage now.  I’ve been humbled and amazed at his transparency and his remarkable sense of humor in the midst of all he is enduring of late…the same humor which endeared him to me almost 30 years ago when I first met him.  He often makes me “snaughle”—my term for the snort-laugh.  We have become family…which I warned him might happen, saying, “We’re bonding and God help you, because my friendship is relentless.”  He has assured me that he is OK with it.

For a brief moment I was nervous about us seeing him again in person, thinking we might end up with nothing to say to each other and the whole situation could become weird and awkward, especially since we had planned for him to spend the night with us.  The exact opposite scenario played out, as we stayed up very late with rarely even a moment of silence amidst all the catching up, storytelling and abundant laughter.  Jeff finally put himself to bed and Martin and I stayed up for maybe another hour winding down and feeling grateful…and decades vanished in an instant.

The next day came, and with it, Martin’s time to leave.  Jeff and I both hugged him goodbye, thanking him for coming to visit with us and for all the laughs we shared.

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Walking out onto the gravel driveway in my stocking feet and watching him pull his car away, I felt happy and sad and a little weepy all at once.  The end of a sweet visit often evokes such emotions in me, and this one, which had been so many years in the making, seemed especially poignant.  The rest of our afternoon was spent poking around in a bucket-list bookstore I had wanted to visit, getting supper and stopping by a fancy chocolate shop for treats, enjoying Jeff and his company.  The whole trip was a much-needed respite from the stressful realities all of us deal with on a daily basis.

The following day it was time for us to head back home, and back to reality.  Messaging with Martin, I admitted that I cried when he left.  He was understanding and sympathetic, as he always is.  And as always, a joke happened.

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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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How To Make Hot Tamales

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It’s not about the recipe…

 

Making hot tamales is a process

First, you gather in a loved one’s kitchen

and find the well-worn recipe

Stir up the cornmeal, shortening and hot water

while you laugh about how

the generation before you used to

perform this same ritual

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Next it’s time

to roll the meat for the filling

and laugh some more

because somebody thought

the meat logs were funny

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Then comes the assembly line

of putting the cornmeal mixture

onto the tamale wrapper

sticking the meat log inside

and wrapping it all up

repeating until we’re done

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We congratulate each other

saying “these look like

they turnt out right” and

laughing about how

someone ended up with

cornmeal in her hair

Then it’s time to

boil them all up and

smother them in the chili

that’s been patiently waiting

And savor this

Belly-and-Soul-warming meal

seasoned with

Laughter

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Wings

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The blessing to soar and to sing…

This past Sunday the lovely people of Messiah Lutheran Church where I have sung and served since 2013 said “Farewell and Godspeed” to me as I have begun a new chapter at a different church, Ebenezer United Methodist.  Both churches have referred to my “ministry”, which I have never considered my singing to be.  For me, it’s just doing the thing God gave me to do, offering back to Him the gift that He has lent me to use while I am here.  Semantics, I suppose.

People who know me, or who read this blog, know that I collect feathers.  On my way into the church, I spied a tiny little white feather on the ground, no bigger than my thumbnail.  “Thanks, Lord, ” I thought, tucking it into my bag.  It was a beautiful little piece of comfort on a bittersweet day.

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Joan, Messiah’s director of music, had mentioned in an email that I collect feathers and that if anyone at church found one, they could bring for my last Sunday as a member of their staff.  What a sweet gesture, I thought, and such a nice way to say not “Goodbye”, but “Until we meet again,”.  Because Christians, and musicians, never really say goodbye.  We remain part of the same family.

I had the chance to sing some of my favorite things, with some of my favorite people, in a place that I’ve grown to love.  At the end of the first service my friend Anne came up and handed me a Baggie with a collection of large feathers inside, explaining that she had her son Cameron had collected them on walks over the years.  I said, “I hope this isn’t the whole collection!”, to which she replied, “It is, and Cameron wanted you to have them.”  When I went into the choir room to drop off my folder before Sunday school I found a feather lying on the floor, and picked it up thinking someone had just dropped it.  They had…and that one was just the start.  All over the fellowship hall floor, feathers…on top of every table, feathers…little children tugging on my skirt to bring me feathers!  It felt like I’d won the lottery!

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During Sunday school, Joan presented me with a parting gift, a gorgeous piece of art depicting a treble clef and feathers combined, inside of which she had tucked a small white feather that one of her dogs had tracked into the house after a walk.   And then she had me explain the significance of feathers in my life, how God sends them when I need comfort, a reminder that He is watching over me.  When I see a feather I pick it up, because, while my brain knows that feathers come from birds, my heart likes to imagine that the feathers drop from the wings of guardian angels God has placed in my path to look after me.

As the choir gathered for the second service, Mary Soprano (because we also have a Mary Alto!) presented me with her own take on a feather gift, a hilarious pink and purple boa, which everyone agreed suits my Diva personality perfectly!  I squealed like a child when I opened it, and posed for a photo showing my bounty of gifts and blessings from the day.  Pastor Eric prayed for me during both services, and Pastor Pauline blessed me, anointing me with oil after I had received communion.  Tears of gratitude welled up as I received love, hugs, affirmation and the blessing to continue singing in another family even as I remain loved by this one.

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Over my shoulder the banner reads “Cantate Domino”, Latin for “Sing to the Lord”.  I LOVE that Joan framed the shot this way.  It’s a reminder for me why I do what I do.

And I love that my feather gifts remind me of both the birds and the Angels, creatures that soar and sing to the Lord.

 

 

Dream A Little Dream

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A little music, a big memory and a whole lot of Mama…

This past weekend a bunch of my kinfolks got together for a reunion in Gatlinburg, TN, an event I had looked forward to for quite a while.  It was a branch of the family tree on Mama’s side, the Williamses, namely Mama’s big brother, my Uncle Otto and his wife, my Aunt Katherine’s, kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.  These are some of my favorite people on the planet, folks I don’t see nearly often enough.  I also saw some younger cousins, all grown up now, whom I had not seen since they were little, and some I’d never met yet.

Before I had even made it into the pavilion I found myself wrapped in a warm, loving hug from my cousin Stacy.

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She and I have been in touch on social media (one of the blessings of technology!) but have not seen each other face-to-face since the late 1980’s.  What a joy to see that sweet face again and enjoy a brief moment to catch up a little.  Second hug of the day was from her daughter, my cousin Danielle.  I’ve also been in touch with her online, but we had never actually met until that moment.  The musical genes in the Williams side of the family have passed on to Dani in a big way, and I was able to share a little bit of family musical history and heritage with her as we talked.

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Soft breezes blew through the shaded pavilion as my cousin Hazen asked the blessing over our meal and time together, adding special prayers for Aunt Helen as she deals with ongoing health issues.  I breathed a prayer as well for Dean, her husband, that he will remember to take care of himself as he tries to take care of her.  Seeing and hugging her was a special joy, as it always is.  She and Mama were so close, and when I hug her, I can almost feel Mama hugging me back as Aunt Helen does.

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I felt Mama with us all through the day, as we shared food and pictures and stories.  Aunt Helen’s kids, Lisa and Mike, were the kids out of the bunch I spent the most time with growing up.  And they were there, with Lisa’s husband Tim, who is a recent addition to the family and fits right in.  Mike’s wife Jane never changes, still glowing wth a headful of red hair and a huge smile.  All Mike and Jane’s kids were there, Aunt Helen’s grandchildren, and a huge light in her life.

As we shared food and stories and pictures, I felt Mama all around me, and I saw glimpses of her…in my cousin Robin “volunteering” to get up and sing, something Mama used to do…in the adult recreations of childhood photographs and the howls of laughter that resulted…

…in talking with Hazen about how active “my dead people” are in my dreams…

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…in the photo of me and my closest-in-age cousins performing a “family breast exam” (Mama and Uncle Otto are in Heaven laughing their heads off at that, while Aunt Katherine is telling us to “Be refined!”)…

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Family is not always dignified.  But that’s usually when it’s the most fun.

Unbeknownst to most of the family, Dani and I had cooked up a surprise to share, and after the meal was done, we offered them a little song, “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”.  Making music with a cousin I’d just met for the first time was both a joy and an honor, and I hope it’s only the first of many more times we can do it.  My beloved Sweet Pea captured the moment with his phone, and I am so grateful that he did!

All through the day I felt Mama there with us, along with all the others on the Williams side who have gone to Heaven and wait for us there.  The last verse of the song we shared says:

“Sweet dream till sunbeams find you,

Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you,

But in your dreams whatever they be,

Dream a little dream of me.”

I dream little dreams of them all the time, waiting for the day we are all together once more, with God and one another, all the generations of our family making music together. All worries behind us.  What wonderful dreams!

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