Category Archives: inspiration

Hats

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The ones we wear, and the ones that wear us…

Every year shortly before Christmas, my chorus, The Knoxville Choral Society, collaborates with The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra for The Clayton Holiday Concerts, a Christmas tradition in our area for some 30 years and counting.  Concert week is hectic, with late night rehearsals and, for those of us with day jobs, work as usual and 4 shows over 3 days that weekend.  It’s a grueling, exhilarating and fun time of camaraderie for all of us.

Backstage at the venue a few years ago I took the time to pay closer attention to my surroundings than I had in the past.  Among the many quirky artifacts I noticed were numerous hats hung up on a wall.  I assume many of them are costume pieces from theatrical productions held there over the years, although some may be actual hats from firemen, soldiers, ball players and other professionals who wanted to leave their mark backstage.

Hats were invented to provide warmth, shelter and protection from the elements.  Over time they became fashion statements as well as parts of the unform for various professions.  Designs also vary from place to place and culture to culture, both for professional and decorative headwear.

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In the Stone Age when I was setting up my social media profile, I gave a thumbnail sketch of my life and the roles I play…the hats I wear.

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No one among us is just one thing, after all.  We all wear many different hats, filling roles as life circumstances call us to do.  Switching from one hat to the next sometimes feels frantic, as we shift among our various roles and responsibilities.  We juggle so many activities and demands from day to day, sometimes from hour to hour.  Some of the hats we wear weigh heavily on our heads, our hearts, as we face hard choices, regarding our health or the health of a loved one.  Sometimes a hat may feel too tight, if we are in a job or a relationship that doesn’t fit us.  Sometimes the hat just doesn’t flatter us or bring out the most attractive qualities in us.  Sometimes it even feels as though, rather than us wearing the hat, the hat wears us.  You get the idea.

We hope to craft for ourselves a life that works, with hats that fit, flatter and feel good.  I hope the hats you wear today sit lightly and comfortably upon you, bringing out your best and giving you warmth, protection and shelter from life’s storms.  (And it doesn’t hurt if they’re cute, too!)

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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.

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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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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Shared

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“It’s not nice to be selfish…”

It has been more than 2 months since I wrote a blog post.  These months have been fraught with extremes in my emotions, as I have tried to process some of the relationships in my life and determine which ones matter.  I suppose we all have these moments, times when circumstances force us to realize who needs to stay in our lives and who we need to sever. I’m in the process now, of both bonding and severing.

I remember when I was a little girl, my sweet Mama teaching me how important it was that I learn to share.  “Share your toys, Leslie…”  “It’s not nice to be selfish…”  Being selfish might feel good for a minute, but sharing feels good forever.

A stark, beautiful and painful thing has come to light for me in this process…some people just won’t share.  Anything.  Not time, feelings, words, truth.  As painful as it has been to try to salvage a “friendship” that turned out never to have been genuine in the first place, it has been liberating and beautiful to compare and contrast it to the ones I cherish that are, indeed, the “real deal”.  So more than being sad over what is not, I am happy for what is.

I am happy for the friend who, among other caring gestures, always wants to know I got home safely after we’ve shared supper and said good night.

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I am happy for the lifelong confidante who shares what my company does for her.

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I am happy for the new-ish friend whose genius I admire, whose goofball humor I enjoy since it is much like my own, and whose insight I take to heart.

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I am happy for the friend who sings, laughs and cries with me, who stops when he finds a feather and picks it up to bring to me when we see each other just because he knows that feathers bring me joy.

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And I am happy for the friend whose love for me is abiding, selfless and genuine.

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So, when I have friends in my life, LOVE in my life, like this…why in the name of all that is sacred would I ever settle for anything less?  Answer:  I won’t.  Never again.  Love like this gives me the strength I need to sever from my life the people who don’t care for me.  Because this…this is connection as it should be.  This is love…Shared.

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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