Category Archives: music and inspiration

This Little Light Of Mine

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Sometimes feels like it’s about to go out…

I remember when I was a little girl, learning the old song, “This Little Light Of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine”.  And like every other song I learned as a child, I sang it with my whole soul.  My light, like my voice,  was LOUD and PROUD.

These days it seems like there is such darkness in the world.  People are angry, disillusioned, sometimes even hateful.  Darkness of heart and soul feel oppressive.

I struggle with that darkness of heart sometimes.  I’m struggling with it as I write this.  As I said to someone recently, I know that happiness is a choice…but so is authenticity.  So I won’t lie and say that I am OK right now. I don’t feel OK.

BUT, in times like this, when my own light seems to be fading, I am reminded of the light cast into the world by other people…creative, loving, optimistic, funny, encouraging people.  I can borrow their light in order to strengthen my own.  My friends share so much of their light with me, it would be difficult for me to stay in the dark for too long.

And in my sincerest prayers, I would ask God to forgive me for my darkness, especially when I have exposed it to other people.  In the words of another old song, I want to “brighten the corner” where I am.  Lord, help me to reflect The Light Of The World to those around me, especially those who struggle with times of darkness.    Amen and Amen.

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Purposeful Planning

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Pages and passages…

I have always been a sucker for a pretty calendar.  Decades ago when I first discovered Coach leather goods, I purchased a navy leather organizer that contained an address book.  The address book is still inside it, along with all the addresses I have penciled in (including those of people who have died. I’ve never been able to bring myself to erase them.  It’s just too sad.)  There is space on the other side to tuck in a small pad of paper or a calendar.  My preference is for a calendar, one with monthly and weekly spreads, and with enough space to write down things like birthdays, appointments, musical events, etc.  I color code the items so I can quickly identify what is going on and coming up.

My calendar serves as a hybrid volume: a planner for what’s coming, a journal for what has come and gone, and a mini-scrapbook for my memories about both.  A couple of months ago I posted a query on social media asking my friends who are “planner people” which planners they use and like, and what features they appreciate.  My current work assignment as a temp got me thinking that I needed to branch out a bit and try a vertical daily calendar layout, and I wanted some feedback on what my friends were using to schedule their lives for efficiency and productivity.

I received numerous replies suggesting all kinds of planners at various price points, and with lots of interesting and helpful features.  The one I ended up choosing for myself has a lot going for it, but the main selling point for me was its disc-bound format that allows me to add and remove sections as I need/want/use them.  Ultimate customization is ultimately appealing!  It offers plenty of space to write, add stickers and washi tape, and the paper is good quality with no bleed-through.

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As much as anything else, my hope is to plan and document my life’s passages, and the life passages of people I love, in a creative, meaningful way.  I have kept my calendars for years, looking back over them with gratitude for a written record of events as they have happened.  An electronic calendar works great for some people, and at some point it might work for me; but I don’t think I will ever be able to part with the old-fashioned-pen-to-paper tool that I’ve used all my life.  The simple act of writing things down feels good to me; it reminds me of both the things to come and the ones already done; it gives me some accountability to see my goals in writing; and ultimately I hope it will help me to become more productive and effective as I try to live a meaningful life of service to God and the people around me, navigating my life’s passages with joy, wisdom and purpose.

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Pilgrimage

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Soulful sounds, hallowed grounds and Guardian Angels…

My last couple of posts here have documented some of the high points of my post-work-road-trip-adventure, which I named #OperationTakeAMinute.  Having never embarked upon a trip like this before, and likely never having the chance to do it again, I set out to keep thorough records of the people and places I visited, the music I chose to listen to on the road (as well as the times when I chose to listen to the sounds of the road itself), the memorable meals I enjoyed and all the other little—and not so little—details of my time on the road.  I was very intentional in the planning, knowing that I needed restoration of heart, mind and spirit.

I am firmly entrenched in middle age, and as a middle-aged woman, some of the music I chose on the road was in my phone…and some was on CDs, in the actual old-school CD binder that I STILL carry with me in the car.  Old habits die hard, what can I say?  Don’t judge me.

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In addition to listening to soulful sounds to empower me, I knew that I needed time with my Guardian Angels, namely my Aunt Helen and my cousin Debbie.  These women have, for as long as I can remember, been in my corner with unconditional love, support and encouragement, believing in my when I have not believed in myself.  These are both ladies from Mama’s side of my family, and the Williams is strong in them both.  They are both eternally young, beautiful, with sparkling personalities and enormous hearts.  In my entire life I can honestly say that I have never felt judged in their presence.  This is beyond priceless.

After visits with Aunt Helen and Debbie, I took the opportunity to see something new to me, in a town I had never visited.  The side trip to visit Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama, was a revelation.  I hope to return in different seasons and times of day, to see and photograph the marvels there in varying degrees of light, shadow and color.  The stillness there, punctuated only by birdsong and breeze, quieted my soul and set the tone for the next step of my pilgrimage.

I knew that I also wanted to visit the church that Jeff and I attended when we lived in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, when we lived down there between 1987 and 1990.  First United Methodist, DeFuniak Springs, provided us with a safe, loving and accepting church family, welcoming us into their choir and asking (and TRUSTING!) us to teach senior high youth in Sunday School.  As many times as we both sang in that beautiful sanctuary, I never thought to photograph the space.  I intended to rectify that on this trip, and I did.  My friend Vicki’s mom Marsha, still lives there and faithfully attends the church, so Vicki told her I was going to be there and to look for me.  She rolled out the welcome wagon, re-introducing me to a number of the folks I remembered from there who are still among the faithful members of the church, including Nancy, who now directs the choir.  And it was a delight to learn that our friends, “Miz Mary” and “Mr. Buddy” Pinckard, are still there.  Miz Mary is to this day one of the best piano accompanists I ever had the pleasure to work with, a consummate musician and a genteel Southern lady in the finest tradition.  We exchanged letters for years after Jeff and I moved back to Tennessee, but a few years ago I lost touch.  I hugged her close and sat next to her in worship, tears trickling down my cheeks in gratitude and joy.  During the service, she jotted down a note on her bulletin and handed it to me—her email address!  This lady must be near 90 years of age, and now, we pen-pal online.  Everyone asked about Jeff, and made me promise that, next time we are in the area, we will BOTH attend services.  It will be a happy promise to keep.

Next stop (after a brief detour to The Donut Hole Bakery and Cafe, home of The Best Key Lime Pie On The Planet and another piece of hallowed ground!) was a nice long visit with #FirstEverWorkHusband, Martin, and his little dog, Boris.  Martin is, like me, an artist (he’s an actor/director to my musician/writer) and he possesses a unique understanding of the crazy places in my soul that I tend not to share with most people.  We cooked and ate, laughed and cried, and rested.  Despite Martin’s health issues, dialysis and diabetes and all that comes with those conditions, it still feels like he’s the one who props me up more often than not.

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From Martin’s in Orlando, I traveled north to St. Simons Island, Georgia, to visit some other hallowed spots.  I arrived on Friday afternoon in heavy rain, ordered supper, did laundry and relaxed for the night.  Saturday morning began with a visit to GJ Ford Bookshop, an independent local bookseller (and bookworm destination) when we are there on vacation.  From there I trekked the short distance to Christ Church, an historic landmark that I’ve always wanted to see inside but never made it during open hours, until this trip!  A wedding was scheduled there for later in the day so I was able to catch a couple of sneak photos of the happy couple as well.  The sanctuary is small but glorious, with exquisite stained-glass windows and a gorgeous organ.  The docent gave a brief but detailed presentation about the church’s history, adding to my awe of standing in that holy space.  I hope to attend services there at some point when we make our way back to the island.  Before heading to the pier/village/shops/beach, I grabbed a snack at Palm Coast Coffee, a place we discovered on our first trip to the island. It is now a “must-stop” part of any trip there as well.  My day on St. Simons Island was packed with “doing the things”, and left me feeling grateful and grounded.

From two nights by myself on St. Simons Island, my next leg of travel was to Candler, NC, and a little cabin there that backs up to a creek, for a couple more nights of pure solitude.  I planned this time purposefully, the quiet serving as a buffer between the trip and my arrival back in Knoxville, to my sweet husband and dog, the job hunt and the realities of everyday living.  While in the cabin,  I listened to the rushing water, enjoyed soaking in the hot tub, rested, wrote in my trip journal and prepared to go Home…perhaps the most hallowed spot of all.

 

Preparation, Packing Up Patsy, And A Pause

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Fixin’ to get started…

In my last post here I began to describe my post-work road trip adventure which I named #OperationTakeAMinute.  Getting to the nuts and bolts of actually leaving took a little more time and preparation than I had originally planned, but trips often start with a hitch or two.  So mostly I was able to roll with the unforeseen events as they unfolded.

My first task was to empty Patsy, my car, completely.  I had carried so much stuff back and forth to work for so long that it was imperative that I remove everything and start with a clean slate for packing.  So I took an afternoon and a couple of storage bins, and set about loading the bins and hauling them into the house.  After this I washed and vacuumed Patsy and got her looking and feeling pretty spiffy.  No longer could she be described as The HoarderMobile…at least, for now!

Usually when we take trips, we drive my husband Jeff’s car, which is always less cluttered than my own.  As a result, packing up the car is usually an easy and well-organized task.  My trip, by myself, in my car, was a bit different.  First of all, I needed to get Patsy serviced, including addressing a safety recall on her front passenger airbag.  No big deal, I reasoned, and it was important for her to be safe and road ready.  The dealership that had to replace the airbag, however, neglected to inform me that this would be at least a twenty-four hour turnaround, which meant not only a delay in packing, but that I would also have to drive a LOANER.  For the record, it makes me twitchy and anxious to drive any car other than my own, including my sweet husband’s.  I am sure it’s a control issue on my part.  Deep breaths…still plenty of time to pack.

A pause in the process happened the night before I was to hit the road, and a somber reminder of how short life is, and how important the people are who make up our circles.  The Sunday before road trip time, I received a call from a college friend and classmate named Kim, asking if I could sing for her husband’s memorial service on Thursday evening.  Her husband, Dave, was also a friend and classmate from school, and to learn of his passing was a shock for all of us.  Kim asked another of our schoolmates, Keith, to preach the service, which turned into a mini-reunion, bringing smiles, hugs, tears, memories and gratitude for Dave’s life, talent and legacy.  At the conclusion of the service I drove home knowing that packing up the car was not a priority for the rest of the night.  I would load up in the morning.  And I did, and that was fine.

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Friday morning came and I was literally throwing stuff into my suitcase (and overnight bag and plastic bags from Walgreens) and into the car.  This is NOT how I typically prepare for a trip!  But I felt reasonably sure I had everything I needed, even if I was not precisely sure where it all was.  I had time to reorganize while I was on the road and if I truly needed something I didn’t pack, I could buy it.  So after a quick visit with my cousins Alan and Susan, their daughter Katelyn, and HER brand new daughter Breann, I was ready to hit the road for real.  #OperationTakeAMinute was off and running on Friday, February 8, 2019…and so was I.

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A Place For Me

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Faith formation, hospitality and being included

Last weekend I was blessed to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime event.  Through a series of music and church connections, I “wrangled” an invitation to sing in the Diocesan choir for the Dedication Mass of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Ground was broken for this space 3 years ago, the Cathedral for the Diocese of Knoxville, a diocese which was established in May, 1988 by Pope John Paul II.

I am not Roman Catholic, but I think I understand the momentous nature of an occasion like this, which makes me doubly grateful for the privilege of participating.  Glenn, the director of the music, not only allowed me to sing, but welcomed me.  His welcome took me back to my childhood when I was so often welcomed by other people of the Catholic faith.

About halfway down Ford Street lived Beth Sedgwick and her daughter, Mary Lim.  These sweet ladies were devout Catholics, wonderful neighbors who welcomed me in to visit whenever I popped by after school, or earlier in the day if it was summertime, always unannounced.  Usually with a dog in tow, I’d knock on their massive front door, and Mary Lim, long ago paralyzed in a car crash, would usually roll to the door in her wheelchair and let us in, laughing as the dog jumped up to give her kisses.  I began visiting them with my brother Reed at first, then later on after he got busy and I got a little bigger, I would go and visit them on my own…except when a dog accompanied me, of course.

They would usually be sitting at their dining room table, with the newspaper, needlework, decks of cards and crossword puzzles, and there was always a place open for me.  These women taught me about praying the rosary when I asked what “those pretty beads” were, although I have long since forgotten how to do it.  There was lovely religious artwork throughout their home, and anytime I asked about a picture or a crucifix, they patiently explained its meaning to me, knowing that I and my parents were Christian, but not Roman Catholic, and there were elements in their artwork that I didn’t understand.  Mostly, though, they taught me about their faith—-and about my own—- simply by welcoming me in.

Flash forward nearly 4 decades, after our little neighborhood was replaced by the South Knoxville bridge, the Sedgwicks had long since passed away and much life had happened for the rest of us.  I found myself surrounded by the glorious space of this new Cathedral, many unfamiliar faces, and a small group of friends from both Knoxville Choral Society and Ebenezer United Methodist Church who helped make it possible for me to witness this dedication and participate in it.  Enveloped by music, warmth and the fragrance of incense, I felt Mrs. Sedgwick and Mary Lim with me, swelling with the solemn joy they would have felt to see this new space dedicated and the Diocese united in both humility and celebration.

I am not Roman Catholic…but because I sing, there was, once again, a place for me.

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Do Not Assume

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Things are not always what they seem…

Do not assume that you know the whole story; the truth has many sides.

Do not assume that a smiling person is a happy one; smiles often hide deep pain.

Do not assume that a wealthy person is truly rich;  abundant money does not equal abundant peace, nor does a thin bank account equal poverty of spirit.

Do not assume that a person who is “disabled” is broken; many disabled people are more whole than those of us whose bodies are intact, while many physically healthy people are sick inside.

Do not assume that the life of a gifted person is easy; often the most gifted people are also the most tortured.

Do not assume that because a person believes in God, he has everything figured out, or she knows all the answers; most believers also question.

Do not assume that my tender heart makes me a weak woman, and that, because I am a soft touch, I am also an easy mark;  my power lies in my ability to feel everything deeply.

And do not assume that smiling eyes don’t cry.

 

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Days And Decades

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How 15 hours became 20 years…

Today is the 20th anniversary of Mama’s death…but just barely.  December 8 was just a couple of hours old when she drew that last breath and moved from here to Heaven.  So while this is technically the anniversary, I always spend December 7 remembering…reliving…her last day of life, and spending it with her.

I arrived at Baptist Hospital around 11:30 that cold, grey Sunday morning, to relieve Dad, who had spent the night before with her.  He told me that, after being unresponsive for over 12 hours, she had awakened in the middle of the night, and they had a conversation.  She said she knew she would die soon, and that she was not afraid.  His recollection of that exchange shook me, hard and deep.  As we chatted briefly, he made a note to send to their financial advisor on Mama’s hospital menu for that day.  I remarked that I probably had a blank sheet of paper he could use, and he said no, the menu would be fine, especially since it documented the date and his note was an instruction for an account change that needed to be done before the end of the calendar year.  He was, and still is, careful and astute in financial matters.  We hugged goodbye and I told him to go home and get some sleep, that I’d see him later.

Just minutes after he left, Mama’s face changed, as did her breathing, echoing through the room with “the death rattle” I had often heard mentioned in older people’s conversations, but had only heard with my own ears a few times.  It didn’t register with me right away that she had begun actively dying, but over the course of the day it sank in.  In about a half hour a nurse came in to check Mama’s vital signs, and she asked how long her breathing had been like that.  When I answered, this sweet nurse just came and put her arm around my shoulder, telling me that she didn’t think Mama was in any pain or distress, that I could talk or sing to her, pet her and love her, because nothing was bothering her now.  I think now that this nurse may have been an angel; I don’t remember having seen her at any other time during our hospital stay; I can’t recall her name or face or hair color; I only remember her words and the feel of her arm around me.

For her last 15 hours, Mama and I shared that little space together, mostly alone except for nurses and CNAs coming in to check her vital signs and to ask if I was all right, if I needed anything.  We only had a few visitors, including a hospital social worker and her husband, who circled around and prayed with us, and my cousins Judy and Ann, who came that night just hours before Mama died.  There were some phone calls through the day, but mostly many hours of stillness.  Mama never awoke that last day, but I spoke to her, and I know she was aware of my presence…my love.

Flash forward to last week when I was messaging with a friend and telling him about Mama’s anniversary coming up.  He expressed understanding of my residual grief.  We talked on about the state of current affairs, the world, and concerns over what we, as individuals and as a culture, may leave behind.  I tried to reassure him that he is sending light into a world that sometimes seems very dark.

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And I realized something.  Those last priceless hours I shared with Mama shaped the way I view my years, and how I want to spend whatever time I have left.  When it is time for me to leave this world, I hope I am remembered for the moments I shared with others…one on one and bunches of us together, moments of music and silence, times we laughed until we cried, ate until we belched and then laughed some more, hugs and smiles and being genuine with one another (I don’t really know how to be any other way).  If my moments are meaningful, then my years will be worthwhile.

In her last 15 hours of life, Mama taught me just as much as she did in the 58 years that preceded them.  What a gift!  If my days and decades are a tiny fraction as full as hers were, I will leave something good behind me here when I leave.

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