Tag Archives: faith

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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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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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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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.

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.

 

 

Broken Ground

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The 15th anniversary of 9/11…

I remember the events of 9/11 as vividly as if they occurred yesterday.  We all do.  My closest connection with the tragedy was the fact that my brother, Reed, was caught up in it.  He worked for American Express in the World Financial Tower, which was very close to the WTC towers that were destroyed that morning.  Like many other families, we watched the footage unfold on TV, horrified by the images bombarding us.  And like many other families, I and my loved ones anxiously waited to hear from Reed, praying that he was safe, at least physically.  We were among the more fortunate families, hearing from him hours, rather than days, after the towers fell.  I was working for the local Fox TV affiliate at the time, and I reported to work that afternoon, thankful that Reed was out of harm’s way, and surrounded by my work family as we all watched the horror replayed for hours on end while news people and experts tried to make sense of it all.  Our boss, Tom, my friends Larry and Dan, and I, kept master control running that day and into the night.  One of my clearest memories of the day was when Dan’s sister came by that evening with her baby boy, and she let me hold him.  Cuddling that sweet child comforted me, reminding me that God is still at work in our world, and that life indeed goes on.  Dan told me on Facebook that his nephew has his learner’s permit to drive now, and that he has been told the story of how he blessed me on 9/11.

The world seemed to break that day.  Buildings, peace, faith, even the very earth underneath the city.  Broken ground.

Flash forward 15 years, and I am sitting in a church service at Ebenezer United Methodist Church where I have just recently accepted a call to sing and serve, leaving behind a church I have served since 2013.  The decision was not made lightly or without deep soul-searching, consideration and prayer.  On the 15th anniversary of the broken ground of 9/11, my new church family celebrated the groundbreaking of a new sanctuary, welcoming me into their heritage.  The significance and timing were poignant and emotional for me.

At the end of the service, we each received a river stone symbolic of “raising our Ebenezer”, then went out onto the lawn to stand where the new sanctuary will be built in the days and months to come, to pray for God’s continued blessing on the church family, and to break ground.  As I took my place on the lawn with the rest of the choir, I noticed something at my feet that has become a meaningful symbol of God speaking to me…

 

I hollered at my friend Marc to show him the feather, and he said, “That’s just like something that would happen to you!”  I replied, “It’s more like something God would do,”.  Then he and I dug into the dirt and celebrated the same blessed peace that holding that sweet baby 15 years ago had given me…that God is still at work in the world, and life indeed goes on.

Taste And See

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Singing, serving, and sharing

Mama always used to tell people that when I was born I came out singing.  More likely, I came out squawling, but I think I probably started to sing not too long after that.  It has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, and often, it has been the biggest and best part, facilitating other blessings.  Yesterday was a day like that.

It was a Communion Sunday at church, and my longtime friend Marc and I sang a duet called “Taste And See” right before the sermon.  The song is a paraphrase of Psalm 34, and among Marc, me and our friend/accompanist/collaborator John, we put together what turned out to be a heartfelt and lovely arrangement that seemed fitting for a Communion service.  Singing with Marc is often a bit of a mystical experience; the blend of our voices is special, and added to the decades of friendship we share, the music always seems to become more than just the sum of its parts.  Added to that dynamic was the brilliance of our new friend John pulling an accompaniment out of his gifted head (and in a different key than the score he was playing from!). So our musical offering felt special indeed.

But it was only a foreshadowing of the moments yet to come in the service.  For, after the sermon was preached, the familiar and poignant story of the Last Supper was re-told to us, and Pastors Ann and Jason modeled a new way of offering communion for us to follow.  We were to accept the elements from the person in line ahead of us, and in turn, we were to pass to the other side of the table and serve them to the next person in the line behind us.  In all my decades of church services and taking of Communion, this was a first for me, a chance to serve the Body and Blood to a member of the church family.

The person I had the privilege of serving was my longtime friend Marc.  John’s beautiful piano music as we communed added such a warm and lovely atmosphere to the service, and as Marc and I approached the altar, John revisited “Taste and See” that we had sung earlier.  As I touched Marc’s hands and looked into his face, offering him this Heavenly feast, with the words, “Marc, this is the body of Christ, given for you…this is the Blood of Christ, poured out for you…” I had to fight back tears.

After Marc and I had communed, we took the elements up to the piano and served John last of all.  Marc gave him the Body and I served the Blood.  The power of this whole experience humbled me in a way I could not have anticipated, and cannot explain.  I suppose it is just the chance to share music and God in a new way and deeper level with friends both longtime and recent, musical partners and brothers in Christ.  Yesterday was a little glimpse of Heaven for me and I am so grateful for the chance to have experienced it, to Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord.