Tag Archives: singing

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.

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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When I Was Six…

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The world looked different…

 

When I was six

Richard Nixon was President

and all the grownups on the news

were talking about a place called

Viet Nam

If I wanted to mail a letter

a stamp cost 6 cents

but I was only just learning to read and write

 

When I was six

Courtesy and Sense both seemed

more common

We were raised to say “Please” and “Thank you”,

“Ma’am” and “Sir”

 

When I was six

I sang all the time

just because it gave me joy

All the kinfolks I loved

were still alive

Talking to Jesus was

the easiest thing in the world

and my little-girl prayers were simple

 

When I was six

Summer vacation meant Myrtle Beach

and I always threw up

going over Saluda Mountain

Mamaw’s house at night seemed like

the quietest place in the world

and if Mama took us to Aunt Ruby’s

for a glass of tea

that meant there’d be time to play

 

When I was six

The world outside was not innocent

Then, as now,

people were doing

unspeakable things

to other people

But it seemed like those things happened

less often

When I was six

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(My first grade picture from Giffin Elementary School, in one of many dresses Aunt Ruby made for me.)

 

 

Countless

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Name them one by one…

My blessings are countless.  Yesterday I was reminded just how blessed I am, through the friends God has placed in my life.  I see Him in their faces, feel His love in their hugs and smiles.  I hear Him in their voices as we sing together, as we laugh, as their sweet words offer counsel, comfort and affirmation.

Meetings both planned and unexpected filled my day, feeding my body at lunch and supper, and my soul throughout the hours.  After running a quick errand I stopped for lunch and ran into my sweet friend Valencia, a member of my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) peer group from 2012, who has been on my mind for a couple of weeks now.  I was about to sit down and found myself instead scooped up into a long and joyful hug, the kind only Valencia can give!  And then she invited me to join her and her precious daughter for lunch.  We enjoyed a meal and a visit that nourished me in more ways than I can count.  It was a total God moment running into her, a blessing I didn’t realize how much I needed until it happened.

Afterward I proceeded to my friend Clay’s church for a couple of hours jamming at the piano and organ, him playing as I sang.  After the singing came a long conversation and some catching up.  Clay is a former Delta Omicron student, a reminder to me of my own student days and the value of the mentors who guided me when I was young and trying to find my way.  I’m still finding my way in some areas, a work in progress as we all are, and it always amazes me how people like Clay offer such reinforcement without even being aware of it.

After this I had my nails done and then met my friend Tina for supper to discuss “life stuff and musician stuff”.  I’ve known Tina for 30-plus years and sung with her in several ensembles over the years, from college to now.  She is a Delta Omicron sister from our college days, a level-headed, intelligent, grounded woman whose counsel I trust and whose love for God inspires excellence in all she does.  Sometimes I need a gut-check with people like that, and our meal together offered me assurance that some recent decisions I’ve needed to make came from a place of priorities rather than of pride.

If I started counting my blessings right now and did nothing else for the rest of my life, I’d never complete the list!  Yesterday’s encounters, planned and spontaneous, reminded me how much God loves us through the love of other people.  My friends and family serve as God’s hands and feet, His eyes of compassion and His voice of reason.  Gracious God, please use me this way in someone else’s life, that they may see Your blessings through me.

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The First To Fall

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Drifting and settling…

It’s that time of year again.  School is getting underway once more, and college students are moving back into the dorms and preparing for another academic year.  I always loved moving back into the dorm.  The first thing I did was to put up pictures…on the walls, on top of my dresser and night table.  Those photographs made me feel at home and comforted me by reminding me of the boyfriend (who became the fiance’) I would only see on weekends.

Subtle signs tell me that the seasons are about to change.  My musical activities are about to resume, and I look forward to the discipline of regular singing and the vocal rehab I’m about to experience.  Blowing the summer’s rust off my vocal cords is a humbling, but exhilarating, process.

The first leaves are starting to fall.  Here and there, among all the green-ness of late summer, a lone leaf turns color, and then turns loose from its warm-weather home.

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Soon enough these earliest of falling leaves will be followed by multitudes of their tree-mates, scattering warm layers of color through the air and upon the ground.

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This seasonal rhythm grounds me in ways unlike the other changes throughout the year.  The air becomes cooler and easier to breathe.  It’s as though the frenzied molecules of my life settle themselves somehow, much as the falling leaves settle to the ground after their brief period of drifting.

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Farther Along

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We’ll understand it all by and by…

This past Sunday, July 26, was the first anniversary of my friend Lola’s death.  I have written about her several times here in Patchwork And Potpourri, sharing bits of my grief journey as I have tried to process her passing and make some sense of it.  While I have not been able to accomplish the sense-making part, I have found amazing pieces of comfort and blessing along the way.

Some months back, my church music director, Joan, planned an old-fashioned gospel singing (or as we in the South sometimes say, a “SANGIN'”!) for this date.  I cut my teeth on many kinds of music, but old-timey hymns and gospel songs are like mother’s milk to me, so I naturally jumped on the bandwagon…and then I realized what day it was, becoming uncertain and unsettled as to whether I’d be up for this gathering on such a poignant anniversary.  Oh, me of little faith!

At this point I need to back up and recall last year.  Lola had died on a Saturday, and I had committed some weeks before to sing a duet with my friend Marc the next day at our friend Greg’s church.  Part of me feared a complete breakdown in the middle of the song…but my inner musician kicked in and soldiered on.  Moments like these are when God works in ways that are beyond understanding, providing His strength in my weakness.  We sang, our voices blending in that unique way that Marc and I always seem to achieve, God singing through us to speak to those gathered there, and ministering to my soul in the midst of such overwhelming sadness.  Afterward we sat together behind the piano, and I began to cry silent, uncontrollable tears.  Marc reached for my hand and mouthed, “What…?” and I mouthed back, “Lola died yesterday.”  He had known all about her illness, prayed for her along with others I had asked to pray, and when I shared that she had died, he just held my hand and petted my arm.  No more words were needed.

The whole rest of last summer, God added feathers to my growing collection, signs of His eye upon the sparrow.  I had started collecting them years before, but in the wake of Lola’s death, I started finding them eveywhere!  Tons of feathers, showing up to remind me that she and my many loved ones in Heaven are all OK…and that I eventually would be OK, too.

This past Sunday, on Lola’s anniversary, once more I sang and made harmony with my longtime friend Marc, recalling last year’s moments of comfort in sadness, strength in weakness, music in tears.  We hugged and talked and laughed…and sang, the old gospel songs about Heaven and hope.  And as Marc and I left the church together, I found another feather, my first one in months.  “Feather!” I exclaimed as I  reached down to pick it up.  Marc said, “Oh yeah…”  I said it must be a Happy-First-Anniversary-In-Heaven-for-Lola feather, and he agreed.

A favorite old song of mine is “Farther Along”.  Granny used to sing it and Mama taught it to me.  It has been recorded by artists ranging from Southern Gospel quartets to The Byrds, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.  The chorus states:

“Farther along we’ll know all about it,

Farther along we’ll understand why.

Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine.

We’ll understand it all by and by.”

As I sang it this past Sunday I thought of Lola, her death and her life, and how much I still don’t understand why she had to leave us so soon.  I thought about Joan and the lovely blue hydrangeas from her garden that she had brought in to decorate the tables, reminding me of the ones from Mom Cutshaw’s backyard.  I thought of the almost mystical harmony that happens whenever Marc and I sing together.  I thanked God for these gifts and mysteries.

And once more I looked forward to that day when things I wonder about now will somehow make sense…farther along, by and by.

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Meditating On These Things

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Appreciating excellence…

It is 2:30 am on Christmas Eve 2014 as I write this.  My day began with me asking a friend with whom I had lunch plans for a raincheck, because I got up with a thundering migraine.  My body was finally rebelling against me for the week I had put it through!

Last week Knoxville Choral Society and The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra once again collaborated with several other ensembles for the annual Clayton Holiday Concerts.  They traditionally take place the last weekend before Christmas, and the week leading up to them has us all rehearsing every night except Wednesday, pulling late hours and, for those of us who work day jobs, rising at our normal times to get to work.  The week is grueling and exhausting, culminating in 4 concerts over 3 days…but for me, and for many others, it gives us much more than it takes from us.  For some people, it is the thing that finally puts us into the Christmas spirit.

This year’s concerts were also the final holiday outings with the KSO’s outgoing conductor, Maestro Lucas Richman, so there were poignant memories of concerts past, appeciation expressed for the collaboration between the KSO and KCS and, as is my tradition, pictures and brief conversations with the maestro.  This year was  doubly sweet for me because my cousin Katherine shared the stage with us as a member of the Webb Madrigal Singers.  I was thrilled to share a stage with Katherine and her talented friends, and even more thrilled to have the chance to introduce her to the maestro before he leaves the KSO.  I had my friend Elizabeth snap their picture together with the hope that it’s a weekend that Katherine will always remember.  (The picture below was made at supper between Saturday shows.)

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In conversations on social media and in person, many of us said that we are going to miss the maestro, and he expressed his gratitude for our words.  I had the chance to tell him that I don’t “sling praise around much, but when I see excellence in my life, I do appreciate it.”  And yes, I said it with just those words.  Maestro knows by now that I am a goofball and “what you see is what you get” with me.  Mama passed along her gift for colorful communication to me (for better or for worse, I’m afraid!).

Thre is so much mediocrity in the world, and I am as guilty as anyone of not always striving to attain my full potential in every area of my life.  I like to believe that I give my best effort to everything I do, but I know better.  And even on days when I give my best, that “best” is often not very good.  In music and in life, I need to meditate on those things that are good, noble, praiseworthy…and to give thanks to, and for, the people who remind me what excellence looks like.

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