Monday, May 31, 2010

To Help You Understand

In case you've ever wondered why pianists are so picky about the instrument they play, watch the documentary that I started my day with. Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037 follows this single concert grand from the earliest stages of shaping the frame to the final tuning. Along the way, master pianists from all genres discuss how each instrument has a personality of its own. If you've ever known a pianist who simply refuses to play on a certain instrument and you can't understand why, this is the documentary that may help you understand them better. (Okay, so it won't explain ALL of my quirkiness, but it will give you some insight into the musical process.) You will come to see the craftsmanship that is so highly prized in the Steinway; the personal attention that is given each instrument is what makes them so unique and the finest instruments available bar none.

Okay, I'm off my musical soapbox for the evening. Hope you all had a wonderful day and are getting ready to return to the regular world tomorrow.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

"The Hiding Place"

For several years now, The Hiding Place has been on my "to read" list. I had heard so many good things about the book from others, but could never find a time to sit down to read it. Now I realize what a treasure has escaped me for so long!

The Hiding Place is the story of Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who was involved with the underground movement during the Nazi occupation of Holland. As a result of transporting Jews to safety, Corrie and members of her family are jailed. Ultimately, Corrie and her sister, Betsie, find themselves serving time in Ravensbruck--one of Germany's most notorious concentration camps. In the midst of their immense suffering, Corrie and Betsie found strength in their personal faith and ministered to countless women.

Nuggets of truth are contained throughout the book. Discussions on love, suffering, and forgiveness abound. These lessons have come at a very pertinent time for me. In a season where I have experienced more offense and hurt than in any other time of my life, I am learning lessons from Corrie Ten Boom. I was especially touched by one particular passage at the end of the book.

After Corrie's release from Ravensbruck (which she later learns was the result of a clerical error!), she begins to speak throughout Europe. At one of her speaking engagements, Corrie encounters one of the soldiers who had been present when she was first brought to the camp. Corrie recounts this meeting:

His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on His. When he tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself. (The Hiding Place, 238)

Have I forgiven those who have hurt me so deeply? Intellectually, yes. But deep in my heart, no. Every time I see them or hear their name, I still remember the pain. What an insight and a refreshing thought it is that I don't have to produce the forgiveness myself--because I never could--but rather, I have to allow His forgiveness to flow through me. Will it be easy? Certainly not because I'm human and the pain is deep. But "the world's healing" that Ten Boom mentions includes my healing. As my emotions are healed, forgiveness will be extended to others. I've got a long way to go, but it's comforting to know that I'm not trying to get there all by myself.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Cherish the Remembrance

With the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend fast approaching, many of my thoughts today have been centered around remembrances. Remembering those who have given so much, those who are no longer with us, those we love who are not as near as we would like, and those who have suffered. While it sounds depressing at first, my meditations and memories today have been nothing of the sort.

Memorial Day is set aside to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our nation so that we might have freedom. This year's Day of Remembrance will take on new significance to me after having the privilege of visiting the Pearl Harbor Memorial earlier this year. As I toured the grounds of that beautiful location, I was overcome with gratitude to the men who fearlessly fought a generation before. As I stood over the final resting place of the U.S.S. Arizona and watched the oil continue to rise to the surface of the water, I silently prayed that I would never forget the price that was paid for my liberty and that I would never take it for granted.

This year has also seen personal loss in my life. Family and friends that I treasured have left this life and moved on to a better place. On the flip side, however, I am so thankful for the blessings of health and safety that have been given to my immediate family this year. It's been a year of turmoil for us in many ways since we last observed Memorial Day. There were days we didn't know if we would see the next or not. In His graciousness, God protected, provided, and defended in times that we were helpless and totally reliant on His faithfulness.

Suffering is always with us. However, I can think of few who have suffered more than the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. My mind is drawn to this time in history this Memorial Day weekend because I am currently reading The Hiding Place, the story of Corrie ten Boom. I am still in the early stages of the work, but I find myself stopping quite often to meditate on her commentary and statements of profound love and forgiveness in the midst of such horrible suffering. If more of us could emulate the level of grace and genuine peace she displayed, our world would be a much better place.

This evening, I met a friend for dinner at one of my favorite local restaurants. For dessert, I ordered the creme brulee. While the food was amazing and the company was cherished, my mind went racing back to the first time I experienced this luxurious sweet. I was in New York City with Tiffany, a treasured college friend who has become like a sister to me. After a day of exploring the city together and consuming large amounts of food (savory AND sweet), we decided to have a nightcap at a nearby establishment. While Tiff was having a drink to end the night, I needed one more dessert. At her recommendation, I tried the creme brulee. The evening ended with lots of laughter and fond memories that I will always associate with this creamy, decadent dessert that has now become my favorite after-dinner splurge. Sadly for me, Tiff and I don't get to reconnect as often as I would like. When we do (and when I stay out of trouble!) the experience is pure pleasure and a welcome change from the daily grind. This is a friendship that I completely treasure.

Take some time this Memorial Day weekend to honor those whose lives have been given for the cause of liberty. Then take a further stroll down memory lane and honor those who have made and continue to make an impact upon your life. Cry a little, laugh a little, and cherish the remembrance.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Another Thursday....

While most people enjoy the weekend as their time away from work, my schedule is a little more awkward. Since Wednesday and Sunday are such busy work days for me, I generally treat Thursday and Friday as my "weekend." Today was definitely one of those days.

The morning started out with a meeting with Chris, the minister of music at First Baptist Church in West Memphis. It was a very informal meeting, but was actually a lot of fun. We got the opportunity to introduce ourselves and play some music together. Of course, when music ministers get together, there will generally be some stories shared between them as well.

After doing some practicing in preparation for another upcoming recital (July 2), I decided to take the afternoon and head to the movies. I have wanted to see Letters to Juliet since it first appeared in theaters and found the film to be quite enjoyable.

Letters to Juliet recounts the story of Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), a fact checker for the New Yorker, who travels to Verona with her fiance for a "pre-honeymoon." While in the city that served as the setting for Shakespeare's most famous tragedy, Sophie visits Juliet's House and witnesses lovesick women from around the world writing letters to Juliet and attaching them to the wall. At the end of the day, Sophie witness one of "Juliet's secretaries" taking the letters away in a basket and beginning the process of replying.

When Sophie finds a letter from the 1950s hidden in the wall, she is moved by the emotion it contains and decides to reply. Her letter reaches a mature Claire (wonderfully portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave) who returns to Italy with her grandson, Charlie (Christopher Egan) in search of her lost love. The friendships that develop between Sophie, Claire and Charlie propel the plot forward to its culmination.

I was very pleased with the acting as a whole, including a wonderful supporting cast whose wit and sense of timing gave the movie much of its charm. While there will probably be no Academy nominations as a result of the project, Redgrave and Egan generated a familial chemistry that made me both believe and sympathize with their situation. I was very pleased to see Christopher Egan's work again. I first became aware of his work on NBC's too-short-lived series Kings. Just as in Robin Hood from a few weeks ago, the Italian landscape was a constant member of the supporting cast. I have always wanted to go to I'm ready to pack my bags and leave tomorrow.

When I first saw the trailer for the film, I knew that it would address the implications of missed romantic love. I expected a nice movie that followed the ordinary path. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were other "missed loves" that were addressed--even if only as a secondary issue--that enhanced the film.

Do I recommend this film for everyone? Probably not. It's your standard "chick flick," but if you are in a nostalgic mood as I was today, there are definitely worse things you could spend your money on in the theaters at the moment.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Good News!

No, not that good news....yet!

Just thought I would share with you quickly that I learned today that my first submission to has been accepted and will be sent out to potential publications later this week. Who knows, I might have an article (albeit a small one) in print before the end of the summer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Review of Look Again

Today, I finished reading Look Again by Lisa Scottoline. The novel tells the story of a young reporter, Ellen, who adopted her son, Will, when he was abandoned by his parents in the hospital due to his severe health issues. While Ellen sorts through a stack of junk mail, she glimpses a photo of a child that strangely resembles Will. The photo is a flyer asking for help in locating a child that had been abducted several years before; the image on the flyer has been altered in order to show what the missing child might look like and could easily pass as a portrait of Ellen's son.

As the story continues, Ellen finds herself at a crisis of morality. Her instincts as a reporter want to find the truth of Will's identity at any cost. Her maternal nature wants to ignore the situation, knowing that if the unthinkable is true, the world as she and Will currently know it will cease to exist. Scottoline weaves a suspenseful tale of moral ambiguity while exploring the legal and emotional ramifications the scenerio would have upon all the adults involved in the child's life.

Chosen as one of the best books of the year (2009) by The Washington Post and a New York Times bestseller, Scottoline's narrative is a quick read while raising emotions at each turn. Just when you think you have figured out where things are going, Scottoline takes her characters into new territory, adding to the unfolding drama.

One of my favorite passages comes fairly late in the novel. While writing a newspaper piece on the love between a mother and her child, Ellen says of her son, Will:

I fell in love with Will the moment I saw him in a hospital ward, with tubes taped under his nose to hold them in place, fighting for his life. From that day forward, he was mine.

And though, as his mother, I certainly felt tired at times, I never tired of looking at him. I never tired of watching him eat. I never tired of hearing the sound of his voice or the words he made up, like the name of our cat. I never tired of seeing him play with Legos.

I did tire of stepping on them in bare feet.

It's hard to compare loves, and it may silly to try, but I have learned something. . . .

You may fall out of love with a man. But you will never fall out of love with your child. (Look Again, Scottoline, 333)

If you have a chance, I recommend picking up this riveting novel. On
the Freeman Scale of Quality Literature, I give Look Again a 7
out of 10.
Those odds sound pretty good to me!

Happy reading!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Today, I decided to take a day off from all responsibility and try to fully recover from my "vacation." I think that the physical and emotional rest paid off. As I went through the day, I noticed that what I had most missed while away were things that I had probably taken for granted just a week before. Let me tell you about a few of them in no particular order.

The majority of my day was spent right here on the couch with my computer. I enjoyed the stillness of the house today and caught up on reading some blogs I had missed as well as catching up on videos from Though I had my computer with me, last week did not provide the opportunity to sit quietly and leisurely peruse the internet while thinking about what I found there. At the recommendation of a friend, I submitted one of my recent blogs for publication at It has been a goal for the year to finally get something published, but I have always been fearful of the rejection and never thought that my writing was strong enough. Blogging has definitely been helpful in giving me confidence with my words again and has proven to be a great place to try out thoughts and develop them slowly over time. The turn around for ezine article submissions is generally 7 days, so I'll keep you posted on how that goes.

Even though I did a considerable amount of playing while on "vacation," I missed having access to my piano on a regular basis. It was not only the sounds that I missed, but the adventures that I associate with playing. For instance, my day began with some creative harmonizing, followed later by sightreading works by Brahms and Poulenc (two of my FAVORITE composers). As the day progressed, I found myself working on a flute sonata for an upcoming recital before learning vocal lines for the children's musical that's coming up next month. None of this was on the agenda for today, but after an extended absence, I was drawn back to my Boston piano. Today felt like a chance to get reacquainted with a long absent friend. Like those cherished reunions with friends, it didn't take long for my Boston and me to pick things up right where we left off.

My books have been sorely neglected of late. One of my goals for 2010 is to increase the number of books I read this year. Beginning last year, I set a long range goal of ultimately reading 52 books in a single year. 2009 saw roughly 35 books completed. (I would have to pull out my journal to give you the definite tally as well as the list of books and authors, but I could get it at a moment's notice.) This year has been a difficult year for reading thus far. Increased performance opportunities and the stresses of family life have cut into my cherished time getting swept away into an incredible story. Today, I decided that enough time had passed and I simply had to sit down and get absorbed in a story again. I returned to Lisa Scottoline's novel Look Again and have not been able to put it down. I anticipate reading for about another hour tonight before going to bed; the plot thickened just before I began to write and I can hardly wait to get back to it!

Finally, I missed the joys of Mom's cooking. While we were in Texas, Mom did very little cooking. Actually, I think the only thing she made was a chocolate chip bundt cake at my request. I enjoyed the food so much last week that I had hardly noticed that Mom wasn't cooking. Then dinner rolled around tonight and Mom had a spread of broiled chicken (thank you, Weight Watchers) along with her creamed potatoes, fresh corn, and rolls. I know it doesn't sound like a feast to you, but anyone in my family will tell you that Mom's potatoes are the stuff of legend! Many of us have attempted to replicate the simple side dish, but no one can quite get the proportions right. Mom doesn't use precise measurements and the ratios are never the same; it varies depending upon the potato, weather, and other mysterious factors. As I sat down to dinner tonight, I looked at the plate and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Then I began to eat and realized that the creamed potatoes were some of the best I have ever had. So I ate....and ate....and ate! I'll have to make sure that I pay for those extra starches tomorrow on the treadmill.

I suppose the old cliche has proven its validity again in my life: you don't realize what you have until it is gone. Each of these things that were so appreciated today had been overlooked and considered part of the routine a week ago. That must be why things come and go in our lives--so we will be grateful for what we have in each season of life. I plan to take a look around tomorrow and see what new rediscovery I might make as an absent "friend" makes a fresh return into my life.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Recovering From "Vacation"

As I sit here writing this blog, I must admit that most every inch of my body aches. I had no idea just how stressful and tiring a "vacation" could really be. I suppose I should give a little explanation on all of this.

As you may know, my parents and I just returned from Conroe, Texas, where we spent a week with my cousin and his family. For my parents, this was truly a vacation. Dad spent much of the week on the waters of Lake Conroe fishing with Jerry; Mom enjoyed lazy days in the house watching television and napping the afternoons away. I was thrilled to see my parents get a much-deserved respite from their daily grind.

Personally, I have to classify this as a "vacation" for me. Even though I was away from the Memphis area and took off time from my day job to go to Texas, it was very much a working trip for me. On Friday evening, I performed in the Mosaic concert at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Houston along with my friends Jere Douglas, clarinet, and Sandra Cox, flute. Jere and I spent most of the week in rehearsals, so I logged many miles driving along I-45 between Conroe and Houston.

Friday evening's concert was a magical experience for a number of reasons. Not only was the performance space beautiful, a magnificent sanctuary with lots of exposed hardwood and high arching ceilings, but I was getting to play some music that I dearly love - most notably the Brahms Sonata Op. 120, No. 2 in Eb major for clarinet and piano. I will not bore my readers here with a thorough analysis of the performance, but if you are interested, you can keep an eye on my professional blog, Collaborations, where you can expect see my personal review in the coming days.

This recital also holds a special place in my heart because it was the first time I was able to perform for some special people in the audience. Jerry and his wife, Gail, have opened their home to my family for years. Many of our favorite summertime memories are associated with the lake there as well as the fun, food, and friendship shared around the kitchen island. Yes, I do consider water-logged rides in an unsinkable boat a fond memory. Of course, there's also frozen Noxzema for horrible sunburns, intertubing on the lake, fierce fights with fire ants, and amazing meals. (Did I mention the FOOD?)

On Friday evening, these two precious family members attended the recital simply to hear me play. It is true that they had heard me play in the past, but it was never something that I had actually prepared and was never in a performance setting. While they knew that I played the piano, they had not actually heard what I was capable of doing. It was an honor to share my music with them; their presence at my recital made me feel amazing. As I played, I was overjoyed and became more excited with each passing note. The emotion was energizing and I am happy to say that I played very well. (Yes, I just admitted many of you now have an idea of exactly HOW WELL the recital actually went!)

I got back to Conroe around 11pm Friday evening, finally ate a quick bite of fast food from Jack in the Box (love those grilled sourdough burgers!), and headed to bed at midnight. The following morning, Mom and I began the long trip back to Arkansas shortly after 8am; Dad had flown home the day before in order to be at the funeral of his brother, Lance. As I drove, I began to realize how extremely sore I was as a result of Friday's recital. I realize it sounds strange to many non-pianists, but let me assure you that a two-hour piano recital involves the muscles of the lower back, legs, and abdomen that you would not expect to engage while playing the piano. This is in addition to the obvious strain placed on the hands, fingers, forearms, and shoulders. Normally a few stretches the following day will take care of much of the stiffness in the back and legs. On Saturday, however, I spent nearly ten hours in the driver's seat of my Outlander, allowing for very little movement. Rather than giving you all the gory details about my body's condition, let me simply say that I will be making an appointment for a much needed massage tomorrow morning!

This morning, I returned to my normal work responsibilities and played the morning service, utilizing the electric keyboard because my hands couldn't withstand the pressure necessary for the Kawai. I left church, grabbed a quick sandwich, and finally came home and crawled back in bed. Not quite the ending I had expected after an enjoyable - albeit busy - week in Texas, but it's what we sometimes have to do in order to recover from our "vacations."

As a side note, I heard from Jere today. Apparently our recital was received amazingly well by the congregation at St. Andrew's and plans are already underway to establish a recital series hosted by the church and funded in part by the music ministry. What a great opportunity for outreach by this congregation to another segment of the Houston community. I'm honored to say that I was a part of the premiere recital in the series and look forward to making a return visit in the future.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Day of Sadness

Today has been extremely emotional. At 8:45 this morning, Mom received word from home that my father's brother, Lance, had passed away in the night. Uncle Lance had suffered from Alzheimer's Disease for several years. While we know he is in a better place and his suffering has ended, our hearts still ache at our loss.

Early this afternoon, I learned via internet feed of the shooting in West Memphis, Arkansas, during a drug-related traffic stop that left two officers dead on I-40 at Airport Road. The suspects were later found at the local Wal-Mart, where two additional officers received gun shot wounds. At last account, Sheriff Dick Busby was listed in stable condition after being shot in the shoulder. The other officer received several wounds in the abdomen and was listed in critical condition.

It pained me throughout the afternoon to watch my Dad dealing with his grief. After dinner, Mom and I told him that we would make whatever arrangements necessary to allow him to be at the visitation tomorrow evening. When I said that I would cancel tomorrow evening's performance and take him home, Dad broke down and had to leave the room. At last, Dad agreed to buy an airline ticket to Little Rock where O'Neal will pick him up tomorrow afternoon. Thankfully, we were able to find a very reasonable fare on Southwest; now I just have to make sure I can get him on the flight without any major complications. We will leave Jerry's house tomorrow morning at 8am in order to get him to Hobby Airport in south Houston.

Grief and sadness are as much a part of life as joy and happiness. It is interesting to realize that the presence of sadness is a result of sin and was not something that God intended for His creation to experience. Grief is not directly related with our feelings for the lost one. We know that in death the suffering has ended. Grief is our response to our loss; our emotions recognize that there will no longer be interaction with that loved one and our hearts cry out in hope that the void will be filled.

As I think through this day, my mind recalls the song "If You Could See Me Now."

After all the pain, Lance is joyously sitting at the feet of Jesus and walking streets of gold. I have to smile at the thought that his precious Gertrude was among the first to greet him and walked him through all the glories, promising to bring him back later for a formal tour. "But first," I can hear her explain, "you simply MUST see Jesus." Perhaps it's simply a comfort to those of us who remain, but I can hear Lance proclaiming that his pain is totally erased, he is finally complete and filled with joy now that he has seen His Savior face to face! What a glorious promise of hope we have when we believe in Christ!

Thankful for peace in the midst of sadness,

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Simple Pleasures

Nothing terribly exciting to report today. I had a very productive rehearsal with Jere, so we are taking tomorrow off. That makes me very happy because I'll get to experience one day of this vacation with absolutely nothing to do!

I've had a really enjoyable day. Much of my happiness has centered around food: lunch at Panera Bread, fried shrimp and French fries for dinner, chocolate chip bundt cake for dessert. What more can you ask for?

Subconsciously I know that I have to enjoy the food while I can. Monday will see the return to life on Weight Watchers and I have an appointment at 11 with Tracy, a personal trainer, at The Works in Marion. I'm not sure I fully know what I'm getting myself into, but I do know that it's time to reclaim my health.

Wish I had some deep thoughts to share tonight, but I going to be content with simply telling you about the simple pleasures while I'm livin' life as I know it. More to come tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's All in the Timing

Earlier today I met Jere Douglas, a FaceBook friend whom I will be joining in recital on Friday evening at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Houston. Our rehearsal was very exciting and honestly a lot of fun. As part of this four-hour marathon rehearsal, Jere and I found ourselves needing numerous breaks. Since all of our interaction has been via social networking sites, Jere was familiar with my resume and knew that I am employed by a church, so he introduced me to the music minister at St. Andrew's. This interaction was extremely pleasant and the minister was gracious, personable, and humorous.

After several hours of rehearsal, Jere and I knew we needed a mental break, so we went on another field trip. I was introduced to a charming older gentleman who spearheads a hospitality ministry serving the families of long-term patients at an area medical center. We were then on our way to meet the senior pastor of St. Andrew's.

As we went into the office lobby, I noticed that the pastor's door was closed. Jere peeked in and then knocked. The minister graciously answered the door and I was introduced. I quickly thanked him for allowing us to use the beautiful facilities and tried to subtly allow him to rejoin the staff meeting that was in progress. Jere asked if I could speak to the staff - a total surprise to me - but the Senior Pastor was accommodating. The faces of the staff bore a different message, however.

Yes, everyone in the meeting was kind, but it was also evident that they were wondering WHY were these two men interrupting their weekly staff meeting. The poor music minister, also present, looked as though he were a deer caught in the headlights! I truly felt sorrow for him and mildly embarrassed myself. As we were leaving the office complex, the Senior Pastor was again so generous and, apparently having noticed my discomfort, smiled with understanding as we exited.

I was not offended by the staff or Jere in any way. I completely understand everyone's perspective. Jere is attempting to create a chamber music series at St. Andrew's and was introducing the performers to the influential people. The staff members, on the other hand, found themselves interrupted by an unknown individual (me!) in the middle of a busy workday. I have sat where they are on numerous occasions and have experienced similar frustration at the interruptions. I shudder to think of the people who have felt as though their entrance was an unwelcome intrusion into my schedule.

In a society that is driven by the clock, scheduled appointments are the order of the day. Want to frustrate me? Show up late for a meeting or rehearsal to which you committed and I'll be ready to have your head on a silver platter! Have an unscheduled person interrupt the appointment with something unessential and prepare to see my temper flare. How often I forget what should be the focus of my work as a minister, teacher, and musician: PEOPLE! My planning and preparation is of little value if I do not make time for the ones I am to serve. Without people, a musician has no audience. Without people, the teacher has no class. Without people, the minister is without purpose.

Do I think that the staff of St. Andrew's Presbyterian in Houston are rude? Absolutely not. Do I feel as though they do not care about their world? Certainly not! The church's commitment to their community was evident as I walked the halls of the building. I simply think that I caught them at an unexpected time and they reacted as most of us would - and, as much as I hate to admit it, as I often have in a similar situation. I hope that the next time I face another unexpected interruption to my schedule that I will remember my experience at St. Andrew's and pause to give these individuals the attention and respect they deserve. After all, it's all in the timing!

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Chosen Path

Today my parents and I made the 9-hour trip to Lake Conroe, Texas (located just north of Houston). The drive was peaceful for the most part; the final leg of the journey seemed as though it was one thunderstorm after another making for a fun drive.

This is definitely not the first time we've made the trip together. My mom's only sister and one of her brothers and their families lived in the Houston area for as long as I can remember. Trips to Houston became annual pilgrimages for my family and the source of many good memories. I fondly remember laughing in the kitchen while my aunt made the most delectable chocolate fudge and bowling outings with my cousin and his three young children. There were numerous adventures involving boats that cannot sink and stinky bait on the waters of Lake Conroe. Who could ever forget the year I nearly ripped an arm out of socket because the villian threatened to shoot Santa after he made a personal visit on Christmas Eve to that small trailer in Houston. (I don't remember who was brandishing the shotgun though; I'll have to ask about that tomorrow.)

The path to Houston from my home was always consistent. At the Arkansas-Texas border, we would pick up Highway 59 and drive south. This long Texas roadway passes through numerous small towns that will forever be etched into my memory. As I became older, the route began to lose its appeal. These Texas bergs were no longer recognized for their charm, but had become synonymous with "speed traps." I was not interested in the journey; I was just ready to get to the end of the road so the real fun could begin.

A few years ago, I was in Lake Conroe again with my parents, brother, and niece. Conroe is situated on Interstate 45, which runs up to Dallas. I knew from my cross-country drives that I could pick up Interstate 30 in Dallas and head to the Arkansas border. I was firmly convinced that the all-interstate path would certainly be faster than running through all of those tired, small towns. O'Neal and I set out for home on I-45 while Mom and Dad went home via their preferred path. I am happy to say that I won this "race".....and beat my parents home by a whopping 5 minutes!

As we approached Texarkana earlier today, I asked my parents which route they would prefer for our drive. Dad's response was simple, direct, and poignant: "You're driving, so that decision is up to you." I weighed the options and decided to travel by interstate through Dallas. As I drove to Dallas in the silence of the car (Mom was reading in the backseat and Dad was "resting his eyes"), I pondered the implications that simple choices make in my life on a daily basis.

Throughout their lives, my parents have tried to show me and my siblings how to make a comfortable, fulfilling life for ourselves. They have defined "success" and "happiness" for us in clear terms and lived their lives as models for their three children to emulate. However, my parents have been very deliberate in assuring me that my path to "success" and "happiness" may not look like theirs - or anyone else's, for that matter - and that the uniqueness of my journey is part of the excitement of life. Their interest is not necessarily in the chosen routes of their children, but that the final destination is ultimately reached. Just as my trip to Houston pointed out today, there are often multiple paths that lead to the desired outcome. Some are traveled leisurely, littered with detours and scenic stops; others are more direct, more driven, and more treacherous. Neither path is superior to the other in and of itself - it is just a decision that has to be made based upon personal preference. Tonight, while sitting in Lake Conroe at the beginning of a week of vacation, I am thankful for parents who taught me (and continue to teach me) how to plot a course, weigh the consequences, and then make a choice after careful, prayerful consideration.

Wishing you a joyful journey,

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I've spent quite a bit of time this afternoon packing so I'll be ready to pull out tomorrow morning and head to Lake Conroe, Texas. While I was making my packing list, I thought that someone could easily take a look at my list and tell what I consider high priorities in my life. I'm not going away for an extended trip - only 6 days - yet there are some things that I would never contemplate leaving behind for any length of time.

As I started to review my list in light of this insight, I began to wonder if my priorities were truly in order. Do I value material things more than I do people? More than my faith? These were questions I wasn't sure that I wanted to face.

I suppose this thought about priorities was due to the sermon I heard this morning in church. It was a wonderful message on marriage and the three rights that must be forfeited in order to have a healthy, Godly marriage: the rights of priority, possession, and privacy. (I must admit that I probably only remember those three major points since building the slide show to accompany the sermon is one of the responsibilities of my position.) Since I'm not married, I wasn't sure how the bullet points would relate to my life. This afternoon I began to explore these concepts in a rather interesting way. Let me share some of my thoughts with you now.

In a nutshell, Pastor stated that when asked to list their priorities, many married men would list them in this order: God, wife, family.....and the list continues from there. Based upon the Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve, Pastor challenged us to consider the possibility that God didn't demand that Adam list God first. Scripture states that the man would leave father and mother in order to be joined to his wife. Now before any of you have a heart attack, let me make sure you clearly understand Pastor's statement; he was not suggesting that our first priority should not be for God. Rather, he pointed out that when a Godly man's first priority in his natural, everyday walk is to his wife, his acts of service to her become God-honoring actions. God continues to be the man's first priority in his spiritual walk. (Can you tell this sermon was a major point of discussion in my house this afternoon?)

Here's where my brain went into overdrive. Since I am not currently married, does God call me to honor Him by placing some passion in the highest priority in my natural life? Suddenly, the call to ministry on my life became much more significant to me personally. Could it be that my placing priority on music and children - the very things about which I am naturally most passionate - and my efforts in these arenas have become my God-honoring acts of service? The parallels were enlightening. A husband's passion in the natural world is for his wife; she is the object of the man's affections that he is called to serve in honor of his Creator. At this time in my life, my passions are for ministry to children and music. Doesn't it follow that the passions in my life were placed there by God in order to bring Him honor as I faithfully serve in those areas of my greatest passion? What a liberating and exciting thought! Ministry is no longer merely a vocation, but rather a God-ordained, God-designed plan for my life!

So, this brings me back to my questions about my priorities. Before I packed the first piece of clothing this afternoon, I constructed a list that included planning materials for the summer musical, a children's curriculum I need to review, my computer, and music for Friday evening's recital. When I first considered that my priorities were evident by looking at my packing list, I felt condemned because I was more concerned about making sure I had all my "stuff" rather than other things that would show my emphasis on my family. Don't misunderstand - I love my family and treasure them, but spending time with them is not what I am passionate about. Before anyone gets too excited about that statement, consider the model of the marriage again. The man leaves his family (whom he loves) in order to serve his wife (his passion). Rather than feeling condemnation now, I am beginning to see that my packing list is just an expression of the way God has wired me. I choose to see my priorities as God-honoring pursuits and trust that He will give direction when it's time for a priority shift. Because He is my highest priority, when I hear His instruction, I'll be quick to obey.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

An Evening at the Movies

Last night, I decided to take an evening away from the insanity that has been my life lately and join a friend at the movies. We ended up seeing Robin Hood and I must admit that I had fairly mixed emotions.

I suppose the first problem with my movie adventure was associated with my expectations. When I decided to see a film about the legendary English hero, I was looking for the standard story - stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Hey, I grew up watching the Disney standards, too! Little did I know that this production would focus on Robin Hood's early years; as soon as the jolly band of bandits were finally formed and living in the woods of Sherwood Forest, the film came to an end. As I was discussing the film with my friend Sandra earlier today, she immediately pointed out that there was an obvious reason for this decision: the film makers were leaving their options open for a sequel. That's probably a wise business decision on their part, but I'm not sure that I will pay $10 to see the follow-up.

Don't misunderstand, there were portions of the film that I thoroughly enjoyed. The cinematography was outstanding. At times, I felt as though I had been transported to Richard the Lion Hearted's English countryside. I was pleased with some of the performances - especially those of Cate Blanchett (Lady Marion) and Kevin Durand (Little John). I must admit I was surprised by Russell Crowe. While he had a few moments that were really quite good, in the end, I felt that he was more of a supporting player and that Blanchett was the star of the show. That's probably not the best news for anyone wanting to see the film though. After all, it's not the story of Lady Marion that we hope to see.

The company was wonderful. The meal that followed was amazing (Buckley's in Memphis....YUM). The film, however, was only a marginal success with the benefit of hindsight. Oh well, there's always another film to see on another day. Hopefully I'll have better luck next time.

Just Livin' Life

I've recently been struck by the number of people I know personally who blog on a semi-regular basis. I realize that I need to have an online presence professionally - thus the beginning of my blog Collaborations and the website which is a work in progress - but I didn't know if I would really have that much to say about things that were not musically based. That thought became a personal challenge in some ways and resulted in the blog that you have before you. Let's just see what I have to say about the life that I live....the good, the bad, and the boring.

I'm putting no stipulations on the content of the blog. Anything that I encounter is fair game. I will attempt to keep the musical thoughts out of the discussion here since I need to write about those elsewhere, but I'm sure there will be some bleed over since music is such a huge part of my life.

I guess I'll just give you a public insight into what's going on in my mind, my world, and my life. I invite you to join me for the journey - knowing that it may lead us to some STRANGE territory - but, of course, that's not really that surprising, now is it!