Thursday, July 29, 2010

Personal Retreat

Today was the first of three days of personal retreat for me.  Recently, demands have been made upon my time, talent, and abilities that caused me to reach a point of diminishing returns.  I feel as though I have nothing to give out right now, so I began to entertain the thought early in the week to escape for a few days.  I intentionally gave no thought to where I was going and made no advance plans;  I wanted to maintain a certain level of spontaneity and adventure.  Since I would be traveling alone -- no family in tow on this trip -- I knew I would have complete flexibility.

This afternoon, I found myself in Branson, Missouri.  I must admit that I was surprised myself at the ultimate destination.  Generally, I tend to seek out urban settings that have lots of activity and a very cosmopolitan vibe.  Branson was not defined as either in my mind. Now that I am here, I am finding that it is a very charming town with lots of things to do.  The nice thing about Branson is that it has a very wholesome vibe and operates at a very relaxed pace.

As I drove, I promised myself that this weekend would be all about me.  While not planning to go overboard, I intended to pamper myself a little bit.  I mean, who doesn't enjoy a little luxury in their life from time to time?  I was thinking that I would treat myself to a nice dinner and a show while I was here.  Funny how things don't always go according to my plan -- and often work out even better than I had expected.

I didn't know where I was going, so I needed to plug an address into my GPS before leaving home.  When I googled properties in Branson, the first one that came up was the Best Western in the historic area.  The facilities looked nice enough, so I thought I would be satisfied.  When I asked if there were vacancies for 2 nights, there was only one non-smoking room available:  a King suite with a whirlpool tub.  The price was reasonable (even though it was more than I had planned for), so I took the suite.  You're really not surprised, are you?  I mean....come on....a private whirlpool tub at my disposal for my back, arms, and hands?  Of course I'll take it!

I asked for dinner recommendations and was told about Rocky's, an Italian restaurant just a few blocks away.  Even though I was surrounded by children (some of whom decided to take a seat in my booth and carry on a conversation with me while we waited for our food!), the meal was quite nice...especially the pasta.  Walking back to the hotel, I made a quick stop into an old-fashioned ice cream parlor to satisfy my sweet tooth.  The rest of the evening was spent watching the premiere of the new season of Project Runway and soaking in the whirlpool.

As I am coming to the end of the day, I am realizing how important days like this are to me as an artist.  People of every profession become tired and weary, needing periods of rest to recover.  I do not diminish that fact in the least.  I think that these mini-vacations may be even more essential in the life of the artist.  Not only do they allow us to recharge, but they also re-inspire us;  my art is a reflection of my view of the world in which I live.  Without opportunities to "stop and smell the roses," my message becomes flat and uninteresting. 

I've tentatively made plans for tomorrow -- things that will bring me sources of inspiration for areas that I feel need to be refueled -- but I'm giving myself permission to scrap the plan at any point and begin afresh.  I don't want to be a slave to a schedule, personal expectations, or anything else.  I'm taking this trip one day at a time. 

Of course, my brain is always at work.  I've already thought of some great topics to blog about over on Collaborations and have inspiration for a new article relating to Children's Ministry, but all of that will just have to wait.  For the next 72 hours, I have only one job.....taking care of my personal needs at the expense of everything else.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Planning a Trip to Nowhere

Summer is winding down and my life is calmer than it has been for quite some time.  I don't have any performances hanging over my head at the moment.  There are no CDs to record.  Summer school is over and I don't have the new textbook to make changes to the fall course.  Music camp is a faint memory, and piano lessons don't begin for another month at least.  It sounds like it's the perfect time for a mini-vacation.

I had planned to visit a friend in Jonesboro on Thursday night, but he now has a conflict.  That means that plans are changing.  Of course, your favorite pianist is also quite the traveler.  Give me a car and an open road and I will set out with the best of them.  Where am I going?  I don't know!  The only thing that's set in stone is that I'm leaving sometime on Thursday and will return home on Saturday in order to be here for Sunday morning services.  I don't have a destination in mind or even a direction.  For me, this is the ultimate version of spontaneity!

This is not the first time I've done this;  in fact, it's almost become sort of an annual ritual.  I look for a chance to get away and just set out.  My favorite memory of one of these explorations was the first one I took.  I made it up to St. Louis and decided to explore the city.  Sadly, no one told me that the Little League World Series was in town that October week, so there were NO ROOMS in the entire city.  I drove for several hours until I finally found a room.  By this point I decided that I would just head to Kansas City the next morning and start my adventure in a new location.

Somehow plans never work out for me.  I got up early the next morning and headed to KC -- and got there in an hour!  It was WAY too early to stop driving for the day and I didn't think there would be much to do there anyway, so I decided to head north a bit and see where I ended up.  Fast forward to the afternoon and you'll find me in Minneapolis, Minnesota!   Why?  Because I saw a sign for the Mall of America and thought, "Why not!"  I had a BLAST and came home so relaxed and refreshed, even though my body was exhausted.

I won't be going that far this time since I only have a couple of days, but I'm not making any plans.  I'll have my GPS with me so I can find my way home.  So....stay tuned to see where this adventure takes me!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Things Come and Go

This weekend, my nieces and I saw Toy Story 3, the final installment in the trilogy that chronicles the adventures of Woody and Buzz Lightyear.  I thoroughly enjoyed the film and found myself laughing much of the time.  During the final fifteen minutes, however, my mood became much more subdued and I found myself crying because of the many changes I had observed in the lives of these treasured characters.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few months, you are probably aware of the basic premise of Toy Story 3.  Several years have passed and Andy has grown up; the movie details the events that occur as Andy prepares to leave for college.  Without giving away any major details, the film reaches its conclusion as Andy pulls away from the curb to begin the next chapter of his life.  Ask virtually any adult who has seen the movie and they will tell you that my tearful reaction is par for the course for many movie-goers.

As I processed the movie throughout the weekend, I began to think about the inevitability of change.  Try as we might to keep things as they are, it never works.  Circumstances change, things change, relationships change, attitudes change, and we change.  In a world that is so full of change, why do we struggle against it so much?  I guess the real question is why do we fear change?

Change is uncomfortable.  Many times, it is painful.  We have lived in the status quo for some time and have become familiar with it; we can predict how things are going to progress.  As soon as change arrives, our world is set on a topsy-turvy spiral and we do not know where or when we are going to land.  Quite simply, change engages our fear of the unknown.

Change results in reflection.  As circumstances change, we are forced to examine the previous situation without the aid of our rose-colored glasses.  Once we review the past in the clear light of truthfulness and personal honesty, we may begin to encounter some things that we don't like; these revelations may be personal in nature -- and sometimes not very complimentary.  No one likes to look in the mirror when forced to look at themselves honestly.  Change thrusts the mirror in front of our face, forcing us to address what we find there.

It may seem as though I am only considering change to be a negative occurrence.  In the early stages of the change, that is the common response.  As we become more comfortable with the new situation, our attitude towards change also becomes more agreeable.

Change brings opportunity for improvement.  Consider how things work in the technological world.  When a new version of an electronic gadget appears on the market, people swarm to get their hands on the latest item.  Why?  Because the designers have examined their item, identified aspects that need to be improved, and implemented the changes.  The same thing is true in the changes that occur in our personal lives.  When change comes, it is an opportunity to look at prior situations and begin again with a new start.  I have the option to change how I will approach a similar circumstance in the future and make the choice to improve what I have control over.

Change brings freshness.  In order for a tree to live, it must go through seasons of change.  Leaves become vibrant and beautiful, only to fall to the ground in a lifeless mass.  What appears to be destruction on the exterior is actually preparation for a new season of life that will come in the spring as the tree explodes with new blossoms.  As much as it saddens our hearts, our lives are also seasonal.  To remain vibrantly alive, we must experience change in many areas.  It may come as a career change, the loss of a friend or family member, relocation, or the birth of a child.  Whatever the change, it is essential that we not see it as merely the ending of a chapter of our life, but rather as an opportunity for a new, more exciting chapter to begin.  This view does not diminish the value of the past experiences; rather, it augments our appreciation of the past as we realize that those situations prepared us for the great things that are to come.

How are we to effectively deal with the challenging changes that we face on a regular basis?  Many highly-intelligent people have spent their lives pondering that basic question of humanity.  I'm not a philosopher by any means, but I can tell you how I handle life's changes;  I rely on the fact that somethings never change.  Hebrews 13:8 provides the basis for this life-altering belief:  "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever."  In the midst of all life's crazy changes, I rest in the knowledge that my Savior is my stable Rock and Foundation that will NEVER change.  Now THAT'S something I can depend on in ALL situations.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Home Safe: A Review

Recently, I finished reading Home Safe, a novel by Elizabeth Berg. This fairly easy read told the story of Helen, a recently widowed author, who is slowly coming to terms with her new life without her precious husband. Helen learns that her trusted husband had withdrawn large sums of money from the couple's retirement account prior to his unexpected death; Helen experiences doubt and faces her fears until she finally discovers the unexpected gift left to her by her husband. All in all, the novel is a moving story of family, eternal love, and hope. I highly recommend this wonderful work as part of your summer reading plan.

The aspect of the novel to which I was immediately drawn was the emphasis placed on writing. In order to earn some extra money, Helen teaches a class of novice writers that come for diverse social and economic backgrounds. What begins as a means to an end ultimately becomes a valued part of Helen's own healing process. Writing becomes therapeutic. Through the creative process and the power of words, Helen and her students find themselves tearing down walls of self-preservation that they have erected to keep the world out of their most intimate thoughts.

I am beginning to experience some of the same value of writing. While not actively pursuing professional acclaim for my writing, I am re-discovering the power of the written word and the freedom that comes from committing my thoughts -- both intimate and professional -- to paper. By writing, I not only organize my thoughts and concisely present them for public consumption, but I also encounter unexplored intellectual arenas to which my newly organized ideas lead. In the few short months that I have been writing regularly in the blogosphere, I have learned much about myself while regaining confidence in myself and my role in my chosen career.

We are all looking for a place to be Home Safe. My treasured place of rest and acceptance is not currently a physical location, but rather the home that I have created for myself through the expression of the written word.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bribery or Incentives?

On Sunday afternoon, my family enjoyed lunch together. It was at this point that I learned that my two youngest nieces would be coming to spend the weekend with my parents. Sitting next to me, the older of the two girls was reading one of my favorite books -- Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. The other child had begun reading C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe but had hit a snag and needed some motivation.

There are a few things you must understand about me. I highly value education and firmly believe that it is the secret to success. A reflective, educated person discovers that a greater number of opportunities are available to them throughout their life. The key to education - regardless of the field of study - is literacy. In order to improve one's literacy and critical thinking skills, one must regularly read items of various styles and voices.

Because I hold literacy in such high regard, I am willing to do anything necessary to get the children in my life to read. By creating a book-friendly environment from a young age and helping them to find works that they personally enjoy, we set them up for becoming lifelong learners through reading. I have already traveled this path once with my oldest niece who is nearing the end of her undergraduate education. What is her major? English literature with an emphasis in secondary education! This uncle is so proud!

That brings me back to my current plans. Sitting at the table with my nieces, I made a deal with them. If they complete their books by Friday of this week, they will receive a trip to Incredible Pizza this weekend. The incentive has been set; now I'm in the process of encouraging them to reach their goal to collect their reward. By using the social networking site FaceBook, I am able to offer encouragement to them in a fun way while also providing additional enticements.

I'll let you decide: am I bribing the girls or providing them with an incentive? It's going to cost me a trip to Incredible Pizza, but the price is a worthy investment in their educational development. Additionally, I'm forming memories with the girls and spending quality time with them in their environment. What better way to re-enforce my unconditional love for them while boosting their budding self-esteem?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

At What Cost?

As part of my mental health day today, I spent some time catching up on a couple of DVD rentals that I've had for over a month now! One of those movies was Extraordinary Measures. This film tells the story of one father (Brendan Fraser) who will go to any length to find a cure for the terminal disease two of his young children have. Out of desperation to save their lives, the father risks his profession, reputation, and finances to follow the possibility that a rogue scientist (Harrison Ford) may have the solution that the kids so desperately need. In typical Hollywood fashion, the ending is happy and the children's disease comes under control.

I was moved by the movie; I have such a soft-spot for children in need. I walked away with a personal question that has left me a bit uneasy though. How much would I be willing to risk for those I love? Given seemingly hopeless odds, would I risk my future and livelihood in order to pursue a possible saving solution for them?

I don't have an answer. I would like to think that I would be self-sacrificing and put my family's needs above my personal wants, ambitions, and desires. The truthful answer, however, is that I just don't know if I can do that. I suppose that's part of the reason that striving to be more like Christ is a daily pursuit.

Do I love my family? Of course, I do. I would give them anything within my power to make their lives better. But that's the far would I be willing to go beyond what is easy for me to do in an effort to make their lives better? Perhaps the question is too deep or too uncomfortable for some. I just find myself challenged by the words of Christ tonight: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13, NIV)

The Importance of Rests

Much of my life is filled with music. Notes stream across the page, bringing with them their beautiful melody and harmony. Piano lessons are filled with attention to the notes and the details that accompany them. Performers spend much of their rehearsal time focusing on the most difficult note passages. Music, however, is made up of much more than just notes.

In order to give each phrase its rise and fall, rests must be included in the music. These moments of silence are essential to the piece's success. These carefully planned periods of respite allow the pianist's hand to prepare for the next passage, the audience's ear to awaken with anticipation to the sound possibilities that will follow, and the singer's lungs to quickly fill with a new supply of air.

Periods of rest are important in our individual lives as well. After a period of intense activity, it is necessary to pause and allow the body to recuperate. Equally important, these quiet times also permit emotions to heal and creativity to be replenished. As one breathes deeply, the heart is strengthened and the Spirit prepares to soar once more.

In masterworks of music, rests are given diligent attention and vary in their duration. In order for life to be a masterpiece, the same attention must be given to personal rest; we must consistently evaluate the length of rest that is needed in order to re-enter the symphony of life's melody with the most beautiful tone.

During the rest, thoughts turn inward and take on a highly reflective nature. This is an opportunity to consider the success of the most recent melody and to begin preparing for the next entrance. Just as a musician must be careful not to become too comfortable in extended rests -- which can result in a missed entrance -- so we must monitor our personal periods of rest. With careful attention, we gather our strength and prepare for the new melody that our Composer has in store for us.

I'm looking forward to the new melody that will begin in my life, but right now I'm choosing to enjoy the beauty found in the rest!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Annoyance of the Day

I had an interesting situation occur in my class this morning that really ticked me off. I have calmed down considerably in the past 11 hours, so now I feel it is safe to blog about this event. Let me set the scene for you.

I am in the final stretch of the summer session of music appreciation (literally, there are 3 class sessions and the final exam remaining). Class begins at 11:10 every morning and runs until 12:35, although I normally get done with things around 12:20 or so. Because of the shortened summer term, I began lecturing on the final unit today and had forewarned the students that we would be moving through the material rather quickly.

At 12:15 today, I am very pleased with the progress we have made and am thinking about getting a jump on the next section to take a bit of the pressure off of tomorrow's lecture. Suddenly, the door at the rear of the lecture hall opens and in walks one of my students. A sensitive, courteous person would have the common sense to take the nearest seat and try to cause as little disruption as possible. But no -- this IDIOT walks all the way down to the front of the classroom, unloads all of her CRAP, and then proceeds to start talking to the girl next to her! At this point, I don't know if I should explode on her or laugh in her face. I have to give her credit though -- a move like that definitely required some courage.

Rather than moving forward, I decide that I'll make sure I send a very clear message. I advise the students to look over the notes from today's lecture and come to class tomorrow prepared to ask questions. Then I dismiss class for the day! What this girl does next takes the cake!

She comes to the front with her printouts of the PowerPoint slides and asks what we have covered in class today. I'm very short with her and give her the titles of the two slide shows that made up my lecture. She mentions wanting to get a copy of my notes; I simply turn away, pretending that I didn't hear her. She has better luck with a generous classmate and leaves the room to photocopy the Good Samaritan's notes. On the way out the door, she has the AUDACITY to sign the attendance roster for the day! REALLY?!?!?!?!?! Needless to say, Dr. Freeman did not take kindly to that and promptly made a note on the roster that she arrived at 12:15 for a class that dismissed at 12:20. I haven't heard anything from her yet regarding the absence that I have posted for her today, but I thoroughly expect that she will complain.

I'm kicking myself for not offering an open note quiz on the spot. I'm just hoping she doesn't show up to class tomorrow morning on time so I can reward those who actually attend my class.

This has not been my first encounter with this crazy woman either. I have had suspicions of her actions all semester long, but haven't been able to catch her red-handed in any of her deceitful behaviors. I have been giving her the benefit of the doubt (that was mistake number one), but she has shown her true colors. Let the gloves come off's now time for my alter ego, The Queen, to finally make an appearance.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Day Off

I finally took a day off just for myself. After doing a coaching session for one of my theater students this morning, I set out to downtown Memphis with a friend to take some snapshots for my website and Facebook fan page. We went to Tom Lee Park (first time I've actually been down there) and then headed up to the Confederate Park. I'm not terribly photogenic, but I think we might have gotten some shots that I can use. I'll be posting some of them later this week.

It felt good to get out in the fresh air and enjoy walking around, looking at the river and the people that were populating downtown. I got a little sun in the process, so my cheeks have that rosy red color to them at the moment. (I am always amazed at how easily I burn when I spend ANY time outside.)

After about an hour in the parks, I headed into midtown for lunch at Huey's. Grilled chicken sandwich with bacon and Swiss cheese.....enough said! I spent the rest of the afternoon just laying around, enjoying my day off.

Now that the day is coming to an end, I'm finding myself very tired and making plans for a productive day tomorrow.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Beginning to Catch Up

I am finally beginning to feel as though I am slowly but surely getting caught up after the crazy schedule I was keeping earlier this month. Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed every minute of Music Camp - but it definitely took a toll on me and my responsibilities.

Today was a hugely successful day though. I accomplished almost everything on my "to do" list and I'm finally getting around to planning for the fall rather than just trying to survive the daily grind. Just to give you an idea of how bad things were, I have had a single line written on my daily action list for the past week or so: "Call Ryan and Scott." Ryan called me at the beginning of the month; Scott is getting married in a few months and we need to discuss wedding music. Scott's first phone call came nearly a month ago! I have been so busy that I have simply neglected these friends. Tonight I FINALLY got around to calling both of them.....I got their voice mails, but I made the calls. Yeah for me! Hopefully I'll remember to follow-up on those calls tomorrow!

I'm a dreamer and a planner by nature. When I get into those times where I'm just trying to make sure that things are getting done before they fall through the cracks, I'm miserable! I'm not a guy who handles "winging it" very well. I like to have a plan, know what's coming well in advance, and then watch my plan get executed to perfection. So now that I've had some time to begin planning for future events - even though I haven't accomplished much on them yet - just the fact that I'm getting to plan again lets me know that life is about to become more manageable very soon.

Trust me when I tell you that I'm ready for a regular routine! I'm tired of feeling like Alice's rabbit. My mantra for the past few months has been "I'm late! I'm late!" I am definitely looking forward to sitting in a lawn chair and soaking up the rays (figuratively speaking, of course) in a few weeks!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Simple Pleasures

Tonight, I had a craving that could not be satisfied. It has not been a bad day, so I wasn't experiencing stress. Still, I couldn't quite put my finger on exactly what it was that I was wanting. Finally, I came to the realization that I was desperate for Oreo Double Stuff cookies and a tall glass of milk. I must admit that the snack was wonderful (even though it was yet ANOTHER example of cheating on my diet)!

As I ate, I recalled how much I have enjoyed this treat throughout my life. I clearly remember coming home from elementary school and heading straight to the kitchen for a coffee cup of whole milk and a platter of Oreos. Sitting in the floor in front of the television, for a few minutes, I found my escape from the pressures of the day.

I find that as life becomes more stressful as an adult, I tend to revert to those things that brought me the simplest pleasure as a child to alleviate the pressure. Oreos. Old episodes of favorite television shows. A quiet afternoon with a light blanket (the grown-up version of a blanket fort!). Often I don't realize that I'm searching for that simple pleasure of childhood until the stress is gone and I'm totally relaxed.

How I wish I would learn to take time each day to enjoy the simple pleasures of childhood and continue to search out new pleasures that bring me joy, peace, and satisfaction.

Stopping to smell the roses,


Sunday, July 4, 2010


I hope that you have all had a wonderful July 4th celebration with your friends and family. My family had a very low-key celebration together following the morning services. Sitting around the table and later laughing in my brother's home was a welcome change of pace for me.

While driving home, I began to think about the Founding Fathers of our nation and the words that were so eloquently penned in the Declaration of Independence. As I pondered their courage and their sacrifices, I realized a few things about freedom that I would like to share with you - first as I believe they relate to our nation, and then as they relate to our spiritual walk.

First, freedom begins with recognizing that bondage exists. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote of the many injustices enacted upon the colonists by the King of Great Britian. Jefferson goes on to point out that by enforcing these laws upon his subjects, King George III had the "direct object [of] the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states." The colonists' acknowledgement that another power was trying to dominate them against their will caused them to act with determination, courage, and fortitude.

Next, one most recognize their worth and right to be free. What has become the most famous line of the historic document clearly expresses this sentiment: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." This single statement contains so many fundamental truths--many, I fear, that a vast majority of Americans have failed to fully understand. Jefferson points out that equality is not a legal provision by a government's courts; rather it is a right handed down by the Divine Creator. The term "inalienable" simply means that they cannot be transferred to another. In other words, because I have been created by a loving God, I will never be subject to any human who tries to take my God-given liberty away from me without my they government, business, or relation.

Most importantly, freedom calls for decisive action. Our founding fathers could have simply pointed out the injustices they suffered and left it there. If they had, I suspect that I would continue to have high tea each afternoon and pay homage to the Queen Mother. Thankfully, those American patriots recognized their call to action. The members of the General Congress declared the independence of the united colonies from the British crown and took upon themselves the rights and responsibilities of a free state. Jefferson's closing to the Declaration of Independence states how committed these men were to insuring that their decision would be respected: "With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." Essentially, these men affirmed that freedom was their greatest desire and that they would go to any length necessary in order to have it -- including the ultimate price of their very lives.

As I considered these three components of freedom, I realized that the same elements are necessary when declaring our liberty from any tyrant that is attempting to conquer us. My mind immediately went to the realms of relationships and spirituality. Before I can become free from anything that is oppressing me, I must first recognize that I am being oppressed! After I realize that the abuse is occurring, then it is necessary that I understand that I have the right to be free and that no demon or individual has the privilege or authority to keep me in that bondage! Then comes the call to action. This is the point where we must stand up against the tyrant and firmly declare that we will no longer tolerate the abuse and stand in the power of our convictions and the authority that the Christian has in Christ.

Sadly, many continue to play foolish games with their oppressors, allowing them to reclaim strongholds from which they have previously been delivered. This can be the result of low self-esteem, deception, or a personal desire to return to the bondage. Regardless of the reason, the result is always the same - BONDAGE....and often it comes in a much more powerful package.

I am thankful that I live in a free land with all the rights and responsibilities that go with it. I do, however, wish to see more people living in the land of the spiritually free. My prayer for each of you is that whatever keeps you from living a life of liberty to the fullest extent will lose its power and stronghold over you so that you can truly experience the life of FREEDOM!

Happy Independence Day!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Back to Bartlett - Recalling the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Yesterday afternoon, I performed a program of patriotic music for the wonderful folks at the Ave Maria Home in Bartlett, Tennessee. Generally I don't handle retirement/assisted living facilities all that well, but Ave Maria was beautiful and the people who attended the program were charming and very appreciative. I will happily return to Ave Maria in the future if the opportunity presents itself.

This was the first trip that I have made to Bartlett in some time. As I drove into the city yesterday, I was caught off-guard by the memories that some of the landmarks held for me.

While driving down Stage Road, I remembered taking my middle niece to a sleep-over last summer while the girls and their mother were living with us. My sister was in the early stages of divorce proceedings and I was helping to transport the girls home from school each afternoon and to various social events. As a whole, my family was making every attempt to make their young lives as normal as possible in the midst of all the chaos. What I remembered about those trips was that feeling of constantly looking over my shoulder -- never knowing if danger was lurking around the corner. I know how I felt in that situation; I can only imagine the horror that my sister and her daughters were living in at the time. Since a location triggered those emotions for me, I'm sure that they continue to suffer from those traumatic months and years as well. Yesterday, I came to a small understanding of what their lives must be like at times.

Thankfully, my memories soon became much more positive. As I neared the intersection of Stage and Bartlett Blvd., I saw the local Applebee's restaurant and recalled an anxious afternoon there in the summer of 1998. I had returned to Memphis in January of that year to begin my gradate work. On that summer day (specifically on Mom's birthday, I think), I was sitting at a table in Applebee's with my parents and sister while we were keeping an eye out for the U-Haul trailer that would bring home my brother and his young daughter. They were moving into my parent's home now that my brother's divorce was finalized.

As I continued to reflect on my brother's arrival in Memphis twelve years ago, I began to think how incredibly blessed my life became on that day. My brother joined the US Air Force when I was only 5 years old, so I really didn't know him that well. Sure, I had spent time with him during his leaves and spent holidays in his home in Sacramento....but I really didn't KNOW him. On that day, a man who I have come to respect immensely and that has become a major stabilizing force re-entered my life. The 8-year-old girl who was so unsure of her future at the moment grew up as part of my life and has become a great friend that I trust implicitly. I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of all that she has accomplished and look forward to getting to be a part of her upcoming nuptials.

Bartlett holds a lot of memories for me. I could mention the wedding of my dear friends in Bartlett Baptist, the study sessions for song repertoire, birthday parties in the park, or long talks with new friends in area restaurants. Other memories of Bartlett are less pleasant. Although many of the memories are painful for me (and my family as a whole), the final outcome has been one of blessing. It was in Bartlett that I was introduced to the three most important women in my life at this time -- my nieces. These three amazing, Godly young ladies are the light of my life and the center of my world. In view of these growing women and their impact on my life, the pain and hurt of Bartlett is just a fleeting nuisance. I choose to focus on the future and make new, lasting memories with those I treasure most!