Friday, December 30, 2011

Welcome Words

In my line of work, I have learned not to depend too heavily on individual feedback.  Rather, I try to rely on my personal satisfaction with a job well done.  As a Christian, I know that my validation comes from my Heavenly Father and His pleasure in me.  However, it's nice to receive some positive affirmation from people from time to time as well.  I have received two such affirmations in the past two days that were unexpected, unsolicited, and healing.

The first was a voice mail message from a fellow musician that I have avoided for years.  While I greatly respect his insight, skill, and talent, our personalities do not compliment each other at all.  Because of this personality clash, I have avoided working with him for several years and even turned down a position a few years ago in order to not have to report directly to him.   While I recognized that there was much I could learn from this individual, I was not willing to subject myself to what I perceived as his unchecked anger and relentless criticism.  

You can imagine my surprise when I received a call from this man yesterday morning offering me an opportunity to work with him on an upcoming project.  It was a last minute need and he even stated that he was "scrambling to fill the slot."  I wondered if that was his way of acknowledging that I could learn it quickly or his way of saying that he had no other option at the moment, but I decided to see the positive in the fact that my name even came to mind.  Due to prior plans and commitments, I am not able to participate this time -- to both my relief and my chagrin.  It would have been interesting to see if time has changed things and we might be able to work together, but I really did not want to walk into a potentially stressful situation.

The second affirmation was just as unexpected, but so touching.  My boss needed to pass some work on to me.  When sending the file, he attached a comment thanking me for my work with him over the years.  The cynic in me wondered if I was being let go as I read the email;  once I tossed that thought aside, I was reminded of how powerful a simple comment can be in someone's day.  I received this comment on my way out the door and found myself suddenly energized and ready to work full steam ahead.  It was just the energy boost I needed.  And the thought that is running through my mind now.......who can I give some affirmation that will give them a little boost to accomplish more than they thought possible?  


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Painful Stumble

Yesterday morning, I was helping my sister with some chores around her apartment and watched her lose her footing on the bottom step, taking a hard tumble to the ground. Having already experienced knee pains earlier in the week, Sis was obviously in pain as she suffered a blow to her knee.  As I watched her fall, everything seemed to happen in slow motion and I was completely helpless.  She was carrying a few things down the stairs;  if I tried to break her fall, I was afraid that I would either be taken down with her or cause her to hit her head on the metal railing.  Thankfully nothing appears to have been broken although she is extremely sore today and has abrasions on her knee and foot.

As I went through the rest of the day yesterday, I kept returning to her fall and her immediate response.  After the fall, my sister was extremely short-tempered with all of us who were trying to offer help.  She was focused on a singular issue:  nursing her wounds and putting the situation behind her.  (For the record, I don't think her reaction was any different from what mine probably would have been if I had been the one who fell.  If we're honest with ourselves, few of us handle painful situations with grace and dignity.)

For the past several weeks, I have been studying the book of James in my personal Bible study.  While I was focusing on my sister's reaction, I was reminded of James 3:2:  "We all stumble in many ways."  Falling is just as painful spiritually as it is physically.  Let's look at a few spiritual truths we can learn from the scene I witnessed yesterday.

  • Falls are embarrassing.  No matter how little damage was done to our body, the fact that someone saw our stumble makes matters worse.  As people who strive to display grace and maturity, we feel like an idiot incapable of simply getting through the routines of life.  We don't think in the moment that everyone else has experienced similar situations;  we are focused solely on our humiliation. 
  • Embarrassment leads to anger.  Those who witness our fall are rarely laughing at us -- especially when those who see it are members of the family of God.  As they attempt to minister healing and help to our pain, we push them away and lash out at them in anger.  Once again, our pride gets in the way of accepting the offer of help.  When my sister fell, it was important for her to stand on her own despite her pain;  many spiritually wounded men and women who have suffered a fall limp along in the hope that no one will truly see their pain or call attention to the problem.
  • Falls result in wounds.  As much as we would like to deny it, our tumbles result in wounded spirits that need attention.  We would rather attempt to treat the problem privately rather than allowing others to see our affliction and offer support, assistance, and ministry.
  • The pain continues beyond the stumble.  Each time we fall, there is pain.  While we often choose to get up, brush ourselves off, and walk on, too often we ignore the fact that the pain will not end until we apply a healing salve to the wounds.  It is when we stop, admit our pain, and allow the healing Balm of Gilead to be applied to our wounds that healing can truly begin.  Thankfully, healing for our spiritual wounds can be complete and we can be restored to full health again.
Are you hurting over a stumble in your own life?  Regardless of how long the pain has been present, there is healing for your wounds in Jesus' name.  Find comfort for your pain today in Him.

Kennith

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Another Christmas Celebration Done

Once again, I am proud to say that the Freeman family has survived another joyful celebration of the Christmas season here in Arkansas.  While some may have thought the festivities were rather stressful with all the cooking, planning, and preparation that has gone on here, it was actually really a lot of fun!  We were blessed to have all the members of my family here together to eat, laugh, and talk this afternoon.  The table was filled as normal and love was overflowing.

Many gifts were exchanged and we are all grateful for the thoughtful things we received.  The best gift of the year came earlier in the week and was especially wonderful for my sister and her two daughters.  After several years of misery, my sister's ex-husband has finally decided to leave the greater Memphis area!  There was definitely a loud cry of rejoicing when we finally got the news. My prayer is that their lives will now blossom in greater ways now that the tyranny and frustration has been removed from their daily lives.

I loved watching loved ones opening gifts selected just for them.  The laughter as Mom and daughter realized they both received Keurig coffeemakers was infectious.  I especially enjoyed sitting next to Jacqs as we shared discoveries about our newest toys:  our iPads!  (Jacqs' was a gift from her husband; mine was a gift to myself.  Ah, the life of a single man!)  

As I thought through the beauty of the day, I was keenly aware of the many friends who are so dear to me that I would love to celebrate the holiday with.  Don't get me wrong, I love my family and would never trade an opportunity to be with them on Christmas.  However, I have another family made over the years at my beloved Pepperdine.  From those men who shared apartments with me to those I have made music with and those guys with whom I have served the community, I am truly blessed among the blessed.  Even when we haven't spoken in recent times, the Pepperdine family is always close to my heart and will not soon depart.  So as this Christmas celebration of 2011 comes to an end, I simply must tell you all -- those who are near and far -- that I wish you the merriest of Christmases and look forward to making new memories with you all in the year to come.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Where in the World Have You Been?

Now that school is out for the Christmas holidays and my world has finally slowed down a bit, I began to reflect upon the past several months and sadly realized that I had not been blogging AT ALL!  I was frustrated that I had let another project fall by the wayside again, but thought that no one had actually noticed.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was wrong when a friend gently asked last week why I had stopped writing.  That became encouragement to get back at it and provide some explanation of what has occurred that hindered my writing.

In August, I was thrilled to hear of an adjunct position at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee as staff pianist.  I applied for the position and was honored to be hired.  What I imagined would be a slow start at a new job turned out to be a baptism by fire into the music department.  I'm loving it and wouldn't have it any other way.  Last semester, I played for 17 voice students each week while maintaining my own private piano students, my teaching at MSCC, and the church job.  Needless to say, my schedule became more hectic and I found myself having to let some things go.

One of the first things to hit the skids was my writing.  The addition of driving another 150 miles each week and needing to find more practice time simply meant that blogging was not an option.  I had to play catch up a bit -- learning new repertoire and figuring out how things were going to work at Union.  As the semester went on, I discovered that 2 of my private lessons each week were becoming a source of extreme stress.  These students were unable to come to the church where I am basing my studio teaching and opted to have me visit them in their home (for an additional charge, of course).  Suddenly I found myself at the mercy of their schedules as well as the challenge of getting to their house on time for a single lesson.  Since neither of the students were progressing as well as I had hoped, I determined that these students were not providing me with musical rewards and that the income from these lessons was not enough to justify the scheduling dilemma they presented.  With some sadness, I notified the students that I would no longer be able to teach them.  This was more difficult than I had imagined since they represented some of the first students I had taught in my piano studio.

Now you know where I've been and why my presence in the blogosphere has been missing.  I intend to begin writing again and sharing with anyone that wants to read it, but I don't anticipate as many posts as I have written in the past.  My plan is for one post a week on each of the blogs.  When time and inspiration allows, I'll do more.  I hope you are as excited to have me back in your world as I am to be back.

Kennith

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Best Idea

What has been the best idea I have ever had?  That's a tough question for me to answer.....I've had plenty of ideas that were good ideas at the moment.  Lots of my ideas resulted in funny situations.  For instance, I had the great idea to drive non-stop from Los Angeles to home with two fraternity brothers to drop off a rental car and pick up the new car my parents had bought for me.  Problem?  We all had to be back in LA by Monday morning for work and didn't begin this round-trip insanity until 2pm on Friday.  Probably one of my favorite memories from college, but definitely not my brightest idea.

I had the great idea of buying a baby grand piano while doing my graduate work.  I figured out that my bed could fit in the little space next to the closet so I would have room for the instrument.  Didn't think that one through though.  Getting out of bed every morning was interesting......and often painful.  It was difficult to hop over the foot of the bed at 6am without hitting my toe.....my shin......or anything else!  Not a pleasant memory, but the sound was wonderful!  Sadly, I had to finally admit that I had to give up the baby grand for a more sensible console.

There were lots of other great ideas.  Rushing a fraternity after being rejected two times -- and the last time was just a week earlier -- shows that I'm a glutton for punishment.  (I wouldn't change it for the world, but really......sometimes I need to learn to take a hint!)  Playing flag football in the park? Sports and I do not mix.  That was proven when I ended up on crutches for the next 6 weeks of the semester.  I could go on and on here.......driving home from Los Angeles for Thanksgiving break with a friend (left on Wednesday and back on Saturday.......stupid drives were a trend for me in college.......), leaving my car parked in a Malibu parking lot for a month until it finally got towed (What can I say?  I was busy everyday for the whole month!), and taking a fateful trip to Hawaii that went from good to bad to funny and then back to a blast (Tiff, I will always remember seeing lobsters in the mountains behind your house and our whale watching excursion)!

You probably don't see the common denominator, but I certainly do.  The best idea I have made over and over is to invest in relationships with people.  I have learned how important it is to treasure those relationships that keep you grounded, joyful, and honest while letting those relationships go that bring you despair, frustration, and trouble.  Friends near and far, though we may not talk as often as we should and don't see each other as often as we would like -- even if it has been years -- know that you are still treasured, valued, and have a special place in my heart always.  You are truly the best decision I ever made!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Longer Weekends

How I wish I had the power to make a case to someone in authority to make weekends longer.  I would be willing to have longer days for four days just to get to begin my weekend on Friday at noon.  Am I alone it this?  It seems as though there are too many things that must get done on the weekends because there is no time to do them during the work week.  Those personal things that simply can't be avoided:  going to the market, cleaning the house, returning personal phone calls.  So who's with me?  Let's work Monday - Thursday 8am - 6pm and enjoy a longer weekend.

A guy can wish anyway.........

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tattoos

Body art......inking.......a stupid mistake......call them what you like, tattoos are a part of our society.  I have often wondered if I would ever consider getting a tattoo or not.  My conservative mind screams NO!  I must admit that I have a few friends who have very classy tattoos that I admire and consider a thing of beauty.
TattooIt is important to understand that tattoos are no longer a sign of a specific lifestyle.  They can be found on men and women, wealthy and poor, educated and ignorant.  Some of the individuals in my life with tattoos are men of great loyalty and kindness who I trust implicitly.  On the other hand, there are people whose skin is completely unmarred and are as immoral and deceitful as Satan himself!
Let's see if I can clarify my view on tattoos.  Do I think having a tattoo is a sin?  No, I don't.  I think it is important for the Christian to clearly think about the image he is having placed on his body, insuring that there is nothing unbecoming to a Child of God implied by the image.
Personally, I hold to the mantra "less is more."  Whether decorating a home or your body, it is necessary to have blank space surrounding your art in order to truly highlight the beauty of the design.  I find that a single tattoo is much more beautiful than the arm that is so heavily tattooed that you cannot clearly determine where one image ends and another begins.  Additionally, I think it is important to think about your future life as you choose where to place a tattoo.  Concealing body art does not necessarily imply that you are ashamed of it;  rather, it shows your maturity in understanding that it might inhibit your success in certain business and social settings.  (Once again....just my opinion....definitely not law).
Would I ever have a tattoo?  Probably not.  I'm too big of a whimp to allow someone to come at me with a needle of any size.  Doctors have to threaten me with extreme sickness to get me to take an injection.  Show me a syringe and you will generally find me lying on the floor after I have fainted fast away!  I can only imagine my physical response to the sound of a tattoo machine that is going to repeatedly puncture my skin.   I don't think so!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

It's All a Matter of Taste

I love food.  I love the way it looks like a work of art on a plate when carefully crafted.  I greatly enjoy getting my hands into the raw ingredients and following a recipe to the letter to discover what I can make.  If this description was made about most people, they might be considered a "Foodie."  That term is never applied to me though.  I get a different appellation:  picky eater.

I don't really remember where it all began, but I have struggled with food for the majority of my life.  According to family stories, I ate chicken and cheese sandwiches exclusively as a young child, much to my mother's horror.  Doing the best she could as a mother, she began to force me to eat various food items in order to insure I was getting the nutrition I needed.  I clearly recall sitting at the table with a serving of black-eyed peas on my plate that I was told I had to consume.  I tried mixing the peas in creamed potatoes, mashing them into a paste, and quickly following them with a chaser of Coca-Cola.  The result was always the same -- I gagged.  To this day, the sight (and smell) of black-eyed peas makes me seriously ill.

My mother eventually felt sorry for me I suppose and the meal time trauma came to an end.  I took vitamin supplements and we simply hoped that I would grow into a healthy adult.  As an adult, I am aware of how important good nutrition is and have tried to bring various foods into my life.  I have spent hours (literally hours!) sitting in a Wendy's restaurant trying to force myself to eat a hamburger with lettuce and tomato on it.  I got a quarter of it down when I had to admit with tearful eyes that if I made myself eat another bite, I would find myself in a very embarrassing situation that would be quite unappetizing for the restaurant's other patrons.  Meekly, I removed the offending vegetables and tried to finish the sandwich.  The burger was thrown away;  I was so completely disappointed in myself.

What's the problem?  That's a question that I truly wish I could answer.  I despise the looks that I receive when I constantly make alterations to menu orders like a child.  I rarely accept dinner invitations to friends' homes because I fear offending them by not eating what they are serving.  My greater horror is that I will attempt to eat the food served and become ill as a result of my food problem.  That is an insult from which even the most understanding friends may not recover.

If I have to explain my relationship with food, I have to start with texture.  I don't like anything that is mushy in my mouth.  If there is fluid in the food, I immediately go back to the peas from my childhood and gag.  This creates a problem for crisp vegetables as well.  Despite their crunchy beginnings, as they are chewed, the liquids released from them create a sensation that is simply more than I can bear.  It sounds silly to most people....and I have to admit I understand their perspective....but I also know what it is like to live this insanity.

Is it an eating disorder?  Not in a traditional sense certainly, but I do think there are some deep seeded issues at work.  I have contemplated seeking therapy but that even seems foolish.  Why can an adult man not get a grip on his eating habits?  I think I'm even more fearful that therapy would not be able to correct my problems.

As you can imagine, I go ballistic when I witness a parent forcing a child to eat something that they appear to physically detest.  Please understand that I'm not talking about parents who require a "no, thank you" taste.  These are the parents who force children to eat a specific food through their helpless tears in an effort to prove who is in charge.  (We all know the difference between a child throwing a tantrum and a traumatized child.)  Hopefully not every child who suffers through those situations will end up with the unhealthy food relationship that I have, but I shudder at the thought that they might because I know the difficulty it is and the toll it takes on the individual's self esteem.

i'm still not at peace with my eating habits, but I am hoping that things will improve as I gradually try to introduce new flavors to my palate by including vegetables in sauces and meat dishes in my own cooking.  My prayer is that as I become more comfortable handling the ingredients that my mental status will allow me to consume the items.  I'm not ready to run out and grab a salad with you, but I'm hoping that I can sit at a table while you enjoy one and not have to keep moving away to avoid the smell.  One step at a time......

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What Would It Take to Get Me to Move?

Moving Boxes

Some one posed this question to me earlier this week and I have to admit I was rather taken aback.  I thought it was painfully obvious that I am actively trying to move, but having no luck on the job front.  Jobs that I have landed have not paid enough to facilitate the move or have only been a one year position.  The positions that look promising end up being the ones that I just barely missed landing.......that's happened twice already this summer!

What will it take for me to move?  A solid position that allows me to live without tremendous financial difficulty.  A job that is not TOTALLY in the middle of no where (less than 5 hours to a major airport, please).  A sense that the position being offered will be beneficial to my personal career goals.  I don't think I'm asking for too much;  I've just decided that I'm not willing to leap just because other people are worried about the fact that I don't have a full time position.  Even though it is stressful, I am surviving on 4 part time jobs at the moment.  When the economy bounces back (and God's timing is perfect), I am confident that I will finally land the job that allows me to move into a new chapter of my life.  Until that time comes around, I'll just continue to dream, hope, and pray for my escape from my personal Egypt.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer is Ending....


End of summer

July is quickly leaving.  I dread ripping the page off my calendar because that means the joy of summer vacation is quickly coming to an end.  Kids will be returning to school late next week and I get going on a new semester of piano lessons the following week.  That means I only have a few weeks left before I'm back in class for another semester.

The summer has been busy but a lot of fun.  I taught a summer school class, directed music camp for two weeks, and taught a 13-week inter-generational Bible study on the books of Joshua and Judges.  All in all, I think the summer has been a huge success.

Summer didn't see as many vacations as I would have hoped.  I got away for a couple of days in the middle of the month and spent a week in the Houston area with my family rehearsing for a performance at the end of that trip.  It seemed as though I was out of pocket quite a bit this summer, but very little of the traveling would be considered relaxation.

I must admit that I am looking forward to getting back to work now that I have office space at home and a room that reflects my style and preferences.  It's definitely not complete yet (still have to move out some of the things that were piling up in here), but it's fun to begin moving in that direction.

Now that I'm down to a few weeks left to my summer vacation, what do I plan to do?  I have a lot of prep work to take care of so the fall semester is not absolutely crazy.  I also intend to spend a lot of time reading for the next 2 weeks; by the end of August, most of my down time to devote to reading will be over.  Besides that, I intend to spend my days in front of the computer, at the movies, and sleeping in as long as I can.....after all, it comes to an end in just a few short weeks.  Believe it or not, it's been a good summer, but I'm ready to get back to the normal routine that comes with the fall semester.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

200 More....


Yesterday I was posed with the question of what thing I could use 200 more of.  (I’m thinking that July 26 is the 200th day of the year, but I’m not completely sure about that, so don’t quote me!)  It was pointed out that many things we think we want more of may not actually benefit our quality of life.  For instance, would you really want to live 200 additional years?  You would still have to deal with all the issues associated with getting older and I’m having enough problems as I push 40.  An extra 200 cars or even 200 close friends bring troubles of different kinds.

I must admit that I was stumped at first, but finally came up with an answer that I can live with.  I wish I could have 200 extra square feet in my room.  Since I’m living with my parents, real estate is a hot commodity for me right now.  I am in the process of getting things cleared out of my bedroom that has been there for years.  Last weekend finally saw my Dad’s HUGE desk taken out and many of the walls cleared for me.  That allowed me to move in a desk (much smaller) and a great new desktop computer I have been coveting for quite a while now.  I’m amazed at how much more work I can get done in a given afternoon now that I can really see what I’m supposed to be writing on the screen.  (Be nice y’all…..there is no need to comment on declining eyesight’s association with old age.  I already know all about it!)

The extra square footage would definitely require more cleaning and I would fill it up in no time flat, but I still wouldn’t mind having it.  That way I could write a blog about what I wish I could have 400 more of! 

Happy Wednesday, everybody!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Most Important Books in My Life


Recently I was asked to come up with the 5 most important books I’ve ever read.  For someone who enjoys reading as much as I do, this proved to be a challenging task.   Books have always intrigued me and opened my mind and imagination to new worlds and important thoughts.  It would be easy for me to say that the most important book I’ve ever read is the one that I just finished.  Many would expect me to say the Bible, but I have eliminated that as an option since it is so much more than just a text to me.

So, now that I have stalled as long as I can, here are the 5 most important books I have read….or at least this is the list today!

1.     Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.  What child has not enjoyed this classic tale of Wilbur, Charlotte, Templeton, and the other barnyard animals?  I think this work is so special to me because it was the first book I truly remember reading independently.  Additionally, it introduced me to the idea of sacrifice for the sake of a friend.  Just thinking about the story and the beauty expressed in the closing scene gives me a lump in my throat even now!

2.     Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss.  I was introduced to this text as a high school senior at a going away party.  I had been accepted to Pepperdine University – an outstanding school to say the least – but I had my share of doubts about how successful I would be there.  After all, I was just a kid from Arkansas who had not accomplished very much outside of my small community.  A loving friend sat me down and read the book to me, assuring me that I would experience success as long as I applied myself, despite the negative comments that surrounded me at the time.

3.     No Wonder They Call Him the Savior by Max Lucado.  Mr. Harold Redd, my high school Bible teacher at West Memphis Christian School, gave each graduating senior a copy of this wonderful book.  It was the first book I really read that explored concepts of faith and salvation that wasn’t required reading for a course at school or the church.  As I read, I realized that my faith could become my own and that I could freely question all that I believed in order to find answers to all of my questions.  I understood that it was okay to question matters of faith because God was not afraid of our questions.  No Wonder They Call Him the Savior was the first of many Lucado texts I would read over the years.  Max Lucado’s writing has quite possibly had a greater impact upon my personal spiritual walk than any other modern writer.

4.     To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  As I prepared to leave home for the first time and attend Pepperdine, all new students received a letter stating that this novel was required reading for the summer.  I wasn’t certain if it would be a course requirement or would simply be used in orientation, but I took the assignment very seriously.  As I read this classic novel, I quickly identified with Scout and Jem’s southern experience.  Few works have spoken more eloquently about the injustice of prejudice and the reality that prejudice comes in many forms – not just racism.  This book holds the highest place on my list of favorites!  I have returned to this story many times since that first reading in 1990; each time I discover something new from Atticus and the children.

5.     The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.  I don’t know that I can fully explain the impact this novel has had on my life.  It is so much more than a story of a boy and a slave escaping the persecution of the South.  It is a story about the search for self-identity and significance.  Many times in my life, I have felt as though I was Huck Finn, fighting against suppositions made because of my family, church, and societal background.  As I matured, I knew that I was so much more than just the sum of these aspects that I could not alter; I was coming to terms with the fact that I am a talented, intelligent, loyal and devoted man who strives to show justice to all people in all situations.  Huck Finn convinced me that it was possible to make a difference in spite of society’s assumptions about my limited abilities.  I will forever be thankful for the lessons learned aboard the raft floating down the Mississippi with Huck and Tom.

There you have it…my list of the most important books I’ve read.  The exciting thing for me is that the list constantly changes as I encounter new books.  Reading is a personal adventure to me that I never want to bring to an end.  I think it’s time for me to find a cozy chair now and curl up with another good book.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Summer Escape

Last Wednesday saw the ending of two major commitments in my life.  Late Wednesday morning, I turned in grades for my summer class and then headed straight to the church where I taught the final installment of the intergenerational Bible study I have led for the past twelve weeks.  Since the bulk of the responsibility had been lifted from my shoulders for a while, I decided to take a few days and get away for rest, relaxation, and repair.  When I climbed in the car on Thursday morning, I wasn’t certain where I would head; finally I decided to visit Hot Springs, Arkansas.  After driving for a few hours and sitting in some long traffic tie ups, I finally arrived in Hot Springs and immediately thought “What was I thinking?”  The place looked run down and completely uninteresting.  I had heard much about the historic downtown area, so I decided to venture on before bolting for another destination.  As I rolled into the historic district, my mood and attitude shifted and I spent two days checking out the sights, sounds, and tastes of Hot Springs.

The weather was extremely hot and humid as I rolled into town and there was no hope for relief.  That meant that my normal mode of exploring the city and its activities on foot was out of the question.  These excursions are what tend to suck up the majority of my travel budget; since I knew I would spend a large amount of time at my hotel, I decided to splurge for a room at the Arlington Hotel and Spa.  The Arlington was conveniently located at the edge of the historic district and was a beautiful building from a time gone by.  I especially enjoyed the relaxing mineral bath available in my suite; not only were the warm waters from the mountain springs refreshing, the 6-foot tub was a welcome addition. 

Despite the heat, I couldn’t just sit in my room on Thursday afternoon, so I opted to take a leisurely (and sweaty) stroll along the historic avenue.  Known for its numerous antique shops, I found them to contain more trash than treasure.  What I did enjoy the most, however, were the numerous art shops featuring the works of local artists.  One piece in particular caught my eye – an exquisite blue tile butterfly with copper wire detail.  I nearly walked out of the shop with the piece because the price was right and I like to pick up some sort of decoration to remember my trip.  That’s a neat type of “scrapbooking” that was suggested by a friend while visiting Hawaii last spring.  I talked myself out of the butterfly since many of my pieces are piled in corners because I don’t have a place to display my treasures in my parents’ house.  (As luck would have it, I discovered that my folks had spent the weekend FINALLY clearing my Dad’s stuff out of my bedroom and freed up the walls.  Now I have a place to put all of my decorations – which sadly does not include the blue butterfly!  Oh well….no time for regrets…..)

On Friday morning, I decided to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art since I had been so impressed by the art shops the previous afternoon.  I should have known I was in trouble when I walked in and the curator explained that “contemporary” referred to living artists rather than any type of artistic movement.  Despite my instincts, I decided that the $5 admission fee combined with the excessive heat were reason enough to at least give it a try.  What I discovered there was sorely disappointing.  With the exception of two pieces – a sculpture and a photograph – everything was either kitschy or a bad recreation of a famous work.  As a performing artist, it was frustrating to realize that Hot Springs is a tourist destination and that the MOCA would be a representation of the Arkansas art scene for people from around the nation.

After viewing the “art” in the MOCA, I decided to take a short hike through the National Park area back to the hotel so I could observe some of God’s natural art.  The hike was challenging without being overly strenuous.  I think I would have really enjoyed walking the paths through the wooded areas if the heat had not been so oppressive.  If I ever venture back to Hot Springs, I will definitely make it a point to make time to explore these in greater detail in the morning.

No vacation would be complete for me without exploring some of the food the city offers.  On my window-shopping trip on Thursday afternoon, I noticed several interesting restaurants along the street and decided to check one out on Thursday evening:  Belle Arti.  I was disappointed.  The staff was more interested in their group conversation than serving the handful of patrons present and the food was mediocre.  While this was a let-down, I did find some really good food in the city from some unexpected places.  Those who know me best know that I have an insatiable sweet tooth, so it comes as no surprise that I would find The Fudge Factory!  Upon walking in, I knew that this store could be trouble for me personally – over 30 different varieties of fudge in addition to other treats.  I showed some restraint and decided to have a piece of marble fudge; it combined vanilla, chocolate and peanut butter fudge into a single, Heavenly experience.  The serving was ample and reasonably priced.  I was tempted to return before leaving to sample another fudge and bring home some of the sugar-free treats for Dad, but decided against it in the end.

The Pancake Shop sits across the street from the Arlington and serves nothing but breakfast every morning until 11:30am.  As I prepared to leave the hotel, I asked several members of the staff for recommendations and everyone told me I needed to visit this place.  There was nothing extravagant about the d├ęcor and the menu was simple; the food, however, was quite good and explained why The Pancake Shop had been named best breakfast in Hot Springs for several years.  I ordered the small ham and eggs.  I was treated to an ENORMOUS slice of bone-in ham that covered my plate.  Eggs were carefully balanced on the side of the plate and served as a respectful accompaniment to the featured ham.  Served with toast, I was surprised to find that the real star of the meal was the apple-grape jelly and apple butter that was brought out.  AMAZING!!!

While my trip to Hot Springs was not one of my favorites, it was a great time of rest for me.  I had the good fortune to sit quietly in my room and read a biography of Gustav Mahler while I watched people from my 7th floor window.  When it all comes down to it, I suppose that is the true merit of a successful vacation:  getting away from it all to do the things that bring you personal pleasure, relaxation, and enjoyment. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Puzzles

Earlier this week I told you about some of the wooden puzzles that the girls and I had completed.  I failed to get pictures of the ones they had completed, but have gotten so many questions about them that I wanted to post some information here. 

I found the puzzles at Michael's Craft store.  They are made by Creatology and come packaged like this:


I had some free time on Thursday and decided I wanted to do one.....turned out like this:


Great craft for older elementary kids and adults.  I have several more that I plan to complete in the coming months.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Question of Priorities

Tonight, I am posting much later than I had intended.  The to-do list has not seen much marked off.  I just got around to replying to a couple of essential emails;  the others will wait until tomorrow.  I have had a full day, but not one that an outsider would consider incredibly productive. When it comes right down to it, it is simply a matter of priorities.

This week, my nieces are here to visit their grandparents.  While I had planned to get a lot of work done for my piano studio's advertising campaign, I realized that family time was much more important.  Rather than working on flyers, my fingers are stained with dye as we made tie-dye shirts.  (I'll post pictures of the finished products later this week.)  No time to build that new web page;  we built a really neat horse and English telephone booth.  Didn't finalize the outline for tomorrow evening's service.  I had my arms covered in fudge brownies.

Sometimes we simply have to take a step back from the grind and focus our attention on what is most important.  It's not surprising to many of us when we learn that someone is making time for their family.  We'll drop anything to be with them.  Sadly, it seems rarer that we drop things in order to make time for our spiritual growth.  Sure, we go to church each week and sing in the choir.......but are we really making our spiritual walk a priority?  Are we willing to invest significant time into our relationship with God and allow some other "things" to take a back seat for a while?

If I didn't take some time out of my busy schedule today to spend with the girls, I would have sent them a clear message:  "I don't value you as much as these other things."  I am a realist and know that we can't always make time for our family to the exclusion of other responsibilities.  The girls understand that sometimes there are things I simply have to do.  If I consistently push them aside, though, the results will be damaging to our relationship.  Do we expect anything less in our relationship with Christ?  Am I really making Him a priority if the only time I carve out for Him is a few hours on Sunday and Wednesday?  I think Jesus summed up this principle best when He said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  (Matthew 6:21, NIV)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Surprises

Into every life there must come a few surprises.  When we least expect them, we are shocked by their appearance.  Some are welcome interruptions; others are best described as annoyances.  It seems I have had more than my fair share of surprises recently.

I cannot tell you how surprised I was to trip over my own two feet during Music Camp (thankfully no one was around).  In my attempt to catch myself, I landed awkwardly on my left hand.  At first I didn't notice any problems, but they showed up the next day as I began to practice.  A quick trip to the doctor revealed that nothing was broken, but I would need to take a few weeks off from serious practicing.  That diagnosis led to another unwelcome surprise -- I wouldn't be playing for the musical I had been contracted for due to the injury.  I had already made plans for the cash and was disappointed to see it go away.  While I was depressed about the lost gig, I got the pleasant surprise of receiving an unexpected check.  The gift allowed me to complete the plans I had made. 

Surprises can also come from the reactions of other people.  A word of encouragement coming from someone you never imagined would notice your labor is an amazing surprise.  Conversely, learning that someone has been upset by something said in a passing moment of mutual jocularity is not such a pleasant surprise. 

Sometimes surprises lead to unexpected opportunities.  You didn't plan for things, but you get to revel in the outcome.  Other times a change of plans is an unwelcome surprise, especially when the change is beyond your control.  There is nothing you can do to rectify the situation, so you simply have to sit back, watch, wait, and hope that the situation works out for the best.

A person's current view of surprises is often colored by their most recent experience with surprises.  Whether the last one was good or bad, the truth of the matter is that surprises are the things that keep life interesting.....the things that make life worth living!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Starting Well

So many things in life turn out so much better when you get a good start.  Want to really enjoy a new job?  Do everything you can to have a great first day.  Hope to start a new business endeavor?  Work hard to secure your first client.  Want your novel to hold the reader's attention until the very last word? Grab them with a great opening.

When I think back over some of my favorite reads of all time, I recall how I enjoyed the opening lines.  Consider these opening lines from great novels:  "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  (A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens)  Who can forget reading "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow...." in Harper Lee's perfectly structured To Kill a Mockingbird?  When an opening line grabs me, I know that I am in for a real treat.

I love to read.  I don't always have as much time for reading as I would like, but it definitely brings me a lot of pleasure.  So I was especially excited earlier this week when I read this opening line:  "One sunny, crisp Saturday in September when I was seven years old, I watched my father drop dead."  That was the beginning of a wonderful journey into the world of Jodi Picoult's latest novel, Sing You Home.  I won't give away too much of the plot in case some of you decide to read it, but I will say that Sing You Home reminded me again of why Picoult is my favorite contemporary author.  Consistently, Picoult grapples with moral issues of modern society and forces the reader to realize that these are not simply as clear as the black-and-white images we imagine.  Once real people with real emotions enter the story, issues become tinted with shades of gray.

Sing You Home was a difficult novel for this conservative Christian man to read.  The story centers around a couple who have experienced difficulty conceiving and have sought medical aid through in vitro procedures.  Due to the strain of several failed pregnancies, the couple splits in divorce.  In a shocking turn of events, one of the would-be parents begins to explore a homosexual relationship while the other experiences a salvation experience.  The differing moral stances come to total conflict when the couple realizes that frozen embryos remain and that these "pre-born children's" fates were not determined in the original divorce agreement.  Picoult's novel sets forth both sides of the argument with careful attention and respect while creating characters that the reader comes to empathize with regardless of moral differences.

At times difficult to read and at times hard to put down, I wouldn't trade the experience of reading Sing You Home for anything.  I have been challenged by what I read and hope that I am a better person because of it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Youversion.com

On this Independence Day, I am thinking about how thankful I am for the rights afforded me as an American citizen.  One of the rights that is truly important to me is the freedom of religion - to worship my God in the way I see fit.

Having been raised in a Christian home, it has been a continuous goal of mine to read the Bible in its entirety.  I must admit - sadly - that this has never been a strength for me.  I know the Bible stories and have memorized many passages of Scripture, but I have never been able to stick with a program to cover the entire Bible in a given period of time. Normally, I would push through about 3 months and then LIFE would happen and I would give up.

Many of my friends were participating in B90x, a Bible reading plan that takes its name from the fitness phenomenon P90x.  B90x is a 90 day intense plan that results in reading the entire Bible.  3 short months!  Now THAT I can handle.  Of course, as things would happen it, the inspiration to start the program came in the middle of the busiest time of my life:  MUSIC CAMP!  I tried to talk myself into delaying the start, but I knew I needed to get going, so I began to look for the plan online and stumbled across a great website in the process that has helped me be successful for 20 of the 90 days so far.  Since I'm hooked on this website, I wanted to share it with you.

The website is http://www.youversion.com/.  Youversion is similar to many of the other Bible text websites, but also has some interesting differences I enjoy.  Firstly, youversion has you create a login identity so you can keep track of what you have read and store notes online (both public and private).  Secondly, many reading plans are housed on the site - including the B90x - and the program keeps track of your progress.  When you find yourself falling behind - and it happens to all of us if we're honest - there is a neat "catch me up" button that will reconfigure your reading plan so you can still meet your goal.  Lastly, since the reading plans on youversion are web-based, you can access your Bible reading from any computer with Internet access.  Throw in the free app for smart phones and you have total convenience.  There's no excuse to not stay on target with my assigned reading each day.

The website won me over.  The Bible reading is an eye-opener and a challenge.  I must admit that it is demanding; the B90x plan requires that you read 12 pages of Scripture each day.  That generally equals 14-16 chapters.  Fortunately, I was given advice early on to not think of this as in-depth study.  Rather, I am simply reading the Word with an eye on the big picture.  Thankfully, the Spirit of God is speaking truth deep into my heart even at this fast-paced, overview approach. 

Is youversion for everyone?  Definitely not.  But if you have ever found yourself challenged with finding time to read the Bible like I have, this may be just the solution you have been looking for.  Whenever I have a spare moment throughout the day, I simply log in by computer or iPhone and do a little reading.  Before I know it, I've completed the day's reading and find my mind returning to it throughout the day.  Whether you opt to join me on the B90x journey, to use another Bible reading plan on the site, or to simply use the website and apps for your personal reading, I think that youversion.com is a valuable resource to a tech-savy generation.

Monday, June 13, 2011

My Chains are Gone

Yesterday, I played a new arrangement of Chris Tomlin's song Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) and have received several favorable comments. In the heart of every individual is the desire to experience total freedom.....physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I was thinking about the implications of freedom in Christ today when I received my sister's weekly email devotion, "Ramblings." She spoke eloquently about freedom and her personal testimony. I am reposting her email here in its entirety.



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RATTLE... RATTLE... CLANK.... CLANK....CLANK... that is the sound of a chain dragging behind you as you walk. I have never been “in chains” in the natural. I do not know what it is like to have a huge black metal chain clamped around my arms or my ankles. I cannot begin to imagine the heaviness of the chain or the sheer irritation of having to wear a chain.

Until 1955, the United States had "chain gangs” in our prison systems. A chain gang was a group of prisoners chained together to perform menial or physically challenging work. The use of chains could be hazardous, causing the prisoners to stumble or fall. Falls could imperil several individuals at once. Some of the chains used in the system weighed twenty pounds or more. Some prisoners suffered from shackle sores — ulcers where the iron ground against their skin. Gangrene and other infections were serious risks.

To be bound in natural chains must be terrible, but what about being bound by spiritual chains? I have been bound by spiritual chains and it is a terrible feeling. A spiritual chain is anything that binds us or holds us back from being all that God desires us to be. These chains can be the old rusty “stand-bys” of bitterness, hate, unforgiveness, or fear. They can also be the shiny new-fangled ones of complacency, violence, or kingdom blindness. All are spiritual chains that need -- no, rephrase that -- that MUST be broken in order for us to grow to our full potential in Christ.

There is only one way for a spiritual chain to be removed. Chris Tomlin said in “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)"

My chains are gone, I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace.

What a difference it makes in people when they believe that Jesus TRULY is the Son of God and not just the product of the human imagination. When we fully understand that He is the only one that can deliver us from the chains that are binding us, then and only then will we be set free. Many on the chain gangs tried to set themselves free and as a result were killed; too many Christians have been killed spiritually by trying to set themselves free as well from the chains that enslave them. You cannot pick the chain; you cannot lose enough of yourself to wiggle your way out of the chain. It takes the blood and the power of Jesus to set you free.

I can truly say “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free!” For the longest time, I had walked in chains of trying to please everyone -- trying to be what everyone else wanted me to be. I was trying to live like THEY wanted me to live, chained by other people's thoughts and beliefs. A few weeks ago, I was set free from those chains! Jesus visited me and I allowed Him to set me free from the chains of what everyone else wanted and expected. I have been set free, ransomed by His unending love and His amazing grace.

My friends, I encourage you to go again to the cross of Calvary and see and feel the power of the blood, believe the Word, and feel the blessing of awe and wonder which breaks into our individual lives. Then you can truly live and walk in the freedom that Christ has to offer you. Your chains can be broken. Whether your chains are self-inflicted or you are a prisoner on a chain gang, the Master Guard, Jesus Christ, has the key and is willing to set you free. You, too, can break out into the song with those who have experienced His deliverance!

My chains are gone, I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace.

Free at last, thank God Almighty I am free at last. . .and it feels GREAT!!!!!

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My prayer for each of you today is the same as the hope my sister expressed above. May you know true freedom in Christ -- free from the chains of doubt, abuse, and sin that have bound you for far too long. I look forward to hearing that this song has also become your anthem.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Wishing and Hoping

I have begun to experience some problems with my laptop.  It doesn't appear to be anything too serious...probably an issue with the screen itself......so my files aren't in any great immediate danger.  The machine has been quite good to me and has seen me through a dissertation and tons of various documents and presentations.  I like it a lot, but don't want to invest TOO much money into repairs since I have contemplated buying a new machine anyway.

For years, I have heard everyone singing the praises of the MAC and now I'm becoming more and more interested.  My primary interest lies in the number of music programs that are compatible with the machine and the great reviews other professional musicians give them.  In an ideal world, I want a desktop machine to handle the big projects and a laptop for portability and presentations.  The two would have to be compatible, but I don't foresee making an immediate shift to all things Apple immediately.

I would love to hear from all my friends in cyberspace -- especially those of you in the arts -- and get your reviews of MAC and its usefulness and the difficulties you have encountered.  Let the comments begin!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Under the Weather

I have spent much of the morning apologizing to people I have encountered.  "I'm sorry that I'm not my usual self today."  "Could you say that again?  I didn't quite hear you."  "Would you mind if we lowered the blinds?  I'm a little sensitive to light today for some reason."  After several hours of this, I finally admitted to myself that I was not feeling well -- you could say I'm a little under the weather -- and made the dreaded trip to the doctor.  My regular physician was out of town on a business trip (a miracle in itself given the horrific attack upon Dr. Trent Pierce in West Memphis, Arkansas a few years ago), but his colleague was able to work me in.  Thankfully I'm not terribly sick, but I do have the beginning of an upper respiratory infection.  Medications have been prescribed and I should be back to normal in a few days.

Situations come in our lives that make us feel BLAH!  An unkind word, a missed opportunity, the betrayal of a friend, or a personal pity party can be the culprit.  Days like that happen in all of our lives just as our bodies will inevitably become sick from time to time.  Despite the vitamins we have taken and the rest we have gotten, viruses creep into our bodies.  Attacks come against our spiritual man as well even when we have spent time in the Word of God and in prayer.  On those BLAH days, my response and mindset is most important.

Physically, it would be very easy for me to crawl in bed, pull the covers over my head and wait for the sickness to explode on the scene.  That's not a solution for me;  I've done that too many times and know what happens.....I REALLY get sick!  Instead, I choose to maintain a level of activity while insuring that I am getting the nourishment, vitamins, and rest that my body needs.  In other words, I'm not going at a crazy pace, but I'm not sitting down and stopping either.

The same thing is true of our spiritual man.  When I find myself having a blue day, I may slow my pace a bit, but I cannot stop.  Rather, I must recognize that the spiritual disciplines of reading the Word, prayer, meditation and worship (the things that my emotions would first want me to give up) are the very things that I need to maintain in order to renew my strength and my health.  It's by continuing that my soul receives the tools it needs to fight.

Yes, we will all be under the weather from time to time.  The question is how long we are going to continue to feel that way.  I choose to make a trip to see the Great Physician and allow Him to prescribe exactly what I need in order to be totally restored to the person He intends me to be.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Doors and Windows

It is commonly said, "When God closes a door, He opens a window."  I'm not sure if my personal windows are open yet or not, but I experienced this earlier today.  I received some disappointing news -- it wasn't a total shock, but still disappointing -- and was beginning to feel a little down.  Within 2 hours, I received a phone call that held some encouraging news as well. 

I'm thankful that even when I'm not sure exactly what the plan is, I can trust that my Heavenly Father loves me and promises to work all things out for my good.  Tonight, I'm claiming the promise of Psalm 3:  "You, O Lord, are a shield for me.  My glory and the One who lifts up my head....I lay down and slept; I awoke for the Lord sustained me.  I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about."  My trust and my hope is in the Lord!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Offended....Without Reason!

When was the last time that you were truly upset with someone?  For whatever reason, they had hurt your feelings and you were deeply offended.  Now, when was the last time you had became offended without anyone saying a word?  Sadly, I must admit that the latter statement would be a fairly accurate depiction of much of my day today.

I had a day off from teaching, so I decided to hang around the house and get some things done so I could have some free time tomorrow.  Of course, I wanted free time today too and became upset with other people.  If THEY would bother to do some more of this stuff, I wouldn't have to work so hard.  I decided I was going to show THEM and just take a break.  So I headed to the donut shop -- a sure fix for whatever ails you -- and became irritated with the people gathered there.  What were they doing?  They were laughing and talking FAR TOO LOUDLY!  How dare they enjoy the donut shop?  I was there to get a box of donuts and did not want to be disturbed!

Once I finally get home, I begin to think about people who haven't said anything to me in months -- in some cases, years -- and how completely rude they were in their THOUGHTS of what I should or should not do.  Finally, a light bulb went off in my brain and I realized how utterly STUPID I was being about all of this.  No one had done anything wrong to me today.  I went to a favorite chair alone and, after repenting for my bad attitude today, began to ponder what had brought on this horrible scenario.  I finally came to a conclusion that I would like to share with you.

First things first -- offenses will happen!  Having your feelings hurt is just part of life and will happen to all of us.  While I can't control that, I CAN control my response to the hurt.  There was something else at play today, though.  I was upset with people who were not present and who had done nothing to me.  This is not the first time this has happened, so I began to think back to the other times as well and discovered a common denominator -- tiredness.  When I get extremely tired, my tolerance for other people is very low and it is easy for me to have my feelings hurt.  This reminded me of a principle I have struggled with all my life: the principle of Sabbath.

In the book of Exodus, God set up the Sabbath as a day of rest and worship for His people.  God recognizes the importance of rest in the lives of His creation.  Why do you think God rested on the seventh day of creation?  He was modeling for us the importance of resting from our labor.  Intellectually, I know this. The problem is in the application.

Because of my chosen profession, I have constantly fought an internal battle about appearing busy.  I have been told by various people throughout my life that I don't get a "real" job because I'm lazy and want to have an easy life.  These individuals know very little about what I actually do as a musician and have no concept of the hours of work -- physically, emotionally, and mentally -- that are required at this level of my profession.  In an effort to make sure everyone realizes how hard I work, I work myself past the point of productivity.  Often, I will go for months at a time without truly taking a day of rest from my work.  Normally, the only way I am able to make myself rest is by leaving town.  It's not because my employers don't allow me to have days off;  it's because I don't allow myself the luxury of a day of rest.

So what am I going to do with this new insight I have gained today?  I'm going to strive to take days of rest away from the stresses of work, music, and relationships.  I love what I do and the people I know, but I need to have time for me to maintain a healthy balance.  Because of the many part-time jobs I hold, my day of rest may be more irregular than others.  People may think that I am being lazy.  While that is tough for me to deal with, I know the work that I am doing and how my body is responding at that moment.  So, no more worries about what other people think.......I'm taking the day off.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lazy Days of Summer

It's the beginning of June and I'm looking forward to having some relaxing times this summer.  I'm just wondering when it will actually begin?  Most mornings are spent in the Learning Success Center tutoring students, although there seems to be very few students enrolled this semester.  Since I'm not doing a lot of editing of papers at this point, I have the luxury of writing a short blog entry!  Immediately after my tutoring hours, I will head to the classroom to teach 8 students the joy of classical music. 

I guess I'm just wondering where the lazy days of summer went and hoping I can get them back.  Remember sitting around the house as a child, planning your activities for the day?  When the decision was between a long nap, a quiet bike ride, or a good book under a favorite shade tree, life seemed much simpler and relaxing.  I suppose that is part of childhood that is lost as we mature and begin to take on increased responsibilities.  I don't want to return to childhood entirely, but a day or two here and there without the commitments would be a welcome change.

I'm planning to incorporate a few lazy days into my life in the upcoming summer months.  A day trip to an area park and a visit to the zoo are on my agenda for sure.  What activities do you recommend when you have a free day and are looking for some relaxing fun?

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Unofficial Start of Summer is Here!

Hope you have all had a great Memorial Day with family and friends.  If you're like me at all, you have had too much to eat, laughed a bit too loudly, and began making plans for the summer ahead.  What kind of relaxing plans are you making?

I love to travel, but with gas prices right now being so high, I don't foresee being able to hit the road as often as I have in years past.  That just means I will have to travel in a different way -- through reading.  Summer is always a welcome respite from my sometimes crazy life when I can find a little more time to read books simply for the fun of it.  This year, it seems as though the insanity is going to be around a little longer than normal.  I am having to think of new ways to get in all the books I want to read this summer.

That's where audio books come in.  I know, I know -- those are the books that grandparents "read" as they fall asleep in their rocking chair in the retirement home.  Of course there is another commonly held description for these recordings as well -- BORING!  I have held these same views for some time as well, but when I finally gave recorded books a try, I was pleasantly surprised. 

During my recent travels to Oklahoma, I decided to take in a couple of books to help the time pass a little more swiftly.  Over the course of the 10 hour journey, I completed two novels and walked away thoroughly entertained.  When I began to think of the amount of time I spend in my car already, I realized that I wasn't using that time as wisely as possible.  Rather than listening to talk radio incessantly, I have decided to catch up on some reading while driving by using audio books.

What am I listening to?  Nothing too heavy or that requires too much brain power from me.  When I read books of that nature, I generally like to have a pen in hand with minimal distractions.  What I'm "reading" in the car is what would typically be classified as "beach reads."  Where do I find the CDs?  Many libraries have wonderful selections of audio books that are relatively inexpensive to their patrons.  My local library does not have such offerings, so I am relying on Cracker Barrel.  It's a bit expensive for the first book since you basically purchase the CD set, but becomes more cost effective as you continue.  You are charged a weekly fee for the CDs; the rest of your deposit is returned when you return the recordings or can be applied to your next book rental.  Be prepared.....many of the Cracker Barrel employees rarely rent the audio books to patrons, so you can expect the transaction to be a little more time consuming than normal as they will probably need to ask for a manager. 

Enjoy the beginning of your summer!  I'm off to do a little reading now.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Worth All the Effort

This summer, the church that I work for has decided to conduct multi-generational Bible studies for our mid-week time together.  Initially, it doesn't sound like too big of a deal.  When you begin to look at the students though, the difficulty of trying to speak into the lives of children, teens, and senior adults at the same time can be a bit overwhelming.  Sadly I have found no effective curriculum that addresses this perplexing problem.  Our solution for the summer is to take a solid curriculum for children and figure out ways to involve the older groups.  So far, I think the effort has been fairly successful and a lot of fun for kids, teens, and adults alike.  (Now I'll put in a short commercial.....if you attend AGM and haven't checked out this summer's WOW series, I think you'll find that it's not Bible study as usual and definitely enjoyable.  You'll even learn something you didn't know before!)

Despite the success, it is easy to become tired and weary when preparing the lessons from scratch.  I missed last week's WOW session due to family vacation and had gotten out of the routine of gearing up for the session.  With trips to Texas and Oklahoma in the past 1 1/2 weeks, I had not found adequate time to prepare as thoroughly as I would have liked for last night's lesson.  Add in the fact that I was already nervous about the potential for severe weather in the area and you can imagine that my mind was torn in a million different directions.  I was ready to throw in the towel and simply go home.

Before last night's session, I was greeted at the door by one of my students -- who just happens to be my youngest niece -- with a huge hug and a broad smile.  I was expecting to be buttered up for some favor honestly.  The reality was much different;  she told me how happy she was that I was back to lead the WOW session and that she was ready to learn!  Did she proclaim that I was the most incredible teacher in the world?  Not at all!  Was she suggesting that I was the only one who could do this?  Nope....she has sat under several gifted teachers in our congregation.  What she was saying loud and clear was that our efforts and labor were making a difference in her life.  Talk about an encouragement!  I found a new energy and excitement for the evening.  I quickly found a quiet place to thank God for the renewal that was delivered from the mouth of a child and asked for His anointing and guidance in the study.  In the end, I was thrilled with the way the lesson turned out and believe that people heard the Word of God in a clear way that can be applied to their lives.

I am blessed to be in a church that constantly provides affirmation to me in all areas of ministry.  For that I am thankful.  Now I'm looking around me to see who I can affirm in the days ahead so they will know as well that their hard work is making a difference in my life.  It is my prayer that it will come just at the right time to give them a needed boost of encouragement.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Anticipation

The hope for new tomorrows -- both good and bad days -- is what keeps life exciting.  Today, I have been looking forward to the next few weeks with anticipation.  Do I know what is coming?  Not entirely, but I do know what's on the calendar and I am definitely starting to get excited.

Next week will see the beginning of the summer session of classes.  I always enjoy getting to start a new class and am excited about some changes I am making this summer to my class.  As though that weren't enough, I'm also in crunch time preparing for this year's Music Camp at Abundant Grace.  This year's musical for students in grades K-6 is Acorns to Oaks.  I've had this musical on my list for several years as one that I want to do;  this year, I'll finally get the chance to bring this powerful message to the stage with the kids of AGM.

There are some things coming up much sooner that demand my immediate attention.  Tomorrow evening will be the fourth session of the multi-generational Bible study I'm leading.  We'll continue our journey through Joshua and focus on the battle of Jericho.  Surprisingly, I've had a lot of difficulty preparing this session.  I think the problem has been our familiarity with the story as well as all my recent travels.  I've got a lot of work to do -- and a lot of praying -- to hopefully come up with something exciting and moving for those who will be there.

Once again, the Mid-South is bracing for another round of severe weather tomorrow.  With the storms that have plagued Joplin, Missouri and Oklahoma City this week, we are certainly not enjoying the anticipation of damaging storms, but it is a reality that we deal with in the nation's midsection.

Both the good things and the things that are making me a bit anxious are reminders of how much fun life is.  If everything was predictable, I would become bored.  I thrive on rolling with the punches that come and striving to be the best I can be in all circumstances.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Portion of Route 66!

In 1994, I was first introduced to the vocal arrangement of Route 66 by the Manhattan Transfer and fell in love with the song all over again.  I suppose part of my connection to the song was due to the fact that the historic route paralleled my annual journey to and from college. 

Today I found myself traveling those familiar roads once again as I made a last minute trip to Oklahoma City.  All alone in a car, I thoroughly enjoyed the time to meditate, pray, sing, and listen to a book on CD.  Mostly, I found myself remembering lots of great friends and laughter that accompanied me along Route 66 over the years.  A wonderful roommate who helped me drive a junk pile cross country....and didn't complain TOO much when the engine overheated in the New Mexico desert.  A fraternity brother who accompanied me on an insane round-the-clock drive to OKC (and me into Memphis alone) to surprise our families during the Thanksgiving holidays.  A funny red-head that kept me in stitches when it finally came time to leave the security of southern California and face the difficulties of graduate school. 

With such wonderful memories, why would I ever want to leave the splendor of Route 66? Here's a great video of the song that holds a special place in my heart for many reasons.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

On the Run

It's been a busy week!  Who am I kidding.....my life has been extremely busy for the past few months, but I don't want to dwell in the past.  Just got home from Texas a few hours ago.  My parents and I visiting family in Conroe, Texas was the "official" reason for the trip;  my second performance with the Collage ensemble was an excellent side benefit.

Collage is an ensemble spear-headed by Jere Douglas, an exceptional clarinetist in Houston.  Jere and I met last year during the inaugural performance in the series.  Since we enjoyed working together, we opted to present another recital this summer.....and that was just performed last night to rave reviews from our audience.  The program featured sonatas by Poulenc and Saint-Saens in addition to works by Schubert, Schumann, Vaughn Williams, Finzi, and Barber.  Discussions are already under way for another recital in the Houston area with repertoire by Barber and Beethoven.  (Could it be an all "B" night?  Who knows?)

Since I knew I would be in rehearsals with Jere daily while in the Houston area, I persuaded by parents to travel by plane this year instead of driving to our destination.  The roadtrip is roughly an 11-hour adventure that ends in total exhaustion.  My mother was the one I really had to convince since she has never been a fan of air travel.  As we drove home today from the airport, I asked if she would consider flying again.  You can't imagine how elated I was when I heard her reply of "YES!"  (As a side note, Mom had already begun investigating other locales serviced by Southwest Airlines.  The one that has her most excited?  VEGAS, BABY!)

Summer school starts in a week, so I need to finalize my syllabus this week.  However, I learned on Wednesday afternoon that I am needed in Oklahoma City for an audition on Monday morning.  I'll provide more details about this later -- right now, I want to keep things under wraps.  Sadly, there are no economical airfares that fit my schedule tomorrow, so I'll set out on Interstate 40 tomorrow afternoon immediately after the morning services at Abundant Grace Ministries in Collierville, Tennessee.  It's been several years since I've made a major road trip and I am surprisingly looking forward to the journey, yet dreading it all at the same time.  Oh well......at least I'll have some new stories from the road!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Review: "The Chasm" by Randy Alcorn

The small book has been sitting on my desk for a while, but I have failed to pick it up.  In the midst of a rather hectic week -- filled with Holy Week activities and work responsibilities -- I finally decided to pick up Randy Alcorn's The Chasm to have a time of leisure reading in the evenings.  It would have been impossible to find a better work to read while celebrating our Saviour's passion.  I have been tremendously blessed by the book and will definitely return to it again in the near future!

The Chasm is reminiscent of Pilgrim's Progress in my mind.  As the reader follows traveler along the Red Road, we become aware of the impact sins -- both public and private -- have had upon his life as well as others in his world.  Spiritual warfare and deception are shown with such powerful language that the reader quickly begins to think of the presence of such activity over his head at that very moment. 

As the work progresses, our sinfulness is clearly blamed for the divide between man and God.  In one of the most beautifully conceived allegories I have ever read, Alcorn examines our role in the suffering of the crucified Christ and the incredible love and provision demonstrated by Jesus' willing sacrifice at the cross.  Although I quickly became aware of the direction the story would move, I found myself engrossed in the details and crying because of the undeserved suffering of my Saviour for me.

I finished the book last night and have already passed it on to a friend.  My hope is to see a class developed in my local congregation using The Chasm as a jumping off point.  Of all the books I have read so far this year, this work has made the greatest impact upon me.  I pray that the story will not soon be forgotten as I continue my personal journey along the Red Road.

*I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Knowing When It's Time to Make a Change

On Sunday evening, I watched "Masterclass" on Oprah's OWN network.  I rarely watch Oprah and will mark Sunday's late night viewing to insomnia, but I must admit that many of the things Oprah shared in her personal story sparked my thoughts and have stayed with me throughout the week.  The most powerful of these concepts has been the fact that she always knew when it was time to make a change.  I'm finding myself in the same boat.

In Oprah's story, she said that she consistently knew it was time to make a change when she found that her current situation no longer challenged her and she saw no room for further growth.  That is such a powerful statement to me!  Why would anyone ever choose to remain in a stagnet situation and cease to grow?  Personally, I love learning too much to stay put if I am not finding new challenges.  However, the challenges cannot simply be presented in an effort to keep me content in the situation;  the challenges must help me reach my ultimate goal.

It's no secret that I am ready for change.  I long for the day that I am able to stand on my own feet financially and pursue new challenges without the stress of balancing so many diverse jobs.  Still, I don't want to run into a new situation just to escape my present frustration.  This was probably the greatest revelation I came to on Sunday night.

As Oprah shared her story, she said that it was not until she was willing to surrender her plans to a Higher Power that opportunities began to come her way.  As I thought and prayed about this statement, I found myself surrendering my will and timetable to my Heavenly Father.  I know that His purpose is to give me hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11), so I am choosing to relax and trust Him.  In His time, for His glory....

Friday, April 1, 2011

Looking for an Outlet

Last night, I got to sit around and just have a quiet conversation for the first time in a very long time.  It was quite overdue.  The conversation began with the typical discussion of my involvement in music and church.  Following a mild lull, I was asked what else I enjoyed doing.  When I had to pause and admit that I couldn't come up with much else I felt rather disturbed.  Is my life truly consumed with only my work and nothing else?  What do I do in order to find relaxation?

When pressed, I can come up with standard answers -- I read, watch television and go to the movies when I have a chance -- but the truth is that they don't really relax me.  Generally my reading is in preparation for a lecture or performance.  I rarely have the opportunity to take 3 hours away to go to a movie theater and I watch television when I'm crawling in bed late at night.  Don't misunderstand -- I love the fact that I am busy in my career and love the multi-faceted aspects of my musical life -- but I also know that I have to have some down time to renew myself.

So today, I finished up my last rehearsal of the week and set out for an evening of relaxation.  Rather than stressing out over trying to come up with a plan, I went with the tried and true technique of going to the Paradiso and saw "Lincoln Lawyer."  The movie was not what I was anticipating it would be from the trailers, but I really had a fun time with it.  Then I went to have dinner at Ciao Bella.  The chicken piccata was perfect -- light and savory.  Now I'm sitting at home and have put all the papers, application packets, and practicing aside for the night and plan to just catch my breath. 

What do you do when you need to recharge from a busy time?  What's your favorite outlet to plug into?  Share your tips......I may just steal a few of them and give them a try myself.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Return to {Relative} Normalcy

It feels as though it has been an eternity since I have been able to post anything here.  After a long departure, it's good to be back.  Why so little writing, you ask?  There have simply not been enough hours in the day for the past month.  I found myself burning the proverbial candle at both ends.....and was frantically looking for a third wick extending from the middle to keep everything afloat.

This weekend saw the closing of Germantown High School's production of The Secret Garden.  The experience was wonderful.  The colleagues I met will be invaluable.  The creative process was incredibly rewarding.  The physical demands combined with the normal strains of my life were exhausting.  I'm looking forward to some much needed recuperation in the coming weeks.

Ideally, I want to take it easy this week and let me body and mind recover.  The reality of the situation is that I have put other things on the back burner to survive the rehearsal schedule of The Secret Garden that I have to get back to those tasks in order to keep them from becoming overly urgent sources of stress.  But, for a few days at least, I'm going to be productive and accomplish a few tasks at a much more leisurely pace than I have been moving recently.

On Friday, Spring Break begins here at the college.  I'm leaving my last class and heading to the airport for a brief trip to Los Angeles.  Why am I going?  Officially, I'm meeting with a performer to discuss a possible engagement later in the fall.  Truthfully, that could have been done over the phone.  I need to get away, enjoy the beauty of a place I dearly love and visit with some friends that I miss tremendously and have been neglecting for the past few months.  I'm also looking forward to participating in an annual tradition at my Alma Mater.  I'll only be away for 5 days, but I am looking forward to it more than you can imagine.

And just like that.....I'm back in the mode of writing. Can you believe I was worried that I would have anything to say to you today?  I suppose it really is like riding a bike......