Monday, December 31, 2012

Priority Check!

It's hard to believe that another year has come to an end. If you are like me, you've probably spent some time reflecting on 2012 and its successes and failures. Like wide-eyed children, we look forward to 2013. It is a blank slate; the coming year is filled with hope and possibility! I suppose that is why many people make New Year's Resolutions.

For most of my life, I never participated in this cultural ritual. Honestly, I didn't want to make a pledge at the beginning of the year that I was certain I would never be able to obtain. Several years ago, a friend suggested that my approach to resolutions was all wrong. Rather than seeing them as promises to myself that I would certainly break, he told me to look at them more as annual goals. What would I like to see myself accomplish in the coming year? Since they are targets, any movement towards achieving them is a step in the right direction. Even if I lose my way in March or April, a quick review of my resolutions in this new mindset gets me back on the path toward my goal.

For me, the resolutions that I make are a reflection of the things that are most important to me....those things that currently hold the top place for me as well as I what I aim to make a priority in the coming year. A helpful tool in determining your current priorities is by considering what you have said "yes" to this year. Regularly submitting job applications means that making a career change is a high priority for you. Agreeing to babysit your grandchildren as often as possible shows that building a relationship with the youngest members of your family is high on your list.

It is not only important to look at the "yes" answers in your life. Examining what you have said "no" to can be just as insightful. I may say that becoming a better musician is very important to me, but if I regularly neglect practicing my instrument then my words are simply hot air. All the good intentions in the world to lose weight are worthless without making changes to my diet and exercise routine. No matter how much I may WANT these things to be priorities, my actions define what I truly value.

Dare I say it? Does this same concept apply to our spiritual lives as well? As a Christian, I say that I want to be a servant who shows the love of Christ to others in both word and deed. Do my actions support the words claiming this is a top priority? Thankfully, only two beings truly know the answer to that question:  God and me. No one else is able to judge the condition of my heart. However, Paul does invite us to "examine ourselves" on a regular basis. Now it's time to be honest with myself and take a hard look at my actions.

Each of us know the areas that are most difficult for you. See if any of these scenarios sound familiar? They may bring to mind some other items you need to consider.

  • I say that I love God and want to worship Him with all that I have. Do I allow any excuse that presents itself to keep me away though? I'm too tired.....it's so far out of the way.....the children......the parents......I'm just not interested.  
  • I don't study the Word because I don't understand.....I'll just wait and let the teacher explain it.  After all, God understands! 
  • I don't talk to my colleagues about God because I don't want to offend them...after all, I can't push them away since I have to work with them.  
  • Don't ask me to work with senior adults (insert "children or teens or adults" at will) because they annoy me. I don't have to like everybody, I just have to be kind to them. [Does that really sound like a CHRISTian response to you?]


Before anyone gets offended and thinks that I am speaking directly to them or their situation, please know that this mirror is pointing back directly at me. Are my words that describe my "priorities" matched and supported by my actions? If not, I'm not fooling God. If we're honest with ourselves, we're probably not being fooled either. Time for a priority check! I want to make sure that everything is in its proper order as I enter the New Year.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Hidden Treasures

My mother's kitchen has always been a place of laughter and joy. It is also a place of learning. On Christmas Eve, Mom and I were doing quite a bit of baking together. Two important ingredients throughout the day were sugar and flour. The sugar is stored in a plastic canister that lives on the top shelf of the cabinet. Flour, on the other hand, is found in various sacks piled on top of a potato bin that sits near the entry to the room. (Lest you get the wrong impression, the potato bin is full.....of pots and pans!  The potatoes are kept in their plastic bag next to the cabinet that stores the sugar.)

While grabbing the sugar, I spied a companion canister and asked Mom why she didn't keep her flour in it so she could clear up some of the clutter in the kitchen. Her response was not what I expected at all. I thought it was because she needed to distinguish between self-rising flour and all-purpose. Her reason was that the canister was probably dirty! Such a simple solution, I thought.  I immediately went to my room to grab the labeling machine so we could establish which flour was in the container. Mom was further surprised when she opened the container and found that the ENTIRE SET (minus the one she was using for the sugar) was inside!

I was a good son (in that moment, at least) and didn't comment on the situation. Inside, however, I was wondering how long the canisters had been hidden away and not doing what they were designed to do. To me, that was such a tragedy.....and explained so much. Mom comments regularly on how little room she has in the kitchen and how she hates that everything is piled around. All the while, she has at least two sets of canisters that are normally empty and not doing their job. (Earlier this year, I did convince her to stash the coffee K-cups in one of the larger containers. I'll take one small victory at a time.)

Since that day of holiday baking, I have found myself returning to those empty canisters. I find myself wondering if there are canisters in my own life that I have not unpacked. Are their skills, dreams, and abilities that I am allowing to waste away in disuse? Have I forgotten that they are there or am I neglecting them because I fear the implications that unpacking them would bring? You see, if Mom were to begin to use all of her canisters as they are intended, it would require some cleaning and changing to occur. She would have to create a new arrangement for things in the kitchen. Some things may have to be combined while other things may need to be tossed out.

The same can be said of my life. Once I begin to unpack the forgotten "canisters", it will require cleaning up the disorganization and admitting to myself, others, and my God that I didn't really have it all together. While the process can be painful, frustrating, and embarrassing, the final result enables me to be more productive and successful while bringing honor to the Kingdom. Lord, remind me of the treasures you have given me that I have packed away and allowed to lie dormant in my heart. Give me the courage to unpack them today and allow them to be put to use in the coming year.

Mom's plastic canister set is still packaged up and holds a quiet place on the back shelf of the cabinet. I'll just quietly keep my eyes open to see when they will be freed up to do what they were meant to do and see the impact it will make.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Disappointment

The last week in December is naturally a time to reflect on the year that is coming to a close. We like to recall the successes we have experienced. We revel in the joy and laughter. Sadly, we must also face our disappointments.

Disappointment is certain to come into every life. The reasons can be numerous. I have experienced disappointment this year because of my own personal failures. Goals I set for myself were unmet. Positive changes I hoped to make were left behind on the planning table. Good intentions fell prey to lacking motivation.

I have also been disappointed in other people. Some have made commitments that were not fulfilled. I have been betrayed by others who I have invested in extensively and trusted completely. Still others made poor decisions (in my opinion) contrary to my "sage" advice.

Unfulfilled dreams have been yet another source of disappointment in 2012. I still search for a full-time job in my industry. Hopes to reconnect with friends and to see the world have not come true. Visions of personal enjoyment and fulfillment danced in my head but never became a reality.

If we are not careful, we can easily become depressed and frustrated as we face our disappointments. Disappointment is an emotion, but it does not define me. Despite all the things I had hoped would come to me in 2012, I stand in the confidence that my true identity is found in God alone. My momentary disappointments will ultimately result in something good for me since my Father declares that He "knows the plans [He] has for me." (Jeremiah 29:11)

I choose to keep dreaming, trusting, and hoping. Not all of my dreams will come true. People will let me down and some of my hopes will fall in the dust. Still I have hope that some of my dreams are birthed in me by God Himself. I trust that "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it." (Philippians 1:6) I choose to simply be who God created to be.....a man who dreams big!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Watching Preferences

I've always been a bit of a television junkie. If there's a new series on the tube that everyone is talking about, I want to make sure that I am current with my television watching. I really enjoy a good thriller -- something that keeps me on the edge of my seat. What's really funny, though, is that I miss most of the REALLY spine-tingling moments because I'm watching through the slits between my fingers! It's sad, but true.

Since I'm rarely home on a regular basis to watch anything when it first airs, I'm addicted to Hulu Plus. I'm sure there are other services that people like better, but I'm a creature of habit. Since I started with Hulu, I anticipate sticking with it. Tonight, I was catching up on episodes of Chicago Fire. It's really a great show with its strong plot line and talented cast. In each episode, the fire squad deals with crises of all types. When we're fighting fires or dealing with explosions, I'm good. A little blood on the face or arms.....no problem. But when I'm watching a man with his arm stuck in the gears of a machine, blood all over the place, and the rescue team starts pulling out bone saws and other instruments of torture.....enough is enough! The episode opened with this scene. I had to get up from my computer and listen to the story without watching. When the victim began screaming as they were removing his arm from the gears, I left the room! I'm a wimp, and I accept it.

As you can imagine, I've never had much luck with the medical dramas. I get nauseous simply watching! I know I've missed some incredible shows like ER and Chicago Hope, but I decided that their entertainment level wasn't worth the ill feelings I experienced week after week.

My other version of the addiction is grabbing up DVDs of shows and plowing through the entire season...and sometimes through an entire series!  I realized today that I have a little free time coming up in the next few weeks, so I added a few videos to my collection. (Besides, I have to do something since Scandal is on hiatus!) I'll be catching up on Once (I saw the first half of the season before life got crazy, so I decided to just start from the beginning again). I may be the only person in the world who hasn't seen some of Mad Men at this point; that will change in a couple of days since I picked up season 1 today at Target as well.

I've never had much luck finding many comedies that I think are worth the investment of my time. I liked the Tim Allen series and other shows like that. If it's witty and based in realistic situations, I'm there! So much of what I see on television today is romantically driven and/or what I refer to as "stupid humor."

I'm open to suggestions. What are some of your favorite television series (either drama or comedy)? I'm willing to give almost anything a try. Just promise you won't be offended if I don't share your taste in entertainment!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thankful 6: Freedom

Today I am thankful to live in a country where I am free to practice my religion as I see fit, to speak my mind without fear of retaliation, and to cast my vote for the candidate that I think is best for the job. While I am frustrated on this election evening with the the results, I consider it a privilege to use my constitutional right to choose a leader.

I have disagreed with many friends around the nation regarding issues related to this election. Most have been kind and we have agreed to respectfully disagree. Others have been adamant, intolerant (which they accused me of as well), and generally insulting. My freedom extends to choosing who I want to enter into intelligent dialogue with and who I simply want to ignore and cut loose.  I've made that decision as well and feel very comfortable with it. That's something I certainly do not regret.

I do not agree with many of the policies put forward by the Obama administration. That's my opinion and my prerogative. However, I do honor the office which he holds and will continue to give him the level of respect the office deserves. I will continue to pray for President Obama and for God's grace and mercy to continue cover the nation that I call home.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Thankful 5: Chocolate

Today I am thankful for chocolate. Plain milk chocolate......or filled with peanut butter.....or pretzels.....or in a warm mug. That is all.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Thankful 4: Health

Today, I am thankful for the blessing of health. Although almost every member of my family struggles with a minor (dare I say self-inflicted) health issue due to poor choices over the years, I am thankful that we are mostly in good health. Recent events have reminded me of how quickly it can be taken away.

Over the past few years, both of my parents have faced health issues that frightened my siblings and me. Dad was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1998; earlier this year, Mom experienced issues related to her heart. Thankfully both of them have been given a clean bill of health and we now deal with health issues related to their age and weight -- although not insignificant, these health issues are more expected and manageable.

While having lunch today with my family, my sister made a comment that we could simply look at the table next to us and realize how good we have it. Immediately I knew who was sitting there since I had noticed the family enter the restaurant earlier. Who was at the table? A family of four -- the oldest child, a beautiful young woman confined to a wheelchair. It appeared as though she suffered with Muscular Dystrophy or some similar disease. I cannot imagine the trials this young family has faced nor the fear that each trip to the doctor brings. As I drove home, I found myself deeply thankful for the health of those closest to me and praying for this family I only knew from the restaurant.

I take my health for granted so often. Like many people, I never think that a health crisis will impact my plans. When a health issue arises, I am quick to complain because of the inconvenience it causes me and how unfair it is. If only I would stop and consider how often I am blessed with the gift of health, I think my complaining would be greatly reduced. Beginning today, I intend to be very intentional in noticing the blessing of health and strength this week. May I never take for granted this priceless gift given by a loving Creator.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thankful 3: Friends

Today, I am thankful for trusted and loyal friends. Some have stood by me for many years through extremely difficult circumstances; other friendships have developed over the past few weeks. It is such a wonderful blessing to know that I have friends who love me unconditionally and are willing to laugh and cry with me.

This week has reminded me of the stability friends bring to my life. During a particularly stressful event, a new friend provided much needed laughter. Another friend came to my defense against false accusations when it would have been easier for him to stand by and say nothing. Obviously I'm quite excited to see some of my closest friends later when I return to the West Coast later this week. Even though we are separated by great distance, the bonds we share remain strong.

It would be impossible to mention all of the people who have impacted my life over the years. In this month of thankfulness, know that you are all in my heart and forever treasured because of who you are and the joy that you have brought into my life.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Thankful 2: Music

It should come as no surprise to most of you, but today I am thankful for music. I don't mean the ability to play music or work in the field (although I am truly thankful for both of these things and will probably share about them later this month). I'm simply thankful that my life has been blessed with the sounds of music to communicate emotions and ideas bigger than me.

What brought on this thankfulness right now? Today has been filled with music. I had the opportunity to share some of my favorite music with students this morning and to rehearse wonderful pieces with young singers all afternoon long. The culmination of my day was performing a wonderful recital this evening. I was struck by the depth of humor, angst, and worship that music can convey. It is such a blessing to explore those emotions (as well as others) whether I am playing, listening, or discussing music.

Throughout the ages, many have considered music a way of communing with a higher power....a way of experiencing a nearness with the God of creation. I am so thankful that this precious mode of worship and self-exploration has become such a vital part of my personal, professional and ministerial life.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thankful 1: Rest

Normally I don't participate in the daily challenges that I see online.  Often I think they are rather mundane and annoying. Those that interest me I stumble across after they have been going for sometime. Since it's November 1 and I've struggled with blogging recently (mostly because of lack of time) I decided to make a run at participating in the month of thankfulness this year.

Today, I am thankful for rest. I have experienced extreme levels of exhaustion recently that have effected me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I was thrilled to finally have a day that had very few scheduled appointments. I slept in this morning (to the incredibly late time of 7:30am) before moving to the couch. I spent the majority of the day sitting right there with the remote in my hand, watching mind-numbing television. Some days I just need to be dumb!

As I write this post, I still feel tired and sore in body.  Emotionally, I continue to feel somewhat overwhelmed. Still, I am thankful for the time of rest that I experienced today. Even when our rest periods don't allow us to completely recover, they do provide hope that better days are ahead. I anticipate next week to be some of those better days when I return to California for a short-term work project....and hopefully some time for play and relaxation!

Spiritually, I am clinging to the truth found in Isaiah 40:29-31:  "He gives strength to those who are tired.  He gives power to those who are weak.  Even young people become worn out and get tired.  Even the best of them trip and fall.  But those who trust in the Lord will receive new strength.  They will fly as high as eagles.  They will run and not get tired.  They will walk and not grow weak."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Phone-a-Phobia

Hello. My name is Kennith and I must admit that I have a problem. I truly despise having conversations on the telephone. I am a phone-a-phobic person and desperately need an intervention!

While I write this somewhat tongue in cheek, there is an element of truth to this post. I find talking to someone on the phone to be extremely impersonal because I can't see their expression. I want to look at you eyeball to eyeball and ascertain what you're thinking. If there is a task to be done that requires I either place a call or drive out of my way to interact with a person, I will choose the extra mileage in order to avoid the phone call.

Sadly, this hatred of the phone has spread into my personal interactions with friends as well. It hasn't always been like this. There were nights that I looked forward to the phone ringing in order to speak with those who were spread across the country and even the world. (The summer my roommate was in Germany was not a happy time for my phone bill! That one still brings back an ache to my wallet.) Sometimes it appears that I am avoiding phone calls because I don't value my friends. The truth is that I'm being selfish! When I talk to these men and women who are so important to me, I become homesick for their company and very dissatisfied with my present situation. Eventually I just don't think I can handle the sadness anymore and pull away....and I stop returning calls.

When I finally realize that not talking to them is worse than becoming homesick, I feel awkward that I have allowed so much time to pass since my last phone call. I want to catch up on what's going on with them while I feel as though I desperately need to apologize for my neglect of them. I know I would be upset if someone had ignored me in the same way that I have ignored them. It's completely understandable.

I always tend to make an excuse for not calling that seems completely reasonable. It's most convenient for me to call while driving during the day. Since most of them are in other time zones and hold traditional jobs, they are either at work or still in bed. I don't want to disturb them, so I decide to wait. When I assume it's a more appropriate time for them to talk, I'm so tired that I put it off again. I often wonder which is worse -- phone silence or a voicemail left during an inopportune time of day?

Before beginning this post, I began to make some phone calls that I feared were going to be very awkward. Two voicemails later, I'm waiting to hear back from a couple of important friends. The third that I actually got on the phone was a great conversation. It felt so good to share with my him and know that even when we don't talk on a regular basis, we both hold a special place in the other's heart.

I've not made all the phone calls that are on my plate right now. So if you've not gotten a voice mail, don't assume you aren't important to me. I'm just working through a very long list. (If you know you're on my list and want to move up to the top....give me a call!) Here's my pledge to myself: for the next few weeks, I'll not screen calls when I'm free and will make return calls as soon as I can. Why? Because the people in my life are worth the investment of my time. I realize that now!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Big Bad Bully

At the end of church on Sunday, I learned that we had a case of bullying in our Children's Ministry this week. While speaking to the victim and the culprit, my mind returned to my own issues with bullying and the effects it has had on me. I am not proud of my response to my bully nor do I suggest this as an appropriate response to anyone reading. It is, however, a rather funny scene to picture.

My third grade year was a tough year for me. I wasn't very fond of my teacher since she didn't really want me to do anything extra when I finished my deskwork early. I always felt like I was a bother to her. I became further alienated from her when I had to have two teeth surgically removed from the roof of my mouth which led to nearly 6 weeks out of school and a hard knot that made speech challenging. (That's another story for another day.....too much trauma to deal with in one post.) Since I didn't think my teacher was particularly fond of me, I spent much of the year suffering at the hands of a bully that I didn't think I had any recourse against.

Sitting directly behind me every day was a nasty girl named Gloria Davis. She was larger than everyone else in the class since she had repeated several grades (I'll allow you to form your own opinions of what that says for this crazy girl's intelligence level) and knew that she was in charge. My problems began when she tried to get answers from my math paper. I didn't just cover my answers with my arm; I used the loudest voice I could muster to tell her to STOP CHEATING AND KEEP YOUR EYES ON YOUR OWN PAPER. I knew that would get the teacher's attention and force her to address the issue that I had brought to the attention of the entire class. When Gloria got in trouble, I became Enemy #1 on her radar.

Gloria was tall and she was the girl that everyone in Crawfordsville Elementary feared. Quite simply, she was one mean, tough black girl. She wasn't all that pretty to look at either. Personally, I was convinced she wasn't human. I just knew that she was the bride of Satan. Gloria found everything in the world to tease me about: my clothes....my hair.....my parents......my lunchbox (a really cool Dukes of Hazzard metal box)....being the teacher's pet.

I don't remember exactly how I ended up in this situation, but I found myself standing outside one afternoon waiting for my mom to pick me up. No one else was around.....no one else except Gloria, that is! She began to taunt and bully me, telling me of all the mean things she had planned for me. By this point, I had stood all I could stand and I knew that it was time to stand up for myself. In my 3rd grade mind, I weighed all the possible punishments the teachers and principal could give me. I readied myself for a fight to the finish with this girl.

Gloria continued to threaten me, so I told her to leave me alone. Obviously she wasn't going to give up that easily. My fingers clutched the handle of my prized lunchbox because I was so mad! I screamed at her now. "I said to SHUT UP YOU N*****!" (I never claimed to be perfect.) With that primal yell, I swung the brightly-colored Dukes of Hazzard lunchbox at her head and landed it firmly on her temple. I saw her bend over in pain, but wasn't going to stand around and gloat. I ran inside the building to the music room where I found Ms. Keith, my piano teacher, whose classroom window overlooked the pick-up zone. We sat there together and waited for my Mom to arrive. Gloria came down the hall, blood streaming from her head, seeking revenge. Ms. Keith looked Gloria in the eye and dared her to make a move at me.

Later I would learn that Ms. Keith had watched the entire situation unfold and was ready to come to my defense if needed. Before she left the area, she told me that she cheered for me from her classroom when she saw the lunchbox hit its target. Ms. Keith never reported the offense and told Gloria that if she said anything, the principal would be told that I was simply acting in self-defense. For the rest of my third grade year, I never had any more problems with Gloria. Whenever she started her old ways, I would just raise my lunchbox and get ready to swing. I think she got the message that I wasn't going to live in fear of her anymore. Gloria tried to resume her reign of terror in later years. When I threatened to tell everyone how this tough black girl had been slugged by a wimpy white boy, she backed off. This story being told was more than her juvenile pride could take.

I've often wondered what happened to Gloria and if she even remembers the things she did to me. Honestly, I doubt she does. When I finally got to leave the nightmare that was Crawfordsville schools, Gloria was pregnant and headed nowhere fast. The only thing that I am certain of is this....my life became a success despite her torture and abuse. I have a sneaky feeling that the same cannot be said for her. In a way, I find vindication in that realization. So for everyone who has ever experienced trauma at the hands of a bully, I raise my lunchbox overhead and proudly tell you that my bully couldn't handle it when I decided I wouldn't be a victim anymore.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Family Meals

Sundays are always one of the highlights of my week. Before you decide to ignore today's blog because you don't want to read about how much I enjoy going to church, think again! While it's true that I am a Christian, the highlight of my Sunday comes after the morning service. It's the time I get to spend with my family sitting around a table laughing, talking, and enjoying each other.

The weekends are always full of work for me. Sundays are an "on" day for me as this is when the majority of my responsibilities with the church are fulfilled. When the morning service is over, I know that I normally get to enjoy the rest of my day. Without fail, my parents and siblings make every effort to leave the church as soon as we can so we can get to the restaurant table sooner. That's actually the reason why we now select restaurants for Sunday lunches a month at a time. We were wasting too much valuable time trying to make decisions about lunch plans that we would rather spend relaxing together.

What do we talk about? No topic is too heavy or too frivolous for discussion. We may share about the joy or dread of returning to work, a funny thing that happened this week, or share our hopes and fears. It's always a lively conversation.....anytime you have 8 or 10 of us participating in a single conversation (with the occasional off-shooting dialogue), it's certainly going to be a hoot!

Lots of time is devoted to laughing at with each other. More often than not, my mother is the one that we are all laughing at. She's often naive, but there's also a very sharp wit that makes an appearance from time to time. That's when the laughter starts rolling and quickly transforms into a cackle.

As this week is finally drawing to a close and most some of the responsibilities on my overloaded plate are nearing completion, I'm looking forward to taking some time for myself this weekend and then treasuring my Sunday lunch with those that I love the most.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering

This post has been on my mind all day, but since it's been a very full day, I'm just now getting to sit down and write. Eleven years ago today, the world paused as we watched in horror the terrorists events in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania unfold before our eyes. Today, I have had a lot of time to reflect on that fateful day and how my life was effected.

That beautiful Tuesday morning of 2001 was the final semester of my master's work in piano performance. The day was scheduled to begin at 10:00 with a voice lesson in Dr. Pamela Gaston's studio and would continue until I had my piano lesson late that afternoon. I had gotten myself together, dressed, and had warmed up when I decided to sit down on the sofa to watch a bit of news before leaving for the school. I sat in absolute horror as I listened to Matt Lauer attempt to sort through the confusion of what was happening in the earliest stages of the tragedy.

I knew that this would be a historical event, so I immediately called my mom and told her to make sure that she was watching the news. The rest of the morning is a blur and I somehow pulled myself together and managed to get into my car to head to school. As I drove, I remember seeing several crop dusters beginning to work in this agricultural region and I nearly lost my mind with every sound. I think that's when I finally knew that things were not alright -- and I wasn't either.

As I drove, my cell phone began to ring off the hook. My sister-in-law and sister were trying to reach me. It was Patsy, my brother's wife, who finally got through and asked exactly where I was. Reports were coming in that both bridges into Memphis would be shut down to all traffic later that morning since there was fear that the city might be a terrorist target. If I found myself in Memphis when the bridges were closed, I wouldn't be able to get home....and at that point we didn't know how long it would last.

I turned around and went home. I didn't have the presence of mind to call anyone and cancel my appointments for the day. I thought the world was coming to an end anyway and none of it was going to matter. I tried to think about other things when I got home, but I sat glued to the television. I was frightened of what was going to happen next. I feared for the safety of my friends living in New York as well as those in Los Angeles -- so many were assuming that the entire nation was under attack.

As aircraft were grounded around the nation, I saw the immensity of the situation. Then television stations began to go off the air as a show of respect to those who had been lost. I couldn't believe what was happening.

Later that afternoon I learned that the bridges were not going to be closed and got a phone call from my boss that the church was hosting a special prayer service that evening. I had mixed emotions about going to be perfectly honest. I wanted to be in a place of prayer, but I was not looking forward to being 45 miles from home while the world was in chaos. I made the drive to East Memphis. I sat outside the church on the hood of my car and talked with friends before the service began and was shocked at the silence that was all around. The church normally had lots of air traffic going overhead due to flight paths to the international airport. That afternoon was strangely and eerily silent.

As I sat in the quiet, I began to think about many things. I had to teach children's church on Sunday morning. How was I going to address how God could allow so many people to die who had done nothing to deserve it? How was I going to assure them that in this craziness God was still in control? Was I honestly convinced of that myself? Then I started to think about my upcoming calendar. I was supposed to get on an airplane in just a few weeks and travel to Los Angeles for a performance. Would the airlines be up and running again? Would I have the courage to fly? (I made the flight to LA in early October, but I was completely petrified, reading a large portion of the New Testament with a white-knuckle grip.  My return flight wasn't much better since the US had attacked Afghanistan the day before and the airports were on high alert in case of retaliation.)

I got back to a semi-normal routine with the rest of the country in the weeks after 9/11. I had convinced everyone I was fine, but I knew that I wasn't. I had to face this fact when the drama series The West Wing returned to the air. I had been a regular viewer of the show since its beginning and hadn't missed an episode. The show immediately after the hiatus dealt with terrorist attacks as their response to the tragedies. I started watching the episode but couldn't bring myself to watch it because I was so disturbed. Truthfully, I have not watched an episode of The West Wing since that evening. I own the entire series on DVD and have made efforts to watch them from the beginning, but I can't make it because of the knowledge that I will have to face that episode in order to finish the series.

So here I am 11 years after the events of 9/11.  I wasn't in New York City on that day. I didn't know anyone personally who was among the victims. Still, I find that I was scarred on that day and don't know that I have ever fully recovered.....or that I ever will.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Book Clubs

Today was filled with lots of activity and appointments that simply had to be kept. Since I knew the day was going to be crazy, I got an early start, knowing that I needed to knock a few things off my to-do list before leaving the house for the morning. I decided I needed some incentive to get things done, so I made a deal with myself. Once I finished the first three things on my list, I could spend the rest of the morning reading until I had to leave. I didn't even get to pick up a book. That made me very sad.....

And my sadness grew as I heard a radio announcer wishing everyone "Happy Read a Book Day" (honestly....it's celebrated on September 6). On September 8, we'll also celebrate International Literacy Day. I have been desperate to dive into a book all day long, but didn't have the time to spare. I have been thinking about how much I love books and how I desperately desire to be a part of a book club.

One of the primary reasons that I have been a student for so long is that I really enjoy getting to interact with books. It's not just reading the book that is so enthralling though. I love the conversation that ensues when a group of people come together and bring their various experiences and opinions to the table as they consider the implications of the written word. I couldn't imagine not having time to read while I was in my undergraduate program. So what did I do? I declared a second major in English literature. I knew I wasn't the best student in the program, but I knew that I was passionate about the material.

The social activity I would most enjoy participating in on a regular basis would be a reading group. I've had no luck finding one though. I've joined groups at the local library and area bookstores, but have always been disappointed because the members either didn't commit to participate regularly or the group only dove into a single genre of literature. When I participated in an office reading group, things never got off the ground. We tried to meet during our lunch break, but the demands of work kept calling us back. We were all too exhausted to consider committing to an additional night during the week.

Some have suggested that I start my own reading group. I'll admit that I have tried, but it still didn't provide what I was looking for. A church book club limited material that could be included due to language and topics that might offend some members. A group of performing artists is a rehearsal (read social party) waiting to happen....and there was little discussion of the material read.

Oprah's Book Club was the closest thing I've ever found. I enjoyed the wide variety of books selected and appreciated the passionate discussion that would normally occur. I missed the human interaction and building relationships though. Oprah has now reorganized her book club as version 2.0 which all occurs online. Everyone has the opportunity to communicate via Twitter and other social media, but the intimacy is lost.

I was intrigued by one of Oprah's latest suggestions for starting a book club. She suggested reading as a family and discussing the book as part of your family get-togethers. I see how this could be really fun in many families. Probably won't work for my situation though....while many in my family enjoy reading (and others do it just to keep their brain active), we're not reading for insight as much as we are for the entertainment value. There's only so much I can say about why I enjoyed a book without wanting to consider the moral, political, and philosophical implications.

So what is it that I'm really looking for? Ideally, I would find a group of 8-12 other readers who come from different backgrounds, professions, spiritual journeys, and education levels. I envision men and women who share a love for reading, a desire to think deeply about issues, and a willingness to listen and speak honestly without constantly being offended when/if they disagree. I don't want to be forced to be politically correct....especially if my opinions are not PC! We might share food together....but the focus is really on the book.

And, oh the books!  How wonderful would it be to read a self-help book followed by the latest best-seller. Then we dive into the heart of a classic American novel. Throw in a little philosophical writing and maybe even some religious (possibly non-Christian?) texts and you have a recipe for exciting and intellectually invigorating conversation.

If any of you have suggestions about where I can find a book club in the area, I'd love to hear from you! Until I find what I'm looking for, I'll keep dreaming about the day I'm able to participate on a regular basis and keep reading for my own pleasure and intellectual stimulation.  Now I suppose it's time I give in and spend some quiet time with my book.  Scarlett and Rhett, I'm coming to Tara for a visit now!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Search for the Elusive Mechanic

Have you ever realized just how hard it can be to find a good mechanic? Thankfully I have had good luck with cars most of the time -- except for the nightmare with the rebuilt engine that exploded on I-5 while heading to a performance in downtown Los Angeles -- but I'll save that story for another time. In the past month, I have had to put my car in the shop for some body work and general maintenance. To put it simply, it is probably one of the most frustrating things I ever have to deal with.

I consider myself very intelligent. There aren't many things that I can't figure out if I put my mind to it. Auto mechanics, however, is equivalent to nuclear science to me! I just don't get how everything works together. I suppose part of the confusion is that it's a discipline that requires lots of hands-on attention and I don't touch things that might get my hands dirty. It's just that simple! It was tough enough for me to get over the sensation of touching raw food....but greasy, filthy machinery is not going to happen.

My knowledge of how a car works under the hood is limited to knowing that I have to keep gas, water, and oil in it. Many of those lessons I have learned because I have experienced what happens when I let one (or all of them) run out. Being stranded in rural Arkansas is a great teacher! Gauges and lights work great for me. If there's a ding that's not normally there, I know something needs attention.

I know that tune-ups are needed, tires must be rotated, and filters have to be replaced. My problem is understanding WHEN these things need to happen. I have gotten the oil change routine down since a wonderful college roommate (thank Heaven for Power!) explained the 3,000 mile rule and showed me how to add water when I am in a pinch. I've asked for similar mileage rules for these other recurring maintenances, but the answer I get is that you just "know" when it's needed based upon the car's response. Last time I checked, my car didn't give a "verbal response" that it needed help, so I'm pretty clueless to listening to it talk!

A very helpful friend suggested that I simply schedule my maintenance along with someone else's trips to the garage that I could easily observe. That sounded like a perfect idea and an easy solution. I would just send my car to the mechanic every time my dad sent his in. Then I came to a horrible realization....my dad doesn't maintain ANYTHING! He reacts to problems rather than having regular, preventative maintenance done. (Sadly, this applies to all areas of his life and is becoming a major source of frustration for me as he ages and needs more health check-ups than he wants to handle. Again, another topic for another day!)

So I continue to search for a reliable mechanic. What do I want? I am hoping beyond hope to find someone who will communicate with me about my car without using lots of terms that mean nothing to me. I would love to develop a relationship of trust with him, knowing that he is going to recommend maintenance that is necessary and provide the service at a price that is sufficient for his professional knowledge without ripping me off just because he can!

As you can see, I have had really bad experiences with mechanics. The local shop that I used stopped servicing cars, so I've been on the hunt for what feels like an eternity. The local Goodyear seemed to be promising until I took the car in repeatedly with the "Check engine" light coming on. After running tests, nothing could be found. The mechanic's advice? Ignore the indicator. Not an answer that I can live with since that indicator light is the only thing that gives me any clue that it's time to get to the garage. After lots of prayers and an expensive trip back to the dealer, the engine light problem has been solved, but now I'm constantly getting messages about low tire pressure. Why not just fill them up with air? The tire gauge indicates that they are at capacity (I did learn how to do SOME things in college, after all!)

So now I'm back to the drawing board, looking for someone to help me maintain my car. Since my mom and I are the ones who try to take care of the cars (more frustration should be heard in that statement), when these types of issues begin to occur, we both get frustrated and start shopping for a new vehicle. That's an entirely different problem that I really don't want to start dealing with at the moment!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

When Your "Get Up and Go" Has Got Up and Went

We've all been there at one time or another. You lack motivation in every area of life. Nothing that you are involved with brings the happiness you once experienced. It feels like you're spinning your wheels and getting nowhere fast. All motivation to push ahead has hit the road and you're left to try to pull it all together. Sound familiar? We hate to admit it, but many of us find us in this frustrating situation more often than we want.

Escape is not always the answer. Often the problem is not our circumstances. Attitude and perspective have a huge impact on our personal motivation. The question becomes how to change our attitudes and perspectives so that motivation is the by-product.

Recognize your personal triggers. In my own life, I know that I am most susceptible to negativity when I'm sick or extremely tired. As soon as a big project is over, I have to make sure that I allow myself ample time to rest and recover before launching into the next major undertaking. With so many part-time jobs, this can often be difficult to do. Other common triggers may include financial difficulty, uncertain plans, or family challenges. Knowing the circumstances that trigger the negative feelings in life is a huge step in winning the battle.

Avoid reading between the lines. In times of negativity, it becomes very easy to infer meaning from the comments of others that simply are not there. A statement from a colleague about their responsibilities can be interpreted to mean that you are not pulling a significant load. Any suggestion can be taken as a judgment that your plan is inferior. There is a very good possibility that neither assumption was the intended message. During these times of little motivation, it is important to ask for clear messages when the meaning is uncertain. This eliminates offense and keeps hurtful things from taking root and creating a hostile environment.

Persevere! Situations will not always be this way. Good days are ahead. Instead of looking for the escape hatch, determine to buckle down and weather the current storm. No wonder the apostle Paul says that he would "press on" when describing his personal life. Effort is involved. In the book of Ephesians, Paul further instructs the Christian warrior "when having done everything to stand, STAND!" When you reach the end of your personal motivation -- when you've done all you can -- commit to stand the test longer.

Make an attitude adjustment. When you are feeling down about things, it is so easy to focus on the negative. Right now, I have determined that every negative perception I have will be met with intentionally looking for two positive aspects of the situation. It can be tough to find the positive sometimes, but as I begin to look for them, I find that my focus shifts and the negative doesn't come immediately to the foreground.

Adjust your thinking, focus on the positive, and keep your eyes on Jesus. Before you know it, the "get up and go" that has left will be replaced and you'll find new inspiration to do exactly what you were created to do!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cafe 1912

I enjoy eating in restaurants. It's something that relaxes me and allows me to escape from the routine. Rarely do I try new places because I'm not sure what the atmosphere is like and I hate checking out a new place alone. Once I know what to expect, then I'm more willing to drop in on my own and enjoy a meal.

I heard from a friend that they were wanting to check out Cafe 1912 but didn't have anyone to go with, so I jumped at the opportunity. Last night, we headed over to the restaurant located in midtown Memphis and had a great dining experience.

Cafe 1912 is a small bistro that doesn't have elaborate decor. We arrived on Monday evening just before 7pm and found the place to be rather empty. Before the hour was over, however, most tables would be full.  (Reservations are accepted and recommended, I learned.) We were seated near the back of the space, next to the open kitchen. It was thrilling to watch the staff prepare dinner and to see the beautifully crafted plates coming out of the window.

I ordered the stuffed chicken breast on a bed of potatoes with a creamy vegetable sauce. There's only one way to describe it:  AMAZING! The chicken was nicely seasoned and moist. The sauce begged to be sopped up with the accompanying bread. I was also impressed with the portion size. While it was substantial, I didn't leave feeling as though I had just over-indulged.

Cafe 1912 was a little on the pricey side for a weeknight meal, I suppose. My dinner and a glass of water was just under $20 and didn't include gratuity. While it may be more than I would normally spend for dinner, the food was worth every penny I spent! I didn't try any of the dessert selections; that just gives me an excuse to visit again. The bread pudding, profiteroles, and creme brûlée that I watched go by my table were very enticing. I really don't know which one I want to try first. Who knows....maybe I'll just go for a dessert tasting and call it dinner!

Next time you are looking for a wonderful meal that's a little off the beaten path, I highly recommend Cafe 1912. I've heard the Sunday brunch is pretty incredible as well.

What's your favorite under-rated restaurant in the Memphis area? Leave a suggestion for me to try in the comment section below. Who knows....we might just run into each other one evening.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Doctor's Office

Sitting in the doctor's offer is never a pleasant experience. When you're here, you normally are not feeling well or you are caring for a loved one. When you're under the weather, you patience is low. As I sit here now, my head is pounding from congestion, my nose is running and I'm miserable. Imagine my happiness when I sit down and there are two cute little girls (under normal circumstances) here for their physicals to start kindergarten. Their guardians are permitting the kids to rule the waiting room and they are EXTREMELY loud! To make matters worse, they are giving them sugar and taking pictures of them being "cute."

When I don't feel well, I get cranky. There's no other explanation. I don't want to deal with anyone. I want everyone to shut up and leave me alone. (If you are reading this, it might be a good time to say a prayer for the students in my night class tonight. It should be a relatively easy night, but you never can tell for sure when I'm in this condition.)

I suppose how I'm feeling is my own fault. I've been fighting this congestion in my head and chest for a week now. Since there was no sore throat or discoloration (TMI?), I thought I could treat it myself with OTC medications. After all, I don't have health insurance since I only have part-time jobs, so I try to save money when I can. It's not the way I really like to live, but it's the choice I have to make. This morning at 4am I began counting down the hours to the office's opening! My head feels like an elephant is trying to escape through my ears and nose, but needs an extra push. My eyes are itchy and my throat is irritated at the point that the nasal passage meets the throat. I would rather have a raw throat than this constant drip drip drip!

So that's why I sitting here in the waiting room, noticing the irony that the color scheme the office has chosen is puke green and wondering when everything was last disinfected. My mind does not always play fair in these times of sickness; I normally leave the office feeling worse than when I came in. If nothing else, I'll have some answers today and a prescription to make me feel better.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Give, Give, Give

While having a family dinner together last weekend, everyone was discussing their work situation. We shared with each other how things in the office continuously become more and more demanding. Finally the following statement seemed to sum up our feelings:  "The more you do, the more that is expected from you."

Once everyone had left, I found myself continuing to ponder this statement. Do employers intentionally demand more work with no increase in pay? Is this a trend in American society or is there something about the personalities in my family that draws this response? What response does the Christian have when faced with a similar situation?

I don't think all employers are evil. I don't think they want to see their employees suffer from increased stress levels or eventual burnout. Personally, I find all three of my bosses to be kind-hearted and genuinely concerned about my well-being. So then why do so many people find themselves constantly having more demands placed upon them by employers?

I think the answer is actually quite complicated. An employer is going to hand new responsibilities to an accomplished, competent employee. This sounds like an awesome thing. However, often employers assign new responsibilities based upon the outward appearance of the current situation rather than a thorough investigation of the worker's situation. An employee may appear to have everything running smoothly that is currently on their plate while the truth is that they are racing at full-steam ahead to keep all of the balls in the air. Additionally, an employee who is able to complete a task quickly is often "punished" for their effectiveness by having additional work loaded on top of what they are already juggling.

Additional responsibilities tend to trickle down from the supervisory level. More often than not, work ends up in my lap when one of my supervisors has realized that there is too much on his plate to handle himself, so it gets passed down. This is one of the benefits of working on a close-knit team where everyone is looking out for the good of the whole and makes every effort to insure that overtime that is not paid is given time away from responsibilities to make up the deficit. (By the way, I LOVED having comp time when working for Pepperdine. It made those busy seasons more bearable since I knew there would be days of paid absence coming soon that didn't cut into my accumulated vacation time.)

Generational differences can also cause overload. A previous generation feels that an employee is paid for the number of hours they are working while my generation is anticipating payment for services rendered.  If I can complete my salaried tasks in 15 hours at home, I shouldn't necessarily be consistently given more responsibilities.  Salaries are based on work outcomes; wages are based on hours of labor. Confusion between which type of earnings are being offered can be a major source of contention between employer and employee.

Is there something in my family's makeup that causes this problem to arise for so many of us? I have to say that there probably is. My siblings and I were taught to complete a job with excellence, regardless of how long it takes. We're good employees. As a result of our experience and our work ethic, we often do our tasks fairly rapidly. That's a great thing for the business in crunch time.....not so good for our well-being when it stretches out for months. Combine this with our generally inability to tell a supervisor "no" and you have a formula for disaster.

What's the Christian's response to these situations? I struggle with this one. Often I want to just slow down and do what I can working at everyone else's pace and let the chips fall where they may. Then the call to do everything as unto the Lord rings in my ears and I push myself to perform with excellence. So I walk around stressed out, not certain how I'm going to physically accomplish everything and develop frustration to the point that I don't want to go to work at all. It's a mess and a situation that I'm learning more about. Is there a perfect solution? I don't really think there is. So I'll continue to pray for strength to get through each work day and continue to labor faithfully until God sees fit to open new --and hopefully less stressful -- avenues for me.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Expectations

All my life I have heard that you should not place expectations on anyone lest they let you down. Recently I've been thinking about this maxim and wondering if I truly agree with the principle. By not expecting anything from people, you are guaranteed safety. What you are not guaranteed, however, is success.

I have certainly learned over the years is that there are some you SHOULD be able to depend on:  family and close friends. Sadly, those people don't always see the responsibility as you do. I understand when close friends let you down occasionally. But family? That infuriates me! I should probably leave this topic alone, but it doesn't lessen the truth that I feel this way.

While expectations may result in disappointment, without expectations nothing will ever get done either! Unless I have the expectation of obtaining a certain position or level of excellence, I won't push myself or my team to reach it. Without the expectation that I can change a situation, I will continue to be stifled in the status quo.

This brings about the question of whether or not my expectations are set too high? In almost everything I do, I like to shoot for the moon! Dream big and aim high! That way even when I fail and people and situations don't meet my expectations, I can still experience some level of success because my expectations were so high.

Today has been a day filled with disappointment and frustration. Those I thought I should be able to depend on have let me down and shown their true colors. At the same time, others have stood by my side and rose above my expectations to assist in ways that were not their responsibility. It just goes to show that expectations are constantly changing....some for the better and some for the worse. Sometimes you just begin to expect the worst in a situation and are surprised when things go better than expected.

I'm thankful that tomorrow will be a new day with new expectations. That's the hope that comes with each new sunrise.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bucket Lists

I've always been intrigued by people's bucket lists. You know, those lists of activities that a person wants to make sure they experience once before they die. In a way, I find them rather morbid and depressing. On the other hand, I think it's liberating to clearly express what is important to you and to spend your life pursuing interests away from career and family commitments.

Does a person start a bucket list when they are diagnosed with a terminal disease or when they reach the age of retirement? By that time, it seems as though there isn't enough time to do everything I would hope to do! After all, I do enjoy an adventure (or at least, what I define as an adventure). As the bucket list morphs as you age, is it fair to say that those things that cease to be included on your ultimate list were never truly on the list? Things are getting too philosophical now, so let's head back to safer territory.

There are many things on my personal bucket list, but most of them involve travel. Many of the items currently dominating my list also involve helping my parents achieve some of their remaining dreams. My mother, for instance, has always wanted to say that she has visited all 50 states. (I always tease her that driving through a state and visiting are certainly not the same thing. For her purposes, though, entering the state fits the bill for her.)  So there are some long distance road trips in the plans in the coming years for us. With a trip through the northwestern states and New England, we'll be fairly close to meeting her goal. Then I just have to convince her to hop on a plane with me to visit Hawaii and Alaska since she's adamant that she won't take a cruise!

After visiting Europe in graduate school, I definitely want to get back there. I plan to return to Germany, but I also fantasize about seeing Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France, Spain, Greece, and Great Britain. As soon as I cross those things off of my list, I'm sure I'll add a few more countries!

I fell in love with symphonic music while a student at Pepperdine and am becoming a greater fan of opera now that I am teaching about it. A lifelong goal has been to hear the major American orchestras in their home concert hall. When traveling with my family, concerts are not at the top of the list so I've not made much of a dent in this bucket list; so far, I've heard orchestras in Memphis (although not what I consider a major American orchestra), St. Louis, and Los Angeles. As you can see, I have many more to hear. Opera involves more world travel as I wish to see productions in major houses around the world. Thus far, I've seen performances in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (LA) and the Bayerische Staatsoper (Munich). I have plans to visit the Houston Grand Opera this fall, and hopefully the Met.

This doesn't even begin to address everything on my bucket list. I want to become fluent in American Sign Language, climb a rock wall, attend the Winter Olympics, learn to swim, and pick up a second instrument. Some may ask if I will be considered a failure if I don't accomplish everything on my bucket list. My response is that by simply pursuing as many items on my bucket list as possible, the life I live will be fulfilling and filled with tremendous memories of adventures dear to me.

So what's on your bucket list? What have you gotten to mark off and what things are in the plans now? I'd enjoy hearing from you. Who knows, some of your items may find their way onto my personal list as well. Now it's time to mark something else off of my bucket list!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Influences from the Past

Last week, Mom and I went to dinner at a local restaurant. As we were being led to our table, I noticed a gentleman who I recognized but couldn't immediately place. As we ordered and talked, I continued to notice the man and racked my brain to place him. When I finally figure out who he was, Mr. Runions had already gotten up and begun to make his way to my table. Richard Runions was the principal of West Memphis Christian School when I finally had the opportunity to transfer. Although the interaction in Cracker Barrel was very brief, it was nice to hear from a man who I have admired since first meeting him and who made such a powerful impact on my life as a teen.

I have been blessed to have many men and women speak powerfully into my life over the years. While some of them were teachers and pastors, others were simply friends of the family who saw potential in me and decided to pour deeply into my young life. I am convinced that the presence of these leaders in my life during my formative teen years is a major factor in the person that I have become.

Because I have reaped the benefits of their passion for young people, I have tried to consistently invest in the lives of young people throughout my adult life. My involvement in children and youth ministry over the years has been a major outlet. My chosen profession also has everything to do with the impact so many of my teachers and professors made on me. My hope is that I can provide a new generation of students with the confidence that they can succeed in life and that they can find new depths of spiritual maturity as they pursue Christ with humble devotion and sincere worship.

Who were major influences in your life as a young person? Have you told them the impact they have made? This might be the perfect time to make a phone call or to send an email. I'm certain it would be a bright spot in their day! The more important question, I believe, is who are you INTENTIONALLY POURING INTO today? Regardless of your position, there is a child or teen looking to you for encouragement and affirmation. Don't let another day pass without speaking life into the heart of the next generation!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Family Vacation 2012

Last week, my parents and I went on our annual summer vacation. For the past few years we have opted to visit cities we have never been to rather than continuing our tradition of visiting family. (We still plan to visit our beloved family, just not as our major vacation for the summer!) This year's trip took us to Charleston, South Carolina with a short excursion to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

All of the mapping programs recommended a southern drive to Charleston through Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.  Since we had taken that route a few years ago on our way to Savannah and since the northern route only added about 45 minutes to the total drive, we decided to take I-40 to I-26. I was also eager to travel this path since I am much more familiar with the roads through Tennessee.

After a morning of church, we set out on our adventure with the plan to drive as far as we could before stopping for the night. In my mind, I hoped to make it to Pigeon Forge since I wanted to show Mom and Dad a bit of the city as well and measure their interest in visiting there in the future. Little did I know that they would love the area and plan to return before this vacation was over.

When we finally arrived in Charleston, I found it a very difficult city to navigate. All of the waterways and bridges made travel confusing and difficult to quickly correct. After a few days, I began to get a better sense of the lay of the land and wasn't quite as dependent on my GPS -- always a good feeling!

Everyone always asks me what we actually DO when we go to these new cities. The top priority is always the same: REST! We allow lots of time to lounge in the hotel, reading or catching up on sleep, but we also find the leisurely pace gives us a lot more energy to get out and explore. This year we visited lots of interesting places. Some of my personal favorites were the historic downtown houses and parks, Market Street, the South Carolina Aquarium, and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.

This eagle was the first thing we saw upon entering the Aquarium. I loved being able to get this close to the animal and seeing things in such detail. While the facility was smaller than I expected on the whole, I was quite impressed with the quality of the exhibits and was pleasantly surprised to find that I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.

It wouldn't be appropriate to talk about our vacation without at least mentioning the food. Charleston has some amazing eateries and we sampled what we could! Our personal favorite was located directly on the harbor and was called California Dreaming. Specializing in steaks and fresh seafood, this restaurant combined amazing food with a beautiful view. During lunch, Dad even spotted a couple of dolphins playing in the waters of the Atlantic inlet while enjoying his Oyster Po-Boy sandwich. 

Pigeon Forge was an unexpected addition to the trip and a fun adventure for everyone. We took in two shows: The Smokey Mountain Opry and The Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Theater. I'm happy to report that I survived both shows and didn't slit my wrists while attending! I actually found both shows fairly entertaining, but I would only revisit the Opry by choice.

A trip to Pigeon Forge wouldn't be complete without visiting Dollywood. My parents wanted to check out the shows, so I planned the easiest way to see the most shows in the shortest amount of time. What I didn't think through was that the first show was all the way at the back of the park. By the time I got them both back there, I knew this was going to be a short day, but we didn't head back to the hotel for five hours! When I finally got them back, I went downstairs for a few minutes. Coming back in the room, I heard Dad napping in the bedroom and found Mom here:

video


I suppose this was when I feared that I had "broken Mom" and had to send emails to my siblings! (The rhythmic puffs that you hear are coming from the left side of Mom's mouth! I had never seen her sleep like this and was cracking up while making the video.) I have to admit I was a little relieved that they were so tired because I was exhausted too. It was after these power naps that they told me they were ready for a second round of shows that evening. Phew!

I don't think any trip through this area of the country would be complete without a visit to Smokey Mountain National Park. We spent our first morning on vacation driving through the area and taking lots of photos while looking at the beauty of God's creation. This is a trip I won't soon forget even though I'm already looking forward to beginning the planning for next year's outing.





Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Evaluations!

I am a sick man.  I admit it.  Whatever I do....whether professional, ministerial, or personal.....the activity is never over until I have had time to sit down and do a thorough evaluation of it.  Have we just talked on the phone?  I'm probably sitting at my desk wondering if my message was clear or if I sounded friendly enough.  Did you just hear me play a Sunday morning offertory?  While you have moved on to listening to the minister, I'll take a few moments and evaluate how I played and wonder what I can do to engage you more the next time so you'll talk to your neighbor less.  (By the way, that is really a pet peeve of mine!  Now that THAT'S off my chest, let's move on.)  For better or worse, evaluations are a part of my daily life.  When I keep them in check, I believe they are a valuable tool that enables me to rise to new levels of excellence.

Who doesn't want to get better at whatever they are doing?  If you're going to do something, do it well! As a result, I have spent a large portion of my day evaluating some recent endeavors.  This morning was spent reflecting, evaluating, and writing about my recent family vacation.  To tell you just how "sick" I am, I have a folder ready to be filed that has a 5 page report detailing the week's events and my personal feelings about each thing.  The next two pages are a line by line evaluation of our spending by day and by category.  I tell you, it is a "sickness!"  But it also tells me a lot about what worked and didn't work for everyone involved in the trip and will be very valuable as I begin to plan next year's vacation.

This afternoon saw the bigger evaluation taking place;  I finally put to paper my final thoughts on this year's Music Camp.  It's all been brewing there in the deep recesses of my mind for the past two weeks.  The report is very concise and has been thought about in detail.  It's not a place to praise the show's success.  It is a record of my feelings, frustrations, and thoughts about how to improve the experience (for the kids as well as me) next year.

I don't constantly return to these evaluations though.  More than anything, they provide me a method of getting everything out of my head and allowing the event to have a sense of finality.  Once I commit it to paper, I know that I don't have to hold on to the information any longer and can begin to give that brain room to other things that are demanding my attention.  (My sincerest thanks to Getting Things Done by David Allen for revealing the power of this process.  If you haven't read the book and struggle with personal management or procrastination, it is a must read!  You probably won't use everything there, but it will definitely get you thinking about how you run your life.)  Now when a question arises about the event, I have a report to refer to.  Is it all inclusive?  Not by any means!  It simply contains the information that is important to me about the event at the moment.  Will anyone else read the report?  That depends.......Reports about vacations may be read by others who went with me (especially if they will be traveling with me again in the future) so they can add their notes as well.  Most evaluations are strictly intended for my eyes and reference alone.  That allows me the security to be honest and frank without having to worry about it being appropriate for public consumption.

Most of my written evaluations are about recurring events:  annual musicals, family vacations, professional presentations, and college classes.  As I prepare to begin working on the next one, I'll normally go back and read the file, making notes of things I don't want to forget to consider in the new folder that is being created for the new event.  The evaluations don't feel like passed judgments, but rather personal reminders of lessons learned along the way.

It would seem that this would create a lot of paper to store.  At this point it hasn't, but I've only been this thorough with it for about 7 months.  All of my folders are taking up half a drawer in a small two-drawer filing cabinet. All files -- personal, professional, and ministry -- are kept together and are organized alphabetically. My plan, as David Allen suggests, is to purge the files annually in order to keep things under control and make sure that my filing system remains pertinent rather than an organized trash bin.  Thankfully that process will happen in January when things tend to slow down in all areas of life.

Just so no one thinks my life is completely organized, I'll just tell you that the creative side of me completely fights against all of this organization!  My musical scores and reading material are an absolute disaster and spread around 2 rooms on every available surface...including the floor!  Why don't I organize it as well?  Every time I try I become completely overwhelmed and can't get a clear vision of an operative final product, so I decide to avoid it.  At least in its current state, I have a general idea of which stack I need to go to for which piece of music.  (When I'm truly courageous, I'll post a picture of the nightmare that is my music library.  It's not a pretty sight to behold!)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Why Blog?

Over the past few weeks, I have been surprised at the number of times I have been asked what the point of blogging is. Many people seem surprised that there are actually people in the blogosphere who take the time to read random posts. Beyond that, they don't seem to understand that some people ENJOY reading the thoughts of another person......whether they are writing professionally or personally. For me, it's not necessarily about who reads the posts (although that is fun and hope that my audience continues to grow); instead I'm more encouraged by the benefits I see in my own life.

Blogging helps me to organize my thoughts. In order to clearly express something in words, one must first take the time to sit and think about the topic to be discussed. As I think about what seems random concepts to someone else, I begin to see patterns as well as cause and effect relationships emerge. As I organize my thoughts, things often lead to the next benefit.

Blogging often reveals solutions. While organizing my thoughts to share with another, I begin to see things from a fresh viewpoint. Puzzles begin to untangle themselves and the solution becomes vividly clear. I don't believe that there is something supernatural occurring when I blog; I think I finally sit still long enough and find a calming release in the writing process that leads to the "light bulb" moment.

Blogging sharpens my writing skills. As a musician, I have repeatedly heard that "practice makes perfect." Why do I fight against this same concept in other areas of life? I want to become a stronger writer? Practice writing! It's not always about the topic either. When I can effectively communicate a message just by crafting a story about the mundane parts of my life, my strength as a writer -- and by extension, as a lecturer and group facilitator -- grows exponentially.

Blogging provides a scrapbook. I enjoy looking back from time to time and remembering emotions, thoughts, successes and failures. My blog is a public diary in a way. I invite whoever wants to keep up with things in my world to follow along, but I know that my main interest is in processing my day and writing what's on my mind at the moment. It's always fun when a thought or situation sparks a memory of something I have written about and I get to return to the post and read again.

That's why I love to blog personally. There are many benefits a well-written blog has for business, civic, and religious organizations. But that will be a discussion for another day and another time. Maybe tomorrow....maybe next year. Either way, I'll be guided by my thoughts and interests and continue to blog for my personal pleasure as I continue Livin' Life.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Frustrating Catch-22s

We've all been there before.  A situation arises in a relationship ("acquaintance" may be a better word choice) that has no good solution.  If you take an action, you will be called a tyrant.  Ignore the situation and you are labeled as a snob and uncaring.  These are the situations that are referred to as "damned if you do, damned if you don't" moments.  As much as we all hate them, these circumstances arise more often than we would like.

It is crucial that we understand that we cannot control another person's response to our actions or lack of actions.  The only thing we can alter is our motivation and responses to the situation.  If you believe that one action is significantly better and it is an issue that you feel passionately about, follow your heart and face the consequences.  Nothing is worse than keeping the peace in these situations and living with regret regarding your actions.  However, when the issue at hand is not something worth fighting for (it's just not that important), then by all means strive to keep the peace.

The sad fact of the matter is that once you find yourself in one of these horrible situations with a person,  they will often create another one before too much time passes.  Think about it.  If they get their way and "win", then it becomes a source of power for an individual.  If they didn't get their way, then anything you do becomes a contentious battle and is seen as a personal attack against them.

Not all Catch-22s are driven by an individual's ego though.  To me, these are the worst of these bad situations.  Sometimes there is no choice that is going to keep everyone from getting hurt.  A decision still has to be made.  In those times, it is important to choose the best option without allowing personal relationships to overly influence the decision-making process.

If you've ever dealt with any of these "no good solution" problems, you probably feel you have had more than your fair share of them.  I know that I feel that way.  Making tough decisions -- often with no clear solutions -- are signs of developing leadership and personal maturity.  Constantly judging someone's actions as a personal attack is a sign of childishness, immaturity, and insecurity in my opinion.

I'm thrilled that I've not been in one of these situations for a while and hope that the nastiness associated with these horrible choices stays away for a very long time.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Marathon is Almost Over!

For the past two weeks, my life has been consumed with Music Camp 2012 at Abundant Grace Ministries in Collierville.  The first show was successfully performed last night, so it's no wonder that on this Saturday morning the entire process is on my mind.

This year's show is "The Amazing Grace Race" by Celeste Clydesdale.  The imagery of the race parallels that of the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy and is also a good description of the production process itself.  Unless you have been involved in directing some type of theatrical production or other large-scale event, you may not truly understand what is involved.

What the public sees is the sprinting aspect of the Camp: two weeks devoted to teaching kids choreography, staging, and fixing musical problems in order to put the show on stage.  I have encountered many people who think this is when all of the real work is done.  It's true that this is the most physically demanding time in the production, but by no means the hardest work.  Creative and administrative preparation has been going on for months in advance of the first session of Camp.

Music Camp (and all theatrical productions) are marathons.  Planning begins months in advance and the director lives with the material, mentally envisioning the staging and attempting to recognize potential pitfalls before they occur in rehearsals with actors.  (The LAST thing you want to do in any production -- especially one with such a short rehearsal time -- is make numerous changes with your actors.  The result is always confusion and frustration for those attempting to bring the script to life!)  What no one sees are the numerous paper sketches in folders at home of stage movement, sets, and props.  They miss the readings (which would be quite funny to observe) in my office, deciding which lines need the greatest emphasis.  Absolutely no one is around when I begin to walk through each character's staging, deciding which actions are essential to my interpretation of the story, which would be nice to include if possible, and which are more trouble than they are worth!  Why is no one around?  They would send for the men in white coats!  I look incredibly unstable while walking through these scenes.  This year, these processes started back in February after finally settling on the musical we would present.  The selection process began back in December, 2011.

Now that I'm into the performance dates, Camp is simply a jog to the finish.  I've done the prep work, the children have been thoroughly equipped, and the volunteer staff have been lead as best I could.  Now it's time to simply reach the finish line.  I'm looking forward to tomorrow morning's final performance with both anticipation and a touch of sadness.  I really do enjoy working with these kids and we have had a lot of fun together -- MOSTLY-- but I'm ready to get some rest physically and mentally!

What happens after the show closes?  There will be a bit of work to return the stage to a church sanctuary and follow-up notes to send to staff and students.  Then I'm off for a much-needed vacation before diving in again and beginning to plan for the crew's next production.  It's sad to admit, but before this show even ends, there are already ideas buzzing around in my head regarding what we can do next.  Some would say I need professional help!  I just say that I'm addicted to the joy of watching kids develop their skills and using their talents in the ministry of their local church.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reclaiming My Voice

Here's a little secret....I enjoy blogging.  I like writing about my life and things that are on my mind.  It's been a while since I've written anything here though.  Why the delay?  I became more concerned with other people's opinions rather than exercising my own voice.

Today I began to think about my neglected blogs and decided to visit them and see if I had happened to have any visitors recently.  Imagine my surprise and happiness to learn that both Livin' Life and Collaborations have been seeing a decent amount of activity despite the lack of new material.  I finally took the time to sit down and see if I could recall why I stopped writing.  As I began to reflect on the circumstances causing me to stop writing, I realized that I allowed other people to make a decision for me that was not theirs to make.  I finally came to a position with which I am entirely comfortable.

I am not an authority on every subject nor do I claim to be.  I do have opinions (just like you do).  I also have the same right to express my opinion freely.  As we all know, opinions are like noses and belly buttons;  everyone has one!  (Of course, there are also OTHER body parts everyone has that I chose not to mention, you dirty-minded people!)  Most of you have never seen my belly button. I don't mind showing it to you, but some don't particularly want to see it either.  The same applies to my opinions.  I'll continue to express them for my own personal enjoyment.  Read them if you want to......ignore them if you want to.  It really makes no difference to me.  Just don't attempt to make them say something that isn't there.  If you care enough to enter into a mature dialogue regarding a topic, ask and I'll be happy to make my view clear and listen to your respectfully presented opinion as well (after all, that's one of the strengths of the blogosphere).

So starting today, I reclaim my voice.  Don't want to read it?  Move on!  You won't offend me at all.  Think I'm full of hot air?  Visit elsewhere and find another windbag that is more preferable to you.  If you think something here is directed at you, recognize that it probably is not.  Honestly, if you're even on my radar screen and I have something to say to you, you'll be told about it.  Those who know me best will attest to the fact that I am generally not one to mince words.

That felt good!  Now I can move on and begin exploring my mind again and continue Livin' Life!

By the way, here's the picture I ran across earlier today that is the source of the belly button reference.  (Want to make sure I give credit where it's due since I'm not the originator of the comment!)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lazy Days Are Here Again

It feels as though I only post to this blog when I'm on vacation. I'm not sure if that's because I've convinced myself I have no time to write (which is true) or that I have nothing to say at the moment that will be interesting to a wide majority (which may also be true). As I found myself drawing closer and closer to Spring Break, I realized that I had waited too long to do my standard trip to Los Angeles since plane far was over $800! I also had to admit that while my southern California trips are wonderful, I often come home just as tired as when I left from trying to see as many friends as possible. This spring, I needed something different.

On Sunday afternoon, I headed to Biloxi, Mississippi after finishing my responsibilities at the church. Located on the Gulf Coast, Biloxi has proven to be a charming community with a constant breeze and the smell of the sea in the air. I'm finding myself at home! As soon as I arrived, I realized this trip would not be quite what I expected. My hotel sat directly across the street from the Beau Rivage Casino and Resort. In case you don't know, I have had many fond memories at casinos (in Las Vegas) with close friends over the years, but not for the reasons you would think. While I am fascinated by the gaming, I don't generally spend much time playing. What I love is people watching, taking in the shows, and eating the food.

After grabbing a quick bite to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe, I decided to call it a night and head back to the room. Monday morning got started much later than I expected; I slept for 11 hours! Needless to say, I was feeling GOOD on Monday. I don't guess I realized how little rest I had gotten recently. Since I was so rested, I decided not to make any major plans for the week's activities and just see where things led; I also knew that I wanted to have lots of comfort food around.

I began the day with the first of 2 buffets. Breakfast at the Hard Rock Casino left a little something to be desired, but the atmosphere and pastrys were EXCEPTIONAL! (You got it, as long as the desserts are good, I'll keep coming back for more and more and more!) After having purchased 2 soft drinks from the vending machines, I knew I needed to buy a 12-pack to get me through the next few days. While checking out, I asked the clerk what else there was to do in the area other than visiting casinos. She and the young mother behind me in line gave resounding praise to the Washington Avenue area of Ocean Springs. What a great tip!

Washington Avenue is a quaint section of the city that is filled with lots of vintage shops. I loved checking out the local artists, restaurants, and toy stores. I almost headed home with 2 dolls: a Scarlett and Rhett that each stood 18-24 inches tall. They were beautiful, would have made a great Christmas present, but I was frightened at the prospect of having enormous sticker shock.

While on Washington Avenue, I visited the WAMA (William Anderson Museum of Art) that I had see in several guide books from the area. William Anderson was a local artist in the 1960s who was a bit of a hermit and took his inspiration from the wildlife of the area. His work is highly geometric and has a native, almost tribal, quality to it. While I did not like much of his work displayed, the painting of the Koi and the Birds of Paradise were exquisite! As I found myself in early afternoon, I still wasn't hungry (especially after the breakfast buffet), so I decided to simply follow the road without any direction. This turned out to be the highlight of my day as I found my way to the beach.

This section of the Mississippi shore was near the marina and was marked with several piers jutting out into the muddy waters. The pier on the east side consisted of 2 watch areas housing wooden benches. The furthest watch porch was empty, so I quickly made my way out. As I sat there alone, I was able to empty my mind, do some quiet reading, revel in some memories and simply breathe. For some reason, I always forget what an important role the water has played in my life over the years. Even though I can't swim and don't find myself playing in the water, it always provides a respite from the storm....a place where I can simply "be" while the world continues around me.

After sitting on the pier for an hour or so, I noticed that I was tired again and headed back to the hotel to rest. Following an afternoon of napping, reading, and watching television, I headed across the street to the Beau Rivage Casino for dinner at the buffet. AMAZING! That's all I can say about it! The only way it could have been better was if I could have followed the entrees at Beau Rivage with the desserts from the Hard Rock.

Today's plans are questionable. It's a beautiful day, but extremely windy. With winds gusting up to 45 mph, driving, sitting, and walking can be treacherous. I'm planning to finish reading The Hunger Games today and trying to visit the Center for Marine Education in Gulf Shores. Beyond that.....I have no idea. We'll just see what the day ahead holds. I'm certain of this one thing though: above all else, this will be another day full of rest and relaxation.