Monday, December 30, 2013

Hits and Misses (December 22-28)

I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Christmas week with your friends and family.  Here's a look back at how my week went….the good, the bad, and the ugly.


  • Christmas Eve baking was a ton of fun. This has actually become one of my favorite traditions of the holiday season. Mom and I hit the kitchen early Tuesday morning and started making desserts. This year's menu featured a Red Velvet Poke Cake (more on that later), chocolate eclairs, pretzel cookies, pecan pie, and pumpkin cookies. We finally closed the kitchen around 6 that evening; we were both tired, but we had thoroughly enjoyed our time together.
  • Christmas Day was a great time with family. All 10 of us were together for lunch….and we were all ready to simply linger around the dining room table to talk and laugh. If the food had been horrible (which it never is), we still would have had a great celebration.
  • While running some final errands on Monday, the check engine light came on my car. This always freaks me out. My car is nearly paid off (PTL!) and has over 220,000 miles. I would really love to be able to drive this car at least through the end of the school year. When I saw the light, I began to think the end was near. I got it to the shop on Thursday for an oil change and to find out what else was going on. Final outcome…..the light just needed to be reset! Total cost of this trip to the mechanic? $39! It's a Christmas miracle!
  • I ventured out to the movies on Friday afternoon again. Rather than continuing my Golden Globes project, I departed from the list to check out The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I loved it! It had been a while since I read the second book of the series and had forgotten how much I enjoyed the adventures of Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. I'm already looking forward to the next movie arriving in theaters, but first I need to get a copy of the final book in the trilogy and get it read.
  • Any time our holiday menu calls for a ham or turkey, I make a trek to Holiday Ham and Turkey to place an order. We love the flavor and it's so much easier to have a pre-cooked meat amid all the busyness. This year was rather frustrating. I ordered the ham several weeks ago and gave special instructions that I need an unglazed ham. (Mom is violently allergic to honey; even though there is very little natural honey in the glaze, we don't take any chances.) When I arrived to pick up the ham with my confirmation number, I was informed that they would have to slice a ham for me. In other words, they didn't have the product ready. People were walking into the store without calling in advance and left the counter long before me. I was frustrated and questioned the staff about the benefits of calling in if they aren't going to have the ham ready and set aside for me. I was glad that I maintained a level head (and I didn't create a scene), but I let them know that I was definitely not a happy customer.
  • On Monday night, I went to meet a friend who was visiting family in Memphis over the holidays. We decided to meet at Tug's in Harbor Town since it was conveniently located to both of us. While the food was adequate and the conversation was nice, the food poisoning that I suffered for the rest of the night was not pleasant. Needless to say, I don't think I'll be visiting Tug's again.
  • Christmas shopping is something I normally enjoy. What I don't enjoy is having to purchase gifts that someone else (e.g. Mom and Dad) are going to give to me. What's the point? On Christmas morning, I was going through the motions of ripping paper off of packages and taking out the contents, but I didn't have to look at a single item. Why? Because I had already shopped the racks and made the selections. Come on! Just make your own selection.  If I don't like it, I'll do what every other person in the world does….I'll make a return after the holidays. All I'm asking is that you put a little thought into what you think I might like.
  • The failure of the Christmas baking season was without a doubt the Red Velvet Poke Cake. I found this on Pinterest and thought it would be a lot easier than the standard red velvet. I couldn't have been more wrong. The pudding was too thick to pour and never went into the poked holes. The reason we decided against making a red velvet cake was the limited space in the refrigerator; this disaster also required refrigeration (a fact we didn't think about when we read the recipe ---DOH!) and simply was not good.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Year in Review

Now that we are in the final week of the year, I decided to take a look over my calendar for the past 12 months to review what happened. Memories both good and bad were brought to mind. I wanted to put my reflections here to share with you…..but more importantly, to have for my own future reflection.  Here's a small glimpse into my life in 2013.

January and February were busy with lots of rehearsals for Union University's Britten festival. In celebration of the composer's 100th birthday, the music department mounted a production of Noye's Fludde as well as a weekend festival featuring master classes and faculty performances. I did a lot of playing, we all survived the stomach plague that hit the campus during the opera's run, and I had my fill of Britten.

During March and April, I remained busy at Union. In addition to accompanying two big recitals -- one of which included Schumann's Liederkreis -- I participated in my first regional NATS competition. I've played for local NATS competitions over the years, but this was my first adventure into the larger competitions. It was in Bowling Green, Kentucky…..a nice college town. It was a lot of work, but it was great to get away from the craziness of Memphis for a few days.

The craziness of Memphis? Definitely! It was in April that I began seeing a counselor due to issues related to my work situation. The counseling led to a request for a sabbatical from my position at Abundant Grace Ministries in Collierville. To my great surprise (and an expression of the church's love), I was granted the full three months with salary.  The agreement was that I would continue to be active in a local church and decide about my future involvement with AGM while I was resting.

As May rolled around, I was wrapping up my responsibilities at Union and MSCC so I could fully enjoy my sabbatical and regain my emotional health. Earlier in the semester, I had agreed to accompany the spring concert for the choir at the Hutchinson School.  Little did I know that their director and my friend, Cindy Harrison, would be moving to Houston shortly afterward. It was a pleasure to get to work with Cindy one more time.

With a few weeks of vacation before beginning summer classes, I headed to Eureka Springs for a long weekend alone. I had no plans. I let no one know where I was going. I packed clothes, a journal, and my Bible. (As a confession, I also made a LONG drive to find a bookstore to pick up a copy of Dan Brown's book that was released that weekend.) I strolled through the old part of town for a few hours and checked out some local eateries. Mostly, I shut myself in my room where I read, meditated, prayed, and cried. It was a horrible weekend at the time; now I realize that it was the beginning of some much-needed healing.

My family had planned a summer vacation to Disney World. Plans changed (which always frustrates me…..but I'm trying to get better about that!) and we ended up spending a fun week in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Nine of the Freemans hit the town and we had a blast! My siblings both had rooms at one end of the Parkway while my parents and I had made reservations in the middle. It had been the first time in a very long time that we were all able to get together away from home and just enjoy each other without a lot of stress. It was long overdue!  (One of my next responsibilities is to give Mom and Dad some options to choose from for our next Freeman family adventure. Hope to have that taken care of by the end of the year!)

June was devoted to my sabbatical and my teenage nieces. During the summer months (when I was home), I was cared for spiritually by the wonderful people at West Memphis First Assembly of God. What a beautiful congregation! They asked very few questions, made no demands of me, but assured me that they were interceding for me as I made decisions about my future. Since I needed an outlet, the girls and I made weekly "date outings" together. We went to the movies as well as making trips to the zoo, miniature golfing, and bowling. So much fun!

July was one of the most eventful months of the year. After receiving a revised job description from the church, I submitted my resignation. It felt so fitting to receive an email from the pastor on July 4 that my resignation had been received and accepted. Independence Day has now taken on a brand new meaning for me.  There have been many reasons for my resignation floating around….I've heard that I suffered a nervous breakdown…..others told me I got mad because I wasn't making enough money. Neither of those are true. I resigned because I had been deeply hurt during fourteen years of ministry in various ways by people and situations.  It did not appear that things would ever be resolved. The hurt I was experiencing was being pressed down in order to be the "bigger person" while the work load constantly increased. When I finally came to feel that I had grown as far as I could in the position, I knew it was time to leave…..I wasn't enjoying my work, I hated attending church, and I didn't feel as though I was being effective or that my work was appreciated by the congregation.  (Note:  I don't say that any of those things were actually TRUE….they were simply what "I felt." I had to finally make decisions based on my well being. This resignation had been coming for nearly 3 years.)

During July, my mother's brother became very ill and began losing his battle with cancer. After several trips to visit Uncle Sam in a Jonesboro hospital, we attended the first of the summer's funerals for members of my family.  While we were sad, my parents and I had planned to visit family in Conroe, Texas that week as well. We left for a much needed time of rest the morning after the funeral.  Once we returned from Conroe, I received a call from Union asking if I would be willing to teach a class in the fall. This was nothing short of an answered prayer.

A new semester of classes began in August. Sadly, I had to dash out of my MSCC classroom on the first day of the semester in order to join my parents in central Arkansas for the funeral of my Aunt Catherine, my dad's sister-in-law. It was such a sad occasion, but there was a certain peace in knowing that this Godly woman had finally received her Heavenly reward.  By the end of the month, I began my new adventure in teaching class piano in Jackson, Tennessee. I had always grimaced at the thought of teaching the course, but it quickly became a class I enjoyed and that I think I teach well. I was learning on the fly since there was little direction for me……but that also made it a fun adventure for me and my students.

Since we had faced so much tragedy during the fall, Mom decided that September would be the perfect time to host a family reunion in Crawfordsville for her siblings. Although only one of her brothers was able to join us on that day, we still had a wonderful day of celebration as nearly 25 members of our family from around the state joined for hamburgers, hot dogs, and lots of memories. I'm hoping that we will plan another reunion for the fall.

The fall saw a lot of visits to the doctor with sinus infections as well as other maladies. By the end of September, my body had taken as much as it could handle. I began to experience pain in my left shoulder and upper chest. On a Thursday evening, my parents took me to the ER because I thought I was having a heart attack. Thankfully, all of my blood work and EKGs came back clear; it was later determined that a heavy year of piano playing and carrying music bags on my shoulder combined with stress had resulted in an injury to my neck muscles that was pulling into the chest cavity. I still struggle with the injury, but it is getting better with each passing week of rest.

The rest of the year was marked by performances and travel.  October and November had me very busy playing for 20 students at Union in addition to preparing for opera workshop and a student recital. I had the good fortune to travel to Malibu two times to see friends while preparing and presenting a private recital in the area.  For Thanksgiving, the geriatric patients and I went back to Conroe for another week with Jerry and Gail's gang. By the time December rolled around, I was ready for a break. Despite all of the icy roads that threatened to cancel finals, we managed to get all of the exams done and submit grades. For the first time in many years, I attended Bellevue's Singing Christmas Tree and participated in the Christmas Concert at Hope Baptist.

With all of the ups and downs of 2013, I still can look back and say that I have been tremendously blessed this year.  I look forward to what is ahead in 2014.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

My prayer for you on this Christmas Day is that among all the lights and presents beneath the tree, you find the greatest gift of all -- the Presence of the Savior in your home and life -- today and always!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!


Monday, December 23, 2013

Hits and Misses (December 15-21)

Another week is in the books! Let's take a look at the highs and lows together.


  • Christmas shopping is almost done! I hit the mall while the rest of the world was at work and knocked out a huge chunk of my shopping. I even came home with most of my packages wrapped and ready to go under the tree. That's a great feeling!
  • I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Children's Ministry and Children's Musicals. This week, I got to see the kids at First Baptist Marion present their production of Miracle on Main Street. It was a cute show with a TON of kids on stage. I have to admit that I saw things that I would have done differently, but I definitely applaud the leadership team that brought all of these kids together.  While I'm admitting things, I suppose I should also admit that I really missed being involved with a kids' production this Christmas…..but not enough to commit myself to anything right away!
  • I'm thankful when I get a good report from the dentist! My last visit was not very good at all as I had some periodontal work done. This trip showed tremendous improvement in my gums….many of the most severe areas have healed and are once again healthy. It feels good to hear results from the daily flossing routine. 
  • You might not believe it, but Mom and I finally tried a new recipe this week! Saturday night we tried Sloppy Joe Bubble Up and were pleased with the outcome. It was incredibly easy and not terribly expensive to make either. It will be a keeper for our household.


  • My sister asked me to try my hand at making chocolate eclairs. The thought of making pastry creme freaks me out! The other problem is that I've not eaten many eclairs in my life…..just not one of my favorite pastries. So, I don't have much of an idea of what I'm striving for. I pick up pastry bags and tips, drive home to start the process, and know that my eclairs are going to be too small as soon as they are done baking. (Thankfully there were no pictures taken of the mess in the kitchen while I was trying to use the piping bag. Suffice it to say that dough was coming out of both ends of the bag……which is never a good thing in ANY situation.)
  • Before getting a good report at the dentist, I had a bit of a scare. I hadn't been feeling well all week, but I didn't want to cancel my appointment since the practice is extremely busy. Before beginning to work on my mouth, Debbie took my blood pressure and found that it was quite high. After taking it a few more times, I was advised to stop by my family physician on the way home. When I arrived at Dr. Pierce's office, my BP was elevated, but not to a point that raised concern. Now I'm just having to monitor it until I have my physical next month…..but high BP will scare the CRAP out of you!
  • As though things weren't bad enough, I wrenched my back tossing in bed on Friday night. Saturday morning saw me sitting on the couch with a heating pad on my back. When I walked (as little as possible), I had a great view of my toes. I looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame! Since I was overcompensating and protecting the right side of my back, I went to bed with aches in the middle of the left side by the end of the day. All of this just in time for the Christmas holidays and the insanity that comes with that.
  • Storms rolled through the Memphis area on the first day of winter. With temperatures in the 70s, the addition of instability in the atmosphere was not welcome. We were under tornado watches and thunderstorm warnings most of Saturday. Mom decided she wanted to go to the office (her secure location) and asked me if I was going. I said no. Mom changes her story and says she's not going if I'm not going. Catch-22 situation! I can either stay here and listen to her fret or I can get out in the messy weather (and put myself in greater danger, IMHO) in order to get her to calm down and hush. One lesson I've learned with her over the years…..pick your battles. Headed to the office only to watch everything calm down within 15 minutes of getting there. Ugh!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Memories

As Christmas draws closer, I find myself reflecting on past holiday seasons. Memories are shaped by emotions….some good, others bad. Regardless of the emotional memory, each experience reminds me of the beautiful truth of Christmas.

Christmas is first and foremost a time of joy. As a child, each Christmas found my family spending time with our extended family. For many years, this included a trip to the Houston area to be with my mom's sister. The trailer was packed with bodies, but it was filled with laughter. I have such fond memories of the aroma of sweet concoctions that filled the bar -- red velvet cake, fudge, peanut brittle -- and the trips to the bowling alley. Santa visited and brought gifts. (I nearly ripped my dad's arm out of socket one year as he threatened to "shoot" the departing Santa because Dad didn't receive any gifts!) On one of these Christmas trips, I was unbeatable at the new game I received, Battleship. For a large part of the trip, no one could figure out how I was winning the game every time so decisively…..until they figured out that I was a cheater, checking out the location of their ships in the mirrors on the ceiling! (How I miss the decor of the 1980s.) The laughter that filled the air then continues to warm my heart now.

Christmas is also a time of knowing that you are special to people near and far. Each year, Christmas cards and gifts poured into our home from people around the country that my family knew and loved. The cards gradually made their way to the large doorway separating the living room from the dining room. I loved watching the cards coming in the mail and seeing the card collection grow. It felt as though we were literally surrounded by the love of friends.

Sometimes gifts would also arrive in the mail. I have received wonderful gifts throughout my life, but a few of them stick out in my memory more than others. My brother joined the US Air Force when I was 5 years old. I knew who he was and what he looked like, but I really didn't KNOW him. While stationed in Germany one year (I was probably in 5th grade), he sent a Christmas package that included a gift for me. Mom put the package under the tree and I could hardly wait! I knew O'Neal was my brother, but the gift signified to my young mind that even though he wasn't nearby…..he was thinking of ME!

When Christmas Eve rolled around, I think Mom and Dad had heard enough and finally decided to let me open one gift. There was no question which one I was going for either. As I opened the package from my brother in a land far away, I found the neatest watch I had ever seen! It was a black digital watch made of plastic. What intrigued me most were the buttons just below the face; when I began to punch the buttons, I entered the game mode of the watch! The gift probably wasn't that expensive….and it didn't matter. What mattered most to me was that my brother loved me enough to think about what his little brother would enjoy. That watch rarely left my arm and connected me to O'Neal every time I wore it.

Sadly, Christmas can sometimes bring feelings of insignificance as well. At some point in my childhood, the trips to Texas ceased and we began to spend Christmas with my Dad's mother, better known as Big Mother. Dad's mom was a wonderful Christian woman throughout her life; she was not perfect though. As a grandchild visiting her house, we were always welcomed. However, it was always clear that I was not one of the favorite grandchildren. As I watched her explosions of joy over the appearance of the "golden children" on Christmas Day, I began to question why I didn't elicit the same response. I became jealous of my older siblings who had experienced a glowing relationship with my maternal grandmother; Ma-maw passed away just before my fifth birthday. Trips to Big Mother's filled Christmas Days throughout much of my elementary and middle school years. I hated the journey and only wanted to go back home. I didn't know at the time that what I was dealing with were feelings of inferiority and insignificance. Since I didn't matter to her, why should I be here? It was a horrible feeling.

As you celebrate the birth of the Christ child this Christmas, I hope that you experience the joy that His advent brought to the world and that you realize that God sent His son into the world because He was thinking about you! No matter how difficult your circumstances right now, no matter how far away the Father may seem from you, no matter how alone and insignificant you may feel, God is thinking of you with a heart full of love and offers you gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love this holiday season in the perfect package of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Golden Globes Project: 12 Years a Slave and Philomena reviews

I enjoy projects. I like the thrill of trying to complete things and checking them off of a list. The Christmas break provides the perfect opportunity to take on a new, fun project.  Last week, the Golden Globe nominees were announced. My project is to see the ten films nominated for best picture (5 dramas, 5 comedies) before the award broadcast on Sunday, January 12.

In case you haven't heard, the 2014 Golden Globe nominees for best picture are…..

Best Motion Picture, Drama

  • 12 Years a Slave
  • Captain Phillips
  • Gravity
  • Philomena
  • Rush

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
  • American Hustle
  • Her
  • Inside Llewyn Davis
  • Nebraska
  • The Wolf of Wall Street

12 Years a Slave - In Review
The first of the films I saw was 12 Years a Slave, rated R.  This beautifully told story is based in fact and tells of an African-American man who is kidnapped from his New York life as a free man and sold into the horrors of slavery in the deep South. The film is incredibly moving in its portrayal of the relationships between the slaves and the diversity of situations they might have to endure. 

I expected the film to be difficult to watch since I struggle with blood and gore on the screen. I was surprised to find that the filmmakers treated the horror with ample respect while not resorting to long passages of blood and filth. During the most violent passages, the focus was on the characters' faces; we noticed the blood that was present, but it wasn't the focus of the scene. 

In my opinion, every American should see 12 Years a Slave. The R rating is primarily associated with the frequent use of the racial expletive (n*****) as well as the adult themes and violence. There are a few scenes that are sexual in nature -- an encounter between two slaves and the rape of a slave by her master -- but neither scene was portrayed in an offensive manner (i.e. I don't recall seeing skin in either scene).  There is full-frontal nudity (male and female) in the film, however. The captured free men are shown bathing in preparation for their transfer to the slave block. In a later scene, black men and women stand nude before the whites who are planning to purchase new "property." 

I was thoroughly impressed by the quality of the film and the beauty of the character development. 12 Years a Slave was one of the best movies I have seen in quite some time. The other nominees in the drama category will be compared to this outstanding film.

Philomena - In Review

Philomena is another tale of loss and injustice. This time, the victim is a young Irish girl who was left in a convent by her father after the death of her mother. While there, Philomena encounters a young man who sweeps her off of her feet, and introduces her to the joy of sex. As a result of their encounter, Philomena finds herself pregnant and must face the ire of the nuns. As part of her punishment, Philomena -- as well as the other unwed mothers in the convent -- are given the most difficult jobs by the nuns and permitted to see their children for only one hour each day. The young mother's hopes are crushed when she learns that her son has been taken away and that she must give up all rights to ever locate him.

Shortly after the child's 50th birthday, Philomena is introduced to a former investigate reporter, Martin, who will join the mother in her search to find her son. What they find is a story of pain, deception, greed, and betrayal. I suppose what makes the story even more tragic is the realization that the film was inspired by actual events.

While the film didn't move me as much as 12 Years a Slave, I was thoroughly entertained by the cast. Judi Dench is a phenomenon. Her performance as the elderly Irish mother seeking her child is a brilliant combination of comedy, wit, and fortitude. The location shots throughout Ireland and the eastern United States are beautiful and add to the film's overall tone. The relationship between Philomena and Martin is fascinating and serves as the mode of conveying thoughts about faith, religion, and forgiveness.

Philomena's PG-13 rating was surprising to me. The film is filled with adult themes and adult language. Some may argue that the words are not vulgar to an American audience since the British synonyms are employed throughout. Despite the use of their British counterparts for the more "mundane" words, the use of the "F-bomb" at least 2 times was a bit much in my opinion. I understand the power of the word and that there are times when it might be considered necessary for dramatic purposes; what I disapprove of is assuming that a student of 13 should encounter this type of language without parental supervision in the theater. (FYI…..I shouldn't be surprised to see that Harvey Weinstein was the spearhead of the campaign to get the MPAA's initial R rating lowered to its current PG-13. For more information, see the Los Angeles times article dated November 14, 2013 here.)

I expected a charming story with wonderful acting from the leading lady. I was not disappointed. What I didn't expect to walk away with was a deep sense of loss for the many Irish mothers who were forcibly separated from their children in the name of penance and justice.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hits and Misses (December 8-14)

Let's take a look back at the week that was.


  • On Wednesday evening, I had the pleasure of playing in an annual Christmas concert at Hope Baptist in Olive Branch with my friend, Ellen Patrick. Ellen and I played a duet arrangement of Sleigh Ride (more about this on Thursday over on Collaborations) and just generally had a good time. This was my first time to play on the concert…..and also my first year in a LONG time not to direct my own Christmas program. It was nice to have fun making Christmas music again.
  • Before heading to Hope Baptist, I made a quick stop at the library to pick up a couple of books. Since the holidays are here, I plan to enjoy a bit more time reading and relaxing. At the moment, I'm reading Robert Whitlow's Life Everlasting and loving every minute of it.
  • The Golden Globe nominations were announced this week. I always like to play along and select my own winners. I've not seen many of this year's nominees, so I'm having fun making some trips to the movies to see as many of them as I can.  I'll be sharing my thoughts on them throughout the week here as well. I'm really looking forward to the Christmas movie season.
  • Bellevue's Singing Christmas Tree opened its run on Friday night and I was in the house. The lights were amazing…..some of the singing was quite good……and the story was beautiful.
  • Mom and I headed to the mall on Saturday to get most of her Christmas shopping done. I enjoy spending time with her and getting to see her enjoy the holidays.


  • Ending the semester was a pain. With last weekend's winter weather, schedules were a nightmare. My final was moved to Tuesday morning; grades and checkout had to be completed by Wednesday. It's not impossible to have a quick turn around, but since it's not the process that I had originally planned for, it was a bit of a hassle. I'm just glad that the fall classes at MSCC of 2013 are done.
  • I ordered my ticket to the Singing Christmas Tree online. I can't complain because the prices were really reasonable. I do wish that there had been a note somewhere explaining that the entire house right side of the auditorium had an obstructed view. I nearly left the program after trying to watch the stage only to see the black arm of a camera filling half of the stage. It was really annoying! I'm thankful for the work that Bellevue does on this production, but I was left with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.
  • Christmas shopping has become a chore over the years. Mom has no confidence in making her own selections, so I have to select the merchandise and get her approval. I don't mind it so much when we're shopping for the rest of the family, but I honestly hate having to select my own gifts, help wrap them, and then put on a surprised expression on Christmas morning. I could really use some help this time of year handling all of the responsibilities.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Rediscovering Christmas

Christmas used to be one of my favorite holidays. I loved the lights, the music, and the joy that filled the air. I found a thrill when Santa Claus made his first appearance and there was excitement in every store. Children laughed and adults seemed to turn their attention to those things that were most important. Somehow though I lost the thrill of the holiday in recent years and began to dread it. I simply wanted to skip from Thanksgiving to the New Year.

Christmas no longer was a source of joy. It was a season of increased work and immense stress. By the time all of the "work" was done, I had to hustle to purchase gifts and plan menus. The reality of a "Silent Night" was inconceivable. I wanted to honor the Savior's birth, but what I really wanted to experience was a few days of "peace on earth."

This year, things are different. I have intentionally built a calendar that is much less packed this December. I'm taking time to enjoy Christmas movies with my parents. Today, I found myself sitting in the living room with nothing on my agenda as I stared at the lights on the tree. I've enjoyed participating in some holiday performances with friends. Now I'm gearing up to make memories in the kitchen as the season's baking begins.

What's changed? I have. My focus has shifted to the One we celebrate instead of the pageantry of the season. My prayer this year is that I will have a new understanding of Jesus as the Prince of Peace and that I will enjoy the holiday with a new level of peace that has been absent for too many Christmas celebrations.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Hits and Misses (December 1-7)

It has certainly been a wild week! Crazy things have meant that I wasn't on a normal blogging schedule either. Here's a look back at the week that was (and the week that I am VERY GLAD is finally over).


  • Finals started this week! That meant I had a more relaxed schedule and got to sleep in a little later. I've forgotten just how much I enjoy sleeping because I don't get to experience it very often these days.
  • The end of the week saw the first round of winter weather for the season and that meant school was closed on Friday! Hip, Hip, Hooray! I caught up on some paperwork and got to do some reading again. It was too cold to do much else though.
  • Rather than fighting the crowds on Black Friday, I hit the internet and ordered a few gifts. This was new territory for me, but I'm quickly becoming a believer! The first set of gifts arrived this week and have already been wrapped. I'm loving this quick turn around without the stress of facing the people.
  • Since my schedule is finally beginning to slow down, I decided it was time to begin a new personal Bible study. I am working through Beth Moore's study on the Patriarchs and thoroughly enjoying it! While I consider myself very familiar with the stories found in the book of Genesis, Beth's insights have opened my eyes to new perspectives that have challenged me and blessed me immensely. If you have not participated in a personal Bible study in a while, I encourage you to jump in with both feet. You will be blessed and you'll learn something new along the way.
  • The end of the week also saw the publication of recital schedules for the spring at Union. I'm playing 7 programs and I'm going to be a very busy bee once March rolls around. It's time to hit the practice rooms in preparation.
  • Because of the icy roads, voice boards at Union were cancelled Saturday. This was definitely good news and bad news. My students and I had prepared all semester for this exam; not getting to present our programs was a bit of a let down. Not having to sit at a piano for four hours straight and perform the entire time was a welcome change of pace. I suppose the good part definitely outweighs the bad!


  • Nothing makes me more irate than students that cheat. My week began with filing charges against a student for academic dishonesty. The student received notification and then emailed me asking for a second chance since this was not his intention. Really? What was your intention when you went to the web and copied large sections of text into your document that you presented as your own work? Am I really that stupid?
  • With the end of the semester comes a lot of rehearsals. Long days at the piano with a headache and shoulder pain are not the times of music making that I most enjoy. They are sometimes necessary.
  • I don't like cold weather!!! I like it even less when the temperature changes dramatically and quickly. On Thursday, we experienced a high in the low 70s; within 24 hours, we were facing the chilling artic air that registered in the low 20s. My body and house are not built for temperatures that low!
  • I hate cancer. It's a cruel disease that has hit my family and friends too many times in recent years. As I was preparing to walk on stage during a departmental recital on Thursday afternoon, I learned that another friend had lost his battle with cancer. Tyler Decker was a student with me at Pepperdine in the early 1990s. He was always a source of entertainment with his amazing sense of humor and wit. Tyler and I renewed are friendship a few years ago as we both renewed our involvement with the Psi Upsilon fraternity at Pepperdine. What I came to respect most about Tyler was not his humor, but his friendship and insightfulness. Tyler will be missed greatly by all who knew him. My prayers are with his family in the coming days and weeks as they begin to face the world without their treasured son, brother, and friend.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hits and Misses (November 24-30)

I still haven't gotten used to blogging during the holidays. Now that I'm back home and things are finally returning back to normal, I'm trying to get back into a normal routine here as well. Let's take a look at the final week of November 2013 that just passed.


  • Dad had to make a last minute trip to Little Rock on Sunday, so that meant Mom and I spent the morning together in church. We attended Marion First Baptist and heard an outstanding sermon on the importance of having a grateful spirit. It was a perfect start to the holiday week.
  • After I finished teaching classes on Monday morning, my parents and I headed to Willis, Texas to spend Thanksgiving week with family.  It's always great to escape to Willis and enjoy some relaxation on the lake. The laughter and fun that can always be found in that home are what keep us coming back.
  • While in Willis, Mom and I always find ourselves gravitating to the kitchen. This week, we did quite of bit of baking and cooking with Gail. I think I finally ended up having my hands in the making of 4 batches of peanut brittle while we were there in addition to some chocolate pies. Good food and great fun together make the perfect recipe.
  • An ice storm was threatening central Arkansas and northeast Texas on Monday. In an effort to avoid the winter weather, my parents and I took a different route than normal to Texas. Normally, this would be an adventure. We I drove for nearly nine hours that day in a constant rain. By the time we stopped for the night in Shreveport, Louisiana, I was exhausted. Once I finally got in bed, I couldn't sleep! I was really thankful to arrive in Willis safely on Tuesday morning.
  • When we returned home, we planned a direct route through Dallas and Little Rock.  The drive to Little Rock went really smoothly; total driving time was just over 7 hours.  The drive from LR takes 90 minutes under normal conditions. Holiday travel and incompetent construction under the  (lack of) leadership of the Arkansas Highway Department resulted in the drive taking nearly 3.5 hours…..including the recommended detour. Arkansas wonders why it is witnessing a decline in tourism and is always the butt of the joke.  The answer is simple…..NO ONE CAN GET AROUND IN THE STATE! It's insane! Needless to say, this is one native Arkansan who cannot wait to get out of Dodge. 
  • While in Texas, I somehow had an encounter with a colony of fleas. I tried to find ways to scratch without being TOO obvious or looking like a dog frantically clawing behind his ear. A trip to the drugstore introduced me to the miracle of Caladryl (which will always be in my medicine cabinet from now on) and I was able to get some relief. [At the time of this post, we have counted 18 bites on both legs from just above the knees to my toes. They are finally beginning to heal, but it has been a LONG week because of them.]
There you have it….a look back at the week that was! Hope you all enjoy the rest of this week (now that it's halfway over) and will join me again on Friday for another look at how I'm simply Livin' Life.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hits and Misses (November 17-23)

Here's a look back at the great week that was!


  • The week started with a few extra moments to spare, so I was able to get back to my reading. When things get really busy, it's always one of the first things to get pushed aside. Even though there is still a lot of work ahead in the coming weeks, finding time to read again reminds me that the end of the craziness is in sight.
  • I have survived another semester of teaching College Survival. I can't yet say that all of my students have survived (they still have a few projects to submit), but all in all, the class has been a success. Since the work load has been reduced significantly and the individual instructors have finally been given permission to tailor the instruction to our skills and styles, the course seems to be working much better. There are still some things that need to be corrected, but I have hope that next semester's class will be an even better experience.
  • I love performing. I enjoy it even more when the production and the cast are at a point where everyone can simply have fun on stage! This semester's opera workshop at Union was just such a situation. Even though there were some stressful moments during production week (nothing new there!), the cast remained relaxed and trusted each other to pull off a great show in the end. 
  • It's always nice to hear positive feedback. I am in the process of applying for several job openings around the country; there is one in particular that would definitely be a blessing. As part of the application process, I have requested letters of recommendation. This week I was overwhelmed by the kind words expressed in one of these letters. I knew my work was appreciated and respected, but there was something about reading that fact expressed so eloquently that was touching…..and a boost to keep pushing to do the best work I can at all times.
  • After a particularly long day, I received a sweet email from a dear friend who thought of me when she saw a particular cookie in the local supermarket. The email was informative, but it was also tempered with her particular humor and unquestionable love. It probably doesn't sound like much to most of you, but that email made me smile and was one of the highlights of my week. It was also a nice reminder to me that even the simplest things can make a huge difference to a person's day.
  • Saturday brought the week to a close with the Freeman Thanksgiving Celebration in Crawfordsville. Since several of us will be out of pocket on the holiday, all ten of us came together to eat, laugh, and love on each other. We are a silly crew when we are together, but I wouldn't have it any other way. We've all faced our bumps in life recently, but our family bonds are stronger than ever (that's what happens when some of the trash is finally taken out!) and our faith and commitment to Christ continues to grow. It was the perfect ending to a really good week.
  • Late night rehearsals have never been very good for me. I know they are sometimes necessary, but I rarely am in a good mood while I'm there. After a long day of playing for lessons and other rehearsals, the last thing I want to do is sit in a recital hall for another 90 draining minutes! (Notice….rehearsals are draining, but performances are exhilarating! What's the difference? I suppose it's all about having an audience.)
  • The only thing worse than those late night rehearsals are missed rehearsals! It seems as though I complain about these every week. You would think I would be used to them by now, but I'm not. I think some people need to learn something about how to properly use personal calendars. Ugh!
  • Students also need refresher courses in using personal calendars. Projects in my class are assigned weeks (if not months) in advance! You know the deadline is coming. You have a clear description of the assignment in your syllabus. It's not going to sit well with me when you approach the day before the deadline to ask for an extension. Nine times out of ten the answer will be the same…..ABSOLUTELY NOT! You may turn the assignment in late, but there will be a penalty for missing the deadline.
  • It's been a long semester with a lot on my plate. As a result of the busy schedule, it's the time of year when I begin to experience a lot of fatigue. I'm not sick; I'm just tired. It effects my mood and my perspective. Fortunately, I'm able to turn in a little earlier in the evening or take a power nap in the middle of the day.
  • When I'm fatigued, the worst thing to do is ask me to come to a meeting that really has no purpose. These monthly meetings are the pits and really need to be re-evaluated; the information they contain are designed for someone above my pay grade. I don't need to have a presentation of the data that you have compiled. If you would like me to be a little more invested in the information, create a full-time position. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thankfuls - Part 3

This is the final installment in my series of posts about what I am thankful for this year.

21.  Movie nights with Mom. I don't take the time that I have with parents for granted. They are growing older and I know that they won't be with me forever. It's been wonderful to sit with Mom at the end of long days and watch Christmas movies. The laughter and sharing has been a blessing.

22.  Heat! When I walked into a chilly hotel room this week, I was reminded of how blessed I am to have the ability to move a switch to warm the air quickly.  So many in our world don't have that privilege.  I can't imagine the difficulty of trying to sleep when I was cold.

23.  Getting to sleep in!  This guy is not a morning person at all. I can function if I need to, but I prefer to stay in bed for an hour or so after waking. When I have a day to just casually lounge in bed, I take full advantage of it.

24.  Break time. Life is busy and there is so much that needs to be done in the course of the day. I'm thankful for those small breaks that appear to allow me to rest and get my mind together before finishing out the rest of my responsibilities.

25.  Colors.  I love vivid colors. The world would be much less interesting without the brilliance of reds, yellows, blues, and ORANGES!

26.  Pillows. Give me a pile of pillows to crash into and I'm a happy camper.

27.  Jesus.  He is my everything, my source of all hope, and the reason for my song.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hits and Misses (November 10-16)

Another week is beginning, but before we get too far into things, let's take one last look at the week that was.


  • Movie week! It's always nice to return to the classroom after a very busy few days to show a film version of a major musical. This year's selection was Oklahoma! 
  • The bulk of my work this week was in final preparation for the Hindemith clarinet sonata that I played in departmental recital. Despite a few glitches, the performance went fairly well. Maybe I'm the oddball, but I truly enjoy getting to play Hindemith's works; they are just fun!
  • Opera workshop rolled out some of our scenes to a retirement home early in the week. Even though this hasn't been my favorite music, it was nice to share some of these "golden oldies" with these charming men and women.
  • Medicine is a gift from Heaven! It's amazing that we are able to self-diagnosis our ailments with a certain amount of accuracy and then treat it with over-the-counter medication. I'm think I'm only dealing with a mild case of the flu (or a really nasty cold)……but either way, I haven't felt this poorly in some time. The worst of it was quickly treated with meds…..making this a "hit" instead of a "miss."


  • Getting sick is never fun. The bug began to creep in on Thursday afternoon. The first thing to go was my sense of rhythm…..probably not the best thing to lose when you're sight-reading choral works either. By the time Friday evening's recital rolled around, I felt as though I had been hit by a mack truck! I didn't play horribly, but I certainly missed a lot of easy passages that I could normally play in my sleep.
  • When I get sick, I lose all motivation to do anything. I hate it, but it's just the way I'm built. No reading… thinking… rehearsing……I'm simply going to find a couch or a bed and sleep the hours away!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Why I Joined a Fraternity

In the spring of 1994, I was a senior at Pepperdine University. As the semester began, I found myself pledging a local fraternity, Lambda Omega Sigma (now aligned with the national organization Psi Upsilon). I was asked by many why I was joining a fraternity at that point in my career. I was accused of attempting to buy friends, looking for a constant party, and lacking self-confidence. Now that I'm nearly 20 years removed from that decision, I still find that my choice to pledge a fraternity was one of the best decisions I made during my undergraduate career.

Joining a fraternity made me part of something much bigger than myself. Those outside a Greek organizations mock the use of the term "brothers" to describe the membership. In my experience, the fraternity positioned me to form relationships with like-minded men who were facing similar challenges. Many of these relationships grew into lifelong friendships upon which I depend to this day. When I find myself in trouble or depression, my fraternity brothers are among the first that I turn to for support -- often before turning to my biological family.

I was fortunate to observe from the beginning that my fraternity experience did not have to end with my graduation. I witnessed men who maintained an appropriate level of involvement in the group as alumni, continuing to develop friendships with younger members. These alumni became mentors for those who followed them; what I would later learn is that the alumni are also challenged and encouraged by the very ones they are attempting to influence.

Opportunities abounded in the fraternity setting. As a member of Lambdas, I was part of a team building homes in some of the poorest regions of Mexico. I was involved in repair work at an Indian reservation in Arizona and fed the homeless on the streets of Los Angeles. My leadership and organization skills were developed as well. I was given the task of directing 50 peers in an annual song and dance competition and was a member of the team that evaluated national organizations when a transition was mandated. While I had leadership opportunities outside of the fraternity, the frequency and support was greater because I was a member of Lambdas. I learned more about myself than I thought possible.

Lastly, I learned a great deal about communication within the fraternity. When a group of guys are spending lots of time together, it is certain that conflict will arise. Through these disagreements, I learned how to speak my mind clearly while respecting the differing views of those I cared for. I didn't always communicate things perfectly; I still don't. I have learned to be more considerate of the feelings of others and to think about how I would like to be addressed in conflict. The reason that these skills were developed so clearly in the fraternity was that I had the added comfort of knowing that these men were my friends; even if they became angry with me, I had confidence that we could talk through things and come to a mutually acceptable outcome.

These are certainly not all of the benefits I gained from my years as an active member of Lambda Omega Sigma, but these are some that have had the greatest impact on my personal development. Because of the profound impact the fraternity has had on me over the years, I continue to be actively involved in the organization as an alumnus. Next Friday, I'll look at the reasons that I continue my involvement with this group of men.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thankfuls - Part II

I want to continue in my month of thanksgiving. Here are the things that have been on my heart this week.

#11. Sweater Season. Even though I'm not incredibly fond of cold weather, I do enjoy getting to pull out my sweaters. There's just something cozy and comfy about wearing them that makes me feel much more relaxed.

#12. Technology. Now that my iPhone, iPad, email, Facebook, and Twitter are parts of my daily life, I can't figure out what I would do without them. I certainly don't HAVE to have them, but it makes life so much easier to stay in touch with those I love and miss.

#13. Scripture. I am falling in love with God's Word more and more each day. It is my source of inspiration, direction and encouragement.

#14. The Gift of Sight. Dealing with a student who is legally blind has reminded me of how blessed I am to have healthy eyes. I think we often take the blessing of being able to see for well as all of the things associated with it.

#15. Travel Mercies. I'm always on the road. Whether I'm traveling by car or plane, I'm thankful for God's constant protection.

#16. Oceans and Mountains. I'm reminded of God's awesome power every time I watch these majestic parts of creation. They are wonderful examples of His creativity and greatness.

#17. Books. Books are such a special part of my life every day. I can't imagine a day without them.

#18. Humor. If I didn't have people around me to laugh with, life would be a very boring thing.

#19. Wonderful Pastors. Throughout my life, I've been blessed with Godly men who have guided my spiritual development. As I thought this week about things in my past, I realized how blessed I was to have these men invest in my life. I am so thankful for the influence of men like Jim Hutchins, James Marlow, Greg Goins, Jack Pruitt, Robbie Wier, Rusty Bland, and Clay Hallmark.

#20. Wrapped in Warmth. There's nothing better than the comfort and safety that comes with being wrapped in warmth....whether you're wrapped up in a favorite blanket, a quilt from your grandmother, or a friend's warm embrace. I've had the chance to enjoy all three of these this week and I'm very thankful for each of them.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Hits and Misses (November 3-9)

What a crazy, busy week it has been! There's a lot to tell (and a lot to share later). So here goes.....a look at the week that was.


  • After Sunday morning service, I decided to head to Mud Island for brunch at Tug's Bar and Grill. Great food and a really reasonable price. It's always fun to try new places and have new experiences.
  • I'm not sure if it's a hit or a miss, but it's always nice to learn that people that annoy you are annoyances to many, many other people. I feel sorry for them...but also vindicated.
  • This week was filled with lots of visits with friends. Before heading to the airport on Wednesday, I headed to Abundant Grace Ministries to visit with the pastor for the first time since my resignation. It was great to catch up with my friend without any awkward feelings. Once I arrived in Los Angeles, I was able to meet friends in a park overlooking the ocean to share a breakfast picnic, laugh, and watch the sunrise together. After finishing all of my responsibilities for the week, I hopped in a car with four friends and headed up to the mountains for a weekend of rest. Once we got to the cabin, I sat around and played cards when I wasn't catching up with friends or having meals together.
  • While driving up to the mountains, I got a text message from one of my college fraternity brothers, Jon Jones. Even though we don't get to see each other very often, when we do talk it is as though we are just picking up where we left off.
  • Because I was seeing so many friends over the long weekend, I was reminded of the power and importance of warm hugs between friends. Sometimes there are emotions that need to be expressed that words cannot contain. Even though I'm normally not a big hugger, I soaked it up this week and was so energized and certain just how much I am loved.


  • Since I was leaving on Wednesday afternoon, I had to cram a lot of work into 2 1/2 days. Monday was a long day filled with a lot of rehearsals. It wouldn't have been too bad since Tuesday was a day off from Union; instead, I wasted my time sitting through workshops that were not very productive.
  • I'm still learning just how expensive a trip to the emergency room can be. Thankfully I am able to pay (slowly but surely) and the creditors have been very willing to set up payment plans.
  • Just before leaving, I administered an exam that I had warned the students about for several weeks. They obviously did not study for it since the grades were abysmal. Their complaint was that the exam was different from prior formats and that I didn't cover everything in my review session. Really? These people need to decide whether or not they really want to be in college and actually do the work.
  • I love to travel, but it's not always the easiest thing ever. My flight to Los Angeles was extremely turbulant and I immediately knew I was going to struggle with changing time zones this trip. I was worn out before I even got started!
  • I suffered with lots of achy knees and feet on this trip too. I guess it's part of the aging process, but I still don't have to like it.
  • I hate when secrets are revealed! If you are told something that is not supposed to be repeated, simply keep your mouth shut. How is that difficult?
  • Good attitudes go a long way toward correcting mistakes. The worse situation is making a mistake and refusing to admit that you are responsible for the failure to some degree. Take responsibility, people!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Financial Responsibility

Growing up, money was not something that was openly discussed in my home. We were not rich. We couldn't make purchases on a whim. At times, money was tight. In the worse of times, I never suffered. My family basically did everything we wanted to do. We sometimes had to stretch pennies to do it, but we always seemed to have enough. Neglecting a debt or financial commitment was never an option for my parents. I suppose that is why I strive to have a good relationship with money.


The first principle my parents passed on to me was the importance of generosity. The first portion of every paycheck went to our local church. It wasn't just fulfilling a commitment; I watched my parents give joyfully from what they had. During my adulthood, I have struggled with this concept at times. I never felt I made enough money to give. When I finally realized that it was all about the gift and not the amount or frequency, a new world opened up to me. As I began to become more generous, I found that I actually had more to give!


The other lesson instilled by my folks was the importance of fulfilling your commitments. Bills are essentially credits extended to you on your promise to pay. You gave your word! If you want to have a good reputation, it's important to honor your word...even when it's inconvenient.


What about the times the money just isn't there? The commitment was still made and should be honored. I'm actually finding myself in this situation now. A recent visit to the ER has led to bills pouring into my mailbox. Since I'm uninsured, I'm responsible for the cost; unfortunately I cannot pay all of the bills in one lump sum. I dreaded calling the creditors to make payment arrangements. I don't know if I was embarrassed or fearful that a compromise couldn't be reached. When I finally called, I found that an enormous burden was lifted from my shoulders because I was being honest about my situation while expressing my intentions to pay the amount in full. Shame was gone, and a compromise was reached. Sure, I'll be paying this expense off for quite sometime, but I'm following through with my responsibility. I guess it's all part of being an adult.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Thankfuls - Part I

Now that November is here, social media is exploding with everyone daily mentioning the thing that they are thankful for. I am truly thankful for so many things, but when I try to post my thoughts daily on Facebook, I inevitably miss a day and feel like a clod. So I've decided to post a three part series on my "thankfuls" throughout the month of November. They may not mean much to you, but these are the things that I am thankful for at the moment.

  1. Family. I am blessed beyond words with an incredibly close family that stands by me during difficult times while loving me unconditionally. Mom, Dad, O'Neal, Patsy, Carlene, Shane, Jacquelyn, Kristian, and Sara……you mean the world to me and daily are the greatest blessings in my life.  I love you all!
  2. Job. Despite all of my complaining about busy schedules and irresponsible students, I love my job. I thrill at the opportunity to educate young people about the joys of music and count it an honor to have the chance to make music with some really talented young musicians.
  3. Music. Nothing expresses my heart more than music. When words fail, music speaks for me. It allows me to access a depth of emotion that non-musicians don't realize they are missing. I'm so thankful that my life is grounded in music on a daily basis and never want to take the gift I have been given for granted.
  4. Rest. I'm still enjoying a state of rest that began in April of this year. Few really know how desperately the rest was needed; even fewer have witnessed the benefits first hand. I'm not in a perpetual state of rest….but I'm planning on lingering in this state for a little while longer.
  5. True friends. There's no way I could begin to name all of you who fall into this category. Some of you I have known for nearly 20 years now. Others have recently become dear to me. You have been roommates, fraternity brothers, collaborative partners, church family and mentors. You push me to be all I can be while reminding me that you value me just the way I am.
  6. Worship without Work. After 14 years of service in a local church, it is a weekly blessing to attend church without having responsibilities associated with a paycheck. While I am thankful for the training that I received during my years in ministry, I am also thankful that I am rediscovering the joy of worship as a congregant. (Believe me, I am a GREAT member of the congregation and support the ministry team whenever I possibly can in any way I can.)
  7. Health. 2013 has been a bumpy year for me. I found myself in emotional and physical crises. I'm thankful that I am currently enjoying the blessings of health. Until it threatens to disappear, I often take my health for granted. Am I where I want to be? Not at all.  Do I know what I need to do? Certainly.  The issue of time management remains a major obstacle (along with actually getting health insurance…..but that's another story.)
  8. Chocolate. There's not a situation that isn't made better by chocolate. When you decide to bless me with chocolate, I prefer milk chocolate…….and the only acceptable fillings are caramel or toffee. (Bring me chocolate and I just might add you to my list of true friends!)
  9. Exploration. I love getting to visit new places and meet new people. I'm so thankful that I've had the opportunity to do a little of both this year. Looking forward to doing more in the future.
  10. Hope. Things aren't perfect, but I'm hopeful that things will improve. I couldn't say that earlier this summer. Since my hope has been renewed, I find myself breathing a little deeper and realizing that the sun is shining more brightly as I journey through life.
What are you thankful for this week? Whatever it is, take a moment and offer thanks to the One who brings us all good and perfect gifts.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Hits and Misses (October 27 - November 2)

It's hard to believe that I flew home at the beginning of last week and now I'm making plans for a return trip to the beautiful coast later this week. Needless to say, this week has been busy and it was very important that things got done. Unfortunately, it seemed that I hit more snags than normal.  Here's the week that was.


  • After getting re-routed to Memphis due to my flight to Little Rock being cancelled on Sunday, I was thankful that the trip to the Little Rock airport on Monday was painless. I spent only 15 minutes in the terminal getting my bag and then headed straight to my car.
  • I've heard all of the hype about the Lord of the Ring trilogy, but I've never been able to get through it. It should not be a surprise that I would try to read the books first. Since I don't really enjoy the fantasy genre, I struggled with the storyline. Since I had a long flight, I decided to rent The Fellowship of the Ring to watch on my iPad…and now I understand why everyone has such high praise for these films! They are beautifully made and the story resonates with clear moral lessons. I plan to finish the trilogy on my upcoming flights to and from LAX.
  • It should be considered a "hit" that I didn't have to take off a day of work in order to retrieve my car and bag on Monday. That should have been my response. Instead, I was completely frustrated that what should have been a relaxing day since my lessons at Union were cancelled had to be wasted with a trip to the airport because of the airline's judgment call.
  • I've been hearing a lot of stories about people who simply are not paying their bills. Few things annoy me more. If you made a financial commitment, be mature enough (not to mention ethical) and follow through with the payment. I still can't believe that people are insulted when businesses and individuals decide to take action in order to recoup their money. I've faced bill dodgers too many times over the years in my piano studio. Just so we're clear……I don't care who you are……if you owe me money and don't pay me or make reasonable arrangements to get me my money, I will take steps to secure the money I have earned. Don't be surprised if you get reported to a collection agency or find yourself in small claims. Ugh!
  • Sometimes students need to be reminded of their role in the educational process and the professor's role. This week, I had a student openly defy my authority in class and refuse to do the work assigned. Once I instructed her to begin the work, she took it upon herself to berate me under her breath (although she was convinced I couldn't hear her). When I informed her that she needed to leave my classroom, she became very defensive and claimed that I had misunderstood. I told her I would be happy to hear her take on the situation after class, but for now, she was leaving. (Shocking that I haven't heard from her at all since this exchange.)
  • I hate changing plans. I understand that it is necessary at times, but as the project's culmination is approaching it really begins to get under my skin. There comes a point when you simply have to say that things are going on as planned for better or for worse.
  • With all of the driving I was doing this week, traffic was especially a nightmare. The drive to Little Rock would normally be a 90 minute drive; an additional 30 minutes were tacked on due to construction projects. What is most annoying is that the project effected some 45 miles of interstate although the work was confined to a 5 mile span. On Friday, an accident between two semi-trucks added an extra hour to my commute to Union. That meant that I was 30 minutes late to an opera rehearsal that only lasted an hour. I'm just really thankful that those types of traffic nightmares don't occur too often in my world.
There you have it! Now if I can just survive until Wednesday afternoon, I have a feeling my return trip to Los Angeles will be filled with "hits" that I can share next week.  Have a great Monday, everyone!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Save, Save, Save

In our society today, we are constantly encouraged to save. Save your money for future troubles. Save time by streamlining your processes. Save your strength because our days are increasingly busy. Sometimes I wonder if we have become so intent on saving that we have lost the joy of simply living life.

I understand that there is wisdom in saving. I acknowledge that times of difficulty are certain to come that will require our reserves of money, time, and strength. On the other hand, it is not advisable to worry about tomorrow so much that we fail to use the resources that we have today to live a full and happy life. So I choose to save, but not to the point of doing nothing with what I have today.

What brought on all of this talk about saving? A reminder of an annual saving event that I AM looking forward to.....Daylight Savings time begins on Saturday night. I'm looking forward to getting that extra hour of sleep and saving an extra hour of sleep and rest!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween Memories

Growing up, Halloween wasn't regarded as an evil holiday in my family. While we knew its history and the darkness associated with it, my parents wisely allowed me to participate while supervising my activities closely. I got to experience the fun of dressing up in costumes and visiting neighbors in our small community. I got to have the all-American childhood.

At the heart of a child's Halloween fun is the costume. Growing up in the 70s, plastic masks were the way to go.  Every year, we would make a trip to Wal-Mart and choose an appropriate costume based on my interest. There are pictures of me wearing a mask of Tweety Bird one year; other costumes blur from memory. However, there was one costume that I still don't understand and will never forget.

I was about ten and was already struggling with my weight. I was at an awkward size, so the costumes I most enjoyed were too small; the costumes that fit were devils and werewolves, all of which I chose to avoid. That's when I saw it….the costume that I simply had to have. It featured a green balloon-like head piece and a matching cape. There was a silly face on the balloon, but what was most cool about the costume was the green make-up that the kit included. I wasn't going to be a little kid this year wearing one of those silly masks. No sirree! I was moving into the artistry of make-up. The possibilities were endless for the amazing costumes I would wear in the future.

On Halloween night, Mom helped me cake the slimy green stuff on my face. I thought I looked so cool!  As we headed out to trick-or-treat, my feelings about the costume changed very quickly. The weather was rather warm that year; under the plastic cape, I began to sweat. The moisture did not mix with my green face at all. Some of it began to run while other portions of it were clinging to my face in clumps. As the night wore on, I began to notice that the clumps were turning itchy as well. I didn't really care though…..I had my bucket full of Halloween treats and was looking forward to checking it all out at home.

When I got home, the intensity of the itching hit. As we tried to remove the make-up with soap and water (per the instructions), it became obvious that something had gone wrong. The green was not coming off. As we began to peel away the costume, a new horror was revealed. My face was covered in a bumpy, red rash. It was time for a new make-up job….compliments of the pink calamine lotion that now dotted my face. I got to wear my "new" costume for a few days. Needless to say, I have never worn make-up again without first checking to make sure it was hypo-allergenic!

Who says kids don't learn valuable lessons on Halloween? I certainly did.  Have fun Thursday night with your children, be safe, and take the time to create memories that will last a lifetime.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Hits and Misses (October 20-26)

This week's posting is a bit later than normal because of traveling issues I encountered yesterday. More about that below.  Posts should return to their regular schedule beginning on Wednesday.  Here we go…..


  • The week got off to a great start with a wonderful Sunday. My family was together for worship at Marion First Baptist where we heard a wonderful sermon that was both timely and encouraging.  Lunch at home followed and was filled with lots of laughter -- my Mom is hysterical! Tears were rolling down most of our faces before the day was over from laughing so hard with each other.
  • It was great to reconnect with some friends who cannot be close by through text messages. I love texting! It allows me to communicate throughout the day as I can. It's not as good as face-to-face communication, but it certainly reminds me of precious times.
  • Instrumental collaboration is my favorite type of piano accompanying. It was so refreshing to get to spend some time with a student and her coach as we worked our way through the opening movement of the Hindemith Clarinet Sonata. So much fun! Very rewarding work too.
  • Students never fail to provide sources of humor in my life. This week, a student came to class and explained his absences for the past 2 1/2 weeks. It seems the young man was driving to a football game and saw his cousin walking along the street. As family should, the student offered to give his cousin a ride. What he didn't know was that his passenger had just been involved with a robbery! The police saw the villain get in the car and they pursued.  My student was arrested and had been sitting in jail for aiding and abetting while he was missing my class.  What can I say? Ya just can't make this stuff up!
  • Thursday's recital hour at Union had me doing a fair amount of playing. It's always nice to walk away from a performance tired, but confident that you played well.
  • On Friday afternoon, I hopped a flight to Los Angeles and got to SURPRISE friends with a visit. It was so much fun! I got to hang out with lots of friends in Westwood and on the beach the next morning before getting to help with a service project for a local camp of the Salvation Army.  The laughter was contagious and very needed. I'm excited that I get to go back for a little work and more brotherhood in just over a week!
  • Apathy drives me crazy! My students did really poorly on their mid-term exam, so I offered to allow them a retake. I thought I was being extremely generous. Imagine my surprise when only 6 of the 22 enrolled in my class took advantage of my offer. Those 6 were very pleased with the resulting scores they earned.
  • While getting to go to LA was one of the week's highlights, leaving southern California remains tough. No matter how many times I visit, it's never long enough. I still long for the day that my career allows me to work in the area that I love.
  • Cancellations are never fun. Early in the week, a professor had to cancel a lesson for a personal emergency.  Understandable…..only problem is that the professor and student both forgot to tell ME that things were cancelled! It was the first lesson of the day, so I could have relaxed on the drive up to Union if I had known; still, I was able to use the time.  
  • On Sunday, I arrived in Dallas for my connection to Little Rock only to learn that the flight had been cancelled! When I finally found a helpful agent, I learned that American Airlines was not able to guarantee that I would get home until the following morning. I was able to get put on a flight to Memphis so I wouldn't miss work…….but had to make an extra trip to Little Rock to retrieve my luggage and car.
As you can see, the week was packed and very busy. I'm really hoping this week is a bit calmer so I can catch my breath.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Season of Giving

It's time to give the calendar a double-take. Exactly two months from today we will celebrate Christmas. Decorations are going up already and Santas everywhere are beginning to make their lists. It's time to let the shopping begin!

Giving gifts has always been a joyous opportunity for me to express my love for others. Just because I give a gift doesn't mean that I am expecting something in return. The perceived value of the gift isn't intended to be a statement about an individual's value or my status. The gift simply means that I saw something that made me think of you and that I wanted to share it with you.

When did gift giving become a competition? When did it become necessary to exchange gifts with everyone from whom you receive one? When did we lose the ability to receive love unconditionally?

On this cool October day, I don't have the answers. What could be a wonderful time to remember the many people that have touched my life in the past year has instead turned into a game of trying not to offend. Making sure that I don't give a gift to a person that results in them feeling obligated to return the favor.

And that is why the holiday season has become a tug of war between what I want to do and what I am permitted to do.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Power of Fear




Public Speaking. 


These are just a few of the things that can strike fear into the heart of people. What we fear is often irrational according to others. Intellectually, we know that our fears are somewhat silly. Still we face the invisible monsters that hide beneath our beds and look for danger lurking around the corner.

A few weeks ago, I faced fear head on. A visit to the doctor resulted in an EKG to rule out a heart condition. While the results came back clear, the nurse practitioner warned that hidden dangers could be associated with my condition that would not be picked up by the test. I was sent home with no answers and lots of questions.

As I tried to sleep, I came face to face with fear. I was experiencing pain -- which would probably better be described in hind-sight as discomfort -- and heard the warnings from the nurse in my mind. I began to panic. I am too young to die. Momentarily, I truly understood what it was to be paralyzed by fear. Intellectually, I knew the pain I was experiencing was not typical for a heart emergency and that the EKG gave me a clean bill of health.  Fear tortured me and I found myself at the emergency room.

As I look back on that night, I don't regret the decision of making the visit to the hospital. I firmly believe that it is always best to err on the side of caution in health-related matters. What grabs my attention is the sheer power of fear in our lives.

Fear is a motivator. It was my fear that caused me to drag my body out of bed at midnight and go to the hospital. While it was the motivation of my visit, the ironic truth is that fear also paralyzes. I was unable to make the decision to visit the ER on my own. I had to be coerced by family members.

Fear brings shame. As a young man in my early 40s, I was embarrassed to tell the nurse that I was at the hospital because I was having a panic attack.....or a heart attack....I wasn't sure which.  As the pain subsided and I realized I was going to be okay, I began to apologize to everyone for wasting their time. Despite their instructions to stop beating myself up, I found myself in a personal prison.

Fear is relentless. Fear is not easily overcome. Once I was diagnosed with an injury to my neck, my fear would always find times to rear its ugly head and generate doubt in the days that followed. Fear most often attacks in the quietness of the night or when we find ourselves alone. It isn't hard to comprehend that fear can often morph into depression.

We were not created to live in fear! Scripture clearly lays this out in 2 Timothy 1:7:  "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." (NKJV) God's plan for his creation was to be at peace in their minds.  This peace comes from knowing Jesus Christ (see John 14:27). 

Whatever Fear has you in its grasp is not meant to have control over you! Put aside your pride, run to your Heavenly Father and openly admit your fear. Then allow Him to deal with the monster that has been making a home under your bed for far too long! He will gladly replace your fear with perfect peace!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hits and Misses (October 13-19)

Let's just dive right into the week that was.


  • To end my fall break, I got to connect with a few good friends that I hadn't seen in a while. Nothing earth shattering, but I enjoyed getting to catch up.
  • Since I didn't get to visit Los Angeles, I was really thankful to get to connect with the newest pledge class of my fraternity via Skype. It's always fun to walk down memory lane and recall some of the best memories of my life spent with an amazing group of guys.
  • The great television shows continued this week.  I got to start a new season of "The Biggest Loser." 
  • It's never fun to give students bad news. I returned some bad test grades and conducted conferences with students who are in risk of failing courses this term. We'll see how that turns out for them.
  • When things start to fall apart, EVERYTHING falls apart. The dryer was replaced early in the week. By Thursday, the heating element was out on the stove. Friday saw pain in my left arm from tendinitis. An arm brace (standard fare for a pianist, I suppose) is controlling my arm pain; we are still attempting to find the heating element for the stove. Looks as though we'll only be cooking on the stove top for the next week.
That just about sums up the week......let's see what happens this week.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Time to Get Rid of the Noise

The weekend is coming and I am looking forward to relaxing a bit. My parents have also had a busy week; relaxation is on their agendas as well. Our definitions of "relaxing" vary greatly though.

My dad will plop down into a leather recliner with the clicker balanced on the wooden arm. Once he turns on the television Saturday morning, the square monster will continue to blare until he retires for the night. Mom will probably busy herself with various household chores that were left undone before gliding into the cushiony softness of the couch. While television is extremely entertaining (a glance at my calendar will reveal my prime time favorites), the noise that it brings is not always relaxing. Sometimes I really just want to shut the box off and escape the chattering of the talking heads. I just want to turn the TV off for a while.

For many in our society, silence and solitude is uncomfortable. When there is nothing outside of ourselves to hear, we actually begin to listen to our inner voice. That's when we begin to hear gentle words of encouragement, reproof, direction, and challenge. When the noise is removed, our mind has to become our source of information and entertainment. We no longer are led aimlessly by an immoral society.

I'm not saying that television is evil. I just think that it holds too much sway in American culture. What would happen if we silenced the boob tube for a few hours each day and listened carefully? Our families would be strengthened as relationships were rekindled through conversation. Imagination and knowledge would regain the prized positions they held in prior generations. We would reconnect with the Spirit, growing in faith and love. 

I think it's time to begin controlling the talking box rather than being controlled by it. It's time to eliminate some of the noise and start to really listen. You just might be surprised by what you begin to hear!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hits and Misses (October 6-12)

I hope you all enjoyed a more relaxed Monday because of the Columbus Day holiday.  Even if you didn't get off work, I hope you were able to relax a bit.  Since I was on holiday on Monday, I decided to push this week's Hits and Misses back.  Here's a look back at the week that was.


  • The best thing about this week is that I finally began to feel slightly better. Less pain is always a good thing.
  • Thursday is usually an incredibly busy day for me with lots of playing. This week, Thursday was the first day of break at Union.  I thoroughly enjoyed a day of sleeping, resting, and unwinding.
  • I had the pleasure of meeting the gentlemen who comprise the 31st pledge class of the Psi Upsilon fraternity via Skype.  It was nice to reminisce about my own pledging experience (20 years ago!) and to see that many of the traditions carry on today. I'm hoping to make a brief visit to Malibu before the pledging process is over. 
  • I will never understand students. Even after a review that specifically addressed each question on the exam, over 1/2 of those enrolled in my classes failed a multiple choice test. Really? I think they almost had to try to fail that one. I'm becoming more and more convinced that ignorance is incredibly difficult to overcome.
  • After teaching a morning of classes, I headed to the airport on Friday afternoon. I learned that my flight was going to be delayed. I was in no hurry; it was no big deal. As I sat in the airport, I became extremely ill.  Things got so bad that the airline rescheduled my flights for the following morning in hopes that I would feel better.  I was sick throughout the night and was unable to make the trip to Los Angeles that I had been looking forward to for several weeks.
Things didn't turn out as I had hoped. All in all, the week was rather disappointing. I'm hoping that this week, things begin to turn around.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Playing Catch Up

It's that time of the semester where I begin to feel as though I am behind schedule. Thankfully a break begins on Thursday and I'll be able to rest and catch up. As it turns out, my teaching load is light at the moment, so I've already begun catching up.

Sometimes catching up is easy. A phone call that had been procrastinated far too long kept getting avoided because I feared it would be an awkward conversation. I finally made the call and thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. (Thanks, Caleb!) Catching up with a dear friend was a joyful celebration.

Most of the time catching up does not require as much labor as we anticipate. A stack of filing that desperately needed attention was mastered in a matter of hours. I'm finding the same situation with my piano repertoire. I feel that I am behind the eight ball since I am currently limited on the time I can spend at the piano. I know that I need some focused practice, but it simply must wait a few more days to allow my body to continue to heal. Today's playing, however, felt more manageable; I felt in control of most of the music and that I'll be fine once I get back to the piano.

Sadly, there are times that catching up is much more difficult. When I was in college, I always ended up needing to read a novel in two days since I had not stuck to the reading schedule. As I powered my way through the book, I missed many of the subtle points and my resulting grades were a reflection of my speed reading. Some things simply require time in order to be fully grasped.

I've been dealing with my own time management issues lately as well as discussing similar situations with several of my students. Personally, I'm not so far behind that I need to panic; some of my students are beginning to learn that they are in dire situations. I'm hoping that they have better results than I did as a student.

NOTE: I will be visiting friends over Fall Break and will not be posting blogs. I will return to my regular schedule next Wednesday with the latest edition of "Hits and Misses." Have a great weekend, y'all!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hits and Misses (Sept 29-Oct 5)

Much of the week has been an absolute fog, but here are a few of the highs and lows that I can actually recall.


  • It's always great to have the entire family together for lunch on Sunday. Even if I was still a bit groggy from pain medicine, it was great to see everyone.
  • When I finally got to see the doctor, it was good to get some more positive reports. He agrees with the ER doctor that all of my problems are related to a neck injury that is pulling the muscles in my shoulder and chest. I was given prescriptions for both anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxers.
  • I got back to work this week. Most everything went well although there were a couple of days that I thought would never end. Thankfully the music staff at Union are understanding and allowed me to take it easy on some of the more demanding repertoire.
  • If I have to be lying up in bed, at least I had some good television to watch. This week saw the return of my favorite prime time series (Scandal) as well as some great episodes of Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nashville. The only problem was staying awake late enough to see the episodes!
  • Pain relievers and muscle relaxers make me loopy. I could never be an addict because I hate the feeling of being out of control. I know they are a necessary treatment, but I will certainly be thrilled when my body returns to normal and I don't need their assistance any more.
  • The student that attempted to intimidate me a few weeks ago returned to my class this week to ask if he could sit in while waiting for his class. I immediately asked him to leave (thankfully he complied) and then asked his girlfriend for his name.....which I promptly took to the security office. Security has spoken to the man and told him not to enter my classroom again. I'm thrilled that he has been told to stop, but I hate the fact that I work in a situation where students think they are in charge.
  • Midterm grades are as troublesome for teachers as they are for students. It's never fun to report that students are earning poor grades. It's always tempting to ask myself what else I could do to improve the situation; the answer is always the same. Until a student is willing to put forth the effort to earn a good grade, no change on my part will make a significant impact. It's just part of the job.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Returning to the Routine

After a rough few weeks, I think I'm finally getting back to a normal routine. I continue to have some tenderness in my chest and shoulder, but the "pain" has mostly subsided. Medication seems to be doing its job; even though I am often sleepy, I am feeling much better. As I feel better, I want to do everything that I normally do. Under the doctor's advice, I have to take it easy for a while longer. That means I'm limited to playing piano only when absolutely necessary for work....and that playing is simply "marking" the left hand.

Want to frustrate a musician? Simply tell them they can't make music for a while. It is killing me to play for lessons and know that I cannot "fix" the problems that arise since I'm not yet able to resume my normal practice schedule. I'm listening to more music than normal, but it just isn't the same as creating music with my hands. I anticipate that I'll be able to get back to practicing once I return from my upcoming trip to the West Coast. I'm looking forward to the time away.....but I'm really looking forward to getting to sit at my piano again and get back to work!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


I have spent years of my life completing paperwork. There are always reports to file and applications to complete. Rarely have I found myself as frustrated by paperwork as I have been this week.

Given my recent health scares, I've begun the process of obtaining health insurance. I'm a relatively healthy man who has consistently visited the same physician. I am certain that a health insurance agency is going to check my medical records thoroughly. Why then must I provide such specific health information? I was asked for all prescriptions I have taken for the past three years (not just the "dailies") and dates and treatments for illnesses ranging from sinusitis to major surgery.

When I finally got over the frustration of needing to complete the form, I asked the doctor's office for assistance. The staff told me that their practice was to provide requested information directly to the insurance company. Without the information, however, my application will be considered incomplete. It's a catch-22! No wonder I have chosen to forgo dealing with health insurance companies for so long.

After a discussion with an insurance agent, the forms have been completed. I just hope I don't start receiving phone calls from representatives trying to confirm all of my statements. If telling them to request and review the records from my physician doesn't work, I'll find myself right back at square one with more frustration.