Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mud on the Floor

I'm not a clean freak. Messes are going to happen. I can live comfortably in a certain amount of clutter and disorganization. I can handle dust on the base boards and knick-knacks. I don't mind if the laundry basket is full (and overflowing). What drives me crazy is mud on the floor.

Mud has been a constant battle in my home for as long as I can remember. My dad works hard in a filthy job. It's not unusual for him to find himself working in muddy water up to his waist. When he comes home in those cases, it's normal to find horribly muddy shoes next to the door on the front porch. On normal day's, Dad will find himself walking through yards, fields, and alleys that pack mud into the tread on the soles of his shoes. Since the bottom of the shoes aren't visible to him, he doesn't really think about the mud that has formed there over the course of the day. Eventually all of that mud must come out. It tends to come out on the carpet between the front door and the kitchen.....a major thoroughfare in our home.

My family and I aren't people who are going to move about our house in shoes. When we are most comfortable and in our natural habitat, you'll find us with bare feet. No socks are needed in our home! Nothing is worse than stepping onto a clod of mud when you're expecting the fluffy softness of carpet. If only the clod was strictly made of mud; the step can become downright painful when pebbles and sticks are wedged into the mud as well.

It's very easy to get frustrated at my dad over all the mud in the house. I suppose I get most angry when there is mud on the floor literally moments after the room has been vacuumed. I find myself wondering how in the world he can be so insensitive. Last Saturday I found myself dealing with that very frustration. I was alone in my room when I sensed the Holy Spirit tell me that I had been guilty of doing the very same thing.

Whoa! I never walk in places that are muddy and filthy, so I can't possibly be guilty of tracking dirt into anyone's home. Surely there was a mistake in this moment of conviction. But the nudging of my heart wouldn't go away.....and I soon began to understand that I AM guilty.

Our lives are lived daily in a sinful, filthy world. We attempt to keep ourselves as clean as possible from the world's influence, but still we are effected by the evil around us. When we fall into gross sin (what some would call BIG sin), we are very aware and quickly remedy the situation. But there are also those bits of sinfulness that cling to us without notice because we've become unaware of their presence. Issues of pride, materialism, unforgiveness, and anger have become trapped in the tread of our proverbial shoes. Like my dad, we don't realize that we're leaving a trail of filth, but still it remains. The only solution is to remove the shoes and deal with the muddy mess on the bottom.

Like Moses and Joshua, I believe that Christians around the world are being called into the most holy presence of God and instructed to remove their shoes in reverence of His holiness (see Exodus 3:5 and Joshua 5:15). As we come into the very presence of a living God, we become painfully aware of all of our sinfulness and begin to allow the Father to clean us thoroughly.

Jesus Himself walked this earth as a man and understands how powerfully the world attempts to influence us daily. Christ lived as a sinless man and has become our high priest, through whom we are able to find help as we strive to maintain the purity of His presence daily.  Let the closing words of Hebrews 4 encourage you as you prepare to remove your muddy shoes in the presence of a holy God.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are -- yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Hits and Misses (June 22-28)

I'm stealing an idea from my friend Tim Spivey. (If you're looking for insightful writing on Christian leadership, do yourself a favor and check out his blog, New Vintage Leadership. He's one of the few bloggers that I make sure I read regularly.) Each Friday, Tim concludes the week with a post series he calls Stream of Consciousness. These posts have no set theme and are simply a recounting of what's going on in Tim's world and what's on his mind.

My version of the blog series will appear on Monday mornings. Hits and Misses will recount the week that has passed....the good, the bad, and the ugly......and hit everything from food, television, movies, books, and everything in between. The only rule is that there are no rules! So.....without further ado.....let's get to last week's Hits and Misses!


  • The speed limit in Texas has been raised to 75 mph along many portions of the interstate. This meant that the trip from Conroe to Crawfordsville was a wonderful 9 hours, 5 minutes long. That's one of the best celebrations of the week!
  • Top Chef Masters began a new season on Bravo! I'm a sucker for all of these cooking competition shows. I especially like the twist of having an additional competition between the sous-chefs that directly impacts the contest between the masters. The first episode combined cooking outdoors and skydiving. What more could you ask for?
  • Along those same lines, Mom and I tried 2 new recipes that were major hits. I "tried" to take pictures of the is not one of my gifts, but they'll get better with a little more practice.

  • Herbed Lemon Chicken Breast

    Cheddar Baked Chicken
    • I've searched the Internet high and low for the recipe for the Herbed Lemon Chicken and can't find it anywhere! It was a promotional recipe from Mrs. Dash and included lemon juice, chicken stock, lemon zest, and brown sugar to make the crust. AMAZING!
    • Cheddar Baked Chicken was a hit and a huge success! The Rice Krispies made the crust really crunchy and made the cheddar a little less pronounced.
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies! I should have been called Cookie Monster this week. I had such a craving for Chips Ahoy Chocolate Chip Cookies. That's never a good situation; the entire bag is already gone. Now Mom is in the kitchen feeding my addiction again. I just had a bite of raw cookie dough and can't wait for the first batch of cookies to come out of the oven! YUM YUM YUM!!!!!!!!!
  • Unexpected money is always nice too. Got a check today that I didn't see coming. Definitely surprised, but also grateful.
  • The week ended with a relaxing afternoon with my family. After we all attended various churches in the metro area, we met together for lunch at O'Charley's before heading to my sisters so we could have more time to visit with my oldest niece and her husband. Even though my body was tired and I desperately needed to take some medicine, the laughter and fun was wonderful. This was truly the highlight of a great week.
  • Two trips to the doctor in one week are never fun. Neither diagnosis was too horrible: a varicose vein on my left leg and the early stages of another sinus infection. 
  • Headaches normally accompany my sinus infections, so I've not gotten the chance to read as much as I would have liked. Hope to make up for lost time as I start to feel better in the coming week.
  • Trying new recipes also resulted in a couple of misses.
    Meatball Sub Casserole
    • Meatball Sub Casserole sounded pretty good. The only problem was the mixture of cream cheese and mayonnaise on the bread. Honestly, it didn't taste as bad as you would think.....I think the problem was that Mom was a little overly generous when spreading the cream mixture on the bread. (It really looked much more appetizing than the picture conveys too!)
    • I deleted the picture I took of the Cheesy Chicken Bow Tie Pasta because it just looked like a bowl of melted cheese and spaghetti sauce. The flavor was okay (read as "not worth a repeat performance"). My major complaint was that there was simply too much sauce for too little pasta.
    • I was really surprised that the bow tie pasta didn't turn out better. The blog Plain Chicken is one of my favorite food blogs and has been the source of a lot of our recent recipe successes. The picture looks amazing still....our version just didn't turn out the same. 
That pretty much sums up the week! I hope you have a wonderful week ahead filled with laughter, love, and blessings.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Oh, the Places You'll Go!

Currently I am reading Winter of the World by Ken Follett. One of the characters, Lloyd Williams, finds himself leaving the comfort of his Wales existence to join the volunteer army in Spain to fight against Fascism. Follett introduces his relocation with this beautiful paragraph:

It was amazing, Lloyd Williams thought, how quickly you could come to love a place. He had been in Spain for only ten months, but already his passion for the country was almost as strong as his attachment to Wales. He loved to see a rare flower blooming in the scorched landscape; he enjoyed sleeping in the afternoon; he liked the way there was wine to drink even when there was nothing to eat. He had experienced flavors he had never tasted before: olives, paprika, chorizo, and the fiery spirit they called orujo. (Follett, Winter of the World, 244)
I immediately identified with Lloyd's ability to passionately adore a new location despite only being there for a short time. So I began to reminisce about the places I have visited that hold the greatest piece of my heart.

At the top of my list has to be the greater Los Angeles area, specifically Malibu. I lived in the area off and on for 8 years while attending school and beginning to figure things out after graduation. Why does this place hold such attraction for me? Of course there is a connection with friends and beautiful memories. I also adore the weather! The fresh breeze coming off the ocean did wonders for my allergies as well. (Reducing the amount of sneezing that occurs in a single day is a priceless treasure when you can find it!) Los Angeles was also a place of exploration for me. I became aware of music, shopping, film, and theater in a way that had previously eluded me. LA will always be associated with growth, freedom, and excitement in my mind.

My two week visit to southern Germany forever changed my view of the world. This was my first trip across the ocean and I was amazed to learn the value of a relaxed approach to life. My visit was centered in the quaint Bavarian town of Marktoberdorf. Even though days were filled with music lessons and rehearsals, there was plenty of time to explore the town's treasures and interact with the German people. My weekends saw trips to Salzburg and Munich. Even though I saw a lot of wonderful things in each of these cities, I was still enthralled by the calm approach to life found in Europe. I fell in love with the geography and architecture. I desperately want to return to this part of the world and explore more countries while learning more about the people, their cultures, and myself.

I could go on down the list. NYC and Honolulu hold fond memories (some of which are associated with the cities while others are linked to a dear friend). Texas is becoming more interesting to me as I spend more time there with the freedom to hop in my car and go exploring. Then there are the cities of San Diego, San Francisco, and only complaint is that I never seemed to have enough time in any of these places!

What places have you visited that grabbed your heart and imagination? Which are you most anxious to return to? Where have you dreamed of going that you haven't yet visited? I'd love to hear from you in the comment section below. Who knows....maybe we'll begin to make travel plans....

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Doctor Visits

Vacation is generally a time for rest, relaxation, and recuperation. Since my parents and I got home on Monday afternoon, we've been suffering with aches and pains. As a result, Dad was in the doctor's office yesterday and I am visiting at the time of this posting. It's a strange set of circumstances, but I'm thankful that things don't appear to be terribly serious.

Dad pulled a muscle in his lower back late last week while getting into my cousin's van. I felt sorry for him while driving home on Monday, but it was a humorous scene. Dad couldn't get comfortable so he rode in the back seat of the Outlander for 9 hours. This 6'1" tall man was throwing his leg up in the seat and shoving blankets, pillows, and sweaters behind his back and head, trying to find some comfort. He didn't want to get out of the car for bathroom breaks or food stops; when Mom and I got out, he reconsidered and made an awkward jaunt into the various establishments. Since he was sitting in the back, all voices from the front seats were projecting away from him. Dad has difficulty hearing as it is (just don't ask him to admit that fact!), so there was no way to entertain him through conversation. It was really rather amusing to hear Dad comment on things that were discussed literally moments before by the two of us in the front of the car.

Shortly after lunch, I suggested Dad call the doctor to make an appointment for the following morning and ask what pain relievers he could take that wouldn't interfere with his other medications. Apparently it had never crossed my parents' minds to call their primary physician to have him call in a prescription to get Dad through the rest of our vacation without being in too much pain. (What can I say? I was taking a vacation from the geriatric ward myself and didn't think to suggest making the phone call either.)

On Tuesday morning, Dad visited the doctor and got muscle relaxers and pain relievers. While he was there, he also consulted the doctor about a persistent cough he's been fighting for months. FINALLY!!! The doctor prescribed a strong antibiotic that will be followed by another drug to protect Dad's kidneys. (Since the situation has been ignored for so long, the drug treatment had to be extremely aggressive to get things under control.) To my chagrin, Dad did not discuss his hearing issues with the doctor....probably because he is convinced that the only reason he can't hear is because my mother and I mumble all of the time. Oh well.....I'll take a victory in the issue of the cough today and fight another battle on another day.

Today (Wednesday) finds me visiting the doctor myself. I've noticed a bump appearing on the outside of my left leg about midway between my knee and ankle. Normally the bump only comes up when I'm doing cardio in the gym; while in Texas, the bump began to appear more often. It's not painful. It almost feels like a muscle that is knotting up inside. Anyway, I don't want to self diagnose since I get so frustrated when my parents do the same thing. I'm having it checked out to make sure there's nothing serious that needs to be addressed and to see if I'm exacerbating it somehow.

Now that we're home and relaxed from the stress of work and school, it's the perfect time to deal with issues that have been causing stress to our bodies. After all, knowledge is power.....and it's time to find out what's going on and find solutions.

UPDATE: I just returned from my doctor's appointment with relatively good news. The bump on my leg is a small varicose vein. Nothing to worry about and nothing that needs attention at this time. We will continue to monitor it however.  kf

Monday, July 22, 2013

We All Scream for Ice Cream

My parents and I have spent returning home from a quick trip to Houston today. It's been wonderful to see family, share stories and laughter, and enjoy each other's company. Sunday was a very special holiday that needed to be celebrated: National Ice Cream Day! The weather hasn't been oppressive, but as soon as I realized it was a holiday I knew what needed to happen.

After lunch together, I snuck out of the house to find the local Dairy Queen. While I was driving down the interstate, the skies opened up with a massive thunderstorm. I was not going to be deterred! I found the place, ran inside -- and still got soaked to the bone -- to order my chocolate dip cone. I sat inside the Dairy Queen, shivering from the cold and eating my ice cream. I wasn't the only one venturing out into the rain for a sweet treat either. The DQ was packed with young and old alike.

I guess it just goes to show you that no matter how old I get, I don't need much of an excuse to enjoy a sweet treat and will brave rain, wind, or snow to get my hands on my favorite frozen dessert.

What's your favorite guilty pleasure dessert?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Request Granted

Recently while reading in the book of Matthew, a scripture jumped off the page and grabbed my attention. I thought I'd share my insight and thoughts with you today.

Matthew 8 contains familiar passages. One passage that has always grabbed my imagination is the story of Jesus casting the demons into the swine that is found in verses 28-34. I can see the delivered man finally experiencing peace. The screaming of the pigs as they plunge into the water below fills my ears followed by the successive splashes their bodies create. I can feel the breeze coming from the water and can see the gentle smile Jesus gives the freed man who is certainly offering thanks and praise to the One who brought him what he had hoped for so long.

Then the story becomes a little confusing. The story of Jesus casting out the demons spreads into the town and the people come to the cliffs. When they see Jesus, they ask Him to leave their region (v.34). Really? Why in the world would they do that? I've always been confused by this statement and tried to figure out their response. What I discovered is that what I needed to notice was Jesus' response.

Matthew 9 opens with a very sad verse of scripture: "Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town." (NIV) The crowds on the cliffs asked Jesus to go away and He did just that! He quietly stepped into a boat and granted their request. He didn't compel them to reconsider their words. He didn't attempt to show them the error of their ways. They had made a decision, asked the Savior to leave, and He gave them what they asked for. The Peace-giving Deliverer of the captives left their midst and headed to those who would receive Him (see Matthew 9:8).

We can't understand the crowd's response, but we're guilty of the same thing. We've told Jesus to leave us alone because we're not ready to deal with our own sinfulness. We've seen the power of God and asked Him to leave when His works made us uncomfortable. When His plans conflicted with those we have created, we've asked Him to leave and come again later. We've done this in our personal lives, our churches, our communities, and our nation. We've asked Jesus to leave the various regions of our life and He has complied. No wonder our world is in shambles.

Did Jesus return to the region of the Gadarenes? I don't know (but I'm looking for the answer as I read through Matthew). However, we do know that Christ will not force His way into our lives, churches, or communities once He's been expelled unless He is invited to return. At first this seems like a hopeless situation. I was so thankful in my quiet time when the Spirit brought another passage of Scripture to my mind that offered hope:
Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:8-10,NIV)
The promise is clear. If we have found ourselves separated from God through our own request that He leave the region of our life, we can invite Him to return by drawing near to Him! His return does not begin with the church's response or anyone else. It begins with me! I simply determine that I need Him more than anything else and begin to bring myself closer to God through prayer, reading of the Word, and meditation. He promises to meet me there! My past choices don't sentence me to the absence of God's presence forever....and neither do yours!

I'm tired of living in the region of the Gadarenes without the active presence of God in my life. It's time to repent, draw close, and invite Him to once again move as He wills in my life. That's where restoration will begin. If you're missing the closeness of the Spirit of God, it all begins with a simple invitation to return.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Living Among the Crazies!

I'm convinced that I have surrounded myself with some truly sick people. Not those suffering from illnesses. No, I'm talking about people who are truly disturbed and have sick senses of humor. The sad part of this fact is that most of the sick people I'm talking about are members of my family.

I suppose it's probably true of every family. The same types of things are humorous to siblings.....and their humor comes from at least one of the parental units. The sick humor is passed to the next generation as well. Get my siblings and any of my nieces sparring in a battle of wits and we'll be rolling in the floor before too long.

Most people don't realize that we are truly this funny. Maybe it's because our humor is too high-brow for others. Maybe we're not as funny as we think. Perhaps we don't allow others to witness our unrestrained humor. (There's the most likely situation.....we have to maintain our reputation, after all!) Don't get me wrong, we're not filthy with our humor. Our jokes are never intended to hurt anyone. Most of the time, we're making fun of each other or some stupid family trait that we all share.

Humor has become part of our healing process. Over the years we've had much to recover from....and we've found that laughter brings us together and reminds us that joy comes after pain. Whether I find myself living among the Crazies or spending extended time in my personal Geriatric ward, one thing is certain: the roaring laughter indicates that there is love, hope, and joy just around the corner.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Next Chapter

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you probably know that I began a three month sabbatical from my church job in April. This time allowed me to address some things that had long been ignored. As the sabbatical began to come to an end, I realized that I needed to make some significant changes in my life. As a result, I notified the church earlier this month that I was resigning from my positions as director of music and children's ministries.

It certainly wasn't an easy decision to make. I am passionate about music and children. I have enjoyed fourteen years of service to this local congregation and consider its members to be my friends. What it finally came down to was a certainty in my core that the time had come to leave. I'm not going to publicly explain the reasons behind my decision here; I will simply state emphatically that I have absolutely no doubt that I have made the right decision and am content, happy, and at peace, resting in the favor of my Heavenly Father. It's a wonderful feeling!

What does the future hold? I'm not entirely sure. That's a lesson I'm learning right now.....stepping out in faith and trusting God to provide. There are no exciting announcements to make. As of now, I'll continue teaching students at Mid-South Community College and working as staff pianist at Union University. There are some other teaching and performing opportunities in the works, but it's a little too early to tell about them since the details are still being finalized. Resigning my position was a huge financial hit, but I finally had to admit to myself that happiness was worth far more than a paycheck.

Change is never easy, but it's often the very thing necessary to bring about growth. Right now I'm enjoying rediscovering my love for the piano, exploring God's Word with new eyes, and looking forward to whatever the future may have in store for me. I invite you to follow along as I continue to share the stories of my adventure of simply Livin' Life......the next chapter.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Lesson of Pain

I've been going to the gym again for almost 3 weeks now. I go because I know my body needs exercise. I like the feeling to taking deep, purifying breaths. I don't mind getting sweaty and smelly. I've learned to not worry about what other people are doing or what they think about what I'm doing. I don't mind the feeling of sore muscles in the morning since those are reminders that I'm accomplishing something. What I absolutely HATE is pain....and more often than not, this is what keeps me away from the gym.

I tend to have a very low pain tolerance. As soon as something begins to hurt, I'm going to stop doing whatever is causing the pain. Thankfully I'm fairly certain that I've learned the difference between discomfort and pain. Discomfort is inconvenient and not a great feeling, but it's something that I can push through and know that I'm not damaging my body. Pain is the body's signal that something is potentially wrong and needs attention.

As I write today, I'm sitting here with knees that are making walking difficult and problems with my lower back. Every day in the gym leads to some level of discomfort in these parts of my body. Today I made it to the gym on my off day and started working out when the pain hit in my left knee. I tried to push through it until I clearly understood my body's message.....STOP DOING THAT TODAY OR ELSE!

Pain comes to us emotionally and spiritually as well. While the physical expression of pain is hard to ignore, sometimes we push down agonizing pain that lies deep inside our spirit. I have learned over the past few months that we can use some of the same tactics we use for our body's pains to heal the hurts in our emotions and spirit.

  • Acknowledge and assess the pain. One of the first things we have to do is admit that we're hurting. Too often we fall for the lie that the strong ignore their pain and convince themselves that it will eventually disappear if they don't acknowledge it. Nothing is further from the truth. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, it is essential that we admit when we are suffering and honestly assess its severity. Is this something I can just walk off or do I need to allow myself to experience intense healing?
  • Determine the cause of the pain. Recently while on the treadmill I began to experience pain in my left leg. Rather than stopping immediately, I tried to identify where the pain was and what was causing the problem. This was the first step in adjusting my form and finding relief. The same is true of our emotional pain. Once we acknowledge our pain, it is important that we attempt to figure out where the pain is coming from. This allows us to modify behavior and responses in order to stop the pain from increasing.
  • Ask for input. I couldn't determine what the problem was on the treadmill, so I asked my trainer if he saw anything awkward in my work. This required me openly admitting to another person where I was hurting and allowing them to provide constructive criticism in order to alleviate the hurt. Sometimes it may be helpful to share our emotional and spiritual pain with a trusted friend and ask them to observe you and see if they notice anything you are doing to bring the pain into your life. Objective observers can often see things that we are not aware of.
  • Remove the source of pain. My knee problems were associated with speed on the treadmill. Similar speeds on the elliptical and inclines on the treadmill at slower tempo did not cause pain and still accomplished raising my heart rate. Rather than allowing myself to continue experiencing pain, we eliminated the part of the routine that was causing the problem. Emotionally, we may identify that our pain source is a specific activity, relationship, or past memory. When possible, separating ourselves from the pain inducer is the first step to recovery.
  • Rest! Pain doesn't totally go away until the problem has been healed. Do I really think that I could resume my work on the treadmill the next day without any pain? Absolutely not! My body needed time to recover. We understand that rest and recovery is essential to our physical body. We are often negligent when it comes to allowing our emotions and spirit to rest as well after we've been hurt. Foolishly, we often jump right back into the same circumstances much too soon when we've been hurt. The result to our spirit is similar to what would happen to our body. We re-injure ourselves, the damage and pain is more severe, and the required recovery time is much more extensive. 
I've gone through the first four steps of dealing with emotional pain this year; I'm still taking my time through the resting stage. I'm not going to rush it and I'm not going to get comfortable in it either. I'm looking forward to the day that my spirit and emotions are fully restored so I can once again dive in without fear of being hurt and suffering from debilitating emotional pain.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Grasping for Control

Why do people have such a need to be in control of situations? It's almost comical sometimes. Those who most struggle to gain control of a situation normally are those who are absolutely not in control. Still they struggle to gain the upper hand. Sometimes I wonder if they suffer from constant headaches as they beat their head against brick walls that are not going to fall despite their efforts.

Why do we have such a need to be in control? Sometimes it's based in a sense of entitlement. People can feel entitled because of who they are, a position they hold, or some "wrong" that they perceive has been committed against them in the past. Authority over circumstances is rarely handed to those who simply complain the loudest; legitimate control is earned.

Others desperately search for control because of fear. They fear that things will not turn out the way they hoped. They fear that someone will be more successful than they are. They fear seeing someone else getting credit for a job well done while their dreams lie crumpled in the corner.

Most often, those seeking control are unable to admit that they are powerless. Their world spins out of control and they tighten their grip on things that they perceive they can control. They resort to manipulation, deception, and abusive behavior in order to hide the fact that everything in their life is not running as smoothly as they would like to have people believe.

The only way to allow your world to come back into some sense of stability is by admitting that we really don't have control. We have no power over tomorrow. Circumstances are going to occur; some things are not going to turn out as we had hoped. Yet when we give up control, it is important to accept that we are not hopelessly tossing our future to the wind. Instead, we are placing our hope for tomorrow in the God who holds tomorrow!  We add our voice with the Psalmist as he declared "When I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?" (Psalm 56:3-4, NIV)

Next time to find yourself grasping for control, lighten the grip on the reins and hand them over to the One who promises to have plans for your good instead. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Lasting Impact

My family and I went to visit my mother's brother, Sam, and his family recently. While we sat in the kitchen together sharing stories and catching up, I was flooded with memories of life events involving my Uncle Sam. I remember the joy of seeing him and Aunt Marion walking up the porch around Christmas time because I always knew Uncle Sam was going to bring a great gift that was purchased with love. Trips to Texas and Michigan to visit family were never dull; whether Sam was cracking a joke with his sly smile or telling my Mom to put my head down because there was another KFC on the horizon, every journey was a happy memory. (Hmmm......I think I hear the Colonel calling my name now!)

While thinking about the impact my uncle has had on my life, I realized that he impacted my life in a lasting way. Although I don't remember receiving the gift, I have very special memories of the toy piano that was given to me by my Uncle Sam. No one knew then that such a simple gift would profoundly shape my future.

As a child, my parents raised me in a small church in eastern Arkansas. According to those who were there, as a child of 2 or 3 I would sit on my knees during the singing of hymns and pretend to play the piano on the back of the wooden pew. This air-piano continued until I was about 6; that's when I started taking piano lessons. In those earliest years, it wasn't uncommon to find me sitting next to the pianist, watching her fingers fly across the keys in amazement.

Since it was clear that I loved the piano, my uncle decided a toy piano would be the perfect gift. (My dad continues to harass Sam about buying that noisy thing for me......and blaming him that the noise has never stopped since that first piano!) I remember its reddish-brown color sitting against the wall in the center room of our home. I imitated what I saw on Sunday morning in my home throughout the week. I'm sure they weren't beautiful sounds, but I was having a blast.

A gift to a toddler led to a battered upright piano and the beginning of piano lessons. My 6-year-old self began a journey with the piano that is now in its 35th year. The journey started then, but the love affair began a few years earlier with a tiny toy piano nestled in the corner of my parents' bedroom. That gift will always be connected with the giver and I will always be linked to my uncle because of it. My career, my passion, and my ministry began because of my uncle's musical gift. I can only hope that one day I'll learn that I have had the same lasting impact on someone like Uncle Sam has had on me.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Art of Carroll Cloar

A few weeks ago, I made my first visit to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. I was less than thrilled with what I saw of the permanent collection and immediately thought there was a reason that I had never visited this museum. Since I had paid the admission fee (a very reasonable $7), I decided that I needed to at least check out the featured exhibit of the summer. I'm very glad that I did!

"The Crossroads of Memory: Carroll Cloar and the American South" will be on exhibit in Memphis through September 12, 2013. Cloar (1913-1993) was a native Arkansan who grew up in the rural farmlands of the state. Much of his work depicts the images he encountered while traveling throughout the state and working the land. Cloar studied English at Rhodes College in Memphis before heading to New York City to pursue a career as an artist. In his final years, Cloar returned to Memphis.

I'm not an art critic by any stretch of the imagination, but I know what I like. Cloar's paintings are filled with color and amazing technique. I found it interesting that his style morphed throughout his life, embracing the various art movements as they made their mark on the American landscape. Not only are Cloar's works beautiful, they also speak of the struggles faced in the American South.

One of the first techniques that caught my eye and amazed me was Cloar's ability to create ghost-like figures (which he will also use to portray reflections in water) in the midst of the scene. I don't recall the title of the painting that astounded me as I entered the gallery, but I can certainly describe it. The scene is of a train station in Eureka Springs, Arkansas that Cloar had encountered while traveling. In addition to the waiting passengers, ghosts of those who had travelled in earlier trips are also present. I loved the idea that our presence leaves a lasting mark on our environment and those we encounter.

The technique described above can also be seen in one of my favorite paintings in the exhibit: Charlie Mae Practicing for the Baptizing. Charlie Mae was a African-American girl that Cloar befriended in his childhood and she became a recurring subject in many of his pieces. In addition to the beautiful purples and greens along the river's bank, I loved the faint reflection of the scene in the murky waters of the river.
Charlie Mae Practicing for the Baptizing, Carroll Cloar
To fully appreciate the significance of Charlie Mae's presence in Cloar's work, it is important to know that Cloar was a white man. Growing up in the country, friends were a luxury; the color of their skin was not of primary concern to children. Throughout Cloar's career, he provided commentary on race relations in the American South, featuring both whites and blacks in his images; rarely did Cloar include people of both races in a single painting though.

The other painting that made a lasting impression on me was Halloween. In the foreground, a child is seen wearing a mask and carrying a jack-o-lantern through the autumn grass. Her joy and innocence is a direct contrast to the adult men wearing white hooded robes in the painting's upper right who are leaving the home to reek havoc on the black community. The contrast between youth and adulthood in the piece is stark and speaks volumes.
Halloween, Carroll Cloar
Whether you are a fan of museums or not, if you are in the metro Memphis area, do yourself a favor and check out this fascinating exhibit before it leaves. Wear a pair of comfortable shoes, leave your driver's license at the front desk to get the audio tour of the exhibit, and allow your mind to be swept away into the world of Carroll Cloar. I'm looking forward to returning to the exhibit to learn more about this fascinating man and his work.

The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art is located in Overton Park. Visit their website at for hours and additional information.

P.S.   I plan to enjoy the rest of this week with my family as we celebrate our nation's independence. Livin' Life will return to its regular schedule on Monday, July 8.

Monday, July 1, 2013


Just as a small spark begins an enormous fire, the beginning of creativity also starts with the smallest spark. A germ of an idea grabs your imagination and things begin to happen. Whether you are painting, playing a musical instrument, writing, or sculpting, the initial creative spark is an exciting moment that the artist longs for.

What happens when the spark just isn't there? While getting ready to write this post, I had to admit that I really had nothing grabbing my attention. (Isn't it interesting as well that sometimes the ABSENCE of the spark BECOMES the spark!) It's a scary feeling to know that you need to produce something, but you have nothing inspiring you.

Here's what I've learned to do when the spark is missing:

  • Push ahead. Sometimes the discipline of simply getting started is half of the battle. If I determine to write (or read or practice) when I don't feel like it, I often find that just doing something will result in something productive.
  • Accept that everything is not going to be a masterpiece! I am my biggest critic. I often feel that if I'm not producing something excellent that I may as well not produce anything. Sometimes we have to purge our creative minds of the trash in order to get to the treasure that lies below. No one hits a home run with every attempt. (The next time someone claims that they do, just smile and know that they are not telling you the truth.)
  • Relax in the knowledge that the spark will return. Creatives are highly susceptible to feelings of inferiority and self-loathing when the dry spells come. Take a deep breath, continue to practice your craft, and know that another brilliant idea is just around the corner. If the spark is gone for a few days, I find it helpful to get out of the routine for a bit and do something enjoyable. When I do something out of the ordinary, I normally come back inspired and ready to start creating again.