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.