Friday, May 27, 2016

Answers You Never Wanted

When I first planned to write this post, it was going to be a long rant about being asked questions by people that didn't really want to hear the truthful answers from you. Instead, they just wanted you to mindlessly comply and agree with the posit they had presented. As I prepared to tell you about the eye rolling and my frustration, LIFE happened and brought a much more important story to tell.

Let me introduce you to my friend, Stacy. Stacy and I attended Pepperdine together and both majored in music. I don't remember how our connection started -- just looking at the two of us, you never would have expected us to be good friends -- but that's what happened. We studied together, hung out in the practice rooms together, and just did life together for many years. As we neared graduation, life took us in different directions, but we remained friends.

After graduation, Stacy and I lost touch. I often wondered how life had treated her after returning to her native Wisconsin. With the birth of Facebook, Stacy and I reconnected and I got my answers. It was always fun to see her posts and feel as though I had some idea what was going on in her life. A few weeks ago, I began to follow her daily posts with much more interest. One of her children, August (who is also called "Auggie") began to have a medical crisis.

Auggie's day began as usual, but in a flash, he was suddenly unable to walk or use muscles on one side of his body. Immediately hospitalized in a Wisconsin children's hospital, the search for the cause of his illness began. I watched in horror from a distance as this child that I have never met became worse daily. He was unable to keep food down and was obviously becoming frustrated with his weakened condition. Stacy and her husband, Grant, were dealing with sleepless nights since one of them had to stay with Auggie around the clock because the hospital couldn't provide staff to help the child clear his throat in the event of another vomiting episode. (Because of Auggie's inability to move, he would choke without assistance.)

Doctors provided lots of hypotheses about Auggie's condition. I cringed as I read of each new test this once-vibrant child was facing. Each new test ruled out a possible condition, but answers seemed to be fleeting. As the search for a cause continued, Auggie began to face hours of therapy in addition to the medical tests. This child needed to learn how to function in a wheelchair as well as how to complete basic tasks to return to some level of normalcy. By this point, I was ready to hop in my car and make a trip to Wisconsin! Even if I didn't know Grant or the kids, there had to be something I could do to help. The fact that I had no car available while recovering from my own accident helped me decide that the best thing I could do right now was to follow the daily updates and vigilantly pray for this precious child.

After several weeks of struggles for the family, the update no one wanted to see appeared. It had become clear that Auggie was a very sick child. On a late May afternoon, Stacy shared a beautiful post that Grant had written announcing the findings. Their son had been diagnosed with juvenile Multiple Sclerosis (MS). My heart broke for Auggie. In a moment, his life -- and the lives of his family and friends -- were forever changed. It was definitely an answer that no one wanted to hear.

So now what? How does this impact me? My prayer has become that I won't forget about Auggie, Stacy, and Grant in the weeks and months ahead and that I will continue to intercede for them. In the meantime, I am educating myself about MS -- its treatment, research, and fund raising efforts. I'm hoping to learn if there are any plans in the works for a benefit concert for Auggie -- Stacy has been actively involved in the thriving theater in her community -- and see if I can join the efforts as a performer. But most of all, I will thank God for the healthy children around me and ask for His mercy and peace to be poured out on those dealing with life-altering illnesses as part of their daily routine.

  • P.S. - Livin' Life will not appear on Monday in observance of the Memorial Day holiday. I'll be spending the day with family, but posts will resume on Wednesday with the latest installment of "Hits and Misses."

Monday, May 23, 2016

Hits and Misses (May 15-21)

Even though it's a little later than expected -- I'll explain why in today's "Misses" -- here's a look back at the week that was......

  • I thoroughly enjoyed returning to Union University on Tuesday to join the end of the year celebration and honor the graduating seniors. This year's graduates were some of the students that I had worked with the longest while working in Jackson. It was great to see everyone and to reconnect with some of the faculty, staff, and students that I have missed greatly.
  • This week was graduation week here in the Mid-South. It was lots of fun to see everyone's photos on Facebook as they begin the exciting new chapters in their lives. I'm a little partial and want to say "Congratulations!" to our own recent graduate; Kristian Leigh graduated from Olive Branch High School on Saturday afternoon. She will attend Mississippi State in the fall.

  • Noisy neighbors seem to be the norm whenever I'm here at the Geriatric Ward. This time it was actually the crew that was replacing the roof on the house next door. I heard all about their sexual conquests the night before while my ears were treated to an incredibly annoying selection of music blaring from the radio settled just outside the window of our home. I took out my anger on the piano -- pounding a little Rachmaninoff and Ives. I don't think I was the only one in the neighborhood that was frustrated either; things were much quieter as they continued working the rest of the week.
  • I've never been a fan of leftovers and sandwiches. I've had more than my fair share of them this week. I'm hoping for better meals in the week ahead.
  • I despise feeling as though I am being manipulated. It's especially annoying when you are powerless to really call out what is going on.
  • As I continued to recover from the car accident, I began to worry that something else was wrong since the soreness wasn't getting any better. I made an appointment with my GP and got a good report....along with prescriptions for anti-inflammatory meds, muscle relaxers, and pain pills. On Saturday morning, I wasn't feeling well at all and knew that it would be impossible to sit in the bleachers to watch Kristian I missed the commencement exercises. That evening, I had had enough of the pain and finally decided to take a pain pill. That was a powerful little pill! The next morning, the hangover continued and I was quite dizzy. Truthfully, my head didn't really begin to clear until late Monday morning. I knew I was a lightweight when it came to narcotics....but come on! This was insane! One thing is certain....I won't be taking another of these pills unless I am in UNBEARABLE pain. I don't like the sensation of being out of control at all.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Need to Self-Edit

It's a lesson every writer must learn. Whether you are composing a professional email, academic essay, or personal blog entry, there are things that simply do not need to be put in writing. Feelings are too raw. Emotions are running high and you don't want to have to eat your words later. Instead, you edit.....

This is one of the reasons that I choose to write blog posts several days before they go live. It allows me time to carefully consider the words that will be linked to me. I have an opportunity to let off some steam and craft my words at a later date. It is a sure way to protect the innocent (and sometimes the guilty)!

My blogging routine got out of synch this week -- what can I say? It's summer vacation here -- so I didn't have the chance to craft a proper post that wouldn't be completely flavored with my current level of frustration. Rather than write something that might generate a firestorm, I'm choosing to edit myself. As a writer, I hate feeling that I am forcing myself into a version of censorship; as a person, I know it's the right decision in this situation.

No need to worry though, dear reader. I'll return to my normal truth-telling blogs next week. By then the source of my current frustration will have passed and I'll be able to move on. (And I'll be back to the process of writing posts before they go live......and have the luxury of editing as necessary!)

Happy weekend, y'all!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


It happens every year around this time. I start to experience withdrawals. It is like a drug. My mind races. Everywhere I look, I find that I am tempted to return to my addiction. It's in my blood and it just won't let go! What am I addicted to? Kids....and summer is the absolute worst time for me!

Much of my adult life has been spent working with kids in various the church, in theater, in the schools. Summer was always the highlight of the year for me. Once school was out, kids were much more relaxed and ready to have fun. They were a joy to be around and I was always amazed at the things they could accomplish in a short period of time. Summer became a time of getting involved in community theater -- and I always managed to be surrounded by the children in the cast. Quickly, these summer musicals became planning sessions for youth theater productions. (I miss working with you, Daphne. We really did some good shows together, didn't we?)

Shortly after returning to Arkansas from Pepperdine, Jacqs appeared in my life. This 8-year-old girl was smart and active. Summers were full of activity -- whether we were zipping off to the Pink Palace Museum or to the local library -- we were always on the go. (I suppose this began as an effort to keep her mind off of the fact that her Daddy was away on a business trip shortly after moving back to Arkansas. Once we hit the road together, we became fast friends and the running never stopped.) As Jacqs grew into a teen, two other girls entered the scene -- Kristian and Sara -- and kept me just as busy. As I became more involved in the lives of my nieces, I also took on more and more responsibility in children's ministry.

My ministry to children became marked by the inclusion of musical and theater arts. Summers and Christmas generally involved the production of a song and dance extravaganza that we pieced together in just a few weeks. Before leaving bi-vocational ministry, I had produced and directed just over 20 of these children's musicals. I loved doing them because I got to combine my personal love of music and theater with my passion for the spiritual development of children. Few noticed that the musicals began when Jacqs got involved in the local church; the last one was completed just as Kristian and Sara were moving into the teen area. I pushed through some difficult circumstances in order to see the completion of the ministry to them.

Things have certainly changed for me. Jacqs has grown up, gotten married, and has a child of her own. Kristian will be graduating in a few days and Sara is not that far behind. I have fond memories of working with the girls and the other children that I was responsible for during those years. I miss the giggles and warm hugs that come from the children. Nothing is better than seeing a child's eyes light up with understanding and faith as they learn important truths and grow in their personal relationship with Jesus. My ministry passion will always be with children. I just struggle with the adults in their lives sometimes that bring words of discouragement and destruction into the life of ministry leaders.

So I continue to watch from a distance. I enjoy teaching piano lessons to a few children -- but it's just not the same. Occasionally, I get the urge to  return to children's ministry and see if things might turn out differently this time around....and then the fear of getting hurt again keeps me from taking the plunge. Now you see my struggle......I want to share fun, laughter, and truth with kids.....but I've got one too many scars to get past.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Hits and Misses (May 8-14)

Here's a look back at the week that was.....

  • It was great to be home with my family for Mother's Day. Even though I arrived later than I had hoped due to last week's car accident, I was happy to sit around the table with family and simply laugh as we began this month of celebrations together.
  • On Monday afternoon, I visited the chiropractor. The original reason for the visit was to pay off the debt I still owed from previous work. With a car accident's impact on my body, I was in for another round of adjustments and therapy. I'm happy to report that I got some initial relief from the pain -- and I'm just hoping that somebody's insurance actually covers the expense.
  • While I was recovering from my sore joints and bones, I spent several days at home mindlessly watching movies. I'm secure enough in my manhood to admit that I mostly watched Hallmark Channel (although I did avoid the insanity of Lifetime Movies!) and will get back to the shoot-em-up-total-destruction films in a few more days. LOL
  • Achy arms and a serious back ache made it impossible to spend any time at the piano -- a lesson I learned the hard way. That meant that I actually spent more time reading and writing this week. I enjoyed getting back to a normal routine of outlining blog posts and actually writing and editing them in advance of their publication. On the reading front, I decided to avoid anything "academic" for at least one week and devoted my reading to Middlemarch by George Eliot. Nothing like a little "light" novel to get the summer off to a good start.
  • By Friday, I was beginning to feel a little more human or so I thought and took the opportunity to catch up with some friends in the area. It was so refreshing to visit with them, hear what has happened in their life in the past year, and talk about everything in between.

  • The week has been marked with insurance frustrations. Insurance information was included in the police report in Amarillo. The officer working the scene informed me of this information and told me that my insurance agent would get the correct policy number of the person who hit me when I reported the accident to them. Imagine my surprise and frustration when my agent informed me Monday morning that they didn't do that; I was to file directly with the other company. Annoying, but not a big deal. I'll just call the police station to get a copy of the report, right? WRONG! Amarillo Police is not set up to take credit cards for payment of police reports, so the report has to be paid for and picked up in person. After lots of phone calls and stupid answers to my questions, I'm still waiting for the police report while my car sits in the yard of the Geriatric Ward. (Insert your favorite "You might be a Redneck" joke here.) The last thing my insurance agent told me was that the adjustor would be in the office on Friday morning and would request the police report at that time. I'm hoping that I actually get a copy of the report by Tuesday morning...but I'm not really holding my breath. I'm also wondering if it is time to begin to look for another company to handle my car insurance. You know, one that actually has some decent customer service.....
  • Being home also means that I have limited access to technology. I have both iPads here, but they aren't really conducive to writing. That means that I'm trying to get work done on Pop's laptop. He has everything set to a zoom of nearly 200% so it takes a lot of effort to see a single page. When I adjust the settings to normal, everything is STILL enormous. I have no idea what he has clicked (and I feel certain he is just as confused). Let's not even talk about the number of pop-ups that appear throughout. Thankfully, I'm just working on things that are for my entertainment at the moment. We'll see how I do when I start working on "real" projects in a few days.
  • I'm also avoiding working on anything "real" because I'm lacking motivation and energy at the moment. It's been a rough week, so I'm not beating myself up about this too badly. But I still can't help but notice the files that are staring me in the face, just waiting for some attention.
  • I guess I tried to get back to normal a little too fast. I awoke on two consecutive nights with horrible pain in my back and couldn't stand the pressure of lying in bed. There was absolutely no comfort. I couldn't lie on either side -- too much strain on my back muscles -- and I couldn't lie flat because of the bunk bed's rails running underneath. I moved to the living room and camped out in the recliner both nights. It certainly didn't make for a good morning to follow. I'm just hoping that the worst of these back issues are finally behind me. We'll just hang on for a few more days and see where things lead. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Clearing Out the Cobwebs

Now that things are slowing down, the season of spring cleaning is upon us. It's time to hit the closets and cupboards in search of hidden treasures that need to be brought into the light again. It's also time to move out the outdated and unneeded. Why do we go through this torturous process each year? Like nature, it's time to make way for newness in our lives.

Spring cleaning is also a mental exercise. It's a time of reflection over the past year, letting go of mistakes and failures while enjoying the memories of successes. It's a time to clear our thoughts of plans that never fully came to fruition. In the light of a new day, we get to decide whether the plans need to be fleshed out further to reappear later or if it is time to let go of them and allocate their precious mental space for new ideas and inspiration.

The entire process is a way of recovering from the past and preparing our hearts, minds, and spirits for the future. As we clear things out, we find that our energy is renewed. There is now space -- in the physical, mental, and spiritual realms -- for new ideas to flourish now that we have eliminated the clutter. In our new found clarity, we are able to truly experience rest.

I still need to do some spring cleaning in my living areas (a job that I completely detest), but I'm coming to the end of the mental and spiritual cleaning that needed to happen. How do I know? I'm finding myself beginning to find inspiration for new projects while experiencing the excitement that comes with them.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Home at Last!

After a crazy few weeks bringing the semester to a close and a long drive -- not to mention that nasty accident -- I was ready to get home for a little while and enjoy some time away from Texas. Don't misunderstand me, I'm slowly learning to appreciate the Texas way of life, but it's still not home. Returning home has brought a few things to light for me.

Some things never change. At home, there is always lots of good food around (although I was disappointed to see ham steaks on the table when I arrived on Sunday -- bleh!). The thermostat will always be a source of contention. It's either warm enough to double as a sauna or you find yourself looking for a parka and hanging slabs of beef. Most importantly, home is always restful.

Some things do change -- like it or not. Since I've moved most of my belongings to Texas, things are not like they used to be when I was at home. Add to this the fact that my older brother and his wife have recently sold their house and are living in the Geriatric Ward while they find a new place and you can imagine how creative things have become. I'm currently reliving scenes from my childhood each night as I sleep on bunk beds. (I'm still waiting to wake in the night, sit up, and clock my head on the metal frame above me.) The Geriatrics have relocated to the middle bedroom (in other words, they have migrated into my part of the house) and we are sharing a bathroom. The bathroom is tiny anyway....and now three of us have our toiletries littering the limited space. Can you say "awkward?" What is probably taking the most time to get used to, however, is the piano situation. I stupidly decided to move my Boston piano to Plainview in the thought that I would do some practicing at home. I think I have probably played it once in the past nine months. After all, I have a wonderful Steinway grand piano in my office all day to work on. When I get home from a day at school, the last thing on my mind is practicing! Now when I return to Arkansas, I get to work on a Story and Clark console that I bought for my nieces several years ago. It's a horrible instrument, but it's something to work on while I'm away from Plainview. Not only do I hate the instrument, but it's location is not ideal either. It's in the family dining room -- located in the middle of the shotgun house with absolutely NO fabric in the room to absorb the sound. You can imagine what practice sessions are like!

Oh well, even though some things have changed and others have not, one very important thing is still consistently true. It's great to be at home again, surrounded by family that love and support me all the time.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Hits and Misses (May 1-7)

Greetings from Arkansas! Here's a look back at the week that was...

  • The semester is over and ended with lots of successes. My first batch of students faced the piano proficiency exam with a tremendous success rate. It wasn't a 100% pass rate, but I'll definitely take what I got.
  • I wasn't able to participate in the Faculty vs. Student softball game on Wednesday afternoon, but I was involved in the festivities that followed. Since I was the big winner in the Egg-a-Thon with over $80 in my bucket, I got to join an elite group of 4 who cracked eggs on our heads. (On Saturday morning, the contributor of the $50 bill in my bucket confessed. I must admit I was rather surprised by the guilty party's identity.) After the party in the park, I was invited to join some of the band students for a barbecue back on campus. Just another great night of laughing together with great people.
  • After a long day of driving, I was greeted by some great musical memories as I stepped into an OKC gas station late Saturday night. It immediately put a smile on my face and I sang along to "Thank God, I'm a Country Boy." Jeff, Tara, Power.....and the rest of that AWESOME Songfest group, those two weeks of intense rehearsals in 1994 still rank as one of my favorite and proudest musical moments.

  • Somehow I pulled a muscle in my back early in the week. This made playing juries and giving performance exams a little more challenging that usual. I was beginning to move like a normal person by Wednesday afternoon, but didn't think trying to play softball would have been a smart decision.
  • On Monday evening, I woke late that night and experienced my first nocturnal panic attack. I couldn't breathe and was completely terrified. It took me several hours to calm down in order to get a few hours of sleep. Needless to say, Tuesday was a long and challenging day all around and I still don't know what triggered the attack.
  • By the middle of the week, I learned that the offer to work at Interlochen this summer was rescinded. Long story short, two positions were offered to three pianists in an effort to fill them quickly. It's disappointing, but it also frees up my summer.
  • An hour into my drive to Arkansas, I was involved in a four car accident as I was entering the ramp onto I-40. I received minor injuries and my car was drivable. Now that I've made it safely home, it appears that the damage to my car may have been more substantial than I first realized. I'm truly thankful for God's protection as I foolishly continued to make the planned drive. Hopefully by the time this post is live, both my car and my body will be in the "shop" to get a thorough check-up.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Summer Reading Project

Summer is a relaxing down-time for me. My performance calendar is less active and I get to have a much more relaxed practice routine. That means that I have more time to devote to one of my favorite activities - reading.

I've found that summer is the perfect time for me to begin reading larger novels that I have avoided during the school year. Part of the problem is that the books are so long. Often times they are classic works and require more brain cells than I can spare while teaching. I enjoy approaching these works during the summer months because I find it easy to escape into the setting of the novel without worrying that I am neglecting other responsibilities.

Some of my past adventures have been some of my favorite reading adventures. Last summer, I finally got around to reading Jude the Obscure as well as beginning the Harry Potter series. The summer before was the beginning of my reading of Ken Follett's Century Trilogy. Summer was also the time for great sagas like Gone with the Wind as well as modern beach reads.

So what do I have in mind for this year? I'm going back to the classics and reading Middlemarch by George Eliot. I first encountered Eliot in my undergraduate survey class with The Mill on the Floss and fell in love with her style. Middlemarch has always intimidated me because of its reputation and its massive size. I picked up a copy of the novel just before finals began and spent some time getting started last weekend. Now that finals are over and the lazy days of summer are about to begin, I think it's time to dive back in.

Now, where did I put that book? It's time to get in some reading.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Reflecting on Year One

Today, I'm giving the last few final exams of my first year of teaching at WBU. It's been an adventure. I've learned a lot. I've made my share of mistakes, but also had a lot of successes. What kind of reflective learner would I be if I didn't pause at the end of this year and take a look back at what I've learned.

  • I'm surrounded by awesome colleagues and students. I am reminded of this fact every day. Getting to spend time with these people and make music together is what makes going to work a pleasure most days. (Come on.....there are times we all do not want to crawl out of bed.)
  • There's less collaborative work than I anticipated (and not as much as I'm used to). I knew this would be part of the change from adjunct to full-time faculty, but I really miss getting the opportunity to have so many interactions with students in private rehearsals as well as their lessons. I'm afraid this interaction will continue to decline in the future....and I'm really not excited for that at all. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'm wrong......
  • Year One has been all about developing relationships and finding my place in the department. Being part of the faculty is about more than merely teaching assigned classes and performing with excellence. It's about connecting with other faculty members in meaningful ways and sharing ideas. It's about making yourself available to students -- in and out of the classroom -- so you have opportunity to pour Godly counsel into their lives as often as possible. I knew from the start I didn't just want to be a teacher that was out of touch. That's why my door is often open and why Thursday nights normally include a donut run. Since I'm finally in a faculty position, I want to be just as involved in the lives of my students as my professors were during my formative college years. (Thank you, Dr. Ferguson and Dr. Baird!)
  • My schedule is extremely cyclical. There hasn't been much of a normal routine this year. Things tend to start with a bang of activity and then level off as classes get rolling. But watch out.....the craziness will return soon enough. Production week, other faculty travel schedules, and recruiting tours/events can make the schedule go from "nice and easy" to "insanely busy" in the blink of an eye. I'm just thankful that the insanity tends to be spaced out for the most part.
  • At some point, colleagues forget that you're the newbie. In most ways, it's a wonderful event. There are those occasional moments when there is an event that you haven't done before -- and no one thought to give you the scoop. That's when "wingin' it" takes on a brand new meaning....and keeps the adventure fresh and exciting.
  • All in all, Year One at WBU has just confirmed what I've already known. I'm now in the profession that I was designed for and I'm loving every minute of it!'s time to finish up this semester and get a little rest over summer break!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Hits and Misses (April 24-30)

Here's a look back at the week that was....

  • This week's Donut Trip with students was a blast! Classes were almost over, the last concert of the semester had been completed, and finals hadn't started yet. That meant the mood was light and the conversation was flying! Who knew that talking about our random food preferences would be such a fun conversation? Before things were over, the topic of race was on the table. The implications of that deep conversation will be one that I will continue to ponder in the weeks ahead.
  • On Monday night, I received a phone call from Michigan. I had been looking for this potential call for several months now. When I saw the number pop up on my phone, I convinced myself I had to be wrong about the reason for the call since it was about a summer job that would start in just a few short weeks. Surely they weren't filling the position this late in the season! Just to be safe, I decided to answer the call. And I'm glad I did! It looks as though I will be working at the Interlochen Arts Camp this summer as a collaborative pianist in the vocal program. If everything goes as planned, I should be spending six weeks of my summer in this picturesque location before diving back into my responsibilities at WBU in the fall.
  • Things have been winding down this week, so I have had a little more time to read. I finished my latest novel on Saturday morning -- a great book by Kristen Hannah! -- and couldn't wait to get started on my summer reading project, so I headed to Barnes and Noble in Lubbock to make the selection. I walked out with a stack of new paperbacks and can't wait to read them all this summer.
  • Instrumental juries are held during the final week of classes here at WBU. Scheduling these final performance exams is challenging enough since voice lessons and other classes are continuing and everyone needs their pianist in attendance. Things became much more interesting as I learned on the morning of the exams that one of my vocalists was performing in chapel and had failed to pass that information on to me. After the frustration passed, I got in touch with all of the instrumentalists scheduled to take their exam during that hour and managed to move their performance. Or, I thought I had contacted everyone. I overlooked one of the students listed during that hour. When he heard me practicing his piece, he knocked on my door and informed me that I had missed the jury. I was embarrassed and apologized profusely. Luckily, we had a performance of the piece the following afternoon, so our work together wasn't a complete waste of time.
  • I've been away from the Geriatric Ward for nearly 9 months now. But it doesn't always feel that way. During a call home on Saturday, Mom gently shifted the conversation to Dad's roster of doctors and the fact that they couldn't find the business cards of the ENT that had helped him get his hearing aids -- and actually led us on the path that discovered the need for triple bypass just a few weeks later! (In case you don't remember that story, you can check it out here in this post.) Don't get me wrong, I love my parents and help them out when I can. It's just frustrating because one of the reasons I expressed hesitancy in moving to Texas was because I didn't trust them to manage their own healthcare -- or to reach out to my siblings for help as they needed it. It's upsetting to see that it appears my words are coming true.