When did I quit skipping?

I used to skip all the time. Next to running, it was my favorite mode of transportation. Whether I was singing, whistling, or humming; wherever I went, whoever I was with, all the while I was skipping.

Then one day I just stopped and I can’t remember when or why.

I didn’t skip because my world was ok. My world was ok because I skipped. I was living in a river of joy and I knew that for this one moment, I could choose to skip. I could choose to celebrate. I could enjoy what was right in front of me. I found delight in skipping alone, but more so when I skipped with others. I remember holding hands with girlfriends during recess, heading to class, to the bus, in the neighborhood, at the library, to the ice cream shop, at church. Everywhere was a skipping zone. I couldn’t have cared less what others thought of me. Why they weren’t skipping, never crossed my mind. Nor did I concern myself with what they thought of my gleeful steps. Part of what I remember is that it was just part of my nature. There are days that my memory of skipping is like a memory of another life, because it seems so long ago.

Do you have any of those kind of childhood memories?

In Brenning Manning’s book, The Importance of Being Foolish” [associates link] he says, ” to become a little child again (as Jesus encouraged we must) is to recapture a sense of surprise, wonder and vast delight in all of reality.

So when did I quit skipping? When did a nap become a guilty pleasure – or dreaming become something only children and the foolish do? I would love to think that I am over what people think and especially what people think of me. I profess to be and yet I dare not skip, lest someone will talk, or stare, or giggle, or whisper, or smirk, or even gossip.

Enough already! Let the skipping begin!

Today I saw a little girl dressed in a black sweater with a pink heart on the front, white tights with a pink skirt and purple rain boots. She was skipping with her mother. But her mother wasn’t skipping… at first. She was walking while her daughter skipped. The mother was being pulled by the little girl’s sheer will. Every once in a while the mom would speed up or have to slow down to keep pace. Then finally the mom gave in and she began to skip as well. They smoothly rounded the corner of the building and out of my sight. The best part of watching the two of them was the whole time the girl was yelling at the top of her 3 year old lungs, “Yea! Yea! Yea!”

What is it in your life that makes you yell yea! When was the last time you lost yourself in joy, you let go? How can you and I get back there?

In Terry Hershey’s book The Power of Pause: Becoming More by Doing Less [associates link] he writes, “We live in a world that urges us to admire and pursue whatever is faster, whatever is newer, and whatever is bigger – the underlying idea being that we should be living a different life, not the one we’re living now. We are wired to be present. We are built to honor the senses. We are created to be attentive, or literally just be. But somewhere along the way, life chokes the music and poetry out of us.” Terry is always a wonderful reminder for me of what is important.

Maybe we could live in the present- unburdened by regret over the past or anxiety about the future. But it means letting go of control — control over things that we cannot change and taking responsibility to change those we can. For every year that passes, I can better appreciate the power of the simple wisdom of the serenity prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; The courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Living that prayer in a daily framework helps me to live in the present moment, allows me to embrace what is before me and maybe even frees me to skip along the way.

We can also be grateful for what we have — the hands we hold, the gifts we have in our lives, the lessons learned along the way (even the hard ones).

I love that the little girl did not care if her mother skipped. She continued to travel in her chosen way and let her mom walk at her pace. All the while she wooed her to share in a moment of joy. She put into words her thankfulness-“yea!” We can too — in a whispered prayer, when I tell a friend, “I like you and I love you,” when I accept and embrace others unconditionally and I realize the gift they are in my life. I can tell you how loved you are by my baking my aunt Rosemary’s Mac and Cheese and dropping it off one afternoon. That’s one way I say yea! I can write a note to a mom that I was brief with in the hall one day. I can tell her honestly, “I was distracted that day–you tried to talk to me and I had other things on my mind. It’s not my best self and yes there is a time we can get together and grab a moment to get to know each other over lunch or coffee.” To be honest, it’s hard to send notes like that one. But I can tell you of the joy that followed in a simple email from that mom that said, “thanks for your note, it meant a lot and I look forward to getting to know you as well.”

All of these things I do, except some days I don’t. Like the good Dr. Seuss in his great book of wisdom, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” [associates link] – “You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed. You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead. Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest. Except when you don’t, because, sometimes you won’t. I’m sorry to say so but sadly it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.”

Some days I get it. I realize the biggest in life are ironically the small things. We can throw our arms around today with a warm embrace, knowing peace, and pain, presence and distraction, love and fear. We can trust that we are enough, that today is enough and that tomorrow will be enough.

A few years ago my friend Jessica, who was in college at the time, let me look at a journal she kept as a youth. (shout out to Jess who moved to L.A. to work with a non-profit urban ministry – last month she came to hear me sing at California Lutheran College and hug my neck). I lead several retreats for her youth group and we had had many conversations about life, loss, faith and faithfulness. One quote in her journal caught my eye “Life is a vapor and we must understand that tomorrow isn’t a promise, it’s a gift.” I quickly said, “I love that. Who said it?” She smiled and said, “look at the bottom of the page.” At the bottom of the artwork under the quote were these words, “Celia Whitler – 4/26/06”

Ok, so I need to be reminded about what I believe is true and about the way I want to live my life. So today friends, today, I’m gonna laugh a little more. I’m gonna let my boys talk me into one more game before bed. I’m gonna sit with a little longer with a friend while a couple of cups of coffee steam in front of us. I’m gonna watch the trees turning fall colors. I might even permit myself to break into a skip! Join me.

I’ll close with these words from Mother Teresa

“Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is bliss, taste it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.”

Legacy: what are you and I doing that lasts?

begnaud-editThe painting in this photo was given to me as a gift on the evening of Thursday March 19, 1981 by the painter. It was painted for me by my dear friend, Don Begnaud. Real flowers would not have lasted this long, but this bouquet brightens my home still today and I have been forever changed by the love of the painter.

Recently, on Wednesday July 29, 2009, our family’s travel schedule through Louisiana took us from New Orleans to Shreveport and we passed through Lafayette where I went to high school. We decided to drive through Taco Sisters, a new restaurant started by a high school friend of mine. As we entered town and drove through familiar territory, I felt a nudge to call my friend Don Begnaud. I try listen to those nudges and I asked Ron and the boys if we could stop by for a visit. I called the old phone number I had and Begnaud answered. (We often called him by his last name; not Mr. Begnaud, just Begnaud.) He was delighted that I called and I was delighted that he answered. I hadn’t spoken with him or seen him in since we had dinner together at Don’s Seafood in Lafayette in the spring of 1991.

Don updated me on his life, “Celia, I’ve got cancer and they just sent me home. There is nothing else they can do.”

“Don,” I said, “I’m so sorry, could I come by after lunch?”

“Please come by,” he said quickly.

As I hung up the phone, I told Ron that I’d rather drop in before lunch.
When we arrived, Don’s sister Olga answered the door and Don stood from a chair in the living room. The look on his face said it all. He was as delighted as I was to see an old friend. For the next hour we talked of art and of people we had seen and kept up with.

My son Zach asked about “Hello Dolly.” (that was our senior play) and Don said, “Your mom was Dolly.” Zach quickly asked Don, “were you Hello?” That was priceless. We had a great laugh together and Don really had a great laugh.

We talked about nothing and we talked about everything, everyday joys and summertime. We talked about my sons’ Max and Zach’s bed hair, and about their not wanting to cut it all summer. We talked about Ron and about our marriage of 21 years. We talked about my singing, writing, and painting and about our lives in Nashville. He talked about his family — his sisters, nieces, nephews, and about his art. I talked about how beautifully he viewed and captured life in his paintings.

I gave him copies of music I had recorded and books I had written. At the end of our visit we all held hands as we sat in a circle–Don and me and Olga and Ron and Max and Zach, and we had a prayer.

As my family filed out of the house, I sat near my good friend, hugged him one last time and told I loved him and he told me he loved me, too. He told me how glad he was that I had stopped by. Then I said, “now Begnaud, if I don’t see you again, we’ll meet in heaven by the buffet.” With his signature laugh he said, “indeed, indeed.”

As I write this, I am sitting, having just read his obituary. He died only a week after our visit. I regretted not keeping in touch with him through the years and I regretted not singing for him on that last visit, but I cannot imagine improving on our bon voyage conversation.

I am so very grateful for the opportunity to have loved Don Begnaud and for the opportunity to have been loved by him.

Begnaud was larger than life, and that fit with his love for theater, especially of musical theater. I met Don when I was only 17. He was cast as the leading man in Hello Dolly and I was Dolly as a high school senior. I enjoyed the way the whole cast fit together. As I think about it, that experience was magical for me. I believe it might have been the first Lafayette High performance that Don was recruited for. Don taught English and I still thank God that I never had him as a student (I knew many who had him and I so enjoyed our working relationship. Being his student might have changed things for us.) Prior to the musical, I remember only knowing of him. I knew where his classroom was. I knew that many of my friends loved him as a teacher. When our school choir director, Mary Jane Jones, said he would be part of the cast and the leading man in Dolly, Horace Vandergelder, I remember thinking that we were all in for a treat.

As we began rehearsals, I found him to be charming and professional. He sang great, knew his lines and reminded me of mine when I forgot them. He was kind, caring and a joy to be around.

Many times that spring and the summer following my senior year, I found myself dropping by his home. He was the kind of person you just wanted to be around. He laughed often and out loud. Our performances were for us a piece of heaven. We always talked about how magic happens. Looking back, I know now what the magic was. It was about our being together. There is something that happens in life. I think it is a glimpse of God’s kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. When communion happens. You look around at the people in the room, at those in your circle and you are filled with joy, with love and it bursts forth. It surrounds you and you are captured by it. Hello Dolly was one of those experiences. I found it in our director, Mary Jane Jones who brought out the best in all of us and believed we could be better than we thought we could. I found it in the cast and crew, many who were friends or who became friends. We worked as a team as we cheered for each other and we knew we were a part of something special and timeless. Don Begnaud was a large part of that gift for me personally.

The things that were larger than life about Don were his presence, his friendship, his smile, his sincere delight in others, his words of encouragement… his spirit. I learned through my experience in Dolly that there are people who find joy in making others look good. Don was one of those people.

Our first performance was a matinee. As is the tradition, many well wishers sent flowers or cards to cast members. When I arrived at the auditorium for our first evening performance the next day, I met Don waiting in the parking lot for me. He handed me a package. It was wrapped simply in brown paper and masking tape. I opened it with the glee of a child to find a beautiful painting of flowers and a butterfly that he had painted for me. He said simply, “I hope you like it.” (There’s a photo of that painting at the top of this post. The real painting is about 12″ x 16″ and it still rests in the frame that Don chose as its home.) Today it brightens my home, and I look at that painting everday. I have often thought of Don and of his lasting gesture of love that day. He knew that I’d lose a card, the flowers and photos would fade and be lost in attics, we’d all grow older and move on from that night.

Don was first and foremost a teacher. I still have his painting and have carried it with me this far along with some other gifts that I learned from him.

Here are some that I have know to be true because of my teacher and my friend Begnaud:

  • Life is precious. Savor it.
  • Love is a genuine, unconditional, selfless gift. Give thanks for it.
  • Joy is at hand for each of us. Embrace it.
  • No stage is too small or too big, not to step onto it.
  • Be who you are. Leave it all on the stage or give it all, embrace it all, be completely in that moment.
  • No fake smile will work. Work at just seeing something to smile about. You don’t have to try so hard to be real. Indubitably was one of his favorite words and he used it frequently. Don was indubitably genuine. I believed that he was Horace (his character), because he believed. He lived into it, he embraced it, he found a way to put his heart and his life into that story.
  • Be wonderful. Don was full of wonder and delight, be it art, music, theater or acting. He was filled with the wonder of others. He wanted to know how you were, to hear your story. He listened as intently as if he were hearing a beautiful aria for the first time.
  • Be about helping others with their lives. On opening night there was this one scene that I could never get the sequence of the dialogue. I practiced it a thousand times. I wrote notes on props and then I forgot it. Don didn’t miss a beat, he covered for it and made me look good. The second night, he did the same thing, though we both got tickled and almost broke character, the audience loved it.
  • Sometimes it is not gonna come out perfectly, but it still might be better than we planned.
  • Realize that any magic that happens really has little to do with you. It is all about giving, for the pure love of giving.

So be you a teacher, singer, actor, stay-at-home mom, preacher, doctor, lawyer, importer, painter, choral director or whatever you are; do it with joy and with love and trust that nothing will be wasted.

Don taught me some great life lessons. When I think of that last visit, what I will remember is his smile. Though I knew him to be in pain, sleepy from the drugs and weary from the fight; he still had energy to muster joy, share his love for me and to live in the moment on his terms. I want to be like that. I want to be about things that last, kind of like his beautiful painting in my home that I walk by every day. When it’s all said and done, love will be the the thing that matters. Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these, really, really, really is love and that lesson (in painting and in example) for me is indubitably Begnaud’s legacy.

Rest in peace, friend. I’ll see you at the buffet!
I love you, Celia

Donald Ray Begnaud
(May 24, 1938 – August 5, 2009)
Here are a couple of links: Tributes | Obituary


Where do you find inspiration? I woke up pondering this question this morning. When I do that, I am always listening throughout the day because without a doubt I know God is trying to show me something and I should be on the look out.

Last month, my family visited Chicago to attend a surprise party for friend turning 50 — woo hoo! While in Chicago we visited a Saturday evening service at Willow Creek, a church where our friends had served on staff. The music was amazing. The waterfalls outside the windows were soothing. Hearing Bill Hybels speak about the fishing derby with children and adults for special needs was moving. But what really stirred my spirit was what happened during the sermon time, one of the pastors spoke with Catherine Rhor about the ministry with prisoners she founded in the Houston, Texas area. Right out of college she pursued a high powered job making a great money on Wall Street. Yet she kept asking herself if there was more to life. Finally she surrendered to God and prayed the prayer, “Lord Bring it!” Wow, I thought. I’m not sure I’ve prayed those exact words. I thought if you do pray those prayer, you had better be prepared for your world to be turned upside down. Following a mission trip to an orphanage for children with HIV she embraced those hurting and in need and begin to feel her life change. She was invited to speak at an all-male prison in Houston and with that acceptance came an incredible shift in her life. “Lord, bring it” brought on a new way of looking at life and a new passion she had not experienced on Wall Street. It brought compassion for others and helping them through tough times, believing everyone can make a difference simply given to tools and encouragement to do so. After one trip to the prison she began to lead classes with young men to encourage them to follow their passions and dreams and equip them for business once paroled. She finally quit her job, moved to Houston and founded a program the “Prison Entrepeneurship Program” – PEP. She said today the prayer, Lord, give us our daily bread has taken on new meaning. At the end of her interview, 3 graduates from her program spoke. One had been paroled only the day before. To say it was inspiring was an understatement. As we heard their stories and heard about the changes in their lives, the room felt lifted by the hope that was alive in their presence. We cheered as they talked about the work they were doing. I thought, as they spoke of their future, how refreshing it must be to be these three men, standing before this congregation. They seemed fearless, yet I’m sure have been in much scarier situations. They spoke with poise, grace and a confidence in themselves and in a God who always believed in who they were and in what they could achieve. I met Catherine afterwards and said, “I’d be willing to come speak or sing for your guys. Please know I’m willing and able and would love to come.” She smiled with such love and said, “You’ve said it now! When can you come?”

Inspiration — it moves me to action; it moves me to surrender; it moves me to let go of control; it moves me to look around and see what I can do today, where I am, right now.

Years ago I sang in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I have always been inspired by art and was quite a follower of Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting. While I was off on Sunday afternoon I made a visit to her museum to mainly see one of my favorite paintings of her in a series called, “Above the Clouds”. I had a book at home and was drawn to that series and to her interpretation. She said she looked out of a window of an airplane and simply painted what she saw. As I entered the room where one of her paintings of clouds was on display, I sat against the wall of the back of the room, stunned. I had no idea that it would be HUGE. It is the size of two rooms. It was grand in front of me and I was taken by my misjudgement of its size from my coffee table book back home. It was so much better in person. In front of me I saw Georgia’s vision. She wanted it to inspire. I believe that’s why she painted it so big.

What inspires you? When have you been inspired? Where do you gather inspiration? Normally for me, it’s from the everyday things — a picture of clouds, a late-night family swim under the stars, Max having a food drive with his birthday party, or my flowers that grow in spite of my neglect. Sometimes it sneaks up on me, like that morning when I heard the PEP graduates speak of their dreams and desires for the future or when I stood in the presence of that magnificent painting.

While writing this note, I spoke with our dear friends Beth and John Page whose 5-year-old daughter Tanner has bravely been battling leukemia for the last couple of weeks. (You can read about their battle here or visit her Facebook page.) — I went to the hospital and sang for Tanner and despite how badly she must have felt, she still mustered up a smile for “Over the Rainbow”. She and I talked about what kind of hat she might like to wear when she loses her hair. Now that kind of attitude inspires me. It reminds me that everyday we are faced with a decision to choose to surrender ourselves and to trust that wherever we find ourselves — we can do it with grace. Her mom and I recently went to the movies. She let me pry her out of the house. I knew she was tired and a friend of mine suggested I see if she could use some girlfriend time. She and I laughed that at the snack counter as we ordered the couples’ combo – it was a great deal!

Much of the evening she shared how Tanner has handled this with grace. I think of the 5-year-old who should be riding her bike, eating ice cream, catching fireflies. She was planning on taking swimming lessons in our pool this summer. She was having slumb-overs. (A slumb-over is where you cross the street to a friend’s house in the neighborhood with your pjs and a sleeping bag in tow. You have a bath, enjoy a snack, watch a movie at a friend’s house and then when it’s time to go to bed, you cross the street to go back home to her house for the night—I love the idea!) Now Tanner is faced with not only this disease, but with treatment and the side-effects of treatment–feeling terrible, missing out on a ton of fun kid stuff this summer, feeling different, and cares about her future. Her mom says the word that she’s surprised to use, but fits best is grace. Wow! Ok I’m inspired. Tanner has taught me, but also her mom and dad, Beth and John, our dear friends, have bravely, wearily and courageously walked each step of this with such grace. Daily in small ways they have moved me to be more grateful and more thoughtful of others. One of the best parts is that they have been transparent and honest in their response. There are things in life we don’t understand and can’t change, but we can choose how we each respond. We can choose hope each day. We can choose to live hope and grace today. We can celebrate today, to enjoy and to savor each tiny moment (I love the day they shared that Tanner was feeling good, so they had a picnic upstairs in her room.)

We have this moment and we can look for inspiration right here, in front of us. These moments of potential inspiration are the real deal. Like Catherine, Georgia and Tanner, there are those around us who would remind us that life is bigger than we are. Life is filled with inspiration, everywhere. It is more, we are more than where we find ourselves, than our circumstance or what we are going through. Our lives are a blank canvas, so paint away friends, make chocolate covered strawberries for a friend, have a picnic, order the couples combo and don’t be afraid to pray, “Lord, Bring it” and then to be on the lookout to be inspired!

In the Palm of God’s Hand

“Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m being held in the palm of God’s hand.”

I heard that today and I thought, me too. What does it really mean to feel held in the palm of God’s hand? I’ve always thought it meant that I am trusting that God has got me–that no matter what I am going through, I am held. I am supported. I am able to relax and to know that someone else is carrying me.

I love the story in the gospel of Mark of the four friends who carry the paralytic man to Jesus. The amazing part of that story is what Christ says to the them is that it was because of their faith the man was healed.

What must it have felt like to have been carried by those four? Has someone ever carried you? Your face is in their face, there is no where to hide. That man had to allow those friends to carry him. He had to be willing to receive their help. So many times others have lifted me. So many times I have needed help. Why is it that we are a group of folks who are so comfortable giving to others, yet receiving we are not so great at. We go out of our way to do something, something big or small to show others we are there for them, yet saying ok I am in over my head here and I need some help is not only difficult, it can be almost unbearable. We would rather stand on the deck and sink rather than sending out a mayday. It doesn’t make sense, but I am here to confess that I do it too.

Recently I was really behind the eight ball with a small travel detail I was trying to work out. It was really not that big of a deal, but I called a friend, who I knew would understand it. I said, “ok help me brainstorm some solutions for this situation.” A single thought came out of her mouth about how she could help and my dilemma was solved. I felt so silly. Such a burden was lifted and she kept saying, “this is not that big of a deal.” I had fretted, worried, dreamed and problem solved, all alone of course. The minute I opened it up and let someone in, it was done.

What, my friends, are you waiting for? There may be something in your life that you feel is too overwhelming, too difficult, too shameful or like me, too complicated to find a solution for. That’s a lie, but you have to share it. The thing that’s hard is that you have to tell someone about it before it can be resolved.

The same is true with God. I want God to guess what I need, to guess what is troubling me. I am sure it is already known, but there is something wonderful about surrendering and resting in the palm of God’s hands. The first part of that is rest.

This past weekend while at a youth retreat, I encouraged the youth to find someone to get knee to knee with to share what is going on in their lives, to trust that God has provided and is providing what they need, if they would simply look around. The last night of the event one of the students on the retreat sent me an email. He had spoken with one of his youth leaders and he said, “I feel a burden has been lifted, like I have taken one step closer to God.” Ok, I need to take my own advice, that we would share each others burdens, that we would turn to God at these times and lay our burdens down. I know is the desire of a God who spoke, time and again, a simple message that we are not alone.

Acting locally in Franklin, TN

This past week, we volunteered as a family at Graceworks Ministries in Franklin. We placed food from the pantry shelves into grocery carts. Those carts will stock the pantries of families throughout Williamson county who are experiencing need. As we filled the grocery carts with food, Max and Zach (our sons) noticed that the pantry was short of several specific items. Our boys really hated having to pass over an empty space on a shelf, especially if it was food that they liked.

It was wonderful to work together as a family to make a difference, especially with an age appropriate task for our children. Afterward, we decided to pass this list of shortages on and encourage you to help fill these specific food needs.

Here’s the list of shortages we noticed: Crackers, Canned evaporated milk, powdered milk, Laundry detergent, liquid dish detergent, Juliced and other drinks, pancake mix and syrup, paper towels, kleenex, toothbrushes, shampoo and conditioner.

The majority of local Publix and Kroger stores have bins for donation or you can take items to Graceworks. They are located at 104 Southeast Parkway, Suite 100, Franklin, TN 37064 / 794-9055 / Graceworks Website

The next time you’re at the grocery store, consider picking up one or more items and dropping them in the bin. If you forget and then remember on your way out of the store, at least look for the bin and make a note of its location. On future trips you might consider making a habit of adding an item or more to your list for the bin each time you stop in for groceries.

If you have another pantry you support, you might see what they are lacking.

Thanks, the Whitler family – Zach, Max, Celia and Ron

A Life Well Lived


I put together a house concert for a friend on Friday, November 28th (the day after Thanksgiving). I could tell you the whole story, but one of the songwriters who sang said it so well that I thought I’d pass his words along. I’ll add more at the end of his note.

(A note from Pete Sallis, Tuesday, 12/2/08 @ 10:09 PM)

A life well lived…

The day after Thanksgiving, I was asked along with Nicole Witt, Brian White, and Billy Montana, to fly down to Dallas. Celia Whitler asked us to come down to play our songs to celebrate Celia’s friend Kathleen Baskin-Ball. Kathleen has been bravely battling cancer for a couple years now to find out that it had spread. So, what did Kathleen decide to do with her 10 or so days she was told she had left? Celebrate!! One of the many things she loved was music, so she wanted to spend last Friday night with family, friends, and music. We arrived to find the street lined with cars that any valet service would be jealous of, a lawn filled with white paper bags lit up with candles inside and inspirational messages written on the outside, and a sweet quaint house right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. We were greeted by a smiling Kathleen in the front yard, so gracious that we would fly down and take the time out to come and play for her. Just one look at her and you felt like you’d known her your whole life. Her eyes were bright and her spirit was on fire – soaking up every moment like a flower savors the rain.

Walt Wilkins drove a couple hours from Austin to be a part of the evening because he’d heard how much of a fan Kathleen was of his. In all, we ended up playing a couple hours of songs that were funny, reverent, emotional, and uplifting. Throughout the night, I couldn’t help but notice how tears would suddenly hit different people, and how unique laughter looked when mixed with the fresh remnants of tears. It was a surreal experience to say the least. We ended the night listening to Nicole singing a stirring acapella “Oh Holy Night”, and divine it truly was. As we packed up our guitars, Kathleen asked me what my favorite food was and I said lasagna is in my top 5 – to which I thought she was going to wrap up some of the leftovers from the kitchen – and she said “..I’ll make sure its ready and warm when you get to heaven…” It was hard to keep it together, but how can you break down when the one who has every right to lose it is smiling with a blessed assurance that all is well.

I can only pray that I would have an ounce of the dignity that Kathleen showed us all that night. We all have a terminal disease called “life” that none of us will escape. Some might even think its a blessing to know when you’re gonna go so that you could live like you’re dying. Well, everyday is a gift and every day we have a choice to unwrap it or leave it under the tree. So I pray for all of us to make the most of what God has given us and cherish what really matters. It ain’t “the next song we write” or what “artist is cutting” or “the best gig or songwriting deal”, like Kathleen knew, its family, friends, and the quality of experience we soak in that make up this short but colorful fabric called life.

So we all came back a little different and changed for the better, moved by Kathleen’s faith, and nudged a little bit to try and be more like her. It is with a solemn heart to say I found out today that she left this earth to go be with God. My prayers are for her husband Bill, her 4-year-old son Skyler, her family, and the multitude of friends whose lives were brushed with the presence of an angel’s wings.

(* This is Celia again)…. The house concert was incredibly rich. It was about life, not about loss.

I have been fortunate to journey with Kathleen for the last two decades of our lives. I am thankful to her husband, Bill, her son Skyler and their families who have been so gracious to let me be a part of Kathleen’s courageous battle with cancer. It has been filled with laughter, tears, grace, faithfulness, sadness and hope. I was humbled to be with her for her last breath and also to celebrate her life at her memorial service.

During these last two years, I have prayed for a miracle and know in my heart a true miracle happened. Those of us who were touched by Kathleen’s life and faith, who believe as she did that “light will have the last word” know that she was the miracle … the way she lived… the way she loved…the way she shared her faith and spoke of the love and truth of Christ she bore witness to daily…the way she believed in the wonder of God’s unrelenting grace. She once wrote to me, “I thank God that our paths crossed and then in awesome unity moved straight toward all that is holy.” I feel the same way about her.

Thank you to Pete, Nicole, Billy, Brian, Walt and Ron for more than a wonderful night… for being a part of a journey that changed us all.

LINKS: I brought six songwriters’ to the concert. Here are links in case you want to sample a little of the flavor that we shared that Friday night in the living room.

Billy Montana
Pete Sallis
Brian White
Walt Wilkins
Nicole Witt

Four other singers and/or songwriters joined us that night: Doug and Jill Bryan (from Greenland Hills UMC, a former church Kathleen had served) and Katlyn Baskin and Jessica Newport (two of Kathleen’s nieces).

Here’s a link to a collection of information about Kathleen’s life and ministry, including several items from the Dallas Morning News.


I recently heard a talk where one of the illustrations was for us to view ourselves with a large sign over our heads. We were to imagine something on it that positively stated who we are. I thought about what my sign might say. The speaker essentially was saying that we become what we believe about ourselves. Last month I went to asummer evening gathering of women and again was told to look in the mirror everyday and to tell myself, “you are loved and you can do whatever is before you today.” Have you thought about how you see yourself? While talking to a friend about these thoughts, she mentioned that she sees herself with extra weight, more wrinkles and grayer hair. As she continued, I said “Are you kidding? What I see is your smile, your laugh and your light. I see you through the eyes of love.”

How can we all write on our signs those kind of things about ourselves that would reflect how God sees us and how we see ourselves through the eyes of love? I think my sign would be a mixture of who I believe myself to be and and how I want to view myself, something like,”I am loved and unsure and joyous and scared and blessed” All of it crammed into one sign.

In addition to working on my next book, this summer we are pretty much at home and we are teaching swimming lessons to preschool and elementary children at home with Max and Zach, covered with bugspray and sunscreen, saying over and over again, “you can do it, put your face in the water, reach and pull with your arms!” Most are beginning swimmers, with signs saying “I’m afraid.” One little precious boy, during his first time ever in swimming lessons, when asked to put his face in the water, said “That too tary!”(scary) During his last lesson after he put his face in, he laughed. What a journey from beginning 8 days ago, at 11 AM his sign said, ” that too tary,” and today, “I can do it!” What I know made the difference is Ron’s arms under him, holding him and telling him repeatedly, “I’ve got you and I’m not gonna let go of you.” Doesn’t matter what I allow on my sign, I do feel loving arms around me.

While at the grocery store in the produce I knocked over a box of cookies in a plastic container. Cookies went everywhere. As my son Zach and I began to pick them up — one of the deli workers just appeared and said, “I’ll take these ma’am.” “Oh no,” I quickly replied, “I’ll pick them up and please let me pay for them.” My sign said, “I’m embarrassed and I want to leave.” Apparently not. as she smiled. and said, “Don’t worry about it.” As we headed toward the bread aisle. I looked at Zach and said, “I don’t know why stuff like that bothers me, I just feel so embarrassed, I was moving too fast’.” Zach interrupted, “mommy, mommy, it’s okay it happens.” He took my hand and something changed, really changed. I was lifted. The problem was not gone, there were cookies everywhere. But there was another reality, of it’s ok — more importantly — I’m ok. I am ok and all that is in front of me that seems too tary is not too tary. I am known, I am loved and most importantly I am not alone.

Before I take my first step of the day, I started sitting up on the side of the bed in the morning. I put my feet on the floor in front of me and I say to myself “I’m living, I’m loveable, I am loved and I am not alone.” I also spell the ABCs with my feet. (When I ran I got fasciitis in my right foot and that was my runners’ re-hab.) I say to God help me let go of today, I give it to you.

Say it with me… “Today, I’m living, I’m loveable, I am loved and I amnot alone” There is nothing too tary, that today I cannot face!

Have a cookie today, I am gonna let go of today and see what happens


Scripture, Romans 8:28 — We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

P.S. Congrats to Tanner 5 1/2 who passed the swimming test that consisted of swimming a lap in the Olympic sized pool and treading water for 30 seconds, so that she could go down the big blue slide at the YMCA all summer long! Way to go!

To Rachel 18, in NY who graduated this June, Congrats! My text message to her on her last day of high school was “The best thing you could have learned is how loved you are, how special you are and how all things are possible.”

You both did it and we knew you could!

apple trees

Consider the lillies… (or the Apple trees for that matter) — Matt 6:28b

So I’ve go these apple trees in my front yard–four of them. They are too small to climb and they have only produced apples one of the seven years we have lived here. That was the year my dad stayed with us. He was 79 and my mom had just died. He visited us for three months and one day he said, “we need to work on your apple trees.” I do not have a green thumb was my first thought. I love to grow things, but things don’t love to grow for me. My dad always had a garden. He planted strawberries one year, always tomatoes, a pear tree one year and then there were his flowers. One place we lived had a two acre lot and he planted 50 different types of roses. My favorite were the kind that had a sweet fragrance. He said his favorite was Queen Elizabeth. I took flowers to school every week. If I was ever the teacher’s pet, it was because of my dad’s flowers. I also loved his pansies. They were dark purple with yellow accents.

My apple trees were not in the same category as his plants. Mine had spots and not just a few little spots–spots on almost every leaf. The trees were unruly and he said they needed to be pruned every year. They just needed a little care. I’m not big on pruning. I get my hair cut every 4 months whether it needs it or not. I’m not big on upkeep–I need plants that thrive on neglect. If they make it, they can stay. That philosophy didn’t go over too well with my dad, so we pruned. We watered and we went to the local hardware store to buy something to put on the leaves for the spots. It was maybe a fungus, a virus or some type of bug. Who cares what it is. I was sure we could not get rid of it, but he was determined to leave those apple trees in better shape than he found them and he gave it his best try. I laughed at the store. When we got to the pesticides isle, they all had warnings on them. I thought these might not be safe. Then I thought he’s almost 80, what harm can they do. So off we went with our bag of, let’s just say some form of poison. Dad used my cooking funnel and a mixing bowl to mix the ingredients. I threw that funnel and bowl in the trash that night. No need to try to salvage those. We hauled off 6 large black trash bags of pruned limbs. We sprayed and then we waited. Slowly over months, small sprouts began to appear. The day my dad had his final heart attack that left him bedridden for 6 weeks before his death, he was working on my apple trees. He loved the outdoors and loved to have his hands in nature. I love that he got to spend time at my home in that way.

After his death I came home from his memorial service to find those trees brimming with small apples. I kept the boys (aged 3 and 1 1/2) away from them most of the summer and remember Dad saying early September would be a great month to pick them if the birds haven’t gotten all of them. Those apples grew and grew despite me. One day Ron and I went out for the day in the middle of the summer and left the boys with a baby-sitter. When we came home, in their wagon were my dad’s apples. I was so shook. I’m not sure why those apples represented my dad’s time with me. More than our work together, they represented hope The possibility in life, even when things seem impossible, and somehow the possibility in me even me with my not-so-green thumb. It doesn’t make sense that I can grew something when something had not grown before. I sat on the front porch and cried as the boys proudly showed me their apples. I got my camera and began to laugh as they dumped them all on the ground too green to eat. Max said, “Mommy why are you crying?” Ron explained that the apples were not ready to pick. So the boys said simply, “we’ll put them back, someone get the tape.” It is funny how many things just can’t go back and sometimes it’s okay. Sometimes it’s better than okay.

September came and went and those apple trees have not born one apple since. It’s been 5 years and I’ve wondered should we just cut them down and replace them with something else. What good are they? I don’t have the energy to prune them, water them, love on them and they have not done a thing until… now. This week they have apples and a lot of apples, more than I have seen and on every tree, on every branch almost. I’m left wondering why. I so don’t deserve apples. I have not given those trees one thought much less any attention, but that ‘s when a story gets good isn’t it, when something happens that‘s unexpected, that’s not planned, that’s not deserved, that’s not explainable. My dad and I dreamed of what we’d do with those apples…apple pie, apple cider, apple sauce, apple butter. We would have so many he said we’d need to bag them and give them away to friends. Maybe we could eat them on the porch with boys. We would laugh and dream. I am thinking maybe this September we will do that. You never know if the birds don’t get them or the boys don’t use them during a battle while playing near the trees one day. You wait, you just might be having some apples come your way. So don’t worry about what you’re going to eat, or drink, or wear.

Apples, my apples. Who would have guessed, not me.

Matt. 6:25-31 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you —you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’


When I was eight everything was possible. I thought I could run faster, and I could. I thought there would never be a time when I wouldn’t try things and that time has come. I believed that all people are good and I have had occasion to wonder and even question that fact. I played with friends and thought those close to me then would be close to me forever. I know where only a few of those folks are today and I smile even thinking of them now. We were innocent. We were young. We were carefree. We loved, laughed outloud. ate ice cream when we wanted. drank Icees when we wanted, slept in during In the summer we watched cartoons early Saturday mornings, went to the fair every year, flirted with boys because it was fun, made wishes, believed dreams came true, said our prayers and all before bathtime and lights out. We played together and didn’t care who lived on which side of the tracks. We held hands during recess and skipped. We still played dress up with our mom’s clothes and shoes and makeup when they weren’t looking and pretended we knew what it would be like to be grown up. I had no clue.

I loved us and all the lessons we taught each other. Riding on your best friends handle bars down a steep hill should be avoided at all costs. The feeling of drowning is no fun and that feeling that you’ll never breathe again is something you put our of your head. That feeling returns when you’re a teenager and someone breaks you heart–you remember how it feels to be drowning all over again. We shared, really because we liked to share. The joy of giving what I had to my best friend and seeing her face–money can’t buy that. It’s priceless, really. We jumped off of things and didn’t think at the the time we’d get hurt, until an ankle sprain. I learned how long it takes to heal. Later I learned it again and again–healing seems to takes forever. We can spend our whole lives healing from something, even if we’ve made peace with the hurt. Some prayers don’t get answered, but I believe all prayers are heard. Fear is overridden by desire and joy is found in the smallest places.

I caught every living thing in my back yard and I treasured the world around me. The trees were my playrooms and my bike could take me anywhere. With coins in my pocket I’d head downtown to the library and get lost in a book that would take me to places I couldn’t pronounce, much less dream up. Next I’d ride to the drugstore for fudge ripple ice cream on a sugar cone and buy a Richie Rich comic book. Then I’d ride down past the cemetary to the creek and swim–that’s crazy huh. I’d catch tadpoles and fireflies. Then I’d head back home and play tag with my neightbors until it was dark. Finally and only at the last hour, I would go back inside for a quick bite, most of which I would sneak to the dog under the table. Then it was bath time. I made shampoo supported mohawks. After a quick bedtime story made up by my dad, I was off to sleep. I was still afraid of the dark at eight.. after a kiss goodnight, I’d check under the bed for the creatures and in the closet. I’d pull the curtains closed, hold a stuffed animal tightly. and head under the covers. I was right to be scared of things. There are things to be scared of. Some nights I was frozen–no trapped by fear, not most nights, but enough to remember. I’d whisper a few words under my breath and I was off to sleep. Now that I think of it, those creatures never surfaced. They were in my head, not in my room. Isn’t that the way it is? We have to be careful what we let have it’s way with our thoughts. Most nights the good prevailed. I dreamed when I was eight. Seldom did I remember my dreams, but I loved to dream about playing with dolphins somewhere exotic. Dream land was very different from my surroundings. That is still true today, but I still believe that anything is possible.

It’s all how you look at it. An eight year old sees with eyes that are still open and there are days when I long for that view. Even if I could go back and whisper some of the things I’ve learned and realized along the journey to that girl, she might laugh until she cried or she’d cry until she laughed. She wouldn’t, couldn’t believe me. She’d have to see it with her own eyes. That’s just what I have lived. Here’s to eight. Really in a word, it was great. Don’t ever stop being eight. Don’t forget to buy a snowcone this summer, bubble gum’s my favorite flavor and it turns your tongue blue–who doesn’t like that!

Max turns eight today… May 16, 2008 eat some birthday cake… 2 slices!

What’s next?

Springtime always reminds me of what is new and what is now… and what is about to be birthed that hasn’t been before. The subject of what’s next seems to come up frequently in my conversations with friends and acquaintances. What’s next with my life.. what’s next with my career… what’s next with the relationships I am in … What are the next risks that I need to be taking… This past weekend I joined a group of youth who are graduating from high school. One of the things I remember about my senior year was that it seemed like everytime I turned around someone was aksing me, “what school will you be attending? What will you be studying?” or “Who will you be rooming with?” On and on came the questions and to be honest with you, I decided many of those things at the very last minute. I know that does not shock many of you who know me. I did not have a clue many times. There were those days when so much was spinning around me that I felt like I was just along for the ride. I had no idea where those decisions would lead me or if when I got there I would be prepared for what lay before me.

Early in my singing I met a business man on a flight from Dallas. He shared some of his life story with me on our short trip. During an interview for his first job out of college, he was asked if he had any experience taking pictures out of an airplane. “Of course,” he replied enthusiastically, “that will be no problem for me.” He did get the job and as he left the interview, he thought to himself, “now how would one take a picture our of a plane?” The first day on his job he was shocked to hear the pilot jokingly say as they started the plane, “at some point we’ll remove this cover on the bottom of the plane. You need to be sure you tie yourself onto the rope provided on the side and ya best hold on; things can get a little bumpy. I’ve never had a photographer fall out while taking pictures and don’t want you to be the first.” “You know, Celia,” he said as he looked into my eyes, “I might not have known what was next in my life, but I was always up for the challenge. I might not have been here today if I hadn’t taken that first unknown step.”

Years ago I read a book about Georgia O’Keefe.. her life as a painter and sculptor. She painted very differently from those painting at the time. She said she loved to paint the desert because most people over look the beauty of the desert. She eventually moved to Sante Fe, New Mexico. One of my favorite paintings of hers is titled “Sky Above the Clouds.” On a trip to Santa Fe to sing, I snuck away to visit the Georgia O’Keefe Art Museum. Words do it that painting justice. Over the years, I have seen her work in museums across the country but this was breathtaking. One of the great surprises was seeing the original artwork of Sky Above the Clouds. I was expecting a small painting and when I walked into the room where it was on display I was struck by its majesty. The painting is the size of the room… huge and filled … bold and beautiful. Painters of the nineteenth century had always painted clouds as if they were looking up at them… she painted them as she saw them from a plane. Crazy. Yet, again in her style she knew her next would not look like her now. I have a poster of one of her works and the bottom quote reads, “ I wasn’t going to spend my life doing what had already been done.”

As I buckle in to write my second book, I feel that way today. I’m not sure all that is ahead of me. I’m not sure if I’m going to be prepared, but really that has never stopped me before and it shouldn’t stop me or you now.

What’s next for us? Really, I have a new glimpses… a few ideas… one thing I’m sure of … it will be new and fresh… if I can help it… I’m just gonna tie myself on and hold on with all my might and see where I end up…. I invite you to do the same…

Happy Flying Friends, Celia