When I was a kid, I loved stories. I loved being read to at night and I especially loved made up stories my dad used to tell me. He made up these nightly adventures of a country mouse… each time he started each tale with once upon a time. I waited impatiently for him to weave a tale of enchantment, adventure and endearment. The mouse would find small ventures around an old farmhouse and each one had the little mouse using his wit to outsmart some obstacle faced. The mouse would find cheese, or make a friend out of the farm animals, or uncover a hidden treasure as he outsmarted a barn cat and retired couple living in the farmhouse. Each time my father told the story of the little mouse, he would end each tale with a cliff hanger that would have me more wide awake than lulled to sleep. Thinking back, I can’t say that my dad told this story every single night, but I have a vivid memory of these moments in my childhood. I looked forward to each encounter with my dad and would hop into bed eager for a bedtime story… even past the age where bedtime stories were considered a part of a child’s nightly routine. I don’t remember when he quit telling me the stories but I wished they’d never end. We moved quite a bit, and those stories were one of the few constants in my life. I believed at an early age, I could over come any cliffhanger in my life. I, like that mouse, could make strangers my friends. I could problem solve and find solutions in the midst of insurmountable odds. I believed that though alone, I didn’t have to be lonely. It was so small now that I think about it, yet it was a huge lifeline for me. My father’s voice was like few times I heard in my life time. In the pulpit on Sundays preaching to the morning crowds of soul seekers at church, it would raise and lower with intensity. It was unlike interaction with my siblings or my mom in which he always seemed engaged in some battle of sorts and was defending, always raising a voice to defend something in his life that seemed sacred. During story-time, his voice was tender and calm like someone with a newborn who is enthralled with the newness of life. The only other time I heard this hushed storytelling voice was years later when he took me hunting a few times the year before I married. In those woods, he seemed to harken back to that soft tender voice as he directed me to the deer stand, to climb over a log, or to duck under a fence. His voice in those south Louisiana woods was sacred and sincere and held a tenderness I only heard again in the last days of his life on earth. When I would sit by his bed as he had mine, holding his hand sharing Psalms, old songs and hushed stories of a mouse we both knew long ago. He whispered to me in a heart felt , longing voice, “Sweetheart… sing me a song… tell me a story.”
Twice today a bird has hit the large window in the den where my desk is. I have gotten up both times to look out the window to find a bird, but have only seen the overgrown crab grass that grows wildly under a white dogwood tree. Those birds are fast! Maybe they didn’t even hit the ground, before they took off. But the sound of both impacts makes me believe they must have hit the ground, but wow, they recovered quickly. I mean I have seen birds just lay there for a moment. I have seen birds die on impact. Each time an animal is lost on our watch, our family has been pretty good about pausing for a moment of silence to celebrate and to remember a life well lived. A few words are spoken and heads are bowed. Just last week, Zach brought home a Fiddler Crab from school and named him Bob. Bob only lasted a day with us. Ron called me to say they carried Bob to the tree line. Ron expected a moment of reverent silence. Ron asked Zach if he had a few words to say. As Zach flung Bob into the trees, he said, “nah, we’re good!” Well, let’s say, sometimes we’re good about that!
When I think about those birds, I think flying is good, death is difficult, but stunned is, well, just stunned. Sometimes it takes a while for resolution. It takes a while to realize what just happened. It takes a while to get up and get back to flying. Can I relate? I don’t know about you, but there have been some stunning moments in my life. Not all of them were life threatening. Some of them have ended up quite pleasantly. Others ended up being heartbreaking. What I know of life is that, that is life. One minute you’re flying and the next you hit your head on a window you never saw coming. What about that window draws birds to it? I guess it looks real. It looks safe. It is falsely perceived as the right way to go. Yet it’s not. Recently, I read a quote from Picasso that said, “art is a lie that tells the truth.” Sometimes there is a hint of that in real life, don’t you think?
Funny, we spend millions on cosmetics, clothes, and accessories, when we know in our heart of hearts that we came into this world in our birthday suit and we’re leaving in the same outfit. Our beauty, our true beauty, lies within ourselves. When we truly share our inner self, the superficial pales in comparison to all that we adorn ourselves with. Our true beauty is our laugh, our gentle look, our sincere smile, our shared tears, the way we share our true selves when we lose all concept of self-awareness. When we are real and genuine with each other and our selves. That kind of treasure can’t be bought or sold or traded or owned or bartered with or stolen from. It is all we ever need to be, just us. When we are that, our true selves, we are not afraid of judgment, imperfection or criticism. The phrase “comfortable in our own skin” has a life, and it’s us, who we are.
This past week during a women’s retreat, a young mom shared her story with me. She told me about the loss of her son Matthew James, born 6 weeks ago. He only lived 3 days; but she said in those three days, she was more certain of God’s presence than ever before. Though she mourned the loss of her son, she celebrated a life lived and loved fully in 3 short days. I told her of my friends, Rodney and Allison, and of my singing for their daughter, Mercy Elizabeth’s celebration of life. I sang “Grayson’s song — Child From Above” from my CD of lullabies. I asked Matthew’s mom if I could sing it for her during the communion service we had during the retreat. I said it was now the “Grayson, Mercy, Matthew” song. She smiled and said, “I would be honored.”
Now to the thing that made me laugh during such a heartfelt moment. Her friend Kim who was sitting on the pew in front of her, as the song started, jumped over the pew to sit with her. All of us began to laugh. I later commented on the moment, “what makes a woman jump over a pew in church during a song, during communion, to sit next to her friend, to put her arms around her? During a time when most folks, won’t make eye contact with her makes her look into her eyes and say, ‘I’m right here.'” It was poetically stunning or stunningly poetic! We all thought at the same time, “why didn’t I do that.” What a sweet gesture. I’m so glad we didn’t just sit in silence and stare at the floor. That mom told me she was numb and her body ached all over. At the same time she said, I almost didn’t come today, but I am so glad I chose to.
I think of her back in her town. All the love they have to give to her, all the ways they want to support her, yet many of us don’t know what to do at times like that. Sometimes ya gotta jump a pew. The lie may be to believe that to be silent and still makes it better. Don’t say the wrong thing. When all along, when we find that we have slammed into a glass window, the truth is we need people to be willing to just be with us through it, not to be afraid to share their own pain with us and maybe we don’t need them to talk at all. Just to jump the pew already and sit by us and to put their arm around us.
On that same weekend, someone gave me this quote that said, “A friend understands what you are trying to say… even when your thoughts aren’t fitting into words.” Ann D Parrish
I’m not sure what made those two birds get up and get on with it and fly toward their next. I know the only thing that gives me the will… what made that woman jump the pew… is only love. Love that surrounds us when we are stunned… love that makes us forget ourselves and reach out to others… love that carries us… love that lifts us when we can’t lift ourselves.
One of my favorite songs says it all…
Love lifted me
Love lifted me
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me
w. James Rowe, 1865-1933 / m. Howard E Smith 1863-1918
Psalm 40:2 He lifted me out of the pit… set my feet on a rock.
All my love… be pew jumpers, friends! ~ Celia Anne
There are times in our life when we remember exactly where we were when something happened:
November 22, 1963 – I was only two months old, but from my mom’s stories, I grew up knowing where my mom was when she heard Kennedy was shot. She was in the kitchen cooking and I was there with her when she got the call.
January 28, 1986 – When the Challenger exploded, I was driving to Broadmoor Middle School in Shreveport, Louisiana, where I was student-teaching 6th grade science. When I arrived and heard the news, I remember audibly hearing the breath leave my body and walking into a classroom of crying 6th grade science students who looked to me, all of 22 years old to bring comfort. They needed me to be their solace and consolation during the time…. we had been following the science teacher Christie McAuliffe who was on that mission as we were going to follow her lessons plans from space.
January 17, 1991 – I remember being in the car headed home from the Collin Creek mall in Plano, Texas….when I heard over the radio that we had begun bombing Iraq and that the Iraq invasion had begun.
April 19, 1993 – I was eating pizza at Pizzeria Uno in Addison, Texas glued to the TV with Ron and one of our college friend’s John, when the Branch Davidian compound burned in Waco TX. I sang two months later at the UM Children’s home in Waco, where several of the children who survived that day had been sent.
August 31, 1997 – Ron and I were leading a family retreat for Foundry UMC in Washington, DC the weekend princess Diana died. After watching coverage on television from our rooms, we visited the spontaneous memorial in front of the British Embassy in DC.
August 29, 2005 – I watched the Hurricane Katrina coverage from a hotel room in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Thad was out with me playing the guitar and we kept yelling back and forth at each other down the hall between our rooms.
September 11, 2001 was a different experience because I was a mom and because I felt like anything could have happened that day . Less than a year prior, we had bought a home just outside of Franklin, Tennessee. I was sitting in the den rocking Max…. pregnant with Zach, only a month from delivering him. Our friend Ashley was there helping us with office work and with Max. I sat, like so many of you, and cried as I watched our day crumble right in front of us on every channel. An hour faded into the several hours. I became a news junkie. I wanted to do something. I called a friend within the hour and I remember her saying the name, “Osama bin Laden,” as if I knew who that was. I did not have a clue what kind of world we were all entering into — an age of terrorism and the fear of terrorism. As I watched President Bush speak from Barksdale Air Force Base only a few miles from our former home in Louisiana, I thought to myself, “anything could happen today.” And it wasn’t a hopeful thought. It was like the sky was the limit, but any bad thing, any crazy thing, any unthinkable thing could happen that day. And it did for so many.
One night while watching Diane Sawyer interview family members of a firm whose members were lost when the towers collapsed, she spoke with a mom and teen daughter. The teen was holding up a picture of her dad and looking straight at the camera and saying, “if anyone knows where my dad is, please contact us. We love him and we want him home. We want him where he belongs. Maybe he left the building and someone knows something. We want him back. Please call us.” I remember wanting to write the number down and to call just to say how sorry I was. I broke down and just wept for her, for her mom, for NY, for our country and for me, really for all of us. There are times when we want things back. We want something fixed. We want someone to call and say it is all gonna work out. I know. I feel it, too.
At some point, I had to turn off the television and start living. I picked up the phone and called Danny, a youth director in Ohio, whose group I had just been with the weekend prior to that Tuesday. One of the best memories from that weekend was their Saturday night tradition. The new seniors shared their wisdom, hopes, dreams and fears with everyone. Those words guided me in the days and weeks following and continue to guide me today. We laughed that evening. We cried. We hugged. We promised to be there for each other. We were reminded that we are not alone and we were reminded that the sky is the limit (of good things). Anything can happen. The unthinkable can come true and all for good! And when the unthinkable happens, when darkness washes over each of us like a violent storm; we will get through it. The sun will rise again.
Maybe as important as 9-11, were and are the days following tragedies. The days when we wake to the sun rising again and we rise to take our first steps forward – we hug our children a little closer, we are a little more patient and we realize how precious each moment is.
September 6, 2011 – I made a phone call and sang over the phone for my friend Marti, a pastor friend who I have had the joy to know for several years. She was in her last days of cancer, being cared for by her loving husband,Mac… family and a wonderful hospice group. I was flooded with all of the wonderful memories I had shared with her in ministry. She was all about …justice… and mercy. She reminded all of us that we each can make a difference. Her daughters have followed in her footsteps finding careers that bring healing and hope. Her love, her smile, her laugh, her presence — she was very real and a presence of goodness during our ministry together. I called to sing to her over the phone — “How Great Thou Art” and “Wonderful World.” I sang “Wonderful World” specifically because even though what’s immediately around us might at times cast a shadow on all the wonderful, we can choose to find the wonder. We can choose to dwell on the wonder filled world we live in — a world that so desperately needs us, needs our laughs, needs our hope, needs our us! Mack said she kissed the phone when I finished. Marti died on Sunday morning, September 11, 2011 at 4:30 am. I smiled thinking, “here she goes again reminding us to remember” — remember the life, not the death, remember the goodness not the bad and to be about forgiveness. The best way to respond to hate is simply to love; which is simple to write in a devotion, but not so simple to follow through on. I get locked up daily with all that weighs me down in life. And yet on some days I get a small reminder of what could be and about the difference I am making. A few days later, I spoke with Marti’s husband who called to say thank you. Thank you for the songs, thank you for taking the time. Thank you for calling when you did (I told him I almost didn’t, because I didn’t want to bug them.) Thank you for your love — it made a difference and it was enough. I kept thinking, I could do more. I should have done more. I can still do more.
September 18, 2011 – I had the chance to sing for someone else receiving hospice care. I had not met Mercy Elizabeth Whitfield who was born days earlier on 9/8/11 with Trisomy 13. She was sent home with her loving parents Rodney and Allison, and her siblings Grace and Justice. She has been surrounded by family, friends and church members, all loving that sweet baby during her limited days here on earth. As my guitarist friend Austin, and I entered their home, we were greeted by my friend Allyson George, the children’s director at Rodney’s church First UMC Richardson where he serves as an associate pastor. As I sang, Mercy was held by those who loved her and sometimes I could hear them singing along with me, like on “Jesus loves me” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Grace and Justice were put to sleep after rocking with their parents. Then the adults all just sat and listened to instrumental music of the guitar fill the room. As I prepared to leave, I took Mercy’s hand and leaned close and whispered, “I love you.” Her mom Allison was holding her and said to me, “you can kiss her” and I placed a soft kiss on her forehead and said, “you sleep sweet baby.” I got the news this morning that Mercy died around 2 am this morning. I believe that she is still held by loving arms. I am a witness to Mercy–love going the extra mile. Those parents and caregivers being in the moment, every second, knowing what they had was the right now. I loved that my friend, Marti paved the way for me to share with Mercy… and in Marti’s ministry… she loved mercy.
I am reminded that our time is precious. I am thankful I used my voice, as tired as it was and as uncertain as to how I was going to be able to sing for my friends. I gave what I had in that moment and it was enough.
I love you all and pray that today you know that YOU are the gift. You use your voice and live with the assurance that you too are surrounded by loving arms.
I’ll always know where I was on September 18, 2011, the day I saw the face of Mercy, in a living room filled with love in Dallas, Texas. I hope I never forget the impact it made on me.
Her name is Red and she was a baby robin who fell out of our tree a couple of weeks ago. We fed her around the clock, so that she might be on her way toward her next adventure. It was really our son Zach’s idea, my husband Ron tried to talk him into putting her back into her nest, but Zach would have none of it. Zach had a point, the nest was high in the tree. When I got home, Ron was lowering the ladder and said it was gonna be hard to reach. But come on, a baby bird? I knew from the day old bunnies that we tried to rescue a few years ago. Wild animals are wild to keep alive, you have to feed the babies every 2 – 3 hours and they potty everywhere. I was like, great. We are already taking care of 4 frogs, 3 hermit crabs (thanks Mrs. Wetherholt, “sure, we’ll take them for the summer”), a hamster and a dog. Most days I’m just glad I know where my keys are. A bird? And who is gonna take care of this bird? “I will,” said Zach.
Max is ok with it, as long as he was not eating while the bird is being fed worms. We had some worms in the fridge for an upcoming fishing trip this week. Then we have been raiding the compost pile near our tree line for more worms and finally I got on the internet and found a nice mixture of dog food, applesauce, boiled eggs and peanut butter that we have been to squirting into her mouth a syringe that was used to give baby’s medicine. I got up a couple of times a night and as I am writing these thoughts I am about to fall asleep. But it is working. She is growing. Her wing just today began to fill out and she began to exercise her wings. She is so close. She just needs a little help to get there.
A few days later I went to a memorial service for a young musician / songwriter / artist, who took his own life this month. He played on my first CD in town. I saw him at Gamestop with his kids this past year. Max and Zach had a boy fest while Will and I talked about our favorite local artists and about friends we had in common. I mentioned a friend and he laughed and said, “don’t tell people you know him, really.” (You know who you are!) We finally spoke of writing. We never got to do that together. On May 5 William Owsley ended his life. At a memorial service I got a chance to meet his father and to tell him how much I loved his son’s playing and that we had bumped into each other and connected this past year. I talked about how I had seen that spark in his eyes and that I was sorry I wasn’t a better friend and that I couldn’t have been there that night to remind him of his spark. His father grabbed my hand and said, “you are so sweet. I was there that night and I missed it by 5 minutes. He forgot that spark.” I hugged his neck and thought of the loss his father must feel. Like that bird, Will needed help to get there. I guess we all do at times.
This morning my boys and I went to the house of someone in our town whose home received flood damage. I had been to there house the week of the flood. I had cut carpet, pulled nails, knocked down drywall and today I was painting their cinder block basement walls. I was there the last two days. I was one of only four others who came. The work wasn’t large and went fast, but I thought back to the week of the flood. I was with a classmates mom, when I got the word that this family needed more work. I called my friend and she said, “go help your friend.” We were texting and I texted back, “well she’s not really a friend, more of a new acquaintance. I just met them and they needed some help.” Then I arrived at the home. The mom greeted me in the front yard and introduced me to one of her neighbors. She said, “now, this friend Celia showed up and worked like a dog all day. She came because Porter’s Call (an organization I love) sent an email that simply said, ‘we need hands to help them.'” My boys were still in school, so I poured myself into that basement. I loved that I was the only girl working. I love power tools.
As I thought about it, I was a bit ashamed that I had said we weren’t friends and I revisited the conversation. The next day, I said you know I would have done it for anyone. The one who is near is your neighbor and the Bible says to love your neighbor as yourself. Today after we finished painting, the mom said, “just come up and hang out.” Our boys fell deep into a marathon of Mythbusters, while the she and her husband and I hung out in the kitchen, talking about their week. Her dad was arriving the next day with a buddy of his to work on the basement. I said, “would it help if your two boys were to come to my house to play? My crew would love it and your boys would not be in your way; besides we have a pool.” “Sold,” she said.
See, the thing about life that I keep learning is that it is ever new, it is everlasting, ever being born, ever dying. It is about taking a chance to just show up. It is a chance to say with your hands and feet that, someone cares and they will show up. I always think, what if none one shows up? What can I do to help them see the spark in their lives? I don’t want to miss it by 5 minutes. Don’t give up 5 minutes before your miracle is about to happen.
Back to my bird…. I had a thought today that my bird might get strong enough to fly and while I’m gone, meet with some bad circumstances and it would be over for the bird. There is no guaranty that all this and she might not make it. All I know is what I need to do. All I know is what is right for me and that giving feels right–helping that mom, feeding that bird, hugging that dad, taking a moment to go to our young friend Tanner’s house [BIG shout out to Tanner, it’s her 7th birthday today 7/8/10, visit http://www.tanner.celiamusic.net and leave her a birthday note] and play on her slip n slide that day before she goes back to the hospital (and it was gonna be a big one day tomorrow and gonna hurt). As she made my pb and j sandwich, I told her about Gone With the Wind and The last scene. how Scarlett says, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” Tomorrow is another day. No matter how dark life seems, tomorrow is another day. Who knows, someone might show up eager to help. So I must believe. I must follow my heart. I must trust that when I am about to fly, someone will have helped me get stronger. Before I am about to spread my wings, I could worry my day away or put my faith in someone else, or something else. I could let go and know that the love that comes through me to help another, is not my own, is not so that I might boast, but so that I too may live. Because it is only in losing myself that I really find myself.
Here’s to flying. In life, may you all know little birds, the spark in your life, that you are loved, that you matter, that you have get possibilities, and that your wings are about to open and take off, any day day now.
Ok, I’ve almost fallen asleep twice. I’m off to bed, because I’ve gotta get up at 3 AM to worms and mush. What I have found is that helping others can be messy, hard, rewarding and there is no guaranty that it will work out the way I planned. I ‘m counting on turning out better.
Final update on the Red, the robin: After getting much stronger and filling out her feathers, we let her spend some time outdoors in and around a dogwood tree outside our window. Eventually a mother Robin who had a nest in the same tree, saw Red and her motherly skills kicked in. The mother brought her a single worm and fed her as we watched through the window. She continued feeding Red between feeding her own baby robins. Red spent nights indoors, but spent a couple of days outside with her new adoptive momma robin. After two or three days, we went out to bring her in for the night and she was gone. That was the goal, to return her to her life. Before we put her outside, we painted her claw-nails red so we’d recognize her and when we see a robin outside our window, we all look very closely at her claws.
(note: I wrote these thoughts over a period of about a month. They are in sequence, but the timing is loose.)
All that comes with winter is here–the snow, the cold, the barren trees and days spent indoors watching endless movies while drinking hot chocolate. Paraphrasing Charles Dickens, “it [is] the best and it [is] the worst of times.” I love winter for so many reasons: Thanksgiving, gathering with loved ones and sharing a meal, Christmas-there is nothing as magical, the birth of Christ, presents, Christmas lights and the Christmas tree, which has always been a favorite part of the holiday for me. This year we bought a new nativity set – a Playmobil Christmas. It was so cute on our mantel. We got one for our friends Skyler and Bill Baskin-Ball, too. Skyler said he loves his as much as we love ours. There are some things about this season that are wonderful and timeless– the memories, the traditions and the spirit.
Holidays, I’ll be honest, are also hard for me. Both my parents have died and it always feels strange not to see them or to call them. I have felt that hole more this year than the past seven since they died. This year I have had a sense that I’m really doing this alone. Part of that sense is because I miss my dear friend, Skyler’s mom. Kathleen Baskin-Ball died last December 2nd, with several of us surrounding her with love. Through November and December I have been reliving those fresh anniversaries as I thought back to “a year ago today I was…”.
At her memorial service there was an celebration of all we loved about Kathleen and a sense of gratitude for all she had given to each of us. I think of her especially this season–she celebrated and loved Christmas. My sons knew why I kept going back and forth to Dallas for her treatments and our visits. My son Zach and I were talking about death. He said, “I’m not scared of death; the living’s just so good!” I love that. It’s a reminder that they are both parts of our lives–life and death, good and bad, back to back, hand in hand.
I am also aware of our turning the calendar page. I have been reflecting on all that 2009 has been and all it hasn’t been, on all of my hopes. There is a longing for loved ones that I will not hold again in this life and a thankfulness for those still within my reach. I stand at the crossroads of hope for a New Year and acceptance that some my 2009 resolutions are still on my 2010 list. I’ll be honest, Zach is right, the living is good, but living faithfully is also hard work. Daily, hourly, second by second, I am working on believing things unseen, trusting that God is still working on me, surrendering, being real and present in the moment and being myself. It means remaining on the lookout for ways to bring the kingdom–helping others, growing and becoming the person I am meant to be.
A friend of mine spent Thanksgiving with me this year and she brought me a Paperwhite [narcissus papyraceus] Bulb Kit. It has sat on my counter for a month and a half. Today I planted them. I was shocked to read that it takes five to six weeks for them to bloom. The first two are spent in the dark, crazy. I love the smell of paperwhites and I love their delicate budding flower. Now I learn that I have to wait 6 weeks. I’m thinking if I had silk or plastic ones, I’d be looking at them now; but they wouldn’t feel like paperwhites, smell like paper whites and they wouldn’t BE paperwhites. It takes time to make a real one; but I know it will be worth it (if I don’t kill them first). I’m going to do my best, Angie!
Beginning with the Christmas story, Zach and I progressed our theological conversation to the topic of the Trinity. We talked about the creation story. Specifically, about how in Gen. 1:26, 3:22, 11:7, God is referred to as us. We talked about how the Trinity-God who creates, Jesus and the Holy Spirit existed from the beginning. Zach said, “well yea,” then they said, imitating their dialogue, “one of us should go down there and look like them …soooo… they sent Jesus as a baby… cool huh?” It was funny to have my 8 year old remind me about what I already know–God is here, Christ is here, the Holy Spirit is here. Like bulbs under the soil, something is already at work, Though I can’t always see it, I have faith.
Winter is a reminder of that for me. Our faith is more than what we see. It is deeper than we can give words to. It has more potential than it appears. I need to keep telling myself that there is us. Winter somehow brings out this thought that we are isolated, that we are alone, that we are facing all of this by ourselves. But that is farthest from the truth; our lives are a wonderful mix. Just like this past year-fullness, growth, dormancy, listening, fulfilling, celebrating, grieving, standing still, flying by, fully aware and totally unknown. I am all of these and more and I see what I am not-wholeness. I may never get there on this side of the Jordan, but I can keep reaching.
January is also a wonderful reminder of do-overs. I’ve been cleaning out for the last few months. It started a need for an empty guest bedroom for Thanksgiving. A friend in my bunco group said, “don’t let your friend open any of your closets, she’ll be killed by all the stuff that falls out!” I started with the guest room closet and slowly made my way around the whole house. It feels good to put your hands on everything in your life and say goodbye to a portion of it. Think of it, how few times in our lives do we do that–ask ourselves, “what do I need to keep and what do I need to let go of? What needs order and balance in my life?” Whew, it has been a journey! In cleaning out the office, I went through papers, lots of papers, and I once again remembered my friend Kathleen. Someone recently told me their favorite part of her memorial service was when I went to sing the song I wrote for her “One Wish” and I realized that I had sang the second verse first and we were going a little too fast. I stopped and said on the mic, “Kathleen was all about do-overs and second chances,” and we started the song again. To be honest I hadn’t really thought much about my saying that until I found an event brochure for an event I sang at called Perkins School of Youth Ministry. In a faculty bio piece about my friend Kathleen, she was described as someone who “believes in offering second chances and has learned from ‘the least of these’.” I just wept when I read that. I had never really read what was said about all my friends who taught during the years of my leadership at that event, but were they right.
January is that second chance time for me. It is crazy that right in the middle of winter, there is this opportunity for new birth, for changes in our lives–a time for second chances, for some do-overs. We all could learn from the least of these. The Bible reminds us again and again–from a little child, from a despised tax collector, from a prostitute, to a lost sheep, to a stutterer, to a young boy with a slingshot. I keep thinking I need to be perfect–whatever that means. I keep looking in the wrong direction, at the wrong things to be my judge of success and setting the wrong goals for myself. Many times I gaze at people to be my models, when I know people and things have nothing to do with goals–mine at least. This new year I am faced with new opportunities, new risks, new chances, new stories to sing, new challenges, new songs to be written and new mistakes to be made. We all have fresh chances to learn how to love and forgive.
The last day I spend with Kathleen, she taught me one of her wonderful life lessons. As I helped her with a sip of water, she turned to me and said, “whatever your name is, I love you.” I smiled at her, as she said thank you. She was someone who had always been larger than life to me, she oozed talent, grace, creativity, integrity, strength and unconditional love. She was for me an overwhelming symbol of hope and strength–her cup really did run over, and some of it got on all of us. In that moment, she became the thing she had preached about all these years–that God was speaking through the least of these. She was in need and for a second, I saw the living Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. I got why Jesus was born and why in life the biggest gifts aren’t wrapped at all. I got that in winter buried deep beneath the soil, the seeds of new life are really there, waiting for what’s next. It didn’t matter at all whether or not she remembered what my name was that day. I was reminded whose I am, who I am and what I am–I am me and I am God’s. I am becoming more and more who I am suppose to be. I am strong and weak, beloved, lovable and capable of giving love.
I am strongest when I care for others, when I’m a servant. Focusing on that reality this winter will help me the most. I am both–full and empty. When I give, I realize how much I really have.
Peace to all of you this New Year, friends…
May you and all of your paperwhites bloom this year!
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.”
New You Tube Video posted on Celia’s blog!
If you have trouble viewing… click here: http://blog.celiamusic.net/?p=281
Recorded in Ocean City, NJ on September 12, 2009
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!
As I think about the upcoming Mothers’ Day, I am mindful of what Max says when I ask him to kiss me goodnight. I tell me he loves me and say something sweet. His something sweet is the same every time and it said with the spirit of “I want you to give me something!” Moms and dads out there know the tone! He says, “You are the best mom ever!” I kiss him, tell him I love him and say something sweet back like, “You’re the best Max ever!”
Honestly, there are days when I don’t feel like the best mom ever. In concert, when I set up the song “Most of All You Were There” (It is found on our new lullabies CD and in my new gift book for women “One Wish For You” It is about our son Zach at school a few months ago. Ron and I got our trays and sat with Zach and his first grade class. Two girls immediately begun to talk to Ron and urgently want his attention, “Zach’s dad, Zach’s dad.” As Ron turned around, they said, “Zach’s dad, Zach is so gross, he’s sticks his finger up his nose.” About that time Zach interrupted quietly, “Dad, Dad.” As Ron turned around Zach said, “Dad, you know those girls you were just talking to? They bug me all the time. If I want them to leave me alone, all I have to do is stick my finger up my nose!”
Ok, I am not condoning this practice (no cards and letters, please. I have talked to him about this behavior and if you have been to one of my concerts with your children and I have told this story, I apologize.) I’m just saying no matter of talking to him is gonna keep his finger out of his nose!
As I think about Mothers day and about what makes a good/best mom, here are a few thoughts:
- If I am any good at being a mom, it is because of all the best moms I am around and that have learned from. I try to pay attention. I think of one mom I babysat for. Her 5-year daughter showed her a picture that she had drawn at school. The mom gently said, “I bet that picture makes you feel so proud and happy. I am delighted to see what you have created, tell me about it.” And then the mom listened intently to the explanation. I also remember the daughter who told me that her mom stood at the front door everyday before the daughter left for school and told her, “You are amazing!” The daughter told me that everyday she walked out of my door believing that I was amazing and capable of whatever I would encounter. Another friend told me that when her son lost his temper one day and began to yell and cry, he said “what’s really wrong is that I miss dad and I’m so sad he died.” She sat down and said, “me, too” and they had a long cry together.
- I guess I have been a student all my life and will always be. When it comes to becoming the best mom I can be. The best mom’s encourage, apologize, empathize, aren’t afraid to say, “I’m sorry,” aren’t scared to say, “I didn’t do that so well,…I’m gonna get better,” handle the most joyous times with humility and most challenging moments with grace. One of my favorite compliments was received while having dinner with the President of our alma mater, Centenary College of Louisiana, Dr. Kenneth Schwab and other members of the faculty and my family. Our best behavior would have been very appropriate and we even had a family talk about it prior to the event. It was one of those events that a sitter would’ve been great for, but it was an opportunity for my sons to be exposed to an event that was good for them. It was after I spoke at the President’s day convocation to the student body a few years ago. While we had dinner in the cafeteria, my boys were quite busy and entertaining. Zach played his armpit during the dessert, as I tried to silence him while keeping my composure. My aunt Dinah came up to me and whispered in my ear, “Celia, I can tell not only how much you love the boys, but you all really like each other.” I feared I would be judged as my friends and my aunts, yet I was embraced with such a sweet compliment that made the lunch feel right at home.
- If I am becoming my best mom, it is because of others who parent along side me. One reason is because I am raising my boys with a best dad. Ron Whitler makes me a better mom simply because he is an incredible dad. I am more than blessed. Most days I feel my life is a dream. I am constantly receiving these outlandish moments — they are gifts. Daily in small ways, he gives over and over all he has. We are partners in this and I am thankful everyday that we are walking this earth together and that Max and Zach know and are known by their father. He is slow to anger and quick to compassion. He is fun, caring and can still swing from a rope swing into a river with the best of ‘em–he did it last week.
- I truly feel we cannot do it alone. Even when we feel as if we are working alone. There are those who help, who fill in, who nurture, who parent alongside us–dads, grandparents, neighbors, doctors, teachers, Sunday school volunteers, counselors, coaches, aunts, uncles, cousins, church members, babysitters and friends. They all make me better as a mother. They quilted my journey as a child. I have often thought of ways my mother did the best she could and about how many others filled in the gaps. I am counting on that with my own sons. There are so many ways I am going to fall short and so many wonderful mothering my two will receive from other people. Thank goodness I do not have to do this alone and I believe our children are better when we raise them together. When I had Max, we traveled so much and there were so many who held him as I sang. I always thought he wasn’t just mine and I still feel that way. I so wanted to share him with the world and for all of us to love him. I think of those children without mothers, even those times I have been in the park and seen a child be mean to another beyond the sight of an adult. I have gently stepped in and said a word. I am counting on you to do the same with my sons.
- Each night I pray that God would make me more loving. I have so many days when I know that I am not my best. I have lost my temper before 8 am. I have said the mean thing, when I knew self control was a better option. I have forgotten the class tee shirt for the field trip. ok that happened two days ago, it was the right color, so it was 2 sizes too small because it was little brothers from last year. Instead of sharing shame, Max, when I saw it was the wrong one shared grace. “Mom, no worries,” he quickly said, “and I’ll wear it on field day, too. It was the right color, who cares if it doesn’t have an eagle [mascot] on it.”
- I am much harder on myself than anyone else is on me about my performance as a mother. I know if the super Nanny came to my house today, it would be a two hour show! So I am on my knees saying a prayer that one friend shared with me a couple of years ago, “Lord, you got me in this mess, so you are going to have to get me out.” I continue to go study the fruits of the Spirit — Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I also revisit the love chapter: I Corinthians, Chapter 13. I guess I would say that I am the best at trying, the best at looking for ways to improve. Maybe that needs to be on a plaque that I can look at each day. I have always joked that I heard the first 30 years are the hardest for a mom, but I know that isn’t true. When I delivered those two boys I played U2 and BB King’s version of When Love Came to Town in the delivery room and I believe it is true. Love did come into my life as it never had before.
I just tucked love into bed for the night with their favorite blankets, bear and dog… nite nite … mommy loves you!
God could not be everywhere and therefore He made mothers.