Having the last word is overrated

You have had that moment, when you say something only to hear a response that you didn’t expect to encounter. I grew up in a household where the last word carried authority and weight. It was seldom a positive moment yet a many times that second defined who won a battle… thus who was the victor. I never was sure why my parents fought nor did I ever understand who won, if either. What I knew was someone always had the last word.
I can still hear those words ring out like a shot being fired from my steel mouth toward my mother as a teen, ‘I hate your guts!’ I think I meant everything in me hates everything in you and me at this very moment, even your bowels. Truth was I just hurt. Hurt that I had learned how to fight as a young child a battle I knew wasn’t worthy of my young warrior heart. I hurt over feeling emotionally abandoned and betrayed by those closest to me. I hurt over being a teenager. And as hard as being a teenager simply is I was a teenager who had moved almost every other year. I felt like a vagabond moving most of my life like I was a fugitive being sought after by the law. I hurt that my mother hurt and her hurt though spoken at times had a depth that was unspeakable. That was the truth no one dared speak about.
I once heard about a daytime soap opera actor who had written into his contract the stipulation that he would have the last word in of the scenes where he appeared. At first, I laughed thinking about how trivial this was and also how smart it seemed. Getting the last word has a claim that you have the last say… so it must be where the strength lies. Or maybe you are saying what matters to you is being the last remembered and therefore if you have the last say … you will have had the most influence.
When I stop and think about the last word, I’m not sure that the last word is always the best word. The last word always seems to be shared from a place of strength as if you are making the definitive statement that matters most. Yet, I tend to think the opposite is true. The person who doesn’t need the last word is the one with the most control. The person who has the most compassion and depth sometimes is the person who is able to see the big picture and know within themselves the best word spoken might be no word spoken. Self control is seldom seen when it comes to matters of the last word.
Years ago, I ended a relationship with a boy and before I headed to my car I said, “I think you can only walk away when it isn’t love.” As I turned to walk to my car, I listened for the last word. There was none that time. I wasn’t sure if I wanted there to be. I was young and yet I knew that there was something more to be had in relationships and I was holding out for that something. In the long run, I was better off walking away from something I believed wasn’t true love even if I was walking toward something that wasn’t right in front of me… something if I were honest I hadn’t actually witnessed. I was walking toward something that I dreamed could be and something if I was honest I wasn’t sure was even real or available. I was walking toward a future where the last word is really overrated. My husband Ron is the one who taught me such a silly notion. He has watched me not only get the last word but has seen me burst into flames, fume over the trival, fight with myself in his presence and say what I think will win me the argument. Early on in our relationship something changed. I changed. I saw what love can do. How love can melt the coldest moment and free the caged prisoner from the walls built by the past. I have seen how gentle silence can speak louder than any last word or clever thought that I believed would steal the show and ensure my victory. I have seen how grace overcomes the awkward and invites us all to bask in the present moment of peace.
My mother always got the last word. And in the end she always won and my dad lost. And in the end she had all the power, and my dad had none. And in the end, the end came and was the end. What I think more than the last word… she wanted something so much more… she wanted love. Funny, she already had it but she couldn’t, wouldn’t, didn’t see… it never was found in the last word. I wanted and still want my story to be different and I now see how maybe in a small way it could be.
So, I now raise my flag too and beacon to all who would be last word followers.
We are the strongest last word in and of ourselves. Our breathing in those moments… our being aware that neither hate, nor fear, nor power, more desire for approval by our shouts, whispers or simply words could ever speak as loud as who we are and how we were created. If I were honest… more than trying to be right with my stating one more last thing… I am trying to be loved, accepted and wanted. And one last word won’t make it so. I am… simple and true. So next time you and I come across that moment, you know that moment we wanna be right or we just feel we need to say one more thing… just breathe and remember… something might be spoken louder if you don’t speak.
celia anne

once upon a time

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.”

Three words

Boiling my life down to three words that people would us to describe me was interesting, moving and heartfelt.  See what I did, yea I like a little humor mixed in.  This week, I watched “The Fault in Our Stars” and was moved by the before-death obituary scene. Set in a church two friends stand at the podium and eulogize their friend soon to die of cancer.  I’ve always thought, why wait.  Why wait to tell a loved one what your thoughts are for them?  Why wait to share your true feelings about a close friend or family member.  Why wait?  I think the answer is we think we have the time to tell them.  We live in a realm of reality that falsely makes us believe that we have all the time in the world to share something with someone… there will be plenty of time.  Another reason, is we don’t want the awkward moment.  I know, I hate and love the awkward moment.  You know that moment when we say the thing and we aren’t sure how it is  received.  But to me, that is the most sacred moment of all.  That chance taken is pure and beautiful and full of wonder that we all long for in our lives.  Real.  Real and present.  The two things I know life yearns for yet we have seemed to make more of life avoid both of these with great gusto.

Today, I asked friends, acquaintances, family to respond to the question, what three words come to mind when you think of me… my writing, my singing, my spoken word, my life.  To say I felt like Gus in Fault in Our Stars is an understatement.  Such kind and thoughtful words were shared… but the ones I most appreciated were these: passionate, authentic, contagious.  When and activity presents itself like this one … I tend to think of the words that represent my short comings and wonder if those will be lifted up… absent minded, scattered, doubtful.  I feel sometimes like I’m absent minded because  I am so passionate about who I am with and what I am doing that everything else fades… sometimes that might be other appointments.. keys… the coffee I stepped into the grocery store to buy… sometimes the small things get over looked for the what’s right in front of me things.. and I love that part of who I am as well as see it for the challenge it is.  I sometimes feel scattered and yet I am so open to sharing that with others.  I feel comfortable sharing the pain, sharing the I don’t know-s of life, sharing the obstacles and let others see that scattered is really an ok thing to be at times.  I am not perfect and the older I get, the easier it is to embrace the me who I am as well as push toward the me I want to become.  Finally, I realize I am doubtful at times… only because I sometimes feel I share the too real thing and share it with enthusiasm and a deep desire that others will join my rag tag life parade.  At times, people don’t want that much real and they sure don’t want to be asked to be that themselves… thus the doubt.  May I should tone me down.  A toned down me wouldn’t be me and so as I accept these amazing words of how I have impacted others…I heard these words myself.  That raising the banner of Love, Hope, Joy are good and true virtues and I deeply want others to see those aspects in their own lives.  Passionate…authentic… contagious… healing… love… faithful… joyful… comforting.. gusto.. care.. enthusiasm.. with heart… heartfelt.. witness.. fully… unconditionally… inspiring… hopeful… motivating… blessed.. bountiful… engaging.. uplifting… dynamic.. enchanting… Godly… grace… truth… beautiful… inspirational.. genuine…

After reading the words spoken… I thought of three words myself… thank you all!

Full Sail Living

hey from me…

If I were to boil my writing (and my life) down to a single focus it would be “Full Sail Living.”

 Photo Credit: Darwin Bell via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Darwin Bell via Compfight cc

Full sail Living is about recognizing abundance and celebrating all that fills my cup in my life.  If I were to hang my hat on one thing that I am passionate it is this… “what fills my sail?”  What I love about this subject is how small the answer can be that fills a massive area of my life.  Seeing those day to day moments and sharing those stories that I have been told or that have happened to me is more than inspiration.  It is changing and shaping my life in ways I must share with others with hope that their sail will be filled as well.

The theme that is naturally emerges from full sail living is inspiration.  Where do I see it and feel it and how can I recognize it? Who inspires me and who do I inspire is a question I have always been captured by.

My deepest desire and objective for the blog challenge I’m taking, as well as my life as a whole, is every person would know just how loved they are. Seems simple.  If we did… if we believed that we all, each of us, are loved… our response might be to live our lives out of abundance rather than scarcity.  Love creates love… I believe we were made from love and we were made to love.

I could write about that for a lifetime.

celia anne


Wonder… what is it about wonder that still takes our breath away? What is it about something spectacular that captures us and makes us dream again? Can you think of a moment like that in your life… remember it… smell the smells… feel the chills… see the excitement… experience the wonder.

The first time I can remember a something remarkable happened in my life was a birthday when I was in elementary school and I received a bicycle I really wanted… bike bell, tassels, reflectors and all. I promptly put cards in the spokes to make it make sound… just so the neighbors, in case they didn’t know, could hear me coming and celebrate the joy with me. I’m laughing at the thought of them not hearing my approach. I think I have always been this volume… loud.

Remarkable moments. I love the word “mark” as the root of this word… defined by… seen by others… viewed openly… in my life remarkable moments are not few and far between …

I see them every week… well… let’s say I have a chance to see them every week if I am paying attention.

Still, I can think of a few if I were to look over my life and think of the most important ones I might mention…

I remember an encounter with my grandmother Ruby (mama’s side), during a hot summer visit. I was staying with my grandparents Vivian and William (daddy’s side), while my parents were at a regional church event. I had a beloved poodle that I insisted on bringing because I was terribly lonely at their farm during my stay. During that visit, my dog proceeded to pee on every part of my grandmother Ruby’s house. Ruby surprisingly and unexpected I might add, very graciously picked up some paper and wiped the spots up. Then (with a fresh tissue in case you were wondering) wiped tears from my face as my other grandmother scolded me. Ruby made such a small gesture… it was a little thing… her eyes were full of grace and her vocal gently said only two words that to this day I have thought of when the world gets a little crazy… “it’s ok.” ~ grace danced with me that day.

Loved and alive… funny how it seems so simple and small… I pray you feel that today… you experience when you hear a song, a story, are given a hug. Week after week as I travel, I hear stories across the country of how people have overcome; at times been swept away by everyday life tragedies and trials. Simple words seem to get us through, “it’s ok,” “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” “I’m here”… and at times it’s not the words at all… just the presence of a close one that helps us through a tough spot.

I am touched by how the human spirit and how resilient it is… I always have believed that about children. They just get it… they get that there are monsters and things in life to be scared of… they get they need a friend to hold on to and hold hands with … they get that they can try… and it’s okay if it doesn’t work out… they can try again. They see life through the eyes of wonder. They understand being connected and realize at an early age not even knowing why but that we need to be known and know others… they get loyalty… pinkie swear… and BFFs.

But children are not the only ones who get it… those moments when something takes our breath away… books, movies, songs, poems and stories are full of accounts of these occurrences in our lives.

When thinking about my faith, the evidence is there throughout scripture as well as lived out in our everyday lives. Jesus birth… the angels sang and awe filled the stable – Jesus baptism… the clouds parted and a dove flew down and those present heard God’s voice say, this is my child in whom I am well please – the paralytic healed… all were amazed.

Time and time again… we search for words for the unexplainable, the remarkable, the wonder in our lives. Recently for me… it was a beautiful red sunrise that my son Zach noticed one morning. I love that he was the one who had to point it out to me… as I made my way to stand with him at the bus stop in front of our house… I missed it.. and it was huge.. well, sky size… and I once again was reminded… hidden in plain view is the truth of life. Wonder is all around.

Last month while driving to the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine I pulled over and sat in a cove and cried over the simple beauty I was witnessing. A cove so small… so simple.. yet it’s beauty and wonder captured me. I’m not sure what got a hold of me that day… all I can say is it was sacred… and filled me at a time when I felt empty and needed to be inspired.

Recently, we re-watched one of my favorite movies, “Ratatouille.” At the end of the movie when the food critic has come to judge the meal. The critic takes one bite and in an instant there it is… that moment I have been talking about … he is transported and transformed and taken over by joy… by goodness… by the wonderful and in his write up he praises not only the dish but the chef… and what he most points out is the new… that the new needs to be embraced; the new needs friends… sometimes it’s in the new that we have these encounters… and we are free… free to experience something we have not… free to be rule breakers… free to see something in a new way… someone in a new light… and we are unknowingly captured by wonder once again… so I ask you friend… where have you seen and been grateful for wonder this week?

I say God’s kingdom has come down, among us… like my aunt Rosemary’s mac and cheese… my mama’s chocolate sheet cake recipe… Tom Petty’s “Free Falling,” my friend Brent Maher’s new song, titled “Gratitude” that I’ll release soon. Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World, the last scene in the movie Gravity… Grandmother Ruby’s “It’s Ok”…. all we can say is thanks!

“Same thing…. another day!”

Recently while singing at Brighton Gardens retirement home while traveling on the road, some friends there told of a lady who greets everyone she meets with this phrase… and a smile… a huge smile every day, multiple times a day with a smile. I laughed and then I have been thinking about her greeting, “same thing, another day.” If it were said with a frown, or scowl, or clinched fists, it would have a total different meaning. When said with a smile it has a bit of a refreshing, sweet, endearing message. The smile says just as much as the words… I’m still here… I’m still grateful… I’m still thankful… I‘m still smiling! I love that thought – that today I can choose. What is my same thing… that I am living each day?

In the Dec 2012/Jan 2013 issue of the National Geographic Traveler there is a section called Travelers of the Year. Paula Busey, a librarian from Littleton, CO visited Africa in 2009 and fell in love with its people, culture and way of life. Her guide on safari was a 30 year old educated wildlife expert named Samwell Melami. They quickly formed a friendship and Busey invited Melami to visit her hometown and teach her students.  She said, “As an educator, I wanted my students to have a firsthand experience like this.”  I love the quote this Maasai warrior Samwell ended the article with… “American kids are obsessed with becoming adults, with finishing university and starting to work. I understand that they have anxieties, but I tell them that Maasai don’t think about tomorrow. We just try to make today excellent.  If today is excellent, tomorrow will come.” I love that sentiment but I also love the reminder that we have a choice.  I have a choice. I have today… I can choose to make it excellent!

Back to Brighton Gardens – during my same visit, I met a woman named Betsy. When she walked into the fellowship area, I was already singing “How Great Thou Art.” She immediately began singing and swaying her body from side to side and moving her arms and raising her hands as she sang. It was a sight of beauty. Every song was the same. She sang with joy, gusto and enthusiasm and with feeling. At the end of our time there, I began to walk around and thank the residents for coming and inviting me to sing. When I got to Betsy, I sat in an empty chair beside her. She quickly hugged my neck and caressed my face, while saying God bless you, it is so good to see you, what a gift you were today. Then with time-stopping clarity, she looked right into my eyes and said, “what you do is so important, you know that, right?” I hugged her and said, “yes ma’am. I believe it is!” She then gently caressed the lobe of my ear and said, “I love you and am grateful for you today.”

I felt like I was sitting with one of my aunts or one of my grandmothers… her care… her words… her touch… each conveyed a message of joy, encouragement and gratitude that filled me and still brings me delight at the thought of that exchange. I am sure I was not the first nor will I be the last she spoke to at Brighton Gardens… she had a clear message and mission of encouragement… and she knew when to share it and who to share it with.

If my life is filled with these messages of faith, hope and love… not only am I sharing the greatest riches know on earth but I also in return will have the greatest riches… a life of giving.   I hear the scratchy sound of my Charlie Brown Christmas record playing in the background… Vince Guaraldi… the sweet angelic voices of children singing, “Christmas time is here… Snow flakes in the air… Carols everywhere … olden times and ancient rhymes of love and dreams to share… Christmas time is here… families drawing near. Oh that we could always see such spirit through the years.”

The other day, I saw a family with a young baby. They lost themselves in that child.  They would look around the room briefly, notice other sounds, tend to other things, but there was one focus for them… that child.  His laugh, his smile, his fascination with his toes, his gentle way that captured them and me in that moment. Isn’t that what this season is all about? A baby; losing ourselves in that child. The love and dreams of life we share this Christmas is another chance to lose ourselves.  To focus on the one thing, the same thing – Christmas.

I catch myself reflecting during the Christmas season. What will I give that others might receive? What I would give that others might need, really need? Faith, hope, love, joy, care, concern, attention, focus, sincerity, diligent to make a difference, justice and mercy, choice to make today excellent, sharing of dreams, enthusiasm, friendship… but the greatest of these is love. So I end these thoughts I a started at the beginning… I offer my love… “same thing… another day.”

enjoy the journey,


PS Have a wonderful Christmas friends. When I was 10, we would get the Sears catalog and I would circle everything I loved with a red marker… especially the purple banana seat bike with sparkle tassels hanging from the handle bars! Make this Christmas excellent! I love you all and if I could I’d circle each one of you with a red marker!

New Orleans

Three times my youngest son asked me what happened last month in New Orleans. Each time I answered simply, I don’t know.

I went there for ten days to sing for several events like I’ve been doing most weekends for the last twenty years and to be honest I didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary. Isn’t it funny how, when we least expect it, life is full of out of the ordinary? We fall in love out of the blue, we lose our job and we discover our true passion, we are filled in a new way and realize we have been empty for some time.

I have fallen in love with a number of cities in years past. Here are a few: Dallas, TX (we have friends who still call and say, when are you coming home!), Santa Fe, NM (I called Ron and said half joking, send my clothes), Denver, CO (After two weeks at a big national meeting one year, I realized looking at grand mountains on a regular basis somehow healed the small places in my life. Each time I’m in those mountains, things in my life line up like the are suppose to), NW Florida beaches (pretty much feet in sand anywhere is my dentist-chair-happy-place. The birds, the sand, the sun, the surf, fishing, floating, watching, I find all of it sacred.), New York City, NY (The first time I spent a night there I could hear the sounds rising up from the street and I knew I loved it. The theater alone is enough for me. Each time I go I fall in love with something new. Just walking in the park or FAO Schwartz toy store is enough to fill my cup), London, England (Ron and I got to go to Wimbledon right around the time that the movie Notting Hill was released. We ran around the city in the morning and watched tennis in the afternoon; all of it felt like home. We danced on a red carpet during a Pavarotti Earl’s Court. We kept being drawn to the Notting Hill area, the book stores, the market, the pubs, the blue door.) Ok I could keep going, with Athens, Rome, Beijing, San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Minneapolis, Asheville, Billings, Los Angeles, the list goes on. Most of what I loved about those places is the people I was with.

But New Orleans this time was different, I spent time with New Orleans like I was spending time with an intimate friend. We sat together, in silence and in laughter. We tarried, meandered, breathed, and we even got bored, together. I treasured each moment. I met New Orleans’ homeless, ate with them, cried with them, traded stories with them, fed them, hugged them, kissed them, prayed with them and agreed with them to be kind to one another as I would try to do the same with those around me.

I listened to stories–stories of loss, of Katrina, and of the day to day struggles that still cost many of them their lives. My heart broke in so many ways during those ten days. Years ago… while working on a house during a mission week called “Weekend of the Cross” in Shreveport, LA I spoke with a man whose home we were repairing. I asked him what brought him to the area. He didn’t miss a beat as he answered, “ hard times.” I know what he was talking about when I looked into those eyes this time. It was almost unbearable for me to hear about the misery and sorrow, the desperation. But I also was filled with something else almost unbearable–the amazing sound of love that flowed from jazz. It heals and I was the recipient of that music. It flowed through me. As real as New Orleans’ sorrow, was New Orleans’ melody of life’s songs. As painful as the stories were, there were also stories of hope, of healing, of resilience, of accomplishment. Like jazz, some tunes were standards that everyone in the room knew. Others were new songs I had never heard.

Last spring I accompanied an adult group from Rejoice Lutheran in Lincoln, NE on their mission trip to New Orleans. Cheryl Greiss was gracious enough to let me join them in their work repairing houses, and supporting Marie Riviere Elementary School. I had the good fortune to help with the school talent show. I also sang for the students and talked with them about writing, about expressing yourself, about telling your story through writing and I shared my love for songwriting with them. On that spring trip, one evening I was to meet a friend at the park on Frenchman in the neighborhood. When she had to cancel, I wandered onto Frenchman Street and into the Spotted Cat jazz club. For the next 5 hours, I sat by the piano while Brett Richardson and Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses poured their music and their lives into every soul in that room.

Last month, I returned to the Spotted Cat and to my delight my spot was waiting and so was the music. I’m not sure they know. I’m not sure they are aware or even care what the music is doing to those who listen. When you watch them play, it’s as if they couldn’t care less how many people are in the room. They are not thinking about how the music is received. They are playing their jazz and we just get to listen. I’ve always thought the same about the music I make, It is my personal gift to God. Whoever is listening just happens to be in the same room at the time. If I could put my finger on it and tell you what that music did for me and to me, the naming would take away some of it’s magic. I only know that at one moment while listening to a song at the Spotted Cat, when the sax player finished his solo, the entire place shouted at the top of their lungs. I found myself screaming in joy over what each of us had witnessed, at a gift given without thought of commerce–being paid, cd’s sold, music downloaded or even his name mentioned. He simply nodded his head smiled and listened as one of his fellow musicians played. That seemed to be enough for him. And it was and is enough for me. The magic might have been in part George the door man who hugged me when I came through the door the seventh night in a row, or James the Trumpet player who stood and said I remember you from last night, glad you’re back or the poet sitting in front of Spotted Cat with an old typewriter, composing poems on his typewriter for tips. Yes, I have his original Ode to Celia proudly displayed on my fridge or Curtis behind the bar who eventually said, Ok Celia, next time you are in town.. call me and we’ll let you play. Maybe it was all of it. The trumpeter at Cafe Du Monde’, the men in front of the catheral sitting in Jackson Square. I had some extra food left over from the condo where I stayed and I took it and made sandwiches. I passed out cups of orange juice and fruit and I sat with them one more second the last day I was in the city. Around the corner you could hear a single trumpeter playing When the Saints Go Marching In. A Mardi Gras parade was about to come down the middle of the Quarter and as the crowd gathered, I made my way to my car and with windows rolled down, drove away with that tune still playing in my heart.

My friend Sybil and I were talking about faith and life. Like jazz, she said, faith continues throughout our lives, changing, moving, growing with moments of unpredictability and familiar melodies. Some things take years to develop, while others happening instantly. And then every once in a while, you have a week, a day, a moment. I have always thought my whole life, that the way I lived, the way I loved, the way I sang, the way I wrote songs, all of it matters. I can no more hold back in any area of my life or love. I have to be in the moment. I have to give everything. I have to be swept up in where I am and in what I’m doing. It should matter every part of it and it should be my passion.

One night while at the Spotted Cat, I read some graffiti written on the wall in the girls bathroom, “If you are not completely in love with or heart broken by life at this moment. You better start paying more attention.” That’s really it. I want to pay more attention. I want to give my full attention to something I love, to the someones I love, to the everyones I am called to love. I want to be heartbroken for what breaks others hearts, to care enough to listen. A few of my favorite quotes are listed below, but one I really liked about jazz said this, “New Orleans is the only place where a jazz musician can have a paid gig, play it, leave it to go somewhere to play some more, for free!” It’s sometimes just about showing up, showing up to play, showing up to offer what you have to offer. Isn’t that what we are called to do in our lives? To show up and to offer what we have and to do it even after we thought we are done doing it. So many of Jesus’ miracles happened after Jesus had just done what you thought the miracle was. Funny, how like jazz, it doesn’t have a distinct ending or beginning. It just continues and it’s about paying attention. Something I’ve been know to lack in my life, but not always.

That’s what happened to me in New Orleans, I listened. I paid attention, and it changed me again, forever.

Music is what we need when language fails us, but we cannot remain silent. ~ Dr. Cornel West

If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. ~ Charlie Parker

New Orleans is the only place I know of where you ask a little kid what he wants to be and instead of saying, I want to be a policeman or I want to be a fireman, He says, I want to be a musician. ~ Alan Jaffe

One thing I like about jazz is that I don’t know what is going to happen next, do you? ~ Bix Beidenbecke

Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life. ~ Art Blakey

It is becoming increasingly difficult to decide where jazz starts or where it stops, where Tin Pan Alley begins and jazz ends, or even where the borderline lies between between classical music and jazz. I feel there is no boundary line. ~ Duke Ellington

Life is a lot like jazz… it’s best when you improvise… ~ George Gershwin

The reward for playing jazz is playing jazz. ~ John Lewis

What we play is life. ~ Louis Armstrong

I can tell whether a person can play just by the way he stands. ~ Miles Davis

Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself. ~ Miles Davis

That’s the thing about jazz: it’s free flowing, it comes from your soul. ~ Billy Crystal


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

Where I was / where I am

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.

Celia Anne

You can offer your prayers for Marti’s family here: Marti
and for Mercy Elizabeth Whitfield’s family here: Mercy

My Jesus is upside down.

My Jesus is upside down. There is something that is just wrong about that. I should have known that something was up when I only saw him right-side up in two places: Camp Bridgeport in Texas and the Disney resort we visited in December. I know what you might be thinking, “upside-down Jesus! What in the world?” I have two of them, one that was given to me years ago as a gift and one that I bought during my travels. They are, without a doubt, my favorite nightlights. The only way my Jesus nightlights will plug into the electric sockets in my home is upside down. Trust me I have tried to find an upside-down socket in my home, where he can stand upright and shine his light, but it is a no go.

When I’ve seen him upside down, I can’t help but reflect on the metaphor a little — OK… a lot. The “Christ of faith” that I believe in, the Jesus I have heard about my whole life; the Jesus I have given my heart to, is not always right-side up. There have been times when I have asked questions like those posed on a bracelet a few years ago, “what would Jesus do?” Or how would Jesus react? Or what would Jesus say? January 20th marks fifty years since President JFK gave his famous inaugural speech, where he posed a simple challenge, “Ask not… ask not what your country can do for you… ask what you can do for your country.” Maybe the message is not, “What would Jesus do?” But “ask not what Jesus can do for me, but what can I do for Jesus.” It’s a simple twist, but I know it will be a lifetime of each day finding ways to live that answer daily.

At the very least there was something very unconventional, maybe even upside down, about His perspective and position on things-the way He lived, loved and spoke about the kingdom of God and about how we are to love each other. Sometimes He seems to fit in a way that nothing else fits around Him. All the questions that I have been coming up with when I walk past my upside down Jesus in my bathroom and am reminded about that the way he works, remind me that he doesn’t work like anything else. In fact, he may be the only thing that’s right side up and the rest of the world is upside down.

I have had the joy of hearing and seeing the song “Live Christ”, that I wrote a few years ago find its way into the voices and hearts of several churches, camps, synods, conferences and events across the country. And I have been fortunate to share it in person with many. One of my favorite experiences related to the song was at a regional youth weekend retreat this past fall when I suggested I might end my talk with “Live Christ.” A college student in attendance had volunteered at the camp the previous summer, where the song had been sung each week. She responded, “cool, you know that song, too?” I chuckled and said, “yea, I do, and on a few occasions I live it.” Sometimes I do it. Sometimes I live Christ. Sometimes I live peace. Sometimes I live hope. Sometimes I live love. Many times it takes my seeing a situation upside down; having new eyes; stretching past what feels comfortable to what seems to others very awkward in order to really get a glimpse of what is right in front of me. I thought this week about that song. Maybe I should make it a prayer instead of an imperative statement… something like, “God I pray that I will, with all I am, live Christ; love Christ; share Christ; be Christ.” If I keep doing what I’ve always done, then change in me won’t come. If I continue to look at others, my circumstances, my shortcomings, even my successes, the way I always have looked at them, I can’t reach my goal of “What can I do for Jesus today?” I’m stuck on myself, on what I gain out of life. And that is no way to live a Christ-centered life… I’ll do great if I’m going for a self-centered life! If I’m not willing to be upside down, then change in my life won’t come.

True change comes only when I fully let go. I must let go of my seemingly right-side up self; my right-side up life; my right-side up faith and I must be willing to run the risk of appearing foolish or upside down. I must be willing to examine myself thoroughly, to embrace my beloved-ness, to embrace my true self in Christ so that I can embrace that in others so that I can see others as beloved as they really are — broken like me. I must be open to shining my light in a new way at this turn of the calendar. The thought of it makes me dizzy.

Recently, in another new song I co-wrote, we wrote the line “it’s free, but it costs everything.” That is really how I feel about grace. I guess it’s why I love singing Sweet Little Jesus Boy. When I was a child I didn’t think it was a very good Christmas song. My dad used to sing it every Christmas. It talks about Christ’s birth and about sharing Christ. It talks about His death in the second verse–what kind of upside-down Christmas song does that? I guess one that I should keep singing each year. Christ birth without the rest of the story is meaningless to you and me. Our lives simply singing or speaking of Christ is as equally shallow. If I am not willing to share Christ; to risk compassion, love, empathy, comfort to others no matter how uncomfortable I may feel; then what’s the point of faith-a real faith anyway. If I live my life and faith only right-side up, I may never know the pure joy of Jesus’ upside-down purpose. I may miss an opportunity to see the world and to be willing to love what I see. I’ll be honest, I often get caught up in trying to change the world, when maybe I’m called to love it in its current state and to let God be in charge of what is right-side up and what needs to change. Maybe I’m scared that I might be the one changed. I might be challenged with the realization that I’m the one who is upside-down.

All of those thoughts from one little yellow plastic Jesus nightlight. Thanks Ally for getting it for me years ago, but more than that small gift, thanks for being one of those friends who loves with a love that is upside-down. You have always seen me, all of me, and loved what you see. To all of you who love each of us with upside-down love; who have helped us grow by loving us, crying with us, laughing with us, and by challenging and stretching us; you have whispered to us of a Jesus who is like none other. Tonight when I see my nightlight, I’ll say thanks to God for the gift of today and also for those who live the faith. Thanks for helping me let go of what a perfect Christian looks like and to be willing each day, to be an authentic follower of Jesus, as upside down as that may seem at times. As messy as this life can be, it’s the only thing that feels right-side up.

Happy Upside Down 2011!