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!

The power of “no”

The power of “no” can change a person.  I have lived my life as a yes person.  Someone once asked me, “Do you say, ‘yes,’ then figure it out?” To which I answered, “yes!”  I often say yes, when I need to say no.  I say yes sometimes, because it’s easier than saying no.  I say yes, because I worry what people would think of me if I said no.  I say yes because I want to, even when I know it costs me too much.


I often say yes because I’ve been saying yes for so long, but I’m learning no.  I’ve always believed in the power of no… yet I haven’t lived my life using that power.


When I started singing and then first moved to Nashville, TN. I heard a lot of nos.  No, you can’t do that… you’re a woman… your husband should do that.  No, you can’t play here… no one knows you.  No, you can’t say that… or sing that … or wear that… or believe that.  I’ve come to believe that I look forward to hearing the no’s in my life… because I know my yes is right around the corner.  I’ve always believed that when a door closes… my open door will appear.  Yet, I have given away my personal power by not invoking that one little life changing word… no.


When we say no to things we make space for what else can be.  We sometimes have to turn something off so that something else can be on.  Ever been to camp in a restroom or cabin with a bunch of hairdryers running at the same time… and all of a sudden … nothing?  No power… because of too much power.


What do I need to say no to? What if I say no? What new thing might emerge because there was finally room for something new. I might have to let some people down… I might have to change… I might have to stop all the volunteering… the running to help without listening to where my help might make the biggest difference.  I might have to say no to old habits that are so rooted in me that I feel like are best for me… when all along I know it’s past time to let them go.


I wouldn’t say I’m a believer in New Year’s resolutions, but I do think it is a good and right thing to take a good look at where you are, where you’ve been, where you want to be and to see what adjustments need to be made.  I can’t get there if I’m still here. Sometimes it means walking toward the unknown and just breathing.  Isn’t that what faith is.


Putting our faith in something that seems almost silly… like a baby king… like a kid with a sling shot… like a boy with loaves and fish… like a pregnant teen… like a stutterer as a leader… like a denier as the cornerstone.  I think of those first followers of Christ… on the beach… knowing only a life of fishing… meeting Christ… believing he is the one… laying down their nets and following.  Saying no to everything that they knew was true in order to make space to follow what they believed was their yes.  And in the end, being willing to bet their lives for their yesses… becoming martyrs for their faith.  Whew… that no, was a big one… not like saying no to an extra cookie… I’m talking about big stuff here… life changing nos … nos that you don’t go back on … change your mind for… the power of no in those first disciples lives not only changed their lives but changed history.  I would love to think my life, the way I live, the way I love, the yesses that chart my course, the nos that lead me here would all be the sum of changing the world… Maybe I can’t hope to change the world, but this year I can hope to change a little corner of it.  I can choose to listen, give, risk, believe, offer, try, when in the past it has seemed too hard to do so… I have always loved the quote, “what would happen if I lived my life believing I couldn’t fail?”  I also know that the quote, “what if I lived my life believing I could succeed” But what would success look like? That is the greater question….


What would it look like?  Maybe my success starts with what’s important things in my life? The “when it’s said and done”… I cared more… I did hard things… I apologized when it was painful… I threw myself out there and risked everything… I spoke up… I tried new things at the cost of losing old things that had grown familiar and comfortable…. I didn’t kept a ledger of the wrong doings of others or of my own mistakes, but instead celebrated the mundane and the day to day… I believed in hope… and honesty… and truth… and simple. I cultivated relationships here at home and afar with those I’ve know for years and those I just met… and most of this happened because I was willing to say no.  No to the way I’ve done it… no to pretending things didn’t need to change… no to the side stepping uneasy things are challenging in life… no to ignoring obstacles that have taken root in my core and have to be pruned away for new life to spring up… no to I’m afraid… no to fear…no to we haven’t done it that way… no to what if it doesn’t work.


Last summer, I helped a mom rescue a situation involving her grown daughter. Now, just months after our encounter there was a change that made the mom think it was all wasted.  I shared with her my belief that nothing is wasted, even though we don’t know the outcome…  we can’t just sit back and do nothing… even if things go back the way they were or heaven forbid get worse… there was a moment… a moment in time when we said it matters… I remember the day the mom and I met. It was in a large cafeteria. That day, instead of sitting by the summer college staff whom I loved and adored I said no and sat by a stranger. That single no, changed both her and me.  I could tell you the incredible details our story, but what you need to know is this: I will forever, forever be grateful for that day. The day that no led to yes… that no led me to making room for a mom’s pain to be healed by my caring… and that daughter and she to be reconciled.  The funny thing about the whole encounter is it all happened with me connecting her daughter to two friends of mine out of state where her daughter was… I was never involved past our meeting… but a couple of  my friends stepped in and in a moment of need they were there because of this mom’s and my paths crossed that day.  Being connected by the strangest circumstances and craziest line up of events.  How many times have I longed for that healing in my relationship with my own mother, that with her death 10 years ago this month, much is frozen as we left it that week, broken and yet connected.  Sometimes a no means… not doing something and letting someone else step in … someone else be the one who reaches a loved one who seems unreachable.  It means letting go… that’s what this mom had done so graciously… she let go… and realized that she had done all she could do… and with God’s grace… she now too will feel that in her helplessness … she has to let go again… and realize again that it’s not in her hands. It is seldom in our hands. The letting go part is hard… and being willing to let something die so that something better might live… being willing to step away so that room is made for a new relationship…. for new growth.  Whew this is hard stuff…. and every parent who has had a moment in a relationship that has been trying knows what I am talking about.  No easy add water and stir answers here… time… healing… space… trust … letting go… all seem to help but sometimes in life there are no fixes… there is just the believing that tomorrow will be better than today.


So what about your and my no…. can I say no…. can I continue to let go of the filling in my name on every line out there in life.  Can I not step up at times and wait… thinking that not doing might lead to the what I should be doing all along…. the power of no.


I’ll be honest… I’m not comfortable with a lot of no’s … but I could be… if I let myself… and maybe you and I will see that when we say no… others respect it… they may get it better than we get it… maybe they too have some longings for the power of no in their own life… and our little no will help them with a big no.  I’m not sure how it works… but this I’m sure of… no can and must be apart of your and my life… no can change every thing… if we let it.  So here’s to the power of no… say it with me… on the count of three… no on three… ok how about right after three…

one… ( deep breath )

two… ( don’t even think of backing out )

three… ( you know you can )


“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!

Great Ideas

There is something to be said for having a great idea.  Where do they come from … what inspires us the most?  Trying to have a great idea about anything never seems to work.. We always end up like we are trying too hard.  The best great ideas … just happen.

They fall in our laps. They are brief moments of brilliance that we stumble upon and only in hindsight do we realize what a great idea they were.  I’ve had a few in my life time…

A few friends that I just happened to introduce myself to… sit next to… call and invite them to join me somewhere for a something… and I look back 30 years later and realize they have become my bestest best friend… or maybe it was just a brief encounter we exchange and for a second we shared something profound.. real and genuine that happened unexpected and you end up sharing your heart… spilling all you are to someone you just met and it feels right.. those moments- I love.

Decisions I’ve made have always had a certain sure-ity to them… moving to becoming a teacher… working for a church with youth… marrying my best friend… quitting teaching… moving to Nashville… connecting with my vocal
coach Gerald Arthur 20 years ago… sitting at Merridee’s table and meeting friends there… filling my cup at the Good Cup…following Christ… having my kids, Max and Zach.. even though I call them the dangerous duo… I am so glad
they are on this ride with Ron and I… belonging to my church family, writing books… songs… stories… There has been a peace that has come with every decision… some of them as small as having coffee.. others huge like who I
married and should I have children… always a peace and affirmation that the reason I choose this decision… was good for me, my family, my faith, my future.

Living in Nashville… great ideas are discussed daily.. mostly with regards to songwriting… everyone.. well, almost everyone is a songwriter.. knows a songwriter… lives near a songwriter.. admires a songwriter or their neighbor

But great ideas go beyond songwriting.  They can change everything… they can change our world.  Learning something new, forgiving, taking a risk, stretching, seeking a new door when one closes, not being discouraged, what happens AFTER we fail, remembering a passion we had long ago and rekindling it, starting over, not letting our joy be robbed by what could beat us down each day, following a hunch or a nudge, saying what if, believing things can be different, knowing that our one voice matters, putting everything on the line, making room, doing
things that are hard and scare us, letting go, giving over control, realizing with death comes new life, making mistakes, learning from our mistakes, resting, giving everything, leaning into something we love, not letting fear keep us from trying, being ok with different, accepting others and mostly ourselves, plowing a new row, see things differently, listening, speaking up, waiting… my whole life I have believed there was more … and sometimes the more came when only I was willing for a great idea to come outta something less… something little… something small… almost missed.. and insufficient.  What if that is true for you… you pick one of those statements I listed and you become that… your embrace that something amazing is happening.. is going to happen.. has happened… is about to happen… you believe that your next great idea is not behind you … it’s here! It’s right now.. it’s right around the corner.. it’s in the door that opened only because the door beside it closed!

I have always said… I love no’s because I know my yes is near!

Guys came by and cleaned out our tree line this week… with large machinery they removed more than we wanted… funny our compost pile we had secretly tucked in the bushes and trees.. .was sitting out by itself.. out in the open
for the world to see… What I am watching now is my sons and Ron make piles and burn all the work crew left behind.  On the way home from school, we discussed the kind of trees we’d like to plant .. evergreens along the tree line between our house and the road.. we’ve talked about it for years but now we really need … to do it.  They have never pruned like they did this week… I mean they really cleared out a lot of stuff… stuff we didn’t even know was under there! On the edge of our property.. under all that stuff.. was a young dogwood tree we had never seen before… we have two and are thrilled to have another.  I laughed at the thought that it was there the whole time … I passed it daily and never saw it… maybe mine phrase should be … see things differently!

That’s a great idea.

Last thought … as I was writing this I not only thought .. raise a juice box for our next great idea… raise your juice box friends … you are a great idea! embrace that! You are… no one else is you … and what you offer in this
world.. your smile… your laugh.. your problem- solving, your effort, your heart, your gifts, your everything….

I know is a great idea.

Some ideas I love:

Solmate socks – http://www.socklady.com

Jamie O’Hara’s new CD Dream Hymns

Thistle Farms Products – http://www.thistlefarms.org

boots and bandana golf – http://www.bootsandbandana.com

listening to music at the Bluebird Cafe’ – http://www.bluebirdcafe.com — I’m there 11/20/2012

listening to music in Luckenbach, Tx…  – http://www.luckenbachtexas.com (everynight starts at 4)

camping in the backyard!


home is tricky… being home… getting home… missing home… waiting to leave home… all of it is complicated. I remember going to camp when I was in middle school… I wasn’t homesick in the least bit… I believe I even wrote a postcard home asking if I could stay an extra week! I loved sleeping in a room full of girls with all the activity and commotion. The thought of every day being filled with fun activities and counselors playing with us along the way. Who wouldn’t want to live at camp… make camp home! I sure was in!

But even at the end of the week was glad to return to my dog, bed, family and friends. I could have just as much fun on my backyard swing. the sound of cards in the spokes of my tires on my bike was a sweet melody that welcomed my return and the church library record player spinning “The Locomotion” while I played in the sprinkler near the clothes line in my backyard was the cherry on top of a homecoming return.

I loved being on the go, my mom told folks.. the truth was I made every where home.. and everyone family. That was the trick to being home while you were gone. Friends were family… family were friends… new places were familiar places… home places, new places. Tricky to do beyond 10 years old!

I forget that I love the everyday home stuff… washing clothes.. dishes… clutter… chickens… dogs.. water frogs… cooking meals … cleaning up after meals.. huddled on the couch like puppies watching movies… putting away all the blankets and pillows after the movies over… the routine of sameness as well as change…. home is both.. that which is safe and familiar… and that which adapts to what the day brings… home has to be both. What once was an infant room in boys room now has Nerf basketball goals hanging in both… the Wright brother’s poster replaces Winnie the Pooh and his friends picture… and a British and USA flags hang in the place where airplanes used to hang from their ceilings… home changes…because we change… but there is something constant… the love.

Recently Ron talked to a senior about going to college and the anticipation as well as a little worry… College kids working at Lake Junaluska as counselors this summer and I laughed that while one of them was gone to college, a mom had turned his room into an office… then he had to move back in and had to scramble to re-convert it… His mom was like.. well you said, I’m outta here! So honey, we believed you! Ugh! Home…
One time my older sister came home from college to her room being taking over by her 10 year old little sister (me) and GI Joe and Barbie dolls invasion… I loved GI Joe way better than Ken… no offense Ken… just a taste thing! And he looked really cool driving that Barbie Jeep my cousins gave me! The thing we count on for home to be doesn’t always stay true. Time does not stand still … neither does home… even if we want it to in our mind.

When I was writing the book “On the Way to Somewhere,” I talked to Tabitha Tuder’s mom, Debra, whose daughter has been missing for 10 years now… she was so gracious to share her story with me… I used to see her missing picture in our post office in downtown Franklin where I had a box and daily I would touch that picture of Tabitha and say I love you and I hope you make it home soon. While working on a story book I called Tabitha’s mom to see if I could tell her story… and one thing that stuck me was she said she prays and hopes daily her daughter will return home safe and sound… she just can’t bring herself to change Tabitha’s room… she wants Tabitha to step back into her room just as she left it. She was last seen walking to the bus, 7 am April 29, 2003… a witness said she got into the a red pick up truck and she has never been seen since.

While recently reflecting on the death of Andy Griffith, I remembered what I loved about Mayberry… it was a home that was frozen in time… but it too wasn’t real… there are countless things of Mayberry that I long for home to be.. and just the same number of what I know Mayberry wasn’t that it should have been… but the one thing we all loved about Mayberry was the way it made us feel.. like many shows built around family and friends: the Cosby show… and Archie Bunker… I Love Lucy ….Friends… even iCarly.. which I admit I love… all have in common… their homes though very different… has one common thread… people who love you there! People who when you walk through the door… are glad to see you … who are better because you are in their home.

Isn’t that what we love about Jesus… he loved being in people’s homes… Mary and Martha… Zaccheus… wedding parties with friends and family…. home is simply with him… home is the Disciples together… sitting at someone’s table… breaking bread… hearing stories.. telling stories… but the thing I loved most about Jesus the Christ…is He made himself home for all… all all cost.. he became the home we all long for … healing… whole.. love and loving.

I pray your home is filled with love… love that invites you back.. love that lets you fail and succeed.. that lets you try things.. love that is ok with raised voices as well as whispers… love that tells you~ you’re ok~ how you are now~not how you are gonna be one day~ you’re ok now~love that hugs you.. love that laughs with… love that grows and gently challenges you… love that tries new things… and embraces the old, traditions, familiar, worn, tired and true things too… love that sings new songs… smiles with it’s eyes… speaks the truth… does hard things… forgives quickly and often… gets out of the way… love that lets others be the center of attention… that goes second… lets someone else have the last biscuit… shares stuff… smiles often… includes everyone… takes up for the little guy… remembers we were all the little guys once… love that holds hands when someone needs one… howls at the moon when needed… still catches fireflies and makes a wish on a shooting star… love that still falls in love… still giggles… still dreams… still wishes… still believes… still takes risks… still takes a stand… still seeks… still weeps and grieves… still loves and embraces the good…

for you and for me… that description of home I’m longing to create as well as dwell myself…

some of my favorite home quotes… send me yours… and your video from home… you’ll see our new chicken coop video of their new home in days to come… look for it…

Home is the one place in all this world where hearts are sure of each other.  It is the place of confidence.  It is the place where we tear off that mask of guarded and suspicious coldness which the world forces us to wear in self-defense, and where we pour out the unreserved communications of full and confiding hearts.  It is the spot where expressions of tenderness gush out without any sensation of awkwardness and without any dread of ridicule.  ~Frederick W. Robertson

Home is where the heart can laugh without shyness.  Home is where the heart’s tears can dry at their own pace.  ~Vernon Baker
Where thou art – that – is Home.  ~Emily Dickinson
Peace – that was the other name for home.  ~Kathleen Norris
“When you’re safe at home you wish you were having an adventure; when you’re having an adventure you wish you were safe at home” ~Thornton Wilder

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” ~Matsuo Basho

Here’s the story that really got me thinking about home: https://www.facebook.com/notes/sharon-thompson/divine-appointments/3760518504466

peace… Celia

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

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!

What is the most surprising thing about love?

What is the most surprising thing about love? It was a question posed in the last magazine, “Real Simple.” I love that magazine. I rarely take the time to read one, unless I am getting my hair done or sitting on an airplane, but it has become one of my favorite magazines. Its subtitle is “Life made easier:” Now who among us doesn’t need a little bit of that!

I enjoyed many of the responses included in the article to this question about love. Some of my favorites were: “It can come from someone you barely know. Stephanie, NC”, “It happens when you least expect it. Marianna, IL”, “How simple it can be. Robin, ID Everything, Courtney, MA.”

I asked Max, who is 9, how he would answer it. He said, “You never know what’s gonna happen.” Which I thought was a wonderful answer. Real Simple should have printed his! About 5 minutes later, as we were about to turn onto our street driving home from school, he asked if he could play outside with his friends after he finished writing his spelling words. I said, “yes, sure.” He chuckled and said “Mom, you are beautifully surprising!” I loved that answer for love. Love is beautifully surprising. I couldn’t keep from laughing.

Isn’t that it? Love is beautifully surprising. I am filled with it’s wonder at its depth, its diversity, its perseverance, its endurance and its sheer will. I have seen so many things happen in the name of love, both incredible and detrimental. I do revert to chapter 13 of I Corinthian’s as a guideline.

A couple of years ago while at elementary camp in Texas with our friends, we had the joy of experiencing camp worship, led by campers. One group did a skit as the message about the camp theme: “the fruits of the Spirit.” In the skit, someone would behave a certain way that was pretty much contrary to one of the fruits and an angel watching would speak to them and ask them a simple question: are you gonna be loving? …caring? when they got to the trait of kindness.. they said “kindful?” I loved it. Full of kindness, loveful–full of love. I loved that thought. It might not be a real word, but it made its point.

We have a choice to be full of something: envy, small minded things, hurts from the past that should have been forgiven long ago, mistakes we have made. We also have a choice to answer a different way maybe even to surprise ourselves. Some of our choice boils down simply to letting go. Letting go of ourselves, so that we can be open to love.

A few days ago I saw a man quietly holding a sign on the corner of our downtown main street that simply said, “Easter is all about Jesus.” As he held it, I was mindful of the funeral a friend asked me earlier that day to help plan. It was the service remembering a friend of hers named Dawn who had just died. During the last 18 months, Dawn has let go of everything. My friend, a mom of 4 boys, has had reinforcements from her dear parents and husband that enabled her to care for her friend Dawn who has been ill all year. Last week, her friend completed her battle and died silently in the night with my friend and another of their friends standing by. As my friend and I sat at one of our local coffeehouses and talked about her dear friend Dawn, I thought of the man with the sign. Dawn liked to say, “don’t postpone joy!” Don’t postpone joy. What a breathtaking way to live and what an inspiration. What an amazing sign to hold up in life.

I’m almost ashamed to reflect on some of the signs I have held up at different times in my life, “I don’t like the way I look. Life isn’t fair. I’m overwhelmed. I need a break. I’m lonely. I don’t know how to love you. I need to surrender.” The list goes on also with others like, “be yourself, enjoy the journey, we are never alone… whatever your name is-I love you, anything is possible” We all can make a difference. Love is beautifully surprising.

From the perspective of Holy Week, I think Jesus was beautifully surprising. He constantly served as a reminder to those around him. I can think of a couple of signs he carried, “I love you” and “love each other.” He did about everything he could to get that point across. He was willing to be used as an example. There are moments when I think of his willingness to go the distance, the ultimate sacrifice, all for love. I’d like to think I would do anything, for anyone. Jesus certainly sets that up with a living example. If I am willing to read the text from Matthew literally, when am I going to have a real chance to lay down my life for a friend? Maybe there are several ways to do that. Maybe it can show up in the laying down of my will or my desire to have the center of attention or my spending my time and money for others or my attention to what are the real priorities, or my discipline to say whatever comes to my mind when I am mad or hurt or my using my time wisely or thinking of others before myself or my constantly asking myself, “does this look like love, am I living love fully?” We have to be in constant evaluation of the signs we carry.

One has to come to grips with how we are loved even when our signs are wrong. Though my behavior never measures up to how I believe one who follows Jesus should live, I can sleep at night knowing that there is a God who loves me with all of my shortcomings, who measures how I love and live not by how many acts of kindness I do, but by what’s in my heart.

Why I love quiet moments

There are times when words are not needed. I tend to live my life thinking the opposite. I use words all the time: writing songs, telling stories, leading retreats, parenting my children, small talk with a friend over coffee. But there have been moments when I have seen the power of silence at work in my life and I am humbled and awed by it.

Some evenings when everyone is asleep.. (well except – my faithful dog, Lilly ) … the silence of the house slowly winds down and seeps into our home. The air in the house becomes filled with something in a way that noises cannot imitate. As I walk into each room picking up toys, turning off tvs and lights, locking exterior doors and letting Lilly out one last time while sneaking a glimpse at the stars; nothing needs to be said. In that ritual of becoming quiet I hear the most sometimes. I hear peace. I hear the sound of the fridge humming, our hamster running on her wheel in her cage, a child breathing in a soft rhythm, the dryer gently rolling clothes over and over again and I hear my own body slow to a pace that allows for sleep. Many evenings I read.

I just finished reading “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder. What I loved about his play is how Wilder reminds us of what lasts in life… of small joys of the unspoken, the blessing of life on earth. One of my favorite lines is, “You’ve got to love life to have life and you’ve got to have life to love life. Wilder himself said the play was an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life. Today after a walk with a friend we sat on a curb for just a second, looked at the sky and breathed.

I am reminded of Max’s recount of his teacher telling his class ” look over your notes at night.. the last thing you go to bed thinking about will be what is retained.” Wow, if I took that to heart… how would my days … my dreams… my actions… the words I used be different the next day. When I think about the best lessons I have learned.. no words were needed… grace, forgiveness, love, hope, endurance… peace.

So here’s to quiet moments. May we trust we are where we are suppose to be, doing what we are suppose to be doing. As my son Max prayed a few months ago, “God, help everyone have a reason to live.” May you and I know our reason to live and may we hear it loudly in the quiet moments, how loved we are, how precious and unique we are and may we not need words to believe it.

Psalms 19:1-4

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

Legacy: what are you and I doing that lasts?

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

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

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

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

“Please come by,” he said quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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