“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!

Lilly Spot Whitler

Lilly the road dog
Lilly the road dog
Lilly joined our family on Christmas 2006. Our younger son Zach wanted a weiner dog and Santa didn’t let us down. Lilly is all dachshund all the time. Her coloring is called Piebald.
When our old dog Blue died, Lilly became the road dog. She no longer needed to stay home so the old dog wouldn’t feel less a part of the family. This is a photo of Lilly at the beach on fall break, taken on 10/19/2008. The dachshund was originally bred in Germany to be a badger hunter. You can see from the sand on her nose that she loved digging in the sand. There were no badgers to be had that day under the white sand of Seagrove in the Florida Panhandle.

On Directions

Who do you ask for directions? I had an experience last month that got me thinking.

I was returning from a visit with my friend Kathleen and I arrived early at my gate at the D/FW Airport, so I picked up breakfast from the McDonald’s in my terminal. Upon returning to my gate I noticed an empty information booth. It was perfect — no one was sitting there; it had a counter and a chair; it was near the door at my gate and it was near the main floor to the terminal. It would be a great place to enjoy my breakfast and to people-watch (or so I thought)! So I did what I normally do, I made myself at home. Placing my carry on bags underneath the booth, I took a seat and began eating my breakfast. Something funny happened. Instead of my watching people, people started watching me. Above my head was a sign that said, “information.” As folks walked by, they stopped. At first I thought, “surely they will know that I’m just at traveler, like them, stopping to eat my breakfast.” I mean come on my sausage biscuit was sitting right there next to my Starbucks. OK I love McDonalds breakfast… but Starbucks was a must! I guess they thought that I had some information they needed and they began to stop.

“Excuse me, do you know how to get to Terminal C?” As I looked up at a family of four, “Sure,” I answered. Catch the Skylink right behind this hallway and it will take you right there. It’s just two stops away and you’ll be there in no time,” I smiled.

A man came by wearing a “Life is Good” baseball cap on his head. “Say can you help me get to the extended parking? I’m having trouble remembering which bus to catch?” “Alright,” I said, “this one’s a little tough.” There was a map nearby and I said, “it might take a while, but be patient you’ll get there. The trams do come my quickly and when I’ve been away from my car for a while I have to stop and think ‘OK. now where did I leave you?’” And off he went.

A lovely retired couple came by asking how one might change a flights and leave a little later on another flight. Hmmmmm I knew they’d need a higher power. “You know what? You’ll need a gate agent to help you. I can’t do that one.” So I directed them to the nearest gate where a friendly agent quickly began to pull up their record and redirect there route home. After a while I picked up my biscuit and thought I might as well eat while I’m here. I called my friend Kathleen and I got so tickled as we laughed at how once again I had found myself in an interesting situation. I told her it was funny as I watched the family of four run off to catch the Skylink train to make their flight. They all smiled and waved at me, “hey thanks for the help.” “Have a fun trip,” I laughed. Kathleen and I giggled that I should leave while I could, before I sent someone in the wrong direction or gave out bad advice and made their trip worse.

One of my favorite movies as a child was “The Great Impostor (1961).” Tony Curtis starred in it. His character took on roles of different people. At times others thought him to be that person and they treated him as if he was. Once he was a doctor and once a warden of a prison. The funny thing is that he was good at his roles. He became who others thought of him to be. Instead of being just the impostor, he genuinely became that person and really was quite good at helping people and at making a difference. Yet he was always wondering if he would be discovered.

The role of information expert fell on me by accident and I don’t encourage pretending like someone you are not, but I felt a little bit like I was in that movie while I sat at that booth. I wondered if someone would finally see me for who I was. I was not the information lady, but someone waiting for a plane and eating my breakfast. I wondered if anyone from my flight had seen me at the booth and wondered “what in the world? What’s she doing? She can’t sit there. What information does she have that can help? There needs to be a qualified official information person in that chair.” I just smiled and thought, “you will have to tell it to the 25 people who I just helped along their way.”

I wonder how it can be that I’m the person being asked for directions when, I’m guessing much of the time. And there are moments when I think, “now I don’t have the answer for you, but I’m here with you and I can point you in a direction I’d look if I were you.”

Here’s the thing, you never know where you’ll find information about your direction and who might be the one to lead you there. God is using all of us. We are all instruments. Even if we don’t feel like we should be sitting in the information booth.

My desire is to move people and I think music is the way I’m called to do so. Sometimes it’s not just a moving of the heart or emotion, it’s more like pointing the way. How do I get from here to there? How do I get un-lost? How can I understand which way to go from here?

I have to tell you that as that family ran by, I had a moment when I thought, “this is it. This is my purpose… to help others on the way to somewhere.” I’m not sure how it works. I spend my days writing and singing songs, telling stories, taking morning walks, chatting over coffee, sharing great dinners, taking road trips, sharing music that I love with others, eating birthday cake to remember someone special, going to a water park, making and taking phone calls, making late trips to sit by a friend’s side and offering words of help and comfort. Sometimes — OK many times – it’s just about being there.

Who are you called to help? Who is your neighbor? Who is near you? Sometimes it is a proximity thing — Love God with all you heart, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The best thing I had to share at that empty information booth that day was myself.

Blessings to you fellow travelers, I love you and my deepest prayer is that wherever these days lead you, that you will feel God’s loving arms around you and know as you journey that you are not alone.


PS To the guy looking for extended parking: I’m sorry if I didn’t say it at first, but you might have needed to have caught the bus on the lower level. I hope you made it to your car that day. Loved the hat. Life is good!

Love love

I love First Corinthians 13. What is it about love, that I love? I mean love is such a broad topic. When I think about all that has been done for love, my goodness, I am overwhelmed. In my life alone, love has aways been at the core of who I am and what I want to be pursuing. It is the one thing that has stayed constant, when all has swirled around in my world, love has been the anchor that holds. I have just returned from Corinth, the site of the early church to whom that letter was written.

Several years ago, I met a girl named Sarah at an event,when she was in high school. It was before I had any children, and I had miscarried during the week prior. I remember going to a Youth Encounter event in Pennsylvania as the worship leader. Sarah introduced herself after a general session. She was supposed to be heading to a workshop. Instead, she and I sat and talked about a difficult time she was having in her life. We talked about a trying past and about the uncertainties that were ahead of her. I remember praying with her and telling her I loved her. Mostly that weekend, we just hung out and we laughed–we became friends. What she didn’t know was that she loved me through that weekend, as well and through my own uncertain, dark time. Last year, she found me on my myspace and emailed me a simple message. In her note to me she shared that she is in college now, how she is doing and how blessed her life is now. She closed by saying, “I remember that weekend and how you told me you loved me and you had just met me. I just wanted you to know when you said that to me that weekend, well, I felt loved. Thank you.”

More recently I have found that I have grown to love differently… more deeply and freely. It is funny how love is for me, I know love is a choice. Loving someone is about choosing each day to love and to be loved.

There are times when love chooses me. I find myself in a situation, like meeting someone like Sarah. I find myself loving. I find myself doing what love would do, even if it seems impossible or difficult or out of character. Because of love, something illogical seems right. Something difficult seems like the clear choice. I’m drawn to love and loving. I can’t explain it. I genuinely feel love for others. Sometimes for others I just met, sometimes for others I hardly know. Other times I ‘m reminded of love that has always been there. I’m reminded of love that has chosen me for a lifetime. Last week I heard someone read an original poem and I want to leave you friends with a poem that I wrote last night. Okay when was the last time you wrote a poem, a real poem, for yourself, for God, for someone else? It was nice to craft this one for you.

My desire is to move my life each moment toward the love that Christ both taught about and lived. A love that has changed me. That is the love I could love a lifetime and spend a lifetime sharing. A love Paul shared with an early, young church, going through difficult times in a challenging setting. Like me and like Sarah, we just need to be reminded that we are loved, really loved and to feel that kind of love in us, it really is the greatest gift.

Love is

Love is more than a feeling,
it’s outward, not concealing.
Love is mountain-moving, time-consuming.
All you ever wanted doing,
Love is the past, the present, the future all rolled into one.
It’s the little things… the larger-than-life dreams.

Love takes your breath away.
Love says, “I’ll always stay.”
It’s sorry when it counts.
It always looks to better days.

Love is up at night when someone cries.
over-joyed when laughter erupts.
It’s the look across the room.
Love knows that more than words a hug soothes.

If love makes the world go round,
that’s one ride I’m not going to miss.
With all my might and all my life,
I resign myself that love is Love’s gift.

Happy (Belated) Valentine’s Day! Love, me


1. A minor or unspecified object or article.
2. A set of light, open shelves for ornaments.

January 7, 2006 – My flight was early. We were scheduled for a 6:46 AM departure and for me, that’s early. I had already had a half a cup of coffee and had been up since 5:04 am. I was staying at a hotel located literally feet from the airport. As I entered the lobby, there was an airline crew sitting on couches. My best guess is that they were two pilots and a flight attendant. As I loaded my bags into the hotel shuttle, I saw them walking to the terminal. It was a cool morning and I was glad to be sitting in a warm van. Ricky was our driver. By 5:30 my friend who was traveling with me playing guitar, Thad and I were on our way. We were 50 feet from the American Airlines terminal. Ricky was friendly for 5:30 am. He said you stay over at our hotel again. We not only offer rides to the airport, but to shops, fast food restaurants and whatnot. I smiled and said the whatnot is probably where I’d want to go.

What is whatnot? I’ve often heard that term, but have never been sure what it was. I guess I’ve always thought it was the extra stuff after the important stuff. Once on a visit to Nashville before Ron and I moved there, I visited an area near music row and near downtown. It was a strip of tourist shops. I wish I could remember all of the names of the shops. As I meandered my way from store to store killing time before I met with someone to talk about what I needed to know about the “music industry.” Sometimes I’d meet friends of friends asking me about my writings songs, singing on the road, selling music. Those first years, I’d travel to Nashville and like a good student, I’d learn what was working and what wasn’t working for others. Many people assisted me as I journeyed this road. Funny I might have a meeting at 10 and then nothing until 2 PM. I hung out at a few places. Long before Starbucks, I went to the “Slice of Life” a quaint coffee shop / restaurant near music row. They had great tea. I’d sit for hours writing songs and reading the newspaper. And sometimes I’d visit the string of souvenir shops. My favorite was the Elvis Presley Museum. Every time someone entered the door, the young lady from behind the counter beamed and faithfully recited her speech. As I remember it, “Welcome to the Elvis Presley Museum. It is our pleasure today to offer you private pictures, personal possessions and never before seen items of Elvis Presley. Before you is an array of items to purchase, signed autographs of Elvis, his very own Driver’s License, tee shirts, music, videos, books written about Elvis, Love me Tender Lotion, whatnots and such.”

I would wander around to pass time. It seems there was also a car in the lobby Elvis had owned. I might be the only one entering the store and about the second or third time I’d drop by, I’d just wave her off and say, it’s okay, I’ve heard it. I kept thinking I’d write it down, I have not done it justice. She was much more thorough and chipper. She made most greeters seem pretty somber. And always dressed with a southern smile. How do they find these wonderful people? Especially with repeat customers, I’d be like a whatever — helps yourself to the whatnots and such.

And I’m back where I started at 5:30 AM, the extra stuff. I get distracted by the whatnot, I’ll be honest. I’ve gone in to the grocery store for milk and left with a bag of whatnot and no milk. I guess my new years resolution is to do better with the whatnot, to not lose sight of the big, real, vital things in my life. To name them, give them my time, attention, prayer, efforts and let the whatnots and such fade out of my vision. How can I do that? My only road map like many of you is to stay focused — for me, it’s to stay focused on Christ. I want what matters to Christ, to matter to me: what I should be doing, who I should be reaching out to, where my treasure should be. I want to make an effort to line myself up with that this year, this week, this day and this moment. The whatnots often seem appealing, but when I get them or focus on them I later discover they were neither as important nor as sustaining as their initial appeal.

Mind you the “love me tender lotion” along the with house slippers with Elvis head attached above the toes, had their lure–but their appeal wasn’t abiding or lasting. And the next time I visited there, I’d always be on the lookout for a new whatnot.

Coming to Nashville on these early trips, what I spent my time on then, I know now, still hold its value. The relationships I built and the people I met, as we each heard God’s call and followed those paths somehow we bumped into each other along the way and the same is true today. There a lot of whatnots out there. Places to go, things to distract us, agendas to seek, goals to meet and this next year, my prayer, my deepest desire is to find those that are the truest, that are aligned with Christ — my faith, my family and my purpose. I’m gonna focus on those and pray somehow they are the ones that matter. As Ricky dropped me off curbside, I thanked him for the ride. I asked what he was gonna do, when he’s off at 6 am. “Oh I have a 13 year old daughter and that’s my first priority each day.” “Have a good day with her and God Bless you both,” I said. He doesn’t seem interested in the whatnot and I shouldn’t be either.

Cherish What is True

Cherish what is true. Be about that which is eternal. Be able to name it both when life is easy and when the going gets tough. Some questions I have asked myself recently are: Does what I am doing have a purpose? Will this matter in 5,10 or 20 years? Do I spend my resources–time, energy and money–on things other than myself and is what I am doing worthy of my efforts? Do I surround myself with those who edify me–who lift me up and do I in turn lift up others? Am I sharing God’s love in all I do and say each day.

When I was in eighth grade, I liked a boy–okay I probably liked lots of boys in eighth grade–but I’m thinking of a particular cute cajun boy from Golden Meadow, Louisiana. His name was Jacob and he played eighth grade football. We had maybe three conversations and he let me wear his ID bracelet with his name engraved on it. I remember having it on, as my dad and I drove from our church in Golden Meadow to our other church in Grand Isle after school one day, my dad asked about the bracelet. As a parent, I am shocked that my dad even noticed it on my wrist, but I was probably paying close attention to it. I remember the loud silence in the car before I finally said, “I like him–I really like him.” My Dad smiled and said, “tell me about him” and I had nothing. After lots of “wells” and “ughs”, I said “he’s cute and well, ugh…” I realized I knew little about this guy. Within a week Jacob asked for his bracelet back and that relationship with that boyfriend ended. It wasn’t a true relationship–it wasn’t real. I loved the IDEA of a boyfriend, I didn’t love him. I loved the idea of his getting to know me–not that he knew me. As I reflect on it today, I’m reminded to cherish what is true, not what you wish were true. When the real deal came along, I could tell.

On a recent Sunday evening I sang at a youth gathering and I noticed a young couple near the back sitting with their arms around each others shoulders. As they left, I asked how long they had been dating. They laughed and said, a week. When I asked, “what do you love about each other,” he quickly looked at her and said, “she’s kind,” and as he looked into her eyes, I knew he knew. She looked away for a moment and thought, “well, ugh, I never thought, well, he…” I stood there. Finally she said, “I never thought about it, but he’s great.” I’m not saying that they are not a match made in heaven or even predicting that I won’t receive a wedding invitation in years to come, I hope to. I was struck by his quick response–he knew the answer, could identify it and embrace it on the spot. Like him, I love that I know what is true about the relationships in my life.

I remember having Max and thinking now that is eternal… that is real love… something true. I spend time and energy with things that do not really matter, but when I run into something that matters immensely–well I’m able to see it clearly. That is what I want to spend my life on–the real stuff. When you meet someone and they have IT–you might not know what it is, but you know it when you see it. When you find yourself in the presence of real–cherish it, soak it up, swim yourself in it, have a hefty dose of it, so that when you find yourself in a shallow, superficial, situation there will be no comparison–kinda like the prodigal son coming to his senses in the pigpen. I want to be about the light, about truth, about what is real. I am blessed to have experienced such a wide variety of situations where I have encountered real–where truth lights a single candle in the midst of darkness.

Recently, I experienced the real stuff–I was privileged to sing for some ladies from New Orleans who had been displaced by hurricane Katrina. I wish you all had been with me and with those ladies in the parlor of First United Methodist Church, Arlington, TX. We shared smiles, stories, music, tenderness, and love — an outpouring of love — we were sisters in the truest sense. I listened as they told stories of searcing for loved ones and of being far from home. I told them of the churches my father had served in their area and I sang a few songs for them. Several closed their eyes, sat very still and just listened. I gave them each a CD. One of them turned to me, held up the CD and said, “well, Celia you’re my music collection. I lost all my gospel music during the storm and am so thankful to have this music.” I felt like the boy with the loaves and fish. I wish I had more to give them, but the love seemed to be enough. I am so thankful for eyes to see and an awareness to recognize the people and the moments–the revelations where God shows up. To be honest I could’ve missed it. On that particular Sunday those ladies were the seventh group that I sang for. I started at eight o’clock that morning and I met these ladies in the parlor at eight that evening. I could easily have missed it something so true, so real and as simple as the 9 of us basking together in God’s presence. That evening, I could name real and claim real and claim what makes it real. What made it real, I believe, was God’s love.

I was once asked by a marketing person at a record label what size group I wanted to sing for. I thought for a moment and said, “anywhere there are people.” It was not the answer he was looking for, but it was my answer. He wanted to know if I really wanted to sing for arenas or for great big churches, but it was my honest answer. I have sung for 25,000 and it’s great; but some of my favorite concert memories are doing a concert for one person in a hospital room or for eight in a parlor or for ten in a juvenile center. I enjoyed the 25,000, but I wouldn’t want to miss the eight, either. So, I’m staying with my original answer–“anywhere there are people.”

Blessing friends. May our paths cross soon and until then may you recognize God’s presence in your life. Celia


In the Nashville newspaper there is a column called “from Ms. Cheap” Ms. Cheap suggests various things to do around town and in the surrounding areas that are, let’s say inexpensive. Cheap sounds so… well, cheap. She tells of best music opportunities, such as free concerts in the park, or of new openings of stores where a free hot-dog and drink might be attained. One of the best things we did last summer was taking the family to a big band concert at a city park. They gave a free dance lesson, then the band played for a couple of hours. Some folks even dressed for big band dancing and the dancing was great.

Recently a friend of mine shared with Ron and I something she and her family do for fun…. it’s called “letterboxing” and it has quickly become a hobby of ours. I think Ms. Cheap would smile on it and our family highly recommends it.

What is letterboxing you might be asking? Well the way we described it to Max and Zach is that it’s about finding hidden treasures. The longer answer is that people have hidden Tupperware containers all over the place. Inside of the container you’ll find a rubber stamp–some are ones folks have carved themselves others are stamps they might buy at a fancy stamp store or at a craft store. You’ll also find a small pad of paper and an ink pad. When you find a letterbox, you log your discovery (keep reading).

When we got ready to give letterboxing a try, our family came up with a name and logo “Two Boys Having Fun” and we went to Michael’s and found a stamp with two boys and a dog in the middle of them. We also bought a black stamp pad and some markers if we want to color our family stamp before we stamped it. When we find a box, we use our family stamp to stamp the pad then we date it and tell who we are–“Two Boys Having Fun: Ron Celia Max and Zach were here”! We have letterboxed two weekends and had a great time working together. This summer, we’ll be hiding some letter boxes for others to find and finding new ones in our town and maybe in your town.

You can learn more at: letterboxing.org. The website has clues to where over 15,000 boxes are hidden, all over North America. There are additional twists to this hobby, but they’re all explained on the website. Another website , has a little more of an international coverage. On either site, you can enter a destination and find out where nearby letterboxes are hidden. To learn more about the origins of this hobby, follow this link to the Smithsonian Magazine.

Since I’ve found a few of these boxes in prominent places, it’s funny to think of how many times, I’ve walked past a few of these boxes and had no idea they were right under my nose. Now when I visit one of these locations, I can’t help but think I’m in on a secret as I walk past a box I’ve found. It’s kind of like the little things we miss along life’s journey, while we’re busy doing what we think is important. The past few hears have tuaght me over and over again that maybe the little things are really the big things. I have realized that some of God’s greatest gifts are right in front of me. I have either missed them or overlooked them in my busy-ness. I pray that you and I enjoy all the wonder of summer — catching fireflies, walking barefoot in the grass, swimming, playing on the slip and slide, having our feet in sand, reading a great book, spending time with good friends, eating fresh veggies bought at a roadside stand, marveling at God’s greatest sunsets and maybe a new adventure with your family doing something fun (letterboxing or whatever you choose).

The one that got away…

Last month I had the joy of spending a day fishing with my cousin Paul and his fishing-guide buddy, Allen. We were in South Louisiana near the Gulf of Mexico, (we could’ve been in the gulf for all I know.) When I say joy, I mean “opening presents Christmas morning” joy; “lose 20 pounds” joy; or “find your keys after looking for hours” joy. The remembrance of that day brings a smile to my face.

Stay with me on this story. That morning, I walked out the door at 5:30 AM. I was dressed for the day and ready to go. We stopped by a local store to pick up our lunch–2 containers of fried chicken–which tasted much better than your average fried chicken and we picked up my fishing license (I’m not a poacher). When I tell you they want all of your information to give you a Louisiana fishing license–I mean ALL of your information. They want color of eyes, color or hair, current phone, SS#, address. I don’t remember giving the state of Louisiana that much information when I registered to vote the first time. (I’m from Louisiana, so I can say that.) With my 3 day license in hand, off we went. We had live bait, we had chicken, we had a cooler of water & Gatorade and nothing but fishing on our to do list.

We arrived at the marina, put the boat in the water and were on our way. I love watching the sun come up, watching egrets fly overhead, enjoying the stillness of the water, or watching dolphins playing. It was a great day. I was thinking, “what I great life.”

Allen took us to our first spot. He handed me a pole and baited my line. I quickly told them I wanted to learn how to bait my own line–how tough could it be to put a little shrimp on a line? I didn’t know much about fishing–I was pretty much a clean slate. You tell me what to do or what I’m doing wrong and I’ll learn. I’m fairly teachable, when I want to learn—(there’s a golf story from New Mexico that could be inserted here, but I’ll save that for another devotional). After a few lessons on casting, I was a seasoned veteran, almost. I watched them catch one fish after another. They continued to coach me… “pull your line in slower, Celia” or “when you feel that tug, your bait’s probably gone”.

I would switch hands, I’d try to reel more slowly. Finally it happened. I caught one. Not a big one, but it was a fish. My first few fish were pretty small. Paul helped me unhook them and release them. I remember thinking, “he’s gonna get tired of this”, so I just started grabbing those fish myself. There are times in our lives when we’re not sure how to do something or we’re not sure if we’re doing it right, when we have to “gut it out”–just bear down and try. There have been times when people have said to me, “how do you do that and look so confident?” I guess I just say to myself, “I can do it.” Then I BECOME the thing I’m striving for. That was my approach that day. Finally I was fishing! I caught trout, red fish, and even a shark! My largest fish was a red fish about 28 inches long and around 10 to12 pounds. I was screaming and having a grand old time. Allen & Paul were laughing that laugh–like you’re killing us and you’re killing the fishing for all of the fishermen who can hear you and are trying to catch something.

Reeling those fish in is a job, but what a sense of pride when you do it. A couple of times I know I blinked and said, “hey guys, how I am doing?” My intent was to communicate the thought, “can either of you help me reel this in?” They’d smile and say; “you are doing great. Lift up your pole and bring it down and as reel.” It was my fish and it was my job to do.

THEN IT HAPPENED—it was about mid-day and we had fished in several different locations. I was casting, when all of a sudden, my line started going out like crazy. This got the attention of my fellow fishermen. They told me “that’s a big one, Celia. The biggest today, by far.” Finally my line broke. As we fixed it, we talked about the one that got away. We talked about how big it probably was, what it could have been–maybe it was a shark, they listed a slew of fish names that I had never heard of. We continued to fish and I thought, I’ve got two option–I can dwell on the one that got away and think I’ll never have another one like that OR I can choose to think there’s a better one and a bigger one out there. I know why folks love fishing. Some of the fun of fishing is knowing that next time might be the time when you will catch the big one or the one that got away.

Well, the day ended and the fish were cleaned. We readied the boat for another trip. I wanted to beg them to take me the next day, but I had a life to return to in Franklin. I had a singing engagement the next weekend. I had Ron, who lovingly and patiently kept our sons while I fished. I had two sons, Max and Zach, and I had stories to tell of Mama fishing on a boat.

The original purpose of my trip was to attend Paul’s father’s memorial service. He died from complications after a long-awaited liver transplant. I flew from Nashville to Houston and drove to Lake Charles to meet my family, many I hadn’t seen since the death of my own father. As I drove, I wondered what I would feel–sadness, connectedness, sense of loss, sense of belonging. I kept coming back to the thought that life has a way of moving on. I remembered good days and I believe that better days are ahead. When I saw my family, I didn’t have any words of wisdom about their loss. We shared something unspoken in our togetherness. It was a silent exchange—rooted in our common experience of the loss of a parent. No words were needed–being together was enough. In the silence, I felt right with the world and right with myself. At the memorial service, my Uncle Billy squeezed my hand during the closing song. Instead of feeling flooded with loss, I was reminded of all I have and all that is ahead–the overwhelming blessings. I was also reminded that my best days are ahead.

I go to churches and sing for youth groups. Occasionally, I meet a group or a church that dwells on days gone by. They are stuck with the notion that their best days are behind them. Of course, I am not talking about your church. This mindset is about living from a sense scarcity rather than living with an understanding of God’s abundance. Ultimately, the confidence to live this way comes from a trust that God holds the future.

Life is different when lived with the mindset that my best days are ahead of me–my best ideas are yet to come, my marriage grows better and stronger with time, my best songs are not yet written, and my biggest fish is still swimming. The day I spent fishing was a wonderful reminder of this truth.

**Here is the rest of the story and the real-life true story about the ones that got away. — Paul packed my fish on ice so I could fly them home. When I got to the Southwest Airlines ticket counter in Houston, the ticket agent smiled and said, “Ma’am, can you tell me what’s in your ice chest?” Proudly I answered, “fish I caught today near the Gulf. You won’t believe the day I’ve had.” I watched as she cut open my duct taped Styrofoam ice chest with a box cutter. As she worked, she muttered, “no, no, no. You can’t fly with this kind of ice chest, you can’t fly with loose ice, and you can’t fly with fresh fish–it has to be frozen.” So I left my fish and passed through security and flew home with only the things I had brought from Tennessee.

There is an end to this story in my mind. I have a vision of those airline employees and all their friends, gathered for a fish fry that night. It brings a smile to my face, knowing that they really might have had a party with MY fish. Those fish were the real ones that got away. I am left with the memory of an incredible day. My best trip is STILL in my future and I am ready to go.

A personal thanks to Paul and Allen, who were great sports to risk their day of fishing to take a girl like me out and teach me how to fish. You guys are great!

Jeremiah 29:11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.