Full Sail Living

hey from me…

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

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

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

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

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

I could write about that for a lifetime.

celia anne

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!


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

Where I was / where I am

There are times in our life when we remember exactly where we were when something happened:

November 22, 1963 – I was only two months old, but from my mom’s stories, I grew up knowing where my mom was when she heard Kennedy was shot. She was in the kitchen cooking and I was there with her when she got the call.

January 28, 1986 – When the Challenger exploded, I was driving to Broadmoor Middle School in Shreveport, Louisiana, where I was student-teaching 6th grade science. When I arrived and heard the news, I remember audibly hearing the breath leave my body and walking into a classroom of crying 6th grade science students who looked to me, all of 22 years old to bring comfort. They needed me to be their solace and consolation during the time…. we had been following the science teacher Christie McAuliffe who was on that mission as we were going to follow her lessons plans from space.

January 17, 1991 – I remember being in the car headed home from the Collin Creek mall in Plano, Texas….when I heard over the radio that we had begun bombing Iraq and that the Iraq invasion had begun.

April 19, 1993 – I was eating pizza at Pizzeria Uno in Addison, Texas glued to the TV with Ron and one of our college friend’s John, when the Branch Davidian compound burned in Waco TX. I sang two months later at the UM Children’s home in Waco, where several of the children who survived that day had been sent.

August 31, 1997 – Ron and I were leading a family retreat for Foundry UMC in Washington, DC the weekend princess Diana died. After watching coverage on television from our rooms, we visited the spontaneous memorial in front of the British Embassy in DC.

August 29, 2005 – I watched the Hurricane Katrina coverage from a hotel room in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Thad was out with me playing the guitar and we kept yelling back and forth at each other down the hall between our rooms.

September 11, 2001 was a different experience because I was a mom and because I felt like anything could have happened that day . Less than a year prior, we had bought a home just outside of Franklin, Tennessee. I was sitting in the den rocking Max…. pregnant with Zach, only a month from delivering him. Our friend Ashley was there helping us with office work and with Max. I sat, like so many of you, and cried as I watched our day crumble right in front of us on every channel. An hour faded into the several hours. I became a news junkie. I wanted to do something. I called a friend within the hour and I remember her saying the name, “Osama bin Laden,” as if I knew who that was. I did not have a clue what kind of world we were all entering into — an age of terrorism and the fear of terrorism. As I watched President Bush speak from Barksdale Air Force Base only a few miles from our former home in Louisiana, I thought to myself, “anything could happen today.” And it wasn’t a hopeful thought. It was like the sky was the limit, but any bad thing, any crazy thing, any unthinkable thing could happen that day. And it did for so many.

One night while watching Diane Sawyer interview family members of a firm whose members were lost when the towers collapsed, she spoke with a mom and teen daughter. The teen was holding up a picture of her dad and looking straight at the camera and saying, “if anyone knows where my dad is, please contact us. We love him and we want him home. We want him where he belongs. Maybe he left the building and someone knows something. We want him back. Please call us.” I remember wanting to write the number down and to call just to say how sorry I was. I broke down and just wept for her, for her mom, for NY, for our country and for me, really for all of us. There are times when we want things back. We want something fixed. We want someone to call and say it is all gonna work out. I know. I feel it, too.

At some point, I had to turn off the television and start living. I picked up the phone and called Danny, a youth director in Ohio, whose group I had just been with the weekend prior to that Tuesday. One of the best memories from that weekend was their Saturday night tradition. The new seniors shared their wisdom, hopes, dreams and fears with everyone. Those words guided me in the days and weeks following and continue to guide me today. We laughed that evening. We cried. We hugged. We promised to be there for each other. We were reminded that we are not alone and we were reminded that the sky is the limit (of good things). Anything can happen. The unthinkable can come true and all for good! And when the unthinkable happens, when darkness washes over each of us like a violent storm; we will get through it. The sun will rise again.

Maybe as important as 9-11, were and are the days following tragedies. The days when we wake to the sun rising again and we rise to take our first steps forward – we hug our children a little closer, we are a little more patient and we realize how precious each moment is.

September 6, 2011 – I made a phone call and sang over the phone for my friend Marti, a pastor friend who I have had the joy to know for several years. She was in her last days of cancer, being cared for by her loving husband,Mac… family and a wonderful hospice group. I was flooded with all of the wonderful memories I had shared with her in ministry. She was all about …justice… and mercy. She reminded all of us that we each can make a difference. Her daughters have followed in her footsteps finding careers that bring healing and hope. Her love, her smile, her laugh, her presence — she was very real and a presence of goodness during our ministry together. I called to sing to her over the phone — “How Great Thou Art” and “Wonderful World.” I sang “Wonderful World” specifically because even though what’s immediately around us might at times cast a shadow on all the wonderful, we can choose to find the wonder. We can choose to dwell on the wonder filled world we live in — a world that so desperately needs us, needs our laughs, needs our hope, needs our us! Mack said she kissed the phone when I finished. Marti died on Sunday morning, September 11, 2011 at 4:30 am. I smiled thinking, “here she goes again reminding us to remember” — remember the life, not the death, remember the goodness not the bad and to be about forgiveness. The best way to respond to hate is simply to love; which is simple to write in a devotion, but not so simple to follow through on. I get locked up daily with all that weighs me down in life. And yet on some days I get a small reminder of what could be and about the difference I am making. A few days later, I spoke with Marti’s husband who called to say thank you. Thank you for the songs, thank you for taking the time. Thank you for calling when you did (I told him I almost didn’t, because I didn’t want to bug them.) Thank you for your love — it made a difference and it was enough. I kept thinking, I could do more. I should have done more. I can still do more.

September 18, 2011 – I had the chance to sing for someone else receiving hospice care. I had not met Mercy Elizabeth Whitfield who was born days earlier on 9/8/11 with Trisomy 13. She was sent home with her loving parents Rodney and Allison, and her siblings Grace and Justice. She has been surrounded by family, friends and church members, all loving that sweet baby during her limited days here on earth. As my guitarist friend Austin, and I entered their home, we were greeted by my friend Allyson George, the children’s director at Rodney’s church First UMC Richardson where he serves as an associate pastor. As I sang, Mercy was held by those who loved her and sometimes I could hear them singing along with me, like on “Jesus loves me” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Grace and Justice were put to sleep after rocking with their parents. Then the adults all just sat and listened to instrumental music of the guitar fill the room. As I prepared to leave, I took Mercy’s hand and leaned close and whispered, “I love you.” Her mom Allison was holding her and said to me, “you can kiss her” and I placed a soft kiss on her forehead and said, “you sleep sweet baby.” I got the news this morning that Mercy died around 2 am this morning. I believe that she is still held by loving arms. I am a witness to Mercy–love going the extra mile. Those parents and caregivers being in the moment, every second, knowing what they had was the right now. I loved that my friend, Marti paved the way for me to share with Mercy… and in Marti’s ministry… she loved mercy.

I am reminded that our time is precious. I am thankful I used my voice, as tired as it was and as uncertain as to how I was going to be able to sing for my friends. I gave what I had in that moment and it was enough.

I love you all and pray that today you know that YOU are the gift. You use your voice and live with the assurance that you too are surrounded by loving arms.

I’ll always know where I was on September 18, 2011, the day I saw the face of Mercy, in a living room filled with love in Dallas, Texas. I hope I never forget the impact it made on me.

Celia Anne

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

When did I quit skipping?

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

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

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

Do you have any of those kind of childhood memories?

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

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

Enough already! Let the skipping begin!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll close with these words from Mother Teresa

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

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