Twice today a bird has hit the large window in the den where my desk is. I have gotten up both times to look out the window to find a bird, but have only seen the overgrown crab grass that grows wildly under a white dogwood tree. Those birds are fast! Maybe they didn’t even hit the ground, before they took off. But the sound of both impacts makes me believe they must have hit the ground, but wow, they recovered quickly. I mean I have seen birds just lay there for a moment. I have seen birds die on impact. Each time an animal is lost on our watch, our family has been pretty good about pausing for a moment of silence to celebrate and to remember a life well lived. A few words are spoken and heads are bowed. Just last week, Zach brought home a Fiddler Crab from school and named him Bob. Bob only lasted a day with us. Ron called me to say they carried Bob to the tree line. Ron expected a moment of reverent silence. Ron asked Zach if he had a few words to say. As Zach flung Bob into the trees, he said, “nah, we’re good!” Well, let’s say, sometimes we’re good about that!

When I think about those birds, I think flying is good, death is difficult, but stunned is, well, just stunned. Sometimes it takes a while for resolution. It takes a while to realize what just happened. It takes a while to get up and get back to flying. Can I relate? I don’t know about you, but there have been some stunning moments in my life. Not all of them were life threatening. Some of them have ended up quite pleasantly. Others ended up being heartbreaking. What I know of life is that, that is life. One minute you’re flying and the next you hit your head on a window you never saw coming. What about that window draws birds to it? I guess it looks real. It looks safe. It is falsely perceived as the right way to go. Yet it’s not. Recently, I read a quote from Picasso that said, “art is a lie that tells the truth.” Sometimes there is a hint of that in real life, don’t you think?

Funny, we spend millions on cosmetics, clothes, and accessories, when we know in our heart of hearts that we came into this world in our birthday suit and we’re leaving in the same outfit. Our beauty, our true beauty, lies within ourselves. When we truly share our inner self, the superficial pales in comparison to all that we adorn ourselves with. Our true beauty is our laugh, our gentle look, our sincere smile, our shared tears, the way we share our true selves when we lose all concept of self-awareness. When we are real and genuine with each other and our selves. That kind of treasure can’t be bought or sold or traded or owned or bartered with or stolen from. It is all we ever need to be, just us. When we are that, our true selves, we are not afraid of judgment, imperfection or criticism. The phrase “comfortable in our own skin” has a life, and it’s us, who we are.

This past week during a women’s retreat, a young mom shared her story with me. She told me about the loss of her son Matthew James, born 6 weeks ago. He only lived 3 days; but she said in those three days, she was more certain of God’s presence than ever before. Though she mourned the loss of her son, she celebrated a life lived and loved fully in 3 short days. I told her of my friends, Rodney and Allison, and of my singing for their daughter, Mercy Elizabeth’s celebration of life. I sang “Grayson’s song — Child From Above” from my CD of lullabies. I asked Matthew’s mom if I could sing it for her during the communion service we had during the retreat. I said it was now the “Grayson, Mercy, Matthew” song. She smiled and said, “I would be honored.”

Now to the thing that made me laugh during such a heartfelt moment. Her friend Kim who was sitting on the pew in front of her, as the song started, jumped over the pew to sit with her. All of us began to laugh. I later commented on the moment, “what makes a woman jump over a pew in church during a song, during communion, to sit next to her friend, to put her arms around her? During a time when most folks, won’t make eye contact with her makes her look into her eyes and say, ‘I’m right here.'” It was poetically stunning or stunningly poetic! We all thought at the same time, “why didn’t I do that.” What a sweet gesture. I’m so glad we didn’t just sit in silence and stare at the floor. That mom told me she was numb and her body ached all over. At the same time she said, I almost didn’t come today, but I am so glad I chose to.

I think of her back in her town. All the love they have to give to her, all the ways they want to support her, yet many of us don’t know what to do at times like that. Sometimes ya gotta jump a pew. The lie may be to believe that to be silent and still makes it better. Don’t say the wrong thing. When all along, when we find that we have slammed into a glass window, the truth is we need people to be willing to just be with us through it, not to be afraid to share their own pain with us and maybe we don’t need them to talk at all. Just to jump the pew already and sit by us and to put their arm around us.

On that same weekend, someone gave me this quote that said, “A friend understands what you are trying to say… even when your thoughts aren’t fitting into words.” Ann D Parrish

I’m not sure what made those two birds get up and get on with it and fly toward their next. I know the only thing that gives me the will… what made that woman jump the pew… is only love. Love that surrounds us when we are stunned… love that makes us forget ourselves and reach out to others… love that carries us… love that lifts us when we can’t lift ourselves.

One of my favorite songs says it all…

Love lifted me
Love lifted me
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me

w. James Rowe, 1865-1933 / m. Howard E Smith 1863-1918

Psalm 40:2 He lifted me out of the pit… set my feet on a rock.

All my love… be pew jumpers, friends! ~ Celia Anne

Where I was / where I am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia Anne

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

On Good Friday

Nearer, my God to thee, nearer to thee!
Even it be a cross that raiseth me,
still all my song shall be,
nearer, my God to thee:

Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
darkness be over me, my rest a stone:
yet in my dreams I’d be nearer my God to thee:
Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

Words Sarah F. Adams 1541
Music Lowell Mason 1856

On Good Friday, I was reflecting on what it must have been like to survive the first Good Friday without the assurance of Easter Sunday. It couldn’t have felt like a very good Friday. It might have felt something akin to being on a sinking ship.

I’ve been reviewing the story of the RMS Titanic with my sons as they’ve studied the ship and my mind wandered there as I reflected. I have always been fascinated by the Titanic.

Wallace Hartley, the bandmaster of the orchestra on the famous ship Titanic, changed songs from popular ragtime tunes to Nearer my God to Thee sometime before the ship sank April 12, 1912 around 2:20 am on that incredible evening of its maiden voyage. A friend had asked earlier Hartley what he would do if he found himself on a sinking ship. “I would gather the band together and begin playing,” he responded. Wearing their life vests, not one of them stopped playing till the very end … survivors recounted.

I loved the movie “Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Debbie Reynolds was fantastic as she played Molly Brown, a survivor of the ship. It is understandable why it was the major blockbuster years ago. People are spellbound by someone who survives something like that, because few do. So I was thinking about how those survivors made it to the lifeboats — simply one word…others. Others put them on those boats. Others gave up their seats so that someone else might have one. Others informed them. Others pointed them in the right direction. Others thought of someone else, instead of themselves that evening.

I recently watched a movie about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life. Once in captivity he said, “real Christianity is sharing each others pain… it will shock people.” I think of those who stepped aside so that someone else might live: husbands put wives into lifeboats, women put children in the hands of strangers. What kind of person does that? Someone who is selfless, someone who is willing does that. When the Titanic finally went down, countless people were in the water. Amid the Lord’s prayer being prayed, one cry heard by those in the boats was, “Save one life! Save one life!” Boat after boat… thought about going back to aid those in the 28 degree water, but were talked out of it fearing they would be overthrown by the masses in the water. One did go back though, Fifth Officer Lowe. He thought he might wait and let the crowd “thin out,” but in fact, he waited too long. Even still he did find Steward John Stewart and another unknown gentleman and 2 collapsible life boats with a dozen men still alive, as well as Mrs. Rosa Abbott.

Lowe knew what others forgot that day, that his rescue could not come without his helping others rescued. Molly Brown knew the same. She begged the crewman from their lifeboat to return to aid those in need. When denied, she knew that to stay warm the women would also have to row along with the men in the boat and she carried on until they were allowed to. She wrapped her coat around the legs of a man who sat beside her shivering uncontrollably as she rowed into the night. But those that really captured my attention on the Titanic, were the crew. In Daniel Allen Butler’s book, “Unsinkable: The full story of the RMS Titanic” he notes that, “… it was devotion to the duty, a sense of responsibility, obligation to other people, a knowledge that people were depending on them that caused so many crewmembers to stay at their posts, even at the cost of their lives.” There is no greater love, a love for their fellow men and women. I love what Butler wrote of the crew, “if there was a lasting legacy from the crew of the Titanic, something genuine, meaning that would transcend cliché and platitude… that they could leave for their children and grandchildren… it was their willingness to follow men who were doing what was right and noble and good, and in doing so become right, noble and good themselves.”

Some call it crazy, others call it sacrifice. A kind of sacrifice rarely seen, but when witnessed, it captivates our spirit, it makes us too want to do for others, to be selfless for others, to risk it all without regard for our own gain, to step in when stepping in might not seem popular or easy. Isn’t that what hope is all about? You and I in the icy water as our ship is going down near us calling, “Save One Life” desperately hoping, longing with all that is in us that someoneŠ just one someone, will come to our aid.

I think back on the Titanic moments in my life – those times when I hit an iceberg or when I sunk altogether. As someone one who grew up with a mother who struggled with depression, I know all-too-well what the sinking of a metaphorical ship feels like.

That was part of my survival and my growing up. Someone stepped in; someone lent a hand; people came to my aid. My support system was quilted together by people who surrounded me at times when I felt my ship was going under. Whether or not they knew of my mother’s battle or the challenges that came with living in a pastor’s family, or others that presented themselves as an adult… eating disorders, deaths of my sister, parents, close friends… fear disappointments, loss in all our lives….others were there.

I received that aid time and time again, from friends on my street, in my choir, sitting near me in class, in Sunday school and from teachers, volunteers, aunts/uncles/ cousins, pastors and youth directors. As I look around I’ve continued to have that in my life: blessedness… blessed friends, family,from my best friend Ron and the dangerous duo- Max and Zach, countless folks I’ve met along the way. Names and faces continue to be added to my list. You are on it if you have opened your stories and yourselves to me, have put your arms around me, have laughed and cried with me and drank countless cups of coffee with me, have written songs, edited books, showed up to concerts, eaten many meals, played at the park, gone to the movies… and on it goes. You’ve been present for moments of despair, loss, shame, hope, joy and healing… you were simply agents of loveŠ living love.

And so it goes, each day we all have a chance to put someone else in a lifeboat. We all can huddle together and be on the lookout… we all can simply save one life and in doing so, what a wonderful funny little twist, our lives are saved as well. Isn’t that what really happened Easter morning… the disciples finally really got it.. what real sacrifice looks like… not death at all… real living love.

Following that first good Friday, we find the disciples in a room, huddled together, hanging onto each other for dear life. They are presented with the wonderful news that you and I can’t help hearing the story through. God owns the Omega as well as the Alpha. Light has the last word.

Take care of your soul, friends,
Be yourself,
Enjoy the journey
… and celebrate the simple things of life… like more ice cream!

Celia Anne

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!

Her name is Red

Zach and RedHer name is Red and she was a baby robin who fell out of our tree a couple of weeks ago. We fed her around the clock, so that she might be on her way toward her next adventure. It was really our son Zach’s idea, my husband Ron tried to talk him into putting her back into her nest, but Zach would have none of it. Zach had a point, the nest was high in the tree. When I got home, Ron was lowering the ladder and said it was gonna be hard to reach. But come on, a baby bird? I knew from the day old bunnies that we tried to rescue a few years ago. Wild animals are wild to keep alive, you have to feed the babies every 2 – 3 hours and they potty everywhere. I was like, great. We are already taking care of 4 frogs, 3 hermit crabs (thanks Mrs. Wetherholt, “sure, we’ll take them for the summer”), a hamster and a dog. Most days I’m just glad I know where my keys are. A bird? And who is gonna take care of this bird? “I will,” said Zach.

Max is ok with it, as long as he was not eating while the bird is being fed worms. We had some worms in the fridge for an upcoming fishing trip this week. Then we have been raiding the compost pile near our tree line for more worms and finally I got on the internet and found a nice mixture of dog food, applesauce, boiled eggs and peanut butter that we have been to squirting into her mouth a syringe that was used to give baby’s medicine. I got up a couple of times a night and as I am writing these thoughts I am about to fall asleep. But it is working. She is growing. Her wing just today began to fill out and she began to exercise her wings. She is so close. She just needs a little help to get there.

A few days later I went to a memorial service for a young musician / songwriter / artist, who took his own life this month. He played on my first CD in town. I saw him at Gamestop with his kids this past year. Max and Zach had a boy fest while Will and I talked about our favorite local artists and about friends we had in common. I mentioned a friend and he laughed and said, “don’t tell people you know him, really.” (You know who you are!) We finally spoke of writing. We never got to do that together. On May 5 William Owsley ended his life. At a memorial service I got a chance to meet his father and to tell him how much I loved his son’s playing and that we had bumped into each other and connected this past year. I talked about how I had seen that spark in his eyes and that I was sorry I wasn’t a better friend and that I couldn’t have been there that night to remind him of his spark. His father grabbed my hand and said, “you are so sweet. I was there that night and I missed it by 5 minutes. He forgot that spark.” I hugged his neck and thought of the loss his father must feel. Like that bird, Will needed help to get there. I guess we all do at times.

This morning my boys and I went to the house of someone in our town whose home received flood damage. I had been to there house the week of the flood. I had cut carpet, pulled nails, knocked down drywall and today I was painting their cinder block basement walls. I was there the last two days. I was one of only four others who came. The work wasn’t large and went fast, but I thought back to the week of the flood. I was with a classmates mom, when I got the word that this family needed more work. I called my friend and she said, “go help your friend.” We were texting and I texted back, “well she’s not really a friend, more of a new acquaintance. I just met them and they needed some help.” Then I arrived at the home. The mom greeted me in the front yard and introduced me to one of her neighbors. She said, “now, this friend Celia showed up and worked like a dog all day. She came because Porter’s Call (an organization I love) sent an email that simply said, ‘we need hands to help them.'” My boys were still in school, so I poured myself into that basement. I loved that I was the only girl working. I love power tools.

As I thought about it, I was a bit ashamed that I had said we weren’t friends and I revisited the conversation. The next day, I said you know I would have done it for anyone. The one who is near is your neighbor and the Bible says to love your neighbor as yourself. Today after we finished painting, the mom said, “just come up and hang out.” Our boys fell deep into a marathon of Mythbusters, while the she and her husband and I hung out in the kitchen, talking about their week. Her dad was arriving the next day with a buddy of his to work on the basement. I said, “would it help if your two boys were to come to my house to play? My crew would love it and your boys would not be in your way; besides we have a pool.” “Sold,” she said.

See, the thing about life that I keep learning is that it is ever new, it is everlasting, ever being born, ever dying. It is about taking a chance to just show up. It is a chance to say with your hands and feet that, someone cares and they will show up. I always think, what if none one shows up? What can I do to help them see the spark in their lives? I don’t want to miss it by 5 minutes. Don’t give up 5 minutes before your miracle is about to happen.

Back to my bird…. I had a thought today that my bird might get strong enough to fly and while I’m gone, meet with some bad circumstances and it would be over for the bird. There is no guaranty that all this and she might not make it. All I know is what I need to do. All I know is what is right for me and that giving feels right–helping that mom, feeding that bird, hugging that dad, taking a moment to go to our young friend Tanner’s house [BIG shout out to Tanner, it’s her 7th birthday today 7/8/10, visit and leave her a birthday note] and play on her slip n slide that day before she goes back to the hospital (and it was gonna be a big one day tomorrow and gonna hurt). As she made my pb and j sandwich, I told her about Gone With the Wind and The last scene. how Scarlett says, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” Tomorrow is another day. No matter how dark life seems, tomorrow is another day. Who knows, someone might show up eager to help. So I must believe. I must follow my heart. I must trust that when I am about to fly, someone will have helped me get stronger. Before I am about to spread my wings, I could worry my day away or put my faith in someone else, or something else. I could let go and know that the love that comes through me to help another, is not my own, is not so that I might boast, but so that I too may live. Because it is only in losing myself that I really find myself.

Here’s to flying. In life, may you all know little birds, the spark in your life, that you are loved, that you matter, that you have get possibilities, and that your wings are about to open and take off, any day day now.

Ok, I’ve almost fallen asleep twice. I’m off to bed, because I’ve gotta get up at 3 AM to worms and mush. What I have found is that helping others can be messy, hard, rewarding and there is no guaranty that it will work out the way I planned. I ‘m counting on turning out better.

~~~ Celia

Final update on the Red, the robin: After getting much stronger and filling out her feathers, we let her spend some time outdoors in and around a dogwood tree outside our window. Eventually a mother Robin who had a nest in the same tree, saw Red and her motherly skills kicked in. The mother brought her a single worm and fed her as we watched through the window. She continued feeding Red between feeding her own baby robins. Red spent nights indoors, but spent a couple of days outside with her new adoptive momma robin. After two or three days, we went out to bring her in for the night and she was gone. That was the goal, to return her to her life. Before we put her outside, we painted her claw-nails red so we’d recognize her and when we see a robin outside our window, we all look very closely at her claws.
(note: I wrote these thoughts over a period of about a month. They are in sequence, but the timing is loose.)

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.

It’s winter and I’m feeling it.

All that comes with winter is here–the snow, the cold, the barren trees and days spent indoors watching endless movies while drinking hot chocolate. Paraphrasing Charles Dickens, “it [is] the best and it [is] the worst of times.” I love winter for so many reasons: Thanksgiving, gathering with loved ones and sharing a meal, Christmas-there is nothing as magical, the birth of Christ, presents, Christmas lights and the Christmas tree, which has always been a favorite part of the holiday for me. This year we bought a new nativity set – a Playmobil Christmas. It was so cute on our mantel. We got one for our friends Skyler and Bill Baskin-Ball, too. Skyler said he loves his as much as we love ours. There are some things about this season that are wonderful and timeless– the memories, the traditions and the spirit.

Holidays, I’ll be honest, are also hard for me. Both my parents have died and it always feels strange not to see them or to call them. I have felt that hole more this year than the past seven since they died. This year I have had a sense that I’m really doing this alone. Part of that sense is because I miss my dear friend, Skyler’s mom. Kathleen Baskin-Ball died last December 2nd, with several of us surrounding her with love. Through November and December I have been reliving those fresh anniversaries as I thought back to “a year ago today I was…”.

At her memorial service there was an celebration of all we loved about Kathleen and a sense of gratitude for all she had given to each of us. I think of her especially this season–she celebrated and loved Christmas. My sons knew why I kept going back and forth to Dallas for her treatments and our visits. My son Zach and I were talking about death. He said, “I’m not scared of death; the living’s just so good!” I love that. It’s a reminder that they are both parts of our lives–life and death, good and bad, back to back, hand in hand.

I am also aware of our turning the calendar page. I have been reflecting on all that 2009 has been and all it hasn’t been, on all of my hopes. There is a longing for loved ones that I will not hold again in this life and a thankfulness for those still within my reach. I stand at the crossroads of hope for a New Year and acceptance that some my 2009 resolutions are still on my 2010 list. I’ll be honest, Zach is right, the living is good, but living faithfully is also hard work. Daily, hourly, second by second, I am working on believing things unseen, trusting that God is still working on me, surrendering, being real and present in the moment and being myself. It means remaining on the lookout for ways to bring the kingdom–helping others, growing and becoming the person I am meant to be.

A friend of mine spent Thanksgiving with me this year and she brought me a Paperwhite [narcissus papyraceus] Bulb Kit. It has sat on my counter for a month and a half. Today I planted them. I was shocked to read that it takes five to six weeks for them to bloom. The first two are spent in the dark, crazy. I love the smell of paperwhites and I love their delicate budding flower. Now I learn that I have to wait 6 weeks. I’m thinking if I had silk or plastic ones, I’d be looking at them now; but they wouldn’t feel like paperwhites, smell like paper whites and they wouldn’t BE paperwhites. It takes time to make a real one; but I know it will be worth it (if I don’t kill them first). I’m going to do my best, Angie!

Beginning with the Christmas story, Zach and I progressed our theological conversation to the topic of the Trinity. We talked about the creation story. Specifically, about how in Gen. 1:26, 3:22, 11:7, God is referred to as us. We talked about how the Trinity-God who creates, Jesus and the Holy Spirit existed from the beginning. Zach said, “well yea,” then they said, imitating their dialogue, “one of us should go down there and look like them …soooo… they sent Jesus as a baby… cool huh?” It was funny to have my 8 year old remind me about what I already know–God is here, Christ is here, the Holy Spirit is here. Like bulbs under the soil, something is already at work, Though I can’t always see it, I have faith.

Winter is a reminder of that for me. Our faith is more than what we see. It is deeper than we can give words to. It has more potential than it appears. I need to keep telling myself that there is us. Winter somehow brings out this thought that we are isolated, that we are alone, that we are facing all of this by ourselves. But that is farthest from the truth; our lives are a wonderful mix. Just like this past year-fullness, growth, dormancy, listening, fulfilling, celebrating, grieving, standing still, flying by, fully aware and totally unknown. I am all of these and more and I see what I am not-wholeness. I may never get there on this side of the Jordan, but I can keep reaching.

January is also a wonderful reminder of do-overs. I’ve been cleaning out for the last few months. It started a need for an empty guest bedroom for Thanksgiving. A friend in my bunco group said, “don’t let your friend open any of your closets, she’ll be killed by all the stuff that falls out!” I started with the guest room closet and slowly made my way around the whole house. It feels good to put your hands on everything in your life and say goodbye to a portion of it. Think of it, how few times in our lives do we do that–ask ourselves, “what do I need to keep and what do I need to let go of? What needs order and balance in my life?” Whew, it has been a journey! In cleaning out the office, I went through papers, lots of papers, and I once again remembered my friend Kathleen. Someone recently told me their favorite part of her memorial service was when I went to sing the song I wrote for her “One Wish” and I realized that I had sang the second verse first and we were going a little too fast. I stopped and said on the mic, “Kathleen was all about do-overs and second chances,” and we started the song again. To be honest I hadn’t really thought much about my saying that until I found an event brochure for an event I sang at called Perkins School of Youth Ministry. In a faculty bio piece about my friend Kathleen, she was described as someone who “believes in offering second chances and has learned from ‘the least of these’.” I just wept when I read that. I had never really read what was said about all my friends who taught during the years of my leadership at that event, but were they right.

January is that second chance time for me. It is crazy that right in the middle of winter, there is this opportunity for new birth, for changes in our lives–a time for second chances, for some do-overs. We all could learn from the least of these. The Bible reminds us again and again–from a little child, from a despised tax collector, from a prostitute, to a lost sheep, to a stutterer, to a young boy with a slingshot. I keep thinking I need to be perfect–whatever that means. I keep looking in the wrong direction, at the wrong things to be my judge of success and setting the wrong goals for myself. Many times I gaze at people to be my models, when I know people and things have nothing to do with goals–mine at least. This new year I am faced with new opportunities, new risks, new chances, new stories to sing, new challenges, new songs to be written and new mistakes to be made. We all have fresh chances to learn how to love and forgive.

The last day I spend with Kathleen, she taught me one of her wonderful life lessons. As I helped her with a sip of water, she turned to me and said, “whatever your name is, I love you.” I smiled at her, as she said thank you. She was someone who had always been larger than life to me, she oozed talent, grace, creativity, integrity, strength and unconditional love. She was for me an overwhelming symbol of hope and strength–her cup really did run over, and some of it got on all of us. In that moment, she became the thing she had preached about all these years–that God was speaking through the least of these. She was in need and for a second, I saw the living Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. I got why Jesus was born and why in life the biggest gifts aren’t wrapped at all. I got that in winter buried deep beneath the soil, the seeds of new life are really there, waiting for what’s next. It didn’t matter at all whether or not she remembered what my name was that day. I was reminded whose I am, who I am and what I am–I am me and I am God’s. I am becoming more and more who I am suppose to be. I am strong and weak, beloved, lovable and capable of giving love.

I am strongest when I care for others, when I’m a servant. Focusing on that reality this winter will help me the most. I am both–full and empty. When I give, I realize how much I really have.

Peace to all of you this New Year, friends…
May you and all of your paperwhites bloom this year!

Always yours…

Celia Anne

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.”