Friday, September 14, 2007

Grief That Hurts, Grace That Heals

Three years ago this morning, I was awakened by a phone call at 6:45am. A mere 18 hours later, my Mom - my best friend, my greatest encourager, and one of the loveliest creatures to ever grace this earth - was gone.

My mother had been at Seton Northwest Hospital for 8 days, following an undetermined neurological event that had left her disoriented, confused, and struggling to speak. Since arriving on Monday, September 6th, she had been showing signs of improvement during her first few days. But by the weekend, she was beginning to show slight signs of decline.

The phone call that came on Tuesday, September 14th at 6:45am came from an ICU nurse named Julie. Her voice was calm but urgent. Mom's blood pressure had dropped significantly. "Julie, tell me," I said, "Do I need to come there right now?" "Well," she said, "We've had some rain and the streets are slick, so please be careful, but need to come here right now".

The next 18 hours would be a blur of harrowing events. Pulmonary embolism, cardiac arrest, Code Blue, CPR, chest compressions, seizures, more drops in blood pressure, kidneys failing, no neurological activity, sobbing siblings, shocked friends, discussions about Mom's end-of-life wishes, doctors using words like "grave" and "hopeless". And worst of all, standing at the bedside of my paralyzed father, and telling him that his adored wife and best friend had passed away.

Sometimes, when this anniversary is far off, I wonder why it is so difficult. My mother's absence hurts every day. Why, I sometimes wonder, does it seem to hurt more on this day? But then when the actual day arrives, I wonder no more. Because there is re-living of the events of the day, almost as if someone has put you in a "Back To The Future" DeLorean and sent you back in time to that very day. Or tied you to a chair and forced you to watch a video of the unfolding of the day's events. (The fact that I have a freakishly sharp memory does not help matters). It all becomes, once again, very vivid. Hauntingly vivid. And it's hard and it's sad.

But what also comes back are the glimpses of grace that colored those days, and the many days and weeks and months that followed. I would be remiss - nay, dishonest - if I were to mention the terrible events of September 14th and 15th, 2004, and not mention the love, support, generosity, selflessness and magnanimity that was so lavishly bestowed upon us during those days and the days that followed. An ICU waiting room FILLED with friends, the provision of food and drinks, the assurance of prayer, the gentle reminders of God's promises and provision, phone calls, emails, cards, flowers. Every face I looked into that day and in the days that came after seemed to be saying to me, "You are not going to walk through one minute of this alone."

And I could hear my God saying the same thing.

"My child, you are not going to walk through one minute of this alone."

And as shattered and grieved as I was, I knew it was true. And it was. And it still is.

Those of you who have known me for a while have heard me speak and/or write about this before. But it's something that I honestly cannot speak or write about enough. Indeed, I will probably never stop speaking or writing about it. Because as much as the dreadful events of those days still hurt and still grieve me, the love and grace that was showered upon me those days still heals and restores me. I still hurt, but I still heal.

And you know what? I could not ask for more. So thank you Jesus, and thank you ALL for "faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms." (I Peter 4:10).

There will be a memoriam in the paper tomorrow for my Mom. For those of you who may not see the local paper here in Austin, here is what it will say:

Kindness, selflessness, humor, compassion, enthusiasm, intelligence, inexhaustibility, poise, warmth, vigor, courage, generosity, devotion, integrity, grace, hospitality, dignity, loyalty, and above all, love. You were the very embodiment of all of these qualities, and we strive every day of our lives to live up to your example. What a legacy you left for us all! You are forever loved and tremendously missed. Love, Daddy, Julie, Barbie, Chandler, Darby, Chris, Shelby, Brookie, Tom, Rachel, Christopher, Krissy, Alan, Marky, Christy, Camden, Erin, and Ivan

I'll leave you with a photo of my dear Mom.

Monday, September 10, 2007



Dannielynn Birkhead, the daughter of the late Anna Nicole Smith, who is now being raised by her father Larry Birkhead, turned 1 over the weekend. Her father apparently threw her a big princess-themed birthday bash in Kentucky. I read an article about this party yesterday, and as I did, I was touched by the possibility that this little girl - whose life began so dramatically and with such tragedy and uncertainty - may just have a shot at something of a normal life.

But then I got to the picture.

Check out the three-stories-tall balloon cake that they rented for the party! HAAAAA!

Ya'll, this thing is huge! Look at how it dwarfs the giant Hummer limousine! Look at the people standing under it who look like bugs about to be squashed by cakeus gigantus! I am wondering if they needed to get permission from air traffic control to put this thing up! I am also concerned about its slighty tilted and seemingly tenuous state. If this thing went flying into the trees, it could wipe out an entire species!


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Very Good Reminder

The other day, my sister and her 4-year old son Christopher went to the mall together, as they often do. Chris always likes to be dressed up as one of his favorite characters, and this day was no exception. Indeed, that Thursday afternoon found my darling nephew bounding through the mall in full Batman regalia! So cute!

Brooke called to tell me that her little Caped Crusader was attracting quite a bit of attention as he played on the mall's playscape, and that she wished so badly that I could be there to see it. And although I couldn't, I could see it all in my mind's eye. My sweet Chris in his mask and his cape, no doubt outwittting The Joker, vanquishing the Penguin, and conquering the Riddler in the wonderful imaginations of his mind. Here's a pic of our little hero:

After a few minutes, Brooke noticed that a woman near her was watching Chris closely, and that she had big tears welling up in her eyes. Soon, she was actually crying. Concerned, Brooke asked her if she was ok. The woman replied, "My Batman joined the Army yesterday."



No words.

Immediate tears.

Eventually, Brooke did find words and began a conversation with the woman, who explained that her son - a former 4-year old Batman himself - was now a grown man of 18 who had only the day before enlisted in the United States Army. Brooke thanked the woman, praised her for raising such a brave son, and asked her to thank him for his service. They parted with a hug, and Brooke called me shortly thereafter to relate the entire event to me. She could not tell me the story without crying, and I could not hear it without crying.

Brooke and I come from a deeply patriotic family, one in which the U.S. Military has always been highly praised, valued, and admired. Our father and our brother Alan are military history enthusiasts, so we have heard countless tales of soldiers' heroism, selflessness, and integrity, both on and off the battlefield. Additionally, one of our mother's best friends from high school was a POW in Vietnam for several years, and Mom shared tales of his ordeal throughout our childhood. We have always had an enormous appreciation for the men and women of this nation who have served, sacrificed, and suffered with such valor.

In my mind, I continually acknowledge that every single man and woman who make up our Armed Forces is someone's son or someone's daughter. But there was something deeply profound about the encounter that Brooke shared with me. It was so much more visceral. More raw. More real. After all, we are a nation at war, and a mother whose son just joined the Army is a mother whose son will soon face combat. This truth overwhelmed and humbled us both.

Please do not read anything political into my comments. I am as big a political junkie as anyone, but to politicize what I am saying here would be to bastardize what I am saying here. Not everything is about our politics, but everything is about our humanity.

As such, I fall to my knees and I thank God for the brave hearts of the men and women in our military. I thank God for their sense of duty, their guts, and their courage. It's been said that it is hard to find heroes these days, but when I think of these soldiers, I realize that one does not have to look far at all. I pray not only for them, but for their families - for all of the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, children, wives, and husbands who watch those they love depart from them, travel to foreign lands, and risk their very lives for the freedom and safety of others.

I am so thankful for the reminder that this woman at the mall provided for my sister and me, and I pray that its impact would stay with me forever.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Cracking UP! Have Ya'll Seen This Show?

Ok ya'll, I am howling.

My brother Mark and his son - my much-adored nephew Camden - were over at Dad's and my house the other evening. We had gathered in the living room where we were having some dinner and watching TV. I saw my brother fiddling with the remote control, and the next thing I knew, we were watching a show on Nick Jr. called "Wonder Pets".

I'll say here that my knowledge of kids' shows is pretty darn good, despite the fact that I am 38-years old, single, and childless. Due to my close involvement with my nieces and nephews over the course of the last 13 years, I have a pretty thorough knowledge of everything from The Wiggles to Barney, from Dora to Elmo, from Curious George to Scooby-Doo, and just about everything in between.

But "The Wonder Pets" was new to me.

I asked my brother what the show was about. He explained that it was about a group of animals who are pets in an elementary classroom by day, and animal rescuers by night. The premise alone made me chuckle. Classroom pets leading a double life! Ha! Come on! I love it! I began to watch the show, and it wasn't long before I was completely cracking up.

The three characters are are a turtle, a guinea pig, and a duckling, and are named, respectively, Turtle Tuck, Linny Guinea Pig, and Ming-Ming Duckling. They rescue animals who are trapped in trees, chimneys, sea plants, etc. And although they themselves are small animals, they rescue everything from elephants to cows, from dolphins to kangaroos. I read online somewhere that they once saved a chimp who was trapped in outer space! Ha! Dying!

Adding to the hilarity here are several things. First, they receive the calls to come rescue an animal on a tin-can phone that is in the classroom. A tin can with a string attached to it. Second, the characters sing throughout the entire episode in the style of opera. Yes, OPERA. There is a full orchestra in the background throughout the entire show. Third, the duckling pronounces his R's as W's, and frequently proclaims, "This is sewious!"

But what kills me the most here are the outfits these animals wear. The turtle wears blue sneakers (yep), a red cape, and a red and white hat that closely resembles the hat that Mary throws in the air in the opening credits of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The guinea pig wears a blue cape and a baseball cap. The duckling wears a green cape and, most hilariously, a WWI-era bomber's cap. See picture below.

The bomber's cap slays me!

Anyway, I just find the whole thing to be so nutty and so adorable. On a more serious note, there are wonderful messages in each episode, the most consistent of which is the importance of teamwork.

I wonder how many of you out there who are parents, grandparents, or aunts/uncles to little ones have stumbled upon this show? Am I overstating it when I say that this show is altogether riotous and wonderful? Let me hear from you!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Ok Ya'll, This Is Just Wrong

Check out this picture:

I took this picture in a Christmas store while shopping in Estes Park. These are Star Wars characters dressed up in Christmas garb. People, this is one of my pet peeves. I don't like classic characters dressed up in Christmas garb. If you click on this picture, you can see that C-3PO is not happy about any of this. Look at his face. (And please don't ask me which one is C-3PO, or I'll have to act like the Star Wars snob that I am and say something like, "I'm gonna pretend like you didn't ask me that").

By the same token, I don't like Santa dressed in non-Christmas garb. I don't like seeing Santa dressed as a fisherman:

I don't like seeing Santa dressed as a beach bum:

And I don't like seeing Santa dressed as an easy rider:

Please keep the red suit on Santa and off of the cast of Star Wars.
Thank you and good-night.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

GMA Festival - Going Home

"All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go..."

It was time to go home.

I was sad to be leaving a place that had given me SO much in just six days, but I was eager to get home, see my friends and family, and report on the week's adventures. As I walked outside, this is the view that I was greeted with:

Extraordinary, huh?

I made my way down to the administration building, where I planned to spend the morning taking in this view, having a little caffeine, and awaiting the shuttle that would take me to the Denver airport. In a delightful turn of events, just about everyone that I had become friends with in the course of the week was hanging out at the admin building as well, so we all had a good chance to spend our last hours together, take some pics together, and say our good-byes.

All went well on the shuttle ride back to the airport, and I made yet another new friend during the trip. We chatted the whole way, and it made the time go by quickly. So many nice people.

While in the air, this is the beauty that I beheld outside my window:


And while descending into Austin, this is the sight that welcomed me home:

I wasn't sure how much more beauty my heart could take. Every now and then, I have those moments in my life where my heart is so full of thanksgiving, that I feel I will never be able to fully express it. This was one of those moments. At these times, I generally conclude that the best way to express my gratitude is to live my life as God would want me to - to boldly live out my faith, to passionately love people, and to relentlessly try to do better.

My mind turned to one of my favorite songs by the late singer Keith Green:

Make my life a prayer to you,
I want to do what You want me to,
No empty words and no white lies,
No token prayers, no compromise.

Lord, may it be so!

GMA Festival - Friday, Day Six

Well, this was my last full day at the festival, and I promised myself that, in addition to attending classes, I would accomplish two exceedingly important tasks: 1) get out and enjoy the remarkable scenery and 2) SHOP. While coming into Estes, I had noticed an abundance of ADORABLE shops in the downtown area, and vowed that I would try to find some time during the week to get over there and engage in some retail therapy. And that I did! But more on that in a moment. First, I had some schoolin' to do!

My first class of the morning was called "Writing From The Artist Perspective", and was led by a phenomenal singer-songwriter named Mark Harris. Christian music fans will recognize him as the lead singer of the band 4Him, and will recognize tunes he's written or co-written such as "Basics of Life", "For Future Generations", and "Strange Way To Save The World". He shared wonderful insights about the work of songwriting, and most significantly, the importance of collaboration. This was a good message for me - and one that was really emphasized by several artists throughout the week - because I have typically not done much collaborating in my songwriting.

But the FUNNIEST part of the whole session was when he was asked who some of his earliest influences were and what concerts he had seen growing up. He mentioned a number of names, and then said, "I'm a little embarassed to admit this, but I did see Olivia Newton-John in concert once."

WHAT? Embarassed to have seen ONJ in concert? I felt my blood boil a little. Then someone asked, "Were you the one person who actually saw the movie Xanadu?" And Mark said, "Well, then I had come to realize that her music was cheesy." WHOA! Fightin' words! Then he said, "Wait, scratch that. That's not nice. I should say, I just wasn't into her music anymore."

But it was too late. The damage to the good name of ONJ had been done, and it was my job - nay, my moral obligation - to set the record straight. I approached Mark after the class, introduced myself, and offered him my sincere thanks for sharing his time and wisdom. But then I said, "However, Mark, I do have a bone to pick with you." He looked surprised at first, but I think he could tell by the smirk on my face that I was just going to rib him a little bit. About what, I'm sure he did not know.

He said, "Uh-oh, what did I do?" And I said, "Well, Mark, as a lifelong member of the Olivia Newton-John Fan Club..." and straight away, he started to laugh and said, "Oh boy I knew I'd get in trouble for that comment!" I then went on to explain to him that ONJ still has a very loyal fan base, has recorded several records as an independent artist, writes her own songs now, and does about 50 live shows a year. Poor guy! He listened patiently to my ramblings, but must have been thinking "why do I get all the geeks?" Ha, ha! Actually, he was real sweet about the whole thing, and we ended up having this good conversation about how artists grow with time and age and circumstance. Too funny...what were the chances of anyone saying anything about ONJ at this festival?

My next class was entitled "The Story Behind The Songs". It was led by a very successful Christian artist named Joy Williams and a songwriter named Ben Glover. I knew only little about Joy and nothing about Ben, but this class ended up being quite possibly one of the most meaningful that I attended all week.

I was not familiar with much of Joy's music, and quite frankly, she had been marketed in a way that, I felt, targeted pre-teen and teen audiences. On her album covers, she looked young and blonde and perky, and I felt like she was probably making simple pop music aimed at the tweenie crowd. Well, I could not have been more wrong. In the course of this class, I came to learn that Joy was a very gifted and prolific singer and songwriter. Additionally, she was an artist of incredible depth and wisdom. She had a wonderful earthy, artsy vibe to her, coupled with a clear devotion to her faith and her craft. Ben Glover, one of her co-writers (and a TOTAL punkin', by the way), was much the same way, and they freely shared stories from the songwriting trenches. Together and separately, they write dozens of songs a year, and they took us through the whole process of what is involved in trying to get those songs picked up. Truly inavluable stuff.

Following the session, I had a chance to meet Joy, and we had a nice little chat. Here we are below. Isn't her scarf the bomb?

By the way, about two hours later, as I was walking across the grounds, I saw Joy again, from a distance. I hollared out, "Hi Joy!" and she replied, "Hi Kristin!" And I was like, "I cannot believe you remembered my name." But that's the thing about many of these Christian artists, and I experienced it with every single one of them that I met during GMA. They are the real deal, and they really live out their faith in kindness and graciousness. The records don't lie. They are as good as they seem.

I attended one more Tom Jackson class and then we had a two-hour break for FREE TIME! Time to see God's country and hit the shops! I had been told that it was a mile walk to a lodge where I could pick up a shuttle that would take me into the shopping district. I'd get to walk through the mountains for a mile and then be driven to the shops. Brilliant! So off I went, onto Hwy 66, surrounded by the wondrous mountains, the Big Thompson River, and one of the bluest, sunniest skies that had ever smiled on me. (I am embarassed to tell you that I thought I was on the infamous Route 66, but later found out that the historic road does not even run through Colorado. Shame on me). Nonetheless, it was a GLORIOUS walk.

The shuttle delivered me smack dab into the middle of the shopping district and I hit as many shops as I could in the 90 minutes I had before having to pick up the shuttle back to the Y. There were lots of t-shirt and souvenir-type shops, but also lots of fun, unique gift shops, with names like "Blue Skies & Dragonflies". CUTE! That's what I love. I didn't really even buy much - just a couple of knick-knacks - but it was so stinkin' fun. Below are pictures of the mountains and rivers that surrounded me as I shopped. You simply can't beat this!

When I returned to the Y, it was time for the evening concert, in which we would get to see ALL of the finalists perform in the Vocal and Instrumental Competitions! I couldn't wait! There were about 20 acts, and I'm tellin' ya, I literally got to see some of the finest talent in all the land. Man, it just made me want to get better. The big winner of the night was a gal named Rachael Hurt, who completely JAMMED on a song she had written. Dude, she brought the house down and won several major awards. I met and congratulated her, and told her, "Girl, you better get used to all of this adulation and success, cuz you are goin' far!"

As I walked back to my room to turn in for the night, I stumbled upon a friend named Karen that I had met in the course of the week. Knowing I would probably not see her until next year's festival, we hugged good-bye, and she gave her standard adieu - as she had many times throughout the week - which was, "Enjoy God's blessings."

"Oh man," I thought, "You can count on it."

Monday, August 13, 2007

GMA Festival - Thursday, Day Five

Thursday was another great learning day, one that started off with a class called "Protecting Yourself - A Look At Song Publishing Agreements". It was led by an entertainment attorney and it was incredibly informative. I think it is common for artists to want to leave the money and the business stuff to others, and I am certainly one who would be tempted to do that (cuz, I mean, borrrrrring), but for me, it is hugely important to know and understand that side of things. As dry as I thought this class might be, it was actually very interesting, and I found myself listening intently and taking notes rigorously.

I then went to an Open Forum with several record company representatives entitled, "Discovering What Record Labels Are Looking For In Today's Changing Marketplace". It was a pretty informal, Q&A-type session, and one in which I, once again, learned a great deal. Many artists are able to market themselves and sell their music independently these days, and this session helped to answer the question, "Why would a burgeoning artist want to be signed to a record contract?" Very helpful stuff.

This may sound bad, but one of my favorite moments of this session was when one of the record execs admitted that he had "passed" on signing the group Casting Crowns, who I adore, and who have since gone on to become one of the biggest-selling acts in the history of Christian music. I guess I enjoyed that because it was a good reminder to me that even the experts aren't always right. There's a LOT of rejection in this business, and in the face of it, you have to keep plugging away.

In the afternoon, I went to another one of Tom Jackson's performance coaching classes and continued to emerge from my state of denial about the fact that I am not a great performer (ha, ha). And by the way, this realization is not discouraging to me at all. On the contrary, I love knowing that I have identified such a specific area to work on. I have a huge desire to get great at my craft, so this revelation was critical.

That evening, I got an unexpected treat! Early in the week, I had met a guy named Tom Morris, and throughout the week, I continued to run into him in a number of classes. Tom has been a firefighter for 24 years, all the while playing in bands and writing songs. His wife was along with him, and they invited me to dinner in Estes Park Thursday night. Aside from the welcome break from the cafeteria, I was so excited to get to go "in town" to eat.

We went to a Mexican restaurant (sweet!) right along the river in downtown Estes, and we had a great time. We shared our life stories, and talked about our faith, our families, our music, etc. They were SO sweet, and they had the most GLORIOUS Northeastern accents (they were from Rhode Island). I had to share with them that I love quoting lines from the film Good Will Hunting in my best Boston accent, and I gave them my favorite example: "Let's go to a bah in Hahvad and beat up some smaht kids." Ha, ha. They also enjoyed my Southern accent, and as much as I may deny actually having one, I know deep down that I sure-as-shootin' do.

It was a delightful ending to another good day, and my heart was filled with gratitude. Rather than attend the evening concert (which was going to be kind of heavy rock - not my fave), I stayed in my room, let my creative juices flow, and did some writing. For the first time that week, I went to bed sort of early.

I blame the Mexican food. ;-)

GMA Festival - Wednesday, Day Four, Part Two

Did I mention that Wednesday was my favorite day of this entire festival? Well, it was! Yay Wednesday! Here is Part Two:

That afternoon, I attended another of the Artist Teaching Concerts, this one led by the current GMA Dove Awards Female Vocalist of the Year, Natalie Grant. Those of you familiar with Christian music know her well. Those of you who received my Christmas Letter two years ago may remember that the theme of that letter was based on Natalie's song "Held": "This is what is means to be Held, how it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive. This is what it is to be loved, and to know that the promise was when everything fell, we'd be Held." "Held" was a song that had blessed me tremendously following the death of my mother, so I was really excited about the opportunity to get to hear from Natalie about her career and her entire body of work.

I would not be disappointed.

Natalie spoke candidly about the business side of music - about her longtime struggle to get a record deal, and the exceeding importance of patience and perserverance - which were important messages for me to hear. She spoke passionately about her work as well. Specifically, she shared with us how she has evolved in her craft, from being a singer under the control of her record company to now being a full-blown artist - a singer AND songwriter who calls the shots in her career, and who insists on nothing less that 100% integrity and authenticity in her music. She was simply awesome, and she sets an example in her life and her career that I most certainly aspire to. Especially that authenticity stuff. Let me be real, Lord.

The coolest and most personal part for me, however, was when she opened the session up for questions, and I asked her about the song "Held". I shared with her how much comfort the song had brought me, and asked if she would speak for a moment about the impact of that song, the stories she had heard from people, etc. She replied that she could literally spend all day telling of the song's far-reaching impact, and she did share some pretty gut-wrenching stories that she had heard from people while she was on the road. But the key takeway was this: There are people all over this world who are hurting deeply, and they desperately need music that speaks and ministers to them. This was an invaluable reminder to me. I felt more inspired than ever to write music that truly impacts and changes lives.

Natalie then sang "Held", accompanied only by her husband on the piano, and it was absolutely exquisite. I have many friends who are hurting tremendously right now due to various losses, and I cried through the whole song thinking of all of them. I have personally lived the lyrics of the song "Held", and I prayed that the same would be true for my many wounded friends - that they would truly feel loved and held through their darkest hours. Here's a pic of Natalie singing:

That night's concert included Natalie again, Brian Littrell (former Backstreet Boy who is now a Christian artist), Rush of Fools (a great band of rockers who look like they are 12 and who made me feel really old), and Travis Cottrell, who is Beth Moore's awesome praise and worship leader. After the concert, we got to have a meet and greet with Natalie. She remembered me as I approached the table, saying, "You were the one who asked me about 'Held' today." I was impressed by this, as I was probably the hundredth person she had met that day. I thanked her again, but unfortunately, they were not allowing pictures. So, I sort of just stuck my head in front of her and had someone take the below picture. Now, I know that judging by my shape and form in this photo, it looks as if I just ate Natalie for dinner, but she is actually the blonde with the gold hoop earrings on. (Not a good angle, Werner).

Also following the concert, they announced who had advanced to the semi-finals in the Vocalist contest. I did not advance. But really folks, it was ok. I hate to sound unambitious, but I was not there to compete. I have a lot of growth to do as a songwriter, musician, and performer, and I will compete when ready. There's always next year baby!

Oh! I did get my critique sheets back from the music industry folks who had judged my performance in the Vocalist contest, and was mostly quite pleased with them. One judge said that my voice and style reminded him of Joni Mitchell. Nuh-uh! STOP! I'm not worthy! In general, there were high marks for my voice, and so-so marks for my performance skills. Completely fair. I've got work to do.

Overall, it was SUCH a great day, and I went to bed that night with a tremendous amount of joy and gratitude in my heart.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

GMA Festival - Wednesday, Day Four, Part One

This ended up being my favorite day of the whole week! Yay Wednesday!

It was also the most eventful day of the week, so for ease of reading, I am divding the day into two separate posts. Perhaps I should be merciful to you all and do the same thing with my Christmas Letter. Ya know, send it in like, twelve separate parts? Oh wait, that'll never work. I'm a starving artist and could never afford the postage... ;-)

Ok, I intended on starting the day with a class called "Writing A Song Based On A Scripture or Storyline". Now, try not to be shocked, but I was a little late to the class. I know that is astounding, but, well...sometimes I am late. Anyway, the class had ended up getting cancelled for reasons I am still not sure of. So I decided instead to go to the Women's Retreat, which was being led by Sandi Patty, arguably the greatest vocalist in the history of Christian music. With her four-octave voice, she had completely blown the roof off at her concert the night before, and I was thrilled at the prospect of getting to spend some time with her at this retreat.

She spoke for about 45 minutes, then did a Q&A with us for about an hour. "Let's just sit around and have some girl-talk for a while," she said. Ok by me! Nothing I love more. After the Q&A, she sat at a piano in the corner of our small room and sang an exquisite version of "Amazing Grace".

At this point, I simply couldn't quite believe it was all happening. Here I was with Sandi Patty, one of the greatest voices in the known world - someone who has performed for kings and presidents, and someone whose music had ministered so powerfully to me, especially during my critical teenage years. And here I was having "girl-talk" with her and sitting ten feet from her as she raised her voice in song (see Picture just below). It was an absolute thrill.

At the end of the two-hour retreat, we had the opportunity to meet and visit with Sandi (we're on a first-name basis now). Even though I am really a very giant dork, I manage to keep things really appropriate when I meet artists whose works have impacted my life. I try to make it a point to 1) express my tremendous thanks to them for sharing their extraordinary gifts and 2) encourage them to continue their good works. And rather than pour out my life story to them, I simply encapsulate that by saying, "Your music has ministered so much to me." I had the opportunity to share all of the above with Sandi, and she was incredibly gracious. (See us togeth in Picture just below). Me and Sandi! Sandi and Me! This was a highlight of my year for sure!

That afternoon, I attended a class called "Getting Gigs", which was led by a VP of the William Morris Agency. It was a supremely valuable class, and one in which I learned a ton. One of the coolest things I kept seeing throughout the week was a great generosity of spirit between all of the musicians, and the Getting Gigs class was no exception. Many artists who are already doing regular gigs were freely sharing advice and ideas, and I found that to be so useful. These are the folks who are in the trenches and really doing it!

I would like to add that I love the word "gig" and that I can't wait to someday say things like, "Oh, I would love to go to dinner with you, but I have a gig tonight." LOL!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

GMA Festival - Tuesday, Day Three

Tuesday morning, I woke up with a bit of anxiety, as I had two rather daunting tasks ahead of me.

First, I was taking one of my original songs to a what is called a Song Critique. A Song Critique gives you the opportunity to meet with a representative from a major Christian music publishing company, play him your song on CD, and then listen to feedback from him as to the quality/marketability of the song. Eek! Skeert!

Second, I was particpating in the Vocal Competition, singing yet another original song, this time in front of a panel of judges from the Christian music industry and about 15 peers and fellow competitors. Double Eek! Triple skeert! I want my mommy!

Fortunately, both went well. My song was critiqued by the Vice-President of Publishing for Word Records (GULP!) and he had very nice things to say. His few criticisms were very fair and accurate, I felt. He also asked if he could keep the CD and the lyric sheet. Cool! He was cute, too! I know, not relevant, but I sorta wanted to kiss him. Anyway....

I had not planned on competing in the Vocal Competition. Not because I didn't feel worthy of competing, but because I felt it would be a distraction to me. My purpose in going to this convention was to LEARN and to soak in as much knowledge as possible, not to shoot for a grand prize. But I ultimately decided to do it because I thought the feedback from the judges would be constructive and valuable.
For the Vocal Competition, I sang a song called "We'll Sing On" that I had written about 9/11 in the week immediately following the 2001 tragedy. There were three judges and I tried to engage all of them during my performance, but they had their heads in their critique sheets and were writing furiously. Talk about nerve-wracking! What are they writing? "Nice voice, but seems like kind of a geek." Ha, ha. The performance went well, though, and I could not wait to get my feedback sheets from them. I would receive those, as well as the results of whether or not I advanced to the semi-finals, on Wednesday night. More on that later.

I spent the afternoon in more classes, the first of which was a class led by a guy named Tom Jackson, who is a Performance Coach who helps artists make the most of their live performances. He focuses on three key components: 1) Are you capturing and engaging your audience?, 2) Are you creating "moments" for your audience or just making music?, 3) Are you affecting and changing lives? Ya'll, this was FABULOUS knowledge and helped pull me out of denial about the fact that I am not a great live performer. Yeah, I can hit the notes and engage my audience to an extent, but I have A LOT more work to do in this area. Many of my colleagues acknowledged the same thing about themselves during the week. As the week went on, I ended up attending three more of Tom's classes. The guy's a genius.

I also attended a class that addressed the power of exposing your music to the world through the power of the Internet. Amazing. The web has changed music so much, ya'll. Much of the work that record companies had to do for you can now be done on your own via personal websites, blogs, MySpace, and online stores that sell work done by independent artists. Again, an incredibly valuable class and one that I plan to put to good use!

The day was capped off with an Artist Teaching Concert led by none other than the brilliant singer/songwriter Mark Schultz, who has been one of my favorite Christian artists for about 4 years now. The Artist Teaching Concerts are essentially very casual mini-concerts where the artist sits there and chats with the audience (see 2nd photo above), tells the stories behind his songs, offers advice about the biz, and sings a few of his biggest hits. I got to meet Mark afterwards (see 1st photo above), which was a big thrill. He was so sweet and he is a total punkin'! I thought for a long time I would marry him, but he got snagged up by a gorgeous doctor about a year ago. Now how in the heck am I supposed to compete with that? ;-)

That night's concert featured the great Sandi Patty, Mark Shultz again, David Phelps, the Crabb Family, and Tammy Trent.

(Funny Side-Note: After the concert, I walked back to the room with a gal I had met in the course of the week. The walk back to our cabin was mostly uphill, and since I was still adjusting to the Colorado altitude, my breath was starting to get a little ragged. I said something like, "Gosh, I guess I am still adjusting to the altitude change." And she said, "Really? I think I've gotten used to it by now." And since I was carrying my laptop on my back, I said, "Well, I guess carrying this laptop on my back doesn't help matters." Then, quickly realizing the ridiculousness of that statement, I said, "I guess it also doesn't help matters that I am 70 pounds overweight." HA! Ya'll, she was horrified. My close friends are used to me making little jabs at myself like this, but she was downright SHOCKED that I would say such a thing about myself. I honestly thought that she was gonna start genuflecting right then and there and pray over me for saying such a thing. I made a note to myself that not everyone appreciates a healthy dose of self-deprecation).

Thursday, August 2, 2007

GMA Festival - Monday, Day Two

The day got off to an early start, as all days have this week (breakfast is from 7:00 to 8:30 and morning worship starts at 8:30). I am a night owl and early mornings do not thrill me (I rather loathe them), but on this Monday I practically bounced out of bed with great expectations for the day ahead. And the day did NOT disappoint!

Funny Side-Note: As I headed to the cafeteria for breakfast, I started getting a case of the junior high heebee jeebees! Who was I going to sit with in the cafeteria? I had only met a few people so far, and what if they weren't there? I'd have to sit with strangers who might immediately see me for the geek that I am! After a few minutes of this ridiculous internal dialogue, I reminded myself that I was, in fact, NOT in the 7th grade and that I was indeed a grown woman of 37. I got a grip, sat down at a random table with a random group of people, and soaked up their endlessly interesting life-stories. It would be the first of many meals spent doing this. I will talk about this more later. (The junior high heebee jeebies would still creep in occasionally throughout the week, but only in brief spurts, which I would quickly quell. Get behind me Satan)!

Following some great words of encouragement at morning worship, I went to my first class of the day entitled, "Writing Melodies That Sing". It was led by a very prolific and successful Christian composer named Don Koch. That class was followed by one entitled "Building a Great Lyric," led by an equally successful Christian lyricist named Dave Clark. (Shout-Out to my Baby Boomer friends: NOT the Dave Clark of the Dave Clark Five). These men have been writing songs that have spoken to my heart for years, and I hung on their every word in class. It was just so thrilling to be learning about things about which I am so hugely passionate.

I continued to meet more really lovely people throughout the day and as the day went on, I just really began to realize what an amazing week this was going to be, and what a unique opportunity it was for me to be here. Before I went to bed that night, I made a promise to myself and to God that I would be the very best version of myself this week - that I would make it to every class, ask every question I could think of, take notes furiously, and not squander any opportunity to learn, grow, and connect. It felt good.

For my Christian music fans out there, Monday night's concert included Rebecca St. James, Shaun Groves, and Aaron Shust. Sweet, huh?

GMA Festival - Sunday, Day One

I arrived safely in Denver on Sunday and hung out in the airport for about 2 hours waiting for the shuttle to take me from Denver to Estes Park. It wasn't long before I started seeing musicians popping up all around me - people with funky hair and cool clothes, carrying guitars and keyboards and violins and all manner of musical accoutrement. I started to feel excited but nervous, very similar to the way I felt my first few days Texas A&M. Of course, what I didn't realize as a college freshman (20 years ago - OUCH!), but do realize today, is that EVERYONE was feeling nervous. Even the ones who seemed cool and collected. So I tried to just chill and be myself and embrace whatever lay ahead.

Once I boarded the shuttle (which was actually a SWEET chartered bus), my nerves were quickly soothed, as I began meeting all kinds of nice people from all over the country. Everyone was so sweet and interested and interesting, and we all spent the entire 2-hour trip chatting away. I love hearing people's stories, and the stories I heard on the bus that day were the first of MANY that the week would have in store for me. More on that later...

The scenery during the bus trip was gorgeous, but only a sneak preview of what was to come. When we did finally arrive in Estes Park, what I saw literally took my breath away. The facility I am staying at is called YMCA In The Rockies, and it is literally planted squarely in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. Any direction you look in, you are surrounded by the most exquisite and majestic beauty that one could ever imagine. I've always said I am a beach girl first and foremost - and I am - but I tell ya, these mountains do a soul some good! They are absolutely heavenly, as you can see in the above picture.

(Funny Side-Note: The YMCA In The Rockies isn't really a hotel, and it isn't really a resort, and I have been struggling to describe this place to folks back home. I was talking to my friend and 80's soulmate Brenda last night, and she said, "I'm kind of imagining it as being like Kellerman's from 'Dirty Dancing'." HA! She nailed it! That is EXACTLY what it's like...minus the hottie dance instructor and the 60's youth rebellion).

Anyway, I got all registered, checked into my room, had some din-din, and then headed to the first concert of the week, which was Michael W. Smith, the King of Contemporary Christian Music! I hadn't seen W in concert in about 10 years, and he was phenomenal. By 11:00pm, I was running on fumes and decided to call it a day. I lay my head down on the pillow, feeling very much like a big girl, feeling that I was exactly where I belonged, and filled with anticipation of what the week had in store!

Airport Security - Come Here Often?

Allow me to digress from my GMA Festival updates for a moment to share some thoughts on airport security. First, let me make it clear that I have no issue with the airport security requirements, which, as we all know, changed drastically following 9/11. Making minor adjustments such as taking my laptop out of its case and carrying my liquids in small quantities is a small price to pay for national security and safety in the skies. I long ago accepted the changes in security as the new normal, and I never complain about them.

I travel by air so much that I know exactly what items are going to set off the security alarm - my maroon jacket with metal buttons, the James Avery bracelet that my friend Shannon gave me, etc. So I begin removing those items right away, in addition to the required surrender of my shoes. This generally makes my experience through security go rather quickly, and this latest trip was no exception. But...something frequently happens post-security that always cracks me up. It happened again this past Sunday.

Once you are past the brigade, you have to put all of the removed items back on your body. I always seem to end up next to a man at this point. And there we stand at the table, him putting his belt and cufflinks and watch back on, and me putting my jacket and jewelry and shoes back on. And ya'll, it just makes me laugh! I am unmarried and do not practice sex outside of marriage, but here I stand in the middle of the airport in various states of undress along with the dude right next to me! I always chuckle to myself, thinking how funny it would be to say something to him like, "Was it good for you too?" or "You could have at least bought me dinner first."

That would of course be inappropriate, but I've got to find some way to diffuse the situation. Because one of these days, I'm just gonna bust out laughing, and send some guy's cufflinks flying across the airport floor.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

GMA Festival - The Night Before

I left Austin for Denver on Sunday morning at 8:10am, which meant I had to wake up at about 5:00am so that I could be at the airport at about 6:45am. While I am never, EVER happy about waking up at 5:00am, this time it was all the more daunting because I was up until 2:30am the night before. You see, my dear friend Tracy was celebrating her 40th birthday downtown on Saturday night. Now, a reasonable person, knowing they had to be up at 5:00am, may have considered skipping the party, but, well...I don't skip parties. Especially parties that afford me the opportunity to celebrate the life of a treasured friend, hang out with some of my favorite people on the planet, and listen to The Spazmatics, the greatest 80's cover band in existence. I had a total, joyful BLAST, and am so glad I went! Above is a photo from Saturday night, a mere 5 hours before my morning alarm went off (from left to right, that's Tracy the birthday girl, me, Amy, and George).

Needless to say, I slept through my entire flight the next morning. I remember taxiing away from the gate, and the next thing I knew, I was awakened by the words, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are now beginning our descent into Denver." There was an unopened bag of peanuts sitting on my tray table, which, of course, I had to immediately put in the locked and upright position.

The Gospel Music Association Festival!

Hey Dear Friends and Family! I am currently at the Gospel Music Association Festival in Estes Park, Colorado. This is a week-long convention for Christian singers and musicians, and it provides incredible opportunities to learn the biz, meet with industry professionals, network with other musicians, and make friends from all over the country. At this writing, I have been here for four days, and I have to tell you, I am having the MOST wonderful time! The whole thing has exceeded my expectations and has been worth every penny I had to spend to get here (read: it cost me lots and lots of pennies). ;-)

I have not had much time at the computer, as they keep us busy from about 8:00am until 11:00pm. BUT...I have been keeping a daily journal of the week's highlights and have decided to post them here for your reading pleasure. All of the cabins have wi-fi, so this will be easy for me to do, as long I have can find enough time in the day to do it! I will give a day-by-day account, so that you can just read a little at a time, and not have to peruse through a Christmas Letter-esque essay.

Thanks for indulging me. Chat with ya soon!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Romance On Aisle Four?

Ok ya'll. This is just a random thing that happened to me on Sunday, and it cracked me up.

I was at HEB (what I affectionately refer to as The Heeb) doing a MAJOR grocery run. Dad and I had run out of everything at the house all at the same time (How does that always happen? Do the assorted meats, fruits, and vegetables conspire in the fridge? And do they get the toilet paper and the laundry detergent and the Pine-Sol involved as well?). Anyway, I knew I'd be at the store for quite a while, so I had carved out a good hour or so to ensure that every single item got crossed off of my considerably long list.

I was about one-fourth of the way through, and the next item on my list was peanut butter. As I entered the aisle, I noticed a couple standing arm in arm right in front of the peanut butter. They were actually sort of cuddling - one might even say snuggling - in front of the peanut butter, and were talking to one another quietly. They were blocking the whole peanut butter section, but since I assumed they'd be there just a few more seconds, I decided to wait. I stood there as quietly and unobtrusively as possible, not wanting to rush them. I didn't want to eavesdrop, but they were speaking loudly enough that I realized that they were having an in-depth discussion about what kind of peanut butter they should buy.

A little odd, but I thought, "Well, maybe they need a particular type of peanut butter for a dessert they're going to bake." So I continued to wait. This went on for another 60 seconds or so, and at this point I was starting to get a little baffled. I stood there thinking, "Ok, you've got smooth, crunchy, extra crunchy, organic, or non-organic. Let's wrap this up people." But they continued to mull over this decision with intense deliberation. "Maybe they're with the UN," I thought. But actually, nations have gone to war with less contemplation than this.

Now, you may be wondering why I didn't just move on and come back to the peanut butter later. Well, because, I was quite frankly intrigued at this point. How could such a decision possibly be taking this long? You also may be wondering why I didn't just edge my way in, grab me a jar of Jif, and be on my way. Well, you just gotta believe me when I say that there was simply no getting around them. Their souls had truly become one, right there in the peanut butter aisle. I could have crawled on my belly between their feet, or parachuted down from the ceiling, and I still would not have gotten access to the PB.

So I decided to use this time wisely and go over my list to see what I had left to buy, where I needed to head next, etc. Then all of the sudden, I heard the unmistakable sound...of kissing.

Nuh-uh. No. No they're not.

But sure enough, I raised my head from my list, and there they were, still planted squarely in front of the peanut butter, and making out like a couple of college freshman. "Mugging down", as we called it in my day. Ok, this is Saturday Night Live. Or maybe I'm on Candid Camera. No...that show was cancelled 20 years ago. Maybe I am getting Punk'd by Ashton Kutcher. No...he doesn't know me. This is for real.

I wasn't sure whether to feel irritated or jealous, but I did know that I was closerthanthis to telling them to go get a room. Finally, they broke their passionate embrace and walked away, completely oblivious to my presence.

I grabbed my Jif, and shook my head as if to say, "What just happened here?" I started to think that the only thing that would have perfected this moment would have been if "Lost In Love" by Air Supply had started playing overhead on the HEB elevator music radio. Or maybe "Open Arms" by Journey.

It certainly would have set the mood for romance on Aisle Four that day.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

An Evening of Grief, Then Comic Relief

As mentioned in my previous post, I just returned from vacation with my family. The main purpose of this trip was to fulfill our late mother's wish to have a portion of her ashes spread over South Padre Island. This was the only wish that Mom was ever specific about, so it has been exceedingly important to us to make sure that it was fulfilled.

On Friday, June 29th, right at dusk, we walked down to the beach to return our mother to a place that she loved so very, very much - a place that, for years, brought much peace, relaxation, and joy to her very hectic life. I'll say here that I and my entire family believe in eternal life, and believe that our mother now resides in Heaven. We know that only her physical remains are in those ashes. However, as we have discovered many times since her death, these types of rituals and ceremonies done in our mother's memory bring us much peace, and we feel certain that they are gestures that would make Mom really happy.

The night was mercifully cool and breezy. All 14 of us walked together along the beach to the Sunchase Condominiums, the resort at which we had always stayed as a family in the 80's and 90's. Every corner of that property holds a precious memory for all of us, so to have our ceremony on Sunchase's beach felt totally perfect. When we arrived, the sun had just set and the moon had risen above the ocean, its light illuminating the dark water. It was absolutely gorgeous.

We had decided to spread her ashes right on the shoreline. Mom liked to occasionally go out into the waves, but more than anything, she loved to just sit in the sunshine along the shoreline, letting the water gently lap up against her. From this vantage, she was able to keep watch over all of us as we ran around, built sand castles, and rode the waves. These times were pure bliss for her.

We first joined hands in a circle, and I led the family in prayer, thanking God for the gift of this extraordinary woman. I further prayed that God would give us the strength to continue to live out Mom's legacy of love, kindness, and selflessness. Following the prayer, my siblings and I took turns, each of us pouring a portion of the ashes into the wind, which gently carried them into the ocean. It was sad, but it was perfect. And best of all, it was exactly what Mom wanted. Following the ceremony, we stood around for a while, many of us crying or simply standing in silence.

And then it happened.

We had noticed when we first came down to the beach that there were some mosquitos, but they were really nothing more than a minor nuisance at that point. But by the time we had finished our ceremony, the mosquitos began to attack us in full force. And ya'll, they were huge. I mean HUGE. They looked like tarantulas. And they were downright Hitchcockian in quantity. You would look down, and there would be ten of them on your arm and twelve of them on your leg. We had to make a run for it.

The mothers with little ones took off first, followed quickly by the rest of us. We were basically having to haul tail back to the hotel, sprinting in all different directions to escape the onslaught of these blood-sucking insects. My uber-athlete sister Julie even began running serpentine and screaming at the top of her lungs, "BOB AND WEAVE! BOB AND WEAVE!"

We couldn't help but crack up. I was absolutely HOWLING. What had happened to our peaceful evening? Mere moments ago we were having this beautiful and reverent ceremony in memory of one of the lovliest creatures who ever walked this earth! Now, suddenly, we were scattered about the beach like maniacs, trying to escape the most vile creatures we'd ever seen.

By the time we reached the hotel, we were exhausted and bewildered. On the one hand, we were a little frustrated that our time on the beach had been cut short. But then we thought, well, Mom would not have wanted us to stand out there crying all night. Indeed, the last thing she would have wanted was for things to get too maudlin. "Honestly, quit fussing over me," she would have said, "You've fulfilled my wishes, now go have fun together!"

And that we did. We returned to our hotel room, hung out together, laughed together, counted our mosquito bites, and of course, passed around the Campho-Phenique.

Never a dull moment.


"I'm So Excited I Can't Sleep"

I just returned from a weeklong vacation to South Padre Island with my entire family - my siblings, their three spouses and one fiance, and my three nieces and two nephews. In the days leading up to this trip, my sister Brooke and my brother Mark both shared with me - independent of one another - that their kids were so excited about the upcoming trip that they were actually having trouble sleeping.

Brooke's children Rachel (8) and Christopher (4) were fighting their bedtime every night, and in general were, in my sister's words, "pinging off the walls" because they were so excited to be going to the beach to see their cousins. The night before the trip, my brother Mark's son Camden (2) lay awake in his crib for a full hour after being put to bed, talking to himself about how excited he was about going to "the ocean."

The morning after our first night in Padre, I awoke early to find Rachel already wide awake in her bed. Knowing she had been up late the night before, I said, "Sweetie, you need to try to sleep a little longer." She looked right at me and said, "I'm so excited I can't sleep."

This all got me to thinking: When was the last time that I was so excited about something that I literally couldn't sleep? Or, more specifically, when was the last time that I allowed myself to feel such excitement?

Of course I understand that, as adults, we cannot think and feel the same way that we did as children. After all, our adult lives are fraught with all manner of pressures and responsibilities. Newsreels and headlines inform us 24 hours a day of the violence, poverty, war, famine and injustice that plagues our world. We no longer have the luxury of seeing the world through the lens of a 2-, 4-, or 8-year old. For every one reason there is to feel excited and hopeful, there seem to be one hundred reasons to feel discouraged.

And yet, I don't really believe that those odds tell the true story. I think that when I don't allow myself to feel true excitement, it is less about the stresses, difficulties, and realities of adult life, and more about my unwillingness to really acknowledge and really pay attention to the daily goodness that colors my life.

So, ever since Padre, I have been really praying about this, and trying to think about the blessings of my life that make me feel true excitement. And I want to hear about this from YOU! What fires you up, floats your boat, and blows your hair back? (Keep it clean, please. There are some yung'ns who read this Blog)! ;-) I'll give you my list first (albeit, a partial one; we don't want this turning into the Christmas Letter). And I'll look VERY forward to seeing yours! Maybe we'll all turn each other on to some excitement-worthy things that we've been missing out on!

And who knows? Maybe we'll get so excited that we just can't sleep...


1) Any and all time spent with my nieces and nephews.
2) My Dad's amazingly positive outlook, zest for living, and continued thirst for knowledge.
3) Laughing with my brothers and sisters.
4) Finding new meaning in a Scripture I've read hundreds of times before.
5) Sitting outside and listening to live music in Austin.
6) Bodysurfing at South Padre Island when the waves are really big.
7) Hearing or thinking of a song I love, and downloading it as soon as is humanly possible.
8) Buying shoes at Season Clearance for 75% off.
9) The life-sustaining and life-saving gifts of modern medicine.
10) Knowing that my God loves me Just As I Am - completely and unconditionally.
11) Knowing that there are people willing to die for our freedom and safety (military troops, policemen, firemen, etc).
12) Hearing a great sermon.
13) Flipping channels late at night and stumbling upon a movie that I love.
14) A rare cold day in Texas, one in which I have to wear a sweater, mittens, a coat, and a scarf.
15) Any comforting or funny memory of my Mom.
16) Getting personal mail or email.
17) Any wonder in the sky - a gorgeous sunset, a rainbow (we had a HUGE one in Austin yesterday), a beautiful sunrise (I won't lie - I don't see these often).
18) Anything Beth Moore says or writes.
19) Running into or making contact with an old friend.
20) Laughing so hard with girlfriends that it literally makes my stomach hurt.

Ok, your turn!


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Back To The Gym

I returned to the gym.

It had been four months since my last visit. Four months at $15 a month. That's roughly $60 in membership fees down the tubes, a sixty dollars that could have been spent on a couple of pairs of fabulously cute summer shoes from DSW. But really, it's ok. I continue to pay my gym membership because, regardless of how long my absences may be, I always, always, always go back. It's just not always pretty when I do.

My consistency in working out has been wildy erratic over the years. I will go through phases in which working out is as much a part of my daily routine as is brushing my teeth. Alternately, I will completely lose interest in it, and getting myself to the gym becomes this monumental task, as if someone is asking me to stick needles in my eyes. When it comes to working out, I generally live in these extremes - I either love it or I don't - and I find that very odd, because this is really the only thing in my life that I can say that about. Usually, once I love something, I love it forever. And ever. And ever. It's just the way I'm built. Those of you who have seen the 24"x36" "Sound of Music" poster that has been hanging in my college dorm/post-college apartment/adult home for the last 20 years know exactly what I am talking about.

It's always a bit daunting returning to the gym after a long sabbatical, and this time was no different. As I walked through the doors last week, I felt like all eyes had shifted my way, but I'm sure that in reality no one was was paying a lick of attention to me. I approached the front desk to show my membership card (NOTE: I keep my membership card on my keychain, thus creating the illusion that I work out so frequently, that I MUST have my membership card with me at ALL times). I was greeted by a very young, perky, smiley girl who was no doubt named Tiffany, Kaitlyn, or Amber. She looked very fit and healthy, and I knew immediately that she had more asparagus in her diet than me. She greeted me with great warmth, which meant that she was either really sweet, or she thought I was a new member, because in all the months she has been working at Gold's Gym, she has never once seen my fat face.

I started walking toward the stretching area, in the back part of the gym. At this point, I was struck at how adept we human beings can be at masking our true feelings. Inside, I was plagued with self-doubt as I strode past the rows and rows of ellipticals, hard bodies, and treadmills, but you never would have known that I was in the least bit intimidated. I strutted through that place projecting an enormous amount of confidence. Think John Travolta as Tony Manero in the opening sequence of "Saturday Night Fever." I could almost hear Barry Gibb's falsetto in my head: "Well you can tell by the way I use my walk..."

But in the same way that we soon learned that Tony worked in a paint shop for $2.25 an hour, blew all his money at the disco every weekend, and had the most dysfunctional family in all of Brooklyn, I too was about to see my wall of bravado come crashing down.

The stretching part actually went quite well. Back in 2003, I had worked with a personal trainer for about 11.7 seconds, and she had taught me some pretty good stretching techniques. It was when I actually jumped on one of the machines that things got interesting. Or pitiful, however you choose to look at it.

I made my way to one of the ellipticals, and made sure I chose one right in front of one of the TV's. I also made sure I was near the area where all of the boys lift weights . These two distractions, coupled with some fabulous hand-picked tunes playing in my head, provided me with just the right amount of entertainment. Said entertainment is necessary because the elliptical is quite possibly the most boring piece of machinery on God's green earth.

But great cardio, man.

I hopped on the machine with all of the aforementioned Manero-esque swagger I could muster. Before starting your workout, you have to program all of this personal information about yourself so it can accurately calculate how many calories you have burned. First on the list is ENTER WEIGHT. Usually the digital scale starts at 150, and you push the Up or Down button in order to get to your weight. I'll let you guess which direction I go in. This is always a slightly embarassing period of time for me because the numbers move rather slowly, and I feel like it takes me 12 years to get to my weight. For some reason, however, this scale started at 50. "Sweet Lord," I thought, "I'm gonna be here all night". So, I pushed the Up button and all of the sudden, it jammed at 59. Fifty-nine pounds.

Um, yeah. In my butt.

As I continued struggling with the machine, I just knew that all eyes were on me now. And I could hear what they were thinking: "Looks like Chub's first time on the elliptical." I wanted to scream at all of them, "I know how to do this! I ROCK on this machine! I raise the roof! I bring the funk!" But alas, Ellipticus Maximus Boringus would not cooperate with me. So, I finally conceded defeat, jumped off of the machine, and hopped on the one next to me. So frustrated, I sounded just like Napoleon Dynamite in my head: "GAH! This is RETARDED!" Fortunately, this elliptical worked fine, I began my workout, and life was good again.

The endorphins started kicking in right away, the boys lifting weights looked good, and my tunes were spurning me on. Then I started to notice that I kept getting looks from every guy that walked by. Lingering looks. This does not happen to me very often, so I began to wonder what this was all about. Was my figure already looking fabulous? Then a guy looked right at me, gave me the thumbs up, and mouthed the words, "I like your shirt." That was it! I was wearing one of my Beatles t-shirts! Boys always dig my Beatles shirts. Major dude-magnet if there ever was one. A modicum of coolness started creeping back into my consciousness. Then, my MP3 player started playing a Johnny Cash song, "Walk The Line." I couldn't help but sing along, "I keep a close watch on this heart of mine." A guy working out right in front of me must have heard me, because he looked up at me at smiled. Oh man, I am in the cool stratosphere now!

And then it happened.

"Walk The Line" drew to a close and my MP3, with its songs in alphabetical order, moved to the next song: "You Light Up My Life", by Debby Boone. "So many nights, I'd sit by my window..." And with that, my cool points went out the window. "You Light Up My Life" was one of the first songs I ever downloaded, because I love schmaltzy 70's pop, and that song was the first that I ever sang in front of an audience. Indeed, "You Light Up My Life" can still bring me to tears. That is who I am. Sentimental, simple, geeky, goofy...miles and miles away from cool.

I completed my workout shortly thereafter, and left the gym feeling great. Euphoric actually. I gave a wink and a goodbye to Tiffany/Kaitlyn/Amber as if to say, "See ya tomorrow kid." As I stepped out into the sun, I said a prayer right then and there, asking God to take away my ridiculous self-consumption and my silly insecurities, and to help me abandon all of my "gotta seem cool" efforts. I further asked Him to remind me tomorrow of how good I felt today, so that there would be no internal battle about whether or not to go to the gym. It is, after all, the right place for me to be.

And as Debby Boone would say, "It can't be wrong, when it feels so right."

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What Is Your Occupation?

I recently spent a Thursday evening signing myself up for the dating website I did so in the company of a few slices of pizza, a couple of margaritas, and a gaggle of some of my best girlfriends (specifically, some of my sorority sisters from Texas A&M). A perfect gathering.

The whole evening was a blast - my girlfriends surrounding me at the computer, encouraging and cheering me on, and all of us cracking up when I had to be really honest on questions like, "How neat do you generally keep your bedroom area?" (um...that would be an unequivocal "not very"). There will no doubt be many funny E-Harmony date stories to tell in the weeks and months ahead, and I will certainly share those with you.

But that is not the purpose of my post today.

When I was filling out my E-Harmony Questionnaire (which is roughly 143,682 questions long, by the way), the first question was: "What Is Your Occupation?" For the first time in my life, I was able to answer that question exactly as I wanted to, and my fingers hurriedly typed the words "Musician/Screenwriter". I felt such a rush upon writing that, but it was quickly followed by a wave of self-doubt. I mean, I've never sold a song or a script. No one outside of my immediate circle knows any of my work. I quit my 14-year corporate job only a few weeks ago. My current occupation, technically, is "Unemployed, Babysitting Occasionally."

I wrestled with this for a moment, and then I remembered a wonderful nugget of wisdom that I once heard screenwriter/director Kevin Smith say. I'm paraphrasing here, but this was the gist: "If you're a filmmaker, then you're a filmmaker. Don't call yourself an aspiring filmmaker. If you're working on making a film, then you're a filmmaker." These days, I spend most of my time writing songs and writing screenplays, so according to Kevin's logic - which I rather like - I am, indeed, a Musician and a Screenwriter.

But I am not writing all of this to tell you what a Hot to Trot job title I have these days. Rather, I want to use this - my very first post in the Blogosphere - to give official thanks and praise and glory to those who have brought me where I am today.

I first offer gratitude to the Lord my God, whose counsel and guidance I have diligently sought and have desperately needed from the moment this crazy "leave-my-job-and-become-an-artist" thing first entered my mind. He has been faithful as ever, and has been extra-gracious and sweet in providing me with all kinds of affirmations along the way. What wondrous love is this, oh my soul. To you, my God, I vow to give honor and glory to Your Name in all of my artistic endeavors.

I second offer gratitude to YOU - my dear family and friends. When I shared my plans with each of you, you invariably responded with encouragement and excitement. Some of you quite literally jumped for joy or clasped your hands together and gasped with glee! All of you proclaimed your belief in me. Many of you offered prayers. Even if you thought that I was a little bit of a nutjob for doing this, you kindly kept those thoughts to yourself. ;-)

There are so many ways to say thank you, and I will be thanking God and you for the rest of my life and in a number of ways.

But consider this the first official one.