Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Stairway to Something Better.

I stared out the glass doors pondering whether or not I should wander out into the streets of Chiang Mai, Thailand, for my morning run. If I did, I would be ignoring my friend's request to use the indoor fitness center instead of venturing out into the streets alone. (The last thing she needed was for the guest worship leader to turn up lost.) If I stayed inside, I'd feel doubt about it!

I strongly dislike indoor fitness centers. Especially when there are new roads to explore. True, I was in unfamiliar territory, but still, I love investigating new landscapes and discovering unique paths - especially in a new country, on foot.

I paused for a moment longer.  Finally, choosing honor over adventure, giving in to what was sure to be "confinement", I turned and meandered toward the steps to see what I could discover within the walls of this new, temporary home.

Once I found the fitness center, I was surprised to find that it was closed.  Now what was I going to do? The temptation to ignore my friend grew stronger.

Made of ornate wooden rails and marble floors, the stairway before me offered a unique option. StairMaster anyone? Sure, it wasn't the adventure I had hoped for, but why not explore the options within my restricted area? I glared at the flight of steps and decided they would have to do.

But as the stairway continued upward, it began to not only challenge my physical endurance (what was I thinking?) but also my bravery. The beautiful floors and railings were changing with each new level, and not in a good way. Where was this leading me anyway? With some hesitation, I continued upward.

"Hang in there kiddo," I said to myself.

"GIVE UP," my legs screamed.

"You can always turn around and go back down," I argued with myself.

The higher I went, the less attractive the stairs became.

Just as I considered turning around and heading back, I discovered an open door at the top of the stairs (18 floors later). Propped open by a bucket, the door invited me to give in to my curiosity and take a peek. My leg muscles begged for a break.

As I stepped out on to what was obviously the top of the building, I wished I hadn't watched so many TV shows where the super hero and the villain end up on the rooftop to finish their final battle. (You know, the ones where the door slams shut behind them and they have to face each other.) I could almost hear the door slam shut behind me, permanently locking me out, away from any possibility of rescue. After all, no one knew I was up there and if that door slammed shut, I was in big trouble.

But with one glance around the roof and it's panoramic view of the city, my quandary over the "open door" vanished.

Suddenly, I giggled with delight at my new found stage. It became my dance floor, my running track and my worship zone for the week. How could I have known that by persevering up those steps, I would actually find something not only better, but amazing? Plus, I honored my friend's request at the same time.

Confinement? No way!! I called it freedom.

Every step had been worth it. 

I was reminded of how often life's circumstances can cause us to feel confined. We have an objective in mind but for one reason or another we feel prevented from achieving it.

What if you:

1) Look for another way to accomplish your objective?
2) Discover a whole new possibility because you took another approach?

“The best way to treat obstacles is to use them as stepping-stones. 
Laugh at them, 
tread on them, 
and let them lead you to something better.” 

- Enid Blyton
Mr. Galliano's Circus

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Long Term Stitches

I should have never told her that I was bored. 

Or maybe I should have.

All I know is that I went from complaining that I was bored to having to make a quilt. What teenage girl wants to sit and do that? Some might, but not me! 

From old clothes to scraps of leftover material, I had to sew patches together, one by one. I've never been good at sewing straight seams and this was the ultimate test of my patience. But today, thanks to that summer of boredom, I have a beautiful finished quilt that I treasure. 

We just celebrated Mother's Day and it's a good time to be reminded that if we want to create families that last, we must be patient and make stitches that will hold them together through all kinds of experiences. They are what I call long term stitches.

There are so many threads of positive traits my parents sewed into the fabric of my life. Not only do I have a beautiful array of material to spread on my bed, but I also have an assortment of healthy lessons and good work ethics that my parents gave me.

What are you stitching into your children or someone else that you love?

As I reflect on my upbringing, I realize there are 3 lessons I learned from the quilting experience with my Mother, for which I am thankful.

1.) Use boredom as a springboard to create something special. 

  • Don't just sit in front of the computer or tv. 
  • Read a book together, pull weeds, tell stories, play games, make a quilt, ride a motorcycle.

I'm so thankful that when I have a free moment, I am generally anxious to put that moment to use. I think that must have come from my parents who valued spending your time wisely and though I am quite sure I complained about having to make a quilt that summer, I can assure you that I am very glad she made me find something creative to do with my time.

2.) Teach them the value of long term stitches.

  • Help them see the value of a finished project.
  • Teach them how to see something through to the end.

I remember when I was living in Oklahoma, attending school. I had moved out there to attend Bible school and become skilled in studying the scriptures. However, while I was out there, I discovered a school that interested the musical side of me. I went to check it out and was eager about switching to their school to study music.

I was on the phone, telling my parents about this new possibility when my Father gently encouraged me to finish the schooling where I had already started. I could always pursue the other training later, but he wanted me to follow through with my previous decision.

I'll never forget that advice, and I'm so glad I kept my commitment. When I finished, I moved to Florida and met my husband, thanks to an opportunity I learned about at the school where I finished. But if I hadn't stuck it out, I would have most likely never learned of the opportunity in Florida, or met my husband. 

3.) Teach them that even small pieces and "scraps" can be used and made into something special. 

  • Affirm them for small accomplishments.
  • Show them how they fit into a bigger picture.

When someone you love makes a mess of something, or does something seemingly insignificant, be sure to help them see the ways it can still be made into something beautiful or the reason it is still significant in the bigger scheme of things.

I spent a few years in the banking industry and though I enjoyed the people I worked with, I soon became bored with the job. I did administrative tasks that felt insignificant, like clipping ads from other banks out of newspapers so that the VP of Marketing could see what other banks were doing. I would squirm when bank Executives walked by my desk. I hoped they knew I wasn't just sitting and reading the paper. There was a purpose to my job!

Those years could seem like a waste, but the truth is, I have been able to use those administrative skills in my music ministry and keep accounts of expenses, income, booking information, traveling details and so much more. I scan for ways that other people in my line of work are operating and try to learn from them, just as I was doing for my boss when I clipped the ads of other banks.

Some of the material used in the quilt my mother had me make were "scraps" of material. Leftovers. Old dresses that I outgrew. But through careful planning and creativity, we were able to find a use for them.

That's the kind of value you can teach your children, your friends and anyone you come in contact with. Help them appreciate the scraps and leftovers in their lives and believe that it all fits into a bigger plan. After all, creating anything of lasting beauty takes long term stitches of patience, foresight and encouragement.  

Thanks to my Mother,
I have this beautiful quilt that we finished together.

Friday, May 6, 2016

From Slobbering to Wobbling to Baby Steps.

He slobbered all over what was going to be our holiday dinner table. Gross!!!!

But as gross as it was, how could you NOT cheer for little Kayden? He was learning to use his arms and legs as he wobbled across the table. The whole family sat and watched him struggle to make progress, his mother urging him to come to her. He kept trying.

It was obvious to all of us that soon he would be crawling. Once he could crawl, he could take baby steps and then nothing would hold him back!

Holding little Kayden on Thanksgiving Day, 2015.
Kayden is my great, great nephew and I think he is the most loved little boy on this planet. 

I am 50 years older than him, but I relate to his struggles. I've been slobbering and drooling over my dreams and wobbling 'across the table' in front of my family for years. They have clapped and cheered for me, thank God!   

I drooled over the possibility of doing my first recording.

Recording my first CD project, "Under The Big Blue Sky".
After I wobbled to the studio I struggled to accept the sound of my voice playing back to me from the recording equipment. (It takes a long time to get used to hearing yourself in a studio.)

Learning the whole process of recording with David Levy at Legacy Lab.
I crawled on to the stage after my first CD was finished and presented it to the world.

My first CD release concert: "Under The Big Blue Sky".
Please clap and cheer for me, I thought. Some day, I want to be able to stand on my own two feet and walk.

Fortunately, they clapped and cheered. And I kept crawling toward my dream.

I drooled over the idea of doing a Portraits of White concert with an orchestra and grand piano and I crawled ever so clumsily toward the conductor asking him to help me. I crawled all the way through the first year of planning, discovering what it really takes to do what I had just slobbered over.

I learned that it's easier to just sit and drool.

I crawled on to the stage a little more confidently than the early years and wouldn't you know, people still clapped and cheered as I crawled 'across the table' again.

Portraits of White 2014.
After the first Portraits of White concert, I finally took my first big baby step. Something shifted inside of me and I became even more focused on slobbering over my dreams. Time to suck it up and start walking, I said to myself.

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." Lao Tzu

I started drooling over another dream a couple of years ago and it went like this:

  • Michael Hyatt's "This Is Your Life" podcast promoted the SCORRE Conference with Ken Davis and I drooled over going to it.
  • A link to another podcast appeared in my 'in box' one day and I began listening to the Dynamic Communicators Podcast with Ken Davis and I started drooling even more over the SCORRE Conference.
  • This week I stopped slobbering and attended the conference. 
  • I wobbled up to the podium and gave my first speech in front of my coach (and 7 others) and fell flat on my face. I went to my room defeated, but determined.
  • I stuck with it all week and had to speak 2 more times. (I thought I would die.) But they all clapped and cheered as I continued to wobble 'across the table' in front of everyone. I took my second baby step and everyone cheered some more. Fortunately, I was not alone in the nursery room.
  • The icing on the cake? Meeting Ken Davis himself and learning from him all week after hours of listening to him on the podcast and drooling over attending some day.
Meeting Ken Davis, after winning a whole pack of his resources by tweeting!
(Maybe there really is something to twitter after all.)

If you are ever going to pursue your dreams, you must realize it's a lifelong process and from my experience, it starts with 3 questions:

1.) What makes you drool?

2.) What makes you so determined that you're willing to look like a fool, wobbling after it?

3.) When you start to get a taste of your dream, can you be content with baby steps?

One day you'll wake up and realize you are well on your way to your dream. So don't be afraid to slobber, wobble and take baby steps!

Look at little Kayden go now!!!
(Thanks Derek and Brittany Albert for letting me use pictures of Kayden.)

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Golden Piano

I don't remember where this piano came from but I do know this: I kept it in hopes that someday I'd have a real grand piano. They say that having a picture or some kind of visual of your dream is a good way to keep it alive. So I held on to this little golden piano.

Now, I'm parting with it. It's item # 30 on my list of "50 things to part with before I'm 50".  My dream has come true. I can part with the little metal replica of what I really longed for.

Another piano I will be parting with soon is the first piano I ever played. It was my Mother's first and only piano. She bought it as a young woman with her own money. It will be item # 50 and will be re-located to the home of my Mother's first daughter-in-law.  Nancy married my Mother's first-born son who was killed in a tragic farm accident when he was 26. I'm glad she can keep it.

I have to say that this has been one of the more difficult things to part with on my list, even though I thought I was ready.  Yesterday, I dusted it off to get it ready for it's new home and I was a bit emotional.

I don't know that I was actually playing the piano in this picture. LOL!
My Mother says I just wanted my picture taken!  So she dressed me up and curled my hair. 
I was happy as could be on this piano until one day my piano teacher bought a beautiful Yamaha baby grand and I was no longer content with our Wurlitzer.  From the first moment I laid eyes on that baby, I wanted one. I started praying for one and have kept on asking for over 30 years.

Playing a duet with Donna Houser - my piano teacher (on her baby grand).
Preparing for my senior recital on the Yamaha at Mrs. Houser's home.
On February 6, 2013, my very own baby grand arrived at my studio. It was my Mother's birthday and we had a frightful snow storm, but the piano movers braved the roads and came anyway.  My prayers had been answered.

My very own Yamaha baby grand.
My kitten loved the piano too.  She'd spend hours on the lid gazing out the window.
Bad kitten!
Finding the baby grand has a unique backstory.

After suffering from debilitating depression, I decided to see a counselor who encouraged me to do something I loved to do as child. Clearly, that was ice skating. "I want you to go ice skating", she said. That's not what I expected to hear from a professional therapist. But I took her advice to heart - about a year after she suggested it.  I know, I'm a little slow. What good could that possibly really do anyway, I wondered.

I had always loved ice skating, but this time, when I stepped onto the rink during a public skate session, something happened inside me. I could feel a new electricity and an idea was borne. A week later, I was at a rink in Harrisburg, at 6:00 a.m. with a new pair of skates and a determination to learn how to figure skate - for real!

In the following weeks, my husband and I sat down and decided that if I was really going to pursue the dream of doing a big Christmas concert, I should have a grand piano to practice on. He would contact our local bank and start the process of borrowing the money to buy one. We prefer not to borrow money, but for some reason, my husband was open to this idea.

We decided together how much we could afford to borrow and went on with our day. I kept going to the rink as usual and he promised to make arrangements with the bank.

One morning, about two weeks into my skating endeavor, I walked into the rink and my coach began a conversation with me.

"Hey - you're a musician - do you know of anyone who might want a grand piano?"

"Well........I might.  What kind of piano?"

"It's a Yamaha, baby grand."

"What color is it?" (I had my heart set on a shiny black one just like my teacher's.)

"It's shiny black", he said in his adorable British accent.

The next morning after skating, I went to his house and played the piano. It was the perfect size for my little studio. It was everything I had wished for. As it turns out, he and his family were moving back to England and didn't want to risk moving the piano across the ocean. This was a fact he couldn't tell me at the time when I asked why they were selling it. Due to privacy issues with a new job he was taking in the UK, he couldn't tell me anything.  

The good news is, I got a piano and the bad news is, I lost my coach. But that's a different story.
He took what we offered and it was such a great deal, we didn't have to borrow the money after all.

Do you have a dream?

Find a small replica or picture of that dream and keep it where you can see it often.

Don't give up on it. Enjoy the journey until it comes true. I know - that seems like an oxymoron when I've been suggesting we let go of things - but there is a time and place for holding on to something that represents a future dream or goal. Trust your instincts when evaluating your "stuff".

From the Wurlitzer, to the Yamaha at my teacher's home, to the golden piano to help me hold on to my dream, to the figure all ties together. It's the beauty of accumulating something and then being able to let go.

It's a beautiful thing to let go of old things and make room for the new. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

High Voltage Dress. BEWARE!

There are 2 yellow dresses hanging in my closet. One used to be full of electrical charge and the other is just a yellow dress.

As I part with "things" I'm learning a lot about why I hold on to stuff.

I look at it this way: every item has varying degrees of voltage. Some things are loaded with emotion and memories and are very "alive" with emotional electricity.  Other things have no voltage whatsoever and getting rid of them is as painless as grabbing a wire that has been cut off from the power supply. There is no life left in it and you receive no harm to your physical body by touching it. Therefore, it's no big deal to let it go.

The dress on the left (above) was a very special dress. I felt really pretty in it. Besides the fact that yellow was my Mother's favorite color, I was very slim at the time I purchased it and I wore it for my very first CD release concert "Under The Big Blue Sky". I even had special yellow shoes to match.

Wearing my yellow dress at my first CD release concert in 2000.
To this day, having matching shoes always feels like a luxury item to me because I rarely had special shoes to match an outfit when I was growing up. They were either white for summer or black for winter. When I have a pair of shoes that perfectly matches a special dress, I feel extra lucky.

One day, my Mother and I were driving somewhere in the car together. In what seemed like a random act, she reached over with her index finger and poked my thigh. "You're getting fat", she said. I was horrified. My Mother had never spoken to me about my weight. I don't tell this to condemn her because, honestly, I've said some things in my lifetime that have shocked me and have been just about as horrible, so it's only to give you a sense of how words, formed like seeds, can be planted, take root and grow - no matter who says them!

I don't recall much after that, but I can tell you that a long time later I was getting ready for a concert in Canada at a church and I will never forget putting on my special yellow dress and suddenly realizing that the skirt was very tight in my thigh area. A very horrific feeling came over me. Had I really gained that much weight?

From that day on, the yellow dress became a measuring stick for me. If the skirt was too tight, I sunk into deep shame. I began to be very self-conscious about my weight and how my clothes fit...or didn't fit. I'll never forget the bathroom in the church where I first became aware and overly concerned. I don't even remember much of the concert, just that moment in the bathroom.

I began a slow descent into obsession with weight gain/loss. I began to be afraid that every bite I ate (even healthy) was going to immediately jump from my mouth right to my thighs. I remember reading Karen Carpenter's story and her struggle with an eating disorder. At the time I read about it, I pitied her but could not relate to her. Years later, I found myself struggling with some of the same issues.

A few weeks ago when I spotted that same yellow dress in my closet, I pulled it out and smiled. Ah yes. It was always full of sparks in years gone by. I remembered the apprehension I'd feel when I'd start to put it on - wondering if I could fit into it or not. If I could, I felt relieved. If I couldn't fit into it, I felt ashamed and overwhelmed.

The downward spiral would begin.

I've been on a journey for the past year. I'm learning to eat well, exercise regularly and make healthy choices, for healthy reasons and stick to it! Our bodies benefit from healthy choices no matter the reasoning, but it leaves our soul in poor condition when we are making good choices for the wrong reason. We can become obsessed with how we look (or don't look). And I've been there.

You may or may not remember my post about The CSD Diet.  (The Christmas Show Dress Diet.) The goal I set last year has been reached but in a much healthier way, thanks to much prayer and perseverance. I've lost 20 pounds and been able to keep it off. But it's not over. I have to continue to make good choices - and for the right reasons! That's no small task, as many of us know.

I'm ready to let go of the yellow dress. The sparks that came from that dress no longer exist. I look at the dress and smile and I feel ready to move on. I'm not even going to try it on. It's moving out of my closet and my life!

I know that letting go of stuff is hard. Now I'm starting to see why. It usually goes much deeper than just a fond memory. So here's what I'd suggest if you want to get rid of things but are having a hard time.

1.) Start with easy things - like a hair pin or sock that has a hole in it.

2.) Keep a list of what you are getting rid of. (Keeping a list can make you feel accomplished!)

3.) Ask "why" is this hard to let go of when you get to more difficult things.

4.) Sit down and write out what that item means to you - the memories you have associated with it and you may begin to find it's importance is much deeper than you thought. You may associate that item with a death, a life or the day you lost your job.

5.) If there is a big electrical charge in an item and you just can't let go, it's ok. No judgement! The day will come when you can let go.

6.) Choose a number to start with: 5 things, 10 things, 50....whatever you want!!! The key is to just start.

7.) Have fun! It can be amazing to let things go.

Open your life to a new era.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

On my Way to 50 and Loving it!

Recently I posted a blog about turning 50: "50 Things to Trash Before Turning 50". I decided to start getting rid of stuff before my birthday. Just another two weeks and I'll be turning the big 50 and I just threw away item # 25 and it sure feels good. I challenged others to do the same thing and a friend told me she's getting rid of 70 things before May - when she turns 70. I love it! That's what I'm talking about.

Some things are very hard to let go of - like my yellow dress. It's more than a dress. It was a measuring stick for my self-esteem and letting go of it is very significant. I'll be blogging about that soon. But there are things that are very easy to let go of so it's fun to see the list of things grow as I let go and grow with it.

50th wedding anniversary present given to my grandparents in 1966.
Today I found this relic from days gone by and I decided to keep it (for now) to help bring in my new year. It's a candle holder that my grandparents were given on their 50th wedding anniversary in May of 1966. I would have been 1 month old at the time of their party.

I was named after my grandmother, Frances Wingert Sollenberger.

When I look at their anniversary memento, I remember them and think about how much life they had already experienced by the time I was born.

Avery and Frances Sollenberger with children Chester and Bertha (my mother).
Then I think about the life I've lived and how I want to live after I turn 50. As I take an inventory of things inside and out I open up my life for new days, new things and new experiences. I can hardly wait!

I'm making space for a new season and welcoming new possibilities!

Are you throwing things away yet?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Oops - I Hit the Easter Bunny.

Last week I mentioned that I was going to blog about getting rid of 50 things before I turn 50. I'm still working away at my list and I will write more about that soon. It's a very interesting process! But something happened on Sunday that caused me to take a rabbit trail this week and I decided to write about my experience.

This past Easter Sunday I hit a rabbit when I was on my way to the gym for a workout before heading to the church to finalize everything for our special Easter services. Some people said I hit the Easter bunny. I don't know for sure, but if you didn't get any candy, it could be my fault. Sorry.

I love to workout on Sunday mornings for two reasons:

a) The gym is EMPTY!  I have it all to myself.
b) It energizes me for the rehearsals and services that lay ahead.

It was still dark and before I could blink, the rabbit darted toward my van. I just kept going. No swerving, no ducking and no crying. Though I did gasp.

It darted back to the side of the road and then back out again. THUMP.  No more Easter bunny.

Instantly, my mind flashed back to an episode I had many years ago where I had a different encounter with a rabbit and was in such a bad state I just wanted to die.

That day, my heart was pounding because I swerved to miss the rabbit and almost hit a semi head on. The bigger problem was that I didn't care if I died. In fact, I secretly wished that I would. I was struggling with severe depression.

I remember thinking to myself, "if I don't swerve, I will hit the rabbit. But if I do swerve, my life could be over."  In a split second I had a decision to make. My life or the rabbit.

I love animals and I go into great emotional distress if I hit one on the road so I usually swerve like crazy to miss! But when I realized that I actually didn't care if the semi hit me and ended my life, I knew that the depression had plunged to an alarming depth. I had become so hopeless that death seemed like the only relief in sight.

Then, logic kicked in and I swerved to miss the bunny AND the truck.

Though I certainly don't relish killing the rabbit this past Sunday, I want to celebrate an obvious sign of progress in my life.  I chose my safety and life over the bunny's this time. I love my life now. I feel so different on the inside, it's as if I'm a different person. It didn't happen overnight, but I appreciate all that I've learned in the process.

Are there days when I still get down? Absolutely! But it's very different than depression. Because of that alarming experience years ago, (and other similar experiences) I paid attention to the warning signs.  I began taking some serious steps to get help and I'm so glad I did.

Here are some tips I learned along the way:

1) Listen to your family.

If they keep telling you that you need help, they are probably right. They know you and love you. Don't write them off.

2) Go get help. Professional help.

Call a friend (if you have to) and ask them to go with you to see a counselor.

3) Pay attention to the advice of the counselor.

Counseling only does good if you listen and apply their recommendations. And give it time!

4) Pray a lot!

Even when you feel like no one is listening. Keep praying, seeking and asking. God is working in ways you can't even imagine and He is working for your good.  It might take a lot of hard work, but it will be worth it.

I remember wishing I could just take a pill and feel better, or better yet, have God zap me and instantly be better.  There are times when He does a miracle and I've experienced some of those times, but for the most part, it seems like we have to walk the hard road and dig deep. But we can come out of the pit with new awareness and tools that help us start walking in healing and wholeness.
It's a lot like training the physical body. You have to keep working at it. You can't expect significant changes overnight.

Yep - I hit the Easter bunny. And though I mourn his loss, I celebrate my own life and healing. On Sunday I sang a solo with the choir :

"It's still the cross
 it's still the blood of Calvary that cleanses sin 
and sets the captive free"

by Mike Harland, Luke Garrett, Buddy Mullins, and Niles Borop

....and I sang it from the bottom of my heart.

He still sets the captives free and I'm one of those that has lived to tell it.