Friday, February 12, 2016

Should I Keep The Gray Hair? (and what does that have to do with life values?)

This week, I sat down with the couple overseeing my assignments about delight and values. I had a lot of questions.

Why am I establishing life values? What's the point of all this anyway?

As they unpacked the reasoning, it began to make sense, in a nebulous way, like an insurance salesman convincing you that you need insurance. You see the benefits on paper and make a decision, hoping you'll never really need it, right? Don't worry about the fine print of your policy. Just go ahead and sign. After all, you probably won't ever actually need the insurance.

Likewise, I have been working on my assignment, whether I think I need it or not. I thought I already know what's important to me, so as long as I'm headed in the right direction, isn't that ok? Do I really need a "core value" policy in place?

Determining your core life values provides clarity when making decisions about moving, relationships, weighing opportunities, discerning vocation, making commitments to social entities and maybe even determining the color of your hair. What??? (But I'll get to that in a moment.)

Here are some helpful questions to ask to get you started.


Based on my "day of delight," I thought I valued music. So I inserted the word music in each of these questions...but you can insert your own.

1. Why does music matter to me?

Music matters to me because it allows me to express what I think and feel. It gets the inside stuff out into the open, in a palatable way.

2. What does music tap into?

Music taps into my soul. I feel alive when I write it, perform it and listen to it. It taps into the creative side of me, the artist in me.

3. What is it about music that feels necessary?

It helps me analyze, process and summarize my feelings, theology, perspective, philosophy and inner meanderings. It even allows the playful side of me to take heavy feelings and distill them into bite size thoughts and keep from taking myself too seriously.

Sometimes what we list on paper is simply an expression of what we value.  For instance, though I love music, composing it and listening to it, perhaps what I really value underneath the music is being able to express myself authentically.

So you could say that music is an expression of my value of authenticity.  I don't feel compelled to write one particular genre of music, but I do feel compelled to write each song authentically within whatever framework the lyrics and melody dictate.  The feeling behind the song often determines the genre.

This could drive marketing and branding people nuts when marketing my music.  My producer has the challenge of keeping my music marketable and yet staying true to who "Frances" is. I think he does a pretty good job of it.

My catalog of songs will probably always include songs that no one will ever hear but they must be written so I can keep my inner life organized.

Therefore, I value authenticity and it's most exhilarating when expressed through music.


Let's take the three questions and apply them to exercise. I mentioned it frequently in my delightful day. But is it a value?

1. Why does exercise matter to me?

Exercise matters to me because it makes me feel in charge of every aspect of me: my mind, will, emotions and inner soul, from which I create.  How I feel after I exercise has such a significant impact on my creative ability that it doesn't really matter what the exercise is, as long as I do something!

I prefer the outdoors as opposed to a gym, but that's simply because ambiance and surrounding either inspires or stifles me. I'd rather ice skate on a pond in the woods on rough ice than go to an indoor rink where the ice is smooth.  To have smooth ice outside would be the best of both worlds.

Just went ice skating here today! It was amazing.
Unfortunately, I usually have to go to a rink because we don't have ice for long in Pennsylvania, let alone in a woods. Activity trumps surrounding in this case. On a very snowy day, I'd rather walk in the snow than go to the gym, but if there's no good place to walk in the snow, I have to go to the gym.

2. What does exercise tap into?

Exercise helps me keep my emotions, mind, body and spirit connected and all facing the same direction. I'm a much happier person when all of me is running smoothly. All areas must be connected or integrated for me to be the most creative.

3. What is it about exercise that feels necessary?

My well-being.

Well-being is a good or satisfactory condition of existence; a state characterized by health, happiness, and prosperity; welfare.

I think I'd say that my underlying core value here is well-being.


I'm still working on this one but it would appear that I also value beauty.  If you look through the pictures on my recent blog post in my "day of delight," it's obvious that I love beauty. It's why I love snow.  It makes the barren land white and soft. It's why I included the seasons.  I love the vivid colors of spring, the green grass and vibrant flowers.  Fall is just as inspiring when the leaves turn their splashy oranges and reds.

Now I know why it was hard for me to live in Oklahoma for two years - the change of seasons wasn't as vivd as in Pennsylvania (at least in Broken Arrow, OK.) In fact, I used to go visit a graveyard in the city to sit and enjoy the one maple tree they had planted there because of its brilliant orange and red colors.

In Florida, I loved the beach, but again, I missed the change of seasons.

Now it all makes sense to me.

1. Why does beauty matter to me?  

It affects my mood. The snow lifts my spirits in the winter.

2. What does beauty tap into?

Inspiration. Creativity. The more beautiful my surroundings, the more inspired I become. 

3. What is it about beauty that feels necessary?  

If I ever feel gray and dull in my soul, color (on the outside) represents "aliveness" to me and helps to remove the colorless mood in my soul. If the outside is dull and "lifeless," I have to work to get my mood into a positive and creative mode.

Now that I know this about myself, I just simply look for something beautiful in the dull day and my mood can change much more quickly.

The props are starting to originate on the inside of me,
 instead of coming from the outside.

Therefore, I value beauty.


Definition: true to one's own personality, spirit, or character:

1. Why does authenticity matter to me? 

It's familiar. I don't know how to be anything else. I can be a great "me". Pretending means I have to become something that doesn't feel natural to me. 

2. What does authenticity tap into?

Natural tendencies. Connection. Power. Freedom.

3.  What is it about authenticity that feels necessary?

I want to live boldly. Daring. Fearless. 

If I can be authentic, I don't need to pretend, which makes me powerful and free. I don't have to "work at it". 

When I'm powerful, I have the ability to do anything.

Yes - I'd say a core value is authenticity.

Back to the insurance policy example!

Remember how I said we hope we don't need the insurance policy, but we get one anyway?

I was hoping I wouldn't need to think through my life values so deeply. If I could just get a good handle on them, that should be enough, right? If I ever need them, I can simply pull them out and review them and go on.

Well, this week, after working on my "list of values," I had a conversation that made me stop and seriously look at my values. "Pull out that insurance policy NOW," I said, "and read the fine print."

It happened because someone recently told me I should color my would look better....I would appear younger. But, letting my hair go gray has been a significant decision in my life.

Why I chose gray!

When I started figure skating about two years ago, it touched something so deeply in my soul that I began to write music about it and I could feel a slow, but steady change taking place. It was so transforming that the result is a new music project coming out this year called "Brand New Me". 

While ice skating, I felt so free and different that I decided to take a really bold step: let my hair go gray. Stop coloring it. I had resisted turning 40 - even despised it. I resisted my gray hair - didn't want to look or be old. However, as the new me began to emerge, I started feeling a new level of freedom.

It was a philosophical reason first and then a frugality decision. I was getting tired of spending lots of money on hiding the gray. I tried coloring it myself years ago and it was a disaster, so that's not an option.

Fast forward to present day and my hair has beautiful silver highlights. They are my very own. They are authentic. I like them. Every now and then I cringe when I walk into a room and realize that I'm identified as old and gray, (like our staff Christmas party game where I was on the "wise and graying" team....OUCH.) However, for the most part, I've enjoyed living on the silver edge and the cringe melts into confidence.
My gray hair - at the 2015 Portraits of White concert.
I have a professional photo shoot scheduled in Nashville for March 17. I've been picking out hair styles and clothes (on pinterest) for the occasion. I have NOT been picking out hair color. I like it just the way it is.

But now someone in the media world is challenging that decision. "Media will not give you the time of day with your hair being gray," they began. "Don't go to Nashville with it like that. Everything else about you looks young and vibrant. Your frame is so small that our eyes are immediately drawn to your hair. It detracts from who you are. Our culture views gray as old and sick." (I promise, I'm not mincing words here - this is what they said). "If someone doesn't know you and sees your CD cover with gray hair," they continued, "they won't give your music a chance". 

Before this part of the conversation, they had nothing but raving things to say about my recent Portraits of White concert. They had been there to see it in action. They believed in what I am trying to do with the concert and want to help me get more exposure in the local area with other media outlets.

I welcome this help because it's a lot to do on my own and I need someone's high recommendation to get my foot in the door. It was said in love because they want to help me, so I received it in that spirit. And I value wisdom so I keep an open mind.

However, I debated with every fiber of my being and came right back with lots of philosophical reasons why they were wrong. "I VALUE AUTHENTICITY," I said. "That's one of my strengths. The churches that I go to seem to love that about me. I let people see the real me. The struggles, the victories. This new project will be all about authenticity and how I got to be a "brand new me". Part of that is my new natural hair color," I argued.

If this scenario would have happened years ago, the old Frances would have gone home devastated and undone. It would have taken me weeks to sort through my feelings and thoughts. But the new Frances fought right back....knew why I had made my decision and why I didn't want to back down. It felt good. 

I guess it's not really a brand new me. Perhaps the real Frances is just finally starting to come out.

Even in the midst of our loud debating, we laughed at our audacity to be so open and honest. Our relationship started because we hit it off so well in a radio interview that we decided to get together and become friends outside of the music business. Nice way to start a friendship.

The bigger issue for me was the message and brand I was planning on presenting with the new project. A new me. Living in freedom beyond the age of 50. (I turn 50 this year and I wanted to do it big.)

I want to encourage women to let their hair go gray (if they want to), learn to figure skate if they want to, paint a picture, take a class, go get a makeover, take a cooking class, go back to school. 

You're not TOO OLD to pursue the passion and gifting inside you - or even discover what that is - unless you want to be on the cover of Seventeen Magazine. That could be a problem. But I think you get the idea.

"Don't challenge me as a woman in my 50's with letting your hair go gray," she continued (now you know she's a she).

"Challenge me to live on the edge with your figure skating, bungee jumping, skydiving, whatever. THAT will make me want to listen - but don't use hair color as your argument for embracing 50. That does nothing for me."

Her last and final whopper of a question only added to my shock: "Do you want to make a living doing music?"

"Yes!" I said without hesitation. 

"Then you need to color your hair."

Then we laughed at our new found friendship that got real honest, real quick and put our trash in the bins at Panera Bread and walked out.

Now I have a decision to make.

I don't know what I'm going to do, yet. But I can tell you this; I'm looking at my core values a lot more seriously. I get why this matters now. Even though it's just hair color. There are way more important things than hair color for Pete's sake! But it's the principle of the thing. Authenticity matters - not hair color.

Yes, in the end, whether I stay gray or not, I think it's the WHY behind all of this that will determine my decision. If I can be authentic and color my hair - so be it. If not, I think I'll stay gray. But as she pointed out, what if the color of my hair keeps people from receiving my message? 

Does it really matter? 

What do you think I should do?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Let Her Down Gently

I dropped my brother and his wife off at the BWI airport and started the two hour drive home. It was Monday. First day of the work week, first day after our mother's memorial service.

I hate goodbyes.

Personally, I think one of the hardest moments of grief is right after the funeral when all your friends and family leave to go home. You head back to your house and realize that life is not going to be the same anymore. The people who were with you throughout the death and funeral proceedings serve as a sort of cocoon and you feel safe and warm there, even in the midst of your grief. When they leave, it's as if you are birthed out into the cold world, naked. You are fragile and helpless. You need to be treated gently and given some time to adjust.

A melody and lyric presented themselves as I drove.

"let her down gently 
everybody's gone
going home to lonely
so let her down gently"

I wrote it down and never finished it. (I don't think my producer wants me to write anymore songs about death.) "You have plenty already," I can hear him say, and I giggle.

Two Stones

My mother's name has been engraved on two tombstones ever since I can remember. Having had two husbands, both preceding her in death,  I'm sure it was a decision of frugality and practicality to go ahead and have her name etched on both stones.

I always dreaded visiting the cemetery, partly for that reason.  It was a very vivid reminder that someday she would die. It was eery because her name and birthdate appeared, along with a blank space for the date of her death, waiting for it to happen. It's a lot for a child to process.

February 6 was her birthday and we just passed the second one since she's been gone. I haven't been able to go back to the home where she died ever since September 2014. It's too painful. In fact, I've even avoided the roads around it.  Secretly, I was afraid that they would force me to drive by and I just wasn't ready. Yet, I have felt guilty because there are people at this home that I would like to go visit but my selfish grief has kept me away.

I hate guilt. I used to hate grief even more.

Saturday, on her birthday, I had an event to do in the town where she died. Feeling a bit nostalgic, I took the long way so I could stop and visit her grave. "Yep - here I am, doing it - the very thing I despised when I was young," I smiled to myself.

As I was walking toward her spot, I had this unusually strong impression that she was no longer there. Now, I know that in my head, but my heart prefers to go visit her graveside anyway. It still brings comfort somehow, but this impression was so strong that it almost made me turn around and leave. I've never sensed that so strongly when visiting my family's graves.

But I wanted to see the date listed on her memorial. I haven't seen it since they etched it in last summer. Just as I reached for my phone to take a picture to send to my siblings, I saw a text from my brother in New Mexico reminding us it was her birthday. Interesting timing!

As I walked away, I had the resounding sense of completion - and not just the date on her tombstones. Something in my soul felt free. Knowing she isn't there somehow lifted my step.

Bertha Mae Sollenberger Crider Heisey
February 6, 1923 - September 24, 2014
As I drove toward the church where I was to speak, I came upon the little road to her home and decided to take it. And wouldn't you know, it took me right by the place where she died, and once again, I had the strong sense of freedom from grief.

Not only was she NOT in the cemetery, she was NOT at the home I so dreaded going to. I drove by - looked it square in the eye and smiled.  She's not there anymore.

My heart finally agreed with my head.

I wanted to go home and blog about my experience but the words felt like peanut butter in my spirit. However, I had a strong sense if I would work on the song, I could now finish it and the song would express what I want to say. I guess I just needed more time to live through the grief and grow to the other side of it.

Of all the songwriting tools available to me, the piano is usually the most productive one of all. I sat down at the piano and it came - easily, quickly and clearly.

I have songs that I've started and slaved over and still can't finish. When one comes this easily, it's a treat. I doubt you will ever hear it on one of my CD projects (unless I do one on grieving) but in light of the subject of my recent blog posts, I thought it would be an appropriate way to show you what it's like to take a song idea, process, write and record it. A snapshot into my "day of delight."

(I say that because a fan-turned-friend recently asked if she could come and sit in my studio and watch me write a song.  Oh my!!!!  No way!!!  It's such a personal process. Sorry - I said.)  

So this is the best I can do to let her in on my process.

The pictures aren't professional for the most part - but they represent my life. Joy and tears. Life and loss. It's my family's story.

Know someone who has recently lost a loved one?

Give her/him space.

Don't carve out her grief journey for her. Let her find her way. Just be there for her, and please.....let her down gently.

Click here to hear and see the song.