Playing in the Key of C

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When I was taking piano lessons as a child, one of my exercises was playing scales. Of course, C was the easiest to play – all white keys. It got a little more complicated as the scales of F and G were added, one with a flat and the other with a sharp. Then, they got harder and harder as more sharps and flats were added, and constant practice was needed to teach my fingers where they should go.

Among the simple little pieces my piano teacher gave me were hymns. Of course, I began with the ones in the key of C, and mastered them pretty quickly. “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus” was one of the easier ones. Another was “Jesus is Tenderly Calling.” I moved on to hymns with one flat or one sharp. Since I learned to read music the traditional way, I read both the treble and bass clef, and didn’t know about chords or chord progressions until years later when I took organ lessons. My brain was forced to look at both clefs and relay the message to each of my hands about which notes to play.

I remember my teacher showing me each new hymn and making me study the music before I ever put my fingers on the keyboard. She would tell me to think in that particular key. For instance, if the hymn was in the key of G, she had me look for all of the F sharps in the song and picture in my mind my fingers going to the black key. I learned to concentrate on the key of the music before I ever attempted to play it. I would then play a few scales in the key of G to warm up.

The difference between flats and sharps never bothered me. I have friends who are amateur or hobby musicians like I am who tell me that they can’t play flats, or they can’t play sharps. They hand pick the hymns as those that fit their particular criteria. Because of the way my piano teacher taught me, I was never daunted by the difference.

I did freak out, however, when the hymn had more than two flats or sharps. But by using the approach I was taught, I was able to play, if not master, most of the hymns I wanted to learn.

Isn’t life a lot like playing in the key of C when things are going smoothly in our lives? We find that we travel effortlessly along the white keys of life. We don’t even have to consider, worry about, or work to avoid the black keys. But as life becomes more complicated, and challenges pop up in our musical score adding sharps and flats along our way, our fingers have to work a little harder and train themselves to maneuver in order to make sweet music. We discover that sometimes we need to stop and study what is going on in our lives, and anticipate the change in the pathway. Through prayer, contemplation, and meditation, we are able to set our hearts and souls for the change in path.

These days, my music page of life has turned from a song in the key of C to one in another key. Things aren’t quite as predictable as they have been for the past couple of years. I am facing new challenges, unknown melodies, and probably some sharps and flats in my life. I need to set my mind to think in a new key, and prepare myself for some time on the black keys.

It may not be easy, but I’m hopeful the result will be some beautiful music.

Goodbye 2016. Hello New Year.

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The New Year has a way of haunting me as January 1 draws nearer. I know it’s just another day, but for me it’s a time of looking back, taking stock of where I am right now, and gazing ahead for perhaps a glimpse of what is in store for me in the coming year.

The past few nights I have been awakened by dreams reminding me of my past and filling me with a mixture of regrets, feelings of accomplishments, and memories of pure joy, deep sadness, and even loss – all jumbled together in a sleep-depriving slide show of my history. As I contemplated all that is part of who I am, I reached out to God in gratitude for delivering me from evil, for walking beside me during trying times, for teaching me about what real love is all about, and for giving me my life.

And now, today, on New Year’s Eve, I turn the final page of 2016, the pages filled to overflowing with my words, thoughts, prayers, and wishes. I close the book, but I don’t seal it. I can always return to this year in my memories, and be reminded of this great and wonderful gift called life and of the year of 2016. A new book awaits me, its pages blank and ready to receive whatever each day decides to grant me.

Last year I wrote a list of things to NOT DO in the New Year. I didn’t accomplish my goals entirely, but I can report proudly that I have not put on a sports bra backwards in 2016. (See my blog from last year to read my list: https://jennielousdays.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/my-to-dont-do-list/ ). But I also have to admit that I fell off the chocolate wagon over the Christmas holidays, and I enjoyed far too much candy and cookies. The New Year is a good time to re-group, get back into good habits, and take a bold step forward.

2016 is waving goodbye as she approaches the door into years past. She is taking with her tender memories of dear friends I have had to say farewell to this year, of great personal accomplishments that at times seemed daunting and unattainable, of prayers for healing and those answered prayers, of fears over the fate of our nation during the most disturbing political race I’ve ever experienced, and a plethora of moments and days that brought tears to my eyes merely from the pure joy of being alive and acknowledging my small place in this remarkable universe.

As she moves closer to that door, 2016 pauses to glance back at me and with thumbs up and a broad smile, she wishes me Godspeed into 2017.

I pull out my book with blank pages, and I am ready to write!

“I Can Do It Myself,” said the Little Red Hen — Again

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“I can do it myself,” said the Little Red Hen. And she did.

I wrote these words last summer as I held my newly published novel, Fishbowls and Birdcages, in my hand, bursting with pride, and hardly believing that I had actually brought a lifelong desire to fruition. I felt like I Had Arrived. What else could I ever wish for in my life?

As I sit in the one space left in the living room of my little apartment that isn’t covered with various items symbolizing my life and all that is me and mine, surrounded by packed boxes and a rolled up rug, I look around me and again I can say, “I can do it myself.” And I can, and I am.

I never dreamed that I would ever live anywhere besides this little apartment, or one like it, for the rest of my life. The thought of living in a real house again was as far off my radar screen as the nearest star in the universe. A mere twinkle in the night sky, not worthy of my focusing on it for any more time than it takes to make a wish upon it.

But then, one day a couple of months ago, a thought popped into my head. Maybe I could buy a house. Or maybe the thought didn’t just pop in; perhaps it was planted. It so happened that in the prayer group I joined last winter included a real estate agent and a mortgage banker, who I know were put in my path to play a pivotal role in this crazy idea of mine. I began praying to God to light a path for me if this was something that I should do. My new friend, the real estate agent, volunteered to carry the lantern for me along this new path, and we began looking for houses I could afford. They were few and far between, and among those we visited were homes I couldn’t imagine actually living in. Who would have a small house for sale, one in my price range, and one that had been someone’s beloved home, and one that was looking for me?

Besides, could I do this on my own, all by myself? If the Little Red Hen could do it, then maybe I could, too!

One by one, things started happening – strange and wonderful things. The light on my path remained bright, in spite of bumps in the road and many hoops to jump through. Encouragement greeted me everywhere, even when I felt like I needed to forget about this venture and stay put where I am. I found a house I really liked – it seemed to draw me in and call me by name – but the asking price was $15,000 more than my budget allowed. My agent encouraged me to make an offer, and I did. A week later, I had a contract on the house, not at the price I felt was my upper limit, but at one close enough that I felt I could handle it.

It hasn’t been easy. I’ve been on the verge of throwing up my hands and proclaiming “I quit!” a few times in the process. But the light on the path has remained constant, and the promise, “I will take care of you,” has been a daily reminder to me, evidenced through the encouragement from my friends and family, my daily devotionals, and my inner desire to have a home of my own.

Yesterday morning, I was awakened by my phone chirping and announcing I had a text. The words from my mortgage banker friend were, “File is clear to close.” I cried, I jumped out of bed and twirled. I thanked God.

And then I took my dog, Sunshine, for a walk, and took a photo of my lighted path.

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I move into my new home next weekend.

I’ve Been Busy!

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The other day at work, one of my co-workers asked me, “Have you been writing much lately?”

I had to confess, “No, I’ve been too busy. Although I have been writing in my journal. But that’s about it.”

So, what has been keeping me too busy to sit down to write on the two projects I have underway – 1)sending out queries on the non-fiction book I completed last spring; and 2) wrapping my brain around the beginnings of a new novel which has found its beginnings on paper, but is mostly swimming around in my head?

To begin with, summer happened. And with summer came gardens, making marinara sauce from my fresh tomatoes to store for the winter and fresh pesto from my basil, reunions, hot, hot, hot weather where the only refreshing place to spend an afternoon was in the swimming pool, and one other thing.

And what is that one thing that has kept me too busy to write, other than pouring my heart out in my journal on a nightly basis?

It all started so innocently. I live in a small apartment in an old house that has been converted into three apartments. This summer, the walls began closing in on me. My throat was itchy for no reason that I could account for whenever I was home for any length of time, my two house-mate neighbors moved out, leaving me wondering who would be moving into the two apartments, and I began feeling like the need for a change was in the air. I started checking the rental websites for my area of Georgia, only to find that rental houses were far too expensive for me to afford, and most of the apartments in this area either don’t allow pets or had no vacancies.

I began thinking that maybe I should look into buying a house. I prayed to God to light this path if it was the one I should take. I followed up by asking a real estate agent friend if she would like to carry my lantern on this uncharted path upon which I was embarking. And with this, we began looking at small houses as they became available in my town.

As we searched, and doors were opened and then closed, my journal was the welcome recipient of my fears and anxieties, as well as my excitement over the possibilities of purchasing a house. One day, my agent/friend showed me a small home that I loved, but the asking price was well over my maximum limit of how much I could afford. “It’s negotiable,” she reassured me, and after a few sleepless nights, some really crazy dreams when I did sleep, and a lot of prayer, I made an offer.

Long story short, I now have a contract on a pretty little ranch about three miles from where I now live. I am excited and terrified at the same time. Who’d have ever thought that I would be in the position of being able to buy a house – all on my own?

But then, I go back to four years ago. I was looking at this little apartment that I am now getting ready to leave, knowing that I couldn’t afford it. There was no way my monthly pay check was going to cover my expenses! I was excited and terrified, but I knew in my heart that this was what I needed and where I needed to be. And somehow, some way, I paid my rent every month, kept up with my monthly expenses, and was even able to save a little money here and there along my way.

So, here I am. I’ve been busy – busy finding a house that fits into my price range, busy doing the math trying to make it work, busy worrying and fretting over all things unknown, busy praying that God would light the path for me, and busy jumping through all the hoops required for purchasing a home.

If all goes as planned, closing on my new home will be September 30, and I will move in the first of October. A new chapter in my life is beginning, one as exciting as any I’ve had in my lifetime. God has provided a light for my path, which leads to the front door of my new home.

Indeed. I’ve been busy.

Does God Need an Invitation?

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Every now and then I run upon something on Facebook that causes me to back up and take another look. The following, with the name edited out, was posted this morning, finding its way somehow to my Facebook Timeline.

“I’ve invited God over to my house to spend the day. Today will be a continuous day of prayers. My son’s brain surgery is this morning. I know all our family and friends have [my son] in their prayers.”

I wonder if anyone else thinks this is an odd statement. While it received a long list of comments of “Praying”, and other similar comments and statements of love and support from this person’s Facebook friends, I couldn’t just let it go without further thought and a comment on my blog.

I didn’t know the history of this beloved son’s brain problem. Is it a tumor that has been growing for some length of time? Is it an aneurism which requires immediate attention? Is it something malignant? Or benign? As I delved deeper into Facebook, I learned that this young man has cancer, so these questions were answered for me, after quite a few clicks into other people’s posts and timelines.

Now my questions are, “Where was God yesterday? Why was God only invited into the house today to spend the day? Why did God need to be invited in the first place? Will this person still need God tomorrow? Will God be asked to leave if things don’t go well?

I am sure that many prayers have found their way to God concerning this young man and his cancer. And I’m sure the parent who posted this has prayed many, many prayers for the health of her son. I feel confident that her home is filled today with prayers and petitions for her son’s recovery. What puzzles me is the phrasing of her Facebook post.

I don’t want to sound judgmental – I would be asking for prayers for my son should he ever face something like this in his life. My Facebook friend had her own way of letting her friends know of her need for support and prayers, and I know that God is listening and answering those prayers.

The statement did make me stop to think, however, about my own spirituality and beliefs about God. My knee jerk response upon reading this post – to myself, of course – was, why just for today? And why did God need an invitation? For me, God doesn’t need to be invited to my home. God IS my home, and God has invited ME to be part of God’s great home. I believe that God is with me in every breath that I take, wherever I am and wherever I go. Everyday. Not just when I need something from God. Not when something bad happens. Not only for today, but also for every minute of my life. God is as close to me as my own heartbeat.

I thank God for being there with – and guiding the hands of – the surgeons operating on this young man today, for being with the nursing staff that will be monitoring him as he begins the recovery process. I also thank God for the faith and strength of the parents, relatives, and friends. Most importantly, I thank God that an invitation isn’t necessary. God is with us even before we ever put out an invitation.

Always.

Sunshine Leads the Way

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I wasn’t much in the mood for an early morning walk this morning. I told Sunshine that we’d go around the block, and that would be it until later today. Sunshine had other plans for me.

Walking up the street towards town, we have three choices. We can go straight to the traffic light and turn right to walk up a lovely wide sidewalk lined with trees and old-fashioned street lamps – very picturesque. We can then either double back around the block to home, or continue on past the old textile mill, then make a wide arc through town, making about a two mile circle. Third, we can cross Alcovy Street and turn left before reaching the traffic light. This route leads to Childers Park, which I believe is the essence of heaven for Sunshine. My plan was for the shorter trip this morning.

Sunshine didn’t get my memo. When we got to the decision-making spot, she pulled to the left ahead of me, telling me in no uncertain terms that we WERE going to the park. I couldn’t convince her otherwise. She’d hear none of my complaints or rationalizations for a short walk this morning. I simply couldn’t force her to go the other direction.

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Sunshine led the way. She knows the route to Childers Park, and guided me as if I’d never been there before. I think that if I were blind, she would lead me there with no problem. We stopped at the four-way stop at the Baptist Church, where she looked both ways before leading me across. Stopping only once to pee in her favorite ivy garden, she was on a mission – ears back, tail down – not even stopping or yanking at the leash when a squirrel dashed by in front of us.

One-half mile down the street is the entrance to the park, and in we went. Sunshine was satisfied. Her ears perked up, and her tail took its “I’m happy” position. Sounds and smells galore for this young lass! Again, she led the way. The park has paths that zig and zag through trees, a dog park, a small meadow, a tiny creek, and park benches for an occasional rest. There were no other people or dogs in the park this morning. I let her take me where she wanted to go. While she paused to sniff, I listened to the birds singing. While she watched squirrels darting to and fro, I noticed the long shadows the morning sun was casting. While she stopped to examine a dead stump, I looked toward the sky and watched the puffy clouds drift lazily above. When she perked up her ears at the sound of a distant leaf blower, a prayer from my childhood bubbled to the surface of my thoughts.

“Thank you for the world so sweet,

Thank you for the food we eat.

Thank you for the birds that sing.

Thank you, God, for everything.”

It was time to go home. Again, Sunshine made the decision which exit to take out of the park. We went through the ancient grove of pecan trees,  past the little white church on the corner, up the hill, and back to the four-way-stop. In a perfect heel, Sunshine was now content and not pulling one bit. We strolled back down the street toward our house.

Sometimes I believe that Sunshine is my spirit guide.

This morning, I am sure of it.

 

My To-Don’t-Do List

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I’m a little late with New Year’s resolutions, of which I swore off of years ago. Instead I have decided to do something a little different this year. I am making a To-Don’t-Do list. This list doesn’t represent things in my past I wish I had done differently, of which there are plenty! My list consists of things I want to remind myself not to do.

  1. Don’t let hurts from the past keep replaying in your brain. Let them go, Jennie!
  1. Don’t make excuses for your daily walk, especially in the winter – you won’t melt in the rain or freeze to death in the cold. You have warm jackets, hats, and gloves, and a good raincoat and umbrella.
  1. Don’t neglect to thank God every morning for the brand new day and every night for everything! Remember the lessons you’ve learned about gratitude and grace.
  1. Don’t eat too much chocolate, and don’t reach for the Reese’s Peanut Butter cups in the grocery store. You don’t need them!
  1. Don’t neglect praying for your sons every day, several times a day.
  1. Don’t forget to play “toss the toy” with Sunshine when you come home from work in the evenings, even if it late. She misses you when you are gone.
  1. Don’t let housework get in the way of going outdoors to do something fun. You live alone – it can wait!
  1. Don’t procrastinate on sending someone a note, phoning a friend, or sending a friendly email when you get a mental nudge to get in touch. It could be an angel delivering a message for you to act upon.
  1. Don’t frown. Or even look solemn. People like to see your smile.
  1. Don’t forget to sing, at least once a day. You don’t have to do it in public. In the car is good. Also remember that you share a bathroom wall with your neighbor next door. Don’t sing in the shower!
  1. Don’t pick the last flower. Leave at least one for someone else to enjoy.
  1. Don’t walk when you can skip.
  1. Don’t overeat. You know you feel better when you aren’t stuffed.
  1. Don’t wish your life away. Remember to live in the present, prepare for the future, but don’t obsess over what might, or might not, happen.
  1. Don’t beat yourself up over past mistakes and failures. Focus, rather, on the lessons you’ve learned, the grace gifts you’ve received, and the person you are becoming.
  1. Don’t forget those lessons you learned! And don’t make the same mistakes again!
  1. Don’t worry about your looks. You are 67 years old. You’re not supposed to look like a spring chicken. Don’t fret over what time is doing to your body. Remember that it is your vehicle for getting around in this world. Focus on staying healthy and in good working condition. Again, think about gratitude!
  1. Don’t put your sports bra on backwards again. It is much more comfortable when worn the correct way.
  1. When picking berries, fruit, or vegetables, don’t stand on an anthill. This is another lesson learned that you know you don’t want to repeat – ever!
  1. And finally, don’t ever stop writing. You know you are more grounded and centered when you write. Even when you don’t feel like it, you usually have something that you can say. And maybe, just maybe, some of your words may reach someone to help them along their way. Who knows?