"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light..." (Isaiah 9:2)
Greetings and Merry Christmas!
Here is a shot of the Christmas lights on the fence outside my home in Charleston, SC. Audrey and I had a great time decorating the fence this year, and I'm sure that it was great fun for the neighbors to watch two blind ladies untangling and stringing Christmas lights! :) We pray that the light of Christ shines in all that we do every day.
From beginning to end, 2016 has been packed with God's blessings in my life, music and ministry! Since the January release of my latest album "Living That Story," this collection is now available on CD, as well as on iTunes and other popular download/streaming sites. Recording has changed a lot since I released my first cassette album back in 1993. Now, thanks to accessible computer technology, I can enjoy much more independence in recording and producing an album. With this technology and the Internet, I can work on projects like this in collaboration with people all over the world! God's Light keeps shining in ways that I never would have dreamed to be possible!
The weekend of February 14 found me in my home state of Illinois, with musical engagements in the Champaign and Springfield areas. For me, the beautiful snowfall that greeted me while I was there felt like a personal Valentine from the good Lord Himself! Seeing many old friends and meeting new ones made that weekend extra special!
Whether presenting in front of a church, or working behind the scenes to help folk feel welcome, wanted and loved in God's House, the subject of "The Church and People With Disabilities" continues to bee a priority. In the spring, Audrey, Jessie and I were called up the road to Goose Creek, SC for an "Able to Serve Sunday" presentation at St. James United Methodist Church. Amid the warm welcome and enthusiastic response from this congregation, we were inspired to meet a young lady named Donna. Having served in Afghanistan, Donna was awaiting a lung transplant. We were deeply moved as Donna looked beyond her own health challenges to pray with us and assist us in our presentation.
This year, more talking Bibles have been placed in the hands of people with blindness and other print disabilities, as well as others having mobility issues which make it difficult to hold a book. In the spring, we were contacted by a representative of Project Okurase, an organization based here in Charleston. Project Okurase works with the people of the rural West African village of Okurase in Ghana. We met with Francis, a twelve-year-old boy, blind from birth, who was brought to the United States for the diagnosis of his eye condition since proper evaluation was not available in Ghana. Francis has Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA). We were able to refer Francis and his guardian to an independent vision teacher who specializes in orientation and mobility. Francis and his family are Christian, and I found a solar powered talking Bible (The New Testament) in his native tribal language of "Ewe" (pronounced "Ay-way).
This past summer, I assisted with coordination and participation in presenting for area day camps, collaborating with others from the Charleston area's blindness community. Here I am with friend and fellow Dixie Lander Kimberly and her guide dog "Fonzie."
Together, we educated sighted children--ages seven thru fifteen--on the subjects of Braille, proper etiquette when meeting a blind person--with or without a service dog--, accessible technology and much more.
We also assisted area Girl Scouts in earning their merit badges relating to disabilities and service animals. Here, Audrey, her guide Jessie and I posed with scouts, their leaders and our puppy raiser friends Mike and Peggy who joined us for this presentation.
On July 31st, I truly felt the impact--and was able to serve as a witness--of God's Grace and mercy. I was walking my pet Lab, Sonny, around my neighborhood as I do every day. I approached a driveway with which I am very familiar. A car was idling in the driveway. I stopped for a moment to listen to the car. Then, I continued across the driveway behind the car, just as the driver punched it in reverse. The right rear of the car caught my right hip and I fell. The driver was absolutely beside herself. Her sister had just been taken to the hospital and she confessed that she wasn't even looking as she backed out of the driveway. I was fine, just stiff and sore with a few bruises, scrapes on my knee and hand, and torn jeans. The driver helped me retrieve Sonny, who is soooooo not a guide dog and had occupied himself with some cat food on the porch. Then, she asked me if I needed anything.
As I stood talking to this lady, I kept hearing the words "Grace" and "mercy" in my heart. We live in such a litigious society. One can't watch a single program on TV without hearing the advertisement for an attorney to call if one has been in an accident. I gave the driver a hug, asked her sister's name and promised to pray for both of them. Then, after admonishing her to please be more careful, I finished our walk (torn pants and all) and headed home. I was stiff and sore for four days, but never missed a day of walking my dog. By the end of that week, we were back to our regular brisk pace. Praise God!
In the fall, we here in Charleston battened down the hatches to prepare for an unwelcome visitor named Hurricane Matthew. While many people evacuated, a lot of us (myself included) stayed put and hunkered down in place to wait out the storm. Damage in my immediate neighborhood was minimal and we lost power for less than 24 hours. Others in the greater metro area of Charleston and throughout the state were not so fortunate. The storm was quite unnerving to say the least. Fierce winds roared thru the night and all the next day. Transformers exploded all around, and mature trees were snapped as if they were little twigs. Thru it all, we were kept informed by realtime radio/television coverage and alerts from some of the top meteorologists in the nation who happen to live and work here in Charleston. It was truly a blessing also to have such a supportive network of friends and neighbors. Those victory shouts of "We made it!" really meant a lot as we all began to venture out of our homes again.
Every day, we pray that God will put us where He wants us, and use us where He puts us. Guide Dog Users of Florida will be hosting Top Dog-2017 in Orlando this coming January, and we South Carolina affiliate members have been providing administrative and promotional assistance as needed. Once again, we have been asked to participate in "The Blessing of the Guides," one of the highlights of Top Dog since that first workshop was held in 2006. I have also been providing technical support for the Not Alone Internet Ministry. This ministry reaches out from St. Louis, Missouri to blind people all over the world with an accessible Bible study and weekly devotionals featuring Pastor Dave Andrus and colleague Cecilia Lee, both totally blind. Earlier this year, I was commissioned to write a song for the "Heart and Soul" choir of Central Christian Church in Decatur, Illinois for their annual concert in June, 2017. I am currently working on that project, and preparing for music and ministry in Georgia next spring.
We continue to be available to serve as peer mentors for our blind brothers and sisters, and those who are in the process of losing their sight. Most of this mentoring takes place via phone or Internet. We consider it an honor and a gift to hear someone's confidence growing as they speak and to witness them learning to solve many of their own problems. I personally find that I am most often the one who is mentored, and I thank God for every opportunity that He gives me to shine His Light.
I also thank God for you. Your prayers and support help keep my ministry and me going and growing in God. Stay tuned for more posts in the coming year. Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart!
Laurel Jean's Blog
Highlights from my Life of Music and Ministry
Saturday, April 30, 2016
"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—" John 10:14
"Make yourself at home." That's what my paternal grandfather used to say whenever I would visit my grandparents' farm. Then, he would laugh and say, "Have a chair and sit down beside it."
My parents divorced when I was very small and my dad was killed on his job when I was just seven years old. As the years have passed, I've been blessed to meet and become better acquainted with many of my dad's close friends and distant relatives. Though I spent a rather small amount of time with my paternal grandparents as a child, I have also come to treasure some really precious memories of them.
Throughout his life, Grandpa Walden was a farmer by profession. In addition to planting and tending the fields, he raised sheep and also raised and trained border collies to herd sheep. One of my favorite childhood memories is of Grandpa allowing me to stand in the sheep pen while one of his dogs brought the sheep from the pasture. Grandpa would give his dog special commands to herd the flock of sheep all around me. The dog would then hold them in one place so that I could walk among them and touch them.
My grandpa even had his own shepherd's staffs which he had hand-whittled from large tree saplings. Sadly, to my knowledge, those staffs were lost in a fire.
Fast forward a few years on my journey of music and ministry. I was in Lincoln, IL one Sunday morning presenting for the Lincoln Church of the Nazarene. Orienting myself with the church, I stood in the pastor's office prior to the service. I reached out to touch the wall beside me as I often do, when what should I find but a beautifully hand-carved shepherd's staff! I couldn't stop admiring that staff and told Pastor Greg about my Grandpa Walden who had since passed away.
Weeks later, I received a call from Pastor Greg asking when I would again be in the Lincoln area. We made arrangements to meet and he surprised me with my very own shepherd's staff!
Unbeknownst to me, this generous, discerning pastor had contacted the man who carved his shepherd's staff and had told him about me. The two then contacted Rev. Bill Dolan, Lincoln's Christian radio WLLM station manager who is also blind, and asked him to give them a sample of the words "Grandpa Walden" spelled out in Braille. On the shank of my shepherd's staff, fasteners similar to upholstery pins serve as simulated Braille dots to form my grandfather's name.
This shepherd's staff is one of my most valued possessions. It made the journey with me when I came to Charleston, SC where I currently live. In addition to bringing back precious childhood memories, it serves as a reminder that—whatever our geographical location or life circumstances may be—we can always "make ourselves at home" as part of the family of God.
Our Good Shepherd has laid down His life for us. He is risen and has ascended to prepare a place for us! What a magnificent gift!
Has another member of the Body of Christ gone out of their way to make you feel "at home?" What can we do to make others feel the same? Leave a comment to share your thoughts.
Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart.
© 2016 by Laurel Jean Walden
Friday, February 5, 2016
"…The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23, World English Bible)
As I write, the earthly lights of Christmas are safely tucked away for another season. Our churches and our lives are wrapped in the garment of "Ordinary Time." Still, child of God that I am, I want to hear that story, just one more time! I want to live that story always! Don't you?
"Oh, won't you tell me one more time? It brings me so much joy
To hear of Mary, and of Joseph, and that Baby Boy…"*
One more time…won't you join me on this journey of joyful mysteries, to visit once again the people and places surrounding our Lord, Jesus Christ as He came into this world?
Wait with me in the temple courtyard with the crowds to greet a speechless Zacharias who has just been told by the angel Gabriel that he and his wife Elizabeth will be blessed in their old age with a son (John the Baptist.)
Let us reminisce together with Mary, the mother of Jesus, of the time when she, too, was visited by that angel Gabriel. We'll follow her as she hurries away to the hill country of Judea to the house of her cousin Elizabeth. Can you hear their emotional greetings and praises to God as they spend time together, preparing for that truly awesome work which God is doing in their lives, and ours?
Come with me to weep and pray with Mary as she is found to be with child after returning home. Witness her unwavering trust in God as she prays for Joseph and surrenders completely to God's Will.
Pause with me a while at the Bethlehem manger to praise and worship God for the gift of His only Son. We'll sit with the innkeeper as he beholds this wondrous Love of God, exclaiming, "The Child for Whom I had no room came to prepare a place for me!"*
Let us follow Mary and Joseph to the temple in Jerusalem as they present their firstborn son in accordance with the law of the Lord. Can you hear the tearful praises of Simeon and Anna as each takes their turn, gathering the Child Jesus into their arms and blessing Him for His journey?
Then we'll return with Mary and Joseph to the temple years later to find that the young boy Jesus, presumed to be lost, has been about His Father's business all along. Hear that gentle reminder for us to "take His hand. Let's make every day Christmas..."* a celebration of His Love, "…living that story He lives in you and me."*
"Living That Story" is available on CD thru my Web site. You can purchase online with PayPal, call me with your credit card order, or print my order form to purchase by mail using check/money order. If you buy any three items directly thru my Web site, shipping is free. Check it out and hear samples on my "Albums, Etcetera" Page.
The download version of this album can be purchased currently thru my outstanding digital distributor CDBaby, here.
"Living That Story" will also soon be available on your favorite download and streaming sites such as iTunes and Amazon. Just do an artist search for "Laurel Jean" to bring up my music. Currently, two singles "Whatever" and "The Blessing of Your Love," as well as my "Journey Home" collection are available on these sites. If you purchase and like what you hear, please take time to write a review and use the sharing features on these sites to tell your friends. That really means a lot!
Who from the Scriptures would you like to speak with? Of course, we look forward to seeing Jesus, but who else do you look forward to meeting face to face, and what would you like to ask them? Feel welcome to share your comments below.
Stay tuned for more posts like this one. Until next time, thank you for your ongoing prayer support! God bless you, and keep His Song in your heart!
*Lyrics from "Living That Story," © 2016 by Laurel Jean Walden.
Thursday, December 31, 2015
I'm pictured here with Audrey and her guide dog Jessie (and "Lady Liberty" my long, white cane of course) speaking to members of the College of Charleston Delta Gamma Sorority, Charleston, SC just before Thanksgiving, 2015. This past August, I was honored to be reelected as an officer of Dixie Land Guide Dog Users. Continuing to serve in this capacity affords me many opportunities to expand the horizons of my own personal outreach on behalf of the blindness community. A large part of this outreach lies in the raising of awareness among sighted people and students of all grade levels in particular.
During the fall, I began assisting with technical support for the various mailing lists of the Not Alone Audio Internet Ministry. This exciting new ministry features devotional podcasts and Bible studies prepared by Pastor Dave Andrus and friends, especially for people who are blind. Having lost his sight when he was very young, Pastor Dave offers a spiritual breath of fresh air for blind Christians and pre-believers alike. You can learn more about this ministry at his Web site.
Along with my ongoing efforts toward peer mentoring and advocacy, I've been keeping busy recording, producing and preparing for the upcoming release of my latest album "Living That Story," to be officially released on CD, on iTunes and other digital sites very soon. I am looking forward to unveiling this new collection of music and sharing it with you!
Throughout the past year of recording and traveling to present, I have also been called to provide music and ministry for a variety of memorial services and celebrations of life. I have prepared memorial music in digital format to send across the miles, accompanied the choir of my Grace United Methodist Church family at the piano, and assisted in planning and officiating a service thru music, Scripture and prayer support.
My year ended on a positive note, wen I served as part of a focus group addressing the topic of making travel more accessible for people with disabilities. I was able to offer suggestions based on a lot of my own, first-hand experience of traveling frequently by plane, train, bus and taxi.
2015 was a year filled with challenges, not the least of which were presented by my precious fur-baby, Sonny. During our first full year together this sweet yellow Labrador (not a guide dog) has taught me a lot about patience and unconditional love. Walking with him thru his many unusual bouts with health and behavioral issues has taught me a lot about God's love for all of us, two-legged and four-legged souls alike. Just before Christmas, a little male ginger cat (dubbed "Christmas Carroll") moved into the neighborhood. Several of us have taken on the responsibility of making sure that he is loved and that his needs are met. He doesn't want to come inside, but when greeted on his own terms, he is one of the most loving, personable cats I have ever met. He, too, has taught me a lot about life and relationships. While all of this was going on, I received my 2016 Braille Scripture calendar from Lutheran Braille Workers. I couldn't help laughing as my fingers glanced at the theme and the tactile pictures on each month's page. The theme of the calendar was "Noah's Ark!" OK, God, what's next? (grin)
Stay tuned for more posts like this one! Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart!
© 2015 by Laurel Jean Walden
Thursday, October 29, 2015
The month of October is recognized as Disabilities Employment Awareness Month and October 15th is celebrated as White Cane Safety Awareness Day. I can't imagine my life without the independence and safety provided by my ability to properly use a long, white cane. Every day, I thank God for this personal independence and for my literacy. I am so grateful for my Christian faith, and for the freedom to serve my Lord and Savior in professional music ministry. For me, all of these freedoms make every day worth celebrating!
It was a beautiful, sun-drenched October morning here in South Carolina. I joined a few of my fellow Dixie Landers and friends at Patriot's Point Naval Museum in nearby Mount Pleasant, to learn, fellowship and, perhaps even teach while spending a couple of enjoyable hours aboard the USS destroyer Laffey, the World War II aircraft carrier, Yorktown and the USS submarine, Clagamore, all of which now are part of the Patriot's Point Naval Museum.
We were met at the park's entrance by Cindy C.; Cindy L.; Molly and Melissa who graciously and patiently offered to escort us all around the premises. The very first piece of precious memorabilia we stumbled across was their tribute to all of the South Carolinians who gave their lives during the Viet Nam war. Surges of pride, patriotism and gratitude embraced us as we ever so gently ran our fingers across the multitudes of replicated dog tags hanging on their wall. We all agreed how blessed and fortunate we are to live in such a magnificent country.
Soon Cindy C. began to tell us about a handful of volunteers who had donated their time and efforts that entire week towards the up-keep and appearance of the destroyer Laffey. Before long a couple of those dedicated fellows were introducing themselves to us and telling us how they'd all been connected to that destroyer at one time or another. We all thanked them for their service and remarked how it was through their efforts that we were even allowed to be there. N Then, it happened! From out of no where walked "Ari, the Greek", or, at least that's how they introduced him. Ari, now living with his wife and family in Portland, Oregon, proudly donned a bright orange shirt that had printed on the front, "USS Laffey Plankowner". He explained that he had been assigned to "her" when she was commissioned and spent 2 years aboard during World War II. We were all spellbound as Ari began a very special guided tour of "his" Laffey. Probably my most memorable time spent on the Laffey was my experience of the simulation of the ship under attack during World War II.
Much too soon our tour of the Laffey was over and it was time to visit the Yorktown. There was no comparison between the two in size. One was a destroyer and the other an aircraft carrier. One was the size of a city block and the other, an entire city!
The Yorktown was commissioned in 1937 and fought during World War II until she was sunk in 1942. She now sits proudly in the shadows of the newly erected Ravenel Bridge in the Cooper River just outside of Charleston, SC.
Because of time constraints, our tour of the Yorktown was somewhat rushed but we did get to visit the flight deck, hanger deck and a few other points of interest.
As we passed their mess hall, we could actually hear the tinkling of glasses and clunking trays just like it was so very many years ago when that ship was fully manned. Our lunch at Sticky Fingers was delicious and we even got to have our photos made with their mascot, Scrappy! As he stood beside me, I announced to the group that I, too, now had a guide dog and I could feel his shoulders shaking with laughter.
Before long we were headed towards the gangplank and the parking lot. We'd have to see the submarine Clagamore another day. But wait! Some of us still had one more thing that we absolutely had to do. Within a few moments, Kimberly Taylor, Kimberly's friend Cindy and I were jumping in the tour helicopter and flying over Fort Sumter and the Battery. I had never ridden in a helicopter before and that has been one of my "bucket list" items for as long as I can remember.
"This is the best day ever," Kimberly said as she exited the chopper area. It was, indeed, a great day, the perfect day to celebrate freedom and independence!
We'd only spent 4 hours visiting Patriot's Point, but we'll have a lifetime of memories from our time there. Thank you, Cindy C,; Cindy L.; Melissa and Molly for an incredible day and a very special note of appreciation goes out to all of the brave men and women who have served or are now serving in our US military, especially "Ari, the Greek."
Thanks to our driver, Libby who generously donated her time and vehicle to transport us. God bless you all and God bless the USA!
Stay tuned for more posts like this one. Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart!
© 2015 by Laurel Jean Walden
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
It has often been said that "having a baby changes everything." This time last year, I had no idea how much my life would be changed by a very special fur-baby who was about to be dropped into my life. In October, 2014, I had just said that I was not getting another dog "unless God just dropped one on my head." Of course, I love my Zettie and still miss her, but…Then the phone rang.
The lady from Florida sadly shared her story with Dixie Land Guide Dog Users. The puppy was just six months old. She had purchased him just after he had been weaned. She told us of her heart attack and her stroke which followed, rendering her unable to care for the puppy. He was getting more rambunctious by the day and she wanted him to have a good home, hopefully as a service dog.
It is hard to imagine that almost a year has passed since that day last November when "Gunner" (whose name has been changed to Sonny) came leaping and bounding into my life. No, this American Lab is not destined to be a conventional service dog. Still, he does have a very important job and that is to love "his mom"—you know—me.
Together, my Sonny and I have gone for many long walks and had many long talks, like "Don't eat the carpet," "No, we can't chase the neighbor's cat," etc. We've worked thru behavioral issues and health issues. Most important, we have learned to love each other.
As I write, the Lowcountry area is recovering from a flood of millennium proportions. An event such as this really goes a long way toward putting life into perspective. This past weekend, I sat safe and dry indoors listening to the seemingly perpetual rainfall outside as my Sonny slept curled up at my feet. During those long hours, the words once spoken to me by a dear friend were truly brought into perspective and made very real to me, "Life is precious. Everything else is just stuff." The following is a poem I wrote for Sonny. I would print it out and give it to him, but he would eat it. So, I will let it suffice to share these words with you.
God's love came in by leaps and bounds, giving no thought at all
To pretty things upon the shelves or pictures on the wall,
Paying no mind to things which seemed of importance to me.
By leaps and bounds, God's love became my heart's priority.
God's love darted from room to room, making my house a home,
Wrestling there with my broken heart, no time to be alone,
No time to think what might become of things from days gone by.
God's love would chase, by leaps and bounds, a teardrop from my eye.
God's love pleaded with me to set my Sunday best aside,
And as I donned my oldest clothes, my heart was filled with pride.
Forsaking all appearances to walk and romp and play.
By leaps and bounds, God's love has brought sweet Sonshine to my day!
Thanks for your prayers for both of us. Be sure to stay tuned for more posts like this one. Meanwhile, feel welcome to share how our wonderful God of surprises has blessed your own life.
Until next time, God bless you and keep his Song in your heart.
© 2015 by Laurel Jean Walden
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Here I am at the grand piano in the sanctuary of Calvary Lutheran Church, Charleston, SC. In my music ministry, I often travel with my own digital piano. So, it is always a real treat to minister from one of these beautiful instruments in one of God's family rooms!
Speaking of special occasions, August, 2015 marked the third anniversary of the Friends of Bar-Timaeus Christian Outreach for the Blind. This unique experience of worship and fellowship is the only one of its kind in South Carolina and one of 50-plus throughout the United States. On a Friday evening each month, blind and visually impaired persons from the greater metro area of Charleston are invited to Calvary Lutheran Church to enjoy a delicious, hot, home-cooked meal, a time of prayer, singing, devotions, networking and fellowship in a safe, nonthreatening environment. Because many who are blind live on a very limited income, these meetings are intentionally scheduled near the end of the month.
As part of my outreach, it has been my joy to assist in the establishment and maintenance of the Friends of Bar-Timaeus. Recently my sister in Christ, Audrey Gunter, her guide dog Jessie and I were guests for Sunday worship at Calvary Lutheran Church, to bring a message in music and to encourage the Calvary family in this ministry of shining God's Light. I believe that one of the greatest gifts which can be given to anyone with a disability is the gift of dignity. Even as our Savior asked Bar-Timaeus what he wanted, the people of Calvary Lutheran Church continue to reflect Christ's love as they reach out to the community
Thank God and thank you, reading this article, for your ongoing prayers and support. Together, we can help keep God's Light shining!
Be sure to stay tuned for more posts like this one. Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart.
© 2015 by Laurel Jean Walden
- ► 2011 (17)
- Laurel Jean
- United States
- God has blessed me with a Music Ministry that is still ongoing and growing after twenty-plus years. This includes my outreach promoting Braille Literacy in the Christian venue, and my recently-founded Children's Chaplaincy for blind youth. To make things a bit more interesting, I have also been blind since birth. I consider my blindness to be a unique gift from God, an opportunity to serve as an ambassador among blind and sighted folks of all ages, on all walks of life. To learn more about my work, from South Carolina to Central Illinois and beyond, please visit my Web site, and be sure to stay tuned to my Blog!