Laurel Jean Presents...'

Laurel Jean Presents...'
Music with a Message and a Mission

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Highlights from my Life of Music and Ministry

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Spring and summer Highlights

Taylor demonstrates Pacmate to Boy Scouts

Taylor Jones Stebbins from Ravenel, SC, one of the “outa sight” young people with whom God has blessed my life, demonstrates his accessible technology to a gathering of Lowcountry Boy Scouts. The ministry of Music By Laurel Jean continues to reach out with and on behalf of the blindness community. I especially thank God for opportunities like this presentation. Thru networking with Dixie Land Guide Dog Users and the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired of South Carolina, over one hundred scouts spent time getting to know Taylor, learning about white canes and guide dogs, and learning how to properly assist a blind person as a sighted guide. The Scouts’ participation in this event made it possible for them to earn their merit badges for disabilities awareness.

Pastor Ed, Pastor Dave, Laurel and Shelby around piano

Here I am on Francis Marion Square, with long-time friend Rev. Dave Andrus of Lutheran Blind Missions, Rev. Ed Grant of Calvary Lutheran Church, Charleston, SC, and Miss Shelby Craig, another “outa sight” youth. Dixie Land Guide Dog Users has launched “Keeping Families Focused,” an initiative in cooperation with my chaplaincy for blind youth and sponsored in part by the Association for the Blind of South Carolina. Several members of the blindness community gathered for a time of music, food, fellowship and accessible artwork. Pastor Dave was visiting Charleston in order to facilitate the beginning of a Christian Outreach Center for the blind, one of over 60 such centers in the United States. It was an honor to have among our guests Pastor Dave and Pastor Ed of Calvary Lutheran (the host site for the newly-established “Friends of Bartimaeus” Outreach Center). It was like “old home week” for me as we gathered around the piano for an impromptu sing-along.

accessible art lesson

All in attendance were treated to lunch sponsored by Retina Consultants of Charleston. Everyone enjoyed Danita Cole’s demonstration of accessible artwork, each creating a unique work of art using multi-colored bees wax and a variety of cutout shapes.

Laurel with Pastor Ed and Pastor Dave at Calvary Lutheran Church

Here I am again with Pastor Ed and Pastor Dave, this time at Calvary Lutheran Church. It is so amazing how God works! He knew in 1998 when I met Pastor Dave, and in 2005 when Pastor Dave and I met ministry associate Audrey Gunter, that the blindness community in Charleston would be blessed by an opportunity to share in worship and fellowship in the very unique, safe environment offered by the “Friends of Bartimaeus” Christian Outreach Center.

Dixie Land presents for Bark Camp

Throughout the summer, I was honored to work in cooperation with Dixie Land GDU and the AFTBVI, participating in several presentations for summer day camps in the Charleston, SC area, hosted by the Charleston chapter of the ASPCA and the City of Charleston.

Laurel demonstrates braille at Bark Camp

Here I am demonstrating Braille to young people attending a session of the ASPCA “Bark Camp.” The kids always enjoy learning about the Braille alphabet and seeing their names in Braille. Some even wanted to try their own hands at using the Braille writer.

Laurel reads to summer day campers

Reading with sighted kids always offers an opportunity for education. As the kids told me about the pictures in the book that I read to them, we all learned important lessons about healthy inter-dependence.

Laurel teaches sighted guide to summer day campers

Here I am demonstrating the proper technique of serving as a sighted guide for a blind person.

Taylor demonstrates cane to summer day campers

Taylor assisted me in demonstrating how we use our long, white canes to navigate independently.

Brianna and guide Lacy, Rev. Roedder and Laurel in Amish buggy

In July, I accompanied 19-year-old Brianna and her guide dog Lacy to my home state of Illinois, where we spent a few days doing a variety of music, ministry and mission works. Thanks to Rev. Ken Roedder and friends Jerry and Betty Jane Hale, we were invited into an Amish home and were even given a buggy ride! Ironically, as much as the blind people wanted to personally meet the Amish, the Amish people wanted to meet us! Brianna taught our hosts how the blind can be literate and travel independently. We enjoyed an afternoon of lively conversation and lots of Q-and-A. Many thanks to our Amish friends, Lorena, Katie, Mary and Alma for the delicious food and warm hospitality. Thanks also to Mary and Jim, Joyce, Pastor Phil and his wife Connie, Pastor Lynette and the Lakewood, Il United Methodist Church, James and Nancy, Linda, Millie, Sister Mary Alice and everyone at Sacred Heart Convent, and Miss Millie for playing such important roles in a truly blessed weekend.

Laurel reads to children at Rehobeth United Methodist Church

Back in South Carolina, the summer drew to a close with music and ministry at Rehobeth United Methodist Church in McBeth, SC. As always, I especially enjoyed my time with the kids.

Laurel presenting at Rehobeth church

Thanks to Pastor Bonnie and everyone from the Rehobeth and St. Stephen churches, along with Brianna, Audrey and Susan who joined in the music, fellowship and ministry. Thank God and thank you, for your ongoing prayers and support. Stay tuned for more posts like this one. Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart!
 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

More Adventures in God's Family Rooms

Laurel with Pastor Greg and the Polings at Bethel UMC, Van Wert, Ohio



Here I am at Bethel United Methodist Church, Van Wert, Ohio, pictured with Pastor Greg and parishioners Joan and Larry. My Lenten concert hosted here was one of many stops on my spring tour of engagements in Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. It was a joy to offer Special Music during Morning Worship, lead Sunday School and then present a Sunday Evening Concert for these wonderful folks. Most people ask me to speak about my testimony as it relates specifically to my blindness; however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the folks at Van Wert just wanted to hear stories about my everyday walk with God. That was a real treat for me, and I look forward to returning in the future. I was especially blessed to sit around the table with the Poling family on that Sunday evening. They treated me so graciously as if I was another one of their kids, and their kids treated me as if I were just another sibling.

During this tour, I utilized a lot of different modes of transportation: planes, trains, buses, cabs and a variety of hired and volunteer drivers. It seemed that on each leg of my journey, as always, God had something for me to do.

Passing thru Chicago on my way back to Illinois from Ohio, I had several hours before my train departed for downstate Illinois. I had planned to find some authentic deep-dish pizza and just enjoy some time in the city before catching a cab to Union Station. As I deplaned in Chicago, I heard attendants talking with a lady traveling in a wheelchair. She was headed for Cancer Treatment Centers of America. As another airport attendant was helping me collect my luggage, the driver for Cancer Treatment Centers of America introduced himself as Joe and said, “If you don’t mind riding around with us, I can get you to your train without your having to catch a cab.”

By then, I had begun visiting with my fellow passenger, Julie, who was on her way to receive cancer treatments. Joe asked Julie if she and I were friends and she said with a smile, “Well, we can be.”

Just as God put it on Joe’s heart to offer me a ride, God was also telling me to accept. I sat in the back of the white stretch limo next to Julie as this beautiful young woman, just six years older than I, painstakingly but joyfully shared her testimony with me. God handed out blessings to all of us that day and I continue to pray for Julie and her family. She gave me eight words which I will never forget, “God is Love and I’m swimming in It!”

After seeing Julie to her destination, Joe took me to a metro train station and showed me how to board the train which would take me to downtown Chicago. My train ride to Central Illinois was uneventful. I certainly had lots to think about and lots to share with my friends and hosts, Jim and Mary, when I arrived in Effingham. My chicken sub sandwich purchased at the train station was not deep-dish pizza, but at that point I really didn’t care. I had been blessed by two of God’s very special angels, and I will cherish these blessings as long as I live.

The next day, as I checked my Email, I received a very gracious message from Aimee, Joe’s wife. Apparently, after dropping me off at the metro train station, Joe immediately called Aimee and told her all about our meeting. I look forward to staying in touch with Joe and Aimee and to our paths crossing again one of these days.

Laurel with Millie at Harvard Park Baptist church, Springfield, IL



In Springfield, IL, I caught up with my long-time friend, Millie Kaiser. She’s pictured here with me at Harvard Park Baptist Church, where I presented a Saturday evening concert the following week. Millie was responsible for scheduling my first musical ministry engagement over twenty-four years ago. She introduced me to “1 Corinthians 13,” sharing a Bible study with me on this chapter when I was still a teenager. Now in her eighties, Millie continues to be a mighty prayer warrior. She is one of my dearest friends. I often call her “my Elizabeth,” and I always cherish our time together.

My thanks to Harvard Park’s music director, Glenna Holland, and pastor “Dr. John,” for scheduling my music ministry. I look forward to coming back to present during Worship!

Laurel playing backwards at Riverton, IL First UMC



The next morning, I was up bright and early to greet my friend and one of my drivers, Carolyn Binion, and we were on our way to Riverton First United Methodist Church. Carolyn and I have traveled a lot of miles together (mostly in the rain), and it was truly an honor to present for her home church. She’s behind the camera most of the time, as she is here.

Laurel with kids at Riverton



As you can see, I especially enjoyed my time with the little ones at Riverton. My thanks to Pastor Jonathan, Carolyn and the rest of the congregation for helping to make this all possible.

Laurel with Pastor and Mrs. Hanner at Zion UCC, Arthur, IL



That evening, I was in concert at Zion United Church of Christ in rural Arthur, IL. Here I am with Pastor and Mrs. Dennis Hanner. This was a really fun concert for me. I was among old friends, and new friends who treated me as if they were old friends.

Laurel with the Agneys at Zion UCC



The highlight of this evening was my time spent with family friends, James and Nancy Agney, who came from my original hometown of Shelbyville, IL to surprise me and posed with me for this picture. I cherish these two friends, who are always so open to sharing fond memories of my father, Hugh, who was killed when I was very young.

Jerry, BJ, Laurel and Rev. Ken Roedder at Zion UCC



My thanks to Rev. Ken Roedder and to Jerry and BJ Hale for welcome hospitality, transportation and fellowship during my time spent ministering in the Arthur/Tuscola area.

Later in the week, I spent a little more time in Springfield. I am grateful to the Dominican Sisters of Sacred Heart Convent for hosting me. Thanks also to Danita Cole in Charleston, SC (Dalton’s mom), for sending one of her accessible bees’ wax paintings to give to the sisters during my concert at the convent. I am always blessed by my time spent at Sacred Heart Convent, and consider it an honor to serve as a Prayer Associate of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, IL. Sister Mary Alice and Sister Mary Sharon, I haven’t forgotten our card game!

Laurel at Princeton's WRAY with Mark and Bronson



A little more time spent on Amtrak and Greyhound, and I was in Southern Indiana. Here I am once again with the WRAY Country Gold family, pictured with Host Mark Latham and young Bronson (and there’s Grandpa Ed behind the camera). The WRAY family has supported my musical ministry for a long time and I’m always happy to be “back home again in Indiana.”

Laurel being immersed at Mt. Zion GB Church, Wadesville, IN

 


Before I flew back to Charleston, SC, God blessed me with the answer to one of my personal prayers. From age five, when I first accepted Christ as my Savior, I prayed for the opportunity to be baptized. Our family’s church attendance was sporadic when I was growing up. As a young adult, I committed to church membership and sealed that commitment thru Baptism by sprinkling. Still, I wanted to be immersed. I continued to pray and to share this desire as I felt led to do so, but never received an invitation. Then, finally, last December as I shared testimony during my presentation for Mt. Zion General Baptist Church in Wadesville, IN, Pastor Rick said, “The next time you’re in our area, you are welcome to be immersed in our Baptismal pool.”

This year, that day finally came, Palm Sunday, April First. Rev. Tarrell Thompson officiated as I renewed my commitment to my Lord in front of the Mt. Zion GB family. My heartfelt thanks to Pastor Rick, JoAnn Wade, Tarrell, and also to Indiana vision teacher Jeanne Lee (who brailed my printed Certificate of Baptism for me).

The baptismal floor was very slick and I think I came very close to baptizing Rev. Tarrell, but after all, it was April Fools Day. I flew back to Charleston reflecting on one of my favorite Scripture verses, 1 Corinthians 1:25: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” The experience of immersion is one that I will always cherish and will never forget.

I thank God, and thank you, for your ongoing prayers and support!

Stay tuned for more posts like this one. Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart!

© 2012 by Laurel Jean Walden

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Youth Chaplaincy Update

gathering on Bowling Day



On a Saturday morning in February, friends and family of Dixie Land Guide Dog Users and Lowcountry blind youth gathered at AMF Lanes on Savannah Hwy., Charleston, SC, for the first of ten weeks of bowling! I was thrilled to join in support of this unique and wonderful outreach, introduced by Peggy Sudol, a sighted member of Dixie Land GDU and also an active team member of Dragon Boat Charleston. DBC enjoys bowling on their off-season and this year, the team voted to sponsor a league which would represent the blindness community.

Shelby with Dragon Boat Team members



Here, Shelby (one of “my” kids) poses with DBC team members.

It was agreed that this league would be inclusive rather than exclusive. We encouraged blind participants young and old to bring sighted family members for an outing of fun and fellowship! Bowlers ranged in age from seven to seventy-five. Dragon Boat Charleston, AMF Lanes and Dixie Land GDU worked together to provide free games, ball and shoe rental for up to 15 people each week. The ten-week bowling outing began and ended with a pizza party, and as a special treat, DBC provided participants with complimentary custom-fitted bowling balls (and bags) for keeps!

Eight-year-old Blaze bowling



Our youngest bowlers were seven and eight years old. Eight-year-old Blaze (who is sighted) enjoyed perfecting his skills on the lanes.

7-year-old Dalton bowling with his dad



Meanwhile, seven-year-old Dalton’s dad, David, introduced his son to the game, made accessible to him by bumpers and a bowling ramp (the rail seen in front of him in the picture).

Laurel bowling

 


I love to bowl and had never been blessed with an opportunity to participate in a league until this year. What a joy and a gift it was for me to be able to share this special outing with so many of the brilliant young people who are part of my life! I used Slim (my long, white cane) to line up with the lane in front of me. Everyone cheered as they learned of my unique ability to score a gutter ball even with the bumpers up!

In February, I also joined with Dixie Land GDU, which hosted and sponsored a picnic at Charleston’s James Island County Park with food, fellowship and fun for all ages. Thanks again to Peter Smith and the Charleston Fliers who made this picnic day extra special with tandem bike rides for everyone!

This bowling outing and picnic were so successful that Dixie Land Guide Dog Users, Inc. recently announced its latest initiative, “Keeping Families Focused.” We know firsthand that blindness affects the entire family. The goal in creating this initiative is to offer more activities which include everyone and keep families focused on the core unit of the family, rather than the disability of just one member.

Thanks also to other sponsors, Retina Consultants of Charleston and The Association for the Blind of South Carolina, the first official outing under this initiative has already been scheduled, a very unique “hands-on” art exhibit and workshop.

I would personally like to thank the many churches (especially the Lakewood, IL United Methodist Church), the businesses and the individuals who support my Chaplaincy for Blind Youth by bringing my musical ministry to their communities. You help keep God’s Light shining for so many, and that outreach keeps growing and growing! Thank God and thank you!

Stay tuned for more posts like this one. Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart!

© 2012 by Laurel Jean Walden

Monday, February 20, 2012

Hilltop CD Cover Story

We’ve all heard the expression, “It takes a village…”

God certainly used a “village” to bring my latest CD, “Just Over The Hilltop” into being and all for His Glory. Many people comment on how they have been blessed, even by the CD cover.

Laurel with driver and friend, Carolyn



Carolyn Binion, a dear sister in Christ, frequently drives for me. She has told the following story Live on several occasions.

Since I have been driving for Laurel Jean for the past 3 years many exciting things have happened, but one is very memorable.

It happened near New Harmony, IN. I was spending the weekend working with her. We visited the Roofless Church. What an
Amazing place!


view of river behind Roofless Church, New Harmony, Indiana



It was a beautiful day and we decided to take a walk. We went down this pathway with not a clue where we were headed. We came to a dead-end and right before us was a river. I was explaining to Laurel Jean what lay ahead and she said, "I want to get to the river and take my shoes off and put my feet in the water". I told her that was entirely out of the question because there was about 6-7 feet of rip-rap in a steep slope going down to the river. She insisted on trying so "what could I do". She began to climb down the slope feeling her way along.

Laurel by the river



When she got to the river she took off her shoes and DID put her feet in the river. She encouraged me to "come with her” but I told her I had to stay where I was so that "when she fell in the river I could go for help.

Laurel climbing from river



As she was climbing back up she asked me to take several pictures of her on "her adventure". Little did I know that my famous picture would end up on the cover of her latest CD album. What a woman, what a courageous person, what an inspiration to me. I love her!

Hilltop CD cover

 


Thanks, Carolyn, for sharing this story for my Blog! I am also grateful for Arleigh, who assisted in the rendering of these images and for Sara Thomas, who brought the album’s theme to life in this unique cover design.

God, Who continues to bless me with a growing circle of associates and friends, also has the first and the last Word. I always place a cross somewhere on my CD covers. This time, however, it just wasn’t working with the graphics being used. If you look just above my name, between the E and the A, you will see that God took matters into His own hands. See if you can find the cross in the formation of the rocks.

I love working for my Heavenly Father!

Stay tuned for more posts like this one. Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart!

© 2012 by Laurel Jean Walden

About Me

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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!