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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wrapping Up 2015

Speaking to College of Charleston Delta Gammas

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

Celebrating Independence

Laurel Jean with fellow Dixie Land Guide Team members at the entrance of Patriots Point

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.

On the Destroyer Laffey
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.

In front of flag on Yorktown Hangar Deck

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. 

With Yorktown Mascot, Scrappy

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.

In touring helicopter

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

God's Love

Laurel and her American Labrador, Sonny

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.

Sonshine…

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

Sharing God's Gifts

Laurel standing by grand piano
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

Friday, August 28, 2015

Summer Camp

summer day campers visiting with guide dog Jessie

It is always a fulfilling experience for me to join with Dixie Land Guide Dog Users and assist with this organization's "Paws 2 Educate Initiative." Here, children attending the Charleston, SC ASPCA Summer Bark Camp are enjoying a little out-of-harness time with Jessie, the guide dog of my friend and sister in Christ, Dixie Land GDU President Audrey Gunter.

Whether spending time at Bark Camp, or at the City of Charleston's Summer Day Camp held at the St. Julian Devine Center (another of this summer's highlights), there is never a dull moment. It probably goes without saying that God's kids of all ages enjoy learning about guide dogs and having the opportunity to speak personally with Jessie. The young people also ask a lot of well-thought-out questions about blindness, Braille, the technology that we use and how we who are blind experience life. I find that, as we  take the time to answer such questions, the barriers which seem to divide the sighted and blindness communities decrease significantly. I believe that with every presentation for one of these summer day camps, we grow just a little closer to living as one community at large.  As always, thanks 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!

© 2015 by Laurel Jean Walden

Illinois Notes.

One of the bells in the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon, Springfield, IL

Pictured here is one of the sixty-seven bells which make up the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon in Springfield, IL. Among my summer's highlights was a visit to the carillon with Gabriel, then a rising seventh-grader from Southern Illinois, and his family. Of course, any time spent with Gabriel and his family is a joy. I am told that I mentor him, but as with all of the young people in my life, I find Gabriel to be a blessing and an inspiration to me.

Carillonneur Patrick Knox designed a VIP hands-on tour of the carillon. He showed both Gabriel and me a variety of bells that are part of the bell collection kept inside the building. We were able to touch printed scores of carillon music and could feel aspects of some of the music notation which seemed to be engraved into the pages.

Laurel and Gabriel standing under a large bell.

After learning a little carillon history, we stepped into the elevator and were lifted into the carillon's bell tower. We stood under two of the large bass bells, a G and a B flat. We were able to strike the side of the bell manually with the clapper as we stood beneath it and could feel the vibration of the bell as it rang.

Gabriel and Patrick at keyboard of carillon.

Then, it was back onto the elevator and up to the level which houses the carillon's keyboard.

Laurel and Patrick at Carillon keyboard.

We learned the proper way to strike the keys and touched the keyboard mechanisms which control the playing of the bells

Patrick playing the Carillon.

After Gabriel and I experienced the keyboard, Patrick played a small concert for us. We enjoyed walking out onto different balconies and listening to the music from different points in the bell tower. The music was absolutely beautiful and it was quite a sensation to be up there among the bells as they were being played.

If you (or someone you know) are blind or visually impaired and if you are in the Central IL area, I highly recommend a private VIP tour of the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon. Visit the Carillon's Web site to learn more about it.

My thanks to Gabriel's mom, and his  Aunt Karen for meeting me in Springfield so that I could surprise Gabriel in the sharing of this memorable experience.

On the subject of mentors, before flying out of Illinois, I was blessed to also spend a little time with the lady who served as my own  mentor when we were much younger. I would like to thank my "big sister in Christ" Vivian and her entire family for helping to make that possible.

My Thanks also to Imboden Creek, Decatur, IL, Zion Hill United Methodist Church, Mattoon, IL, and Locust Grove Church, Assumption, IL for making Music By Laurel Jean part of the schedule during my time in the area. The ongoing prayers and support of people like you make it possible for me to continue to reach out on behalf of God's kids of all ages and especially my brothers and sisters in the blindness community.

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

On Inclusion Ministry...

Laurel Jean with United Methodist Women of Latta at Mission u.

Here I am at Spartanburg Methodist College with Ruthann, Debbie and Laura, United Methodist Women from Latta, SC as we brought to a close the 2015 South Carolina "Mission u" (formerly the School of Christian Missions." For the past couple of years, I have served as Music Director for this event, and as a study leader for the UMW course, "The Church and People With Disabilities."

Every two years, the United Methodist Women feature a new class on the subject of social justice. The study of "The Church and People With Disabilities" was offered as part of the 2014 and 2015 Mission u events. I had no idea what I was getting into when I was contacted in 2013 by the Dean of the South Carolina Conference. It has always been a dream of mine to teach clergy and those in  lay leadership on this topic. In my twenty-seven-plus years of music ministry, I have witnessed firsthand those congregations whose inclusion practices empower all of God's people. I have also experienced congregations at the opposite end of the spectrum. So, when the call came in, I enthusiastically accepted the role of Study Leader for this course.

The certification process was both frustrating and fulfilling. Many of us gathered regionally from throughout the United States to be certified as study leaders.  Many of us have lived our entire lives with some sort of disability. We were often led by people considered to be more "typical" and we were often faced with the task of teaching our leaders that they themselves still had a lot to learn on the subject of inclusion. We laughed, we cried, we became angry, we forgave, and we left our national/regional training session knowing that the circle of inclusion is far from being complete. Yes, there were times when the "safe haven" of being amongst our brothers and sisters in Christ felt more like a battlefield, but hey, it's job security!

Back on the state level, in our own classrooms, we witnessed God at work. Clergy and laity came to learn more about how they could adopt more inclusive practices. People shared their firsthand experiences with a variety of their own disabilities. Others talked openly about what it was like to walk alongside a loved one or family member having some form of disability. We saw with our hearts the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in our classrooms as all of us grew in the knowledge of the differently able Body of Christ.

In my work as a study leader, I witnessed those in leadership positions become more aware. Those who talked about us during the 2014 event actually talked with us in 2015. That was a huge transformation. Yes, in spite of the frustration and sometimes even humiliation, I am grateful to have been part of Mission u as a representative of "The Church and People With Disabilities." My thanks to the United Methodist Women for growing in the wisdom and knowledge of God on this topic, to my sister in Christ, Audrey for graciously joining with me on this journey when I volunteered her for another study leader position and to those precious Latta ladies in the above picture whose friendship I will always treasure. God is truly good, all of the time!

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

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Charleston Strong

A Note From Laurel Jean

On Wednesday June 17, a young man walked thru the open doors of Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church here in Charleston, SC. He was welcomed with open arms. After attending Bible study and hearing the prayers of those gathered there, he deliberately and maliciously snuffed out the lives of nine of our dear brothers and sisters in Christ. They included the pastor, other ministers in the church and pillars of the community at large.

I have lived and served God in the beautiful city of Charleston, SC for almost seven years now. In 2009, I was honored when the principal of an elementary school attended by one of the blind youth whom I mentored invited me to be among the presenters for the school's celebration of Black History Month. Rev. Clemente Pinckney was the main speaker for the event. I was blessed to shake his hand and speak with him.

I have served here in Charleston alongside people of all races, ethnicities and ages, on all walks of life, with different abilities and disabilities. God has anointed and blessed this work for God's glory: the establishment of Charleston's first and only Christian outreach center for the blind; the offering of presentations for sighted inner-city youth attending summer camp; the leading of worship in churches, on Charleston's city streets and even on the city buses. I have come to witness firsthand the magnanimous spirit of Christian unity that is the true image of Charleston, SC.

In our unspeakable shock, horror, grief and anger, we still take heart. We know that we will see our nine brothers and sisters in Heaven one day, when we too are among that one glorious, colorful gathering of all the saints at our Lord's table. Please join me in continuing to pray for the healing of the congregation of Emmanuel AME Church and for the healing of this beloved "holy city by the sea." Pray for the perpetrator's family and for his soul. Let us also pray for the work that is yet to be done within the One Body of Christ here on earth. Let us ask God to put each of us where God would have us, and give us all that we need to do our Savior's work.

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear..." (I John 4:18)

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

We are pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, yet not to despair; pursued, yet not forsaken, struck down, yet not destroyed; always carrying in the body the putting to death of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." (2 Corinthians 4:8)

"...Behold my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my father who is in Heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother." (Matthew 12:49-50)

Thank you for your ongoing prayers and support. God bless you, and keep His Song in your heart.

Winter/Spring, 2015 Highlights

Laurel with United Methodist Women of Latta, SC

It has been a busy year as I continue to serve our Lord here in Charleston, SC. 2015 began with a train trip a little further inland to the town of Latta, SC, where I presented on the topic of "The Church and People With Disabilities" for the Marion, SC district of United Methodist Women.

Top Dog opening ceremonies

Laurel and Audrey at Top Dog opening ceremonies

I got back to Charleston just in time to help with last-minute preparations for the 2015 Southeast Region Top Dog Workshop, held in Charleston from January 30 thru February 1. Over 150 guests, the majority being blind and having traveled to the convention independently with their guide dogs, came from all four corners of the continental United States. It was such a special weekend of Christian fellowship, delicious Lowcountry cuisine, informative workshops, helpful exhibits, lots of fun and fabulous furries. My honor and privilege was to serve as program chair, registrar, emcee and guest musician for this truly blessed event.

In February, I accepted the paid position of Interim Pianist for the congregation of Grace United Methodist Church, Charleston, SC. My term began on February 15 and ended on Easter Sunday April 5th. During these weeks, I worked together with the organist and music director Kim Harris, providing congregational music as well as special music. Additionally, I learned and memorized a large variety of music in order to be the piano accompanist for the children's choir, adult chancel choir and the Mass Choir of all ages presenting Good Friday's cantata.

After Easter, it was time to begin concentrating on recertification as a study leader for "The Church and People With Disabilities." There was much reading to be done and an online "webinar" to attend. There were essay questions to answer. Ironically, there were also battles to be fought when it became apparent that elements of the course itself were inaccessible to the blind study leaders who would be among those teaching it.

I had originally planned a trip to my home state of IL in May and had several engagements scheduled. A couple of days before I was scheduled to leave, I caught some sort of "crud" which caused me to lose my voice and made me extremely tired. After much thought and prayer, I made the decision to cancel/postpone my trip. Engagements have been rescheduled for July. Stay tuned to my Events page for more information.

Thanks for your ongoing prayers and support. God bless you and keep His Song in your heart.



Fall/Winter, 2014 Highlights

Dixie Landers at Dinner in the Dark

MY 2014 fall schedule began with another Dinner In The Dark hosted by Dixie Land Guide Dog Users and Grace United Methodist Church, Charleston, SC. I am pictured here with my fellow Dixie Landers and their guides at this eye-opening event. I provided dinner music and served as emcee as guests from the greater Charleston area experienced eating a delicious spaghetti dinner without seeing it.

Laurel at Garrett UCC with Music Director Ramona Carlyle

Here I am with Music DIRECTOR Ramona Carlyle at ZION United Church of Christ, Garrett, IL. My heartfelt thanks to all who helped make possible my 2014 fall tour of music and ministry in Central and Southern Illinois and Missouri.

Laurel and James at Association Holiday Party

Back in Charleston, it was an honor and a privilege to provide dinner music on behalf of Dixie Land Guide Dog Users for the Holiday Party of the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The 2014 celebration was extra special for me as I was joined by James, my brother in Christ and one of my all-time favorite percussionists.

God's gift of music allows me to bless and be blessed in so many ways, and I thank God for that gift every day. God bless you, and keep His Song in your heart.


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!