Music By Laurel Jean

Music By Laurel Jean
Music with a Message and a Mission

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Laurel Jean's Scrapbook

Sharing God's Guiding Glimpses into my Life of Music and Ministry

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Winter/Spring, 2020

Laurel assists in the blessing of Audrey and her new guide, Bernie.

Every beginning is best accompanied by God's blessings. Earlier this year, I happily joined in the blessing of a newly-graduated guide dog team. Audrey and her successor guide Bernie began home training in January and graduated just ten days later. While Southeastern Guide Dogs trainer Heidi Ilgen snapped pictures, long-time friend Pastor Lynnette D'Attley connected with us via phone all the way from Salem, IL. As Pastor Lynnette offered prayers, I held the phone on speaker, administered the sprinkling of water and made the sign of the Cross on the foreheads of this newly-bonded team.

Audrey says, "I realized almost immediately that it had been a long 10 years since working with a 2 year old brand new guide. thankfully, we both lived through our training-Bernie is so very tolerant and patient!  Each day our bond grows tighter as we learn and love each other more."

As for Audrey's retired guide, Jessie, he has been promoted to "Executive Director of Homeland Security." His duties include but are not limited to holding down the sofa (where he still enjoys hanging out with his mom), greeting folks at the door--always with a favorite toy in his mouth--and removing crumbs from the kitchen floor. Both fur boys and their human mom are known and loved by so many, and I count it among my own greatest blessings to have them in my life.

Later in January, I was asked to officiate during the monthly meeting of the Friends of Bartimaeus, leading the group with music, devotions and prayers. Currently in its eighth year of ministry, this Christian outreach for the blind is one of around 40 in the United States and the only one of its kind in the state of South Carolina. During the January meeting, we recognized Rev. Christian King and her husband Kelvin for their efforts on behalf of the blindness community. A couple of years ago, while I was out walking, Rev. King stopped me as she was driving by and handed me a Braille pamphlet containing vital information from FEMA on the subject of disaster preparedness. Thanks to her kind and thoughtful gesture, my colleagues and I were able to make this information available in accessible formats throughout the local blindness community.

Spring comes early here in Charleston. Birds fill the air with song as they prepare to nest, and signs of new life are all around us. With the coming of spring, I am always reminded of a beautiful song that I learned in my middle-school chorus days, "Take These Wings" by Don Besig. This year, I was honored to present "Take These Wings" for a dear sister in Christ during her Celebration of Life service. Though I never met this beautiful lady in person, she and her sister found comfort listening to my CD's during her time in hospice care. "Take These Wings," with its poignant illustration of the circle of life, was a favorite between the two of them.

Then came Covid-19. To say that life is different now would certainly be an understatement! Still, during these past several months of quarantine measures, God seems always to find something for us to do. People in California, Florida and the Carolinas have had questions about the wonderful grocery-and-restaurant delivery apps that many of us in the blindness community have been enjoying for the past couple of years. Together, we helped people find dog food, order groceries and get nice meals delivered to their doors. Audrey and I both keep quality disposal masks on hand, and have been giving them to folks who don't have any. And, we're here for people who just need to talk. By the time I serve in ministry--even from home--walk my Sonny dog and keep the household stocked, there's really no time to be bored here. Nope, I haven't binge watched since binge watching was the thing to do!

I pray that everyone is staying safe and taking this virus seriously. Our bodies are God's temple, so  we really need to take care of ourselves and watch out for one another. For me, it is a time to focus less on conventional gatherings in church buildings and concentrate more on doing my part as a member of The Body of Christ. It is a time to draw closer to God and ask Him to help us find creative ways in which we can share His love with others.

Treasured moments for me during this pandemic have included daily phone conversations with my mother. Mom is approaching the cusp of another milestone birthday, but one would not know that to be around her. She does so much for others in and around her community, maintains her home and yard with minimal assistance and clings to The Lord with an unshakeable faith. I thank God for every opportunity that  He gives me to talk with her and other dear ones, back in my beloved home state of Illinois.

During this time of such tremendous unrest in our nation and our world, I stand with all of my brothers and sisters who are crying out for justice and peace. Every day, in communal devotions and prayers, Audrey and I pray that God will put each of us where He wants us, and use each of us where He puts us. We also ask that He help us to tear down the walls of division and build bridges of unity in our neighborhood, our city, our state, our nation and our world. The Bible tells us that our loving God is not the author of fear and confusion. In fact, His Word reminds us that His perfect Love casts out all fear.  May our hearts and minds truly be transformed by God's peace--a peace that reaches far beyond all human understanding--in our Lord Jesus Christ. He is, by His promise written in the Scriptures, the same yesterday, today and forever.

Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart.

© 2020 by Laurel Jean Walden

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Light, 2019

Christmas lights in Laurel's yard

I love Christmas lights! As a child, I was always eager to join in the pleasant task of decorating each year's chosen tree, and I couldn't wait for those seasonal car rides thru the festively decorated parks and neighborhoods near our home. My extremely limited light and contrast perception was so greatly enhanced by family and friends, with their vivid descriptions of beautiful Nativity scenes, elegant trees, homey fence lines, welcoming front porches, whimsical characters, glistening stars and sparkling snowflakes. I have never thought twice about saying something like, "I want to go look at Christmas lights," and each year I look forward to decorating the front yard here at the cottage.

It was in this spirit of Christmas that I agreed to the purchase of an eleven-foot inflatable Christmas tree, and in the very same spirit that I crawled around on the cool, damp earth, securing its stakes and tying it down on one of the windiest days of the year here in Charleston. I heard laughter coming from the phone that I had handed off to my best friend so that a nice sighted person in Arizona could look thru the phone's camera, (hopefully) disregard my upward-pointing behind and assist in making sure that the tree was standing straight. Of course, I was laughing, too.

With each new Holiday season, that true joy of Christmas--represented by so many beautiful sights and sounds--is just waiting to be shared all over again. God's Light keeps shining through it all, and I am grateful for each opportunity that He gives me to share His Christmas Joy.

This year, I was pleased to once again provide music and entertainment for the Holiday Party hosted by the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired of South Carolina. Over 200 guests enjoyed a delicious catered meal, and fellowship with friends. The laughter and merry greetings that filled the room afforded the perfect environment for sharing some of my favorite Christmas tunes and taking request from attendees. I found it extremely humbling to learn that, due to the prevalence of isolation among the blindness community, this annual celebration is the only Christmas outing that some people are able to attend each year. My heartfelt thanks to Dixie Land Guide Dog Users for the generous sponsorship.

Another highlight of the 2019 Christmas season was a special presentation of dinner music and entertainment for the Grace United Methodist Church annual Christmas Dinner. This program was offered in loving memory of the late Master Chief Jackie Baker. Indeed, Jack and his wife Carolyn have been longtime personal friends and friends of the local blindness community. Over the years, the Bakers have assisted us in delivering talking Bibles, served as sighted guides at events, provided transportation to training sessions and outreach projects, and so much more! No matter how great or small the task, the Bakers were always ready and willing to serve. Heaven is surely brighter--and much more orderly--now that Jack has passed thru those gates. We send our love to Carolyn as we continue to hold her and her family in our prayers.

With another year of music and ministry drawing to a close, I would like to thank all whose ongoing prayers and support keep me going and growing as I follow God's calling on my life. Please be assured of my own daily prayers for God's blessings on your journey. Merry Christmas, and keep His Song in your heart.

© 2019 by Laurel Jean Walden

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Autumn Adventures, 2019

Gathering with Dixie Land Guide Dog Users and friends at James Island County Park

The gentle winds of autumn have really been a breath of fresh air here in the Lowcountry, perfect for a day at James Island County Park. It was so good to get together with fellow Dixie Landers and friends from the MUSC (Medical University of South Carolina) Storm Eye Institute at Dixie Land's Fall Outing. Present were 12 adults, four young people, three dogs (two working guides and one guide dog puppy in training) and, oh yes, two baby goats courtesy of Sheryl's Farm. Thanks to Shirley Anderson with MUSC for the pictures.

Walking thru James Island County Park.

The beautiful weather was just right for a walk. I had already walked three miles with my Lab Sonny (who is soooo not a guide dog), so I went with Terrie to helped collect the food while our guests enjoyed a little hike. Dixie Land GDU provided snacks and drinks for all in attendance, and each of our young guests was able to take a turn bottle feeding the baby goats.

My fellow Dixie Landers and I continue to serve as peer mentors for people who have recently lost their sight. Last year, we joined forces with the Storm Eye Institute, teaching Sensitivity and Awareness to their staff and students, and helping them to find resources for their patients. We look forward to spending more time with our friends from MUSC and are excited about the possibility of starting a tandem bicycling partnership in the future. .

Laurel with Pastor Phil and Connie Glick at First Baptist Church of Longwood, FL

In October, I caught an early-morning train to Florida for Music Ministry in the Greater Orlando area. Here I am with Pastor and Mrs. Phil and Connie Glick (pictured above) during fellowship time at the First Baptist Church of Longwood, FL, following my concert there. Pastor Phil and Connie are longtime friends of mine from East Central Illinois, currently serving as volunteers for Wycliffe Associates in Orlando. I've been honored to work with the Glicks, presenting for their churches in Illinois. Also, in South Carolina, Pastor Phil and Connie served on our chaplaincy team during Top Dog-Charleston, 2019. It was great to be with them again, this time in one of God's Florida "family rooms." Thanks, Pastor Phil and Connie, for taking time out to come see me.

Laurel with Diane and Arleigh Baker

I was also blessed to catch up with my dear friends, Arleigh and Diane Baker and their son, Tom (the guy behind the camera). A fellow musician, Arleigh has served as a technical adviser of mine for many years. I always treasure time spent with him and his beautiful family.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am indeed grateful for the heartfelt prayers and support of the churches, ministries, community organizations, pastors and other folks who believe in me, my Christian walk and my professional musicianship. What a joy it is to serve our Lord together, break bread and share in fellowship with such a wonderful bunch of people!

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

© 2019 by Laurel Jean Waldenµµµµ

Saturday, August 31, 2019

In Tune For Summer, 2019.

Laurel's Crepe Myrtle tree, blooming in two colors

This beautiful crepe myrtle tree stands greeting everyone at the end of my driveway. It is always pretty in the summer, but to my knowledge has never bloomed in two colors as long as I have lived here.

Throughout the summer, God made His awesome Presence known in so many unique and wonderful ways! There was that generous sponsor who--choosing to remain anonymous--helped to make "Music By Laurel Jean" part of the scheduled entertainment for the June meeting of the Ashley River Baptist Church "Keenagers". This is no ordinary senior group. Members are blessed with a multitude of opportunities to serve their community, preparing meals, helping to build homes and so much more! It was truly an honor to meet and present for this forever-young group of brothers and sisters in Christ!

Laurel with Audrey and Audrey's guide dog Jessie, talking to summer day campers

Here in Charleston, my colleagues and I have been kept busy talking with sighted students attending camps throughout the greater Charleston area.  My BFF Audrey and I were invited back to the Charleston Animal Society to speak to children age 7 thru 15 attending the Society's Summer BARK Camp.

Audrey and Jessie visit with kids at Bark Camp.

It is always a joy to talk with sighted kids about blindness, and to answer their terrific questions. Especially fun is our time of meeting and greeting, when day campers have the opportunity to visit with a guide dog out of harness.

Laurel with Rev. Christian King and day campers at the Pink House Neighborhood Resource Center

In July, I was also invited by Rev. Christian King, to spend time with "her kids" from age 4 to 14, during her summer program at the Pink House Learning Center, an outreach to under-served children in the community. Young people from Rev. King's group tell me that they still have the Braille name cards that I made for them during my time there.

Laurel with Mr. Kelvin King and summer day campers at Pink House Neighborhood Resource Center.

Thanks to Rev. King and her husband, Kelvin, who each took a turn at the camera so that the other could be in our group picture.

A most impactful time of ministry for me took place this summer in a local hospital. C.A., a dear personal friend and a friend of the blindness community, had been battling pancreatic cancer for the past 5 years. When her doctor told her that nothing more could be done for her, she called to ask that Audrey and I officiate at her funeral. We agreed and wrote down all of her instructions. We were gathered with members of her family at her hospital bedside when she passed away. We had said a prayer, and I was asked to sing something. Knowing how much she loved animals, I began to sing "Peace In The Valley." As I sang "...and I'll be changed from this creature I am," our friend breathed her last on this earth and passed peacefully into Glory. As long as I live and probably longer, I will count this among my most profound and humbling experiences.

I am reminded of a verse from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians: "Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:8, WEB)

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

© 2019 by Laurel Jean Walden

A Little About Me

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God continues to bless me with a busy and fulfilling life. Even after thirty-plus years, my music and ministry keep going and growing. Blind from birth, I am n avid user of Braille and the long, white cane, in addition to a variety of mainstream and access technology. While my blindness does not define me, I consider it to be a unique gift from God. With this gift comes my opportunity to serve as an advocate on behalf of my fellow members of the Blindness community, living and serving among blind and sighted folks of all ages, on all walks of life. To learn more about my music, ministry and outreach, please visit my Web site, and be sure to stay tuned to my Blog!