Music By Laurel Jean

Music By Laurel Jean
Music with a Message and a Mission

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

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

Friday, May 31, 2019

Spring, 2019 Highlights.

My spring schedule was as varied as the beautiful birdsongs that fill the air during this time of year.

Laurel at 'Granny Shirley's' 80th Birthday party.

Cheers to the Craig-Thornton family for making Music By Laurel Jean part of "Granny" Shirley's surprise eightieth birthday party in March! Shirley (pictured below with her husband Charles) is the proud grandmother of Shelby, a beautiful, intelligent young lady whom I was blessed to mentor when I first came to Charleston. The ongoing friendship of this dear family means more than my words can express.

Picture of Granny Shirley at her 80th Birthday party

This spring, I also worked with the North Charleston Cultural Arts Department  as a teaching artist for the After School Arts Enrichment Program, teaching music appreciation, with an emphasis on the piano, to children between the ages of 3 and 12 years. These children were all sighted. The Arts Department provided little roll-up electronic keyboards for the students, and I found some great keyboard guides and easy sheet music on the Internet for the kids.

In the interest of the children's privacy, no pictures were taken. Just imagine a classroom with 26 kids between the ages of 3 and 6 on one day, between the ages of 7 and 12 on another, each with their own little keyboard, all playing something different simultaneously. It's quite an experience!

Laurel with Carolyn in Downtown Charleston, SC at the Market

On a sunny day in May, I caught a cab to the Peninsula of Charleston to spend an afternoon with Carolyn from Illinois, a long-time friend who for many years was also one of my professional drivers. She and a friend of hers were on a bus tour of the Southeast, and were spending a few days here in the "Holy City." It was so good to see her again! We had a wonderful time, strolling around the market and enjoying lunch at "The Cracked Egg."

May 6 marked my 31st anniversary of professional music and ministry. Over the years, God has blessed me with so many unique opportunities to present for audiences of all ages, on all walks of life. There really is never a dull moment! Thank God, and thank you for your continued prayers and support.

On a personal note, I'd like to extend my appreciation to everyone who offered their prayers and their help during Audrey's recovery from emergency gall bladder surgery. She and her guide Jessie are doing well and shining God's Light, as always.

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

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Remembering Top Dog-Charleston.

Laurel playing the piano at Top Dog-Charleston, 2019

I'm pictured here with attendees of Top Dog-Charleston, 2019 during Opening Ceremonies. Since the founding of Top Dog Workshops in 2006, it has been my honored to serve as a musician and emcee for Top Dog events in South Carolina, Florida and Georgia. I also accepted many of the event planning and guest registration responsibilities for the 2010, 2015 and 2019 events held here in Charleston, SC.

Gathering for Top Dog-Charleston, 2019 Opening Ceremonies

Top Dog-Charleston, 2019--a weekend packed with educational presentations, fabulous food, fellowship and fantastic "furries"--took place January 18-20. It was a tremendous success! We hosted over 150 human guests, over 90 guide dogs (plus some future and retired guides) and eleven of the twelve nationally-accredited guide dog schools.

Top Dog attendees saying the Pledge of Allegiance, each holding a personal-sized American Flag

Our Top Dog tributes to God and country have always been very special to me. This year, everyone attending our Opening Ceremonies was given a personal-sized American flag to hold with pride as we recited the Pledge of Allegiance together.

Pastor Deb Trevino at podium

Throughout the weekend, I was blessed to work with lots of wonderful folks, including two of my colleagues in ministry. Presbyterian "Pastor Deb" Trevino (pictured above) flew in from Delaware with her husband Dave and her guide dog, Suzie. United Methodist Pastor Phil Glick (pictured below) and his wife, Connie came from my home state of Illinois, by way of Orlando Florida where they have been volunteering with Wycliffe Associates. Thanks to these two ministers and their spouses, all of our guests were given the opportunity to experience God's loving Light firsthand! Our opening invocation, "The Blessing of the Guides" and our ecumenical Sunday morning church service were truly unforgettable!

Pastor Phil Glick at podium

The effects of Top Dog-Charleston are still being felt nationwide within the blindness community. As a direct result of this event, at least three residents of our Tricounty area (and many more from across the country) have received life-enriching and empowering services offered exclusively by some of our Top Dog associates from Ohio, Michigan and Florida. At least 3 schools got brand new applicants for guide dogs.  One of our local residents has even attended the new Orientation & Mobility course offered by Pilot Dogs in Ohio and is absolutely elated that he can now independently navigate his subdivision using his long, white cane. On a more personal note, my BFF Audrey's guide dog Jessie was able to see his puppy raisers (foster parents) who traveled all the way from Texas to see him for the first time in over nine years!

As a proud, lifelong cane user who happens to love dogs, I want to take this opportunity to thank the national organization Guide Dog Users, Inc., and especially the state affiliates of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, for making me feel so welcome and appreciated at Top Dog events specifically and among the community of guide dog users in general. Once you've become part of the Top Dog family, you're sure to have lots of friends, "fur-ever!"

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!