Monday, November 09, 2015

My Life Coach - "Mama June"

We all need a mentor.  We all need a coach.  To me that means having someone to take me by the hand, and walk me through experiences I couldn't have done (or known about) on my own.  It means someone who has already walked through the coals and wants to show me a shortcut to save me some time, or potential harm to myself or others.  It means having someone who knows something a bit more than I do who can impart wisdom, guidance and direction.  It also means having someone to push me beyond what I thought I was capable of doing.   I am lucky enough to have such a person in my life and had the chance to visit her this weekend.  

Many years ago my father pastored a church in a small southern community in Georgia.  Daddy had his hands full with 6 of us kids at home, my mom who could barely keep up with laundry, cooking, cleaning, and "the daily grind."   And while things probably got a little overwhelming at times, we kids were never made to feel that we were a burden.  Daddy had a full time job working here or there in his  trade, and ministered to this small country church on Sundays and Wednesdays, and whatever else needed to be done like visiting the sick or praying for those in need.  On the weekends there was usually a little auto-repair that needed tending to and daddy always loved to tinker around in the yard.

When we moved to South Georgia, I didn't really have a clue as to how to play piano and at the time could probably play a deluxe version of Chop Sticks or Amazing Grace in a very "Boom Chuck" sort of way.  To those of you that aren't musicians that basically means BONG BONG BONG on the piano and you're singing along with all the gonging.

The church was full of excitement each and every Sunday.  Our days and lives were enhanced during those years and I believe we came together as a family so strongly.  There was a greater sense of "community" than any other place we had lived and since it was such a small community everyone knew one another.  The center of town (a sleepy community with one traffic light) was the little convenience store on the main highway. Every morning the farmers and local workers would meet up "At Axson" for a "sodee water"  (a soda of some kind).  The main work there was tobacco, chicken houses and forestry.

When we moved there I was entering my 10th grade year and the school was full of excitement, extracurricular activities, and groups for this or that.  I found myself drawn to our literary competitions such as music, extemporaneous speaking, debate teams, etc.   I thought I would enter the piano competitions for young boys (with my Boom Chuck experience mind you) and find my footing in the school.  I remember auditioning for the librarian with an old church song, plucking out the chords as hard as I could.  Little did I know she was looking for a Bach prelude or a Schubert Impromptu.  My parents received a call some days later from the librarian saying "Now we don't want Billy to be hurt - but we aren't sure he's quite ready for something like this."    Well if you know me - those are fighting words.

Not knowing what to do, I obviously recognized what I knew wasn't quite enough so I started some proper training.  While this wasn't my first piano lesson in the world - it was definitely time for some in depth training and proper studying.  So I began studying with a local pianist who used to play for the Billy Graham Crusade - and I think she could tell this was going to take a lot of work.  Between being new in South Geotrgia, trying to make new friends, and trying to "fit into" the world of literary music, I had my hands full.

A certain lady in our church was quite involved in our community.  Not only was she a local high school teacher, she was very involved with the church and totally had her hands in the pot.  She was known for cracking a strong whip - especially if she believed in you.  I remember drawing close to this dear lady and she sort of took me under her wing.   Wait, I take that back.  She actually sat on me.  ;-)     (Yes, I'm entitled to use smileys in my blog!).  Many people saw her as overly opinionated or demanding.  I just knew her as a strong caring woman whose world I wanted to be part of.  The school knew her as Ms. Mullis, our church knew her as Ms. June, but I lovingly came to know her as MAMA JUNE.   A lady who would have the most impact on my life in so many ways.

Some time later, I learned that even the strongest people in the world can suffer heartache and hurt.  Mama June, so strong in our community, so confident in her work, and so caring in our church lost her son.  I think sometimes that I was placed in her world so she could experience continued caring for her son, to distract some of the heartache, as I, too, had experienced some losses earlier in my childhood.  Thus - the journey of friendship began and she became a mentor/coach to me for all the things I was working on.

I remember Mama June telling me that learning something  would not be easy.  In this case - she was referring to my piano studies.  There were days when my hands ached from practice and I remember her voice saying "You have to do it again and again and again - and when it hurts - you do it some more."  I went on to win first place regionals that year in our boys piano contests and placed 3rd in the state of Georgia.    We repeated those same successes the next go round as well (I was 4th in Georgia the second time).

A few years later, and many proud senior high school moments, I had already begun preparations for college attendance.  When I was filling out my college application I remember asking Mama June for a letter of recommendation.   "What are you doing?"  she asked.   "Applying for college and I need a recommendation."

SCREEEEEEEEECHHHHHHHHHHH

I heard the brakes slam, the horn blow and I could envision her getting out of the car with a bullhorn.

"You're not filling out an application son - we're submitting a portfolio of your work!"  Oh heavens - what had I gotten myself into.  At the time, I didn't have a clue as to how to package or brand "Billy Lowe."  I didn't know a thing about presentation and I was rusty (at best) in presenting myself.    She guided me through the process of making copies of everything I had done, every piano contest, tons of job recommendations, tons of personal recommendations, and copies of every high school report card.  Copies of newspaper articles were a plenty, and certainly my own bio/essay as to why I would make a great college candidate.   The portfolio was easily 40-50 pages thick.  One lick of the stamp - and off she went.

My parents prayed, the church prayed, Mama June prayed.  And before you know it, I was holding a letter in my hands from Asbury College in Wilmore, KY.  ACCEPTED.   And since 1989, I have only seen Mama June once or twice over the past 20-25 years.

This past Sunday, November 9, 2015 - I got to see Mama June once again. The old country church where my father used to pastor had its annual homecoming.   She's still as active as ever and her love and care have grown even more.  When I got there the pastor asked me to play piano for the service so of course I opened with worship songs that the church would know and Mama June was soon standing by my side giving me a big hug.  Excited to see her, I basically broke from the music, which I never do, to let her know what she meant to me.   The service was wonderful with special singers for the day, and my father delivered the homecoming sermon.  After service there was the typical pot luck lunch and I ate all the southern cooking I could stand.   Sweet tea, Brunswick stew, green bean casserole - yes folks - it's all true.  Southern food is truly the best.

As the day wrapped, I went to find Mama June one last time.  I gave her a big hug and told her of all the wonderful ways she had impacted my life.  The confidence she had given and the grace she taught me are things I'll never be able to say thank you enough for.   While she may not have physically been there, I often heard her voice in my head and paths on which she taught me to walk.  It was the sweetest moment for ME, to get to hold her hands and say thank you.

So if you have a mentor, a life coach, a teacher or simply a friend, don't miss a single moment to say thank you for what they've done.  And for heavens' sake - don't wait 25 years like I did.

Yours in beauty and gratitude,

BILLY LOWE




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