I had a home birth!

(and no, I’m not a hippie)

IMG_2239By Andrea Hagan

“There’s no place like home.” “Home is where the heart is.” “Home sweet home.”

“Home is where you have a baby.”

Wait, is that last one not a saying?  Well, it should be! Our son Anthony Ensley Hagan, III, was born on May 30th at 3:35 a.m.  It was a relatively short labor and easy delivery.  Nothing out of the ordinary except that I had him on the guest bedroom floor of our home here in Lebanon with my husband Ensley catching our little bundle of joy!

It was always interesting when people would ask about the pregnancy- are you having a boy or a girl? (It’s a surprise!).  Didn’t you sneak a peak at the ultrasound? (Didn’t have an ultrasound!).  Which hospital are you delivering at? (Delivering at home!).  Who’s your physician? (Don’t have one, using a midwife!).  My husband and I would get looks ranging from confusion to shock when we would explain that we planned on having the baby at home.  “I didn’t know you were such a hippie” was my brother’s two cents.  My husband and I are lawyers for goodness sake, not a couple of long haired, incense burning hippies!  Another friend described the decision to birth at home as “very Little House on the Prairie.”

I’ve never liked hospitals.  Well, granted, who does, but as a kid I really had an unhealthy fear of them.  I blame my older sister for making me watch a movie about a hospital orderly who would take patients to the basement and kill them.

But seriously, I’ve always thought hospitals were for sick people and I wasn’t sick, I was pregnant!  I wanted to have a home birth with my first child, but I let everyone else’s fears become my own.  I read all of the famous Tennessean midwife Ina May Gaskin’s books, I watched the documentary “The Business of Being Born,” the whole a woman’s body knows best motto made sense to me, but ultimately I capitulated and went the conventional route.

IMG_2267To say that I had a less than desirable hospital experience would be putting it nicely.  My OB was on vacation and I wound up with another physician that I’d never laid eyes on before.  I knew this doctor and I were not on the same page when she walked in and began lining up her surgical instruments.  Somehow, I had a natural childbirth, but only out of sheer determination.  Exhausted and battle worn, we left the hospital 24 hours later, again only by sheer determination, as the powers that be didn’t want us to leave without this doctor signing off, and that doctor signing off.  I was in hospital prison! (At least I was not in the hospital basement, though…).

Needless to say, I vowed that the birth of baby number two would be different.  As soon as that little plus sign came up on the home pregnancy test, the search for my midwife began.  After a round of interviews, I found my perfect match with Jennifer Vines and never looked back.  Not that my husband and other family members were without some fears, but ultimately, Ensley agreed with me that the person pushing the baby out gets to call the shots!

Prenatal care was not that much different than with an OB/GYN, only much more relaxed. I met with Jennifer at her office in East Nashville on a typical prenatal schedule.  With my first pregnancy, I always felt like I was going into battle prior to my OB/GYN appointments, having to outline my arguments in my head as to why I was declining this or that test.  My physician, while known as the “lenient” one in her practice, would often look at me visibly annoyed. She actually huffed at me once! My prenatal appointments with Jennifer felt more like visiting with a friend who, while knowledgeable, respected my opinions and decisions.

IMG_2237At 36 weeks of pregnancy, Jennifer and the team, which consisted of a birthing assistant and a doula, came out to my house for my appointment.  There, we made sure the space I had selected to labor and deliver was appropriate and that I had my birthing kit ready in the event the baby decided to make an early appearance.  I won’t get into too much detail about the birthing kit, other than to tell you that lots of plastic floor liners are necessary!

Our little guy decided to come two weeks early.  I was working from home during the early stages of labor, finishing a legal brief while sitting on a big balance ball and having sporadic contractions.  I wasn’t sure for a long time if I was even in labor because it was so different from what I experienced with my daughter.  We decided to play it safe and get everything ready just in case.

I had planned on laboring in my birthing pool, yet there it lay deflated on the kitchen floor.  My husband first tried a hand bicycle pump – fifteen minutes later with nothing but a hand cramp to show for it, he decided we needed heavier artillery.  After burning out his electric pump, my husband tore off to TSC to buy a heavy duty air compressor, asking me not to have the baby before he got back.  I’m pretty sure I was breathing through a contraction, otherwise I probably would have thrown the bicycle pump at him. About three hours later, the pool was inflated and filled with a lead free garden hose.

IMG_2228The game plan was to send our then 19 month old daughter Emeline to grandma Barbara Allison’s house, which is right down the street from us, but she had gone out of town for the weekend.  Luckily, our daughter is a sound sleeper—she slept through the entire event!

When the contractions were too intense to ignore, my husband called Jennifer and my birthing team was at the house within an hour.  Unlike a hospital where the nurse has to check this and check that every hour, I was allowed to just breathe and labor the way nature intended.  Not to say that having a baby is easy, but it was a cake walk compared to the long, painful and stress-filled hospital birth of our daughter.  It was the most amazing feeling when I gave that final push and out came our baby and my husband PDW_5868yelled, “It’s a boy!”  After Jennifer gave our baby a once over, he and I had time to look at each other and just marvel at how amazing it all was.  No whisking away to the nursery for shots or a bath, just mom with baby.

Several weeks later we ran into an acquaintance who heard the big news.  “So, you really gave birth at home?” followed by “Was it intentional?”  Yes, yes it was.  And no, we won’t be buying up farm land for our commune any time soon.

No siree, Ensley is still practicing law at the Hagan Law Firm and I’ve decided to stay at home with the kids for a year.  Jane Austen wrote that “there is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort. Nobody can be more devoted to home than I am.”  I couldn’t agree more, and that’s my little piece of the good life.

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Election Mom

High School Senior Peyton Smith on her mother, Wilson County Assistant Administrator of Elections, Tammy Smith… and all the ways she has put parenting first


By Peyton Smith

Main photo by Jana Pastors/Kindred Moments Photography

“You two look just alike!” This is a phrase my mother and I have heard for the last 17 years. To this day, we still cannot see the uncanny resemblance that everyone else likes to point out, but as I am approaching my senior year in high school, I am finally able to pinpoint just a few similarities between our personalities.

If I had to pick one shining example of how we are alike, I would have to choose our shared love for traveling. Looking back on my life so far, some of my fondest memories are those that took place on family vacations or trips that my parents sacrificed to send me on.

Photo 2One of my favorite memories as a child is the day that my mom and dad decided, completely out of the blue, to drive down to Orlando, Florida and take me and my younger brother, Parker, to Disney World for the first time. We were at the perfect age: young enough to truly experience the magic of the place (although if I’m being perfectly honest, I still haven’t grown out of my Disney phase), yet we were old enough to be able to recall the details of that trip years later.

Interestingly, our family ended up moving to a suburb of Orlando several years later; it was after that move that my mom began her journey in the ever-changing world of elections. After moving back to Tennessee, the Election Office in Macon County became a place of familiarity for me and my brother when my mom took the Administrator position there.

Unfortunately, within two years being in that job, it was evident to both my parents and myself that the school situation I was in was not ideal. I wasn’t very comfortable in the public school system, so my parents agreed for my seventh grade year to let me attend a weekly tutorial in Hartsville, as it provided a more challenging curriculum and welcoming environment. The only downside to this arrangement was that both my mom and dad had full time jobs, and Parker was at school every day, so I spent the majority of that school year at home, alone, pouring over my Latin textbooks and struggling to muster up enough artistic ability to draw maps of Europe.

By the time eighth grade rolled around, my mom had humbly decided to quit her job in order to spend more time with me at home; however, soon after this huge decision was made, election officials and administrators alike began constantly contacting her to see if she was interested in taking any job opportunities elsewhere. She had worked diligently in her previous position, organizing elections year round for a whole county, and now, no one wanted her talents to go to waste.

One offer in particular stood out among the rest: Phillip Warren, the Administrator of Elections for Wilson County, wanted my mom to join him at the office as the Assistant Administrator. She had helped to train Mr. Warren, and he was quick to offer her a position when he heard she was leaving Macon. If she accepted this offer, this would make Wilson County Elections different from all other counties in Tennessee, as it would be the only one with two certified administrators working in the same office.

Photo 3While praying and thinking about this offer, the biggest thing my mom kept in the forefront of her mind was my education, along with my brother’s. If we relocated to Wilson County, my parents would be able to put us both in a school where we were challenged and felt right at home. I was ecstatic hearing the news that my mom had decided to take the job offer and that Parker and I would be attending Friendship Christian in just a few short weeks. We toured the school a couple of days later, and I instantly knew this was the place for me.

Fast forward five years into the future, and here I am, preparing for my senior year at FCS, both excited and terrified of what the future has in store. Nonetheless, I feel prepared for the next few years of my life because of the superb job my parents have done while raising me. They have supported me every step of the way, including some of my crazy life dreams, which include moving to Chicago one day and practicing law in the city. My parents have always encouraged me to follow my dreams, even if that means eventually moving away from where they are.

The last five years living in Wilson County have been the best of my life, and I am forever grateful for the sacrifice my mom made in order to give me and Parker a truly memorable high school experience by taking this job. She has also shown me what hard work looks like from the innumerable nights spent working on various projects. Most importantly of all though, I have been shown the unconditional love of a mother my whole life. Even when I have done things that she has disagreed with, she is still compassionate in a way that I know I will not understand until the day, far in the future, when I become a mother myself.

Now that I am older, I have learned to love the phrase, “You two look just alike!” because to me, that means maybe the person saw some glimmer of my mom reflected in me, which is the greatest honor I could possibly receive.


Biographical note:

Tammy Smith was born in Macon County to Larry and Shirley Crowder. Her mother was killed in a car accident when she was four, and her stepmother, Martha, is the woman she now calls “Mom.” She has 2 brothers, David & John Crowder. When she was young, she vowed that she would 1) go to college (the first in her family to do so) and 2) marry a man with the same values and would help her to build a stable family.

By the grace of God, both of those things happened. She has a Marketing degree from WKU. She married her husband, Neel, in 1992 in a small church in Red Boiling Springs. Their children are Peyton, a Senior at FCS, and Parker, a Junior at FCS.

Photo 1Tammy has worked in sales, volunteered at church, homeschooled their children, supported her husband in ministry (which is what moved the family temporarily to Florida), supported her husband’s business (Smith Insurance), served on the Macon County Election Commission and, for the last six years, has held major roles in the election offices of Macon and Wilson Counties.

Her work as Wilson County Assistant Administrator of Elections takes an incredible amount of time, planning and organization.

“No one knows how many details and how much planning is involved in conducting elections,” says Smith. “Although there may be years when no elections are occurring in Wilson County, planning and preparing for the next election is already taking place.

“…we do much more than required, by law, in visiting the local high schools. We conduct student council, BizTown, superlative and homecoming elections and go to speak to the government classes for all of the county high schools, FCS, MJCA and HCA. Since our children were born, we have never missed an election and always take them with us to vote. Surprisingly, most students have never been exposed to the voting process… like most things in America, voting is taken for granted and many do not exercise that privilege.”

On the move to Wilson County: “Moving to Lebanon allowed us to put our kids in Friendship Christian School, and it has been one of the best decisions that we’ve made for our family. It wasn’t easy leaving everyone and everything familiar behind, but we vowed, as parents, to provide the best opportunities for our children–our needs have always been second to theirs.”

On faith (Tammy became a Christian at the age of 11): “Through it all, I know that God is guiding our path and provides a way for us. In Him, all things are possible.”

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The high cost of low living

Sonny Warmath’s 20-year trek through addiction and back… and the Good Life he found on the other side


see By Sonny Warmath

The place was Vanderbilt University’s baseball field. It was around October of 1990.

I was in the batters’ box, hitting against one of Vanderbilt University’s pitchers.  The football field was towering above me—it was right next to us, along the third baseline. The SEC!  I was playing baseball for Cumberland University against an SEC team as a true freshman!  Four months before, I was playing baseball at Lebanon High School, where I had been honored as “Most Athletic” my senior year.  I ripped the next pitch over the third baseman’s head into the outfield.  A single!  One for one against Vanderbilt.  I thought my dreams were coming true.  The possibilities were endless.  I had arrived at my destiny, I thought.  Life, however, had other plans.

I was married in my senior year of high school, and we had a child in October, 1990.  Shortly after that came my “Vanderbilt experience.”  My life had been all about playing ball and winning.  I knew nothing about how to live away from the ball field.  My whole identity was wrapped up in being an athlete.  I did not know God.  My small little family at that time was secondary to what I was doing on the field, and so was school work.

I’ll never forget the day Coach Hunt called me on a December morning, and said that I was no longer eligible to play baseball.  I was going to have to sit the season out.  I was absolutely crushed.  I wanted to die.  Instead of regrouping and getting my priorities straight, and getting through this minor setback and concentrating on my family and newborn child, I turned to alcohol and drugs.  I found a way to temporarily escape the pain, a way to escape the reality I was in—at least I thought I did.  That was the catch, living with the consequences.

A few months later I was divorced, and my child went with her mother.  I was living out of my car and on people’s couches.  College and baseball were far from my mind.  Oblivion is where I wanted to be.  The pain of failure was just too great.

I barely remember the 1990’s, except for a short period when I thought discipline and willpower would do the trick.  So I joined the Marine Corps.  Off to Parris Island I went.  I thought the Marines could teach me the discipline and willpower I needed to control my drinking.  Five and a half weeks later, a drug test from the day after I joined came back positive, and I was packing up for home. I knew what I was going back to—misery, alcohol, and a lot of drugs.  And so I did.

My addiction took me farther than I ever thought of going, and kept me way longer than I ever wanted to stay.  It took me places I never thought I’d go, and I did things I never thought I’d do!  Sin owned me.  I had met my match for sure.  I slept in cars and under numerous bridges in towns and states across America.  Violence in the world I was living in was a constant possibility.  There is no job more demanding than that of an alcoholic/addict in full blown addiction.  It’s the high cost of low living, as they say.

About the year 2000, my life of drinking and doing drugs switched gears.  After a decade or so, I finally started trying to get sober.  The problem was, I could get sober; I just couldn’t stay sober.  I tried, I really did.  I was in seven rehab facilities, and around 30 or so halfway houses.  I had no power to stay sober.  I knew the power had to come from somewhere besides me.  Then on March 19, 2000, I came to know Jesus.  I didn’t know how to let totally go of my life back then, so that He could lead it.  I relapsed and went another ten years in the same state.

Until I reached “the end” five years ago.  Brought to my knees, I begged God to take me, to let me die unless He removed addiction totally from my life.  I gave Him total control.  At that point, I didn’t care which one God chose (death or sobriety) as long as He chose!

And the Lord did—it was sobriety.

That very day he removed a 20-year addiction to alcohol, drugs, and even nicotine too!  Yes, the day He delivered me and broke the chains, He broke them all.  I not only have never drank or done drugs since that day, I also haven’t smoked one cigarette or taken one dip of snuff.  Nothing!  And with no withdrawals or anything… talk about AMAZING GRACE.  Since that day, the Lord has led me to start my own business, Warmath Construction, LLC, where we do everything from landscaping and lawn care, to building decks and home remodeling, etc.

A few years ago, God also led me to start Celebrate Recovery here in Lebanon at Fairview Church.  It is a Christ-centered, 12 step recovery group.  We meet on Thursday nights at 7 p.m., and the meetings are open to everyone!  I also teach an adult Bible study class there on Sunday mornings.  I have been in college accredited seminary classes through Equip there also, preparing me to lead a church someday soon.  I also started a recovery house for men (imagine that), which can hold up to ten individuals, and we are expanding.  God has been busy with me!

I give all the glory to God.  However, many, many people have helped me along the way, too numerous to mention.  For those struggling with life, not feeling like you deserve a relationship with God or others, and you feel like you’re going nowhere fast, I have been there.  I know the WAY out.  Contact me, I’m on Facebook.  My life was spared so I could point the way to others.  I always felt like I wasn’t good enough.  This verse gave me hope: 1 Corinthians 1:27-29. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, so that human beings might boast in the presence of God.”  Amen!

I would not be where I am, with the life I now have, without my wife and best friend, Tabatha Warmath, and our two children, Sonny (age 4) and Jadan (age 5), and our other children Carly, Makaylah, Issak and Gia, and most importantly, through the blood of Jesus Christ!

To contact me, you can also reach me through my website, www.warmathconstruction.com.  I will also speak anywhere, anytime.  There is a lot more to my story!

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Open This ONLY IF

Michelle Hill shares the remarkable story of the husband she lost, the package he left, and the blessing God has given


By Michelle J. Hill

Are you prepared?  Are you ready to go to heaven if it’s your time?  Are your affairs in order?

What would you do if your spouse passed away?  What if it was unexpected?  How would you tell your five-year-old and seven-year-old their father was gone?

These questions may not seem like “Finding Your Piece of the Good Life” material, but believe me, they are.

Our family has been truly blessed because of the Gift left by my husband, best friend, and father of our children.  John R. Hill, Jr., passed away on November 2, 2011, due to complications from a surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm that developed from a procedure that occurred nine years earlier.

The night before we went into the hospital, we sat down and went over various household and business matters.  It was then that he informed me he had an “OPEN THIS ONLY IF” package.  He was so physically and emotionally exhausted.  His beautiful blue eyes were so tired and sad.  I had no idea what was in that package.  I just knew it was very special.

for print Pic 14 Wedding DayThat fateful day in the hospital, right after finding out there were complications during the surgery, I excused myself from other family members, telling them I would be back in a few minutes.  I felt this strong sense to go up to the floor above where the chapel was located.  Thank goodness no one else was in there.

I immediately went up and knelt down at the altar and cried out in anguish,

“Please don’t let it be his time, Please don’t let it be his time, Please don’t let it be his time… Please give me the strength, Please give me the strength, Please give me the strength.”

I cried and cried and cried, and then felt a sense of strength overcome me.  A feeling that transcends all other – an incredible feeling of knowing that God was with me and that I was going to be OK no matter what happened.  Little did I know that I was doing exactly what John had said in his “OPEN THIS ONLY IF” Package – ASK, BELIEVE, RECEIVE!  The strength I received in the chapel at that moment is still with me today.  It’s an incredible feeling of knowing God is here.

We spent seven long days in the hospital, praying and waiting.  However, it was John’s time to go home.

The Package he had left for us was just a brown envelope with “Michelle – OPEN THIS ONLY IF” written on the outside in his unique penmanship.  Inside was a five page letter to me on fragile parchment paper, lyrics to a beautiful song he wrote, and a small red leather book with a heart engraved on the outside.  This heart book had a page written to me, a page written to our son, John Reed, and a page written to our daughter, Rylee Day.  This Package was the best gift a man could ever give his wife and children – his love, written in beautiful letters that we can read and cherish forever.

For print Pic 6 FamilyWhile still in the hospital, I decided I wanted to open the Package in his physical presence.  I took a deep breath.  I took another.  And another.  I pulled the chair up next to his hospital bed and held the Package in front of me.  I told him how much I loved him and that I had the Package and was now going to open it.  I slowly pulled away the top of the sealed envelope and gently removed the items.  I cried big tears for what seemed like an eternity before even reading one word.  Then I managed to pause and took another one of those deep breaths.  I clutched his hand as I read the letter.  It started…

“Dear Michelle,

You are the love of my life.  You brought me more happiness in our eleven plus years than I ever imagined would be possible.  And you gave me my son and daughter.  The three of you fill my heart with joy.  I love you all completely.

The last couple of weeks a song kept playing in my mind.  I started trying to write it down, but the harder I tried the more jumbled it got.

But the tune and first lines were clear as a bell, as if I were trying to answer John Reed and Rylee’s question, “Why did Daddy go?”  While I have added some before and after, it started out, “If God decides to take me now…”

I had to pause so many times reading the letter to wipe away the tears so I could see.  John’s hand and arm were drenched.  It was the most beautiful thing I had ever read!  John had written me lots of wonderful cards before but nothing as beautiful and powerful as this.

After several minutes of crying hysterically, I pulled it together and took another one of those deep breaths.  I was ready to move on to the song lyrics.  It started…

“They tell me that my heart’s not right, They have to sew it up tonight.

But times like these make everything clear, Of the love I have for those I hold dear. My heart is torn but completely full, My life couldn’t be more wonderful.

For print Pic 7 John and Rylee Day


If God decides to take me now, I know that I am figuring how, To whisper every morning…

I love you.”

After more verses, the song ends with “All things are possible in Him… ASK, BELIEVE, RECEIVE”.

In the many evenings following John’s surgery and death, I would lie in my bed or sit at my computer and put my thoughts to paper.  This cathartic experience has helped me travel in so many ways through that dark, winding tunnel to the sun rising on the other side.  John originally bought me a fabric-bound journal to write about the lessons we wanted our kids to learn, and our thoughts and feelings about our life with them.  After John’s passing, it became a place to write about the struggles, triumphs, and many blessings as we faced each new day without a father, husband and best friend.  It became a place to celebrate the wonderful, loving gift from God of John Reed Hill, Jr.  We are forever grateful to have been a part of his life.

This hand-written journal has turned into a book, OPEN THIS ONLY IF, a detailed account of the two years following John’s death and a recollection of how our lives were initially joined to form one.  It’s a journal written to our two beautiful, amazing, and loving children, with whom we have been so blessed.  Heart-wrenching stories telling them how Daddy died, why he died, and how we moved forward each day.  Faith-filled stories showing them how God was evident in our lives and carried each of us through this challenging time.  It’s about teaching our children to accept what they cannot change and the courage to face each challenging day.  It’s about showing them how to ASK-BELIEVE-RECEIVE.

It has also become an attempt to help others through their own journey.  Our story is shared with the hope that some part of our journey may impact others in a positive way.   Most importantly, it’s about showing how God has worked His miracles in our lives.

For print Pic 14 Michelle and kidsHow are we now?  There were many, many tears shed, both happy and sad, over the past three years, but we have persevered and our kids are doing absolutely amazing.  I could not ask for them to be any more well-adjusted.  We talk about Daddy all the time.  He is and always will be a part of our life because he is a part of them.  They know they can ask me anything, anytime.  I think that is the main reason why they are doing so well and so comfortable with what has happened.  Like I said, God has been with us and continues to be with us every step of the way.

John wrote a “P.S.” at the end of the letter he left for me. It read:

“P.S.  Don’t doubt me!!  I will be your biggest fan until the end of eternity.  As you continue to make the loving difference in this world, I will be cheering you on.”

He was referring to his literally undying support of my efforts to help children with special needs. I am Director of Empower Me Day Camp, a nonprofit organization for children with disabilities.  John had always been our biggest supporter and what he called ‘my biggest fan’.  So now, even after his passing, his life will continue to impact others as we donate a portion of the proceeds of our book to empower children with disabilities.  We feel his love and support each and every day and hope you too will become empowered by reading our story.

Thank you John!  Thank you Daddy!  Thank you God!!

It may not have been the “Good Life” I had earlier envisioned, but it is OUR GOOD LIFE because of the many blessings we have been given.  And I am truly grateful!


Empower Me Day Camp is a nonprofit organization for children with disabilities.  Empower Me’s mission is to empower special needs children to achieve their full potential through participation in a summer day camp and other recreational opportunities led by professional, therapeutic staff.  Empower Me’s signature fundraising event is Jere’s Ride, a bicycle ride in memory of the late Jere McCulloch.  This event will be held on Saturday, June 6, 2015.  If you would like more information on Jere’s Ride or Empower Me Day Camp, please visit their websites at www.JeresRide.com or EmpowerMeDayCamp@aol.com.  If you would like more information on the book, please visit www.OPENTHISONLYIF.com. 


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Leadership Woman

Just in time for Women’s History Month (March), Lucy Lee remembers her ground breaking work with Leadership Wilson


By Lucy Lee

Who knew that when I would visit the home of my college best friend and roommate, Nancy Weeks Wong, I would be coming to the place I have called home my entire adult life? Who knew when I would come to Mt. Juliet for AGR summer rush parties at Moss Brothers Seed and Feed Store that I would watch Mt. Juliet grow into a booming suburban destination? Or that Hale Moss would be a friend for life?

Yes, I made many trips to Wilson County while in college, never knowing that this would be my forever home.

I grew up in Maryville, Tennessee, with loving parents and the best big brother. My parents taught my brother and me many important lessons growing up.  Dad instilled in us both a strong work ethic and a love of people… people from all walks of life. He could find out more about a person talking to them for five minutes than most people would ever know about them, and they were never offended by the genuine questions he asked. Mom gave us both a love of reading and the understanding that involvement in your community was just a part of being a good citizen.

When I graduated from Maryville High School (and, yes, they had a great football team even then), options were pretty limited for young women. If we went on to college, it was usually to study nursing or teaching. So I went to the University of Tennessee to find a husband—and made no bones about it.

When I first met my husband Bob, he was dating my best friend and roommate, Nancy. After they broke up and we started dating, it seemed to be awkward for everyone but the three of us (we all remained good friends). Bob and I never dated anyone else after our first date. I was close to graduating at this time, so I received a Bachelor of Arts with a French major, a minor in English, and a certificate to teach French.

There just so happened to be no French teaching jobs in the early 70s. Foreign languages were not required to graduate in those days.

So after we married in 1973, I worked for Bob’s father in his law office for a short while and then accepted a job with the Tennessee Historical Commission. I learned so much about Tennessee history and was able to travel across the state and meet many interesting people. I can clearly remember having iced tea on the back porch of Fairvue Plantation with Mrs. Ellen Wemyss. What stories she told!  Meanwhile Bob was attending Nashville School of Law (then the YMCA Night Law School) and working full time.

In 1977 Bob passed the bar and we settled into our “forever” life. Our first daughter, Susan, was born in 1979, and I was fortunate enough to be able to spend her preschool years at home with her and her little sister, Rebecca, born in 1983.

Bob and I became very involved with church, community activities and our children’s schools from the beginning. I look back today at some of my old calendars and wonder how I juggled all those meetings!

In the early 1980s my husband’s practice began to handle more real estate transactions and I began searching real estate titles. This soon led to freelance work for other law firms as well. Time spent in the courthouse just added to my knowledge of Wilson County, and I continued searching titles for 13 years.

While visiting my hometown one weekend, I read an article about Leadership Blount, a community leadership program in its third year. I thought, “Hmmm, that would be good for Wilson County. I sure would like to participate in something like that.”

At the same time that I was having these thoughts, the Lebanon pastor Gerald Noffsinger,  was meeting with Sue Vanatta at the chamber and asking her if there was a leadership program in Wilson County.

“No,” she said, “but it’s something we want to do. Do you know anyone who could head it up?”

“I think I know just the person…” Gerald said. He was thinking of me.

Not long after that, Sue, Gerald, Mike Baker, Jere McCulloch and I gathered at Meacham’s to discuss the beginning of Leadership Wilson.

This was in the spring of 1993, and the first class began in September that same year with me as the Executive Director and a participant at the same time.  The early days of Leadership Wilson were busy. I had a computer, but there were no emails, texts, or faxes. Everything we did was through phone calls and by mail.

I met the most wonderful people during this time, both as class members and as speakers for our program days. Bob still teases me that I have the best rolodex in town (and, yes, it’s still an old-fashioned rolodex). Jere McCulloch was the first to call me Mama Lucy and it seemed to stick. I still call the participants my babies. [Former Wilson Sheriff] Terry Ashe still calls me Mama Duck, from when I would try to keep up with both my adult and youth classes as we toured the Wilson County jail every year.

As my parents aged, I ended my title searching but continued with Leadership Wilson, both adult and youth programs, until 2007. That year, my daughters were grown and were planning weddings two months apart in two different states. I knew this time only came around once, and I wanted to be able to enjoy the wedding planning with them.

We have very blessed marriages in my family. One other (and probably the most important) lesson my mother taught me was how to be a good wife. You will have to ask Bob how well I learned that lesson, but most days he makes it pretty easy! My parents were married over fifty years, and they were very good years. Bob’s parents were also married over fifty years.

Our girls grew up with these strong marriage models and knew what a good marriage looked like. They both chose husbands who had seen marriages that work in their own families. We are proud of our children, their spouses, Greg Bennett and Scott Walker, and our five grandchildren, Blair, Will and Eve Bennett and Davis and Annalee (soon to arrive from Korea) Walker.

Bob and I are now taking time for ourselves. We get to spend a lot of time in our Florida condo and have enjoyed travels in the US and in Europe over the last few years. Two more states and we will have visited all fifty of them. Bob still works every day when we are in Lebanon, and I still do some leadership training and consulting, including facilitating Leadership Wilson’s opening retreat. I still get to meet and spend time with the new classes.

Wilson County and its people will always be home to us. It’s been the scene of the very best years of our lives. It has given us so many opportunities, and I hope I have given a small Piece of the Good Life back to my community.

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Reluctant Retiree

for webJudge Bob Hamilton shows us the good life after 28 years on the bench


Lou Gehrig, upon retirement from baseball and facing a very serious health condition, was quoted saying “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

I’m not aware of any serious health conditions in my case, but I also feel that I am the luckiest guy in the world. I have many friends, I had a great career, I am married to someone I love and adore, I have two sons and a daughter that I am very proud of, and I am happy.

I am a proud Tennessean. My father was a 4th generation Wilson Countian, growing up in Hamilton Springs; my mother was raised in what is now the Waters Hill development. They were great parents, teaching me right from wrong, but for some reason, when I was about 14, I decided to be a rebel. Whatever they wanted me to do, I wouldn’t do. I didn’t want to harm anyone, but I decided I wasn’t going to do my school work.

Whenever a young person gets this mindset, how do you turn them around? For myself, there was no amount of counseling or punishment that could make me want to do right.

As a judge, I saw this mindset in so many troubled young people, and I wished I had the answer to their change in attitude, but I didn’t. From my experience, the main thing we can do is try to prevent them from getting into more trouble, and pray that they change their mindset. We cannot, as a society, give up on them. I am so thankful that drugs were not an option in my youth, as they are now. Young people are faced with much more serious temptation today than I experienced.

My dad had health conditions that allowed him to take early retirement and when I was a junior in high school, we moved to Palmetto Florida. I was enrolled in Palmetto High School, tried to find rebellious friends, but could not find anyone. I love friends, though, and as luck would have it, I instead made friends that were into sports and academic achievement.

It was a life changing event for me. I began trying in school and my attitude changed. I don’t advise anyone to go through the hard experience I endured, but I do think it gave me insight as a judge, into what many of the individuals that appeared before me were experiencing.

We remained in Florida until the end of my Freshman year of college, and upon my father’s death, my mom and I returned to our home in Lebanon.

I entered middle Tennessee and graduated from college in 1968. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I loved the study of American History and Philosophy. Upon graduation I was faced with the issue of Vietnam. I joined the Navy and was accepted to Naval Officer Candidate School in Newport, RI.

Officer Candidate School was a shock to my system. First, we were disciplined by Marine Drill Instructors—enough said. Another big change: In college liberal arts, the answer could be this or it could be that. In OCS, they really wanted an answer. It was tough. The quality of those entering OCS was very high. I remained and served four years, being discharged as a Navy Lieutenant. I served a tour in Vietnam and completed a cruise that went around the world.

Four years is a small time span in my life, but the navy had a great impact on me. Three great lessons learned were 1) When assigned a task, make sure you complete the most important requirements; 2) Accept responsibility for your decisions; and 3) Be on time. Upon discharge from the navy, I returned to Lebanon. I worked with the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission and created, along with my friend Phillip Tidwell, the Tennessee Hunter Safety Program.

I entered law school at the University of Tennessee in 1972 and for the first time, felt I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I loved the study of law, and I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, no matter how long it took. I had a dream in law school that I would return to Lebanon and one day I would be able to walk down West Main Street and people passing by would recognize me and wave. Boy, did that dream come true.

Upon graduation in 1975, my law school roommate Gary Copas and I opened a law office on Cherry Street. I would like to remember that we were a phenomenal success, but it was not that way. It is hard to begin a practice, but we stuck with it. I developed a business practice, additionally doing estate and divorce law.

We all have different skills and talents, and as a lawyer, I could become aggressive, but it never felt natural. My skill was more as someone to facilitate settlement—a problem solver.

I never planned to run for public office, but in 1980 I became involved in Bob Capers’ campaign for Circuit Court Judge. At first I felt self-conscious about asking people for support, but in a short time I began to enjoy it. Judge Capers won and that was the end of my political activity, or so I thought.

Then in 1986, the county voted to add a second General Sessions Judge. Division II of General Sessions was to hear civil cases, probate and divorce matters—exactly the area I had practiced in. Had I not been involved in the previous campaign, I would have never entertained the idea, but because of that experience, it occurred to me that I would like to run for the judgeship. Asking for a vote was as easy by that time as breathing.

Running for elected office is hard and stressful. My family and many friends worked day and night to support me, and when the vote count was completed, I had won. It is hard to describe the feeling of being selected a judge. I think back to the election night in ’86 and feel very humbled.

Haywood Barry was the judge for Division I, and he was and is a great friend, someone that established a high standard. It would be very hard to be a judge alone, because there would be no one to discuss issues with. Judge Barry was always there to help me, never telling me what I should do, but always giving me his honest opinions.

I’ll never forget the confidence people put in me to make decisions concerning the most valued relationships in their life—like custody arrangements involving their children. I always tried to approach every decision as if I were involved as a party. How would I want my judge to conduct himself and make these decisions? I’m sure I didn’t always get it right, but I am sure I tried to my utmost.

As our county grew in population, a third Division was created and I was able to choose the criminal division. I worked for years with Judge Barry Tatum. He also served as Juvenile Judge and we never had a single disagreement. I knew of some counties with multiple judges where those serving had issues with each other. This was never a problem with the judges I served with. I always respected and enjoyed being with them.

couple for printI served as a judge for 28 years. Judges in Tennessee are elected for an 8 year term, and I was up for another term in Sept 2014. At 68, I felt it was time for someone else to take the helm. I loved my job. I loved the people I worked with, the clerks, attorneys, officers. I even felt a friendship with most of the defendants that appeared before me.

But I didn’t want to hang on until I was no longer an effective judge. I announced in 2010 that I would not seek re-election.

When I would think about leaving I would become very emotional. At the General Sessions Judges Conference in February 2014 in Nashville, the retiring judges throughout the state were recognized. I told my wife Donna about the ceremony and she said, “I bet you were the only one with tears.” She knows me.

I am blessed with many interests. I love outdoor activities—fishing, hiking, hunting, and trap shooting. My best buddy, Judge David Durham, and I have been on many hunting trips and we plan our third safari to South Africa in May of 2015. I also love guitar music, and my wife and I enjoy travel. I have been married to Donna Gallaher for 25 years. She is my best friend. I am an only child, but she is one of six, and as part of the marriage, I now have five brothers and sisters.

I have had a great life—a good mom and dad, a great wife, children that I love, a job that I loved and never took for granted, many friends, a church at Lebanon First Methodist, and my hobbies. I am having such fun being with those that I love, doing the things I am passionate about and living every day. So here’s a question that Lou Gehrig might have had an answer to:


How can anyone be any luckier?

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Learning From My Mistakes

facebookBy Julie Hadlock

as told to Tilly Dillehay


Julie Hadlock was wearing a black business suit when she went to court in November of 2011. A respectable local businesswoman, she had come straight from work.

Three hundred and thirteen days later, she put the same black suit on again to walk out of the Wilson County Jail.  She had spent nearly a year behind bars—and was now a felon.

Two years after her release, she is running a ministry called The Next Step in Lebanon. This place gives immediate aid (clothing, furniture, job matching/training, rides, and help getting into a rental) to people getting out of jail and to people without homes. The ministry is her own brainchild, and she says that ten months in jail made her uniquely equipped to run it.

This is Julie’s story about finding her piece of the good life—in her own words.


I grew up in an 8,000 square foot house near Nashville. My father made six figures and my first car was a gold Trans Am, just like in Smokey and the Bandit—Daddy gave it to me on my sixteenth birthday.

I had just sold my own business to another company when I moved to Lebanon in 2010. I started a new business here selling equestrian equipment and joined the Chamber of Commerce and really became part of the community.

But my business didn’t have a whole lot of capital early on. It was pretty tight, month to month. In 2011, I made a very foolish mistake: I went out and wrote checks without confirming that I had sufficient funds to cover them. I knew better than to do that.

My checks bounced.

I was in the process of visiting the businesses around to collect the bad checks and explain the situation when I was called to go in to court a few months later. I was told to follow an officer out of the courtroom and they took me straight to jail. I was assigned a $25,000 bond. If I’d had $2,500 I could have gotten out, but then, if I’d had $2,500, I wouldn’t have written bad checks.

The jailers were very kind. They knew I was scared, so they put me in a private cell up front and let me shower alone and all that. I wasn’t supposed to be there for long. But I ended up being in jail from November of 2011 to September of 2012.

A few weeks after my arrival, I was put into population at the jail—a large space with 34 other women, surrounded by smaller cells. At first, I was just overcome with fear and confusion.

Then, a few weeks in, something clicked. I just turned it into a job.

I would get up in the morning, and I would have my agenda laid out, and I would go out into the middle of the area. I had three Bible studies a day with the girls, and I had a Spanish class, and I taught them how to play bridge, and make table settings. We had talent contests! Anything to occupy them and help them not to fight with each other.

I also walked. I walked a certain number of miles every day, just walking around the outside of the room. I lost 80 pounds in there. And I journaled—I have pages and pages of notes. I wrote down what the guards said, what the inmates said, what I learned.

Here’s now naïve I was at the beginning. When I first got to the jail, I noticed that when they brought your meal to you, they’d stand outside the door and wait, and you’d take the meal out of its plastic baggie and give it back to them and they’d take it away.

I thought we were recycling.

So, being a happy member of the ‘Think Green’ Committee in Wilson County, I wrote letters to the sheriff, the mayor, the warden of the jail, and the Chamber of Commerce. I wrote to tell them about what a wonderful, environmentally friendly jail we have here. A few days later I had a routine visit to the jail psychologist and told him what a great jail we have, and about the recycling.

“Um, no,” he said. “We don’t do that for that reason. We take those away from you because you might try to swallow that and kill yourself.” I was shocked.

You see, I’d never known people like the girls in jail. Growing up in Nashville, my idea of volunteering was this: our church would go to the Nashville mission and serve the Thanksgiving Day lunch across the counter. And I’d go pray while we were there, or hug a smelly person one time maybe. But I couldn’t even imagine living with one, or being a smelly person myself.

unnamed 4All that was about to change.

In addition to the classes and activities I hosted in the jail, and attending church services with seven local churches who held services there, I started a letter writing ministry. Girls who left would give me their address and say “Miss Julie, would you write to me?” And I would. By the time I left the jail, I was writing letters to 43 women and girls.

I was also trying to understand why so many of them were coming back in after they’d gotten out.

I would scold them like a mother. And they would say “Well, Miss Julie, it’s too hard. We can’t get a job out there.” They had every excuse under the sun. And I would say, “You’re not trying hard enough, because jobs are plentiful if you want to work.”

But later on I would find out just how right the girls were.

Over ten months after the day I was incarcerated, they called me to court. I pled guilty, was sentenced, and put on probation. When they led me back into  the jail, there was a cheering frenzy.

So I put back on my black business suit to leave.

When I got out, every belonging was gone. My home had been seized, my car was taken, and my business had been dismantled. I hadn’t been able to make payments, and I had no family in town to take care of things.

There was no information in the jail about where to go or how to get there. Finally, I contacted a local nonprofit, and they very politely gave me a train ticket to Nashville so that I could sleep at the Nashville Rescue Mission.

The mission gives free bus passes to all residents, which came in very useful to me, although at first I betrayed my privileged background by asking if I could just have money for a cab instead. (All I got was a hearty laugh from the mission employee.)

The first day in Nashville, I went to businesses I’d worked with in the past to ask for a job. The first one offered me a job—then did a background check and said I couldn’t be hired for 7-10 years. Business after business told me the same thing. Finally, a staffing company explained to me that a felon simply could not expect to be hired by large companies at all. Even at very low-level jobs.

My options, I was told, were as follows: 1) Start your own business again, 2) Work for a family business that doesn’t mind your background, or 3) Do manual labor, like landscaping.

But here’s the thing: I had expected to work in my old field, earning $50-60K a year. I thought I needed to earn that much in order to pay my debts, and probation fees. It never occurred to me that I could work for minimum wage. And now it seemed that even minimum wage might be hard to get.

unnamedAfter four days in the mission, I came to a day when my hunting for help at local nonprofits took me so long that I wasn’t going to be able to get into the mission for the night. I realized that I was going to have to spend the night on the street. This is when I finally burst into tears and just cried and cried. I was desperate enough that I called a brother of mine, who lives in East Nashville.

Until now, my family had very strictly left me to bear the consequences of my mistake, and I can certainly appreciate that. But when he knew I was going to be on the street, he was willing to take me in until I could get my feet under me again.

For the next few months, I would use my brother’s car on days when he wasn’t working and drive to Lebanon to talk to businesses and maintain contact with ladies I was writing to. I found ministries in Nashville that give away clothing and food and necessary items, and I would keep those items in the car and bring them to the ladies who were in need.

Many of them lived in hotels, and by now I understood how hard it is to eat without kitchen items. So I’d watch out for a hot plate or crock pot and bring them one. Others lived camped out in the woods, and others in the backs of warehouses, and I would go out there and sit and have coffee with them and talk.

So that’s how the ministry started. I would bring things back here for the girls out of my car. And then they would say that they didn’t know how to use the computer, so we’d go to the library or the career center, and I’d show them how to apply for jobs and help. And then they’d say they were scared to go interview, so I’d put them in the car and drive them out and say ‘go on in there,’ and they’d get a job. Then I’d give them rides to work.

And this was where the kindness of people really began to show itself. The chaplain of the jail, who I’d become friends with while there, helped me buy a car. Soon afterwards, I was given the opportunity for a job—as a nighttime custodian at an assisted living facility and church. Then a couple from my church heard I was living out of my car (for about a week, to save gas) and immediately asked me to come stay in their guest bedroom until I could get my own place.

I now rent a house here in town. Currently, I have two ladies staying with me, both of whom are in the Next Step program.


I won’t say any more about what we’re doing there, since you can read about it in another article in this issue. I’ll just say that I’ve found my piece of the good life. And it doesn’t look like I thought it did when I was young and riding around in a gold Trans Am.

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meet tilly img 1

Far Too Easily Pleased


In this issue’s Finding Your Piece of the Good Life, I’m pulling doubled duty.

meet tilly img 1Tilly and her husband Justin

follow link My job here is

1:  To write about my idea of something called “the good life,” (e.g, what it is and how I found it); and

source 2: To introduce myself to you all, the readers of Wilson Living Magazine. I have just joined the magazine staff as Editor, and couldn’t be more excited.

So here we are: Hello. It’s fantastic to meet you. I can’t wait to be a part of your community.

That fulfills goal #2.

Goal #1 will take a bit more time. Why? Because the Good Life, as we all think of it, is a slippery business.

Because it tends to elude us. It certainly eluded me for many years. I’ve clambered my way to the top of many a goal or dream that I believed to represent the Good Life, only to find that the Good Life wasn’t there at all.

But this is a little cryptic. I’ll just try and start from the beginning.

I have been raised in Middle Tennessee. Some of my childhood was spent on a farm in Smith County, but the majority of adolescence and young adulthood has been inHermitage and other areas around Nashville. My parents, and most of my six siblings, are currently parked in the Nashville/Franklin area.

The way I see it, I’ve been a writer since I was five years old, when my father took my on his knee for a year and taught me to read. Almost from the moment that I was reading books, I was imitating them. 

When I was eleven years old, my sister and I put out our first weekly publication: a family newsletter that featured breaking household news items such as “Fire! Local girl saves the day; puts out toaster oven fire with quick thinking and admirable presence of mind!”

My family was a deeply Christian family. We were raised conservatively, with a father who’d been in Christian music throughout 80s and 90s, and a mother who home schooled us. My commitment to the faith was instant and early. 

I was an awkward girl, naturally shy, obsessed with the question of whether my hips were too wide, and whether that was why boys didn’t like me as much as my outgoing older sister. I ended up going to college fairly early and studying Journalism. I wrote a humor column, built a fantastic group of friends, and discovered dating and after-school jobs. meet tilly img 2Tilly and four siblings in 1994, wearing fantastic matching outifts

It was here that my first concerted attempts at the Good Life were made. Here, I had grand visions for collegiate success: beauty, popularity, good grades and a shining reputation, culminating in a knockout husband and eventual (but optional) career. All ease, all happiness, all adventure and a side dish of good, healthy spirituality.

These dreams began to fail. They failed quickly, and more completely with every passing year. Popularity, come to find out, never satisfied and seemed extremely difficult to quantify. (“Am popular now? Now? What about now?) Beauty eluded me constantly, as I went into an early and frustrating cycle of dieting and weight gain—not to mention the fact that beauty is also pretty tough to measure. (Am I attractive now?

Now Success, ease, and love—these other dreams seemed even more difficult to come by. I graduated from college in 2008, which, I would learn later, was simply an unfortunate time for all graduates. The market bottomed that year, businesses were crashing or downsizing, and I was just one of hordes of over-educated, underexperienced kids trying to wade into the worst job market in thirty years.

I wasn’t married, and I had no prospects. I wanted stability but didn’t know the first thing about earning it. I wanted spiritual peace but had squandered it on compromise and discontentment. The first several years of my young professional experience was as far from The Good Life as things get. I worked jobs that weren’t enjoyable, and were far afield of my degree or skill set. I wandered and drifted—through relationships, through residences, through friendships.

Then, one day, I was converted.

This story is another story, and too long for today. All I can say is that I discovered the God of Scripture, the God who mercifully brings order and peace to our lives. I was rescued by the Savior who delivers our dreams out of the insipid ideas we have about the Good Life—none of them anywhere near good enough or exciting enough.

We get excited about things like money, love, everlasting physical youth, and creative genius; God teaches us that what he’s offering is so far beyond these desires that we’ve been unable to imagine the possibility of his promises.

Five years later, I am a married woman who has worked for the last few years as the Editor of the Macon County Times, a weekly newspaper out of Lafayette, TN. (The Times, incidentally, was a wonderful place to work, a real professional boon to me. The only thing that could have drawn me away from it would be the impending need for flexible hours… for one very special reason that you’ll see below.) I’m  about to embark on another professional adventure with Wilson Living Magazine.

My husband just graduated seminary last year and is in the process of becoming a pastor. We’re in the middle of purchasing our first home. We are also expecting a gift that—from what I hear—is incomparable among the human blessings: our first child is due in March.

meet tilly img 3Tilly, dancing with her father, Morgan Cryar, on her wedding day in September of 2012

These things—the home, the love, the job, the friends, the family—these are all the trappings that I ever imagined as a young woman seeking the Good Life. My cup really does, quite literally, run over; I have an embarrassment of blessings.

But something in me is absolutely certain of one thing: these things are not what make up my piece of the Good Life. These things may come or go; God has given and he may take again. And even if they were guaranteed forever, they could never be enjoyed fully without being recognized for what they are: gifts from a good Father’s hand.

It’s a lovely way to live.

And beginning September 2nd, I’ll be living a piece of this good life in beautiful Lebanon, TN. You’ll find me in the office space now partially occupied by Wilson Living Magazine. More information on that to come—we look forward to serving you!

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Special People & Notable Opportunities



Each weekday morning MJ makes drive time more tolerable with her quick wit, warm personality and altogether positive attitudeThere are special people in my life and notable opportunities that have allowed me the blessing of living the good life.

For as long as I can remember I have loved radio. As a little kid, I always had a radio beside my bed and would listen each night until I fell asleep. I would mimic the DJ’s and even create my own commercials from products in my Grandmother’s bathroom. I would set up a “radio studio” in my room with two turn tables and a microphone (I used a recorder flute as a microphone) and would play radio. We had several radio stations in my hometown; one was at a local shopping plaza called the Cascades. The radio station studio was enclosed in glass and I would stand there with my nose pressed against the glass watching the AP wire and watch the DJ’s work as I dreamed.

As a child, radio was an escape and a chance to get away from all the bad things that were going on. Starting at the age of 6 years old I was being abused. By listening to the radio I could go anywhere in the world and I felt safe.

Through all I’ve been through as a child, I never seemed to lose hope. My sweet grandmother and great grandmother, made sure that I went to Church, was baptized and confirmed. My faith and hope is what saved me.

At the age of 14 I started working at a western and English tack and apparel store. I worked there and MJ LucasMJ on live radio WANT FM 98.9 / WCOR AM 1490ended up managing the store and purchasing advertising from our local country radio station. (The same radio station that as a small child I use to complain about how they played only twangy old music and would change the channel.) One day, while talking with the radio station salesperson, I mentioned how my dream had always been to work in radio and be an on air personality. She said “really”, and mentioned to me that there was an opening at WMOP radio and that I should audition. I did and the rest is history!

I was with WMOP for 10 years and during that last year my mother had a brief battle with cancer. After she passed in 1996, I realized that God had new plans for me. I was encouraged by a friend living in Middle Tennessee to visit. Little did I know that this was the next big step I would take in my life. Prior to my Mother getting sick and passing away, I don’t think I would have ever considered moving or leaving Florida. It seemed like a “God moment”.

Just like radio, I felt like God was opening up another door. I didn’t know what it was, I just had faith. Well, it WAS a God thing. After visiting and then making the move to Nashville I started working in TV for a short while before I stumbled across an awesome radio station that reminded me of home. WANT FM 98.9 / WCOR AM 1490. Our station in Florida was also a Real Country radio affiliate. I picked up the phone and talked with the owner, Susie, about coming in for a station tour and the rest is history. God knew better than I that Tennessee and a place called Wilson County would be a great place for this Florida girl to heal and grow.

M J LucasMJ and Susie James preparing material for the morning showI was still hurting over the years of abuse and neglecting myself as I was neglected as a kid. This year I turned 50 and it clicked for me. I needed to take better care of myself. A friend of mine asked me to take part in Lean in Lebanon at Sports Village. I went, but not with out a lot of “moaning and groaning and kicking and screaming.” With that, I got into working out and eating better, making drastic changes in my eating habits and my life. I feel so much better and to date, I’ve lost 43 pounds. And recently I signed up to participate in a an event called Warrior Dash – the World’s largest obstacle race series on the some of the most rugged terrain in more than 50 locations across the globe. As a participant, I will be racing across a fierce 3-4 mile course and will take on 12 extreme obstacles. By the way, this event supports one of my favorite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

It’s been a journey and I’m glad that my journey landed me in Lebanon/Wilson County. The people have welcomed this Florida girl with open arms and given her more than they know. Tennessee is home!

Today, my ministry is using my voice through radio, social media, and being a part of many great events in Wilson County as an emcee and volunteer. I have been involved with many great organizations like New Leash on Life, Relay for Life, Go Johnny Go, City of Lebanon Beautification Commission, March of Dimes Foundation, Cannonballs for Charis, Brooks House, just to name a few. I am a member of Faith Lutheran Church here in Lebanon and I always try to step up when I feel my voice can make a difference.

I have two awesome furry babies, Brewster and Truffles, who are my best buddies! I have been in radio since MJ LucasIt’s safe to say that MJ’s fur babies, Brewster and Truffles enjoy living the “Good Life” with their biggest fans1986 and am going into my 28th year of doing what I love. I also love the outdoors and spend a lot of time on the water on my boat named “Lucky Dog”. I love to visit the beach as often as I can and I love, love, love, those Florida Gators! (Go GATORS!) That little girl from Maricamp Road in Ocala, Florida has come a long way. I love life and love to laugh! I am thankful for each and every day. With the Grace of God, I truly am living the “Good Life!”

 MJ lives each day by her favorite bible verse:

Matthew 17:20; Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (And she wears a Mustard Seed, given to her by a childhood friend as a reminder)

MJ LucasWhen she’s not spinning classic country hits, stumping listeners with trivia or hitting the gym, MJ is usually out on the water in her boat, “Lucky Dog”

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Will You Marry Me?

The good life starts for many on the day they find their true love. And like many things in this changing world, proposals have gone from simple occasions to spectacular, well-thought out, family affairs. This issue we gave out a Facebook challenge – in 100 words or less tell us your proposal story and we will pick our top one to feature in WLM. Problem is, we couldn’t just pick one! So we picked a few of our favorites to feature instead. Every single one touched us and we wish you all much happiness as you . . . find the good life . . . together

marry1Dale Donoho & Makenzie Blaike Tomlinson

Wedding date May 17, 2014

My fiancé’s proposal was so surprising and romantic! He told me that he committed to help his friend put up hay all day on a Saturday in August. It was the  week of the Wilson County fair so we had plans to attend the fair that night. He worked all day to move almost 100 bales of hay to spell out “Will you marry me”. I was upset that evening when he was late picking me up and said that he was too tired to go to the fair. Little did I know how hard he had worked that day! He made arrangements for a pilot and a plane to take us for a spontaneous afternoon flight on Sunday. While up in the air looking down at the ground beneath us, there it was! I turned around to find him with the ring in his hand. When we landed, all of our family was waiting to congratulate us.

I am marrying my best friend and the one I want to spend the rest of my life with on May 17, 2014.


 Josh Stanley & Kelsey Thompson

marry2I got engaged last night. I am a childhood cancer survivor and yesterday was 14 years from my bone marrow transplant. My boyfriend and I had planned a weekend trip to Nashville to celebrate my 14th anniversary. Little did I know that this celebration would end with a proposal.

I woke up Monday morning to breakfast cooked for me and I was presented with a list. I love Dr. Seuss, so the page said, “you’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.”

Then there were various words listed. My instructions were to check off the list while going on a scavenger hunt throughout Nashville that celebrated being a cancer fighter and my bone marrow transplant. We took a total of 16 plus pictures and posted them throughout the day on Facebook and Instagram so our friends and family could follow the story. It was perfect:) I had no idea that this was ending in a proposal!

Some of the tasks on the list included: find a piece of your legacy, breakfast, daily paper, your fondest memory, funny face, stunning selfie, two straws, make a difference, get a little nostalgic, act like a child again, do something great at, lunch, make a difference, etc. it was a perfect day:) I got to revisit all of my favorite places that held such a special meaning to me from when I was sick with cancer. Towards the end of the day we ended up at my favorite park which was in between Vanderbilt and Ronald McDonald House ( 2 places that I marry3spent a lot of time at).

He stopped me under this awesome sculpture and it placed us right in the middle of RMH and Vandy. He talked to me for about 5 minutes telling me everything that a girl wants to hear on her engagement day then proceeded to get down on one knee! I said YES and of course the ring is beautiful!

However, the surprise doesn’t end there. We later went on to eat at P. F. Changs. After dinner he then presented me with a folder full of emails from past and current nurses and doctors, my parents and my bone marrow donor. There was even a letter in there from my favorite medic student who lives in Texas.

Josh worked really hard on getting that email! I opened this folder and bawled my eyes out as I read through each one. Perfect ending to my perfect day:) I am soo blessed and I cannot wait for the future


Jonathan Harrison & Bethany Powell

Wedding date June 20, 2015

Jonathan’s family owns a 200 year old farmhouse out in Alexandria. He and I, along with his mother and grandmother, had been renovating it over the past year in hopes that one day we would start our lives there together.

One morning before church he called and told me one of the doors had blown open and we had to go repair it before church. Once we got to the farm, he got his tool bag and we went on the front porch. He turned and looked at me, hugged me, and with tears in his eyes began to tell me all of the things he loved about me and how much he wanted to spend his life with me. He knelt down, unzipped the tool bag, and pulled out a Tiffany and Company box all tied up in a little white bow. I immediately started crying and of course, said Yes!

marry6Justin Johnson & Baleah Randolph

Wedding date September 20, 2014

The night I said I DO:

On a fall cold moonlit Tennessee night we were off for a date night… little did I know my life was about tomarry5 change forever!

We arrive at a corn maze and begin to find our way thru the corn field, turning this way and that way….we stumble upon ….. Candle lit pumpkins on hay bales with WILL YOU MARRY ME? …as he got down on one knee and proposed to me as a photographer, Allison Cox captured our special moment with our parents hidden in the corn field to see our special moment!

Blaine Whitaker & Megan Bryan

Wedding date June 14, 2014

marry7My engagement day started early Saturday morning, May 11, 2013. It was graduation day at Cumberland University. I had been a nursing student at Cumberland for the past two years and walking the stage at Memorial Hall to receive my diploma was the main thing on my mind that day.

Nursing school is tough. It takes determination and dedication and it takes your time. Blaine and I met on our senior trip to Panama City Beach Florida back in 2009. He is from Selma, Alabama and to say the least, our relationship was a long distance romance. Long distance relationships take time, too. Going to college and studying nursing while maintaining a boyfriend some five hours away was challenging. I think it made us stronger and it paid dividends during the last few semesters of nursing school.

The years of seeing each other only on weekends helped us during the times I had to devote most of my time to studying and concentrating on nursing school. You can imagine how excited I was to finally have extra time to spend with my boyfriend after finishing my last semester.

My parents had planned a graduation party at their home after the graduation Saturday morning. Blaine’s parents andmarry8 grandparents as well as my family and several friends were all on hand for the party. It was a beautiful May day. We were just about ready to eat as my dad called everyone together to offer thanks to God for our food. He asked us all to bow our heads and then he prayed.

I don’t remember much about the prayer, but I noticed Blaine had kneeled down right in front of me. I was puzzled and thought he was maybe tying his shoe, but then I remembered he was wearing his boots. Then I noticed he had a ring in his hand and about the same time my dad said Amen, everyone was focused on Blaine.

He took my hand, removed his golf hat and placed the ring on my finger as he asked me to be his wife. Of course I said yes as tears rolled down my face!

I graduated from nursing school that morning and was engaged to be married to the love of my life that afternoon! What a day!

Tons of camera flashes and many hugs later we enjoyed a great meal and fellowship with family and friends. It’s hard to believe we are less than 90 days out from our wedding day. We chose to have the ceremony at my parent’s house and plans are slowly but surely coming together. June 14 cannot come quick enough.

That’s my engagement story…a big day in May of 2013. Our wedding is scheduled for June 14, 2014.


Johnathon & Jennifer Maxwell

My husband took me on a surprise trip to Atlanta, Georgia. I had no idea where we were going or what we were doing. We ended up at the Georgia Aquarium where we got to get in the water with the Beluga whales! When we were playing with the whales the trainer had the whale bring over a yellow inflatable ring that said Jennifer will you marry me? – Johnathon. It was a dream come true in so many ways!

Dustin & Jeri Ann Robersonmarry12


I had never had any desire to run. Within months of dating, I was hooked. After many running dates, Dustin talked me
 into running a half -marathon with him in Nashville. On 11/13/2011, our training paid off. As I approached the last mile , I spot my husband standing on the sidewalk as he had already finished. He ran the last mile with me and we crossed the finish line holding hands. With tears and shaky hands, he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.

Two special goals were achieved that day.

marry14Scott & Kirsten Harris

Kirsten always said she did not want to plan a wedding while she was in college, so I asked her the day she graduated frommarry15 college. I planned a graduation luncheon for our moms at The Magnolia Room in Murfreesboro. While she was in the restroom I showed her mom and my mom the ring but asked them to keep it a secret. Later that evening I planned a dinner with our dads at Mere Bulles restaurant downtown. I scheduled a horse and buggy ride to arrive half way through dinner.

For many weeks I had been asking her how much she loved me and she would reply.. “this much” with arms stretched wide. At the halfway point of the horse and buggy ride I again asked… “how much do you love me?” She responded with holding her arms wide open. I responded by getting on one knee in the buggy and presenting her with a ring and I said… “I love you this much!” When we returned to the restaurant, Kirsten’s dad had ordered champagne for everyone around us and we were greeted with a big CONGRATULATIONS from the entire restaurant.

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