Friday, April 21, 2017

Shhhh.

I've been practicing a verse from the Psalms for 10 to 15 minutes early in the morning.

"For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation."
Psalm 62:1 

It can be challenging to quiet your mind and heart these days! Imagine banning ideas, worry, creativity, goals, anxiety and demands completely from your mind. After doing this over an extended period of time, I'm finding that there is so much more to this verse than what I originally read.

If you're like me, I feed on ideas, creativity, goals and yes, sometimes thoughts of worry. Silencing your soul is also not just being quiet, but not allowing your soul to feed on anything but God for it's strength.

In the process, I have discovered that silence is not just a set time of day where we try and think about nothing, but it is a state of being within our souls, and the more you practice it for a set amount of time each day, the more it becomes a part of your natural rhythm, all day.

Silence then becomes a way of "being", not something you take time to "do" and it's quite powerful.







Friday, April 14, 2017

Upheaval

I woke up in the middle of the night and the word upheaval reverberated in my spirit.

Somehow, it brought a sense of relief. Not because I like upheaval, but because I finally had a word to assign to the feelings I've been experiencing for months. Everything feels like it is shifting and I have moments of sheer delight AND panic.  Most upheaval comes to us without our request but I brought this on myself.

Recently I was digging in my flower beds and hitting the dirt pretty hard with sharp edged tools; shovel, hoe, rake. Have you ever noticed that most heavy-duty garden tools come with sharp metal edges or points? 



I realized, as I was digging, that I was causing upheaval to the earth. I know from years of experience that it's all for a good cause. In a few months we'll enjoy fresh vegetables on our plates and flowers on the table.

I haven't heard much complaining from the dirt as I hack away at it with my hard-edged tools. I wonder if it cringes at the agitation? Maybe it enjoys the process? I do know that when you finally insert the seeds, watch the rain fall and feel the sun bake the ground that you can almost hear the earth cheering as the seed pops up from the hacked up ground.

And so it is with my life. Last September I felt I needed to make a choice between staying with my church position as Worship Director (which I greatly enjoyed) or going for the gusto and jumping into my songwriting, concerts and Portraits of White extravaganza full time. The decision to lose the security is what brought on the feelings of upheaval. I'm cutting ties with a steady stream of income, a set schedule and the joy of having co-workers to share a vision with. 

According to webster's dictionary, upheaval means: 

1 : the action or an instance of upheaving especially of part of the earth's crust. 
2 : extreme agitation or disorder : radical change; also : an instance of this.

Radical change. Disorder. That's exactly what it feels like.

However, upheaval can be a good thing. I hang on to that promise because of the peace I originally felt when the word came to me as clearly as my husband speaking to me.

Whether you choose upheaval, like I have, or it comes to you un-welcomed, you must hold on to hope while you're in the midst of it. The best gardens come from lots of work and wounded soil created by unrelenting upheaval for a season. And so it is with life.

Are you feeling the sharp edges of change cutting through your soul? Hold on. It will be worth it if you embrace the season and look forward to the time when the work is done and new seeds are planted. A harvest will come.


My flower bed before upheaval.
Getting rid of weeds.
My flower bed post upheaval.
Ready for seeds.




Friday, December 23, 2016

The Story Behind "Little Drummer Boy".

From the very first time I heard the arrangement, I was hooked. So was Ed, the conductor. We knew we wanted it to be part of the Portraits of White concert experience and Ed was sure it would be the showstopper of the night, if we could find a local high school drum line to perform it.

It took us all summer to find the right one, but it really paid off when we found George Clements and the West Shore Drum Line - a combination of two schools put together: Cedar Cliff and Red Land. We didn't know they'd end up placing 3rd in 2015 and 4th in 2016 at the US Bands National Championships @ MetLife Stadium in NJ.

West Shore Drum Line in Portraits of White 2015.
But this post isn't really about finding the drum line or my concert. It's my reflections after watching them perform the song at their own high school this week - Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - for their holiday program.

West Shore Drum Line performs "Little Drummer Boy" at Red Land High School with school chorus.
I don't know what goes on in other performer's minds when they are on stage. I can only write from my own experience.  Perhaps it would be different if we performed the same concert over and over, night after night all across the U.S. Maybe I could stand on stage and become totally wrapped up in the moment and just enjoy all the surroundings. But for the most part, I do that when I'm practicing at home. That's when I enjoy the music; every note, every lyric, every little nuance that many people might miss the night of the show.

When I step out on stage I go into a very different mode. I challenge every brain cell in my head with the ultimate multi-tasking job. The pitch, the dynamics, the lyrics, the sound surrounding me, the lights, the little girl smiling up at me from the first row and noticing others seated in the audience so I can smile at them and acknowledge their presence.

When you amplify all of that by adding in a drum line marching up to you on the stage and feel the power of their presence and tight rhythms and couple that with a year's worth of rehearsing, soaking in the song and listening for every little cue in the music to keep you on track AND try to deliver with poise and power, you have one incredible task on your hands.  To say that I can sit back and "enjoy" that performance is a stretch, not because I don't love it, but because I MUST stay focused. As soon as I start "sitting back in my musical easy-chair" to recline, my brain can go into sleep mode and then I'm in trouble.

But last night, I got to sit in the audience and not think about the loops, the pitch, the timing, the mic, the monitor, the lights or anything else. I just sat in anticipation knowing what was coming and I was still blown away and totally mesmerized by the West Shore Drum Line. I got to sit beside a few of the moms and they too knew what was coming and one of them even squealed when the auditorium doors flew open and in walked her son at the head of the line.

My eyes filled with tears and my heart pounded. I knew I was reacting to months of rehearsals and hearing that first piano riff that starts it off. I was squirming over the memory of the big glitch from the concert of 2015 that forever sealed that song in the audience's memory (in a good way) and then I was momentarily carried away by the overall power of the song. Now, I didn't have to think about anything but watching them and they were truly amazing.

The cherry on top came when one of the mothers told me that the drummers were very excited that I had come to see them and wanted their picture with me afterwards. Since I don't have children of my own, going to see others perform is such a special treat and for one short moment, I get to beam with pride just like I think a mother must do when her kids perform something so well.


There's no deep point to this blog post, I simply indulged in expressing my thoughts so that some day I can look back and smile again at this amazing dream that is starting to connect me with other people in ways I never thought possible.

I'll end with a quote from a book that's carried me through this elephant-sized dream.

"By definition, a God-sized dream is beyond your ability, beyond your resources. 
If a dream is from God, it will require divine intervention. 
But I've also learned that sometimes a dream feels as if it's too big for us because it's not just for us!" 

- Mark Batterson, "Chase the Lion".
Aidan Connor (drummer)
who is quite proud of how well he tied his bow tie!
Caleb Fratangeli (drummer)

Credits to Bradley Knight who arranged this song and to George Clements (Drum Line Director) who wrote the parts that the drummers play when they line up in formation.



Saturday, December 17, 2016

Can a Song Save 1.5 Million Lives?

Portraits of White 2016
The Portraits of White 2016 winter concert is over and my feelings are all mixed up this year. Last year, I felt nothing but joy and relief that the big event was over. It took more effort and time than I ever imagined and there was no "let down", only "let up".  I loved every minute of it but was glad to move on.

But this year felt different. I struggled with both "let down" and "let up", something I wasn't prepared for. 

As Ed (conductor) and I contemplate whether to do the show again next year, given the fact that it is a year-long marathon for us and for some of the team, I have to consider lots of variables - which contributes to the feeling of "let down". Can I really pull this off year after year, I wonder to myself. But then I picked up TIME magazine at the library yesterday in preparation for what I planned to be a "do nothing" day today since they forecasted snow and ice. 

It's the first day I've done "nothing" for a very long time. Even when I try to "do nothing" I can feel and see the clouds of the snow monster (my nickname for Portraits of White) billowing in my head. I can't truly unwind until the show is completely over. I've learned that's the nature of pursuing dreams and callings. Doing the show is like enjoying the snow fall for a few short moments and then realizing you have to get up and start shoveling to clear a path so life can move on.

As I turned the pages of TIME, I was so struck by one of the articles, I put down the magazine and wrote out my thoughts in an email to Ed and realized I was actually writing a blog.....

So here it is:

Good morning Ed,

My laundry is done, house is clean and Christmas decorations are up and we are getting the wintry mix they called for - though I was hoping it would be snow. It feels nice to do nothing after a year of preparing for Portraits of White....the snow monster, as I affectionately call her now.

I picked up a few books for Tom at the library yesterday and a couple of the latest TIME magazines and decided to peruse the latest issue of TIME (something I rarely do).  I was struck by an article featuring the most influential photos of all time. Page 80 has the caption: "How a picture can save 1.5 million lives" with the image of a woman who is barely skin and bones, in a wheel barrow, that is obviously dying but is being hauled to a feeding center.  It was taken during the famine in Somalia in 1992.  

As I turned the pages, they listed one image after another that illustrated how the image started a chain reaction of awareness or change, such as the photograph of the boy on the beach in Turkey in the refugee crisis. In a world of millions of selfies and social media posts, you can start to forget the powerful impact one image can have and TIME somehow reminded me of the potential of one photograph...which led to the realization that additionally, one song can have that kind of impact.

As much as I love to entertain people with the Portraits of White concert (and other concerts that I do) these pictures reminded me of what I REALLY want to accomplish with what I write and perform. 

I want to create songs that serve as an "audio snapshot in time" that could potentially change someone's course in life from despair to hope, from ignorance to awareness of God's love for them, from hatred of the holidays to a realization that things can be different if they simply stop and Take Another Look.

My prayer today: "God, help me capture Your heart for people and display it with such starkness and wonder, that it could potentially save 1.5 million lives or more."

I don't know if a song or a photo can save 1.5 million lives, but I want to spend my life giving it a shot.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Purple Dress (Killing Anxiety Before it Kills You) Part 5

We sat in Starbucks talking about creative ideas for the set design for this year's Portraits of White. The designer suddenly pointed out to me that the purple and silver blouse I was wearing would be a perfect color scheme for the show this year. I made a mental note that I should look for a purple dress to wear the night of the concert.

Here is a snapshot of some of his ideas for the night of the concert.

Meanwhile, long before this particular meeting, a friend of mine had taken it upon herself to go "dress shopping" for me. (Believe me, this is a very special blessing!) She had picked out about ten gowns and had them stored in her bedroom for me to try on. She would return anything I didn't think I'd wear.

I finally arranged a time to go and try on all the dresses. There were many possibilities, but the one that made us both ooh and aah immediately was the purple dress. I told her about the Starbucks meeting and that purple seemed to be the preferred color this year. We both smiled, knowing this is not the first wardrobe miracle I've had when it comes to Portraits of White!

So just like that, I had my purple dress without having to go shopping and it was just my size.

"Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? 
And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, 
what’s the use of worrying over bigger things? 

Look at the lilies and how they grow. 
They don’t work or make their clothing, 
yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 

And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today 
and thrown into the fire tomorrow, 
he will certainly care for you. 

Why do you have so little faith?"
 - Luke 12 (NLT)

In Part 2 of my series on anxiety, I shared the verse above. The little scenario of the purple dress is just one of many examples of how this can play out in our everyday life.


On December 10, I'll be wearing a beautiful purple dress in the concert. If you attend, you will be witnessing another small miracle (or in my case...BIG miracle) that happens during the adventure of following the passions of your heart and overcoming anxiety to get there.

My tip for this week? Keep on doing what we've been learning to do. I know it's helping me and I truly hope you too are experiencing less anxiety.
  • Pray about everything
  • Live one moment at a time
  • Cultivate thankfulness
  • Embrace good thoughts and capture the bad ones
This week, stand back and watch what God will do with all the details that concern you. Write down the little (or big) ways you see God working in your life.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Killing Anxiety Before it Kills You (Part 4)

My fingers were flying across the black and white keys at top speed when I noticed the clicking sound that my fingernails make when they need trimmed.

Bummer. I meant to trim them before my day of practicing began. It's very hard to play difficult music when your nails are the slightest bit too long.

Here's how my thought process continued......(while I kept on playing)

..must trim my nails at lunch..
..I look forward to the day when I can have very long, pretty, painted fingernails...
..remember Florence Littauer and the beautiful long nails she had? I want mine to be like hers...
..and oh yes, how nice of that gentleman at my concert yesterday who came up to me afterward to tell me that because of my song about the "Personalities" he was now going to take that class he originally didn't want to take.....he was now inspired.....good...
...I wonder what Florence is up to these days...
...I'm hungry...
..how fun it is to do concerts when people actually receive something specific from you that will add value to their lives and relationships...
...OOPS.......I shouldn't have let my mind wander so.....
...now I'm totally lost in the song and have no idea where I am...

It happens so predictably now, that part of my practicing for Portraits of White goes way beyond learning the music and executing it well. It also involves making my brain stay focused on only one thought: what's the next note I need to play?

This feels like appropriate advice for more than just music rehearsal!

The scripture seems to give two contradictory statements about our thoughts:

1) Take no thought for tomorrow......
2) Take every thought captive.....

So which is it?  Don't take on any thoughts or take the ones you have captive and make them obedient to what they should be dwelling on?

It's both!!!

So here's the next thing I know about anxiety.  

It often begins with our thoughts. If we can "take no thought", we are much better off.

Kind of like not picking up the chocolate bar off the shelf in the store and putting it into our grocery cart. But the problem is, we are human and we do take thoughts and store them in our "cart". Then we usually have to pay for them later.

This has nothing to do with the blog.....
I saw this picture while looking for an appropriate photo of a grocery cart,
and was distracted by this picture.
Wouldn't it be the DREAM job!!!
To work on streets of chocolate?
...well...maybe it DOES have something to do with the blog....
Therefore, the next thing to do if you have trouble with "taking thoughts", is to learn how to "take them captive".

I remember when I was a little girl visiting my older cowboy cousin in Oklahoma. He showed me how he could ride his horse and lasso a steer with his rope (I wonder now if he was just showing off.) At the time, he really impressed this curious young girl. I mean, I came from a farm, but we didn't do THAT with our calves.

Once he caught it, he pulled the rope tight. The steer was now his captive.


When we have negative thoughts, we have to 'lean into our horse' a little bit and catch the thought by the horns and wrestle it to the ground....at least, that's how I view the practice of taking a thought captive. Could be my rural upbringing showing through.

What are you thinking about these days? Could your anxiety be related to your thought life? I know it's definitely true in my life.

"What am I going to do?"

"What if this bill doesn't get paid?"

"What if I can't find work?"

"Who is going to be President?"

These questions usually lead to fear, which inevitably leads to worry and anxiety.

You might not be a musician who has to learn to focus her brain so that her fingers remember where to go next, but we can all learn how to control our thoughts and focus on where they should go next.

There's another verse that suggests things we should think on...good things - things that are lovely, true, honest and pure.

So here are my "thoughts" for the week on killing anxiety.

Start by thinking about your thoughts (I know, bad pun).

Be choosy about which thoughts you "take".

If you fail and "take" the negative ones, then proceed to step 2 and take them captive so they can't do more damage.

Drag the bad thoughts out and replace them with good, true, lovely and hopeful thoughts.

Now....back to focused practicing...and yes, I remembered to trim my nails at lunch.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Killing Anxiety Before it Kills You (Part 3).


As I continue my thoughts about anxiety, I think I've discovered another way to overcome it. In addition to prayer and living life one moment at a time, I'm pondering what thankfulness can do.

The table we use at my house is an heirloom and belonged to my Great Aunt Fannie, which was given to her by her parents, so it's well over 100 years old. I only cover it on special occasions and the tablecloth makes any meal extra special. Even the most everyday piece of dish ware is made special just by adding a lace cloth underneath.

One of my most precious memories of my Mother was the way she would decorate the table when we had guests. Not only was she a fabulous cook, but she had a way of making the table and everything on it look just as splendid as the taste of her homemade and home-raised food. The tablecloth was carefully selected and ironed.

When she had to move to skilled nursing, I pulled out one of her old tablecloths and we had a picnic lunch together down the hall from her room. The squeal of delight she made as we rounded the corner to where she could see the "surprise" indoor picnic on the old tablecloth is one of my treasured memories of time spent with her.



In part 1 of my posts about anxiety I mentioned that prayer is a great way to overcome anxiety. I shared a verse that I often turn to when I'm tempted to feel anxious. I think a heart of gratitude is like a tablecloth underneath our prayers and is another great way to overcome anxiety.

"Don’t worry about anything; instead, PRAY about everything. 
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 
Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. 
His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." 
Philippians 4:6-7.

I used to kind of skip over the part that says "and thank him for all he has done". It can appear to be an afterthought, but the longer I live, the more I'm convinced that it's just as much a part of fighting worry as praying can be. 

I find that the more I cultivate gratitude, the less I need to "pray" about things. My attitude changes, my faith is increased and I start to feel stronger just by listing all the things I'm grateful for.

As I approach the big Portraits of White night, I have started keeping a gratitude journal for all the big (and little) things that I see happening. I even slip in a few things from the past two years. That way, as I begin to remind myself of all the miracles already taking place it begins to encourage me and lessen the anxiety.

Perhaps praying without any moments of thanksgiving is like setting the table for a nice dinner and then remembering that you should add the tablecloth. It's much easier to put the tablecloth down first. 


I don't think thankfulness is meant to be an "add on" to finish up our prayers. It should undergird our lives. 

I say put the tablecloth on first. Start with thanksgiving before you put out all the components of prayer.