Wednesday, October 4, 2017

He Holds My Hand (by guest author, Carol Kent)

Carol Kent - guest blogger/author
Have you ever been desperate to hear God’s voice? Has daily life ever felt so demanding you weren’t sure what to do next? Has your phone rung in the middle of the night with unexpected news about a loved one? Has the diagnosis from the doctor brought a sense of fear or unrest? Have you wanted an answer from God, but didn’t know where to turn?

I’ve been there.  When my son was arrested for a serious crime after I’d tried to be the best mother I could be, I felt alone. Angry. Hurt. Fearful. Disappointed in God. Those feelings intensified following his conviction and sentencing.  

Here’s what I began to learn.  I needed to give myself time to grieve my losses.  Maybe you’ve been there, too. I discovered it’s okay with God to cry out my pain and hurt.  Our tears matter to Him. 

Then I started communicating with God in a new way.  When life was intense or busy, it was hard to read an entire chapter of the Bible.  But I discovered I could read a verse or two.  I began meditating on those verses and praying, “Lord, what do you want to speak into my life as a result of this Scripture?”  Then I started writing out what I believed was His prayer over my life.  And it comforted me.  It was as if God took me by the hand, as a father would guide a child, and gently led me in the direction of unconditional love, renewed hope, and fresh faith.

I read Matthew 7:7-8:  Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  As I asked for His direction, I began to write:

        You’ve been stressed and anxious about future events.  There are work concerns and family issues, along with financial challenges. It’s hard to concentrate on what you have to do today, because you already know the week ahead is filled with impossible situations—and you’re not sure what you should do.  
Instead of worrying, talk to Me.  I love to respond to your requests.  Worrying about what hasn’t happened yet and about what might never happen is fruitless and only robs you of the strength you have today.  You will find Me if you look for Me, and I will provide all you need in perfect timing.  I am never 
late.

As I continued to listen to God’s voice through His Word, I wrote out 365 prayers based on Scripture for every day of the year.  I hope you’ll be encouraged through these devotions in He Holds My Hand (Tyndale).  Each day’s selection begins with a relevant quotation, followed by a prayer, and ends with a Scripture verse or passage. Listen to God’s voice and put your hand in His.  He is your Comforter, your Healer, your Teacher, and your Joy.  Whether life is good or unspeakably difficult, He holds your hand—and He won’t let go.

“I cling to You; Your strong right hand holds me securely.”  Psalm 63:8




Purchase Carol's new book here.

Bio:
Carol Kent is an international speaker and the bestselling author of When I Lay My Isaac Down and Becoming a Woman of Influence.  With vulnerable openness, irrepressible hope, restored joy, and a sense of humor, she directs you to choices based on God’s truth. She annually directs the Speak Up Conference, training Christians in speaking and writing skills. You can get information on her newest book, He Holds My Hand, or on inviting her to speak at your event at www.CarolKent.org.  Connect with Carol on Facebook at:  www.facebook.com/authorcarolkent and on Twitter at:  www.twitter.com/CarolKentSpeaks.

Friday, September 29, 2017

A World of Our Own Making?

A world where hearts will cease their aching
will be a world of our own making
When we start giving more than taking
we'll find what's lost is worth the cost

Lyrics by Ed Kee
Music by Randy Kartchner

If you have been listening to the news at all lately, it seems like our world is in an upheaval. From hurricanes to NFL player protests - what on earth is going on? Is the lyric to this song really true? Do we really have the ability to make a world where hearts cease their aching?

Once in a while, these days, I tune into the news but most of the time I'm tuning into the music for this year's Portraits of White winter concert. It takes me months to learn the songs, memorize them and plant them deep into my soul so that it's one seamless night of inspiration! As I "soak" in the music, I also meditate on the words and pan for nuggets of joy and hope like a prospector might pan for gold. Many of these nuggets will become potential gems for the concert.

This year we are including a new song co-written by none other than Ed Kee, the conductor himself and Randy Kartchner. The standard for a song choice for the concert is simply that it be a GREAT song, whether it's known or not. No one twists my arm for song choices and Ed certainly didn't push for us to use his song. I just felt that the song fits this year's concert and so we've included it. I LOVE the song.

You'll certainly hear songs you know and love, probably played in a way you haven't heard, but no Frances Drost concert is complete without original tunes. The lyrics posted above come from the song "Christmas All Year Long". It has a great message for the times we live in.

Ed Kee, conductor and songwriter.
As I've been learning this song, my first reaction to this verse lyric, "a world where hearts will cease their aching, will be a world of our own making" made me stop and think. As a Christian, we would usually say that Jesus is in charge of all things and He is the maker of our world, right? 

So shouldn't we just pray and leave it up to GOD to make it better? Doesn't it sound a bit humanistic to think we could create a world where hearts stop aching?

Can we make THAT much of a difference in our world? 

The more I've meditated on this lyric, the more I must agree with the writer (and not just because he's my conductor) but because I believe that how we treat each other has a big impact on our world. Small acts of kindness go a long way.

One musician sent me an email after last year's concert, thanking me for the opportunity to be a part of the event and though he loved the concert, he seemed to most appreciate how he was treated. That spoke volumes to me and reminded me that above and beyond the music, it's more important that I treat everyone involved with kindness.

What kind of world are you making where you live? A smile, an encouraging word, a pleasant post on social media, a donation to a charity that's helping others survive the disasters, spending time with your child and giving them a chance to speak their mind and not shut them down; there are so many ways we can make this world a better place. 

"If it's Christmas in our hearts
then may our gift be love
and hope our song
when men are blind to all but kindness
compassion will remind us
it's Christmas all year long"

Ed Kee
Randy Kartchner

Click here to purchase your tickets to see this grand event and consider inviting others to come with you as a gift of love to them.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Our Own Set of Wheels

His rich baritone voice rose above all the others, partly due to the fact that he was sitting right beside me, but also because he seemed to pick up on the new song quickly. I paused part way through the song and told him he had a beautiful voice. He seemed touched that I noticed. 

As we continued singing and conversing together I learned that at one time he had been part of a barbershop quartet. I already knew from our first group songwriting session together that his mother had been a talented piano player and one of his big life regrets was the fact that he didn't take lessons from her when she offered to teach him. 



My purpose in connecting with this gathering of elderly people was to gain experience writing songs with groups as a way to build community among various circles of people - whether it be organizations, patients or in this case, residents of a retirement community. 

This was my second organization to work with this summer. Though my heart pounds a little bit before I enter the room of complete strangers (knowing I promised we'd write a song as a result of our gathering), I always walk away inspired and take home a deeper appreciation for the path each human being walks. Though each story is so different, there are definite similarities and it's a huge sense of satisfaction to write a song after gatherings such as this one. 

There were three recurring themes I heard as these precious elderly people sat and pulled back the curtain for just a moment so I could get a peek into their life. 
  • Travel 
  • Family/love
  • Food
I felt a twinge of sorrow in my heart as I resonated with them, remembering that those were the things my mother missed the most in her last years on earth.

Many of this group were widows and widowers who had been married well over 50 years. And then we talked about their pets. I loved how one woman talked about her two parakeets; Bruce and Pete. It was obvious they brought her lots of joy. Ah yes, we mourn their departure almost as much as humans. Okay, so maybe there were four recurring themes! 


The first week I met with the group, I sat and simply asked a lot of questions and took a lot of notes. I wondered if the group might have some curiosity (and even doubt) about the fact that we were going to come up with a song based on their information. At the end of our first hour together, I assured them that songs are simply lyrics and melodies that come from stories and phrases. If they'd just keep talking, I'd come up with something. 

At the end of the hour, one woman said, "This was fun!" But initially, it was hard to get any of them to actually come to the session in the first place. Many seemed apprehensive so I ended up going from room to room with the activity assistant to introduce myself and encourage them to come.

We were only able to gather about seven, but once they agreed to come, I found that if I'd ask the right questions, even the introverts started to talk. Writing a song is a fun and challenging process, but they provided enough keywords and themes that I felt like I had something to work with. 

At a recent songwriting workshop I sponsored, Robert Sterling, a hit songwriter, and the guest teacher, told us that all good songwriters are good listeners. I took great comfort in that statement because I knew that I could gather material if I just listen. 

Normally, we'd need hours to dig through a thesaurus, dictionaries, and word menu books, but I had to do that later in the privacy of my own studio. A week later I returned(a week later) with a song ready for them to tweak if they wanted. After all, it's about them so I wanted them to have that chance. 

I knew I was seeing the realization of my idea and my hopes, all the while touching people at the same time. What more could I want?

I took my guitar and some Rita's Italian ice for the unveiling of the song. Since one of their big hankerings was for food, I wanted to take them a treat. It was such a beautiful day that we ended up sitting out on the porch. Amongst all the activity of the ambulance, transport vehicles and people coming and going from beauty salons and physical therapy, we learned the song together. 

As the sun warmed our backs, the collective activity seemed to warm our hearts and Rita's Ice was a great way to conclude the day. It all started with an idea.


First comes thought; 
then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; 
then transformation of those plans into reality. 
The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.

Napoleon Hill

Do you have some ideas? Can you find some small ways to start testing them? You never know what might unfold if you try.

Due to privacy issues these days, I can't post pictures or video but this is the song we created based on their sentiments. You'll even see what foods they were hungry for. Maybe you can taste them as you read the lyrics. 

Maybe you could go visit your loved one who sits in their chair, day after day, wishing for their own set of wheels.


Our Own Set of Wheels
by Frances Drost
for Bethany Village participants

it’s too boring just to sit here snoring
let’s take a trip this afternoon
good-bye high rise and hello to blue skies
we won’t be coming back ‘til June

we’ll have steak in Nebraska
fry some fish in Alaska
make our way to New Jersey
celebrate our anniversary
see our children for the day
eat some meatloaf made our way
we would eat our favorite meals
if we only had our own set of wheels

we’ll stop whining and enjoy fine dining
we’d like some homemade pumpkin pie
no more knitting we’re so sick of sitting
we’ve got a hankering to fly

we’ll have steak in Nebraska
fry some fish in Alaska
make our way to New Jersey
celebrate our anniversary
see our children for the day
eat some meatloaf made our way
we would eat our favorite meals
if we only had our own set of wheels

Bruce and Pete those silly parakeets
say they would like to join the fun
we’ll be stopping for some extra toppings
let’s eat the pizza on the run

we’ll have steak in Nebraska
fry some fish in Alaska
make our way to New Jersey
celebrate our anniversary
see our children for the day
eat some meatloaf made our way
we would eat our favorite meals
if we only had our own set of wheels

Monday, September 18, 2017

Orange or Brown?





















I walked by my zinnias this morning and their brilliance made me stop and ponder their beauty. Next to a brilliant orange flower was a dying bloom, marked by the boring brown color. What a contrast. I paused to take in this ever-inspiring process of growing flowers.

As I continue preparing for this year's Portraits of White concert, I think of how this applies to following our dreams. For instance, I'm currently working on writing a song about snow for this year's concert. I LOVE snow. I know I'm weird, but that's what the title theme song is all about and snow removes the winter blahs, at least for me. I love sharing my heart with the audience each year and finding creative ways to make us all pause for one night and be inspired. Writing a song is one of the ways I go about this.

I'm watching a lot of ideas and lyrics turn brown and "die" because they just aren't there yet. But within the death of those old ideas and lyrics, lie seeds to new ideas and the more I keep "working the soil" in songwriting, the more my little garden of writing grows. You'll get to "pick a bouquet of inspiration" from the music the night of the concert and take it home with you and it will all be because of the cycle of how things grow.

Everything has a process. I would prefer to have only bright orange blossoms growing all the time, but to get those beautiful flowers, they must die to produce new seeds for the next year. At some point in the next few weeks, I'll pluck all the dead blossoms and store them in the basement so they can dry. Within the fading brown petals lie plenty of seeds to grow more next year. In fact, my yard has flourished with zinnias this year thanks to all the seeds I gathered and kept last year.

Maybe you've had to move recently and start new friendships. Perhaps you didn't get the grade you hoped for in class or you've had a sudden crisis of health.

Whatever you are facing these days will often contain brown, "dead-looking" flowers, but within those dry blossoms lie the seeds to a potentially bigger and better garden. As you sort through the seemingly fading blossoms, look for little seeds of hope. They can be planted with the promise of Spring.

At some point, your flowers may end up on someone else's table and bring them complete delight. You may never know what kind of impact your little seeds may have. Just keep tending your garden. There is life in both orange and brown!



To learn more about this Portraits of White concert, click here.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Do you pull weeds or do they pull you?

One day I was out walking and noticed a huge pile of dirt where thistles were taking over. I don't know who is in charge of upkeep, but obviously, they haven't been keeping up. 

Overgrown weeds along the trail where I often walk;
a profound reminder of what happens when weeds get out of control.
As I observed the tall thistles, I couldn't help but think of a story that challenges me every time I read it:

"I walked by the field of a lazy person, the vineyard of one with no common sense.
I saw that it was overgrown with nettles.
It was covered with weeds, and its walls were broken down.

Then, as I looked and thought about it, I learned this lesson:
A little extra sleep, a little more slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit;
scarcity will attack you like an armed robber."

Proverbs 24: 30 - 34 (NLT) 

A few days later, I was out walking on that same path and came upon some very large earth mover equipment. Looks like they had to call in the big guns to get rid of the out-of-control weeds.


Same spot as pictured earlier, except for the earth mover.
When it comes to pursuing the passions and dreams of our heart, it isn't much different than tending a garden. Weeds that can choke our dreams can appear on two levels; visible and invisible.

How?


The Visible


For me, on a practical level, it means cultivating a life of consistently working away at all that needs to be done. If I start letting things pile up, I soon get overwhelmed and become stifled. Soon the weeds of stress and anxiety can take root. That's when I start wanting to have a little extra sleep and a little folding of the hands to rest.


According to the proverb, poverty will suddenly appear in the midst of your so-called resting. This is obviously not talking about keeping the margin in your life and making sure you get adequate rest. This is talking about laziness beyond a period of rest. If things pile up, I can start to have the urge to be lazy! It's almost an oxymoron. A lot to do and no motivation to do it!


A real practical tool that helps me keep things under control is a great program called "Evernote", on my smartphone or desktop. Anything that comes to mind that needs to be done is entered into a category appropriate for the job. I find that once it's in writing, it's out of my mind. I used to keep "to do" lists on paper scattered around my house. Now that I use Evernote, all my lists are in one place and I always have them with me. When I'm exercising and something comes to mind, I can simply create a new category or add it to an existing category.


It's a small tool that if used regularly keeps me on track and keeps my "garden" looking nice and gives me peace of mind.


The Invisible


When it comes to matters of the soul, which is where our passions exist and where we nurture our dreams, I find that a prayer journal can be a type of "Evernote". It can be as simple as a little notebook listing items that you care about; relational issues, need of resources, ideas, etc. There is something very powerful about maintaining a consistent life of prayer and it has a way of keeping the weeds of anxiety and stress from growing and taking over.


If you find that you have an overgrown pile of weeds, you might need to call in the earth movers - like a counselor, or a weekend away where you prioritize your life and focus on what really matters and what you really want to grow in your "garden".  Once you feel like you have pulled the BIG weeds, begin to keep after them with consistent nurturting through useful tools like Evernote and prayer.
Either way, keep those weeds pulled before they pull you!
















Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Back Door of Your Dreams.

Have you ever thought about your dreams having a front or back door? Me neither, until this week. Entering the wrong door (back door) of a building triggered a memory of a similar experience last December. Suddenly, I was thinking that dreams have front and back doors, just like structures.

Ed and Tom, two music industry veterans from Nashville, had just flown in from Tennessee, to the Baltimore, Maryland airport. I was so excited to pick them up and welcome them back to Pennsylvania to be part of Portraits of White...my growing winter concert dream.

Ed Kee is the conductor of my concert and helps me plan the music as well as write some of the music; he does more than I think most conductors probably do. Tom Hemby is a talented guitar player we brought in a few years ago when my other guitar player couldn't do the concert at the last minute. Tom was such a great addition to the event that we are planning to bring him back again this year for the third year in a row.


Since I knew that they were both Civil War buffs, I planned our route from the airport to the hotel so that we could stop at the Gettysburg Battlefield.

In my mind, I pictured a short jaunt through the battlefield, but as soon as they saw the first big monument, they had their windows down and cameras ready before I could even say, "Do you want to get out?" I could tell the answer was yes without even asking. It was worth stopping just to see the battlefield through their eyes.


We did the weekend concert and as a last hurrah, I decided that we should conclude the weekend with dinner at a restaurant in Gettysburg. I treasure time with these two music industry veterans because I learn a lot just by listening to their conversations and experiences. Spending time with them is one of my favorite perks of doing the concert.

We arrived at the Farnsworth Inn, where we could enjoy some nourishment. However, I was unfamiliar with the restaurant and felt a little stupid when the door we opened to the restaurant was obviously a back entrance that took us right into the kitchen. That's not the part you're supposed to see, right? Usually you enter at the front, which is generally beautifully decorated and welcoming. The back entrance reveals the 'guts of the establishment'. (Maybe guts is a bad word to use when discussing restaurants but I think I'll go ahead and use it).

So that little memory got me thinking. Initially, following our dream is a lot like entering a restaurant through the front door.  The front entrance is very appealing and everything is "just right".  That's how it is when you begin dreaming. You are excited to "enter" into pursuing your dream.

But there is always a "back door" to dreaming too, as I'm finding out. It's where the work takes place. Everyone is hustling to create great moments for the guests who will come. We all know that there is work going on at a public restaurant, but we don't want to know that. We're there for an 'experience'. Ultimately, the only ones that should think about the work are those who pay the bills at the end of the month and "keep the electricity on". They probably enter through the back door when they arrive for work.


Yes, every dream has a front door and a back door. Both are needed. Every now and then, I need to walk through the front door of my dreams, just to remember that initial feeling of vision and energy. So do you.

For me, it can happen when I'm sitting back and listening to a piece of music that I've been dissecting note by note so I can learn it well for the concert. Sometimes I just need to sit and listen to it for its beauty.

One of those moments happened in Nashville the last time I was there planning the concert with the conductor. We were in the thick of planning and I had been feeling a little overwhelmed. (I'm getting used to that feeling and learning how to pace myself).  As we listened through one of the pieces of music that combines a sacred Christmas song with a classical piece in a most creative way, the tears began to trickle down my face. The goosebumps appeared on my arms and my worries were carried away by the emotion of the key changes and crescendos of the music.

I apologized to Ed for the tears and said, "Sometimes I get so caught up in the details of this show that I forget what I'm really doing, and then I hear this music and remember why I do this. It's because of the way music moves us. That's why I do this!" For one night, I want people to sit and be swept away by the music; cares and all.

I was a bit weepy all day as I experienced the music from the seat of the listener, not the planner/performer.

Most days, I have to go through the back door to get the work done, but I'm learning to find joy even in the back door of my dreams.

Additionally, somedays, I enter through the front door of my dreams and enjoy the lobby area and remember the first time I walked through that door. 


Monday, July 3, 2017

Brand New Me Podcast (now on iTunes).


I am really excited to announce the release of not only my new CD this year, but also a new podcast to go with it. You can click here to go to iTunes and subscribe.  This link will take you to the preview page in iTunes. Just click "view in iTunes" and you'll see the subscribe button. You'll automatically receive a new episode every week.

Here's a little bit of the background behind the podcast.

In this exciting new weekly podcast, Brand New Me, we: (Frances Drost, host and Pam Fleming, co-host) share not only our own stories of overcoming life's obstacles, but we are also capturing the stories of others that will inspire and offer you hope. We want to help you thrive in life, not just survive.

I, (Frances) am a concert artist who has enjoyed years of music ministry. I've also been working through the loss of two brothers, both parents and other close family members. The after affects of all these deaths became apparent in my songwriting; and once I began to understand how deeply I had been impacted, I was able to begin moving toward healing and joy.

Then, in my forties, I found even more freedom after uncovering a pattern I had developed all through my life that I call "performance-based" Christianity. You're only as loved as your last great performance when you struggle with this kind of thinking. This tendency resulted in some powerful fear and anxiety, leading to depression.

After lots of prayer, some counseling and a four-month adventure of learning to figure skate, a brand new me has slowly been emerging. As I'm learning more about God's grace and mercy, the title, Brand New Me, seemed like an appropriate theme for my new music project and now, podcast.

I'm excited to use my studio to record other people's stories of healing and hope and share them with you in the form of this podcast. You'll hear my music interspersed throughout the episodes.

I, (Pam) am an author and speaker who has lived through the loss of my 14-month-old daughter, a bout with cancer, a marriage betrayal, and the final blow - the suicide of my husband. If I can get off the couch, you can too!

My passion is for everyone to experience Jesus in a personal way; to see people healed from shame, depression, grief and the spirit of suicide; and to bring suicide awareness to the church.

We invite you to enjoy the banter between two fun-loving women as we share part of our own life experiences in a conversational-type presentation. We already have lots of people lined up to tell their stories and can't wait for you to hear them!

You won't want to miss an episode, so just use the link at the top to go to iTunes and subscribe. We'd love to have you leave a review there too. That would help get the message out to more people..

Join us every week for this exciting podcast.

We believe that you really can be a brand new me!