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... 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..... 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 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.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Killing Anxiety Before it Kills You (Part 2).

"Unpredictability produces high levels of anxiety."
 - Mark Batterson from "Chase The Lion"

When I saw the subtitle of Mark Batterson's book,"If Your Dream Doesn't Scare You, It's Too Small",  I had a rather strong reaction.  It came at the height of anxiety and I didn't feel in the mood to "dream big". Well if that's the criteria for judging the size of a dream, then my dream is plenty big enough, I mumbled.

I love to underline key thoughts when I'm reading a book and since I've underlined most of Batterson's book, I guess you could say I'm finding it helpful in spite of my initial reaction. I agree with him - unpredictability does produce high levels of anxiety. 

For instance, last year around this time, my husband and I knew we were facing several costly medical procedures. Like many self-employed Americans, our medical insurance has been anything but affordable and since we had just signed up for another plan suggested by our insurance agent to keep in line with the government requirements, we found our anxiety levels increased because we weren't absolutely positive that our insurance would cover all that we needed to have done. What if we'd end up paying the whole thing ourselves? 

Looking back to this time last year, I can see that we made it through ok. So many fears are unfounded, yet they feel so real.

That leads me to my next tip for killing anxiety. 

"Take life one moment at a time."

Others tell me they are inspired by watching me go after my dream. It makes them want to try and work at their dream. I usually sarcastically tell them to go and work at Walmart. It would be much easier to just punch a clock, work for someone else, and go home. I'm learning to take this one moment at a time.

I'm glad someone else is inspired because there are many "uninspiring moments" about this dream and they are usually the unpredictable ones that cause the most anxiety. Remember, he said that unpredictability produces high levels of anxiety?

Here are just some of the unpredictable elements of the dream:
  • Ticket sales 
  • Attendance
  • Weather
  • Health 
Ticket Sales:

Since the concert is a very big expense, ticket sales are important! Marketing, musicians, sheet music, lighting and sound are just a few of the expenses. But I won't know until the night of December 10, exactly how many tickets I've sold (unless it sells out ahead of time) so why worry about it in this moment? 

In 2014, I was afraid no one would come. 400 people came.

In 2015 I was afraid people wouldn't come back. But people came back and brought friends and we had over 730 people.

Guess what tries to make me afraid this year? Yep - same old thing. It's just part of chasing the lion.


Even if people buy tickets, I don't know what things may come up in their lives to prevent them from actually coming. No one can control circumstances, so why do I worry about how many will be able to come? It's out of my control completely. I won't change it by worrying about it.

In fact, just in the past few months, three people I care about have passed away rather suddenly. One of them attended my past two concerts. I am sure she didn't know when she came last year that it would be her last year. That's how unpredictable life is. For that matter, this could be MY last concert.


The weather? Well, yeah, that's a real deal breaker! But I can't control the weather either, so why do I worry about it in this moment? It's taking up energy and brain space that could be put to better use.


What if I get sick? Lose my voice? I could borrow Ironman's suit and be completely protected from all germs, but it's hard to practice the piano with iron hands. 

You probably think I'm getting a little detailed - but that's how detailed our fears can be and now you know some of my secret fears. It helps to name them.

It's tempting to wait until I do something really successful and amazing and THEN tell you what I was afraid of, but somehow it seems more powerful if you know it as it's all happening - whether it succeeds or not. You get to see the struggle as well as the joy.

I close with some challenging words from Jesus: 

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field 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 wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today."

Does this mean I don't prepare for the concert, or work hard from morning until evening practicing, praying, promoting? NO! 

I work hard in case tomorrow comes 
and I worry none in case it doesn't. 

So these days my prayer moments go kind of like this:

"Father, thank you that in this moment, I have everything I need. I have bills coming up that need paid, but they aren't due today, therefore, why give them any thought. I am alive and well in this moment and that's all I am really guaranteed....this moment. Yesterday is history and tomorrow may never come for me. I am at peace now in this moment. You said not to worry about tomorrow, so I choose not to. 

You also said "don't let your heart be troubled", so I'm choosing peace in this moment. Hey little heart of mine, it's going to be ok - don't be troubled!"

If I do that each moment, next thing I know, the day is over and I've made it through and peace is reigning in my heart. Tomorrow, if I wake up, I'll do it all over again, until this battle is done. Will you join me?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Killing Anxiety Before it Kills You! (Part 1)

It seems like the only thing I can write about passionately right now is anxiety. 

Honestly, I had no idea what stepping out and creating an evening of "Portraits of White" would do to my life. I didn't know I would battle such insecurities and frailty of soul. This year's concert brings all the regular battles PLUS an added battle of anxiety that seems to be unleashed in a fierce way. Someone has turned up the heat.

One of the rules of successful blogging is to do it with consistency. I did pretty well until August. The reason for my failure to be consistent? I spent so much time and energy working on songwriting for my new CD project that I was completely "wordless" and void of any bandwidth for expressing anymore thoughts.

Now, as I head into final preparations for the big dream concert, I still feel like I don't have bandwidth for writing anything because I'm pouring myself into making the night of December 10 as amazing as I possibly can, in hopes that people will walk away inspired, encouraged and full of hope.

However, I miss the benefits of blogging. Writing about my inner thoughts and struggles is so helpful in bringing clarity to my life. So in keeping with my original plan when I first began blogging, I will write, whether anyone is reading or not and even though I may have lost readers because I broke the rule of consistency. If you are still with me, great.

So with that set up, I've decided to focus my next season of blogging around dealing with anxiety. It seems to be a by-product of stepping out and responding to the whisper of the dream when the sun was shining and anxiety was far from you. Now, you say to yourself "what was I thinking?".

I'm not a medical doctor and I am not a psychologist! But I am familiar with anxiety and what it can do to our bodies.

This image says it all. Anxiety will paralyze you.

You won't be able to see or think straight, let alone breathe.

I am convinced that at the root of anxiety
is the misconception that we can control our lives. 

Though I believe that we can make choices and try to stay on track, ultimately, we are not in control. I was reminded of that when I spent the night at Chicago's O'hare airport back in July. It didn't matter what I planned, preferred or listed as my goal, my plane was not going anywhere because of a bad storm. It was a situation beyond my control, and at first, it made me anxious.

So here's what I know from experience about anxiety in my life, so far:

1) It feels like churning and knots in my stomach
2) It has the potential to paralyze me if allowed to turn into full-blown fear
3) It often strikes in the middle of the night
4) It disillusions me into thinking I would feel better if I could control everything

As I explore this topic throughout the next few weeks, I'll share a tip for how I am currently learning to kill it before it kills me.

Pray. Pray. Pray.

"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.

This simple verse is changing my life. I have it written out and taped about my stove in the kitchen. I read it often and I say it out loud to myself throughout the day. I use the symptoms of anxiety as a signal to remind me to pray instead of THINK or DO my way out of anything. Sometimes, I even get down on my knees and pray out loud right then and there about whatever is making me afraid and anxious.

Feeling anxious? 

Pray. Be very specific about what it is that is making you anxious. Name it out loud and express yourself. 

Know that you are not alone, but we'll get through this together.