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.


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 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!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sing Anyway

Sing Anyway is a song on my newest CD project and is based on the book of Psalms. David seems to frequently challenge us to "sing" in the midst of the ups and downs of life. When I started writing it, I really liked where the song was headed but got stuck part way through.

After many tries and re-writes, I started praying for help to finish it and wouldn't you know, one day I happened to do an event for speakers and authors where award-winning singer-songwriter Babbie Mason was in the crowd.  We started talking afterwards and didn't really stop until we parted ways in the Atlanta airport. Somehow, we were both scheduled on the same flight from Cincinnati to Atlanta even though we had never met before that day. The airport and airplane became our writing room and she helped me finish the song.

The icing on the cake was having her record it with me in Nashville.

when the way is dark and you lose your song
sing anyway
when the faith you have is almost gone
sing anyway

light will come and the pain will ease
hope will rise with a melody
with a joyful heart
even if off-key
sing anyway, sing anyway

sing, sing out loud
find your voice 
though you don't know how
you'll be alright take a leap of faith
sing anyway, sing anyway

when you're in the fire and you feel it burn
sing anyway
when you hit a wall at every turn
sing anyway

lift your voice let the courage flow
mercy comes in the afterglow
and grace will make your weak heart grow
sing anyway, sing anyway

sing, sing out loud
find your voice 
though you don't know how
you'll be alright take a leap of faith
sing anyway, sing anyway

when you feel afraid of what lies ahead
sing anyway
and you start to doubt what God has said
sing anyway

faith will grow when you start to sing
praise will conquer anything
let the heavens hear your music ring
sing anyway, sing anyway

sing, sing out loud
find your voice 
though you don't know how
you'll be alright take a leap of faith
sing anyway, sing anyway

by Frances Drost and Babbie Mason

Babbie, Frances, Eric and Ronnie working on "Sing Anyway".

Saturday, May 13, 2017

When You Don't Have Your Mother.

It was very hard to say goodbye to my father when he passed away sixteen years ago. People told me that when your second parent dies it's even more difficult. I heard that piece of information but tried not to think about it. 

Once my mother took her last breath, I knew what they meant. "You feel like an orphan", some people say.  You can't really prepare for that feeling, even though people tried to tell me how it feels.

Celebrating my 16th birthday with my mother.
Unlike my father's death (which happened rather suddenly) there didn't seem to be one specific day when I said goodbye to my mother. In fact, every time I left her little room in the nursing facility, I felt like I was saying goodbye. I cried almost every time we parted. I knew the day was coming and I absolutely dreaded it.

Whether you've lost your mother physically or emotionally, (there are some who have a tumultuous relationship and feel "motherless"), Mother's Day can be a challenge. I passed by a rack of Mother's Day cards in the store this week and I could feel that lump in my throat and concrete block on my heart. 

But if there's anything I've learned from the many different deaths our family has experienced, it's that the sooner you can appreciate who you DO have left, the sooner you can heal from grief, and it's no different when it comes to your mother.

By definition, a mother is someone who gives birth to a child; to be or act as a mother to someone or to care for or protect someone like a mother. This means that any woman, whether younger or older, can actually be like a mother to you.  Look around you. 

I am thinking of a speaker and author, living in Florida, who has become like a mother to me in my ministry. I can talk to her about things that others would never understand because of the road she's traveled. She's given me wonderful advice for my own ministry. She's helped me understand what having a career in music and/or speaking ministry can do to your "normal" life and how to navigate. I always come home wanting to be more like her.

I am thinking of another woman, living in Texas, also a speaker and author, who became like a mother to me when my own mother was aging and starting to not be herself. I met Carole when I was beginning to feel the strains of caring for an aging parent and all the emotional upheaval that brings. Her words of encouragement were soothing to my tired soul.

Carole is no spring chicken herself and though she lost her mother and recently became a widow, she still travels, speaks, writes AND models caring for your body by keeping a regimented work-out schedule. What an example! She has been an inspiration to me and I come home wanting to be more like her.

There's another woman, living in Nashville, who is not an author or speaker, at least you won't find a 'book' in print, but she is writing a life that's worth studying.  She prepares the most delightful meals, keeps an immaculate home and models the beauty of a home-maker and wife, warming my soul with her example every time I'm there.

She loves spending time being a grandmother to her grandchildren and I often see her reading books, watching a movie or playing a board game with them. She reminds me that above and beyond my call to ministry, being a wife and home-maker is still at the top of the list of what women can offer their families. I always come home wanting to be more like her.

Sarah is younger than me, has three delightful children (at least when I'm there, ha!), serves as a Pastor's wife, runs a restaurant....and oh yeah, is helping her husband renovate the three story apartment building they live in. When I'm with her, I adore the way she mothers her children and models frugality and creativity. She inspires me with her calm spirit - which seems to be able to manage a hundred things at once. I always want to be more like her when I get home.

I could keep raving about the other "mothers" in my life, because I am blessed with a lot of women friends in my life who inspire me, but I'm sure you get the point. They come in the form of sisters, aunts, nieces, friends, cousins, employers, teachers, etc.

This Mother's Day, if you don't have a mother, this could be a day you'd rather skip over. I get it! But there are plenty of other women to celebrate; women who nurture our souls, our careers, our lives. In their own way, they contribute to our growth and vibrancy.

As you stop to remember the one who gave birth to you physically, celebrate the mothers around you who have helped to give birth to your soul - the ones who make you want to "be more like them when you get home".  Perhaps you could let them know how much they have impacted you.

You could even take this one step further and ask, how can I be a "mother" to someone else in my life? Each of us have plenty to share with others and we too can nurture the soul of other women. 

There are so many 'mothers' to celebrate this Mother's Day - even when you don't have your mother.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Seamstress or Songstress?

How do you figure out who you were created to be? It's a hard question to answer when you're young and even when you're old.

Recently I found an autobiography I wrote back in high school. Now that I'm 51 years old, I see life so differently than the teenage girl who wrote that. This excerpt from it evoked a sudden, deep belly laugh.

"I am not good at door to door witnessing, but if I could have my own home and bake things for the hungry and sew things for the needy people, and concentrate on one group of people for the sake of Jesus; my children, I would be happy. I would have my children with me and could concentrate on raising them to love God."

My mother and her bread!
Mother & I in the kitchen.
I can see the influence of my mother all over that paragraph. She loved making a home for us children. That's the picture she painted for me out of her own giftedness. She was a grand cook, seamstress, gardener and mother.

But when I'd slice my mother's freshly baked bread, I'd cut the slices into deformed shapes and mess up the rest of the loaf. (You have to cut a second slice to straighten the first.) I couldn't even do it right the second time. I still smile and think of her when I cut a crooked slice and can feel her smiling at my inability to slice bread.

A rabbit I made.
I don't know how I did it!
I tried to sew but I wasn't nearly as good as she was and I'd quickly get frustrated. 

That idealistic description of my high-school-self was a direct reflection of who my mother was and what she was good at. Not who I am.

Recently I spent some time with a friend who just turned 70. I've started asking my older friends what reflections they'd have for younger folks. This particular friend paused for a moment and then spoke thoughtfully: "you start to become comfortable with who you are and you don't have to try to be anything or anyone else."

I spent much of my life trying to be all that my mother was and that's not all bad, but it took me a long time to figure out who I really am, apart from her. I finally discovered something; I DO sew and cook.

I sew lyrics and melodies together providing garments of joy and laughter for people when they listen to the tunes. I marinate thoughts and truths in my slow-cooker brain and serve up hope in creative ways for people to sit and partake of food for their soul. So I guess you could say that I have the same gifts as my mother - they just express themselves in different ways.

It can take a long time to figure out who you really are and what you're really good at, but the journey is worth it and it's part of the pleasure of growing older. If you still find yourself trying to be what others are (or think you should be), hang in there. Life and time have a way of helping you figure out who you really are.

  • Pray often - asking God to lead you on this journey - spend time listening for His leading
  • Look for clues from your childhood - what did you love to do when you were young
  • What did other people tell you that you were good at? (maybe they still tell you)
  • Experiment - try new things

As you age, you'll see clues from childhood that point you in the right direction. Through years of living and hours of prayer, you begin to find a groove and rhythm to who you are as a person, and then you can sit back, enjoy the creation God made you to be and not care about anything else.

And when you reach that point, you feel very free.

Friday, April 28, 2017

What is a CD Release Party?

So what's the big deal about a CD release party and exactly what can you expect when you go to one?

I don't know what other people do, but I can tell you what I'm planning.....minus the surprises. (I don't want to reveal too much and spoil the fun for those who will come). 

By the way, everyone is invited.

Basically, it's like a baby shower, AFTER the baby has been born. You invite all your friends and family so you can show off the baby pictures and eat cake. People may get tired of seeing all the posts about the new music and invites to the party, but from the mother's perspective, you are over-the-top-excited because your baby is finally out of the womb and ready to start growing up. But for a short moment in time, everyone will pause, ooh and aah over the dear-to-you but maybe not-so-much-to-others creation you hold in your arms.

Since the music has no printed sheet music anywhere, these musicians pictured above have learned the music from the CD and simple charts. The project "Brand New Me" was recorded in Nashville, but these local musicians have come together to play it live and we range in age from early 20's to late 50's. We've had a lot of fun preparing.

Instrumental chart for "Out of My Box".
A party gives the artist a chance to share some behind-the-scenes trivia that you might not normally hear any other time and I've worked very hard to make this special. There is quite a story behind the title track and new theme of my life, "Brand New Me" and though only a book could reveal it all, here's some excerpts from a press release that went out recently.

"Musician Frances Drost had never had a figure skating lesson in her life when in 2014, at age 47, a serious case of debilitating depression landed her on the ice. Drost’s latest CD, Brand New Me, is a celebration of overcoming obstacles, learning to fly when life has tried to clip your wings and living on the edge — in a good way. She will be sharing her new music on April 29, 2017, at 6:30 p.m. at Christ Community Church in Camp Hill, Pa., to celebrate the CD’s release and her 50th birthday — though she just turned 51 on April 26, 2017.

Frances Drost — creator of the increasingly popular annual Portraits of White Winter Concert — began writing the title track, “Brand New Me,” while on the ice. “Every weekday morning I would get up at 4 a.m., pull myself together, jump in the van and drive for 45 minutes to skate from 6 to 8 a.m.,” Drost recalls. “I had done plenty of ice skating on our farm pond outside of Newville, but I had never had the opportunity to learn to figure skate. Now I was having the time of my life and subconsciously gaining some emotional ground as I glided across the ice.”

Finding inspiration from the intricacy of the art as she watched the young skaters whirl and fly around her, she began to fall in love with skating — in between falls. “But as I kept getting back up and trying again, a brand new me was emerging,” Drost says. “One day while skating and pondering the effects this childhood resurgence was having on me, I began composing ‘Brand New Me’:

Living on the verge of something just begun
I don’t have to do what I’ve always done
Feeling my heart pound a brand new theme
I’m pressing on to a bigger dream

I want to run to the edges
leap off of ledges
feel what it’s like to fly
I’m letting go of the old way
saying, hey, it’s a good day
look what I get to be
a brand new me

“I believe that no matter how hopeless a person might feel, there is always hope, and it often comes to us in the softest whispers, if we pay attention,” Drost says.

So if you're reading this and it's before April 29, 2017, you are more than welcome to come and see what it's like to release a CD.  Since we are serving birthday cake, please reserve a ticket.

If you can't make it, but want to hear more about the project itself you can watch the electronic press kit here.