Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Sports Bikes, Wheelies, Jesus and Pianos

"I was popping a wheelie on my sports bike and noticed another rider beside me doing the same thing—on his bike. Suddenly, I found myself transported from the mountain trail to the water and there I was, popping a wheelie while riding on top of the water. This is so cool, I thought, and THEN I saw the mysterious rider popping a wheelie on HIS bike—on top of the water right beside me. I was like, MAN oh MAN, who is that other rider? Look at us...we're riding on top of the water! I looked over and it was Jesus. (Everyone laughed). No kidding! Jesus was riding a sports bike beside me, racing across the surface of the water."

"Dad always has dreams like that," she said to the rest of the group hiking on the trail. "Was I in the dream at all?", said a woman I presumed to be his wife. I chuckled to myself. They didn't know I could hear them.

I'm the worship leader and guest musician for the week here at Spruce Lake Retreat in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, and I was hiking the Spruce Mountain early this morning. When I arrived at the top, a group of people had already beat me there. I guess I'm not the only insane person who rises early and hikes through mountains. It's a hike I always take when I'm here. The scenic overlook at the top is spectacular and the hike is just as exhilarating. This morning I saw an orange salamander and a Baltimore Oriole, but no bear. Probably a good thing, though I'll confess, I really want to see bear cubs. (I published this blog on Wednesday morning and headed up to the top of the mountain for the second day in a row and wouldn't you know, I was looking out over the valley and right below me I heard crackling and popping...and out came a little black bear cub.  I quietly sat down on the rock and watched eagerly. Then, a cinnamon colored bear appeared and started climbing a fallen tree. I sat in amazement...and awe.  I also determined in that moment that I would go back to camp the same way I went up.  If I would have gone down the way I was supposed to, I would have encountered the bears. No need to create issues for myself.)

I contemplated the story I had just heard about Jesus popping wheelies. I love that image. In the past, I've been guilty of  thinking that Jesus would only be found in a lofty cathedral, or a monastery, praying and fasting regularly. I've heard many messages that have tried to convince me that Jesus liked to have fun, play with kids and wasn't all serious and mild. Though I guess they help to chisel away at the myths I've had about Jesus, there's nothing like a dream to dispel the notions of who we think God is and what He's like.

I remember one time I was instructed by a speaker to close my eyes and picture myself in a safe place—a peaceful place. Normally, I dread when people make me do that. I can't seem to still my thoughts long enough to picture any thing, let alone a safe place. But in that moment, my brain went immediately to the piano bench. The piano is a safe place for me. It's peaceful. Playing the ivories feels as natural as breathing and I'm at home when I'm I'm now picturing myself at the piano. Whew...what a relief.

But then the speaker instructed us to picture Jesus in that place. Now that's extra hard for me to do. I don't know just is. I've tried these exercises before and it becomes such a complicated process I freak out and can't do it. If you can't relate to this, I'm sorry. I'm sure there are a few who can. I'm just writing my thoughts here, so you don't have to keep reading if you don't want to. ;-)

Suddenly, I "sensed" Jesus in such a powerful and unusual way, unlike any other time I can recall in my life. He was sitting on the piano bench beside me and as I began to play, He inhabited me and it was as if we were one. I've never had an experience like that before or since. I often think about it when I'm playing the piano.

We, (I was now part of the group), continued down the mountain as my thoughts turned from Jesus popping wheelies in this man's dreams to Jesus residing in me when I play the piano. (I don't even know if residing is the right word). These things are hard to explain in human words. I know that He lives in us, but to experience Him moving from the bench into my being was very unusual.

All I can say is, I believe Jesus was in his dream popping wheelies and I believe Jesus plays the piano through me when I play. It's experiences like these that help break down our ridiculous myths about who Jesus is and what He's like. I welcome them and I was refreshed not only by the crisp morning air, the stream rushing down the mountain slopes, but this man's dream that I happened to hear being shared with his family this morning.

This is the view from the top of the mountain. I copied it from the website of Spruce Lake Retreat.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Compliments are like cash. Everyone could use more.

I was trying to find a way to tell my husband what I needed last fall. (It can get especially stressful during the fall months heading into my Portraits of White show.) I know word pictures can sometimes communicate more clearly what I am feeling so I began pondering how I could describe the deficit I was experiencing. That's when this phrase popped into my head.

Compliments are like cash. Everyone could use more.

A few months ago a young woman (a complete stranger) at the local deli gave me a compliment. It was genuine and I walked away feeling "rich". I put the "cash" in my emotional bank and felt like I could buy the world. I was reminded of how easy it is to make someone feel special, just by taking a moment to notice them and compliment them.

I'm not writing this to ask for compliments. I'm writing it to sort through my feelings as my life becomes more public AND because I think the world would be a better place if we would compliment each other more.

The deli lady started it. I want to continue sharing the gift she gave me. I've started trying to compliment people more often. I've even started writing a few letters...yes, handwritten letters. It feels luxurious.

Why was I feeling the need to find a word picture in the first place? After all, Tom and I are celebrating thirty years of marriage this year and you'd think we'd have this all figured out by now. But pursuing a dream (like Portraits of White) has a way of altering the dreamer and it often affects the people closest to you. Like it or not, everyone living with a dreamer has to learn to navigate unique challenges. I haven't found many who have written about things like this—at least, not yet. So I decided to pull back the curtains and give you a peek.

My husband has always been so supportive of what I do, so the new territory we travel sometimes feels surprising to both of us, which has led to some of the challenges I alluded to earlier.

He often says, "I'm proud of you."

I used to soak that statement in. I didn't need any explanation. It filled up my emotional bank. But in this new stage of life, I want to know specifics. What exactly is he proud of? This can lead to some tension as I try to explain this concept and why I need examples. I don't even know what I need, exactly. So we're working at this together.

I've identified several factors contributing to the rising communication challenges, at least in our home. I'm calling them catalysts for upheaval. If you're a dreamer or you live with one, maybe this will help shed some light on your own path.

Catalysts for Upheaval:

1) Public life increases the need for privacy.

I have carved out a career/ministry by sharing my life with the world through songwriting, concerts, blogging and social media. But doing an annual Christmas show has created some serious upheaval in my soul. As I shared on a podcast episode, the more public my life becomes, the more I crave privacy and solitude.

I love to encourage people by being real, but then I feel the need to retreat. I become fragile inside the walls of my home and in my soul. This unfolding revelation has been a rude awakening. I wasn't expecting this to happen! No one warned me about this.

2) "Feedback is the breakfast of champions."—Ken Blanchard.

Another factor in my changing inner landscape comes from the implications of Blanchard's quote—a quote that I have embraced wholeheartedly.

I love a good "breakfast" and I want to be a champion in everything I do. Therefore, I eat a lot of "breakfast". But I also need a place to be loved and complimented just for who I am, whether I improve or not. I want that place to be in my home and with my family. I guess we all need a safe place.

3) Reality of aging.

Has anyone else noticed that as you age, you receive less compliments? (Goodness, this is being really honest). I mentioned this one day to some friends and they commented (sort of jokingly), "Well what are people supposed to say to an older person? Nice wrinkles?! Nice bags under your eyes? You look good bald!?"

Another person said, "I don't think people realize that YOU still need compliments. You seem so secure and successful."

Oh my...if you only knew. I guess I'm just "out there" enough to try anything! But that doesn't mean I'm above fragility.

So now what?

That's when I came up with this analogy: "Compliments are like cash and everyone can always use more cash." It stuck—at least, in my mind. It gave me a creative way to explain what I need to my husband. And the truth is, we could all use a compliment now and then. I'm trying to be more generous these days.

Maybe this will inspire you to give away some "cash". After all, what could be a greater investment than depositing "cash" in the soul of another human being?

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The In-Between.

"To go TO something, you must go THROUGH something."—Bob Hazlett

It was January 7, 2018 when I heard this phrase from the guest speaker, Bob Hazlett. I could tell that I was going to need my kleenexes when he started to speak. I grabbed my pen and little travel notebook where I write song ideas, shopping lists, to-do lists and inspiring messages from speakers. I couldn't write fast enough, in between blowing my nose. His words stirred my creativity and began to replenish my happy but greatly depleted soul.

January tends to be a month of trying to find ways to fill up my empty soul. It's an In-Between month for meIt used to feel like a "new year" season, but not anymore. No resolutions or goals for the new year. Just recovery and tying up loose ends from my December concert, Portraits of White.

Since I started the concert experience over six years ago, I feel as if I've gone from having a daily routine to "seasonal" routines. The change has been both subtle and surprising and I'm still trying to adapt. The show is over but there are accounting books to finish up, surveys to read and consider, thank you notes to be written to so many people who help make the show a success and next thing you know, it's time to start planning the show again and I wonder how I'm ever going to do it again. Eventually, new ideas present themselves. Until then, it's a lot of waiting.

It was in this state of mind that I sat in my seat absorbing every word from the speaker. The thoughts I share here are not Bob's words exactly, but the essence of what he shared and how my soul received them. He spoke them over a year ago but I could tell even then that they were for me—somewhere down the road. As is often the case with "words" I hear, they might not be for the current moment but are futuristic. In this case, one year later, they are exactly what I needed for this month, this year.

There are three potential things we experience in the In-Between stages and it seems we often have to go THROUGH these to get TO the next thing.

1) Uncertainty
  • Certainty of the last season is taken away. Now you have a choice; experience fear or hope. 
2) The Unknown
  • The greatest creativity comes from the place where you have questions you would have never thought to ask.
  • If you want to see a new thing, you have to stop looking at the old—old relationships, old pain. (I would add that there IS a time to look at the old, but only enough to understand, heal and move forward.)
3) The Unfamiliar
  • It's more of a feeling than an experience. For example, Peter—the guy who walked on water in the Bible—was used to boats, water and storms, but he had never walked on water before.
A few other random phrases he shared:
  • If you want to see new things, sing a new song. (I've been asking what the "new song" is for this year's show. It might not be literal, but I'm staying open to all possibilities and every now and then an idea twinkles in the darkness.)
  • Voo Ja De - when you see a familiar thing in a new way.
  • You may feel boredom—it's God wanting to move you forward.
  • Think of the In-Between as discovering "old things done in a new way".
  • A helpful prayer during this season would be: "Show me what I need to know about You in this new season."
My record producer, Eric Copeland, wrote a great song years ago that I pull out every now and then to remind me that In-Between isn't always a bad place to be.

So if you're going THROUGH something that's uncertain, unknown or unfamiliar, take comfort that it can potentially lead you TO something new. It's the In-Between stage that can be disconcerting, but it's worth pressing through it.

Click HERE to listen to "In Between Dreams"

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Giving the World a Holiday!

Every year, as I prepare for Portraits of White, I'm always amazed by the new theme that emerges. Certain song lyrics call out to me and say, "this is why you are doing the show".  This year the phrase is; "give the world a holiday that's bright as can be". That's what I plan to do with the concert this weekend. 

It's a crazy, busy world out there and as we get closer to Christmas we all long for a chance to take a deep breath to gear up for the day that is meant to bring joy. But for many people Christmas Day feels pretty empty and lonely. Many folks just "try to make it through" to the New Year. We plan to give folks the breather they are longing for with lots of great music, laughs and even lights, to brighten up the world here in South Central Pennsylvania.

Friday morning I went over to the venue early in the morning to go through the whole concert without all the other players, fancy lights and pretty dresses. I don't know how to turn on the lights in this big auditorium, so I figured I could just walk slowly and let my eyes adjust to the darkness.  I made my way to the platform, in the dark, down the center aisle, up the steep steps to the stage and shuffled across the stage (arms extended to buffer myself from objects) toward the grand piano hoping there weren't any mic stands or monitors that were repositioned after rehearsal the night before.

I made it safely to the piano and decided I'd practice the whole show from that stationary position. No need to be walking around in the dark more than necessary. I turned on the little stand lights at the piano and that was all I needed to get started with the show. I couldn't see a thing except for the piano keys and all the EXIT signs in the room. At least I know where the exits are, even if I can't see how to get to them.

The strangest thing happened though. The longer I played the piano and told my stories to the empty room, the more my eyes adjusted to the dark. In fact, I became so used to the dark that within twenty minutes or so, I could see the stage and felt confident enough to actually walk around. It's always good to take some time getting used to the layout of the stage where you're giving a concert. It's like familiarizing yourself with all the controls in a rental car. It makes the trip a lot more relaxing if you "know" where everything is. I went from shuffling around on stage to actually feeling quite comfortable and confident in the dark.

An hour or two into my rehearsal the facility manager arrived and asked if I wanted some lights on. I was so used to the dark that I declined. I kind of like the solitude and quiet before the BIG weekend. I don't know why a dark room feels more quiet, but it just does. 

As I stood on the stage looking out over the empty seats, I couldn't help but wonder how many times I've allowed myself to "get used to living in the dark" when it comes to some areas of my life. The things is, in the darkness, objects that could be useful to me actually pose as a threat because I don't bother to turn on the lights or allow someone else to turn the lights on for me. In fact, in the dark, everything can be dangerous. But if you sit there long enough, you'll get used to the dark and think it's normal.

I believe that we've created something special with Portraits of White—and I say "we" because there is a whole team behind this extravagant concert experience. People still say, "It's YOUR show"—meaning, do what YOU want, but there are so many people who have come alongside me to make this dream come true and so I no longer see it as "my show". We plan to really give the world a holiday that's bright as can be, especially for those who might have become accustomed to sitting in the dark.

For tickets to see Portraits of White, click HERE!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

When I Pray.

When I pray...

I cast my
  • cares 
  • worries
  • anxieties
on God.

I discuss
  • my thoughts
  • what's bugging me
  • the details and to-do lists of my day
with God.

I confess
  • my failings
  • my bad attitudes
  • my fears
to God.

I listen for
  • His thoughts
  • His ways
  • His comfort

But when I get up from the couch, the real test lies in how deeply I will TRUST Him after all that we just shared together.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Just Start.

Bulls Head Road—near my house.
It was Monday and I didn't want to go for my daily bike ride. This was a bit unusual since I've come to really enjoy riding my bicycle this summer. The ever-changing landscape and activity of local farms on the little country roads have been an inspiration to me. They fill up my senses—to borrow the lyrics of John Denver, who got the inspiration from riding the ski slopes of Aspen, Colorado. I can totally identify with how nature inspired him to write.

I feel rejuvenated, inspired and creative when I return from my fifteen to twenty mile ride. My body and my mind both benefit from routine exercise.

These are some of the way rigorous exercise helps me prepare for the upcoming Portraits of White Christmas concert:
  • Gives better focus when I practice.
  • I can remember lyrics more easily.
  • I think more creatively about the content of the show.
  • I just feel better, period.
Yet, as the season changes (both the weather and my schedule), I have to talk myself into it somedays. It becomes the most busy time of year and I struggle to keep up with it. The very thing I need the most seems to easily fall by the wayside. Isn't that the way it always is?

You might relate to some of the arguments I have within myself:
  • Maybe you need a break (but you just had a day of rest on Sunday).
  • Just take a nap instead (you don't feel the need to nap when you exercise).
  • You can ride another day when you feel like it (but who is to say you'll feel like it tomorrow).
  • Missing one day won't hurt (true, but it's easy to miss a second day when you've missed the first day).
  • You have too much to do (you'll always have too much to do!).
I've learned two small words that have helped me in just about every facet of life—even exercise.


So in spite of my lethargic self, I hopped on my bike, dressed for the cold windy weather and braved the elements. I had only been riding a minute or two when I remembered why I love this. It's like someone hooks up an IV to my brain and creativity begins to flow. By the time I'm home, I've made a hundred more plans!

As I braved the wind on the back roads, I suddenly came upon a most breathtaking sight; not one rainbow, but two! Look what I would have missed if I had given in to the temptation to stay home.

Beautiful view only miles from my home.
So just in case you're like me and you need a little help—remember these two words: "JUST START". Once you start, the inspiration and motivation usually follow.

What do you want to accomplish these days? Here's a few steps that usually help me:

1) Write down what you want to accomplish.

2) Set a start date or daily appointment.

3) Set a deadline/goal for yourself.

4) Keep a daily log of what you did.

5) Celebrate your accomplishments!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Left Behind. (From Nancy Crider Singer in memory of Paul Douglas Crider).

If there's anything I've come to appreciate through all the loss of life in our family, it's the art of learning to celebrate those who remain behind. It can be easy to focus on who we've lost and stay stuck in that grief. But there is so much living to do with those who remain.

As I wrap up this series of blog posts surrounding some the stories of our family's loss, I'm delighted to share one last post from another one of our family members.  Nancy Singer Crider shares what it's been like to be a single mother, after losing her husband (and my brother) Doug. As Doug's family continues to grow, it's a blessing to watch the impact of a life lived well during the brief 26 years he lived.

From Nancy Singer Crider:
In memory of Paul Douglas Crider
"It is bitter sweet to look back 49 years to October 11, 1969 as Doug and I joined together in marriage expecting to share a lifetime together.  I could not have anticipated that 3 years and 9 months later, we would be left behind and he would be present with the Lord. My daughters and I experienced a huge loss to our family.  
There were times when I felt so alone trying to be a single mother, feeling the heavy weight of raising two daughters with two very different personalities.  I felt so inadequate being responsible for guiding these two little lives through life.  
Even though I made lots of mistakes, it was good to know that Christ surrounded us with His love and grace.  I trusted Him to be the strength for us through the good and bad times. Through the love and grace of God, I am learning to rely on Him for strength in life's situations.  
After Doug passed, I built my life around my children.  I sometimes felt they were all I had.  I watched them grow and learn as we tried to learn together to seek God (not always successful - but progressing).  During these growing pains, I sometimes wondered what life would have been like if Doug had lived.  

He had begun to give sermons at Jemison Valley where we attended church.  It was suggested he apply for a lay minister’s license which he received shortly before his death.  He preached his first sermon as a licensed minister and was scheduled to preached again at another church close to where we lived.  However, the accident that took his life was the week after his first sermon.   For a young man at the age of 26 to die spoke volumes to the community. 
As Crystal and Kelly married and started their homes and families, I was blessed with 8 grandchildren around whom I began to build my life also.  They were such a blessing and they loved to spend time at “Mimi’s” house. They would spend time in my basement playing guitars, singing and making videos.  It was such a wonderful time together.  However, they continued to mature.  Then, Derek, one of the grandsons got married.  I was blessed with two great grandsons. 
In more recent years, I had an opportunity to go to Guatemala on a mission trip.  During the first trip, I did some soul searching and discovered a new life in Christ as I surrendered to the filling of the Holy Spirit.  What a change occurred on my life.  I received new guidance on how to seek God in all situations.  
I decided to spend a week at my timeshare (alone) seeking release from concerns related to my family. I seemed to be in bondage. As I laid my concerns before the Lord, he very clearly spoke to my heart as he said, “Give them to me. I will take care of them."  
Wow!  I wrote the names of my children, their spouses, and all my grandchildren and lifted them toward heaven and laid them before the Lord.  I must confess, there are times I take them back and then give them back to Him.  I sometimes wondered if their Daddy/Grandpa was before the throne asking for mercy, grace and wholeness for his family.  I have seen changes in some of their lives since I gave my family to the One who can do all things.
Even through the years without Doug’s presence, I have a feeling he was praying for all his family as we sometimes struggled through life, seeking to follow God - knowing what the final result will be.  To be able to join with Doug and other family members who have gone before us, but to ultimately meet our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and worship Him forever."