More Religious?

What makes you feel like something is religious? Is it something you feel, see, taste or refrain from tasting? Is it something you wear? 

When you feel like you’ve had a religious experience, what were your surroundings? Nature? Cement?  People? Music? Silence?

You must be wondering where I’m going with this. This week’s Portraits of White fan question was very thought-provoking. I’ve been chewing on it all summer.  

“Do you ever consider making Portraits of White more religious?”

I remember the first time I experienced someone who was obviously NOT religious—at least, not in the way I was raised.

I am 20 years old and I am working at Domino’s Pizza as a delivery driver in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, just outside the city of Tulsa. I am attending a two year Bible School program and need a job to help support myself for the next two years. 

It’s a fun job! In the winter, I do donuts in the parking lot in my little blue Mazda, when it snows. I eat plenty of great pizza—between deliveries, of course. I probably won’t stay at this job for long because it just doesn’t make sense (or cents) with the wear and tear on my car. But it’s all I can find for now. Not only will I learn the geography of Broken Arrow, I’m’ about to be introduced to the “world.”

My boss’s language was, well…let’s just say it was quite colorful. Though the words that I heard coming out of his mouth shocked me, I could tell that it was more than just his words that were different. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I remember thinking to myself, “I thought you could tell if someone was religious by what they are wearing, but now I think I see that there’s more to it than just what you can see about someone.”

I had been raised in a very sheltered atmosphere at home, church and school. I was never aloud to say filler words like, “rats” or “darn.”  It just wasn’t proper or godly. I tried saying “rats” a few times, but my mother always scolded me. I didn’t like rats anyway, so it was no big deal to stop using the word.

As I grew into womanhood, I made sure I “looked” the part of being a religious person because it was easy to meet the standards. I knew clearly where the lines were. Well, mostly. I was never sure how long the dress should be, or whether I should wear my hair up or down. I just wanted to be perfect and loved. We certainly didn’t accessorize, though for some reason, a simple decorative pin might be ok from time to time. I didn’t really question the standards. I did what was recommended. I even tried to do above and beyond the expectations, just to be sure.

I certainly tried to make sure my heart was good too. It took me a long time to understand that there is so much more to living a God-life than the things you can see, taste, wear or say. In fact, some of the toughest times in my adult years came from conversations with my mother. She saw the world in black and white and sometimes I wanted to add some color—to my lips and my eyes. I liked fancy outfits and hair. 

In Oklahoma, I began to understand that I viewed God in black and white. It makes sense since that’s how I grew up. But, He was rather hard to please, in my opinion. I couldn’t have said this specifically back then because I was very busy and studious about trying to be perfect. I had always tried be perfect for Him, so He would love me. 

It’s taken me years to untangle myself from some of that thinking and to understand who God really is. I don’t have Him figured out yet and I’m old enough to know now that I never will. So I try to live with a much more open hand and heart, extending grace and compassion to others. I even wish I could meet my first “worldly” boss from Domino’s. I’d like a chance to understand his journey and what was really going on inside his heart, beyond his words. Instead of such quick deduction about him, I wish I could have taken the time to actually get to know him.

So back to Portraits of White. What would make it “feel” like a more religious program? Do I ever consider making it more religious? I just don’t know what “more religious” would look like. 

I write songs about my life. Snow. Sleigh rides. Miracles. God. Christmas. Loneliness. Death. I honestly don’t know how to compartmentalize my life. It’s all mixed into one big pot. All I know to do is offer up what is currently going on in my heart and life each year. I start with a blank page at the beginning of the planning stage and start writing according to what I sense I want to do in my heart. Everything I say, sing and write is an overflow of my heart. 

So you’re likely going to hear some sad songs and happy songs. You’ll probably laugh a little and might even cry. I want you to walk away feeling alive and inspired. I want you to know that some of the feelings you might experience during the holidays are normal and you’re not alone. 

I prefer to offer my gift and my heart to you. If you walk away feeling as if you’ve had a religious experience, I would be thrilled. But only you can know what that means for you.

If I Weren’t the One in Charge

“Planning a Christmas show sounds like fun. I don’t see how that can be called WORK!” 

That’s what my dental hygienist said to me as I tried to get comfortable in the dentist chair. Are the words comfortable and dentist chair compatible?  It was time to finish up my crown but I wasn’t feeling very royal. After all, in a few moments, they’d be shooting my gums with novocaine and I’d be laying flat on my back with dental tools forced into my mouth. Plus, because of COVID, they would be framing my face with a plastic trampoline-like gizmo for protection from all the flying stuff. Man oh man. Where does it end?

I don’t know about your dentist office, but where I go they always ask what I’ll be doing the rest of the day. I suppose it provides distraction. I usually say something about practicing the piano or planning a Christmas show. But since no one ever seems to know what to say in response to that, especially when it’s January or July, I decided to say something generic. “I’ll be heading in to work,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant.

The young, new hygienist wasn’t buying the generic answer. She wanted to know what I actually DO at my work. It was only July, but I was in the thick of planning my December Portraits of White concert. So I gave in and told her that’s what I’d be doing. Which led to her comment….”Planning a Christmas show sounds like fun. I don’t see how that can be called WORK!” 

I smiled and went along with her. Because, truth be told, it IS delightful to dream up a big show and make it happen….in theory. When I started to explain the process; budget spreadsheets, venue details, ticket prices, sponsorship letters, hiring musicians, designing postcards, posters, website updates, creating music arrangements, etc. she became quite engaged and expressed genuine interest in the show. “My mother and sister would love it,” she said. I put on my marketing hat and encouraged her to definitely make it a girls’ night out.

I’ve heard it before: “It must be so much fun to plan a Christmas show.” I try to respond with a resounding “YES, it IS!” 

I should go back to the office, stop in for a quick hello and give her a postcard, now that I have something to show for my work. 

Portraits of White 2021 postcard front
Portraits of White 2021 postcard back

So the question I intend to answer from a fan this week is an interesting contrast to the perception that it’s fun. It shows that this fan understands that there are mountains to climb, streams to ford and rainbows to follow when you’re “living the dream.” 

The question was, “What do you like least about Portraits of White?” It really is a funny question. You’d think that when you’re living the dream you wouldn’t have anything to dislike about it. 

In a nutshell, I’ve had to learn to wear many hats. I remember when a publicist once said to me, “You have to think like a marketer and take off your artist hat.” They were right.

As a songwriter, it seemed most appropriate to change the lyrics of the song “If I Only Had a Brain” in the Wizard of Oz to “If I Weren’t the One in Charge” to answer this question honestly. So I put on my songwriting hat.

I’d be tanning in Orlando
playing jazz piano
A self-discovered star
I’m sure I’d be famous
and delivered from insaneness
If I weren’t the one in charge

Perhaps I’d make more money
Now wouldn’t that be yummy
I’d need a bodyguard
I’d probably own an island
I’d be rich like Barbara Streisand
If I weren’t the one in charge

Oh I could close the shop at five
Or spend the day at my chateau
I could figure out a way to make it snow
Then show up late for my own show

Oh I wouldn’t have to juggleOh I wouldn’t have to juggle
The Portraits of White puzzle
Or practice the guitar
I’d sleep through the morning

But my life would be SO boring
If I weren’t the one in charge

Facing the Spooks

“Does planning a show of this magnitude give you anxiety? What is your biggest worry when planning Portraits of White?” What a great set of questions from a fan!

How about this for an answer?

I am mindlessly sticking my hand in the peanut chocolate M&M bag and stuffing my mouth with various colors of the delightful candy. I don’t know when I started developing such a fondness for these little temptations. My husband and I ration them out. If Tom gets five, I get five. We even try to keep the colors the same in each pile.

Somehow, over the past year, we’ve departed from that tradition. I’m probably the one to blame for this lack of equality in distribution. On this particular day, to which I’m currently referring, I am actually eating this candy without even realizing it. Doesn’t matter what color or how many…I just eat.

In frustration, I sit down on the green chair in my living room to take a moment and reflect on why I’m doing this, again. I know the pattern. Something about my life feels out of control so I do something that I can control. I turn to food. I eat. It’s the only area where I feel as if I am “in control”—which is quite self-delusional. Yet, somehow, I believe it’s true. I can control what I put into my mouth. But in this moment, I eat uncontrollably. You probably know the feeling. 

I talk myself through it and remind myself that it’s Portraits of White season. Things get kind of stressful right about now and sort of “spooky” (in keeping with the Wizard of Oz theme). This year, it’s a little above and beyond the normal spookiness because of COVID. Like the Lion in the Wizard of Oz when he sees the big owls with glowing eyes in the haunted forest, I want to run the opposite direction. The Tin Man and Scarecrow have to literally pick him up, turn him around and carry him. I could use some “carrying” right about now.

There are a lot of things that can make me want to turn back. It can be the tiniest thing, but usually it’s a combo. The music arrangements are pouring into my email box. I’m trying to organize all of the parts for the musicians, suggest changes to the arrangers, check the notations, create demos, memorize songs, practice the piano, keep my voice in shape, stay away from colds and viruses, think about how to make the whole show cohesive and meaningful… I’m also trying to follow up with businesses regarding sponsorships. Are they willing to support the show again this year? How much? If so, can they send in their logo/ad soon so we have it in time to print the programs?

By December, I’ll be fine. It’s just this in-between stage that can be rough. So, if one M&M equals one spook, perhaps eating them one by one is the answer. Or not.

Back to the original questions. “Does planning a show of this magnitude give you anxiety? What is your biggest worry when planning?” Normally, I’d say it’s SNOW that’s my biggest worry.

This year, you can add COVID to the list of concerns.

When it comes to facing fears, I think you can break “spooks” into two general categories:

1) Inside things (Your soul)

I have found that some of my biggest fears are actually within me. I’ve done a ton of soul-work around my inside fears and it’s paying off. I love the growth I’ve experienced because I’ve paid attention to them. 

I used to try and stuff my fears, or just ignore them completely. Doing something as courageous as putting on a Christmas show brought me face to face with some of my biggest fears, like fear of rejection. I found myself afraid that people wouldn’t come. Duh. We started in 2014 and people have been coming EVERY year. 

An even bigger challenge in the beginning had to do with facing intimidation. Questions like, “who do you think you are?” would wake me up in the middle of the night.

These days, I find that facing these fears head on works better than stuffing and ignoring. And oh, by the way, I’ve learned that as soon as I deal with one fear, there will be another one that pops up. It’s the nature of being a dreamer. Your heart knows what it wants to do, but your brain simply freaks out. 

The other spook category has to do with:

2) Outside things (The circumstances)

In this category, there are circumstances that are absolutely beyond my control and unfortunately, they can really raise quite a ruckus in my brain.

Things like…the WEATHER! Snow. Ice. Blizzards.


Pandemic. CDC restrictions. 

Here are a few steps I take to help me deal with the inside and outside spooks:

  • Identify the fear. (What am I afraid of, specifically?)
  • Say it out loud. (There’s just something powerful about naming it, out loud.)
  • I ask myself, what is the worst thing that could happen? (If my fear would come true, what would that look like?)
  • Could I be ok with that? (This can seem like you’re giving in, but personally, I have found the greatest peace comes when I release control and choose to be ok with whatever the outcome might be.)

Do you remember the phrase, “Let not your heart be troubled?” It always reminds me that heart trouble is a choice. At least, this kind of heart trouble. Ouch. That’s challenging, isn’t it? However, I believe that like anything else, it just takes practice. Sometimes I just have to say, “heart, we’re not going to be troubled about this!” 
Using techniques such as praying, journalling, singing, quietness, reflection and confession can all be effective in facing the spooks. It’s also nice if you have some friends who can pick you up and carry you through the spooky places.

This week’s video.

YOU Are My Friends on the Yellow Brick Road

For most of my career, I viewed myself as a musician—in the music business. In the past few years, I’ve changed my mind. Or at least made room for a broader perspective. As a songwriter, I don’t just write and perform music. I help give voice to what others might be feeling but find themselves unable (or afraid) to express it. There is an exchange that happens between artist and fan. It’s a beautiful thing. I no longer see myself as just a musician in the music business. I believe I’m in the people business.

My live music producer planted this seed years ago when he challenged my thinking about why musicians get nervous when performing. “The enemy of love is self-consciousness,” he said. What he was saying was resonating with me. 

If a person really analyzes why they get nervous (about anything they might do in front of people) it’s usually because you’re afraid of what others will think. Therefore, you are focused on how you feel and not on how the audience (or the other person) might be feeling.  

It’s taken years for this to take hold in my life, but it has happened! I feel the difference. I rarely get nervous anymore and if I do, I start thinking about YOU. I ask myself some questions about you. Things like: What frame of mind will you be in? What will you have just experienced at home? Will you have just received a life-changing phone call? What are you carrying in your soul these days? What are your current struggles?

It works every time. If I start to feel nervous, I change my mind. I stop thinking about me and I start thinking about you.

In fact, I started to find that if I talk to my audience one on one before a concert, I actually feel at complete peace when I get on stage because we’ve already connected on a personal level. It’s very satisfying.

As the Director of Worship at various churches for sixteen years, I started practicing this concept of one on one interaction before and after the services I directed. It was challenging at times because I had a lot of responsibility on the platform that I needed to focus on, but the more I took time to interact with people, the more my confidence (and ease) grew. Now, when someone tells me I’m an extrovert, I smile because I know a secret. I’m actually an introvert, but I’ve learned to love my audience in practical ways, which leads some people to think I’m an extrovert.

When a Portraits of White fan asked “What is the most rewarding part of doing Portraits of White,” it didn’t take me long to come up with an answer. Sure, I love practicing and I love the first note of the concert when you, the audience, are seated and we are ready for the train to leave the station. We’re off to see the wizard and we’ve locked arms. You are my friends on the yellow brick road for the next couple of hours. That’s definitely a special part of doing the show.

I also love the last note of the evening, because at this point, I know my dream has become reality and nothing has stopped it. I will make my way out to the lobby to greet as many of you as I can. I’ll soak in your smiles, tears, laughter and comments. I’ve prepared an evening of inspirational music and you’ve blessed me by coming. We’ve exchanged Christmas gifts and I feel happy. 

In this week’s video, I “sang” my answer to the fan question—to the tune of “My Favorite Things” by Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II. 

“Lots of musicians and long rows of people
Spotlights and snowflakes
and moments of giggles
Lacy white dresses and eighty-eight keys
These are a few of my favorite things

Seeing your faces after it’s over
Reading your emails and handwritten letters
Knowing the joy all the music will bring
These are a few of my favorite things”

Are You Rusty?

“You don’t need to practice do you?”  

It feels more like a statement than a question and it comes from a laborer who has spent years perfecting his craft in woodworking and fixing up kitchens. We stand in the middle of my kitchen as he works and he’s curious about the fact that I’m preparing for a Christmas show in the middle of June.

I stand there, wondering how to explain something that seems like it should be common sense. Isn’t that like assuming an athlete doesn’t need to consistently exercise? Or asking the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz why he needs oil? 

But, I think to myself, perhaps people who don’t play instruments really think that musicians don’t have to practice. So I try to explain that there is more to practicing than just “running through a song.” Keeping my fingers agile, my brain sharp and my vocal chords strong are only a part of the drill.

“How much time do you put into practicing?” Now that’s an easier question to answer and it came from another Portraits of White fan. 

The short answer is “as much time as possible.” I usually try to set aside a few hours each day to practice. I shut off my electronics and dig in. I find that a few hours of concentrated, uninterrupted practice time is better than trying to “fit it in” between all of the other tasks that go with running a business. Practice is oil that prevents rustiness. Even just a little bit of time, consistently, on a daily basis can help keep anyone keep their skill set sharp, no matter what life-work you’ve chosen. For a musician, practicing is key. Pun intended.

One of my core values is well-being, in all areas of my life.

Practice — musical health

Exercise — physical

Journalling/Writing — emotional 

Praying/Reading — spiritual

Listening to positive messages — mental

Conversation — relational

What about your life? Do you know what keeps you running smoothly physically, mentally, spiritually?