Thursday, June 27, 2019

Book Review: Loving My Actual Neighbor, By Alexandra Kuykendall

When I read this title on the list of books for possible review, I knew I had to grab it:

Loving My Actual Neighbor 
By Alexandra Kuykendall


In a world where most of our "friends" are represented heavily curated profile pictures, could there be any more timely book for us to read?

Don't get me wrong. I love social media. I'm sort of active on Twitter, and completely active on Facebook. I'm thankful that I can keep in touch with friends from across the country with a simple login.

But when we moved to St. Catharines, things started to change. We bought a house. We had no plans to move in the next year. Suddenly, my neighbourhood became a much more important place. Who lived near me? What does my community value? How can I be part of the larger picture of caring for my neighbours?

Alexandra Kuykendall presents a thoughtful, practical, and generous approach to changing your relationship with those around you. This isn't about your friends and family. As the Sesame Street song taught us all: "these are the people in your neighbourhood." The people who live near you, the colleagues at work, the staff at your local store, and the members of your community group.  Inspired by the first chapter of 2 Peter, Alexandra creates a 7-step system for getting to know and love your neighbours.

Each chapter combines relatable stories with easy practical advice. What are the simple things we can do? After these become second nature, what are the bigger things we can do to get into deeper relationship with those around us?

Steps are reinforced with "Questions for Reflection," 
"Practicing the Practice" list of tips, and "Scripture to Digest." 

Alexandra also has a beautiful and inspiring concept called "Saturday Living." It's that tension we feel when we strive to live an earthly life with a spiritual focus. The name references the first Holy Saturday, that day when the cross was reality, but Sunday was coming. Grief on one side, freedom on the other. Finding ways to love those who are different than us, to communicate with those who speak a different language or have an opposing worldview, or remaining humble when making bold steps. Saturday Living is how we take the theory of love and live it out in a practical way.

As people of faith, we are particularly called to love our neighbour. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he very boldly stated "Love your neighbour" right after "Love God." Not only are we called to do it, but we're designed to do it. We love because we are loved.

Wouldn't it be awesome if Christians and the Church were known 
by our generous, creative, limitless love for all humanity? 

This is our call to live out that love.

Buy this book! Read it. Share it with your neighbours. 

Let's change our communities, one step at a time...



I received this book to review from the Nuts About Books Blogger Program and Graf-Martin Communications Inc.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

When Was Your Last Day Off?

Today, I found myself looking at painted furniture online.

Now, this isn't unusual for me. I'm happy to spend hours looking at before-and-after shots, learning new skills, and dreaming of my own projects.

As any crafter will tell you, the dreaming is almost as good as the doing!

But this wasn't normal looking. I was looking a lot. Like, a lot! I kind of couldn't stop. 
And then I realized it. I wasn't just looking at furniture...

I was procrastinating.

Ugh.

I've got lots of faults, but I'll admit: I'm not a procrastinator. 
For me, one of the keys of being successfully self-employed is self discipline. 
I'm good at making my list, sitting down, and doing the work.

But not today. 

Today, I dreamily drifted over photos of chalk paint and thrift store finds while my To Do List sat abandoned.

I was a little taken aback when I realized what I was doing. Why was I procrastinating? There's nothing too intimidating or burdensome on my list right now. Everything's pretty straightforward. We did a concert last night, but I got a good night's sleep. I should be good. Wait, we've been on the road for a while now...

When was my last day off?

So, I pulled out my calendar and started scrolling back. Back through the ten days in New Brunswick, back through East Coast Music Week, back through the final days of tour prep, back through our busy Easter season, and then I found it.

My last day off was SIX WEEKS AGO!!!

And if I'm really honest, my day off six weeks ago was technically a sick day, so not a proper day off at all...


Many years ago, when we were working on staff at a church, I started insisting on taking Mondays off. I realized that, if we didn't claim a day, everyone else would claim our time for us. Now, in freelance ministry, we continue to recognize the need for time off, so Monday is our day. I'm pretty strict about it. I keep it free of appointments, set up a vacation reply so I don't check email, and hide my phone.
Monday is our day...

Until it isn't.

I could tell you all the reasons why my busyness has been justified over the last few months - full performance schedule, tour planning, grant writing, and just to complicate things, a puppy in need of medical treatment and surgery.



But the fact is, I needed to take time for myself, and I didn't do it.

So, now I find myself on the road, which is always the busiest time of our year. On any given day, we're either rehearsing, planning, booking, performing, interviewing, driving, or some combination of these. For these two months, we'll drive across six provinces, sleep in about 50 different beds, and interact with thousands of people.

Don't get me wrong: it's amazing and we love it and we wouldn't give it up for anything! I love working hard, and I love what I do. My lifelong dream was to be a touring artist, and here we are, making that dream come true.

But the artist life is intense. Touring is especially intense. We need to be open and present at all times, and that takes energy and focus.

So today, I found myself feeling a little worn, and needing to look at furniture.

As soon as I realized what was happening, I took a deep breath. In the past, I might have reprimanded myself for procrastinating.

Today, I chose gentleness. I reminded myself of how often Jesus took time to rest. He also lived life on the road, traveling and sharing the Gospel. His work was much more intense and important than mine.

If Jesus could take time to rest, 
surely the world can turn without me for a day.

(And if you caught the Jesus Christ Superstar reference in there, you are truly my people!)

This weekend, most of Canada will take a break as we celebrate Victoria Day. We're leading worship, and we can't wait to share Sunday morning with the wonderful people of Shediac Cape.

But this Monday, we're taking a day off.

A full, proper day off.

On Monday, we'll be in beautiful Lunenburg. I'm going to sleep late, walk by the water, eat seafood, and visit gift shops. Or curl up in a cafe and read a book. Or maybe tour a museum. Or maybe, just do nothing.

We'll wait and see what the day holds...

That's the beauty, and necessity, of a day off.

















Friday, May 03, 2019

"You Should Be Dead" - 10 Years Later...

10 years ago today, this happened:



You can see the original post HERE.

We had been leading worship in a little church in Kingston Springs, just west of Nashville. It had been a great morning. We were having that typical Sunday drive home from church, talking about the sermon, and deciding where to go for lunch.

A tractor trailer changed lanes and smashed into our little Toyota Corolla.

He hit us so hard we crashed into the right-side guard rail and spun out in front of his truck, where he began to push us down the highway at 70 miles an hour.

We took another hit and spun around to the left side of his truck where we were trapped between his wheels and the guardrail, being dragged backwards down the highway.

We spun again, this time with the hood of our car spinning under the bed of his truck, and his wheels coming up on the hood of our car.

At that point, the guardrail ended, so instead of crushing us, his wheels pushed us off the road where we flipped, rolled, and landed upside down on the side of the highway.

And we walked out of the car.

With a little help...

There had been a light rain, and the final landing was oddly soft, like the slow-down at the end of a roller coaster ride. We had landed just inches from a stone outcropping which, had the car shifted just a bit in that final spin, would have given us a different ending.

The first person to approach our car was a vacationing paramedic from New Orleans. He talked us out of our seat belts and helped us open a door so we could walk back to the road.

Did we mention our guitar was in the backseat? 
The same guitar Gerald plays in every concert today. 

The car was crushed beyond recognition. Even the veteran tow truck driver had to ask the make and model of our super common Corolla. But somehow, Gerald and I (and the guitar) walked out.


That day, we heard the same words over and over:

"You should be dead."

The paramedics, state trooper, tow truck driver, witnesses. 
Over and over:

"You should be dead."

Those words will play on your heart and your mind.


The months and years that followed were filled with all kinds of struggles - physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual.

We sued the second largest trucking company in the United States. After years of depositions and negotiations, we finally settled for a pitiful amount, sparking a new family debate. Which was worse - the accident or the lawsuit?

And now, it's 10 years later.

10 years today, we stood on the side of the road, shocked and amazed that we were simply alive, with no idea what was coming next.

In those first few years, pain and healing were prominent themes in our lives and in our marriage.

The accident is a before and after moment, shaping us in countless ways.

As we started our journey of healing, we lost all tolerance for petty annoyances. "Life is short." "Don't sweat the small stuff." "Be thankful you're alive." All those cliches became powerfully true.

Family, faith, and purpose became even more important, and we discovered a sharper focus for our art and calling.

As fairly newlyweds (we had only been married three years at the time), we learned to trust in a new way, leaning into our marriage and each other through some truly difficult times.


But as the years went on, the accident took on a different place in our lives.

It's become a source of strength. We conquered a beast of a struggle, and came out stronger and healthier than before. When we doubt ourselves, we remember that journey.

It's a reminder of priorities. I wish I could say that I'm still immune to petty annoyances. Truth be told, I give them far too much attention some days. But when I think back to that fateful day, priorities line up pretty quickly.

It's a source of shared pain and healing. For ourselves and our family, but also for others. We've shared our story in our concerts. We've also spent hours post-concert, holding someone's hand as they share their accident story. Some of these stories have been victories, but many have been tragic. But somehow, sharing them allows each of us to feel seen and loved, and it adds to the healing.

It's become an inspiration for gratitude. When we think back to that day, we're reminded that it could have ended very differently. We will never complain about getting older, because we know that, in a different version of the story, we might not be here to celebrate that next birthday. We are thankful for our whole bodies and our emotional healing. We're overwhelmingly grateful for our amazing family and friends, who fed us, cared for us, prayed for us, and surrounded us with patient and generous love.


I'd be remiss if I didn't name our parents, Helen and Hollis, Sandy and Gerry, and our amazing friends, Tara and Kyle. Words can't express our love and gratitude for how you brought us through that season.

And we are eternally thankful to God. Not only did He see fit to bring us through such an ordeal, but what a plan He had in store for us!

And as Gerald alway says, "It's not lost on us that the God who saved us on the highway is the same God who called us into a nationally touring music ministry!"


So today, I'm going to take a deep breath, and give thanks.


For the struggle, 
the healing, 
the journey, 
the lessons, 
the love 
and the Spirit.

"Praise God, from whom all blessings flow..."



Sunday, April 07, 2019

Book Review: We Hope For Better Things, by Erin Bartels

Every once and a while you pick up a book to review, and you forget that your job is to review it.

That's this book for me.

Elizabeth Balsam is a fast moving reporter on the verge of her biggest story. She gets annoyed when a stranger asks her to deliver a box of old photographs to a distant aunt. But that one task starts to unravel a family story interwoven with race relations, local history, and the power of secrets and truth.

Quite simply: I loved everything about this book.

Erin Bartels is a great writer, creating scenes and characters that are captivating and compelling. Set in Detroit, we experience Elizabeth and two other women of her family in three distinct generations: present day, the 1967 Detroit Riots, and the American Civil War. Each story line is told in revolving chapters, with dialogue and details to create an immersive environment.

Through these three interwoven stories of Elizabeth, Nora, and Mary, we see one family's struggle with racism. Where are our prejudices born, and can they ever be shut down? How do love, hatred, secrets and truth weave themselves into a family history? How can we learn from the past if we never share our stories?

Once I locked into this book, I couldn't put it down. More than once, I was up late, using my iPhone light to brighten my page and not wake my husband. We Hope For Better Things wrestles with vast and complicated ideas but in the context of intimate family relationships. We journey with three women who choose love and family, even when challenged with heartbreak and prejudice. The way the story is revealed kept me turning the pages and riding the emotional roller coaster of this amazing family.

Prejudices of any kind are always based on hating a group, but time and time again we see how hatred can break down when we get to know people as individuals.

Jesus asked us to "love our neighbour." Doesn't loving our neighbour start with getting to know our neighbour? Not as part of a group, with all our biases and assumptions attached, but just as a person, created in the loving image of God? 

I recommend this book as a compelling novel, but more than that, I encourage it as a spark for conversation.

Let it challenge your heart. Learn your own history. 
Tell your own stories. We can always do better. 
We must always hope for better things...



I received this book to review from the Nuts About Books Blogger Program and Graf-Martin Communications Inc.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Why You Can't See My 10-Year Challenge...

By now, we're all familiar with the infamous 10-Year Challenge:

"Let's see how much you've aged! 
Post a photo of yourself from 10 years ago and one from today."

Some are funny - people posting their crazy teenage hairstyles, or folks substituting their face for a celebrity doppelgänger.

A few are inspiring - men and women celebrating a substantial weight loss or surviving a challenging illness.

Some groups are using the challenge to show the lack of change in important areas of our world, such as race relations, gender representation, or the environment.

But for the most part, it's people either complaining about their own aging or, even worse, people sharing highly photoshopped versions of their current faces.

Ugh, do we really need to create more opportunities to competitively obsess on appearance?


As I looked at these posts, I couldn't help but think back to where I was 10 years ago - living in Nashville with my still-relatively-new husband, making music, and about to go through some of the most vibrant years of my life.


I thought about what picture I could find to capture who I was then, 
and how I could even encapsulate who I am now.  

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it couldn't be done.

Because, you see, you can't see my 10-Year Challenge.

There's no way a photo can show you how much I've changed in 10 years.


You can't see how Gerald and I were almost killed by an 18-wheeler, ten years ago this May, and the pain, grace, courage, and healing I experienced in the years that followed.

You can't see every time I've chosen faith over frustration, and how that choice has shaped my heart and my patience.

You can't see the way both my literal and my creative voices have become stronger, more authentic, and more expressive.

You can't see how I'm surrounded by friends and family who really know and love me, and how their love makes me a better person.

You can't see the thousands of kilometres I've driven on our Infinitely More tours, and how I've fallen so deeply in love with this country, our churches, and the diverse people of faith who fill the pews.

You can't see the time I was hurt by people I loved, and the immense struggle it took to forgive friends who never asked for my forgiveness.

You can't see the times I've had to stretch my skills outside my comfort zone, and the way that's made me a better manager and administrator.

You can't see the hundreds of times I've tried and failed and tried and failed, and yet somehow become even more eager to try and fail again.

You can't see the way I've grown into my marriage, working through the challenges, dancing through the good stuff, revelling in the blessings, and loving my husband more and more each year.



I've changed a lot in 10 years. You might not see it. But I can. 

And for me, I'm more beautiful and more interesting than ever.

Covered in battle scars you can't see. 
Filled with more love and gratitude than I could ever express.

And most of us are probably the same. 

The world may see your wrinkles, weight gain, or the way bodies just change over time.
But I hope you see your true strength and beauty.

Forget the photos. 
Look at You.

You've lived. You've survived. You've risked. You've grown.

You. Are. Awesome!

So, forget the 10-Year Challenge. 

Instead, I hope you have 10-Year Celebration of all the wonder of you.

You've earned it.



Tuesday, January 08, 2019

I Have Laryngitis ... and I'm Thankful!

"Laryngitis"

What singer wants to hear their doctor say this word?




I was tired yesterday, and after our busy December, that just made sense. But this morning, when I woke up with that telltale grip on my throat, I knew something was wrong. Gerald called our doctor. He saw me right away, and sent me home with the diagnosis.

"Laryngitis"

Ugh. Not from overuse or mistreatment of the vocal chords. This is a straight up proper infection. Germs on parade. Symptoms include sore throat, loss of voice, and, if you're a singer, potential crankiness (or at least, that's what Gerald diagnosed...)


I need to sing by the weekend, so I went to bed this afternoon with tea, honey,
 and my own personal pity party.

I was listing my various and well-earned complaints, when
I started to feel a little tug on my heart ...


I remembered a friend of mine, about my age, who just today shared news about his ever-worsening cancer diagnosis.

And my thoughts went to my friends in Nashville, who just last night, lost a sister and cousin who was far too young.

"Well," I thought, "Maybe my complaints are starting to sound a bit selfish..."

Don't get me wrong, vocal problems are terrifying for singers. They can get us into all kinds of fits and worries. (And right about now, I'll take all the prayers I can get for a swift and complete healing!)


But as things fell into perspective, 
a whole new wave of gratitude started to wash over me:


Yes, I have laryngitis, but I also have the self-employment power of flexibility that will give me time to rest.

I have a loving husband to care for me, puppies to cuddle, and money to buy medication.

I'm too sick to celebrate my Mom's birthday, but I have my Mom, she's healthy, and we have a fantastic relationship.

Not only was I able to see my doctor today, but I live in a country where my healthcare isn't tied into my job or my bank account.

As my voice suffers, I'm reminded how blessed I am to be able to make a living in music, a rare feat in our industry.

And in a world, or let's face it, in a country, province, or city, where many people don't know if they'll eat tonight, I was able to find all the ingredients in my fridge to make nourishing chicken noodle soup - the exact meal I want right now.


So, I won't go so far as to say I'm thankful for my laryngitis, 
but the pity party is over.

Instead, I'm sipping my tea and honey, 
awash in gratitude, 
and excited to sing again ...