Saturday, June 27, 2009

Making Music in Memphis

Yesterday morning, Jenna and I packed up her jeep and headed to Memphis for a musical road trip!

She had been asked to lead a mini-worship session for her friend's birthday/anniversary party. As it was explained to me, we were going to partner with her church's worship leader, Josh, and have a short period of music and worship before the party. Jenna and I have been working together for almost 2 years now at Redeemer (wow, time has flown!) and we have our 'thing' down, but neither of us knew Josh. So often in making music, the key is just to be open to the energy in the room, sensitive to the music being made, and generous with your talents. The three of us met for an afternoon rehearsal, and you could tell things were going to go well.

As the guests arrived, they were welcomed with fresh fruit and cupcakes, and then lead into the living room. We handed out songsheets, and the music began. Wow! For a small group, the singing was powerful! Everyone sang out, some people clapped, others sang harmony. It was beautiful. We moved between moments of song and prayer, but it really was a true time of worship and not just a sing-along.

And once things got started, it was hard to make it stop! The party never moved away from the singing and the praising. Once our "formal" part was done, people starting saying things like, "We used to sing 'Be Glorified' in church camp. Do you know that?", and we'd all sing 'Be Glorified.' Then they found out that Josh, Jenna, and I were all songwriters, so we each did one of our own songs, which was fun and cool. More requests, more stories, more sharing ... what a night!

After the crowd left, Jenna and I stayed up with our hosts, eating Muddy's cupcakes and learning more about each other. At midnight, our hostess said, "Let's go for a swim!". So we grabbed our swimsuits for a midnight swim! The air was warm and there was lightening in the far distance. So wonderful! The guest room was as beautiful as a bed and breakfast, so even though I had grand intentions of blogging last night, sleep overtook me very quickly!

As we drove home this afternoon, we drove past the site of the accident for the first time. I wasn't going to tell Jenna what we were doing, but I could feel myself getting more nervous, so I had to tell her. We prayed a little just before we got there, and I gripped my hands. As we drove through the stretch of highway, I had trouble distinguishing the exact spot but I was still awestruck by the location. A mile earlier, we might have be thrown into oncoming traffic and maybe hit another car. If we'd be thrown to the right instead of the left, we would have smashed into a solid wall of rock. I can't even imagine how those circumstances would have worked out. I know the "what if" game is a dangerous one, but when faced with the actual location of the accident, it's hard not to realize those alternative endings. I continue to marvel at God's grace on that day.

After a bit of rest this afternoon, Gerald and I got into a creative planning mode. We brainstormed some titles for my hymns album, and talked about the photo shoot on Monday. Gerald is recording some demos soon, so we went through his song list and debated the pros and cons of each choice. Our time here in Nashville is about to fly by, and I don't want to leave here with any unfinished business!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Homeward Bound

Well, we're talking about it every day now and we actually can't stop thinking about it so it's probably time to put it in black and white and actually start writing about it:

Gerald and I are moving back to Canada.

In light of our recent accident, this probably won't be a surprise to most people, but the truth is we made this decision a few months ago.

In January, we were utterly convinced that we would renew our visa this year and stay another 3 years. I even put it on my list of 2009 Goals and Resolutions. But when we were in Alabama in March, we got to talking, and we realized our hearts were starting to turn back home. What followed was a month of intense prayer and discussion. We started to look for signs of God's plan for us, and bit by bit, it was revealed, and we couldn't be more excited.

Gerald and I are going to move to back to Toronto, taking all our new Nashville skills with us. We're going to start a new music company that, in the beginning, will encompass the things we do now - concerts, writing, church services, women's ministry, etc - but will eventually branch out into several new areas of live and recorded performance. We've had several brainstorming sessions and we've come up with a good 15-20 ideas we'd like to work on over the next few years.

Now, the accident has had some affect on this decision. How could it not? Our original plan was to move back in November, a little before our visa expires. After our recent visit home, we decided we really want to be home sooner rather than later. So our new moving date is August 10. We want to get back with our families, and moving in August will also allow us to get a running start for September.

Since the accident, the unimportant things have become really unimportant, and the important things have become super important.

The next 2 months (eep! - less than 2 months!) are going to be a whirlwind! I still have to finish my hymns CD, Gerald is recording demos, and Stamps-Baxter starts July 12. We also want to spend lots of time with friends, and try to hit all the places we still haven't visited, like the Frist and Graceland.

I'm excited about this next chapter in our lives together. I'm sad about leaving Nashville - we have some awesome friends here - but we'll visit twice a year, and we're hoping we have a constant stream of Southern visitors bringing us fried chicken, chess pie and red velvet cake!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Everyday PR

My friend, Susan Hart, writes a great blog called Everyday PR. I love it because it takes topics likes public relations and branding and makes them accessible to everyone.

She recently had a great post on giving away free items to increase business during these rough economic times. In her follow-up post, she features several comments, including my comment, and my photo!

You can see the post here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Redeemer Healing Prayer Service

Our church has been hit with an unusually high amount of suffering lately. We have many members in the hospital, facing surgery, or dealing with other serious medical conditions. The clergy decided we should do the best thing we can in times like these - pray.

Tonight, about 60 of us gathered in the sanctuary of Church of the Redeemer. Jenna asked if I'd join her for the music, and I'm so glad I did. I had been debating leaving work early and going to the service, and this answered that debate for me. It was just the two on us on music (le petit praise team!) and it was a good partnership. As people entered the church, we encouraged them to sing on songs like "Be Thou My Vision" and "Here I am to Worship." After a brief welcome, we lead them in a series of songs and choruses, including one of my favourites, "In Christ Alone."

Then, we were encouraged to gather in groups of 5 to share prayer requests, and to pray. There was no real guidance other than that. We could pray in any way that seemed right for us. We could pray for each other, the church, family, friends ... the only real theme was 'healing.' The clergy and elders stayed at the altar rail for those wanting individual prayer and annointing, and they played a gentle CD during the prayer time so people wouldn't feel self-conscious about saying their needs out loud. It was wonderful to be in the crowd and, without actually catching any of the details, to listen to the sounds around me. To my right, a group was in fervent prayer; to my left, people were telling stories; and in the back, a few old friends were sharing a spontaneous laugh, maybe because of a shared experience, maybe as a way to relieve the pain.

As the prayer time came to an end, Jenna and I regrouped to lead the congregation in "Blessed Be Your Name." Ever since the accident, I find verse 2 of this song emotional/difficult/challenging to sing - it just has new layers of meaning for me.

After the service, Jenna and I treated ourselves to a long visit at Fido (lemon cake!) and then braved the crazy dark-windy-rainy-thundery-lightningy weather on the drive home. Summer, please?

By Matt Redman
Blessed Be Your Name,
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name,
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out ,
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord, Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name,
When the sun's shining down on me
When the world's 'all as it should be'
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name


You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ontario in Review

We're back in Nashville! We arrived Wednesday ... in our new car! After weeks of intense car-shopping, we ended up getting an awesome deal in very short time. I'm still just getting used to highway driving again, so my father-in-law, Gerry, drove down with us to relieve the burden. We made sure he was well-stuffed with BBQ and Cracker Barrel before sending him back across the border.

As my lack of posts imply, I'm still having some trouble keeping up with all things cyber. Here's an update on the rest of our Canadian gigs:

- On Thursday, we performed a midday concert for the final series of Music on the Hill. We had an amazing turnout and the whole program went very well. Even though this wasn't the final concert of the series, they decided to use this day to say thank you to those involved, and to hold a fantastic reception. It was great to see so many friends, and celebrate the end of an era.

- On Friday, we sang at the wedding of our friends, Deanna and Michael. Gerald accompanied Deanna as she sang a surprise song for her new husband, and later, Gerald and I sang the first dance. Such a beautiful day!

- On Sunday, we did a full concert at St. George's Church in Guelph. This church was originally built to be the area's cathedral, and it shows in the design - huge, ornate, and stunningly beautiful. The people of St. George's are fantastic (Dad has been the interim there for a few months, and we sang during their Christmas Carol Service.). We had a tremendous response from people, and felt very welcomed throughout the whole experience. Friends and family who attended the show said it was the best they've ever heard us, so that was very humbling and inspiring.

The rest of our time was spent doing this things we wanted and needed to do in Toronto - setting up insurance on the new car, visiting friends, and eating lots and lots of sushi.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Gage Park

Tonight, Gerald and I joined 5 other artists in Gage Park, Brampton, ON, for the annual Inspirational Music in the Park. This is the ninth year for this weekly free music festival. Over the course of the summer, Gage Park will host close to a hundred artists singing all kinds of Christian music. Tonight was the opening night. The cooler weather kept the crowds small, but surprisingly enthusiastic.

Gerald and I did a 20 minute set which included "Just a Closer Walk," "A Church Song Broke Me Down," "Neighbour," and "Sin Ain't Nothing." The crowd loved the songs, and sang and clapped along.

After our set, we got to meet the other artists, and share stories from Nashville. It's always neat to see the way other artists are using their talents within their local churches and communities.

Oh, and a little good news: I think our car is going to work out okay! We're meeting with the dealer tomorrow to work out the details. It's going to take a few days to get insurance in place - I'm a Canadian with an American driver's licence buying a Canadian car. Apparently, I'm complicated. But hopefully, by the end of the week, I'll have a car again. Praying!

Tuesday, Tuesday, Never Be a Blues Day...

The past few days have been a mix of Triumphs and Trials.

The Triumphs:

- On Friday, I drove on the highways for the first time since the accident. It was stressful, but I felt stronger after I did it.

- I attended a book reading by the brilliant and fascinating Lisa See. Lisa wrote my favourite book of last year, "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan." Her books are set in historical China and they study the intricate relationships between women as mothers, daughters, sisters, friends. At the reading, she spoke about her family's history, how she researches her books, and future writing plans. It was awesome! I'm currently reading her latest book, "Shanghai Girls." Mission trip to China, anyone?

- On Sunday, Gerald and I sang at our former home church, St. John's York Mills. The church is starting to incorporate Praise and Worship music into their service, so we were brought in to lead the congregation and the praise team. The response was overwhelming! Many of these people have known us for years, and they've been hearing me sing since I was a teenager. To hear them say, "You've both improved so much" was awesome because they have a real 'before' and 'after' image of us.

The Trials:

- Gerald and I continue to struggle with the emotional and the practical issues of the accident. We're tired and stressed. I pride myself on being reliable, punctual, and detail-oriented, but these days, I just can't get anything done. I'm missing all kinds of deadlines, and lots of things are slipping through the cracks. I know I need to be gentle with myself, and the people around me are all very understanding, but still, it's frustrating.

- The car hunt continues. We think we have a car, but now it's not for sure, so we're hoping it all gets sorted out tomorrow. Really praying it all works out as planned. I may have a mini-freak-out if we need to start from square one again.

- This accident is really making us re-evaluate everything we're doing. In some areas, this has been a great affirmation, and in other areas, we can see things we want to change. I know this will affect our plans over the next few months, and I imagine there will be many challenges in this.

The Blessings:

- Tomorrow night, we're singing at Gage Park in Brampton. This is a weekly summer festival that usually attracts some great artists. Praying for good weather!

- We've seen so many friends over the last few days. So good to be surrounded by loving hearts!

- We continue to be so grateful for simply being alive. It's an interesting state of mind to be so acutely aware of this most basic, yet mostly unappreciated, aspect of the human condition. It is all at once humbling, frightening, and invigorating.