Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - Book Review: How High Will You Climb? by John Maxwell

This book was such a natural choice for review. First, I'm a huge fan of John Maxwell, ever since reading his amazing "Talent is Never Enough." Second, not only is he a excellent educator in communication and leadership, but his teachings are all based on Biblical ideals and examples.

The subtitle for the book "Determine Your Success By Cultivating The Right Attitude" might lead you to think this is simply a book for the upwardly mobile professional, but like the best in the self-help genre, this book takes a holistic view of success. How can our attitudes affect our work, our art, our families, and our spiritual lives? The book approaches the topic from lots of angles - where do we develop our attitudes, how can we thrive in difficult times, and how to rebuild your attitude from the ground up.

This book is also full of useful tools. Each chapter has several Attitude Application sections to help you work through the subject at hand. At the back of the book is a Study Guide for either group discussion or more in-depth personal exploration.

If you're a worship leader, songwriter, or concert artist, you should never underestimate the power of your attitude to influence your efforts to lead others and communicate the Gospel. This short but intense book would be a great addition to your bookshelf.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - How Tuesdays Make Dreams Come True...

Yesterday, we did the healthiest thing we do all week - we had a meeting.

Many of you are rolling your eyes right now and thinking, "A meeting? Who wants to go to a meeting? I do meetings all the time."

When Gerald and I started to form Infinitely More, we realized there were many roles we would need to share - musician, songwriter, manager, social media, administrator, radio, publicist, and of course, spouse. With the unconventional work hours that can come with a musician's life, we needed to find ways to balance our roles and add some sense of structure to our lives.

Thus was born, the Tuesday Meeting!

Why Tuesday? Because we take Mondays as our Day Off, so Tuesday is kind of our Monday. We always go to a cafe, so we're not distracted by laundry, puppies, and other home priorities. A good cafe also allows us to indulge in sweet treats and listen to jazz, keeping the atmosphere fun and creative. We give a start time but not an end time, to allow for free flowing discussion. The goal is always to be positive, honest, and pro-active. The key, like all healthy life choices, is to be consistent. It's easy enough to say, "We're busy this week, let's skip the meeting." But like skipping prayer, exercise, or taking your vitamins, after a few days, you'll start to notice that something's off. Also, by meeting on a weekly basis, we're able to handle things in small pieces, rather than allowing issues to build into crisis moments.

We always have 4 important themes in our meetings: 

We strongly believe in the power of encouragement, both for ourselves and others. Each week, we take time to celebrate our recent accomplishments and give thanks for the blessings in our life and ministry. We also take time to express our gratitude (via email, phone, or social media) to anyone who has joined us on the journey in the past week.

Early in our relationship, Gerald and I got in the habit of having a performance post-mortem. Sometimes we would do it in the car on the way home from a concert. If we felt there was sensitive feedback to give, we might wait until the next day. It was very important that we were always lovingly honest. We learned to give each other both support and healthy criticism. At each Tuesday Meeting, we look at the different aspects of our ministry - music, booking, online, etc - and ask how we can make them better.

This is one of our favourite parts of the meeting! What is it we want to do with Infinitely More? Where do we feel God is calling us? Do we want to record a new CD? Tour a new part of the country? Create something special for our online friends and fans? We write down every idea. No dream is too big or too small.

This is where Dreams turn into Life. How can we make each Dream come true? What are the steps? Can we do them ourselves, or do we need to seek out talented friends and mentors? What Dreams can happen soon and which might need more time to ferment? We create lists, timelines, and assign tasks. Each week, we check in with these lists to see how our Dreams are progressing, which of course, leads us to Celebrate...

If you are in a band, ministry, any other kind of self-employed or creative team, 
we highly recommend a Tuesday Meeting! 
For us, it's probably the most valuable tool we have for aspiration, inspiration, and activation.

Do you have similar meetings with your team? 
If so, what are the parts that work best for you?
Please leave your thoughts in the Comments section...

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Weak For A Week...

Two weeks today, I was packing for our long awaited Prairies Road Trip. Everything was in order - gear ready, gas tank filled, and last minute supplies purchased. I suddenly felt tired. Within minutes, I was in the bathroom as all hell broke loose. My body wracked itself violently in an attempt to rid my digestive tract of whatever dragon had taken up residence within it.

This continued for two full days. By the third day, my body was still trying to reject the dragon, but there was nothing left inside. My skin was dry with dehydration. I could barely speak. I couldn't sit up.

My family took me to the hospital, where I was treated with medication and 3 bags of saline through an IV. The damage of the dragon and my body's inability to receive food and water had left me completely depleted. Within a few days, I wasn't 'sick' anymore but in, what is still proving to be, a relatively long recovery.

Eventually, I started to have enough energy to observe myself and I marvelled at the fascinating, frustrating weakness of my usually healthy body.

Everything made me tired. 

I felt like an air mattress that had been completed deflated - flat, unable to support myself, useless.

As I lifted a glass or stood up, I could feel the energy slipping from my limbs like sand through a sieve.

Walking to the bathroom put me out of breath.

I needed pillows to prop me up because sitting was exhausting.

Every task was so tiring that I didn't have enough energy left over to read, watch tv, or even listen to music.

I could do nothing but lie and heal.

After my hospital visit, I decided to set a goal or two each day to aid in my recovery. One day my goal was "eat a cracker." Another it was "sit outside." Small, specific, tangible goals to get me stronger. I could do this because I knew I would get better. Once the illness itself had passed, I knew it was only a matter of time and gentle care before I would be back to health.

"But what would it be like," I imagined, "if I didn't know I'd get better?"

As I lay there, I thought about the countless folks in hospitals every day who suffer from a similar experience of physical weakness, but with no guarantee of a return to full health.

I thought about people struggling with daily hunger, and how it leaves them too weak to spend mental energy on dreams and plans and new ideas.

I thought about my dear friend who just lost her final battle with ALS, and the years she spent under the weight of a body that slowly lost each function, with no hope of gaining them back.

My heart went out to these souls. I prayed for them. I prayed for their caregivers and families.

And I was reminded of the power of Hope.

As I started to get better, I watched a moving TED talk by retired Sergeant Kevin Briggs who would patrol the Golden Gate Bridge for potential suicide victims. He spoke about the absence of Hope in so many of these broken hearts.

I was blessed to be surrounded by love and to have Hope of a healthy outcome. But what about those who are not so blessed? What about those who can't see a happy ending?

Maybe, sometimes, we need to be the ones to offer Hope to others.

How do we do that? 

I know for us, the answer is tied into God and music and community and love. 

I don't know the answer for you. I think it's different for each of us. 
But I pray that on this long weekend, as you enjoy some downtime yourself, you'll take a moment to consider the question. Imagine what could happen if you did ... 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - Choosing the CD Songs!

Before we get into today's post, please let me express a huge THANK YOU to all of you for your prayers and support over the past week. Being sick is never easy, but throw cancelling-a-tour into the mix, and it makes for one horrible time. We are so grateful for all the love, and we look forward to seeing how God will use this change in plans.

* * * * * * * * * * 

Two weeks ago, we shared that we're working on a new CD! There are so many wonderful things about being a musician, and recording is one of our favourites. Including my first EP, this will be our 6th recording project! It's been 2 years since our debut Infinitely More CD, and we're just itching to get into the studio.

And it's all about the songs!

Since our last CD, we've written about 50 new songs, not including the dozens of signature arrangements we've created for favourite hymns and praise songs. As much as we'd like to record them all, there's this thing called Budget, which is never big enough to record all the songs you love. There are lots of steps in pre-production, but today we want to talk about one of the most critical - song selection.

How do you narrow down 50 songs to 10 for the CD? 
Here's our process:

Start With A Master List
Write them all down, even the ones that you know won't make the final cut. See their beautiful titles and celebrate your accomplishment in birthing these musical babies. Then, start putting them in groups. We divided ours by up-tempo, mid, and ballad. We also made separate lists for originals and covers.

Find the Shape Of Your Album
All originals? All covers? How many songs can you afford to record? What do you want to say? Do you have a theme, either musically or with your message?

Use Post It Notes
Lists can be a great tool, but sometimes, it's good to see the songs in a different way. We love writing each title on a post it note, and putting them all over the wall. Then, we can grab titles, and put them in various groups and shapes to see how the different songs bounce off each other.

Our high tech song selection process, on a hotel room wall...

Road Test Your Songs
Every song on our CD has been performed in a variety of concerts and worship services. We've been able to play with the arrangements, and really get a solid sense of how the songs live and breathe in front of an audience. Some bands opt to create live recordings and videos and get fan feedback using online polls and social media.

What Are People Asking For?
We often debut new songs in a concert, and announce, "This is brand new. We finished it this afternoon," and inevitably, someone will come up and ask what CD it's on. These are the songs to record. From a practical point of view, it means the song will help sell CDs. But it also means that these are the songs that are connecting with people. These are the songs that are carrying your message.

Get Trusted, Critical Feedback
Notice, I didn't say, "Ask your Mom which songs she likes," although we do that too. Gather the songwriters and artists you trust and ask them to listen to your top 15. Be open to their ideas and suggestions. Try to choose artists who are creating great work themselves, folks who are at the top of their game, and who are currently in the industry. If you don't have people like this in your group of friends, consider hiring an artist/songwriter you admire as a consultant (many will consult for an hourly rate.)

Be Open To New Ideas
Our original plan was to record 10 songs, but as we've worked through the process, there's this 11th song that just keeps rising to the top. So, with a little reworking of the Budget, it looks like there will be 11 songs on the project. Of course, Gerald keeps writing new songs, so you never know...

And remember this: when you record a song, you'll need to sing it live for the next 2 years, or at least until your next CD is recorded. And if it's a hit, you may need to sing it forever! For each song, make sure that it expresses your message, that you can perform it well in a live setting, and that you truly love it!

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - Synchronicity And The Power Of Prayer

Today we feature a special guest post by 
my husband and Infinitely More partner, 
Gerald Flemming:

Synchronicity And The Power Of Prayer

Sometimes we find ourselves in similar moments dealing with similar things.  Five years ago this week, as some of you already know, Allison and I were in a life changing accident with a tractor trailer.  To say it was an overwhelming time would be an understatement, because it changed the very core of who we are.  Every year around this time we celebrate this day, most years by having a Survive and Thrive party. This is where friends of ours are invited to celebrate all the things we all have survived and how we are currently thriving.  It’s basically a huge count your blessings day, on the other side of the calendar from Thanksgiving.  One of the interesting things about this time five years ago was that people from all over prayed for us.  They prayed that we would be okay.  They prayed that we wouldn’t be broken forever by the cataclysmic event.  They prayed with us and for us…

Flash forward five years and the power of prayer is being utilized again.  On the cusp of embarking on our first Prairies Road Trip tour both Allison and I became very sick.  The nasty little bug, whatever it is, has hit Allison far worse than it did me.   After several rough days, and a hospital visit where they had to put 3 bags of fluid back into her body, she has started the process of mending.

Like most good social media savvy Christians, posts were put up on Facebook to make people aware of the event and possible change of schedules.  And in the humble pains of an overwhelming situation we made a prayer request of our friends and family.  Within minutes the people who have known and supported our Ministry for years were taking moments out of their busy days, to shut out the noise and the furor of their own lives to pray for us … as we have done for others in the past.  It still overwhelms me that as a community we do this for each other.  I think there are very few gestures in the Christian faith that move me as much as knowing whole groups of people are praying for a single wrong to be righted, or simply to give strength at a moment where people or groups feel helpless and alone.

Anytime you are self employed, there are always extreme challenges to face.  When you are self employed in a life of ministry, the challenges, though amazingly exciting, can feel like great tests of resolve that are intended to mature us spiritually in some way.  After some sleepless nights and attempts to imagine what we could do to possibly work around things, we have come to the realization that we have no choice but to cancel our Prairies Road Trip tour.  It breaks our hearts to say that.  There just doesn’t seem to be any conceivable way to implement our plan here.  God’s plan is different for us at this point.  And we will spend time in the wisdom of that, knowing that his power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

We have just finished the messy and unfortunate humiliation of phoning the Churches and concert venues to tell them that we, in fact, can’t make it this year, but to please keep us in mind for next year.  We’re of course hoping that what was a transitional moment for us this year will make what we’re capable of even stronger and more road worthy for next year.

Our focus now is getting Allison healthy.  The prayers have done wonders but there is still a ways to go.  And then we’ll start preparing for Nashville in mid June where we will be recording the instrumental tracks of our new Infinitely More CD.  We’ve been incredibly inspired and blessed over the last two years to have access to the profound moments in people’s faith walks.  These songs are a testament to their lives and we can’t wait to share them with you.


Next week, Allison will return with a post called 
Choosing the Songs.

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!