Wednesday, July 29, 2020

15 Years of Yes

15 years ago today, I said Yes.

Quite frankly, I never even wanted to be asked the question. 
For years, I’d pushed back, given into resistance.

My Dad was the minister. I saw the tolls of church life, the stresses of church politics, 
the frustrations of church prejudices. 

Nope. Not me. I didn’t want any part of it.

Every time I’d feel God starting to move in around my music, I’d say, 
“Great! Glad you’re here! Here’s what you can do for me…”

I had no intention of surrendering. I was in control of my future, my dreams. I could see the kind of glamorous, artistic life that I wanted to live, and it looked nothing, nothing like a churchy life. 

But 15 years ago, I heard God call me into full-time music ministry, and I said Yes.

Not just Yes, but 

I said Yes in a way that completely turned my world upside-down and inside-out. That should be utter confusion and yet, it made more sense than anything I’d ever done in my whole life. All the things I’d ever created or learned or experienced somehow, magically, mysteriously lined up into this perfect moment.

So the journey began. First, with steps to change the career I’d been building over the previous decade - learning a new kind of artistic expression and a way of bridging my worlds of music and church.

Second, with moving to Nashville with my incredibly support, brand-new husband. Who knew that by the time we’d come home to Canada, Gerald would have also said Yes to that same calling, sparking the first embers of Infinitely More.

Step by step, song by song, a ministry has grown.

Who knew that Yes could lead to this?

8 albums. 15 national nominations. 2 awards. 10 years of touring. Hundreds of songs. Thousands of kilometres. Countless moments of prayers, laughter, fellowship, worship, and beauty.

It’s not lost on me that I mark this day in the middle of a global pandemic that’s brought our touring ministry to a standstill. What does God have to say to us on this particular anniversary date?

When I started out as a very young singer and actor, I had all kind of plans and dreams. When I said Yes to God’s calling, I laid all that aside.

But here’s the amazing thing: 
I’ve never felt that following God’s path 
has ever meant giving up my own plans and dreams.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve sacrificed a lot for this life of ministry. It’s hard, exhausting, often misunderstood work. We spend months away from family, friends, and all the comforts of home. We live with a higher-than-normal level of insecurity and instability. I can’t think of any part of our lives that is unaffected by this ministry.

And yet, it’s never really felt like we’re giving up anything. 
I’ve never felt God saying No to any of my dreams.

Instead, I feel He’s turned me towards a Greater Yes.

Yes, to traveling, touring, and bringing music and light to all corners of this beautiful country.

Yes, to worshiping in churches of all shapes and sizes, and seeing the power of God work through a myriad of styles and expressions.

Yes, to boundless art, writing, beauty, and creativity.

Yes, to witnessing the transformative, redemptive miracle of God's love and grace moving through ordinary people.

Yes, to our tiny family of marriage, puppies, and a family who’s willing to postpone holiday celebrations until we’re back in our home province. 

It’s strange how, over the years, so many of my original dreams have come true, just not in the way that I had originally imagined. 

And in many cases, I’ve even had dreams come true that I didn’t even know were my dreams to begin with!  Amazing things that happen, and all I can think is, “I wasn’t seeking that, and yet, I somehow think I’ve wanted that my whole life”.

Is this what they mean by “God moves in mysterious ways”?

15 Years of Yes.

I stand here today, so very thankful for every moment of the journey, so far… 

I’m grateful for every person who has joined me on this adventure, with the most generous gratitude reserved for Mom, Dad, and Gerald. None of this happens or makes sense without the three of you and your love. 

I still have so many dreams, so many goals, so many things I want to create and experience in this world. 15 years in and I’m hungrier than ever for God’s voice, God’s calling, and God’s music. 

So I will continue to say Yes. 
And I will continue to give glory to God, trusting that His power, 
working in us, can do Infinitely More than we can ask or imagine.


Here’s to the next 15…

I captured that original night, 15 years ago, right here on this blog. 
You can read my post from that night HERE.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Not Seeking Normal

“I can’t wait for things to return to Normal.”

We’ve all said it. 
In some moment of frustration, in the last few months, 
as the world has turned upside-down, we’ve all said it.

“I just need things to be Normal.”

It’s an understandable phrase. Everything has changed. From the very simple, like buying groceries, to the very complex, like visiting the hospital - nothing has been unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Normal makes sense. Normal makes us feel balanced and safe. In recent days, here in Ontario, we’re getting some signs of that return. Businesses are starting to reopen, you can sit on a patio, and you can even form a “social circle” with close family and friends. You can sense a new excitement about these changes.

But what about those of us who can’t return to Normal?
What if your Normal no longer exists? 

As music artists, we make our living touring the country and performing in front of large groups of people. We cross borders, stay in Airbnbs, billet in homes, and pack the pews with as many people as possible. No social distancing. Lots of hugging. Hours of singing and breathing the same air.

As I write this, literally none of these things are allowed. 

None of them.

The very mechanics of how we make our living is banned for now and into the foreseeable future.

There are practical ramifications to this, but it’s more than that. Creating live music and sharing it with communities is what we do! It’s what we’re built for, how we move through this world. It’s our language for sharing God’s light and love.

Yes, we can do some things online, and we’re grateful for that, but we all know, it’s just not the same.

At this point, the arts industry in general isn’t anticipating a return to Normal any time in the near future. When touring and live performances do return, we have no idea how they will look or what changes we may all need to make.

I’m sure we’re not the only group who can’t see a pathway back to Normal yet. 
Let’s be honest, even if you are able to return to your job, 
does it really look or feel like it used to?

Many years ago, I lost someone I loved to suicide. Steve’s death completely turned my world upside-down and inside-out. All I wanted was for life to return to Normal - to laugh and joke with and hug the man I loved. But as I swam through the waves of grief, I came to the realization that a return to Normal was never possible.

Normal, as I had known it, no longer existed. 

From that day on, I realized that I needed to discover a new vision for the future. I was completely unclear as to what that would look like. It took months and even years for it to fully take shape, but letting go of my former view of Normal was the first step. Only then could I start to open my heart to this next chapter that God had prepared for me.

I’ve thought about that journey a lot during this pandemic season. 
Maybe you’ve been through a similar journey yourself.

Normal, as we once knew it, no longer exists.

And trying to hold this past in our hands is as futile as grabbing sand in the wind.

So, I’m Not Seeking Normal anymore.

Instead, with a deep breath, 
I’m trying to open myself to God’s next chapter.

As a planner, I’ve found this season to be incredibly tough. And yet, more times than I can count, I’ve found my anxiety washed away by a peace I can’t fully explain. A peace that passes all human understanding.

I can’t see the path forward at all. 
I have no idea what the future looks like.
The fear and not-knowing can be overwhelming.

But I’ve stumbled down the steps of uncertainty before, 
only to discover sure footing awaiting me.

So now, more than anything, 
I choose to trust the One who created the path.

I trust that He has plans to prosper, and not harm, me. 
I trust His steps are a firm foundation.
And I know that nothing, nothing, can separate me from His love.

I’m Not Seeking Normal.
Instead, I’m lifting this prayer.
I invite you to join me…

Loving God, 
I have no idea what you have prepared for me. 
But I know you are the source of all goodness and love. 
Prepare my heart, mind, and talents for this next chapter. 
If you can’t show me the whole path, just show me the next step. 
And if that step is to simply rest, 
please give me the strength to stay still. 

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Book Review: Losing Control, by Mark Smeby

I mentioned in last week's 2020 Mid-Year Book List 
that I'd be posting a review soon, and here 'tis!

I first met Mark Smeby when we sang on the same worship team in Nashville. I loved his voice, and since that time, I've come to appreciate the breadth of his talents as a singer, songwriter, performer, and author.

Earlier this year, he sent out an announcement that he was writing a new book, and seeking volunteers to be part of his reading team. I jumped at the chance! Week by week, our group would receive chapters as they were written. We were invited to share our stories and thoughts in a Facebook group, and would then receive revisions based on that feedback.

Since I was able to see a bit of the "work in progress," I really wanted to share a review and let you know about this new project!

Losing Control is written for control freaks (can I get a witness?) and the better life that awaits when we learn to let go and let God. I can't think of a better time to release this book than now. Who hasn't been struggling with a loss of control these days? Health, finances, plans, dreams - everything has been turned upside-down. Wouldn't it be great if we could truly surrender all our stress to God and live in true freedom? 

Mark defines this process in two steps:

#1. "Accept the Mess - Surrender to life as it is"
#2. "Be Willing to Create a New Mess - Use courage to live from the heart"

Through personal testimony and studied resources, Mark shares his own journey of "losing control" and finding a more generous and loving way to live. In his own words, "This book is a giant dose of grace ....", and who couldn't use more of that these days! 

Each chapter ends with helpful questions for personal reflection. And remember how I mentioned sharing our stories in the Facebook group? Well, each chapter also ends with a personal story from a group member.

I had two strong impressions when reading Losing Control:

#1. Mark's ministry has shared a powerful message of "Hope" for many years, and I feel like this book is a natural extension of this ministry. If you enjoy his writing, I recommend you look deeper into his music and, of course, go see him live when artists can tour again!

#2. About halfway through the book, Mark begins to share stories of his many years working in prison ministry. Honestly, these were my absolute favourite parts of the book! I would love to see Mark's next book explore this challenging and inspiring ministry.

Thanks, Mark, for sharing your story, 
and for allowing so many of us to be part of your reading team!

Losing Control is available as a hardcopy or as an audiobook, 
Mark is very generously offering a FREE PDF of the book!

Please visit his website for more details:

Sunday, July 05, 2020

2020 Mid-Year Book List!

Wow, this has become an epic year for reading!

As you know, for the last few years, I've given myself a goal of reading 2 books a month.
Each year, I celebrate this goal by publishing my reading list.

Here are my lists for 2018 and 2019.

I'd set the same goal for 2020, but once the lockdown hit, my reading took off like a shot!

Not being able to tour or perform for live audiences has been incredibly difficult in every possible way. I'm not exaggerating when I say that music, gardening and reading have kept me feeling sane and peaceful throughout this whole ordeal.

Since the lockdown started, my reading has increased 
from 2 books a month to 4 or 5 per month!
At this rate, I'll hit my annual goal of 24 in just a few weeks.

Rather than create an exhaustive list in December, 
I've decided to share a mid-year list with you now.

You'll find a good mix here:
fiction and non-fiction, some Canadian and local reads, a few books-in-translation,
and of course my favourite: historical fiction.

Hopefully, you'll find something that will be an inspiration or diversion for you this season!

Here's my 2020 Mid-Year Book List!

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding
By Jennifer Robson

I started the year with this gorgeous historical fiction, imagining the lives of the women who created Queen (then "Princess") Elizabeth's wedding gown. I loved everything about this book - the characters, setting, and story were all fully engaging. But my favourite part of historical fiction is always taking the deep dive outside of the book itself. Search any of the dresses mentioned in the book, or even the designer himself, and you'll find a plethora of photos and videos that help flesh out the world of The Gown.

By Fredrik Backman

My writing friend, Martha Tatarnic, lent me this book last spring, but I really felt a book about hockey should be read in winter. Set in Northern Sweden (this is one of my books-in-translation reads!), Beartown could easily be set in a small, northern Canada town. This compelling story asks important questions about where we place our values and priorities, especially when the stakes are high.

All the Light We Cannot See
By Anthony Doerr

Another historical fiction! I think everyone I know had already read this book, so I'm late to the party, but a complete superfan! A literary, layered, and engaging novel exploring the ravages of war through children and teenagers. I couldn't stop thinking or talking about this book.

The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou
By Maya Angelou

This winter, I decided that I wanted to start reading poetry. The idea was sparked late one night, when I wanted to read, but was too tired to delve into a few chapters. "Ah," I thought, "this would be the perfect time to just read a poem of two." It's really the only genre that's been missing from my reading list, and Maya seemed like the perfect place to start.

Praying Women: How to Pray When You Don't Know What to Say
By Sheila Walsh

I read this book for review. You can read my thoughts HERE.

In Calamity's Wake: A Novel
By Natalee Caple

In our travels, I've started visiting indie bookstores and picking up books by local authors. While visiting St. Catharines' latest indie bookstore, Someday Books, I realized I hadn't read any of our hometown authors yet! Inspired by the wild west, In Calamity's Wake tells the fictional story of Calamity Jane's daughter and her journey to find her mother. Steeped in historical details and wonderfully told - a treasure of a book!

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver
By Mary Oliver

I loved reading Maya Angelou, so I did a Facebook poll of friends to find their favourite poets, and Mary Oliver topped the list. I loooooved this collection! Her images of nature and gentleness were exactly what I wanted to read. I think I bookmarked about half the poems for repeated reading!

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living
By Meik Wiking

We entered lockdown in March, and this seemed like the perfect time to explore the idea of hygge. This Danish approach to comfort has been trendy for a while, and this is truly the perfect season to put it into practice. Candles, comfort food, soft blankets, quiet time at home - if we have to be in lockdown, we might as well make the most of it.

Daisy Jones and The Six
By Taylor Jenkins Reid

I'd definitely call this historical fiction a romp of a book! Daisy Jones and The Six tells the story of a fictional 70s rock band. Written in the style of a Rolling Stones interview, we get the story of the band from the varied perspectives and biases of the different band members. I particularly love the time dedicated to exploring the challenges and triumphs of the songwriting process.

More Than We Remember
By Christina Suzann Nelson

I read this book for review. You can read my thoughts HERE.

A Moveable Feast
By Ernest Hemingway

The Little Book of Hygge recommended this as a good hygge book. Hemingway's memoir of his years in Paris were a decadent treat, filled with cozy cafes, eclectic bookstores, long walks, and the eccentricities of the writer's life. Although not historical "fiction", it still gave me that great thrill of placing me in a more decadent time and place (such a treat during lockdown!) 

By William Shakespeare

My poetry journey continued with Shakespeare! These are poems that were definitely written to be read aloud. Each is like a tiny meal, so I rarely read more than a few a day. And my copy was a sweet little vintage tome with a fabric cover, so the reading experience was satisfying (dare I say, "hygge") in so many ways!

From the Ashes: My Story of Being M├ętis, Homeless, and Finding My Way
By Jesse Thistle

I included this in May's "Favourite Things." You can read about it HERE.

Saints: Becoming More Than "Christians"
By Addison D. Bevere

I read this book for review. You can read my thoughts HERE.

The River
By Peter Heller

A action adventure novel! Wynn and Jack set out for the long, leisurely canoe trip of their dreams. But the moment they discover a forest fire growing in the distance, everything changes. Very different than what I normally read! Fast-paced, suspenseful, and action packed - I couldn't put this down!

Don't Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life
By Anne Bogel

I read this book for review. You can read my thoughts HERE.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold
By Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Another book-in-translation! What if there was a cafe you could visit that allowed you to time travel? You could go anywhere you wanted in the past, but you could only stay until your cup of coffee gets cold. This imaginative Japanese novel perfectly weaves the supernatural with gobs of humanity. A real find of a book!

The Garden of Small Beginnings
By Abbi Waxman

One of the unforeseen blessings of 2020 has been all the time I've been able to spend in my garden, so I was attracted to a novel with gardening as a theme. As I read the first few pages, I started laughing out loud, and it was then that I realized it: I never read funny books!! So, I need to amend that.... The Garden of Small Beginnings tells the story of Lilian, a widow and single mom of two small girls, whose life is upended when she starts a gardening course. There are no great twists in this story, but I still loved it. It never shies away from exploring the longterm struggles with grief, but still remains genuinely fun and inspiring.

God at Every Gate: Prayers and Blessings for Pilgrims
By Brendan O'Malley

I was chatting with my Dad about a desire to read some Celtic poetry, and he lent me this sweet book of devotions. Each daily reading included poetry and prayers from a variety of authors and sources. It also explored a variety of themes, including elements of nature, and the various ways we can express our own faith. I particularly fell in love with the writings of Hildegard of Bingen, so you can probably expect to see one of her books on my year end list.

The Bookshop On The Corner
By Jenny Colgan
AKA: The Little Shop of Happy Ever After

What happens when an introverted but passionate librarian is sacked due to downsizing? The Bookshop on the Corner tells a story of pushing past your comfort zone to discover the dreams you never knew you wanted. This charming book celebrates all things bookish, and left me with a craving to visit Scotland. I struggled with the generic title of the book (no spoilers, but it really doesn't fit the story). Apparently, this is the North American title. The original UK title - The Little Shop of Happy Ever After - is much more evocative and well suited.

Losing Control: Finding Freedom by Letting Go
By Mark Smeby

I first met Mark when we sang on the same worship team in Nashville. I was part of his advance reading team for his latest book, and I'll be posting my review later this week. Stay tuned!

There you have it - my 2020 reading, thus far!

What are you reading these days?

I'd love to hear your recommendations in the comments!