November 25th, 2013
I was asked to write a guest blog this week, and thought I’d share it here:
Question: I know Christmas songs are plentiful, but what three or four songs do you recommend to help us welcome Christmas?
Christmas is my favorite holiday, and the songs have so much to do with that. It’s really hard to pick just a few! But I would say that I always come back to the classics. I just made a new version of “What Child is This?” that I truly love to sing because the words are so profound and the melody is simply gorgeous. I also love “Joy to the World,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and “Silent Night.” Recently, I wrote a new song about the true meaning of God’s gift to the world called “Christmas is Forever” and of course, I think that would be a great one to help welcome Christmas!
Questions: I often have a hard time describing the sacred power of music, so maybe you can try? What is it about music that reaches into our hearts and moves us? How can music help us push aside our busyness and prepare to celebrate Christ?
You know, in our culture, music is so often background sound. They pipe it into shopping malls and play it on elevators. You really can’t go many places at Christmas without hearing music. And so many of the songs are just part of our cultural DNA. We’ve heard these songs since we were little, and we associate them with Christmas which also usually means we associate them with strong emotions and memories. But if you really stop and listen to the words of the classic Christian Christmas songs, so many of them are absolutely amazing. They really help to keep me focused on the meaning of the season.
I’m not sure why music moves people the way it does, but the truth is that we were wired by God to respond. No one is unaffected by music. Even people who don’t think they care are influenced with different emotions by the score in a movie, or by hearing the song that was playing when their heart got broken in high school. The reason Christmas music is so profound is that it couples that basic human capacity to be moved by music with cultural and family traditions and experiences. Add to that lyrics that proclaim to the world that God has sent His Son to us as the greatest gift ever given, and you have something with the power to move people deeply.
With all that said, how would I tell people to let music help them slow down and prepare for the coming of Christ? I would tell them to stop and actually listen to the words. Think about them. Don’t let it be background noise – let it be the prayer of your heart. Make it a time of worship. You’ll be surprised how quickly it brings you out of the busyness and into the profound.
November 8th, 2013
Apparently this was posted a while ago, but I just found it and wanted to put it up here. The Evangelical Covenant Church has a long history of helping with poverty and Christian growth in Congo, the poorest nation in the world. About a year ago, they partnered with World Vision to start Covenant Kids Congo. As most of you know, I am seriously passionate about the work of World Vision, and have been so honored to support Covenant Kids Congo in many churches now. They featured my work with them on their blog last month. I hope anyone reading this will consider sponsoring a child, either in the Congo, or in one of the many, many areas of the world where World Vision serves kids who are in desperate need. We are the ones who make a difference!
November 5th, 2013
The packaging for the new Christmas Card CD, Christmas is Forever
I can’t believe how smoothly this project has gone, but because it has (thank you, Lord!) I’m happy to say that the new Christmas project is almost here. It’s a Christmas card with a CD tucked inside that has three songs – “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “What Child is This?” and “Christmas is Forever.” It’s in manufacturing as we speak, and I should be able to ship copies sometime between Nov. 15-20. We’ve added the pro-order to our store, and you can also hear clips there now, so check it out and we hope we put you in the Christmas mood here in November.
Here’s a piece I wrote about the songwriting process for our new song “Christmas is Forever:”
People ask me often what the songwriting process is like. It’s different every time. But I wanted to share how we came up with “Christmas is Forever” because it represents what happens to me so often – I try to do my own thing, I end up coming to the place of asking God what He would like me to say, and He takes it in a completely different direction to become something I never would have thought of on my own.
I wrote my first two albums all by myself. After that, though, I started working with a new producer, Paul Marino, and we started co-writing. We’ve done most of the songwriting on my last two albums together, and now this new Christmas project as well. Working with someone else really has that iron-sharpens-iron effect, and it doesn’t hurt that Paul’s an award winning songwriting and producer. We have a similar esthetic and the same heart for ministry, so it’s been a great partnership.
We decided to do this kind of last minute, so I went down to Nashville to write an original song and do arrangements of two other traditional songs with Paul in early September. I had brought a couple of ideas with me, but I wasn’t necessarily sold on either of them – the most difficult thing about writing a new song for a 2000 year old tradition is finding an idea that hasn’t been done yet. And the concept is absolutely the hardest and most important part of songwriting in my opinion.
We tried my ideas first, but they weren’t clicking. Then we started throwing out ideas, phrases, things that might spark a visual, just brainstorming. I take notes the entire time on my laptop, and it’s always amazing at the end of the session to see how pages of chaotic notes become one clean and small set of lyrics. I think lyrics should always give you a mental picture, and should say as much as they can in the fewest words possible.
I had started by saying that it always made me sad at Christmas to see how many people missed the point entirely. Christmas isn’t about Santa, it isn’t about stuff. It’s about the greatest gift even given to the world, Christ Jesus, and what He offers us. People are so busy and so unwilling sometimes to hear that that they rush through the season and miss the whole thing.
We were liking some of our melodic ideas, but the lyrics were coming out very cynical, almost preachy. They were poignant, but I was starting to feel like we were trying to hit people over the head with the frying pan of Christianity.
Finally, Paul said, “We’ve got a point, but what are we really trying to say to people? If there was one thing we’d want them to hear or know at Christmas, what is it?” We’d already written some lyrics about the seasonal display of a stable, and how it would be gone again in just a few weeks. I said, “I’d want them to know this isn’t just a seasonal thing we do out of tradition. It’s something that changed the world, that changed history. It’s for everyone all the time.”
Paul said, “We need to make it a prayer.”
It totally changed the direction of the session, and within about an hour we had the majority of it laid out. We still hammered away on minor details of word choice and little changes in the melody over the next two days, but it was amazing to see it come together. I’ve never written anything quite like it, but it says exactly what I’d want to say to people at Christmas: Jesus’ coming has changed everything for all time. Here’s one of the verses:
I pray you know what wise men knew:
That Jesus is the Savior.
God’s eternal love is true
And Christmas is Forever.
I pray you know it too! Christmas will be here before we know it, but when we know Christ, it’s been here all along.
October 22nd, 2013
Just a quick note – I just found out that my book, “Life Not Typical: How Special Needs Parenting Changed My Faith and My Song” was named in the Top 10 Books on Sensory Processing Disorder by Special Needs Book Review. You can see the list here – we’re always praying that the book will help so many families dealing with difficulties and with special needs!
October 20th, 2013
I heard on Monday that Kyli, the girl whose family was my original inspiration for the song “Your Child” was ill and in the hospital’s PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit). Kyli is 11, and severely impaired in many ways. She uses a wheelchair and a feeding tube and doesn’t talk, and she is often in a lot of pain. But she is also absolutely sweet, and her parents are so devoted and loving. I met them a few years ago in New York at a concert, and I was so deeply touched and moved by their devotion to their child that I wrote the song.
Later we made it into a music video and have been astonished to see that take off and be used by so many organizations. It’s been on Focus on the Family, Joni and Friends, Autism Speaks, Insight for Living, and many others. It’s been incredible to hear from families how much the song has meant to them.
This past summer I had the wonderful opportunity to go back to New York and sing again at Kyli’s family’s church. Kyli was too ill to come that day and stayed home with her dad, Andy, but I was able to spend some time with her mom, Jodi, after the service, and I was also able to share how God had used the video and their devotion to inspire and encourage so many other families. Sometimes when you are serving faithfully and quietly at home, you have no idea how God can multiply that. It was so good to thank her.
Back to this week. I heard Kyli was in the PICU and sent her mom a message telling her we were praying. Kyli had gotten a cold, and her breathing was impaired. She had been put on a vent and then taken off twice. They’d had to do it a third time and every time she got weaker. They tried to extubate her one more time and it seemed to be going well for the first afternoon, but then it became clear that she was working too hard to breathe on her own. Sweet Kyli went home to be with the Lord this morning.
My heart is just broken for the family. I know their life has been very hard, but they wouldn’t have traded a moment with Kyli – she was such a blessing to them. Their faith has been incredible throughout, as has their church family. It has been something to behold, and the best picture of what it really means to be the family of God.
Thank you for your witness, Jodi and Andy. And thank you for what you gave to this earth, Kyli. We will miss you.
October 9th, 2013
Speaking at the Women's Oasis event
Last night was a pretty incredible evening. I got to do the annual Women’s Oasis event at Upper Arlington Lutheran Church here in Columbus (Mill Run Campus). I’ve had a long history with this church personally, and really, there’s even been a history with my family. This was one of the first churches to support my dad when my parents moved here to Columbus to start Young Life. I’ve done a guest worship stint here, and also a benefit concert for Young Life. I’ve also worked with another songwriter who goes here and does projects for them, so there are all kinds of connections.
This is an outreach event they do every year, and this years theme was “Hope When Life Unravels.” They had a beautiful banquet and then I had about an hour to speak and sing. What a privilege to get to share the Gospel! And what a precious team they had working on it as well! Those women worked incredibly hard and it showed – the evening went so smoothly. Thanks for having me! Can’t wait to do something with you all again.
I’m headed out this weekend again for Nashville to do some of the recording sessions and also to record all my vocals for the new Christmas project, so we’d love prayers for health and safety, and no one giving me a cold on the plane!
September 27th, 2013
Teaching up at Portage Lake
We’ve been kicking around an idea for the last three years, and we’ve finally decided to jump in and give it a try. I love Christmas music – Christmas is my favorite holiday all around, although Easter’s pretty incredible too – and I’ve been wanting to do a Christmas album, but just don’t have the time to make an entire project that will only be used for part of the year. I’ve been thinking of doing a shorter project and putting it in a Christmas card that people could send to friends and family. Then, if it goes well we could possibly do another the following year and then a full album on the third.
So, we’re doing the experiment! I hope it goes smashingly well, but if not, at least I got to do some versions of songs I love.
Since I hadn’t really planned to squeeze this in, it’s made the last couple of weeks much more interesting. Last weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to go back up to Portage Lake Bible Camp in Onekama, MI to teach the life of Peter at their weekend women’s retreat. I’ve been up at this camp a couple of times before, and they are just fabulous. I love that the staff intern I met the first year I was there, Beth, was the program director the second time I came, and is now the assistant director. I know why too – she’s amazing.
I really have a special place in my heart for this camp and for the ladies who come. This retreat draws women from about 40 difference churches, and I have been to several of them and have met a lot of the women over the years. It was also one of the first camps to give me a chance when I started speaking years ago. So now when I go there, it feels a little like a homecoming event.
I taught on Peter’s life and how he was transformed by his time with Jesus from an ordinary, uneducated, working class guy, to the head of the church and a force that God used to literally change the world. All along we also looked at how God might want to change and transform us, and how He could use us in the world today right where He’s put us.
After a great weekend, I headed home and then headed back out two days later in the opposite direction to Nashville in order to put together the Christmas project with my producer, Paul Marino. We wrote a new song called “Christmas is Forever” that I am super excited about – it’s a prayer for people at Christmas. We also wrote new arrangements and a new bridge and verse for the songs “What Child Is This?” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.” I am so excited now to see how they will all turn out! Once we have all the songs planned out, I love putting them all together – it’s like painting with sound.
I got back yesterday and have already been talking with my graphic designer about what we would like the card to look like and how to put the whole package together. It’s always shocking how long artwork takes, and since I started this late for a Christmas thing, we can’t afford to lose any time getting the packaging together. Can’t wait to see how it comes out and to share it all with you!
September 6th, 2013
Last weekend, my husband Nathan and I attended a wedding. The groom was a young man from our church named Nate whom I had directed in many VBS plays. I really love Nate and his heart. After he graduated college, though, we kind of lost track, and I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years. I had never met his fiancee and I was looking forward to seeing her for the first time!
The wedding was beautiful and clearly planned so that Nate would not see his bride until she was standing at the top of the aisle. I was torn! It would be my first glimpse of her too and I wanted to see what she looked like, but my favorite thing at weddings is actually to watch the groom when the bride is walking down the aisle. It’s one of the few times you can really catch a guy’s true emotions because they are usually written all over his face. It’s very touching.
So I chose to watch Nate. He’s a manly guy, and he doesn’t show a lot of emotion (unless I’m telling him to in a play!) and yet, I knew the exact moment when his bride stepped into the doorway. The look on his face captured so many things – love, joy, longing, pride, and a sense of, “At last!” Here it was, the day was finally here, and she was walking toward him, ready to start their forever.
As I watched Nate, I had a thought that has never occurred to me before. I know that we as Christ’s Church, people who follow Him, are called the bride of Christ, and that we will be gathered to Him when He comes again. Suddenly, I wondered, if Christ is the groom, will He be looking at us like that? Is He really waiting with that kind of anticipation, longing for the day when we will be united for eternity? Does He really love us like that? Will He look on His church with all that love and longing and pride and say, “At last! Here you are, and we can be together now at last!” I think so. And that thought takes my breath away.
Psalm 8:1a, 3-4
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
And yet, the Bible describes us as His bride. Not someone He’s willing to reluctantly admit into His company if we meet a series of demands, but His bride. Someone He cares deeply for. Someone He loves and longs to be with. How can that be? And yet it is. 1 John 3:1 says “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
I know I can hardly wait to be with Christ, but it’s astounding to think that He might also feel that way about me. And about you. About all of us. Praise God, only He can have that kind of love!
August 26th, 2013
Speaking at Life Point Church's Fall Women's Brunch
Back at First Baptist in Kingsville
Had a pretty busy week again. I have a few weeks off now, and I’m pretty happy about it, really. I love what I do more than I can say, but I’m pretty tired at this point, and it won’t be bad to have a little time to catch up!
The kids had a good first week of school. A couple of bumps, but overall good. However, as mom, I felt the need to worry way too much (I should have Matt. 6:25-27 tattooed on me somewhere). Then this weekend I got to do two events. It was actually good to have some events to prep to take my mind off all the school stuff!
Saturday I was with the women from Life Point Church up in Lewis Center, OH, just north of Columbus. The pastor’s wife was organizing this event, and she and I have talked before – she’s just lovely. We had a great luncheon and I did a program afterward. Nathan came with me to run the tech this time, and it’s always fun to watch him be the only guy in the room.
Then I went home and repacked and mom and I headed up to Kingsville, OH, about 45 minutes east of Cleveland. We spent the night and then got up in the morning to do the services at First Baptist. This is such a great church. They are one of the first churches to ever have me in, and I’ve been there many times now – they are just special and wonderful people. Their church has a wonderful ministry to people with disabilities which I so appreciate. And mom and I got to stay with Miss Evelyn again, and there is not a kinder hostess anywhere!
Nathan had to fly to Seattle for business that afternoon, so mom and I ran home so the kids would have at least one parent! Sometimes the schedule gets crazy. Now off to prep the women’s retreat I have coming up, but it’s not for a few weeks, so there should be some time to breathe.
August 20th, 2013
Rinnah fishing on our last morning in Vermont
One of the amazing topiaries - it really was taller than the trees
The service at Rosemount Bible Church in Montreal
With Nick and Tania in Vieux Montreal or the old city
I just liked the signs - where St. Paul meets John the Baptist
Part of the Olympic complex
Crossing the border at Niagara Falls
We were required to wear these lovely matching shoes for Cave of the Winds
My family getting very wet next to Bridal Veil Falls - this was the closest I could get without wrecking my camera
Sunday morning at Community Church of Columbus, Indiana
It’s the first day of school for my kids, and I might be able to breathe. What a crazy couple of weeks!
We finished up our loop out to the East Coast and back through Canada. After our time in Vermont, we headed straight up to Montreal. I haven’t been to Montreal for years, and the last time I was there, we had torrential rains the entire time. The only part of the city we really saw was underground! And while Montreal’s underground city is really cool, it’s not nearly as interesting as what they have above ground.
We got in on Saturday and realized that the church we were with had put us in a hotel next door to the old Olympic complex – how cool! We were also only two blocks from the Jardin Botanique or Botanical Garden and the Biodome, both of which the kids wanted to see. Rachel is a budding botanist, and she was so excited to see the gardens. We had read rave reviews, so we spent the afternoon there. It was absolutely amazing! And huge! We did a very quick tour and didn’t even see the more wild half of the park. What we did see was a stunning show of topiaries – some of them were more than 40 feet high! They were so cool, and it was really fun to look up close and see how they had “painted” them with all different colors of plants.
Because of my opera days, my French was pretty good at one point, but it’s very rusty now. While I could read all the signs, etc., I really couldn’t understand anything people were saying. The accent is very different than continental French. Toward the end of the day, though, I overhead a woman who was watching a duck walking toward a couple say in French, “Oh, he’s coming to see if you have anything for him to eat!” and I thought, “Yes! It’s not all gone.”
The next morning we went and met our host church, Rosemount Bible Church. It was a relief to know that they normally do their services in English because I was pretty sure that I’d need more vocabulary than just discussing a duck! Our host and one of the elders there, Nick, told us his first language was actually Italian and he’d learned English when his parents came to Canada as a kid because he was enrolled in an English language school. He’d also learned French because he needs it in Montreal. I’m impressed. And I didn’t worry about my French accent with him as much!
We did two services at Rosemount, first a quiet service of worship and communion, and then another service after coffee hour. I did a few worship songs on the first service and then most of the second service. I was so impressed by the heart of people here for the Gospel and for ministry. As we were talking with people from the church, it became clear that Montreal especially and Canada in general is heading more toward what we had seen in the UK – only 3% of the population of Montreal would consider themselves evangelical Christians. It’s a hard place to do ministry and as a result, the church was very close.
After services, Nick and his wife, Tania, took us out to lunch and to see Old Montreal. What fun! We started by seeing a bagel factory because apparently Montreal is known for bagels – who knew? And as a former NYC resident, I have to say that while they are not the same as NY bagels, they are outstanding! We loved them. Now we’re trying to figure out how to get them in OH! Then we went for smoked meat sandwiches and poutine (french fries with cheese curds and gravy) since those are apparently the other things you must eat in Montreal. Needless to say, it was not our healthiest lunch, but we had a great time.
We went to see Notre-Dame and walked all around the old city and had an enormous crepe (do you see a food theme here?) and really enjoyed getting to know Nick and Tania – they were so kind to us!
The next morning we spent at the Biodome before heading back west. Now we are officially on the way home. We spent the night at a bed and breakfast in Oshawa, about an hour from Toronto and then got up the next morning and drove to Niagara Falls. Originally, we were supposed to do a few things in Toronto, but the kid’s school schedule changed, and we had to get home to the back to school madness. It’s okay – Toronto is only 6 hours from us, so it’s easy to get back to.
The kids went mad for Niagara Falls. They’d never seen it so we stopped to look at it from the Canadian side (much better looking) and then did Maid of the Mist and also the Cave of the Winds walk on the American side. Everyone loved it even if it was weirdly cold from August and we got very wet!
After the falls, we drove the 6 hours home to get up and do hours of meetings and waiting in lines for schedules and pictures and everything that goes into getting the kids back in school. Rinnah’s starting high school this year and I am a wreck. She’s handling it much better than I am!
And to make things a little more frantic, I went to Columbus, IN on the weekend to do Community Church’s services too. I love this church – we were with them last year and had such a great time with the music director, Jill, and her husband! My mom and I headed out there on Saturday night and did their two services in the morning. It’s a big church, but somehow they still seem to feel small and friendly, like family. Love that!
Got home in time to spend a little time with the kids before bed and make sure everyone was ready for the first day of school! I can’t believe how fast the summer has flown. But I also feel so blessed to have gotten to be all the places we were and especially to have met all the amazing people we got to spend time with. The family of God is everywhere, and seeing that is one of my favorite things about what I do.