Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

“5 Things Your Church Can Do Now to Reach Out to Families with Sensory, Autistic Disorders” Article

Thursday, April 25th, 2019

I wrote a new article to help churches be more friendly to families on the spectrum. It was picked up by the Christian Post (here) and The Stream (here) and a number of other places. I’m putting the text below in case the links expire:

Five Things Your Church Can Do Now to Reach Out to Families with Sensory and Autistic Spectrum Disorders

There is a major problem in the US that is flying under the radar of most churches. Approximately 1 in 50 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and some sources say the number of children struggling with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is as high as 1 in 20. Many of these families report that they feel unable to attend church because it’s too hard for their children or they feel unwelcome. When I talk to parents about their experience, they tell heartbreaking stories of being kicked out of churches for being disruptive or just feeling the struggle is too great. They feel lonely and isolated and often bitter or hopeless. They need the Church and the Church needs them! It would be wonderful if all churches had full disabilities ministries, but here are 5 things you can start with to immediately make your church more welcoming to families dealing with sensory challenges:

1. Educate your congregation.

This is so important. Try to give your congregation your vision to reach out to this population. Hand out a “did you know?” type flier in your bulletin with a few facts about SPD and autism and how that might affect behavior so they can better understand the challenges. Recruit the special needs teachers in your congregation to help, or ask a parent to share. Show people pictures of common tools used by families like weighted lap blankets and chewy T necklaces, and explain stimming and self-soothing behaviors so they aren’t staring if they see them. Ask them to consider themselves ambassadors and servants to these families. This is not easy, but I promise that it only takes one grouchy person “shushing” someone’s struggling autistic child in a service for that family to never be seen in your church again.

2. Tell them they can come late.

For most families affected by SPD, getting into church and the first 15 minutes of the service are the most challenging. Try to imagine entering church from the perspective of a person struggling with sensory challenges. If your brain can’t process touch, the press of people in the lobby is frightening because they may bump you. If you find visual or auditory input difficult, all the people moving and chatting and laughing is overwhelming. Then you enter a sanctuary where people sit close together and often the lights change and the music is loud. By allowing (even inviting!) them to come late and skip the whole scene in the lobby and possibly even the opening music, you are setting them up to win because they are not already overwhelmed and struggling before they even get in there.

3. Save them a seat.

Reserve a section at the back specifically for these families. If they come late, there is nothing worse than hunting around for a seat – this alone can keep families away. In addition, the back is often so much easier for people with sensory challenges because it distances them a bit from the noise and movement on the platform making them feel safer, and also gives parents an easy exit if their child really needs a break.

4. Give them tools to tone it down.

Most people with sensory challenges can handle a certain level of sensory stimulation. It’s when all the input adds up that they cross a line and become upset or overwhelmed or can have a meltdown. Give them some tools to help them tone down the input. Have a couple boxes by your sanctuary doors with ear plugs (or better, head phones if possible since many kids with SPD struggle with the feeling of ear plugs), sunglasses, and even squishy toys. The ear plugs and sunglasses reduce the audio and visual stimulation, and squishy toys are great for positive sensory input and anxiety calming. Yes, someone will have to wipe those down when they are returned, but that is a one minute job that can’t be compared to the message you are sending.

5. Start a buddy program.

Most families I talk to are exhausted. They need church to be their place to recharge and be renewed by God, but instead it is stressful and difficult to be constantly vigilant. Ask you congregation if there are people who could see this as their personal ministry and be trained to be buddies who could accompany children to Sunday school and let the parents worship and rest. Be prepared that buddies need to be trained (do you have an occupational therapist, a child development specialist, or a special needs teacher in your congregation who could help with this?), and that it may take a good bit of time for the child to get to know the buddy and trust them to go with them, especially depending on where the child falls on the spectrum. This should be seen as a long term mentoring friendship to be really successful.

Remember, even if no one ever takes the sunglasses or if they decline a buddy, just by having those resources available you are communicating “we want you here, we support you, you are welcome.” And that may be the difference between a family who is able to be in church and one who isn’t.

Jennifer Shaw is a Telly Award winning speaker, five-time Top 40 Billboard singer/songwriter, and author of the book “Life Not Typical: How Special Needs Parenting Changed my Faith and my Song,” an Autism Speaks resource. She is also mom to six biological and adopted children, some of whom have sensory struggles. For more information, please visit her at www.jennifershaw.com.

The Making of the New Album

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Final cover image for the new album

Me with Jeff Kubach and the Trevecca guys, Collin, Tyler, and Elijah during the video shoot. These are all pictures from the videos, but really, watching people write a song is not super photogenic!

Setting up for A Greater Love

Sometimes four cameras pointed at you at once is intimidating, especially when there’s one just for your hands. Don’t miss any notes!!


A rooftop shot for How Far Love Goes

Shooting Forever Family

Piano scenes for Porch Swing

And, what else? Porch swing scenes for Porch Swing.

Given all that is going on around here, I know you will believe me when I say the fact that we have completed a new album is a miracle of God! Here’s the rundown of the making of the new album:

Earlier this year after much prayer, Nathan and I decided to commit to another album. This is a very expensive and time-consuming process, but it had become clear that I needed new songs given the shift in my speaking topics in the last several years. Basically, we had to decide if it was time to hang it up completely, or do another album. I do not feel any sense at all that God is done with our ministry, so an album it had to be. This was pretty daunting in a year when we knew we’d also be completing two adoptions from both a time and money perspective, but we knew if God wanted it to happen, He would make a way.

I had already written several songs, and I also started gathering song ideas and praying over what we needed in this new “toolkit” for ministry. I made an album plan and a writing plan for the songs that weren’t written yet.

In June, I went down to Nashville to write a few songs with my producer, Paul Marino. We’ve written many of my favorite songs together, and it was another challenging and fun artistic endeavor. I love the creative process, and to say, “I need a song about adoption, let’s make that” and then sit down and create something out of nothing is pretty darn fun. By the end of that trip, I had the album plan, the songs all written, arrangements done, and everything in place for them to start the recording sessions without me. In the past I’ve been super hands on, and have even co-produced or produced some of my past projects, but I’ve worked with Paul so much that I knew what I would be getting. He’s absolutely amazing, and I totally trust him, and we were leaving for China so I gave him the go-ahead to do the band and string sessions without me.

We got the initial rough mixes from the band literally as we were leaving for China. Nathan was trying to download them on my phone in the airport for me so I could listen on the long flight. I knew if I wasn’t able to get them listened to and give feedback the minute we got to China, there was no way it was happening because once we got the kids it would be non-stop for the foreseeable future. I listened and took notes most of the way to China, and fortunately we had a decent internet connection in Hong Kong to send feedback. Paul as usual exceeded my expectations, and I was really happy overall with the direction this went.

We had initially planned that I would head down to Nashville again at the end of September to do the vocals, but that didn’t end up happening. I got sick and also, it was just too early to leave the new kiddos. They were doing really well, but when you’ve lost everything and you’re in a new country and literally your whole world has changed, having your new parent leave even for a few days can be really frightening. We decided to wait until October to give them a few more weeks, and have the string sessions done first.

While we waited, I put together all the text for the CD insert and proofed it 800 times and sent it to Royce, the graphic designer and photographer working on the project. That way he could do an initial layout just to get ideas for spacing, etc. I also researched and picked a new manufacturer because the one I’ve used for years closed shop and Royce needed their specific templates. And I worked on getting the mechanical and digital licenses for the couple of songs that needed them. AND, I did something I truly hate – I shopped for clothing for the photo shoot. I’m a jeans and t-shirt gal and I hate, hate (did I mention I hate it?!) to shop for clothing. It is way too much pressure to figure out how to look cute etc, etc. I brought my mom just to make me get it done.

I got the string session rough mixes just before I went to Nashville, and holy cannoli, this is why you work in Nashville. Phillip Keveren who is an amazing arranger, orchestrator, and pianist did the string arrangements, and they are incredible. Again. He did the arrangements on my last two albums as well. The man is a genius. And also incredibly nice – that’s a rare combo. And the string players are all from the Nashville symphony and knocked it out of the park. The cello solo at the beginning of “In Christ Alone?” Mic drop. I don’t even need to sing the song now. Close your eyes and you’re in Ireland.

I drove into Nashville, about six hours from my house, and went immediately to the photographer’s studio. My publicist, Gina Adams, who is not just a great publicist, but also a friend after all these years met me there and we proceeded with another of my least favorite parts of these things – the photo shoot. This business is not kind to women, and I can be really hard on myself. Nothing fun about it, but she kept making me laugh which helped and the photographer, Royce was super nice and easy to work with. And he got some great shots which I am very relieved to have done. He got me proofs and some ideas for the cover layouts over the next couple of weeks.

The next three days I spent with Paul and also with Jeremy Johnson. Jeremy is Paul’s writing partner and they produce tons of things for Lifeway and are great friends. Paul is a good friend, and I’ve known Jeremy for years and we’ve written a bit together too. He engineered the vocal sessions at his studio and did a bunch of the programming and the keys and mixing and all kinds of fun stuff. It was so fun to see him again and catch up with his family and see how his kids are growing. It’s a really lovely thing when you can work with people who are just amazing at what they do, and are also stellar people. Doing vocals can be kind of mentally grueling since you have to be on your game for literally every second of the sessions, but it is also really fun. I love communicating through sound, always have, and it’s super fun to collaborate with these guys.

A couple weeks after that trip, I got the initial mixes and was giving feedback and changes. Jeremy did an outstanding job with the mix. Then, after going back and forth and listening in several difference places (things sound different in your car than they do in your stereo, than they do in your headphones, etc.), I gave final approval and it headed over to Kent Hooper for mastering. Then another round of listening and feedback and changes and final approvals. All this time as well, we were doing the same thing with the graphic design for the artwork on the CD and case. At the beginning of November it all went to manufacturing, and we got them just before Thanksgiving.

But wait, there’s more! Even though we have the album, the official release won’t be until February of 2018 because you need lead time for the PR campaign and we also realized we needed videos to support the release.

So, I headed down to Nashville for one last long weekend. I flew Jeff Kubach in from Philadelphia. He’s been my director on several music videos and is outstanding. Gina, my publicist, about killed herself getting together shoot locations that seemed to change their available times every time we turned around, so the shoot schedule changed almost daily at the end. It was very nerve wracking.

So, to be clear, in the past we’ve taken anywhere from 3-5 days to shoot a single music video. They are like mini-movies. There was no way that could really happen this time. First of all, there simply wasn’t time, either before the release or in my life – even getting away this extra weekend was killer. And secondly, to be blunt, there’s no money for that approach this time. Our adoptions have drained all our resources and we’re stepping out on a limb with this album as is. So we did something I would have said was impossible – we scaled back and simplified tremendously and shot everything we needed for four music videos and an interview in a single long weekend. They won’t have the story lines of our other videos, but they will work, and we needed to be practical this time.

It was like trying to coordinate a major military campaign. We used film students from Trevecca University to help carry stuff and set up lights and have multiple cameras running for each take which shortened our time considerably. We planned all the outside shots on Saturday only to find out there were thunderstorms all day and we even had a tornado at one point. I only ended up shooting one scene in the rain, and that was hilarious watching everyone running with umbrellas trying to protect the cameras and lights and get the shot before I looked too wet and we had to give up. We lost our guitarist and had to find another on the fly. I had to literally write notes to myself about which clothes and jewelry I was wearing in each video so I wouldn’t mess it up since we switched back and forth between videos every time we switched locations. I did my hair 13 times. That’s only interesting if you know me, I guess, but let’s just say I’m not a hair-doing girl either. It was nuts. But somehow, by the grace of God, we got it done. Now, I’m still in the middle of watching the initial editing for those as they are put together.

So, even though this album isn’t officially released until next year, if you’re reading this, you are connected with us and we are selling the album in our store already – it’s not available anywhere else until that release date. So I hope you will pick up your copy and one for your best friends, and help support our ministry! And hopefully it’s interesting to know what goes into putting an album together too. 🙂

Finally, we named the album “Nothing to Fear” from the lyric, “For You are for me and there is nothing to fear.”

Songs are:

1. Nothing to Fear
2. A Greater Love
3. How Far Love Goes
4. Forever Family
5. Porch Swing
6. Patient with Me (Hello Again)
7. It Is Well with My Soul
8. Living Abundantly
9. Love in Action
10. In Christ Alone

“Why Has My Congregation Stopped Singing?” published

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

The American Church Magazine just published an article I wrote called “Why Has My Congregation Stopped Singing?” It’s a practical article about things churches can do to increase participation in worship. I visit so many churches every year, and I see the same things over and over again – I just felt compelled to write it. Now that I have, the response has been tremendous! It was a real struggle for me to keep it to the length the magazine asked for. Maybe I should make it a book?

You can find it here – let me know what you think and what your church does well or could improve in the comments!

Telly Award for “Your Child”

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

My Telly Award for our music video

Apparently I didn’t blog about this before, but getting the award today has reminded me.

Our music video for “Your Child” was nominated for a Telly Award earlier this year, but I never thought much about it. The Telly are basically the awards for anything in the realm of film, television, or internet that wouldn’t qualify for an Oscar or an Emmy. So you can have regional programming or internet programming or advertising, anything like that. Well, you could knock me over with a feather, but we ended up winning a Bronze Telly for our piece! Several people did articles about it – you can read the one from Music News Nashville here.

I have to say, now that I have the statuette which weighs a ton, I actually believe it. I just don’t know exactly where to put it…

Have you seen the video yet? You can check it out here.