I always knew that I would be a songwriter and artist right from a very young age. And I think, if I’m honest with myself, I always knew that I probably wouldn’t have an easy life because of that calling to artistry and creativity. Artists generally experience life at a deeper emotional level than others, and this informs and guides our work. Our hearts gets broken and we pour the emotions into our work. But is there any other purpose to this?

Every artist dreams of profoundly connecting with their audience, being able to move someone is a great privilege, and if it helps them on their healing journey, even better. I learnt that the greatest way to connect with my audience was through compassion, if I understand what someone has been going through, I am then able to express these emotions better in my work. 

A long time ago, I asked God why I was suffering so much in life. A series of devastating events had taken over my life, rejection, discrimination, abandonment, rape, domestic abuse, unemployment, debt, housing insecurity, divorce; it never seemed to stop. It was at this point, the Lord was clear with me that he didn’t make those things happen to me, but he allowed me to learn compassion and to soften my heart towards others in the process of dealing with these situations. Learning to be a better artist meant learning how others felt and walking the same path as them. If I wanted to connect with my audience on a deeper level, I had to experience that deeper level. I am not in anyway advocating going out and getting your heart broken to improve your work, but what I am saying is that there is more than one purpose in the pain. 

But God does not leave things there in the ashes. He treats our lives as works of art. Whatever has been broken or stolen from us, is eventually restored to us. If we can walk with others and give them hope, we take them further than just identifying with their pain. God creates a beautiful story out of a desperate situation. Whether we have received restitution or are still waiting for it, the Lord always completes our story. Everything happens for his glory, so that he can reveal his love and compassion for us through our lives. 

And this is why artists often go through more challenging times than others; we’re being prepared to create greater works that reach much further than we have gone before. We are to reflect the glory of God through our work. It is important to share the pain as well as the triumphs with our audiences. Christian life and also the artistic life, isn’t all successes and victories; often the best work is born out of painful journeys. Even if you’re not an artist, there is purpose in every life situation that you face. A failure sometimes has more value than a success because we gain so much through learning how to navigate through the disaster. 

And by the way of example, I wrote You’re So Hard On Me when I was facing opposition as a single mother, I painted Walking Into The Light when I was emerging from the nightmare of domestic abuse and I wrote If That’s The Way when after a miscarriage. None of these projects were easy to create but they connected with my audience in a profound way and were cathartic for me as well. 

So when your heart is broken, remember that there is purpose in the pain. You may not see it yet, but you might produce some of your best work and also help others along the way. We never fully know the impression that our work leaves on someone, but if we handle our creativity well, our calling to be an artist might just save someone’s life…

Teaching diploma I AM 25. I am so not 25, you can add a couple of decades to that number. However, this month I celebrate 25 years of teaching music. At the end of August 1995, I went for a job interview for a teaching assistant post at primary school in Torquay. The headteacher told me that she didn’t really need another teaching assistant, but she had noticed from my CV that I sang and played the piano. None of her staff were musical, so would I mind taking on a teaching assistant role with responsibility for music? Well that was my “year out” job and the rest as they say, is history.

Nothing about my journey into music education has been normal. In fact everything about my journey is backwards from the traditional route. I went down the route of singing and piano grades as a child but due to various problems at my school, I didn’t take GCSE or A Level music, I went on to do a Theology degree, graduated and thought “I think I might do a music degree, I want to be in music”. I didn’t actually believe that I would get onto a music degree course, but 3 years later I started studying at Middlesex University and I did graduate! Traditionally, you need grade 8 on a instrument to go on to study music at degree level. I didn’t have that, I had grade 6 singing, grade 5 piano and grade 5 music theory, I’d been performing since I was 3 years old and teaching since I was 18. Sometimes experience opens more doors than qualifications. I often share this story with my students to encourage them; life can be messy and far from perfect but we somehow find a route through to where we are supposed to be.

It seems to be an odd time to be celebrating a musical milestone when the performing arts industry is in chaos, however, this milestone only happens once in a lifetime. The pandemic has changed the landscape of music teaching, but it hasn’t stopped teaching taking place. I am lucky that I have managed to keep teaching online and yes, it is different from teaching face to face, but I still get to help people develop their skills and find joy in making music. It seems pertinent to mark this anniversary as one era ends and a new era starts.

One of the challenges I have faced is the ability to keep going when life is broken. Resilience needs to be at the heart of any business, and on top of that, I have needed a high amount of personal resilience through the difficulties I’ve faced. One reason I feel that I am beginning a new era, is that I wanted to put right some of the things that had failed or not materialised in the past. Some of you know that I survived long term domestic abuse, and the devastating effect that it had on my life. To be fair, this blog isn’t the place to discuss the abuse that I suffered for years, however, one area of my life that was deeply affected was music. It was constantly taken away from me in attempt to hurt and control. I should have undertaken my teaching diploma 15 years ago, but I was never able to and it grieved me for years. Every time I tried to apply for the course, I was stopped and the opportunity was deliberately taken away. The more I fought back, the harder life would become. The pandemic really pushed me to look at how I wanted to end this year. Did I want to leave this chapter of my life having not completed something that affirms and consolidates the experience and skills of the job I have undertaken for 25 years? The short answer is no, I just couldn’t leave this season with unfinished business, so this month I have finally started my teaching diploma!

I really want to encourage you to mark the anniversaries in your life, however small, and celebrate your achievements, resilience and persistence. You showed up, did the work, learnt from the mistakes, gained experience and eventually reached the goal. Just because other people have the same achievements doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate them; your own personal journey is special and precious. It doesn’t matter how many years you have been plodding away at something, long or short. My teaching journey has lead me to meet hundreds of amazing people through individual tuition, arts centres, further education colleges, churches, theatre schools, adult and children’s choirs, and music therapy with community groups. So this month I AM 25. Here’s to the next 25 years…

I’m not one of those people who has a lot of luck with competitions. Almost a decade ago, I won a booze hamper in a raffle and I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. Carrying it back to the car was a comedy of errors as it took two of us, but it was more than worth it. Back in the summer, I entered an art competition on a whim. It was one of those crazy, mad moments on a Saturday night where I thought “yeah, why not?”. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d win so it was a bit of surprise when I got an email to see that my entry had been chosen. The prize? My painting, Walking Into the Light was chosen to be turned into a charity greetings card. It’s probably the most well known pieces from my portfolio and is one of my favourites as it’s part of my personal journey. The painting depicts coming out of a dark season into the light.

The charity I have chosen to support is Aylesbury Women’s Aid. They support women who have suffered domestic abuse and their journey back to freedom. The charity’s work isn’t just with victims, they also advise the police and other agencies on how to help victims and what emergency help is available, they run refuges, counselling, and courses for survivors and other agencies. Education is very much part of their mission as well as offering help and advice. 

If I’ve learnt anything from this exercise, it would be that it’s always worth having a go at something even if you think it won’t go your way. Life is too short to miss out on opportunities and its never too late in life to have a go. So if you’re procrastinating on something, take the leap and have a go. You never know where it might lead. Be brave, courageous, and adventurous. Believe in yourself, you might find that someone else agrees with your vision and supports you. 

If you would like to support Women’s Aid, you can purchase one of my cards for £2. If you would like to make further donation to this wonderful organisation, that would also be appreciated. To purchase a card, please click here. For more details about the charity, click here.

Sometimes we wait and wait and wait, and then we wait some more. We begin to wonder if this is it? Will things ever change and move on? We all go through times when life changes unexpectedly. Dreams die, seasons change and we find that we are not where we thought we would be. Hope gets deferred while we go into self preservation mode. We become too scared to dream or hope for something new or dare I say, exciting. The scenery has changed to something we weren’t expecting. 

And then we remember all the things that God promises, and for a few moments we know that God won’t leave the story like this. If anything, we know that God loves to show off and show how involved he is in our lives. This can’t possibly be all there is? Yet there is still some waiting to do. We wonder why we are still waiting, seeing no change but believing for good things. It’s in the silence that we really learn who we are. If we submit to God, our faith deepens and our vanity is challenged by his supremacy. If God loves us enough to let his Son suffer to the point of death and to hell and back again, then surely he loves us enough to restore the things that have been destroyed. 

I have discovered on my journey through this period in my life that I need to prophesy hope to the dead areas of my life. To speak out positively against the crap and dead ends. To take each days as it comes. I suffered decades of abuse, divorce, failed projects and businesses that flailed, colleagues and friends who fled at the first sign of trouble. I hit rock bottom and realised that I was about to become jobless and homeless. I thought I would never survive yet somehow I’m still here taking each day as it comes. 

What a waste, right? All those hopes, dreams and relationships gone to the wall. Maybe not. I hope not. Sometimes things have to die so that they can be reborn in a new way, a stronger way. Often a period of death is actually a period of transition to greater things. A time to grow and change in preparation for what is to come. Although I don’t know how things will turn out, I’ve decided to enjoy finding out! God often allows things to be removed from our lives so that He can replace them with greater things. The journey brings us closer to him and in line with His will for our lives. It’s not that he wants to see us suffer but rather that He wants us grow closer to Him, so that we become more like Him. 

So on days when things seem hopeless and bleak, I remember that this is not the end of the story…

The best is yet to come. 

 

Painting: Walking Towards The Light by Helen Sanderson-White (Copyright 2017 Helen Sanderson-White. Do not reproduce without permission).