One of the questions that I most commonly get asked is “when will I be a proper musician/artist/writer?”. In the artistic arena there is no defining moment when this happens. Unlike a lot of other professions, artistry isn’t just a job, it’s tied in with our identity. It’s part of who we are as well as what we do. Our reasons to create go beyond salary and career prospects; we feel compelled to create, make and perform: to shine a light on the issues that we are passionate about. This desire bubbles up inside of us until we satisfy our need to create.  The artistic spark within connects with the divine in order to channel the power of spiritual creativity.  

Sometimes you have to see yourself as an artist so that you believe that you are one. If we believe that we are made in the image of God, and he is the master artist, then we must reflect the artistry back to him. David had to see himself as king long before he ever was king, and Abraham had to believe that he was the Father of Nations long before he was a father.  Sometimes we have a sense of greatness within, but we don’t how or when that will be achieved in our lives. This calls us to trust that our sense of who we are will be filled during our life time. 

We must set aside other people’s views on who we are and what we do. To not be defined by the atmosphere and clamour around us. Someone else’s opinion can leave an imprint of a false belief on our identity, which can become a barrier to our artistic output. How many times have we believed that we’re not good enough to create? When imposter syndrome sets in, it steals our vision and denies our personhood. We can fall into the trap of needing to be ratified, commended and accepted by the creative community, rather than being able to do those things for ourselves. The best artists are those who have a sense of self coupled with independence; they are more likely to take risks and try new ideas whilst maintaining their integrity. 

Creative insecurity is driven by fear, in particular fear of opinion and failure. Mistakes and failures although painful can lead to being a better artist, they develop our character and help build a stronger resolve in us through wisdom and experience. Public and peer critique can also have benefits if we learn to filter out what isn’t necessary, and act on what is good.  

We can be under the illusion that money determines whether we are an artist or not. Yet some of the of greatest musicians died in poverty, case in point Handel who died penniless and largely unknown for his work. The Messiah was only a success after his death, and it written during a time when his friends supported him financially. Money is good for helping us create and access resources, but it can pollute our work if we are driven by financial gain. 

Creativity is a calling. There is a responsibility in everything we do that we represent and share the truth in an honourable way. Lots of people can create but those who accept the calling to “disturb the peace” and highlight different issues to the world through art have an undeniable vocation and position in society. The world needs those artists who undertake a journey of discovery and exploration for the sake of educating and helping others. They are the risk-takers, the pioneers, and mothers and fathers of new movements.  

It doesn’t matter whether you started being creative from the time you were small or if you find your stride during retirement. The artist DNA is part of you from the beginning; it comes to life at the right time to offer you healing, fulfilment and also bring hope to others. The truth is, you’re an artist from the moment you are born, from the moment you create, from the moment that idea germinates in your mind. You’re an artist from the moment you take that first breath… 

We are standing at the edge of a new season. We’ve never lived in this way before, and we don’t know how life will work out over the next decade. There is still a lot of fear and anxiety coupled with “are we ready to move on?”. We are mourning for people, situations and things that have gone, yet longing to move onto a new season of joy and hope.  

Earlier this week I was reading Matthew 9:17 (CEV) when something struck me that I hadn’t noticed before: 

“No one pours new wine into old wineskins. The wine would swell and burst the old skins. Then the wine would be lost, and the skins would be ruined. New wine must be put into new wineskins. Both the skins and the wine will then be safe.” 

Safe. That’s something that we haven’t felt in a while. The Lord impressed on me that this new season is a new wineskin and that as we move with him into this new wineskin, we will be safe. Without knowing, he has been preparing and equipping us throughout this trial for the new season. Carefully drawing us closer to him and making us more tuned to his voice and leading. We have become flexible, and the shake up has helped us to see life in a different way. The shaking has removed things that we no longer need to carry and has helped us to retain only what we consider to be important. The old wineskin is finished and the old things can’t come into the new with us. We have mourned but we are being encouraged that joy is coming!   

What I feel the Lord was impressing on me is that the new wine that we carry within us, will be poured into a wineskin that is SAFE. Everything that we value is safe if we keep trusting the Lord. Things that are precious to us: our worship, communities, families and future are protected and secure as we continue to trust him. This may mean accepting hard choices and difficult situations, we may need to surrender what we don’t fully understand, but God sees things differently and we are protected in his cover. Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV) tells that God’s thinking is different than ours:  

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 

    neither are your ways my ways,” 
declares the Lord. 

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, 
    so are my ways higher than your ways 
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

If you’re concerned about your future, be assured that you are under God’s protection. He will not be pouring the old issues and problems into the new season, that has been left behind. What worked for us before, will no longer work now. He is always doing a new thing, and we need to be attentive to see what good things he is doing in and through us. I am not suggesting that the issues will totally disappear, but I do believe he is calling us into the new and giving us the invitation to join with him in what he is doing. The Lord only does good things that are in our best interest and if we move forward, we will see his goodness and grace in this new world. We need to dare to say, whatever happens the Lord’s ways are good. Be encouraged that the Lord sees the people, dreams and things that you consider to be valuable, and he will carry you through to safety on the other side. 

We talk a lot about the joy of open doors, fresh opportunities and a sense of a new direction but we don’t always mention the joy that comes from closed doors. In the last month two doors have closed for me, one unexpectedly, the other was not surprising in the slightest. As with all beginnings and endings, there are mixed emotions and more questions than answers. Confusion is normal in these circumstances but once we have come to terms with the decision, it can be a great release to have one less option to think about.  

Although these closed doors have different outcomes for me, they have both given me a sense of relief and a “what now?” question with them. We live in a society that actively promotes open doors and Christianity also shares this positive outlook for opportunity. However, the Bible is also clear that closed doors are a positive movement in our lives. The provision of the brook and ravens dried up for Elijah, so he moved on to the next calling which was helping the widow at Zarephath. Elijah was taken into heaven which released Elisha into a ministry that was far more powerful than his mentor’s ministry. Paul was shipwrecked and landed up preaching in places that he never would have travelled to otherwise. Ruth was widowed at young age but landed up remarrying and running a successful business.  

So what can we learn from a closed door? Although it may be disappointing, it’s not always denial. God is simply removing the choices that aren’t profitable or helpful for where you are going next. He refines our vision by narrowing down the choices. I always think that it is quite exciting when a door closes as it means the Lord is preparing the way to a greater door, the door of opportunity. He is refocusing our attention on what he wants to do next, this could be something we have been praying about for a long time or a surprise from the Lord.  

The hardest part of this journey is the corridor of “in-between”. Sometimes we can stand in the corridor waiting for a long time before another door opens.  We are happy to receive an open door, but the waiting period between a closed door and the next one opening, is where our faith is tested. The “in-between” is the place where we most feel like we want to give up; the pressure of believing for more can push our faith to the limits. This is an important part of the process, the growth and depth our of faith is more valuable to the Lord than reaching our destination. If we are to go through the open door, we must have the strength, wisdom and character to steward what is on the other side of it. These qualities develop best in unsettled times as the uncertainly helps us to cling to the Lord and develop the deep roots needed to support the growth. The waiting time is not wasted or fruitless, but an adventure in developing ourselves and our relationship with God.  

So when encountering closed doors, it helps to remember that they are closed to protect us from bad decisions, wasting time and paths that weren’t meant for us. They also indicate that there is something much greater and more exciting waiting for us, and that the preparation time is essential. If we wait patiently, a new door will open and our greatest moments will arrive.

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Many moons ago I started writing a series of blogs about being a resilient artist but the time never seemed right to publish them. I even wrote out an idea for a business called Resilient Creative but life took over and the idea stayed in a notebook. Then the pandemic hit, the world turned upside down and changed the arts arena as we knew it. One evening I was chatting to my long time colleague and friend Rachael Forsyth about the state of the arts and we pondered on how we might recover as an industry. She mentioned some thoughts she was writing about, I mentioned the previous blogs and voilà, we had a book idea. 

If you’re struggling to get back into the rhythm of creating, then How To Be A Resilient Artist is for you. You may be looking to boost your creativity in some way, to find a new way of working or regain some areas of your art that have fallen apart. You’re not alone, many people go through a “wilderness” period with their creativity. It’s all part of the artistic journey. Life is full of difficult twists and turns; recession, divorce, death, illness, failed businesses and of course, the unforeseen pandemic. All of these situations are tough for anyone working in business, however the unpredictable nature of the creative industries can make this a lot tougher. For others it could be that boredom and lack of direction has brought you to a halt and you’re now not sure how to kick start your enjoyment of playing your instrument or picking up your paintbrushes. These “wilderness” periods can be confusing, disorientating and draining. They also give us the opportunity to assess where we’re going and what we want out of life and ultimately, our music. The trick is not to let the “wilderness” journey overwhelm you but redirect you. 

This book is designed to give you some hope that your setback is only a season and not a life sentence! Better times will come and eventually you will feel stronger from what you have learnt through this experience. There are plenty of ideas to get the creative juices going, and stories of how we overcame obstacles and found a new way to make things work. It’s always possible to recover from the pressure and regain a rhythm of working and performing. 

Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, this book has insights and tips on how to reinvigorate your creativity and regain your focus. Whatever season you are in, you can make a fresh start and discover the creativity within you. 

One area of life that artists are good at tracking is the change of seasons, not just in the natural world around us but in our life seasons as well. In the UK we are heading into springtime but there’s also something in the air of new spiritual season emerging. There’s excitement in the air!

I have been in a wilderness period for a long time; this season of my life has been about pruning and getting rid of things that I no longer need. A time of evaluation, contemplation and preparation in readiness for new life and waiting for opportunities and breakthroughs to come forth. Over the last few months, there have been signs in my life of a new season blowing in; little changes that seem fresh and unfamiliar. Often we feel the advent of a new season before it begins, and I certainly felt this change coming about 18 months ago. Recently, I have been offered some interesting opportunities from my music work; some things that I have waited for a long time to be asked to do. They are only small opportunities, but I realised the other day, that a prophetic word that I was given 5 years ago was beginning to show signs of fruition through these requests.

When we enter a new season, the old way of doing things no longer works. We have to move on and try new ways of doing things. The pandemic opened up a world of online concerts, church services and meetings in a way that we hadn’t experienced before. This for me was the turning point as I have been able to meet new people via Zoom without having to travel. It presented a new way of doing something I was well used to, but I had to change the way I worked to make it happen. It has broadened my audience and made meeting new audiences much easier for me.

These new music opportunities have made me excited about my work for the first time in a very long time! And I’m holding on to the things that God promised me many years ago and that he will complete the work that he started in me. Whenever new growth appears, we need to remember not to take our old wilderness mindset into the new season. For me, that means holding on to the fact that things are changing for the better and that there are great things around the corner! So rejoice with me, my season is changing! There is a season for everything, and this is a season to grow and flourish.

Last week I was interviewed by Victoria Park Baptist Church in Bristol about my song Where Are You God? This was used as part of their online church service and helped to inspire their prayers for the coming week. They asked me some deep, soul searching questions such as “do you think any good can come out the pandemic?” and we explored my reasons for being so honest with how I felt about the current global crisis. You can see the interview below.

The title of my new song, Where Are You God? is no surprise to any of us given the current pandemic situation. The turmoil of our fragility and the feeling that God is generally silent in this era is something that has crossed most of our minds. This song was a bit of a surprise for me, I was reticent to write it as I was unsure that I could do justice to the topic. In fact, I told God that I wasn’t going to write it. I think you can tell who won this argument. The lyrics are the raw, awkward truth of how I saw things in that moment. But sometimes the raw, awkward truth is what we need to hear. The Psalms are full of unfettered emotion and passionate pleas for help, and in some senses the essence of this song lie in the same roots. Sometimes our prayers are cries that come from deep within us.  

There are two videos: a lyric video and the second version contains photos that fans of my music sent in from their lockdown walks over the last year. The track is available from Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon and Bandcamp.

Where Are You God?
 
 Trapped by the storm of the sickness
 We hide inside our cosy worlds
 No end in sight of this tragedy
 That’s holding back our daily lives
 Our backs against the wall, we ask
 
 Where are you God?
 We need you flowing in our hearts
 We need you speaking in our dreams to us
 Where are you God?
 We need you growing in our hearts
 We need you moving in our lives today
 Where are you God?
 
 Trapped in a world of our making
 We try so hard to heal ourselves
 Plans without faith robbed our children
 The unbelief has left us blind
 Our backs against the wall, we ask
 
 Minds high, and hearts low
 How far will we go?
 Some truth and half lies
 How long till we cry

©2020 Words and music by Helen Sanderson White.

Support the arts and buy the single.

One of the questions I have asked over the years is “why isn’t God answering my prayers?”. There have been many occasions where God has asked me to pray for someone and yet I’ve never seen the results of those petitions. Sometimes I wonder why God would ask me to be involved in prayer for situations that are seemingly impossible to change. 

A few years ago the Lord asked me to pray for someone that had fallen away from their faith. It was a gut-wrenching situation watching a friend change and become someone different to the Christian I knew. At first, I met this prayer challenge with gusto and great hope that God would do great things. The years past by and my prayers began to wane as the task became harder, I could see no result to my requests and I lost contact with my friend. Doubt was creeping in: had God really asked me to pray for this person and is he going to do as he said he would? After a couple of years of praying, the Lord gave me a Bible verse that is a promise of an expected good outcome to this situation. It renewed my passion for prayer and reminded me that God is in control of the situation. 

However, a few more years past, and the Lord started to give me specific information on what to pray. These nuggets of information would challenge me to look at what the Bible says and line up my prayers with God’s word. However, one day I kept having a picture of this person in a wheelchair, it made me panic-stricken that this person was going to have a serious accident. Was God asking me to pray for protection? The Lord reassured me that this was not the case, but the picture persisted for awhile so I began to ask the Lord what he wanted to me learn from this picture and what was its meaning. 

One night after I had put my kids to bed, I crashed out in the armchair, picked up my Bible and came across the story in Mark 2 of the friends who carried a paralysed man to Jesus. They were so persistent in their request for an audience that they tore open the roof of the house Jesus was in and lowered their friend down right in front of Jesus’ face. I can remember being stunned as I immediately knew why I was seeing my friend in a wheelchair, when the reality was quite different. Jesus was indicating that my friend was spiritually sick because they had fallen away and that my prayers were bringing this person to him on a regular basis. Jesus was hearing my persistence and he honoured it in the following verse (Mark 2:5): 

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, “son your sins are forgiven”. 

When Jesus saw my faith, he reminded me that he would indeed answer those prayers in his timing and in his way. The actual phrase he gave me was “because you believe” and because I believe that he can work wonders in this situation, he will move in power through the stirring of my prayers. It is often in our weakness and doubt that God send us a gem that inspires us and spurs us on to pray his will. 

Interestingly if we look at Mark 2:3, Mark mentions the friends before the paralysed man. The friends aren’t insignificant in this story, they are the lynch-pin and central characters to the message that Mark wants to get across. In other gospel accounts of the story, the friends are also mentioned first; this  is about bringing our friends and family to the Lord in prayer with diligence. It’s about the importance of intercession and more than anything, it’s about belief and faith in what God can do even when things look bleak. I always think that verse 12 gives us hope that God’s glory will be displayed in our situations, as the crowd exclaim “we have never seen anything like this.” 

The friends weren’t worried about being seen the paralysed man, they got their hands dirty and publicly carried him to the Lord. They tore down the structure that was getting in the way of them reaching Jesus, and we should repeat the same through prayer, asking the Lord to remove everything that is stopping our loved ones seeing the Lord’s face. It’s never our place to judge the people who God calls us to prayer for, but its our responsibility to carry them to God in prayer and leave the outcome to him. It’s likely that those prayers will change us before they change the person we’re praying for, certainly the friends had to develop faith an belief for their request to be granted. 

So be encouraged today, that God is lifting our situations up and moving in ways that we cannot see. The paralysed man could not bring himself to Jesus, his friends had to do that for him, a true indicator that we should do this for those who are blind to God or cannot do this for themselves. Our prayers move the heart of God and he will answer in the best way, when the timing is right. But more than anything, he will answer them because we believe. 

I just love it when a news headline brings the truth of a matter into sharp focus… Over the last nine months, the state of the arts and its significance in the British economy has been hotly debated. I’ve mentioned before the importance of the large contribution the arts sector brings both financially but also culturally to society. One headline caught my eye recently, Dolly Parton partly funded Moderna Covid vaccine research, partly because I wondered what her motivation for donating to such a cause was but also because the donation came not from the business sector, but the arts. 

I find it ironic in a time when the arts sector feels abandoned by the government that a musician should make a financial gesture of this magnitude to a cause that is so pressing. Often the press portrays superstars as egotistical or fame-hungry, and I will admit that at first the cynical side of me wondered if this was a publicity stunt, however, Dolly’s reputation goes before her in this arena. What we know is that she loves to give back to as many charities and organisations as possible. Her impoverished childhood gave her a good understanding of caring and looking out for others; not only does she regularly donate but she has also set up her own charities. Her business acumen has put in her in position to to give to others, and it is evident from her philanthropy that she takes great delight in doing so. 

So what better than a vaccine where the research has been funded by the proceeds of music! Where someone people are driven by greed, Dolly has used her platform to influence and help others for good. I would even go as far to say that the Lord put her in a position to help others in this very time of need. God always knows the desires of people’s hearts and the timing needed to bring peace; he knows how to make it all work for our good, he is never late but right on time. It’s a wake up call to all of us as to what our motives our for creating art, and what we want to people to take from our creations. It’s about putting others first and then taking the opportunity to give back. And it seems for Dolly that working 9 to 5, made a way to fund a vaccine…

Hopeful Heart by Helen Sanderson White (Copyright 2020 Helen Sanderson White)

Earlier this week, while I was walking into the bank, a woman approached me and asked me outright “this won’t last forever, will it?”. While I was a little taken aback with her directness, I sensed an opportunity to speak the truth about hope and replied with “no, it will pass, things will get better”. And with that, she looked relieved and walk away. While it might sound flippant to say that in the middle of a pandemic, the truth is that everything comes to an end at some point and life moves on. The longterm effects of the stress of the pandemic can be seen in the nation’s outlook and mental health. Eurythmics once sang “everybody’s looking for something” and right now, we’re all looking for HOPE.

So how can we feel hopeful when everything around us looks bleak? Hope is something that has to be worked at; sometimes it flows easily and other times it seems far off and inaccessible. It is not some magical element that is unobtainable though. The truth of the matter is that we have to foster a hopeful and expectant mindset. Hope is sparked when we recall how something worked out well in the end, or we look on the positive side of a situation. We have to train ourselves to believe and expect good things for our lives; human nature tends to believe that bad seasons hang around forever, when in fact it is just a passing season. We live in a world where fear and negativity is prevalent, but if we believe that God is love then we have nothing to fear, as he has our best interests at heart and a plan for our lives. 

The media is full of hearsay, doom, gloom and negative views; provocative headlines sell newspapers but they don’t necessarily represent the truth. A huge amount of damage can be done by scaremongering: it divides and isolates community and focusing on despair will corrode the nation’s attitude and resolve over time. What we know from history is that the human race has survived some of the most horrific events; the human spirit has found resilience and strength to keep going. If you fill your mind with bad reports it will affect your perspective on life, and in the long term make you depressed, and to some extent this all becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. You get out of life, what you put in. 

Everyday is one day nearer to the end of the season and new beginnings. Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us that there is a time and season for everything; nothing is forever, and an end to difficult seasons will come in time. What we can do is work together to make things easier for each other. Spreading fear and gloom does nothing to help people, it leaves them in a place of despair and helplessness. We have a duty to ourselves and others to be agents of hope; the change starts with us. What we know from the Bible is that the Lord always comes through for his people, and he loves to bring new life to dead situations that have gone way past the point of no return. If nothing is too hard for the Lord, perhaps we need to remind ourselves not to limit him and his power. He can do far more than we ever dreamed of and that in itself is reason to have hope. If we hand our own situations and even the pandemic over to the Lord, we release ourselves from carrying the burden on our own and give him the opportunity to bring our chaos into his good order. Letting go requires bravery and courage but it leads to a place of peace, and in that peace is the small spark of gritty hope.