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 God likes to remind us how powerful He is. We think that we are too far gone, and that we have missed His plan for our lives. The situation seems impossible and we believe that nothing can change. Sometimes the vision He has given us for us lives seems so outlandish that we believe that it can never happen. We’re in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, we don’t know anyone who has the contacts to help us. Our perception of God becomes limited to what we can see. 

And that’s when God likes to remind us that He hasn’t forgot us, that He can do anything and bring the most unlikely of people together. On Saturday night, the doorbell rang and on the other side of the door was the much expected Tesco delivery man. What wasn’t expected, was the conversation that ensued whilst he unpacked my food order. After apologising for being half an hour early, and me saying “oh that’s fine, I needed a break from editing a song”, we discovered that we both had something in common: MUSIC. Turns out that he’s a sound engineer and mixes and masters a lot of projects for the BBC and local radio. Somewhat downcast, he then said “I expect you’re wondering why I’m working for Tesco”, I replied, “not really, lots of people in the music industry have several jobs. Helps to pay the bills”. And at the point, he relaxed and his story came tumbling out… 

Turns out he needed some encouragement and to hear that it’s ok to have multiple, different streams of income. He needed someone to say that they understood how hard the music industry can be and that he’s not alone. We talked about the seasonal nature of life and that low points can often to be a blessing as they lead us to make changes that create new seasons and creativity in our lives. I was rather surprised to be having this conversation on my doorstep; I hadn’t thought I’d be discussing this in my slippers whilst checking if my favourite crisps had been delivered but evidently it was a divine appointment which was beneficial for both of us. 

What God was reminding me, is that He isn’t limited by our location or condition. He can bring two people together and make His will happen. Divine connections can happen in the strangest of places, and when we least expect it. He doesn’t need us to try and engineer these meetings, He’s got it all under control. Some of these encounters are short lived and serve to encourage us, while others have a lasting effect and are to bring us into opportunities and seasons of life. The important thing is to be prepared for the unexpected, we never know when God will want us to help someone or to be available to make something happen. Whilst He doesn’t need our help, He loves to partner with us so that we can see how powerful and great He is. It’s often in the smallest of details that we realise that God loves us and has a plan for our lives. Often what keeps life exciting, is the encounters that makes us say “I wasn’t expecting that…”

I’ve waited a long time to write this blog; seven years to be precise! Seven long years. We all have a dreams of things that we would like to do and sometimes we get the opportunity to do them. The saddest thing is when one of those dreams is struggling and no matter what we do, it doesn’t survive and eventually dies. It can be a game changer; it affects your perspective on life and can make you retreat from other opportunities for fear of getting hurt.

In 2012, I was offered the opportunity to perform my songs with a jazz orchestra. It was a dream gig, I’d waited all my life for it and I was going to make it happen! The early discussions went well, and I was ever hopeful that the concert would take place within six months. However, over time the project began to disappear, no matter what I did I couldn’t make it work. The dream concert was long gone, and my music career seemed to be dead. I asked God to put it right and bring the project to fruition, but nothing happened. Things went from bad to worse, my business collapsed, my marriage failed and my living arrangements were insecure again. I never knew that life could go so low so fast. It all changed in an instant.

Last year, my colleague and long standing friend, Rachael Forsyth, contacted me and asked if she could pitch the project to an orchestra again and also do the jazz arrangements of my songs. My initial reaction was that it wasn’t sure that I wanted to go through all the disappointment again, however, that thought of “if I don’t try, I’ll never know” crept in and I decided to be brave and give it a go. Over a period of six months we plodded through arrangements and emails, and we wondered if it would ever come together. At one point it actually looked as though the whole thing would fall apart again and Rachael and I prepared ourselves that it might not happen.

But that’s not the way God works. He specialises in bringing dead things back to life. After seven years of waiting, wondering, praying and hoping, I will be performing with the English Jazz Orchestra on Thursday 14 March. I can’t believe it’s taken this long, but those prayers that I prayed seven years ago are finally being answered. Just because something looks dead doesn’t mean that it is. Sometimes God waits so things are better, the timing is right and our character has developed enough for us to deal with it. Sometimes he removes things that are in the way or that will destroy the dream, so that when the dream buds, it can flourish and grow without being choked. Although this seems strange, all those things happened for my good. That part of my life died so that better, greater things could come. Sometimes God allows these things to happen so that he can realign us with his plan for our lives and also his timing (which is never our timing!).

In another strange twist of events, I received an email today saying that a song I sent to a DJ three years ago, is now being played on his podcast this month. I’d actually forgotten that I sent it off to the radio show! It’s like the song was waiting for right moment.

So I hope you can join me for this amazing evening St Lukes Church in Enfield with the English Jazz Orchestra (ENJO)! Tickets are available here

Artists Have Big Mouths… And we have a responsibility to speak out about issues that concern others as well as ourselves. Art is about creating something beautiful, but sometimes it can also be about reflecting the ugliness, injustice, unfairness or the fractured nature of the world. An artist should represent the world as they see it. It’s about using our gifts to help others as well as entertaining. 

I’m always looking for new and creative ways to use art to promote causes or make a statement in the public arena. Back in May of this year, I was asked, along with a group of other artists, to create some art for a political protest that would highlight the differences in the gender pay gap for ministers in the Baptist Union. The project was presented to the Baptist Council at the beginning of November and was installed in secret before the meeting started so that no-one knew that it was on the agenda. The art installation was a response to a survey of salaries and benefits across the national ministerial spectrum.

All the artists were asked to create a leaf in any medium or style that represented one of the respondents from the survey: I was given the profile of a senior male minister on full benefits and salary. None of the artists knew what what the rest of the team were creating; this meant that each leaf was unique and distinct from the others, highlighting our individuality and the uniqueness the Lord has given each of us. The project was well received and provoked conversation about how to further the study and conversation of equality within ministry. Each member of the council got to take a leaf home with them to remind them of the discussion. 

It’s been an interesting and challenging project and not one that I would have have naturally gravitated to, but it’s allowed me to explore art in another arena and make art that speaks out for other people. Initially I found the protest element intimidating because of the possibility of rejection. However once I got past that I could see the true value of the project. It’s taken me outside of my comfort zone and made me think about other ways to use art writing, and music in society. Who knows where it will lead? I’ll keep protesting… the creative way.

 

 

We live in a society that expects everything instantly. Everything is on demand: TV, films, music, food delivery within the hour, 24 hour shopping. Nothing is out of reach. You want it, you got it. This translates into several other areas of our lives too – we expect to have a good life from a young age. At 18, you should know what you want to do with your life and have the school grades to open doors. By 30, you should have a career, financial security. And so it goes on: marriage, mortgage, kids and life sown up by 40… Modern life wants us to have everything when we’re young; prosperity is a sign that we’ve “made it” and have “success”. 

However, what modern life doesn’t account for, is that we might not be ready or mature enough to receive the things we want. Character and strength take years to develop, and not necessarily through times of ease and joy. Perseverance and wisdom come through trials and times when our backs are up against the wall. If we don’t have the right character, there’s no way we can carry the new in depth experiences or the rewards that we have worked for. We have to learn to steward these things, and steward them well. This means accepting that there is more to life than us. Others may benefit from our experiences and blessings. It’s good to share the joy and rewards as this spreads encouragement and hope. 

If we have everything now, there’s nothing to look forward to later. Life events need to be measured out at a life long pace. It’s not that these events will be equally spaced out, but divinely placed for the right time. Often we have an inkling or desire that is an indication of our destiny, a foretaste of what’s to come that keeps us on track and moving in the right direction. The world wants us to have the mentality of the child in a sweet shop, while God wants us to look to him and trust that he will bring good things at the right time. 

A few weeks ago, I was sketching some ideas for a project and when I started to draw the featured picture. I knew immediately that it was for one of my friends who supports my work, so I sent it to her the next day. She was amazed because she had been discussing the idea of God “saving the best till last” the very same day. In John 2, the wedding party are expecting to have the best wine first but when they run out of wine, Jesus surprises them by turning water into the finest quality wine. He uses a dead end situation to perform a miracle, and to create the miracle, he uses the most mundane thing, water. If he can do that at a joyful event such as a wedding, he will do the same for us in the most dire of situations too. He can take our “nothing” and turn it into a miracle. 

It’s OK to take our time and wait for good things rather than mediocre things. We often settle for what seems good but actually isn’t God’s best for us. Long term these things can harm us, or stunt our growth and relationship with him. All that glitters is not gold, and we can miss out on some exciting things by taking matters into our own hands.  Sometimes things end suddenly or don’t end well and we’re shocked at the change of path. A bad season isn’t forever, everything has an expiration date and life can turn around for the better. Patience and discernment lead to good things, character strength and an exciting future. God is always saving the best till last.  

Illustration: Save The Best Till Last by Helen Sanderson-White (Copyright 2018 Helen Sanderson-White. Do not reproduce without permission).

 

We’ve all been there: stuck in a rut, frustrated, can’t produce anything new. Our creativity diminishes and we fear that we’ll never produce anything new or good again. There are two things you can do in this situation: firstly, rest. I can not emphasise how important it is for creative people to rest. A few years ago, I was told by a record executive that you have to keep going and produce new work all the time. “People always want something new to consume” he said. And that’s where I switched off. It is true that as an artist you need to keep some momentum, it’s also true that if you don’t stop you will burn out and lose your passion for creating music altogether. That is a far worse state to be in than just taking a few months off. The whole idea of producing for consumption does not appeal either. Art should be revered not consumed.

Secondly, do something new. Be brave and try something completely different that takes you out of comfort zone. Just because the route you were on has come to an end, doesn’t mean it’s the end of your creativity. Sometimes we need time to recalibrate between creative seasons. We change as people, which also means the way we think and do things has to grow with us. What we perceive as an ending, is actually the beginning of a something new.

So what did I do when my creative energy came to a grinding halt? Well I did eventually take my own advice and have a rest. It took some doing, I was convinced that I needed to keep going but in reality it just wasn’t possible. And you know what? I actually enjoyed having a break! I watched films, saw friends and did things that I normally don’t get time to do. And then.. I started to listen to all the music I love and remember why I fell in love with music in the first place. It’s important to remember that you get one life; spend it well, with the people who are important to you and doing the things that make you happy. Success can be measured in many ways, but it can also lead you to search for things that ultimately become meaningless in the course of life. You’ll make better art if you learn to enjoy life and get your priorities in order.

I also changed the way I write songs. I used to spend hours at the piano working at the magical moment when music and lyrics come together. I decided to write songs by just singing without the piano and seeing what happens; this meant that I could write anywhere. Then I went back to creating backing tracks and top-lining, something that I haven’t done in a long time. I gave myself small creative challenges, such as writing a short song in thirty minutes and recording it using vocal loops, (you can hear the song here). The return to simplicity helped free up my creativity and took the pressure off. Bravery came calling and I decided to release an EP of my demos (I still can’t believe I’ve let you hear them!) so that listeners could experience the live, raw element of songwriting (you can hear the EP here).

I also decided, after a lot of soul searching, to change the way fans can support my work. In the new year I will be launching Helen’s Angels which is a VIP club that fans can join and receive new music, videos, merchandise each month. More details about this will follow in 2018.

So what I’m saying is that there comes a time for all us when we have to throw our net over the other side of the boat and see what happens. It’s a game of trust that will lead to self-development. In letting go, we can gain new skills and experiences. So if you’re stuck in a rut, try something new!

Every time New Year’s Eve rolls around, I have two little rituals. Firstly, to have the biggest clear out known to man, which everyone in my house fears as I can be quite ruthless! It’s therapeutic to clear out the old in readiness to welcome the new. And secondly, that I exchange Bible verses and words with friends and family for the coming year.

Four years ago, a friend sent me the phrase “Do not be afraid”. On receiving this, I was non-plussed but rather excited about what might happen. Over the following week, I received the same phrase and some accompanying Bible verses from other people, one of which I didn’t know very well, so I was pretty sure that God was trying to say something to me. What I didn’t know at the time was that God was taking me on a journey, some of which I had not expected.

Over the next four years, God reminded me of words and dreams he had given me twenty years ago. A lot of these I had long abandoned as they didn’t seem to materialise and I presumed that I had got it wrong or that God had changed his mind. Nevertheless, throughout 2014 God kept telling me that he meant business with his promises and that he is in the process of bringing them about. This turned out to be an essential period of encouraging and building me up for what was come. However, sometimes for God’s plan to prevail we must be realigned with his plan…

Time rolled on and life became difficult and not what I was expecting. A drunk driver smashed into the front of my house and we had to move out in the middle of the night; we landed up moving house four times in fourteen months. Due to the endless moves and other issues, my business collapsed and on top of that a joint business venture ended when my business partner walked out. And the final straw came when my fifteen year marriage ended quite dramatically. It was a rock bottom time; I was abandoned, abused,  ridiculed, homeless, and I left my marriage with two my children and £85 in my pocket. I didn’t know what would become of me. Looking back now, I can see that God was having a clear out out in my life so that he could bring me into line with his plans.

What sustained me through this period were the promises that God made me and his encouragement to keep going. Most days I just wanted to lay down and die, except you can’t really do that when you’ve got two children! You have have to keep going and as time has gone on life has improved. I’m still waiting on God to come good on some of those promises. One in particular has already come to fruition and came quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Sometimes to get to where God wants us to be, we have to allow everything to die, so that he can do a new thing. I’m looking forward to God doing new things and bringing about what he promised. Guessing how he is going to do it just makes it all the more exciting. Sometimes it’s good that we can’t see everything in advance. Through all of this, I had plenty to be afraid about: a court case, finding a job, relocating yet again, moving my children to their fourth school. But in the end everything has eventually fallen into place. And now I walk on into the future and wait for God to do the things he promised all those years ago… DO NOT BE AFRAID.

Burt Bacharach sang it best “What The World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love” but it also needs… ART. Over the last few weeks we have seen unspeakable acts of evil on our British streets. As a nation we are no stranger to dealing with conflict; as a child I grew up in the era of IRA bombings and the Falklands and Gulf wars, my parents were born during the second world war and my grandparents were born into the horrors of the first world war. Each generation has seen conflict develop in new ways and now my children are growing up in a society where terror is on the street, in a pop concert and on the London Underground.

The New York Times reported that Britain was “reeling” from these attacks. I beg to differ. As a nation we may get knocked but we have an incredible way of picking ourselves up immediately and getting on with it. In the Blitz we made tea, but there is something we do better than that in a crisis: we make ART. Each crisis has seen this country produce art and music on a unprecedented scale. During World War Two music was used to rally troops and muster morale for those left at home. In the 80s Bob Geldof encouraged us to unite and bring famine relief through a charity single and the world’s first ever charity concert, Live Aid.

Two weeks ago, Manchester burst into song after a minute’s silence for the victims of the Ariana Grande concert bombing. Their song? Don’t Look Back In Anger by Oasis. I’m sure that Oasis had no idea how that song would be used when they recorded it. Yet their art united people in grief and solidarity when they needed comfort and strength. What does this show us? We need to produce more art that helps people overcome everyday challenges. When sing we become one, when we view a work of art we discuss its beauty and our response to it, whenwe watch a film or play we are drawn into someone’s world and have a better understanding of they tick. Art brings us together, fosters community, initiates discussion and brings understanding. Music has the prophetic ability to change atmospheres, communities and individuals.

Yesterday I watched the One Love Manchester concert, thousands of people united through music. On social media I observed that people of all generations were watching this concert, whether they knew who the acts were or not. A national act of defiance in the face of adversity. Though there was mourning for those we have lost, there was also joy that we have our freedom to express ourselves, a joy that was expressed through song.

In 1937 Picasso painted Guernica, it depicts the horror of the Nazi bombing of the town. Some say that its graphic nature makes it to gory to view, however, in the long term I would suggest that it has given us hope. It reminds us that we are not alone and that others understand what we are going through. It reminds us that they got through it and came out the other side. It’s also a warning to future generations not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to stand strong for freedom.

You may feel that your art has nothing to offer the world, but you never know how it will be used. We must learn to not let fear and lack of confidence stop us from creating. So go write a song, a poem, a play, a film, paint a picture, make a dress, carve a sculpture, write a novel, a blog, a manifesto and help someone who needs to know that they are not alone, whether it’s someone living now or in generations to come. Give them hope…

 

 

Listen to Twenty Eight Days

You go back to the spot where you last spoke to your friend. You stand there and wait. You know that they won’t appear, but each time you make a visit to this spot, you live in hope that you will be wrong. You plan out what you will wear, say and how the meeting goes. You’ve rehearsed the conversation over and over again to make sure it runs smoothly. Then one day without warning, this person is back and takes you by surprise; none of your carefully planned ideas run according to your plan. Eventually, you pluck up the courage to tell them that you’ve been counting the days since they left…

I once read a story about a woman during the 1940s, who went back to the spot where she had waved off her fiancé to war everyday until he returned. Despite their rocky relationship, this visit became a ritual to help keep his memory alive in her mind; she said that it gave her hope as she remembered those last moments with him before she saw him off to unknown peril. Every time she made a visit to that spot, the locals thought she was mad and that no good would come from this.  For her, it helped to focus her mind on the good things of their relationship and not the bad. However, one day a military bus rolled into town and returned her fiancé; he wasn’t the same man who left and she was wasn’t the same woman anymore. He tells that the only thing that kept him going through the horror of war is the memory of the last time he saw her, and she reciprocates with her story. And as they say, the rest is history…

What fascinates me about this story is the determination to keep the dream alive. Time stopped still and couldn’t move on until this relationship was resumed. To experience these emotions, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a romantic relationship, we can be separated from friends and family members and still feel the loss and then the elation of being reunited. There’s that moment where we wonder whether the other person will still feel the same way about us… or has time allowed them to change their mind? That’s the power of hope, it helps us believe that good things will come if we wait…

To hear the new single Twenty Eight Days, click here

Questions? Oh I’ve got lots of them…

Do you seek an answer, do you miss a piece?

A few weeks ago I did my first concert after a long break. It was nine months since my previous gig and it felt strange to be preparing to perform again. Although, having sung in public since I was three years old, it was like greeting an old friend again. Even life punctuated by music must include periods of rest if the sound is to be of quality. Preparing for this concert was a real journey, I went through folder after folder of material looking for songs to perform. I started with rather a small list but by the end of the week, I had far more material than I had bargained for.

One of the songs that was really popular at the concert was Do You Seek An Answer from At Second Glance. It raised quite a reaction from the audience that was unanimous: life brings us more questions than answers. I wrote that song in 2008 in a period of my life that brought many questions as I watched both friends, family and myself go through difficult times. Prayers that were either unanswered or answered in a way that wasn’t expected, hopes dashed and resurrected, and situations that seemed unfair or unpredictable. Experience tells me that God allows us to walk through these seasons of unanswered questions to help our faith grow. He is far more interested in a relationship with us, than answering a shopping list of needs. It’s not that he doesn’t want to meet those needs (and in some way he always does), it’s that he wants us to get to know him and for our character to grow to be more like him. It’s the waiting with expectancy, the dwelling on his word and the realisation that he wants good things for us that brings us in line with his character and will. If we wait for God and watch him, we experience peace, hope, strength and God’s vision for the future. When we are anxious, we’re exhibiting the symptoms of mistrust and attempting to carry the situation in our own hands.

Where there’s hope, there’s peace…

A few days ago I was watching my son walk down the road to school. His gait always entertains me, it’s filled with joy and fun as he gallops off in every direction. He’s at that age where he has no inhibitions. On this particular day he was enamoured with the blossom: “look mum, blossom snow”. He danced under a tree that was shedding is blossom and in that moment, I realised why I love his little gallop so much: it is full of hope and expectancy. There he was, dancing in the petals enjoying spring. Maybe that’s how we should be during these times of questions and no answers, expectant and full of hope. Happy to accept that God will move when he is ready, holding onto the peace that only he can give.  We’re not always meant to know the answers, but to trust that everything will come good in the end.

When we have faith then we’re strong…

To listen to Do You Seek An Answer, click here.