After five weeks of quarantine, the COVID-19 situation is no longer a surprise to the nation. We’re settling into new routines, ways of working and communicating, and accepting that life is going to be very different for the next few months at least. For some people life hasn’t changed at all: key workers are working harder than ever to keep essential services going, whilst others have found themselves unexpectedly unemployed. This has led many people to raise questions as to what this season in life may be all about…

For some time, I have felt that this is a season of rest and resetting. On an international scale, we’ve never had a period of time where so many nations have come to a halt all at the same time. We no longer need to travel to work, school or church. There are no social activities available to entertain us outside of our homes, and our travel footprint has been reduced to one trip a week to the supermarket. We now have to time to stop, think, reflect and enjoy where we are. There is no doubt that we will come out of this lockdown wanting different things in our lives, most importantly, a much simpler existence. The resting period is teaching us that there so many things in life that we don’t need: no non-essential items cluttering up daily living. Things that stop us being who we are, drain our energy, or divert our attention into needless causes. 

This is also a period of incubation. New hobbies have been found, new business ideas developed and there is space for artistic and creative exploits. Even the way we work, shop and reach out to our families and friends has evolved. Technology is almost struggling to catch up with us. There is no doubt there will be an explosion of innovation and development from this period of lockdown. But all of these things emanate from rest. The space to be able to stop, think and relax in order to let the mind wander and create. 

The reflection also helps us to let go of failures and hurts form the past. We have an opportunity to deal with the things that worry and hound us. If we let go of those things now, we will be fit and ready for a new season. Our “busyness” has stopped us from dealing with past issues and now is the time to be healing and forgiving ourselves and others. This truly is a time of divine reset, starting over and rebuilding from scratch. Forgiveness flows from resting in the knowledge that the past has gone, and resetting ourselves by letting go of the past. Forgiveness leads to a fresh start. 

Air pollution is at an all time low for the first time in decades, probably even a century. The earth is recovering from the ordeal that we have put it through. One of my friends commented that “..while humanity struggles to breath with COVID-19, the earth can breath for the first time in years.” An unexpected positive side effect from the lockdown is that our environment is cleaner and safer than ever; humanity is being forced to let the world heal and flourish. 

Although this period of time is frightening and frustrating in many ways, the outcome of resting and resetting life will benefit humanity long after this season is over. If you can take anything from this strange season of confinement, it’s the rediscovery of who you are, and the preparation for the next season ahead. A new season is loading, and this is merely the buffering while the season downloads. So rest ready for the reset. 

Photo by hammondgower.co.uk

Sometimes you look back at a song and realise that you have been trying to tell yourself something for a long time. A situation you need to put right, something that you need to do, someone or something that is doing you no good that you need to let go of or even congratulating yourself because you have done really well. Little fragments of our inner thoughts seep into our work and ferment while we are unaware. 

As a songwriter, I always want to write music that moves people with lyrics that make them think. That’s always been my goal, to give people a song that is valuable to them and that they can hold onto. Lyrics and music can be so intrinsically linked that they can move us on a spiritual level. Every artist wants to connect with their audience, but if you can share something in common from experience you have a much deeper connection. 

Recently I found this video clip of comedy actor Jim Carrey talking about his other passion in life, art. I was really intrigued by something he says about the path of creative discovery:

“You really don’t know what a sculpture or a painting totally means, you think you do. Most of the time I start out with a plan and then in like a year later I’ll realise that the painting what I needed to know about myself before.

Sometimes when we create, we start by giving our audience a message but more often than not, we we find out something about ourselves. Six years ago I wrote the song Close That Door, I was actually writing about two different situations that two of my friends were finding themselves in. None of it was pretty and they both had come to the end of themselves and needed to close the door on those situations. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was actually prophesying to myself about something that needed to happen in my own life. I need to close a door, a chapter, a lifestyle and move on into new things. As I was going through the season of transition and change, one of my closest friends pointed out that I had already told myself that this new season was coming and to let go of the old so that I could embrace the new things ahead of me. That was a bit of a shocker at the time! But now I understand it was coming from a place of being led by God into a new season. He likes to prepare us before he makes changes, it’s part of his promise to always be with us. 

“What I needed to know about myself before…” Life is a constant journey of growing, reflecting, making mistakes, celebrating victories but we learn so much about ourselves by contemplating on where we are and how we are dealing with our current moment. Jim acknowledges that his art is therapeutic and helps him process his emotions and experiences, but also that each piece of work contains part of him and his life journey. There are so many different ways that God can speak to us and this really is just scratching the surface of what artists, musicians, and writers channel through their creations. What I’m trying to say is that art isn’t just for an audience, it helps the artist hear what they need to know…

This a short devotion I wrote for a local church on the subject of Mary’s promise for Jesus’ life…

When we are called to God’s service, we have an expectation of how it will look and pan out. In Luke 1, the angel gives Mary a message that her son “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High”. How shocked she must have been when she laid her newborn son in a cattle trough! God’s message to Mary was of greater things to come, a promise to hold onto when life seemed to be going in the opposite way.

Often we have an idea of how God wants us to serve him, but the reality doesn’t always match our expectations. We become disillusioned and thoughts of quitting roam our minds. It is in these seasons that God reminds us to hold on to the vision he has given us; food for the journey for when the road seems long. God’s plans look different to our own, but we can be sure that his promises always come to pass. If you are following God’s dream for your life, the Lord will see you through the desert to the promised land. As for Mary, her baby may have had a rocky start, but he went on to a glorious ending.

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.