We all go through times when we feel as though we’re not achieving very much.  We continually show up, put in the hours, the effort, the thought, and yet nothing seems to grow or change. In my own life, I’ve been through a long period of working very hard and seeing very little in terms of results or progression. If anything, a lot of my work has been met with opposition and setbacks, however, after a lot of reflection I’ve always come to the conclusion that it is better to keep going. If it makes me happy then it is worth it!

Earlier this year, I was given a prophetic word from a woman I don’t know. She told me that she could see that my artistic work had grown in a way that I couldn’t see, despite the setbacks and problems she could see growth and life. She described seeing plants that became “tall trees” and was encouraging me to understand that even though I couldn’t see the influence my artistic output was having, it was indeed having an effect far wider than I can see. And that’s what this new song Tall Trees is all about…

We have an idea, a plan, a vision, but the daily grind of bringing that idea to pass can make us lose sight of the vision at large. Sometimes people don’t support the vision we have or don’t see it as necessary for helping others. They cannot understand that God might want to work in a way that is outside of their understanding or world view. It’s in these times that we need to focus on what God has said to us and keep going. 

I’ve found over the years that I have questioned whether I understood God’s plan correctly. Did I get it wrong or mishear what he said? However, it’s the gentle encouragements that the input is making a difference that have kept me going.  The unexpected emails or social media comments that take me by surprise; little hidden gems that remind me that I am doing the right thing. It’s important to keep chipping away at the task, as small things add up to make a big difference. We often think we know how God will bring a vision or idea to pass, but in reality God does things outside of our own understanding and perspective. That doesn’t mean that it will be less than we expect, the Lord always gives more than we hope for, but he is also interested in the journey to the destination as it helps us become more like him. 

Strong, tall trees don’t grow overnight and deep roots grow in the dark soil. It’s the same when we’re building with God, it can take years of toiling away before we see fruit of what he showed us years before. Although the process can be disheartening and gruelling, the end result is worth it. The difficult and challenging seasons are designed to give a us a great story to share with others. I wrote Tall Trees as a reminder to myself to keep moving with the word that God gave me many years ago. It’s a challenge to myself to keep being creative and faithful to God. So don’t be afraid to keep moving forward and make the next chapter of your story…

Listen and buy the song here

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…

The journey to becoming you is a lifetime process, and the same can be said about becoming a musician or artist. It’s an amble through trial and error, followed by readjustment and acceptance. If you can navigate through the pitfalls well and learn from them, then you can become more resilient and focused on what you are supposed to be doing. You have to learn not be to discouraged at each hurdle but to pick up the pieces and get going with your vision. And there’s the crux of being an artist… VISION. It gives us a reason to create, a message to deliver and a community to focus on. 

Very few creatives reach the pinnacle of their career with their first project; if they do reach the heady heights quickly, the harder they fall. If you gain access to a public platform, you need to be prepared to have a good message for your audience. You also need to have the character to bear the weight of the responsibility of speaking into situations that need wisdom, to give hope and not despair, to be positive when others are negative. Character develops under pressure, through perseverance, by overcoming obstacles and be willing to admit that we aren’t always right. If your character is weak, you will struggle to carry greatness and influence a world that is easily swayed. People are looking for a consistent, strong message that brings light into darkness; that type of maturity doesn’t develop overnight, it is born out of adversity and longevity. 

Often it’s in the seasons of “no” and “not yet” that we find out who we are. Like a seed planted under the soil, we grow in the dark seasons of our lives. The disappointments become fertiliser for our creative outlook. Even though the soil buries us, fresh green shoots spring up and bloom in the sunlight: something new is born. The tender shoots push the dirt away and reach out of the light. Those difficult seasons may seem to have no purpose but ultimately our personhood gets chiseled away by our experiences, and walking through fire helps refine and define our character. We are more than the sum of our experiences though, we are divinely created with a unique spirit, mind and purpose. We have a reason to be and a reason to do. 

Being an artist requires the gift of prophecy, to see what could be and call it into being. Most of us have been inspired by a song, book, or painting at some point in our lives, something that gives us vision and inspires us to be more, to push the boundaries. Each artist has spent time thinking about how to convey something new to their audience, using the opportunity to impart wisdom and infuse hope as part of their legacy to the world. It can be a lonely role, to move forward with a vision that others don’t yet see. It requires tenacity, perseverance and a willingness to sacrifice comforts to make the vision come to pass. You have to grow the vision and then give birth to it. 

So be encouraged wherever you are on your artistic journey, that the highs and lows are all part of the process of becoming who you are. You are becoming the artist that you want to be. A diversion doesn’t mean that you won’t reach your destination, it means you have something to learn along the way. The journey is often more important than the destination. Don’t be impressed with everything you see and hear, but work on being unique and find your own voice. No-one can be who you are. Rejoice in your uniqueness and work on your weaknesses. Surround yourself with people who support you but don’t pander you. Find your message and be the voice crying out in the wilderness. Speak change into a dying world and watch as your art makes a difference: a difference that only you can make. 

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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).

gmOn Christmas Day, the last thing I wanted to hear was that George Michael had died. In a year where we have lost so many well loved and exciting musicians, this seemed like the last straw. It’s no secret that I was a massive Wham fan when I was growing up, and that I followed his solo career closely. It’s taken me awhile to write a tribute to him, mainly because I just needed to go off and be a miserable git about the whole thing for awhile. My musings have led me to this  realisation though: the press have often portrayed his life as tragic yet over the years I’ve garnered hope from his watching his life and career.

In the last month, I’ve pondered on what George’s legacy might be for artists and music makers in general. His artistic progression from bubblegum pop to jazz and dance, shows his ability to compose without limitations. I have wondered that if he had not died, where his art would take him next. Over the years I’ve had many an industry professional struggle with the fact that I produce music from a variety of genres; to them it’s not marketable and they “can’t work out who I am”, but in George’s case, it was his strength and give his career and work depth and credibility. Surely we want to see the artists we love grow and develop? So if George can do this, there’s possibility for the rest of us.

His courage and tenacity were demonstrated during the early 1990s, when he fought an industry that treated him unfairly. He stood up for what he believed in and was prepared to see it through whatever the consequences. It was a classic case of art and business colliding; where there is talent, there are people who want to capitalise on it. Though he did not win his court case, a precedent was set that encouraged other artists to speak out in a difficult industry where “fairness” isn’t high in the agenda. Through all of this he kept going. Even the incident in a Beverly Hills toilet didn’t hold him back; he turned a faux pas into a hit record.

After his death, we have also learnt of George’s spiritual development and philanthropy. For years I prayed that he would have an encounter with Jesus, and in the last few weeks we have learnt that he was in regular contact with Christians and that they would pray with him before shows. His financial generosity has shown us that he loved to help others and see them fulfil their dreams. He understood the responsibility that comes with wealth and the opportunities it creates to change lives. In the short time since his death, we have learnt more about George Michael as a person that we had in the previous thirty years.

I’m so glad that I had the opportunity of seeing George live in November 2006 at Earls Court on the Twenty Five Live tour. I discovered that his live performance was far greater than his recorded performances and that despite his protestations that he is not a natural performer, his performance was in fact mesmerising. Though George was generally shy of public life, and admitted that he lacked confidence about his music, his legacy proves that he was a man who grew and matured creatively, spiritually and emotionally. If we can learn anything from George’s life, it’s that we should throw off the past and keep moving forward, after all, it’s something that he did time and time again. Setbacks and knocks, don’t cripple us, they help to reinvent who we are and make us stronger.