If you'd told me last year at this time that I'd write a songwriting book for kids, I would have been pleased and excited, but not necessarily surprised. But if you'd said I would illustrate the book, I would've thought that notion was ridiculous (a word that my daughters say I use too much).
Gina Boe and I were pretty far along in writing our songwriting book for kids, and we approached several people about illustrating it for us. Everyone said no for one reason or another. I decided I would at least try. I'm not an artist. But I am determined.
Several things helped me, and I see God's hand in the way it all turned out.
1. I've been using an iPad Pro for about year and I've gotten to where it's all I use for co-writes. Sometimes for short trips, I don't even take my laptop with me anymore. My iPad Pro is versatile and light, and it can do almost everything I need to do.
2. I've started saving pretty much everything to Dropbox or I-Cloud. I have access to those files whatever device I happen to be using. .
3. I bought an Apple Pencil, and I have to say, I love it. I've used styluses before and they are usually clunky and have a lag time. But the Apple Pencil is just like using a great pen or marker.
4. After some early attempts with another app, I found one called Sketchbook Pro that I used for all the illustrations. It took a while to learn how to use it—my early efforts show that clearly—and once I'd gotten better at all it's little features and tricks, I had to go back and re-do my first illustrations.
5. It turns out you can actually learn to do almost anything on You Tube. When I would get stuck, I'd just go there and look for something like "How to draw a cartoon hand holding a piece of paper." And some expert would show me how.
6. The biggest factor was this: My husband John had surgery in February and then another surgery 10 weeks later. I couldn't travel to Nashville to write. I needed to stay with him. That meant I had tons of time to work. And I did spend tons of time. There's an illustration near the end of the book that took over 8 hours of work.
7. Finally, I did a lot of praying that God would help me. There's no other way this could have happened. Sort of like my whole writing career.
Now that the book is available to everyone, I have to admit it's a little scary. Sometimes I look at the drawings and think, "These aren't bad." And other times I just go, "What was I thinking?" Mostly I hope people will extend grace. Because you see, I'm not an illustrator. Not really.
I've started writing a devotion each month for my friends and the readers at www.absolutelygospel.com. This month's is about how I got started writing my prayers. Hope you enjoy! You can read it here.
I flew home early last Wednesday morning to join with family and friends in celebrating the life of Kathy Ball. Kathy is the mother of my sweet former sis-in-law Lisa. She and her husband Bob were also my mom and dad's best friends for many years.
The photo I've included here says it all. My dad would egg Kathy on. She didn't require much. She would do something crazy. My mom and Bob would watch it all unfold and be the best audience. I have no idea how many vacations they took together, but I'm pretty sure they left a trail of laughter wherever they went.
When I opened Facebook the day my niece Abbey posted this pic, it took my breath away. My dad was still so vigorous and handsome. Gosh I miss him.
I was sad at Kathy's service but definitely not for her. I heard a song over the weekend that said, "Only the living regret the leaving." No. my sadness was not for Kathy. It was for Bob and for Kathy's children and grandchildren. Kathy is in Heaven. I have no doubt about that. The other thing I have no doubt about is that Kathy lived life well and to the full. That "abundant life" Jesus promised? Kathy took Him at HIs word.
"And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope." I Thessalonians 4:13
We miss our friend. But we grieve with hope. I'm so thankful for that.
I heard about a study the other day that said most unemployed people would rather stay unemployed than have to go through retraining for a job. I don't think those people should consider songwriting. I am constantly reminded that you never quit learning how to write songs. Just about the time I think I know what I'm doing, I discover something new. I realize that something I had considered a "rule" is no longer valid. I find that things would turn out so much better if I just did something a different way.
Here's what I learned or re-learned last week:
1. Approach every songwriting situation with the attitude "I'll try." There used to be so many people I couldn't write with because I wasn't comfortable with their "way" of writing. One day it hit me that I was really limiting my circle of co-writers because I was afraid to get out of my comfort zone, and I made up my mind to just get over myself and learn to write in the way my co-writer found comfortable. That changed so much for me and it ended up making me a better writer.
Last week in one co-write I sat at the keyboard while we wrote the melody. I figured out the chords, and most shocking of all, I played the work tape! I survived, the song got written, and I'm excited to try it again.
2. Hold most ideas loosely. Sure there are ideas you'll want to guard for just the right time and co-writer. There may be some ideas that are so personal that you want to write them by yourself. But most ideas aren't like that. They're really just another idea in a list of ideas that you have. If you hoard every idea and wait for the perfect co-write to bring it out, there may be golden opportunities you miss in the meantime.
I had a completed lyric I had been holding. I had decided that I was going to try to write the melody myself. Last week in a co-write, the artist and slot we were going to try to write for fit that idea so well. So I threw it out on the table. The lyric I thought was finished had to be tweaked some to make it work. There was a time when I would have resisted doing that, but I let go. The song is so much better for it.
3. Trust God's plan. Schedules get messed up. Sometimes someone gets a date on their calendar that wasn't confirmed, and sometimes the opposite happens—a date you thought was set doesn't happen. When you've tried to be organized and tried to confirm your appointments, at some point if things are still messed up, you've got figure that God is changing your schedule for a reason.
That happened last week. I'm so thankful it did. God was in it. Eventually the co-write that was "supposed" to happen, will happen. But the day that my schedule was messed up turned out to be God's plan. It was clear right away, but even when it isn't clear, God has a plan for my days.
4. Be faithful to prepare. For me a big part of that preparation means reading my Bible.
Last week, I read a very familiar Bible story one morning, the story of a miracle that I have loved since I was a little girl. I wrote in the margin of my Bible an idea it gave me, and while I was getting ready to leave for the day, I started thinking about some lines of lyric. I took the idea with me to the next day's co-write, and what my co-writers brought to my few lines was amazing. But if I hadn't read the story that morning, I'm pretty certain that idea would have never occurred to me.
Those were my songwriting lessons last week. What about you?
When people ask what I've been up to, I usually find myself saying, "Just trying to keep all the balls in the air." Sometimes I feel like this clown. Don't you? Trying to keep all the different parts of your life in balance, in the air, and all moving exactly right.
(Insert great advice here about how to do this well.)
I spent a big chunk of last week working on the new Write About Jesus web site. I backed up my laptop and did a clean reinstall of my operating system. I wrote a little bit. I pitched songs. John and I watched our regular shows and baseball and went to see Heaven Is For Real.
Now I'm back in Nashville for a three week stretch. The new Write About Jesus web site is live. People are actually registering for the workshop this October—registering in May! I'm writing. Pitching. Reading. Praying. Blogging. Just keeping all the balls in the air.
I took a break from blogging for a few weeks after Easter. Don't know if anyone noticed, but honestly I couldn't think of a thing to say. I had a fun trip to Texas where I got to write with some amazing friends as well as visit with kids and grandkids and experience the most incredible Good Friday service I've ever attended. Then it was back to Nashville for another week of writing. I came home yesterday after nearly three weeks away.
I am not complaining. John always says people choose their schedule for the most part, and this is the one I have chosen and I love almost all the time. God has somehow equipped me for not minding long, frequent drives, so at some point if I can't write anymore, maybe I will try over-the-road trucking. I'm thankful for satellite radio and audio books and playlists on my phone and cruise control and the interstate highway system. And any time they want to come out with that car that drives itself, I'll be happy to help test that.
Looking back over the past three weeks, what I love most is seeing the songs I've been part of writing, and the list of people I've written with. Songs about resting in the finished work of the cross, prayer, praising God in the storm, God's presence and His goodness, Heaven, grace, and Christmas. They sound like simple, much-used ideas, but I have loved every moment of chasing them down with 10 different co-writers, if I'm counting correctly.
I'm headed off for an overnight trip with John, and then I'll have a week at home to rest and re-charge and work on Write About Jesus stuff, and get ready to climb in the car and start it all again. After nearly 15 years of this schedule, I still love it and know I'm blessed.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me." (NIV)
From our point of view on this side of the cross, there's nothing to worry about. The crucifixion is over, Good Friday ended, and we know what the words "It is finished!" mean. So we can spend the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday morning with full confidence that the grave will be defeated.
It wasn't that way for those who lived it. What that Sabbath must have been like for them. We want to put our arms around them and say, "It's going to be all right. Just hold on through one more night."
Here is a song taken from the third chapter of Lamentations for this day as we wait in anticipation of the Resurrection. It was written with Cliff Duren, a wonderful writer and arranger, Cliff suggested we write a lament, a song of grief and mourning. It's also a song that says "God is faithful."
God is faithful. No matter what you are facing, remember that His mercies are new every morning and His faithfulness is great.
The 53rd chapter of Isaiah has always been one of my favorite passages. Many years ago when I was singing in a choir my dad directed, we sang a John W. Peterson musical that featured a song taken from this chapter. I remember it to this day because the words are such a beautiful picture of the suffering Savior who would take our sins.
When Ronnie Freeman and I were writing an Easter musical together, we were excited to use this beautiful text in a similar song.
It's Good Friday. There's no day in the calendar that is a more vivid reminder of how much Christ loved us. Come and see!
Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
3 He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4 Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
sue c. smith
• Staff songwriter for Universal/Capitol CMG Publishing