In 2005, Allison starting blogging to track the ups and downs of living life as an artist.
Today, she blogs to share our Infinitely More adventures in music and ministry! 
Read, comment, share! 

Goal Setting in the Unknown 

Each year, I dedicate a full month to dreaming and crafting my goals for the year. 

Last January was no exception. I put my imagination in full swing,
and planned out a year of touring, music-making, healthy habits, and celebrations. 

Each month looked so full of promise and creativity!

But then, Covid…

Spring 2020 hit like a maelstrom.
Goals, plans, imaginings - all wiped off the table and smashed to the ground.

I know you experienced it, too.
The cancelled plans. The deferred dreams. The now unattainable aspirations.

We pushed through, revised our plans, reimagined our dreams. 
Somehow, we made it through the year.


Now, we come to January 2021. Our inner clocks tell us it’s time to reset and restart.

But unlike 2020, when the change of fortune was dramatic and obvious,
2021 brings a new challenge:

We know we’re not back to “Normal" yet, so what, exactly, is 2021?
How do you plan for a year when you literally have no idea what will come next?


If 2020 was a tidal wave, 2021 is a desert.

Unknown sameness for as far as the eye can see...


All month, I’ve struggled to write my annual list of goals. 
It’s not business as usual, but it’s not 2020 either. 
None of us have any idea what could come up next week or next month.

How do we plan for the great unknown?

After weeks of struggling, I took a deep breath, 
and created a few strategies on how to create goals for 2021.

I hope these are helpful for you!


#1. Remember Your Intentions

Goal setting is a means to an end. It’s not about working out every day - it’s about getting healthy. It’s not about vocalizing every day - it’s about becoming a better singer. Keep your intentions first and foremost in your mind and in your heart.


#2. Hold Numbers Loosely

Timelines. Number of pages written. How many steps on your Fitbit.
Despite your best intentions, something unpredictable is going to come up - another lockdown, a change of employment, or even, God forbid, illness. In these moments, give yourself some grace. You’re not going to keep perfect numbers this year. None of us are. And that's okay. Missing one timeline or threshold won’t destroy your goal. Take a breath, take a break, and pick it up again tomorrow.


#3. Prioritize

Which are the very most important goals on your list? Is it to record that new song? Read the Bible in a year? Walk your dog every day? If you can do everything, fantastic! But if life changes or gets stressful, it’s good to know which goal is your most critical. Focus on the most important, until you have the energy to reengage with the less important.


#4. Incorporate Gentleness

Last year, when things really went haywire, I dug deeply into Hygge - the Danish concept of coziness. Since then, I’ve been prioritizing comfort and gentleness in our home. I don’t over schedule a day or a week. I plan an end time for my workday. I limit my social media. I make sure we have lots of options for hot beverages and warm lap blankets. Candles and mini-lights are now standard in all rooms. We’re all dealing with unprecedented levels of emotional stress. We need to consciously and gently care for ourselves and the ones we love.


#5. Plan to Revisit and Revamp

We have no idea what 2021 will bring to our world or to each of our lives. There’s no way a list of goals created in January will be viable throughout this year. So, I’ve planned days to Revisit and Revamp my goals. These are different from my usual first-of-the-month planning. I’ve chosen three days, one approximately every quarter, and have already booked them into my calendar. On these days, I’ll pull out my list of 2021 goals. I’ll check off and celebrate any goals I’ve already accomplished. I’ll remove any that no longer work. I’ll revamp any that can still be accomplished, but in a different way. And I’ll ask the question, “Are there new goals or dreams that have surfaced in this season?” If the answer is “yes,” I’ll find a way to work them into the plan. 


2021 is a mystery, but with flexibility and compassion, we can still do great things!
More than ever, our world needs great things… 

What are your dreams and goals for 2021?
What challenges do you anticipate this year?
Please feel free to share in the comments below…



2020 Book List - Part Deux! 

 Reading seemed to take on one of two roles in people's lives this year. 

Either:

#1. They couldn't concentrate and, therefore, couldn't finish a single book.

Or:

#2. It was the source of all life and peace and, therefore, they read every moment of the day.

I fell quite firmly into the second group!

My normal reading goal is 24 books a calendar year. At 2 books a month, that generally requires a bit of extra focus and planning to accomplish.

My 2019 Book List is HERE.

In 2020, it was music, reading and gardening that helped me survive the pandemonium of the pandemic. By July, I had already accomplished my goal of 24 books. When I knew I'd crash my goal, I created a Mid-Year Book List.

You can find my 2020 Mid-Year Book List HERE.

In the end, instead of my normal 24, I read 42 books!!!

So with no further adieu, here's the continuation of my 2020 reading adventure!


The Diary of Anne Frank

By Anne Frank

I have no idea why I didn't read this when I was younger, but I'm so glad I finally took the time to dig into it. I read a lot of WWII historical fiction, so reading Anne's words, written in real time, were horrifying and haunting. It was especially poignant to read it during a time of lockdown, when our current whole world is under siege. Very different circumstances, of course, but still some fascinating parallels. What a loss that we don't have a whole lifetime of Anne's writings. She was so gifted.




The Magna Book of Roses

By Mary Lawrence

I needed a tiny book to help reach my goal for the month, so I picked up this pretty tome. A mix of history, poetry, and general love of all things roses. 







Writing Down The Bones

By Natalie Goldberg

A classic and must read for all writers! I created a self-organized writing retreat for myself this summer, and reading this book was part of my daily routine. Short, practical chapters filled with advice and inspiration. If you're a writer, you need to read this book!








Clap When You Land

By Elizabeth Acevedo

A novel written in verse - how could that not be intriguing? After a plane crash, the worlds of two young women both fall apart and are mysteriously drawn together. Marketed as "young adult", but I really enjoyed both the story and the writing. I'm not into audiobooks, but apparently, this one is tremendously read by the author herself.







The Pull of the Stars

By Emma Donoghue

The Pull of the Stars tells the story of three days in a maternity ward during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. This is a perfect example of art-imitating-life-imitating-art. Donoghue (known for her amazing novel "Room") wrote this story long before any of us had heard of Covid-19. Props to the publishers for getting it out during this season. Very medical (be warned, oh ye of wobbly stomachs!) but incredibly written, heartbreaking, and poignant. 







What Alice Forgot

By Liane Moriarty

One of my favourite books this year! When Alice takes a tumble in spin class, she wakes up thinking she's 29 and happily engaged. The truth is: she has amnesia, she's 39, and life is very different in the "future." Story, characters, writing - I loved everything about this book! Couldn't put it down, but couldn't stop thinking about it either. My first Moriarty book. Won't be my last!






The Boy From The Woods

By  Harlan Coben

I don't think of myself as a thriller fan, though I loved The River earlier this year! The Boy From The Woods was fast-paced with great characters and a hooky storyline. It become my "just one more chapter" book, leading to several very late nights!








Stay

By Anjuli Paschall

I went through several months this year when I just couldn't concentrate on non-fiction. Stay lovingly welcomed me back to the genre. You can read my review HERE.








The Forgotten Home Child

By Genevieve Graham

Here's the power of great historical fiction: We learn about chapters of history not taught in schools, not glorified in parades, not written about by the "winners." From the mid 1800's to the mid 1900's, over 100,000 children were sent from United Kingdom to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. These children were orphaned, abandoned, or their families were too poor to care for them. The intentions were generally good, but the results often weren't. Many children were abused or bound in indentured servitude. The children who came to Canada literally helped build and farm our country, but I didn't learn about this in school, and I'm assuming you didn't either. Highly recommend as a great novel, but also as a critical piece of our nation's history.




The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

By Abbi Waxman

Earlier this year, I read and raved about The Garden of Small Beginnings, also by Abbi Waxman. Inspired by my ravings, my friend recommended the popular The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I loved Small Beginnings more. There's a lot to love about Nina Hill - fun characters, great writing, and lots of book love. But ultimately, I found the love story too obvious and, because I could tell how it would end, I couldn't invest in it.






Set The Stars Alight

By Amanda Dykes

One of my favourite books of the year!! You can read my review HERE.









The Blue Castle

By Lucy Maud Montgomery

I bought my first copy of The Blue Castle many, many years ago, probably on my first visit to Green Gables. I distinctly remember having it at our cabin in Ocean Pond, NL, and reading it on my top bunk. It's been long enough that, when I started reading it, I couldn't remember any of the story, which was a lovely way to rediscover it. Wonderful story, fabulous characters, and a great read for a fall afternoon.






Home Made Lovely

By Shannon Acheson

A decadent and well written decorating book! You can read my review HERE.








The Skin We're In

By Desmond Cole

A year of racism in Toronto, through the eyes of an activist and journalist. As Canadians, we like to view our country as not racist, as least, "we're not like America." Cole sets out to challenge that notion with true stories, engaging storytelling, and well researched facts. Each chapter is mini-essay, exploring different aspects of life for Canadians who are black, POC, Indigenous, or somehow marginalized because of race. I found myself feeling heartbroken, infuriated, provoked, inspired, and at times, completely uneasy. An important read and conversation for all Canadians.





Love Poems

By John Donne

I needed some more poetry on my list, so I ventured down to our local second hand bookstore. "Where's your poetry section?" "Go down the hall, past all the rooms, turn the corner, past all the other rooms, finally go in the back room, and then go into the back corner. You'll find the poetry there." I'm guessing poetry isn't the hot ticket item I thought it was! In that back section, I found piles of cheap, vintage poetry collections, including this beautiful book of John Donne love poems. Dreamy and decadent.





Nonsense Poems

By Lewis Carroll

My poetry hunt also uncovered this fun collection of nonsense poems by Lewis Carroll. Silly and imaginative, and most fun when read aloud!






The Nightingale

By Kristin Hannah

Another one of my favourites for 2020! A WWII historical fiction, set in Paris and rural France. Telling the story of two very different sisters who are challenged in every way by the Nazi occupation. Our characters are fictional, but inspired by real women of this era. Don't want to give any spoilers, but wow what a story, and so beautifully written!






Poems

By Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti wrote my all-time favourite Christmas carol: In The Bleak Midwinter. It was wonderful to discover this collection of selected verses and get a broader sense of her writing abilities. Her poems are spiritual, whimsical, lyrical, and romantic. Loved this little collection!







A Christmas Memory

By Truman Capote

A collection of three holiday stories by the great Truman Capote! A perfect Christmas read, filled with memory, nostalgia, and longing. Sentimental, but never sugar-coated. 








Something Worth Doing

By Jane Kirkpatrick

Historical novelization of an early American suffragist. You can read my review HERE.








Winter Solstice

By Rosamunde Pilcher

As I write this post, I'm almost finished this one! I plan to finish it by midnight on New Year's Eve. So if you've read it already, no spoilers please! It has a gentle pace that's been just perfect for the final days of a crazy year. Perfect when paired with a "restorative cup of tea." 








What a year of reading!

What did you read and love this year?

Please share in the comments below or on our Facebook page...


Book Review: Something Worth Doing, by Jane Kirkpatrick 

 My final book review of 2020!

I'm actually just finishing my final read of the year, so stay tuned:
in the next day or two I'll share my full 2020 Reading List. It's been a great year of reading!


I was excited when I saw Something Worth Doing on my list of potential review books. Jane Kirkpatrick has novelized the life of Abigail Scott Duniway - an early American suffragist. 

I love reading about life in the 1800's, especially when it explores women who either fought within or pushed against their very rigid roles. Something Worth Doing explores life in the western United States - a world of pioneers, family farms, and growing towns and cities. For those of us who read a lot of Victorian literature, this was a very different take on this era, and a fascinating world to explore.

Kirkpatrick has thoroughly researched her subject matter, both in terms of character, politics, and setting. Even though written in a novel form, there were times the book took on the feeling of an extraordinarily detailed essay, and that's where my concerns with the book developed. 

There are tremendous details about Abigail's family members - all her siblings, nieces, and nephews - and swaths of information about the family's home life. I would have liked some of those details sacrificed so we could learn more about Abigail's work and passion for the suffragette movement. Don't get me wrong - these things are explained, but I felt I came away knowing more about Abigail's domestic life than her fight for women's rights.

And then, we actually come to the real problem: Abigail herself. As portrayed in this book, Abigail is a pretty unlikable character. Given Kirkpatrick's extensive research, I have to believe her portrayal is accurate. I have no problem with an unlikable heroine, but at some point, a skilled storyteller always gives us a reason to empathize with such a heroine, such as through a broken past or a moment of redemption. We have no such moment with Abigail. 

She's heartless to her saint of a husband, abandons her dying daughter, and - even with lots of personal tragedy - is completely unsympathetic. I thought it might just be me, but a quick scan of reviews told me I wasn't the only one having this reaction.

I understand if Kirkpatrick wants to be historically accurate in her portrayal, but it does make it a much harder book to finish and enjoy.

So, I never like giving a middling review, but I can't give all my love to this one. 

If you're looking for a well researched book on an influential early American suffragist, with great details on domestic life of the era, Something Worth Doing is a great book to read.

If you're looking for a heroine to inspire you, a detailed look at the suffragist movement, and a real exploration of what it takes to choose passion over expectation, I would recommend looking elsewhere.  


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Book Review: Home Made Lovely, by Shannon Acheson 


I love reviewing books, but as a Christian book reviewer (reviewer of Christian books?? Both apply....) I never thought I'd get this rare treat:

I'm reviewing a decorating book!

I loooove decorating! It's a passionate hobby of mine. I love creating beautiful, welcoming spaces that change with the season. So when I had the opportunity to review Home Made Lovely, I jumped at the chance.

Home Made Lovely approaches the art of home decor from three main angles:



#1. Let's make things beautiful and affordable.

#2. Let's create spaces that reflect you, your family, and how you want everyone to feel.

#3. Decorating is a spiritual art that can be both an expression and reflection of your faith.


Not just a picture book (although the pictures are lovely!), this is a decorating book that is meant to be read. Ideally, in a comfortable chair with a delicious hot beverage (very hygge!)


Shannon's writing is warm and effortless. I've never met her, but I imagine that meeting her in person might have the same energy. Her text is well researched and applicable, yet shared in a way that's invitational and encouraging. Even the experienced amateur will find lots of new ideas and practical tools within these pages. 


Chapter 3 - "As for Me and My House" - will be the deciding factor for many readers. Shannon makes no bones about her Christianity throughout the book, but this is the section where she really lays out faith as a basis for creating a beautiful and comfortable home. This isn't a chapter you'll find in many decorating books. Gerald and I held a house blessing when we moved here to St. Catharines, so I'm no stranger to the idea of weaving faith into your home. But for many this may be a new, or even unusual, approach to home decor. Some people may wonder if this should even be in a decorating book? Shannon handles that question beautifully in her intro to the chapter, where she gently explains her approach, without creating pressure to accept her point of view. If this idea speaks to you, you'll love the ideas and lists included in this chapter. If not, read on, because there's still a tonne you can get from this book!

I can't say enough about how much I loved reading devouring Home Made Lovely!

I've spent every day since April digging in my garden, so with the weather turning colder, this book came at just the right time. With each chapter, I had fresh visions of painting my bedroom, organizing my bathroom cupboard, and taking on a few special projects in our main living spaces. 

After turning the final page, I immediately visited Shannon's gorgeous website - HOME MADE LOVELY - and signed up for her newsletter. If you want a sneak peek of the book, you can even get a free chapter on her site.

If you're looking for some home inspiration this season, I recommend you brew something hot, grab a cozy blanket, and open your copy of Home Made Lovely! 


And Shannon, when this world becomes a safer place, you have a standing invitation to come visit my colourful, collected, personal Home Made Lovely. 

I'm serious! Come for a mug up! The kettle's always on :)



Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Book Review: Set The Stars Alight, by Amanda Dykes 

You know when you get to the end of a book, and you know it's ending perfectly, and yet you still wish it could go on for another 100 pages?

That's how I felt at the end of 
Set The Stars Alight 
by Amanda Dykes.

Last year, I reviewed Amanda's debut novel, Whose Waves These Are.
I found this to be a perfect summer read, so I jumped at the chance to read her latest offering.

Set The Stars Alight hooked me right from the start:
Historical fiction, fractured narrative, London setting, nautical themes, and some big-R Romantic scope. All the makings of a great curl-up-with-tea-and-a-snack kind of read!

I'm always so hesitant to review novels because I detest spoilers. You can read the publisher's description anywhere online, but here's my wee summary:

In the current day, we meet Lucy and Dash,
childhood friends raised on stories and folklore. As Lucy's father wows them with mystical fables and riddles, dreams are planted in their hearts. Reunited as adults, Lucy and Dash go on a quest to discover the truth behind the tales.

In the early 1800's, we meet Frederick Hanford,
son of the Master of the land. His curiosity takes him beyond the manor walls where he discovers the power of family, and an adventure for the ages.

With beautiful writing and compelling storytelling, Amanda Dykes weaves these stories together to create a wonderfully captivating book. The theme of stars and light provide both narrative drive and the tiniest of descriptions. Lucy, Dash, Frederick and the whole cast of characters are charming and layered. This isn't magic realism, but it's realism highly seasoned with magic, wonder, and whimsey.

And, I love any writing that professes the power of storytelling! One of the major themes in this novel is the power of knowing stories, sharing stories, and discovering the profound truth they contain. As a writer of faith, Amanda finds the perfect moments to remind us of the greatest story this world has known - how all great stories lead us back to the manger, and to the true light that was born that night.

I not only highly recommend this book,
I also recommend you take the time to read the Author's Note at the end! 
All on its own, it's worth the price of admission.


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Book Review: Stay, by Anjuli Paschall 


This summer, I made a terrible discovery:

I couldn't read nonfiction!!

My pandemic-lockdown-coronovirus stressed brain just couldn't handle it. I was devouring fiction like bonbons, but non-fiction just wouldn't stick. 

I know I'm not alone in this. Normal things becoming difficult seems to be one of 2020's most played songs.

I shunned all the nonfiction choices on the recent Nuts About Books review selections. But then I started to read reviews for Stay by Anjuli Paschall, and my heart started to flutter. Maybe I could just read this one...

I curled up with a steamy espresso, a bowl of fresh Niagara peaches, and slowly began to read.

Yes, this was exactly what I needed.


Stay is an invitation to be present. 
Not fighting the futile fight to be somewhere or someone else. 
Be here, in this moment, and be loved.

Each chapter is an intimate, personal essay, inspired by Anjuli's own experiences. She's honest about her struggles with shame and anxiety. But this isn't a story of wallowing in those feelings or using them as currency. This isn't "stay in the pain because this is what you deserve." Instead, it's about finding authenticity and love in even the most challenging moments. How staying in the pain allows us to heal and be transformed. It's about discovering what grace truly feels like, and how we can be generous in both its giving and receiving.


As much as I love Anjuli's thoughts, I might love her writing even more! She writes with an intimate voice, laced with moments of poetry. She anchors her personal memories with beautiful details.  Her description of her beloved campground at the opening of "The Lake" had me craving my own childhood campground in Newfoundland. During a tribute to her lifelong friends, she describes their efforts to help a friend through a suicidal period. Using the metaphor of the men who lowered their friend through the roof to Jesus, Anjuli lovingly and sensitively shares what could only have been a very dark season for them all.

This book can be inhaled in a single day or luxuriated over for weeks (my personal choice!) You'll find yourself drifting over your own memories, exploring your personal moments of discovery, healing and grace.


I highly recommend Stay!
Grab a copy, pour a favourite beverage, and enjoy...



Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.



15 Years of Yes 

15 years ago today, I said Yes.



Quite frankly, I never even wanted to be asked the question. 
For years, I’d pushed back, given into resistance.

My Dad was the minister. I saw the tolls of church life, the stresses of church politics, 
the frustrations of church prejudices. 

Nope. Not me. I didn’t want any part of it.

Every time I’d feel God starting to move in around my music, I’d say, 
“Great! Glad you’re here! Here’s what you can do for me…”

I had no intention of surrendering. I was in control of my future, my dreams. I could see the kind of glamorous, artistic life that I wanted to live, and it looked nothing, nothing like a churchy life. 

But 15 years ago, I heard God call me into full-time music ministry, and I said Yes.

Not just Yes, but 
YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!

I said Yes in a way that completely turned my world upside-down and inside-out. That should be utter confusion and yet, it made more sense than anything I’d ever done in my whole life. All the things I’d ever created or learned or experienced somehow, magically, mysteriously lined up into this perfect moment.

So the journey began. First, with steps to change the career I’d been building over the previous decade - learning a new kind of artistic expression and a way of bridging my worlds of music and church.

Second, with moving to Nashville with my incredibly support, brand-new husband. Who knew that by the time we’d come home to Canada, Gerald would have also said Yes to that same calling, sparking the first embers of Infinitely More.

Step by step, song by song, a ministry has grown.

Who knew that Yes could lead to this?

8 albums. 15 national nominations. 2 awards. 10 years of touring. Hundreds of songs. Thousands of kilometres. Countless moments of prayers, laughter, fellowship, worship, and beauty.

It’s not lost on me that I mark this day in the middle of a global pandemic that’s brought our touring ministry to a standstill. What does God have to say to us on this particular anniversary date?

When I started out as a very young singer and actor, I had all kind of plans and dreams. When I said Yes to God’s calling, I laid all that aside.

But here’s the amazing thing: 
I’ve never felt that following God’s path 
has ever meant giving up my own plans and dreams.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve sacrificed a lot for this life of ministry. It’s hard, exhausting, often misunderstood work. We spend months away from family, friends, and all the comforts of home. We live with a higher-than-normal level of insecurity and instability. I can’t think of any part of our lives that is unaffected by this ministry.


And yet, it’s never really felt like we’re giving up anything. 
I’ve never felt God saying No to any of my dreams.

Instead, I feel He’s turned me towards a Greater Yes.


Yes, to traveling, touring, and bringing music and light to all corners of this beautiful country.

Yes, to worshiping in churches of all shapes and sizes, and seeing the power of God work through a myriad of styles and expressions.

Yes, to boundless art, writing, beauty, and creativity.

Yes, to witnessing the transformative, redemptive miracle of God's love and grace moving through ordinary people.

Yes, to our tiny family of marriage, puppies, and a family who’s willing to postpone holiday celebrations until we’re back in our home province. 

It’s strange how, over the years, so many of my original dreams have come true, just not in the way that I had originally imagined. 

And in many cases, I’ve even had dreams come true that I didn’t even know were my dreams to begin with!  Amazing things that happen, and all I can think is, “I wasn’t seeking that, and yet, I somehow think I’ve wanted that my whole life”.

Is this what they mean by “God moves in mysterious ways”?

15 Years of Yes.

I stand here today, so very thankful for every moment of the journey, so far… 

I’m grateful for every person who has joined me on this adventure, with the most generous gratitude reserved for Mom, Dad, and Gerald. None of this happens or makes sense without the three of you and your love. 

I still have so many dreams, so many goals, so many things I want to create and experience in this world. 15 years in and I’m hungrier than ever for God’s voice, God’s calling, and God’s music. 

So I will continue to say Yes. 
And I will continue to give glory to God, trusting that His power, 
working in us, can do Infinitely More than we can ask or imagine.

Amen.

Here’s to the next 15…



I captured that original night, 15 years ago, right here on this blog. 
You can read my post from that night HERE.

A few years ago, I had the chance to share my story in St. Andrews By-the-Sea, NB. 
You can hear it here:




Not Seeking Normal 

“I can’t wait for things to return to Normal.”

We’ve all said it. 
In some moment of frustration, in the last few months, 
as the world has turned upside-down, we’ve all said it.

“I just need things to be Normal.”


It’s an understandable phrase. Everything has changed. From the very simple, like buying groceries, to the very complex, like visiting the hospital - nothing has been unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Normal makes sense. Normal makes us feel balanced and safe. In recent days, here in Ontario, we’re getting some signs of that return. Businesses are starting to reopen, you can sit on a patio, and you can even form a “social circle” with close family and friends. You can sense a new excitement about these changes.


But what about those of us who can’t return to Normal?
What if your Normal no longer exists? 



As music artists, we make our living touring the country and performing in front of large groups of people. We cross borders, stay in Airbnbs, billet in homes, and pack the pews with as many people as possible. No social distancing. Lots of hugging. Hours of singing and breathing the same air.

As I write this, literally none of these things are allowed. 

None of them.

The very mechanics of how we make our living is banned for now and into the foreseeable future.

There are practical ramifications to this, but it’s more than that. Creating live music and sharing it with communities is what we do! It’s what we’re built for, how we move through this world. It’s our language for sharing God’s light and love.

Yes, we can do some things online, and we’re grateful for that, but we all know, it’s just not the same.

At this point, the arts industry in general isn’t anticipating a return to Normal any time in the near future. When touring and live performances do return, we have no idea how they will look or what changes we may all need to make.

I’m sure we’re not the only group who can’t see a pathway back to Normal yet. 
Let’s be honest, even if you are able to return to your job, 
does it really look or feel like it used to?


Many years ago, I lost someone I loved to suicide. Steve’s death completely turned my world upside-down and inside-out. All I wanted was for life to return to Normal - to laugh and joke with and hug the man I loved. But as I swam through the waves of grief, I came to the realization that a return to Normal was never possible.

Normal, as I had known it, no longer existed. 

From that day on, I realized that I needed to discover a new vision for the future. I was completely unclear as to what that would look like. It took months and even years for it to fully take shape, but letting go of my former view of Normal was the first step. Only then could I start to open my heart to this next chapter that God had prepared for me.

I’ve thought about that journey a lot during this pandemic season. 
Maybe you’ve been through a similar journey yourself.

Normal, as we once knew it, no longer exists.

And trying to hold this past in our hands is as futile as grabbing sand in the wind.


So, I’m Not Seeking Normal anymore.

Instead, with a deep breath, 
I’m trying to open myself to God’s next chapter.


As a planner, I’ve found this season to be incredibly tough. And yet, more times than I can count, I’ve found my anxiety washed away by a peace I can’t fully explain. A peace that passes all human understanding.

I can’t see the path forward at all. 
I have no idea what the future looks like.
The fear and not-knowing can be overwhelming.

But I’ve stumbled down the steps of uncertainty before, 
only to discover sure footing awaiting me.

So now, more than anything, 
I choose to trust the One who created the path.

I trust that He has plans to prosper, and not harm, me. 
I trust His steps are a firm foundation.
And I know that nothing, nothing, can separate me from His love.

I’m Not Seeking Normal.
Instead, I’m lifting this prayer.
I invite you to join me…


Loving God, 
I have no idea what you have prepared for me. 
But I know you are the source of all goodness and love. 
Prepare my heart, mind, and talents for this next chapter. 
If you can’t show me the whole path, just show me the next step. 
And if that step is to simply rest, 
please give me the strength to stay still. 
Amen. 


Book Review: Losing Control, by Mark Smeby 


I mentioned in last week's 2020 Mid-Year Book List 
that I'd be posting a review soon, and here 'tis!


I first met Mark Smeby when we sang on the same worship team in Nashville. I loved his voice, and since that time, I've come to appreciate the breadth of his talents as a singer, songwriter, performer, and author.

Earlier this year, he sent out an announcement that he was writing a new book, and seeking volunteers to be part of his reading team. I jumped at the chance! Week by week, our group would receive chapters as they were written. We were invited to share our stories and thoughts in a Facebook group, and would then receive revisions based on that feedback.

Since I was able to see a bit of the "work in progress," I really wanted to share a review and let you know about this new project!

Losing Control is written for control freaks (can I get a witness?) and the better life that awaits when we learn to let go and let God. I can't think of a better time to release this book than now. Who hasn't been struggling with a loss of control these days? Health, finances, plans, dreams - everything has been turned upside-down. Wouldn't it be great if we could truly surrender all our stress to God and live in true freedom? 

Mark defines this process in two steps:


#1. "Accept the Mess - Surrender to life as it is"
#2. "Be Willing to Create a New Mess - Use courage to live from the heart"


Through personal testimony and studied resources, Mark shares his own journey of "losing control" and finding a more generous and loving way to live. In his own words, "This book is a giant dose of grace ....", and who couldn't use more of that these days! 

Each chapter ends with helpful questions for personal reflection. And remember how I mentioned sharing our stories in the Facebook group? Well, each chapter also ends with a personal story from a group member.


I had two strong impressions when reading Losing Control:

#1. Mark's ministry has shared a powerful message of "Hope" for many years, and I feel like this book is a natural extension of this ministry. If you enjoy his writing, I recommend you look deeper into his music and, of course, go see him live when artists can tour again!

#2. About halfway through the book, Mark begins to share stories of his many years working in prison ministry. Honestly, these were my absolute favourite parts of the book! I would love to see Mark's next book explore this challenging and inspiring ministry.


Thanks, Mark, for sharing your story, 
and for allowing so many of us to be part of your reading team!


Losing Control is available as a hardcopy or as an audiobook, 
and...
Mark is very generously offering a FREE PDF of the book!

Please visit his website for more details:


2020 Mid-Year Book List! 

Wow, this has become an epic year for reading!

As you know, for the last few years, I've given myself a goal of reading 2 books a month.
Each year, I celebrate this goal by publishing my reading list.

Here are my lists for 2018 and 2019.

I'd set the same goal for 2020, but once the lockdown hit, my reading took off like a shot!

Not being able to tour or perform for live audiences has been incredibly difficult in every possible way. I'm not exaggerating when I say that music, gardening and reading have kept me feeling sane and peaceful throughout this whole ordeal.

Since the lockdown started, my reading has increased 
from 2 books a month to 4 or 5 per month!
At this rate, I'll hit my annual goal of 24 in just a few weeks.

Rather than create an exhaustive list in December, 
I've decided to share a mid-year list with you now.

You'll find a good mix here:
fiction and non-fiction, some Canadian and local reads, a few books-in-translation,
and of course my favourite: historical fiction.

Hopefully, you'll find something that will be an inspiration or diversion for you this season!



Here's my 2020 Mid-Year Book List!



The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding
By Jennifer Robson

I started the year with this gorgeous historical fiction, imagining the lives of the women who created Queen (then "Princess") Elizabeth's wedding gown. I loved everything about this book - the characters, setting, and story were all fully engaging. But my favourite part of historical fiction is always taking the deep dive outside of the book itself. Search any of the dresses mentioned in the book, or even the designer himself, and you'll find a plethora of photos and videos that help flesh out the world of The Gown.









Beartown
By Fredrik Backman

My writing friend, Martha Tatarnic, lent me this book last spring, but I really felt a book about hockey should be read in winter. Set in Northern Sweden (this is one of my books-in-translation reads!), Beartown could easily be set in a small, northern Canada town. This compelling story asks important questions about where we place our values and priorities, especially when the stakes are high.










All the Light We Cannot See
By Anthony Doerr

Another historical fiction! I think everyone I know had already read this book, so I'm late to the party, but a complete superfan! A literary, layered, and engaging novel exploring the ravages of war through children and teenagers. I couldn't stop thinking or talking about this book.










The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou
By Maya Angelou

This winter, I decided that I wanted to start reading poetry. The idea was sparked late one night, when I wanted to read, but was too tired to delve into a few chapters. "Ah," I thought, "this would be the perfect time to just read a poem of two." It's really the only genre that's been missing from my reading list, and Maya seemed like the perfect place to start.












Praying Women: How to Pray When You Don't Know What to Say
By Sheila Walsh

I read this book for review. You can read my thoughts HERE.
















In Calamity's Wake: A Novel
By Natalee Caple

In our travels, I've started visiting indie bookstores and picking up books by local authors. While visiting St. Catharines' latest indie bookstore, Someday Books, I realized I hadn't read any of our hometown authors yet! Inspired by the wild west, In Calamity's Wake tells the fictional story of Calamity Jane's daughter and her journey to find her mother. Steeped in historical details and wonderfully told - a treasure of a book!











Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver
By Mary Oliver

I loved reading Maya Angelou, so I did a Facebook poll of friends to find their favourite poets, and Mary Oliver topped the list. I loooooved this collection! Her images of nature and gentleness were exactly what I wanted to read. I think I bookmarked about half the poems for repeated reading!













The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living
By Meik Wiking

We entered lockdown in March, and this seemed like the perfect time to explore the idea of hygge. This Danish approach to comfort has been trendy for a while, and this is truly the perfect season to put it into practice. Candles, comfort food, soft blankets, quiet time at home - if we have to be in lockdown, we might as well make the most of it.









Daisy Jones and The Six
By Taylor Jenkins Reid

I'd definitely call this historical fiction a romp of a book! Daisy Jones and The Six tells the story of a fictional 70s rock band. Written in the style of a Rolling Stones interview, we get the story of the band from the varied perspectives and biases of the different band members. I particularly love the time dedicated to exploring the challenges and triumphs of the songwriting process.












More Than We Remember
By Christina Suzann Nelson

I read this book for review. You can read my thoughts HERE.

















A Moveable Feast
By Ernest Hemingway

The Little Book of Hygge recommended this as a good hygge book. Hemingway's memoir of his years in Paris were a decadent treat, filled with cozy cafes, eclectic bookstores, long walks, and the eccentricities of the writer's life. Although not historical "fiction", it still gave me that great thrill of placing me in a more decadent time and place (such a treat during lockdown!) 









Sonnets
By William Shakespeare

My poetry journey continued with Shakespeare! These are poems that were definitely written to be read aloud. Each is like a tiny meal, so I rarely read more than a few a day. And my copy was a sweet little vintage tome with a fabric cover, so the reading experience was satisfying (dare I say, "hygge") in so many ways!












From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way
By Jesse Thistle

I included this in May's "Favourite Things." You can read about it HERE.















Saints: Becoming More Than "Christians"
By Addison D. Bevere

I read this book for review. You can read my thoughts HERE.
















The River
By Peter Heller

A action adventure novel! Wynn and Jack set out for the long, leisurely canoe trip of their dreams. But the moment they discover a forest fire growing in the distance, everything changes. Very different than what I normally read! Fast-paced, suspenseful, and action packed - I couldn't put this down!













Don't Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life
By Anne Bogel

I read this book for review. You can read my thoughts HERE.















Before the Coffee Gets Cold
By Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Another book-in-translation! What if there was a cafe you could visit that allowed you to time travel? You could go anywhere you wanted in the past, but you could only stay until your cup of coffee gets cold. This imaginative Japanese novel perfectly weaves the supernatural with gobs of humanity. A real find of a book!












The Garden of Small Beginnings
By Abbi Waxman

One of the unforeseen blessings of 2020 has been all the time I've been able to spend in my garden, so I was attracted to a novel with gardening as a theme. As I read the first few pages, I started laughing out loud, and it was then that I realized it: I never read funny books!! So, I need to amend that.... The Garden of Small Beginnings tells the story of Lilian, a widow and single mom of two small girls, whose life is upended when she starts a gardening course. There are no great twists in this story, but I still loved it. It never shies away from exploring the longterm struggles with grief, but still remains genuinely fun and inspiring.








God at Every Gate: Prayers and Blessings for Pilgrims
By Brendan O'Malley

I was chatting with my Dad about a desire to read some Celtic poetry, and he lent me this sweet book of devotions. Each daily reading included poetry and prayers from a variety of authors and sources. It also explored a variety of themes, including elements of nature, and the various ways we can express our own faith. I particularly fell in love with the writings of Hildegard of Bingen, so you can probably expect to see one of her books on my year end list.











The Bookshop On The Corner
By Jenny Colgan
AKA: The Little Shop of Happy Ever After

What happens when an introverted but passionate librarian is sacked due to downsizing? The Bookshop on the Corner tells a story of pushing past your comfort zone to discover the dreams you never knew you wanted. This charming book celebrates all things bookish, and left me with a craving to visit Scotland. I struggled with the generic title of the book (no spoilers, but it really doesn't fit the story). Apparently, this is the North American title. The original UK title - The Little Shop of Happy Ever After - is much more evocative and well suited.








Losing Control: Finding Freedom by Letting Go
By Mark Smeby

I first met Mark when we sang on the same worship team in Nashville. I was part of his advance reading team for his latest book, and I'll be posting my review later this week. Stay tuned!













There you have it - my 2020 reading, thus far!

What are you reading these days?

I'd love to hear your recommendations in the comments!