Why Vision Comes First in Collaboration

One of the advantages of marrying a creative person is that they draw out your own sense of creativity. Before I married Rob I knew I liked to work with words, I enjoyed writing, speaking and I kept journals, but I didn’t describe myself as a creative person. But living in close quarters with a creative changes you. Over time I began to experiment and push the boundaries on my own sense of creativity and it wasn’t long before Rob and I started dreaming of projects and ideas that we could both contribute to. The biggest one being Creative Kingdom of course!

At some point in the future I would love to do a tongue-in-cheek article about all the quirks that come to the surface when you marry a creative person…their love of Pantone themed products being number one on the list! But for now I just want to share one lesson I have learned about working with a creative person, especially when that person is your husband or wife, because the results can be rather special.

Vision First, Details Second.

One of the first ways Rob and I started working together creatively was when Rob became my personal designer for all the visuals for my messages. When I speak now Rob designs the PowerPoint, handouts and will even create personalized videos! I’ve found having my visuals designed really helps to punch up the message and hopefully makes the content memorable for the listeners.

There comes a time in the sermon-prep when I email Rob an actual brief of what needs to be in the PowerPoint and hand-outs, but that is usually the last step of the process, not the first. Our work doesn’t start with a list of tasks to give to my husband, because even from the beginning this is a partnership not a chore.

The starting point comes some weeks before where we just have a series of chats about the message. This is where the husband and wife advantage kicks in because we don’t need to book in a meeting to do this!

The conversation normally begins with me sharing what I am thinking of speaking on and why I think it is an important topic. We start the process by looking at the ‘Why’ of the message, Why are we doing this? What do I want to achieve? Why does this need to be said? The ‘why’ dictates everything else; the content, the tone, the feel, the pace and the presentation all stem from the ‘why’.

About a year ago I told Rob that I wanted to speak about loneliness. We spent a long time talking about all the different circumstances that can cause people to be lonely; we talked about changing jobs or schools, losing friends to bereavement or conflict, and how sometimes just being different from the people around you can make you feel lonely.

As we talked I came to see that everyone faces seasons of loneliness in their lives and that it isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes being on our own for a while can do us good, but no one is built for a lifetime of loneliness.

My message began to find its direction. I wanted to acknowledge that loneliness didn’t mean you were a terrible person, because everyone goes through periods of feeling alone. But I didn’t want to stop there. I wanted to talk about the things we can do to leave the loneliness behind and move on to something better. It turns out God’s word had plenty to say on the topic and over the next few weeks I kept on talking to Rob about what I was discovering.

A few days before I was due to speak Rob sent me the PowerPoint Slides for the talk. As I flicked through the slides I noticed they started off very dark in tone, with black and white photos and stark writing but as the message progressed they grew warmer and more cheerful.

Leaving-Lonliness-Behind---web

kindness---web

Rob knew that the aim of the message was to provide a road-map to help people move past seasons of loneliness, to lead people out of a dark state of mind to something more hopeful. He designed the slides to follow that purpose, starting in a dark place and slowly lifting throughout the message to end on a hopeful image. It was a subtle but powerful reinforcement of the key thought of the message; there is hope for everyone, no one has to feel alone forever.

All of that was Rob’s input, it was not an idea I had suggested and asked him to do. It was Rob’s interpretation of the purpose of the message. Rob was able to do that because we had spent more time talking about the ‘why’ than we had talking about the ‘what’.

When you are working with creative people, whether they are your partner or not, spend a good chunk of your time talking about what you want to achieve and how you want it to feel. Talk through the purpose and the background to what you are doing. You might not understand how that information could possibly translate in a PowerPoint slide or a poster, or a sketch or a piece of music….but a creative person who is very good at their art will know. They will see it as you talk about it. If you can tell them what you want to achieve they will see what it needs to look like clearer that you do!

Since working with Rob I have found other people to partner with for my messages. I’ll ask our tech team to create a lighting visual or invite someone to share their testimony. I even arranged once for a member of our youth to fly in a model helicopter mid way through the message as the A Team theme tune thundered over the sound system! And as silly as that may sound, I promise you there is a reason behind each thing! What I continue to find is that getting people on board and involved with the reason behind your efforts creates a new sense of excitement and purpose with each new venture.

Suddenly it’s not you against the world, it’s you and your team setting out to achieve something good together. Yes, there is a risk of being misunderstood or misinterpreted when you involve others in your dreams and plans, but actually I have not found that to be much of a problem. I think we risk more by sticking to what feels safe and never exploring the art of collaboration. You see, working with someone on a project, especially when it is your husband or wife, has to be more dynamic than one person in charge, one person doing the work. It has to lean more towards a partnership where you both meaningfully contribute to get the best result

This means being open to change and new ideas from the other person. Once the vision is in place and understood let the team have some creative freedom with the details. If you stick rigidly to your ideas just because they are your ideas you are going to miss out. Instead we have to allow for the possibility that others could have something to offer beyond your expectations. That’s when all the best things happen!

Stop Rest Listen

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day when I should really have been doing other more productive things, when a post caught my attention.

My friend Joel, a worship leader and talented musician has just launched a new website intriguingly called Stop Rest Listen. This struck a chord. A lot of people around me recently have been talking about stress and anxiety, and the need we all have for quiet and re-charging.

I began exploring the links Joel had posted and discovered that this really is a gem of a project. Stop Rest Listen collects scriptures grouped around a certain theme and creates audio tracks with the words read out over original music. He explains it all in this short video:

In a blog post on the site Joel says that he created these tracks originally for his own use. Reading the Bible had not come easily for him and he had often felt stuck, but when he began recording the scriptures and listening back to them throughout the day they took on new life. In his own words he says:

‘I found that by listening to the scriptures, I was able to access the bible in the car, on the train, on a run, basically anywhere! The music makes the scriptures come alive for me, it creates a great atmosphere behind the spoken word. I’ve never been great at reading and retaining information and I often beat myself up if I forgot what I had read in the bible that morning. What I found is that I could retain and recite a lot more scripture by reading and listening to it.’ (Read the full story behind the project here)

I think this highlights an important truth. Not all of us learn the same way, not all of us connect with God in the same way, not all of us access the Bible in the same way. When we push everyone to approach the Bible in one way we leave people feeling frustrated and inadequate.Which is why I love projects like this that opens up a new path for people to know God.

Stop Rest Listen now have an EP available to download on itunes with five tracks in total. Each one with scriptures on a different theme. There is something very special about hearing the word against music, I think it helps to express the beauty, passion and strength of feeling there is in the word.

On top of this they also are producing podcasts that begin with a ‘scripture track’ before moving on to interviews and discussions with special guests. I have listened to the first two today, one after the other. They talk with sincerity and passion but the feeling is very relaxed and natural, like you are overhearing some friends catch up in a coffee shop. The Mark Stevens interview is especially worth a listen.

Anyway, I am excited about this and am looking forward to seeing what they do next. In the meantime you should go and check out their stuff!

Stop Rest Listen are on Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud.

Christmas Thoughts

I was watching our Church’s Nativity service last week and it got me thinking about Mary. I wonder how she felt when they finally found that last scrap of available space in the overcrowded Bethlehem? Was she exhausted from the journey; tired and worn out? Did her heart sink when she realised that a manger was the closest thing they were going to find for a crib? Did she look around at the poor, drab surroundings and pray that God would get them out of that place?

I know I have prayed that prayer a lot over the years whenever times get tough:

‘I don’t want to be in this situation

Lord, please fix this for me?

‘God, please get me out of here?

The Bible dosesn’t tell us much about how Mary and Joseph felt that night. It doesn’t tell us if they were scared and tired, or if they were just relived to have made it to Bethlehem.

What the Bible does tell us is that on the night Jesus was born a host of angels appeared in the skies above the fields surrounding Bethlehem. Can you imagine? Angel after angel as far as you can see, figures appearing in a dazzling light. A mighty chorus of voices, singing and shouting, praising God for joy with the wonderful news that Jesus was here! The Messiah had come!

It tells us how the only witnesses to this glorious scene were shepherds on the night watch. It tells us that hearing the news they raced into town and found Mary, Joseph and Jesus and told them of the wonders they had seen.

It tells us of a star that travelled across the sky leading wise men on a long and dangerous journey to seek the King of Kings. It tells us that when they found Jesus they worshipped him and laid extravagant gifts at the feet of the overwhelmed Mary.

God didn’t get Mary and Joseph out of the stable; instead he brought his wonders to them, and when they eventually left that place they took an experience of God’s provision with them and at the end of this story, it tells us that Mary treasured all these things in her heart.

The Nativity shows me that no matter how dark and dingy our circumstances might be, no matter how ignoble the setting; wherever Jesus is, wonderful things happen. Miracles abound when Jesus is present. That is who Jesus is; He is Wonderful! Literally, full of wonders!

Sometimes we pray ‘God get me out of here’ as if we are out of reach of His goodness, but that is never true. If you believe in Jesus, and have put your faith in Him, you carry Him with you, as surely as Mary once carried Him in her arms.

Even if you feel like you are stuck in completely the wrong place, don’t spend all your energy on wishing for a way out. Seek Jesus in it and let Him make it beautiful in its time. Follow Him and even if it is the last place you wanted to be His wonders will find you right where you are!

Jesus turns the darkest of times into beautiful treasure. He turns hardships into victory. Emptiness into inspiration and creativity, mourning into joy!

It is because of Jesus that I still believe in miracles and why I can, with full hope and confidence, wish everyone a very Merry Christmas!

xx

The Pinstorsity Pay it Forward November Challenge

Our friends over at Pintrosity have launched a challenge that we think all of our creative readers and Pinterest lovers out there should know about.

Pinstrosity have launched a challenge where each month they ask their readers to put pins to the test all around a certain theme. Last month the theme was ‘pumpkin’ and readers tried out pumpkin recipies and crafts from Pinterest and submitted the results to Pinstrosity for sharing.

So far, so fun, right?

Well, for November they have upped their game and in the month that precedes the season of giving they have set the theme as Pay it Forward.

They are asking readers to use their Pinterest boards to inspire them to an act of kindness; this can be a gift they bake, make or create or just something nice they are pinterest-inspired to do for someone else. This theme is wide open for interpretation!

Here are the rules:

  1. Browse through your Pinterest boards and find pins that fit the theme that inspire you. If you are not sure where to start you can check out the Official Pinstrosity Challenge Pinterest Board for ideas
  2. Once you’ve found some pins on Pinterest that inspire you, build on that inspiration! See cookies you want to try, but you don’t want to have a whole batch sitting around? Make some, save a small plate for you and take the rest to a neighbour. Make the Giving Plate and deliver it. Make fun aprons and volunteer at a soup kitchen. Do service related activities with your children. You can follow the pin instructions to a T, or you can just work off your inspiration and go for a Pin Spin.
  3. Take a picture of the outcome, whether it goes well or whether you end up with a bonefide Pinstrosity!
  4. Email your pictures, the link to the project you were inspired by, and any bit of the story you want to tell to pinstoristy@gmail.com. You have until 8:00 AM (MST) on December 1st to send us your Pay it Forward project.
  5. On Saturday6th December Pinstorsity will do a Round Up post and show the projects that were sent in.
  6. All projects submitted as part of the challenge need to have been completed in November 2014. No submitting projects you did last year. The point of this challenge is to get you to actually use Pinterest to inspire your life!
  7. Feel free to submit as many times as you want!

I know we are a little late in sharing this but there are still two weeks left to go and I want to encourage as many people as possible to get involved. I am looking through my pin-boards right now to see what projects I might do…I think it will be something to do with peanut butter chip cookies!

You can see the official Pinstrosity November Challenge page here.

Happy crafting/baking/creating!

P.S Read the creators of Pinterest answer our Q&A here.

P.P.S Read the Pinstrosity guide on ‘What to Do When it all Goes Wrong’ here.

My Biggest Creativity Killer

I’ve finally booked some time away next week to do two things: rest, and write some music.

About bloomin’ time!! … So I’ve been thinking about creativity this past week, and just wanted to share ONE thing I know killed it for me many times in the past.

What I love about being creative is that there are no rules.. This isn’t a blog about the right or wrong way to ‘do’ creativity. True creativity is free and limitless.. But with anything that is free in this world, there are always things to try to blind, gag and suppress it’s freedom.

Last year (far too long ago) I went away, like I am next week. Generally, for me, I feel I have to go away and give myself a good chunk of time to write, as my output can be pretty poor when squashed in the middle of a busy, daily routine. Not a rule. Not for everyone – but works well for me. That time, some of Speak, Brother’s best and most passionate songs (so far) were born. Each song I wrote, tells a story I care deeply about. But my time away certainly didn’t start off like that.

I remember sitting down, at this beautiful house on a hill in the Cotwolds, listening to music I love, lyrics that move me, beautiful stories of love, self sacrifice and hope.

You’d think I’d be beaming with inspiration.. For a short time I was. But that inspiration shortly turned into something toxic. A poison that quickly choked every ounce of creativity, passion and honesty out of my very being until it was empty. I now see the effects of this poison everywhere, in every genre of music, in all levels of popularity and all over YouTube and the radio.

It’s called ‘Imitation‘.

I just wanted to write music that sounded like the music I liked listening to. Sounds innocent enough? But with that mind-set, I stopped anything NEW happening. I wanted what they had. I just subconsciously regurgitated their stories and melodies until I was left with a song that sounded ok, but felt wrong. It reaked of a souless, counterfeit, fake, bogus, stinky smell that lingered around the whole thing. There was no ‘me’ in any of it.

I set out to write a song, for the sake of getting a song to sell, forgetting the purpose of it. I guess, If you think about it, anything creative has a purpose of some sort. And if a purpose of a song, is simply to be bought, no matter what it’s about, it will come across pretty shallow and lifeless, and will most likely be a rip off of something. There’s probably an argument for the effect of the commercialization of music and the difference between a hobby and a job. But money should be no reason to sacrifice authenticity. You see it all the time, the bigger the world makes an organisation, artist or whatever, the more distant and fake it seems. That’s probably why I think the local music scene is always important. Anyways, I’m getting sidetracked……

On that long weekend last year, I ended up writing a song about a girl (someone I know and love) who continually devalued herself, giving herself away to any lad that gave her attention. Another about my passed grandparents and their lives together.

With whatever creative thing you do, painting, poetry, music, writing, cooking, designing etc:

Use your own stories, struggles, successes, revelations, pains, hopes and no one else’s. Let your songs, stories, poems etc come from you for true creativity to flow. That’s when the good stuff comes out.

Of course it’s good to have inspiration, but let inspiration be just inspiration, and let the essence of the song be from you.


This article was originally published on the Speak Brother blog in March 2014

See our review of Speak, Brother’s new EP here.

From Cracked Pots to Blossoms

One night, at a prayer meeting, someone told a story about an old woman who walked to a well every day to fetch water. On her shoulders she carried two buckets. One of them was perfect, but the other was cracked and leaked. Each day she plodded to and fro, but it never got any easier. The months went by …. the ground was hard and dry …. then a remarkable thing happened. Along one side of the path beautiful flowers began to grow. People began to look at them in wonder, and they pondered why they only grew on one side of the path, and not the other?

cracked-pots

The answer lay in the cracked pot. Where it had leaked as the old woman walked to and fro, seeds had begun to germinate and grow. So even cracked pots have their uses!

Later that evening someone remarked that they see me as a ‘cracked pot’, leaving a trail of blossom. It made me think ….. are we allowing God to use us, cracks and all, to bring about something beautiful for all to see?

God has blessed me with the gift of creative communication. Creative ideas come in many different forms. Sometimes it’s a thought planted by God as I’m driving or walking. Occasionally something I read leaps out at me and strikes a chord. It can also be something I see or hear that just settles in my brain, and may lie there ready for a re-awakening, much like the seeds.

I find it helps to jot things down as quickly as possible and then just allow them to grow in their own time. If they are not from God they usually fade away and come to nothing. It also helps to have some purpose for the ‘seed’. As I organise a variety of events at my church, I can usually identify pretty quickly where it is leading, but then it needs time to germinate and grow, to be watered, weeded, pruned, and occasionally discarded for something better. If the ‘seed’ is God inspired, it usually changes from a tiny bud to a blossom in a relatively short space of time ….. a blossom bringing life and pleasure to others.

Once I have the foundation and basic outline for a programme or theme for whatever is planned, I like to discuss it with other people involved so we can refine it, add things, examine other possibilities, etc, until we are all satisfied with the finished product. Often success is in the minute details.

One of the ideas God gave me for an Away Day for our church this year was titled ‘BIRD IN A CAGE’. This partly originated from a vision God gave me many years ago. I was going through a tough time and my self-esteem had gone. I was the bird in the cage. The problem was I was too frightened to step out of the cage even though the door was wide open.

I believe there are many people in our world today who are trapped in prisons or ‘cages’, either of their own making, or at the hands of others, and they do not have the courage or ability to take the plunge, step out, and fly!

That was the main theme of our Away Day …… ‘flying free’. We made collage displays and dressed up lots of ornamental bird cages to represent different kinds of captivity:- drugs, alcohol, money, loneliness, fashion, gambling, isolation (particularly with the elderly), greed, homelessness, unemployment, rejection, sex trafficking, and so on. Throughout the day people participated in various activities together including making banners and enjoying a visit of wild birds from a local falconry centre. But the main focus was to draw near to God and allow Him to release us from anything in our past or present that was preventing us from being the person God intended us to be, or from following His purpose for our lives and ‘flying free’. God really moved in power in the afternoon, and it was wonderful to see people breaking the bonds. When the Holy Spirit moves, He sometimes touches spots we are totally unaware of!

Blossoms1

Some people see me as a bit of a ‘crackpot’. Maybe I am, but this is different. I am definitely a ‘cracked pot’. I find it quite astounding that God uses broken or cracked vessels to accomplish His mighty works, rather than perfect people (if such exist!) You only have to study the Bible to see the numerous characters that God used to fulfil His purposes :- murderers, adulterers, cheats, liars, prostitutes, and many more. However, ‘those who are forgiven much, give much in return’. God loves everyone and can use anyone who comes to Him in sincerity. He can turn dead bones into living creatures. He can turn a dry, dusty path into a flower bed.

If you have a creative mind …… give it to God and let Him use you to enable others to have fun and blossom in His love.

Wishing you all the best on your journey.

Maggie