Adoption, God, My Story, Voice

A Letter to my Future Child(ren) of Color

My Dear Little One,

You’ve been on my mind a lot recently. Over the past year I have been preparing for you to join our family, but I could not have foreseen how much of that preparation I’d be using before you came. You see, our country is in the middle of some great turmoil and unrest. This year has been a year of ‘Chaos!’ – That’s the word that God gave to your daddy for this year. We didn’t know that it would be so true and so turbulent.

The things that seemed like chaos in January and February have faded to the background as the more recent chaotic events of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic and the untimely and unjust deaths of African-Americans, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd at the hands of white people/police officers. These deaths sparked a lot of non-violent, peaceful protests as well as violent rioting and looting. I have never seen this in my time. I’ve heard about these types of things from history, but I never actually think that history will repeat itself. What’s done in the past, stays in the past, right? Well, not always, and certainly not in these cases. True, they are not exact replicas of past physical diseases and racial clashes, but they certainly carry some of the same elements with them.

My heart is feeling so many things right now. I feel angry, scared, confused, misunderstood, sad, worried, uncertain, and other feelings too. I also have so many other voices and opinions going through my head. I have the media, the Church, my black friends, my white friends, my not black/white friends, the voices of ‘leaders’ – both in the Christian sector and not, and so many more. When I’ve felt tugged to choose between these voices, it’s created a lot of chaos within me. It seems so easy to just make a social media post that echoes what others are saying, but God is showing me MY voice as He teaches me. He’s been showing me how I can be true to the voice that He’s given me.

God has been teaching me to wait. As I wait for you, I’ve learned patience and listening. Now in this current chaotic season, I am using this skill of waiting to check my heart, mind, and spirit before I speak. It’s something I highly recommend, little one. A big part of what God has been teaching me even before the waiting was how to respond instead of reacting. It’s so easy to get filled with strong emotions and want to fire out a rapid reaction to a social media post or something I’ve heard on the news or even a video from someone I trust. But, I’ve already been cultivating how to feel when my emotions are taking over and then I stop and take a break. This really empowers me to feel secure in what I say publicly and not have regret a hurried retort.

To create a true response, I’ve found I must wait. I must hear the voices around me. Then, I must listen for God’s voice and allow my own voice to come out. The waiting might seem like a lack of action, but God is working on something within me. If I wait, then when I respond, it will be in love and not from pain. 

Oh child, I so hope you only know love in your life, but I know the reality of humanity. There will be pain too. I’m so sorry. I realize that because of the color of your skin, history predicts that you will be mistreated, misrepresented, undervalued, disrespected, and more. I wish I could protect you from all the pain. I wish it would be as easy as kissing your boo-boo and then having you run back out to play. I wish I could fix it for you, but I won’t be able to. I will be with you though. I will be on your side. I will keep loving you no matter what. I’m sorry it’s like this. It makes me sad for you and for so many of our friends ‘like you’. I’d like to see injustice and disease wiped off this earth!  But, I wait. 

You know what God’s been doing in me as I wait? I hope it’ll help you too, little one, as you grow and learn and wait and respond. God has shown me that I can enter in more fully to someone’s pain by speaking with them directly – whether face-to-face, on the phone, or in a direct message. The back and forth of a conversation is so much more meaningful and helpful in working through my thoughts and feelings on tough topics and events. I’ve allowed God to lead me to speak with those He puts on my heart and mind. It’s been fruitful and I’m so thankful for my many brothers and sisters of all colors who have been willing to enter into personal dialogue with me.

In doing this we have been able to share what’s helping and hurting us through these situations. We can show love and understanding to one another. We can humbly ask for forgiveness for where we’ve been wrong and we can courageously give forgiveness to those who have hurt us. I’ve had to do both! And I can say, it’s been so freeing to my heart. I only wish our society could truly understand that power of asking for and receiving forgiveness. There’s a reason why God calls us to do this. It’s another piece in freedom and justice for all!

As for a public response, God has shown me that the best way I can respond publicly is through music. Would you believe it? I didn’t know about this until a very sweet cousin of mine lost her husband to death and all I could do was sing for her! Now, in the moments of disease and death, I have found that singing helps to calm and clear my mind. I found that as God led me to practice and sing songs, I actually entered more fully into the emotions of the moment. I wouldn’t call myself an activist, but I am a person who will journey with someone (or even a group of people) through pain and joy. God wrote a song in my heart and I had the honor to create this video with my friend Amber.

‘As I Am’ written and sung by Brittany Putman and performed by Amber Kaufman
There’s a growing unrest in our souls
It’s crying see me, hear me
Touch me, I’m real
Don’t you see me, hear me
Feel me? I’m real
I’m crying out! But no one hears me
I’m torn apart! But no one sees
My voice in anger, anguish lifted
But who will see me, as I am?

Sweet child, your journey is your own! It won’t be mine, it won’t be Daddy’s, it won’t be your brothers’ or sisters’. You will discover your own journey and while you’re making that discovery, I will be with you. I will be in the pain, grief, joy and excitement. I will cheer with you and cry with you. I will help you find your voice and together we will grow into all that God made us to be.

I have so much hope for you and your future. Even in the painful, chaotic times that you might be born into, I choose you! You have been my dream since I was a child, and I wait with hopeful expectation for you. I love you with a deep love that words cannot express, but I’m so excited for when I get to SHOW you that love!

So, while we wait to meet… I love you.

Your Momma

Adoption, My Story, Praise and Worship, Voice

It’s My Blogging Birthday!

One Year of Blogging!…

You guys! I’m so excited! I’ve been blogging for a year! Honestly, when I started this, I just wasn’t sure if I’d keep with it. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to keep at it, but I just didn’t believe in myself 100%. I’m so glad I went through with it anyway. Now I can say I’ve blogged for a year! I’ve been looking back over my past posts and thinking about what I had in mind when I started blogging and where the journey has gone so far. So, this post will be a reflection on blogging over the past year.


I thought it’d be fun to begin my reflection with a few stats. Over the past year I’ve written 44 posts with 33,782 words! I’ve had 68 comments on the blog itself plus many more through Facebook comments. My top three most viewed posts are White Savior?!?, Could This Be Our Match?, and Adoption Update 2019. Finally, there have been 2,944 visitors viewing my blog 4,376 times from 36 countries! Wow! Thank you to everyone who has followed along on this blogging journey!

World Map of where my blog has reached

Let’s start at the very beginning…

When I started this blog, my mind felt like it was being pulled in so many directions. First was the adoption process. There were so many boxes to check before we could be approved to adopt and then who knew what would happen after that! Then, there was this deep longing inside of me to share more of who I am and what my life story has been. The stories swirled as I desired to share them with someone new! Last, through more introspection, I had many new questions, ideas, and thoughts come to mind and I really needed a place/person to dialogue with about those things. Enter my blog.

That was my mindset when I started this blog – a soup full of so many ‘tastes’ and they all called for attention. That’s when God, in His quiet and calm voice, prompted me to start a blog. I didn’t know what He was doing or where this would go, but I decided to go along with it. A local friend gave me some very good advice. I now pass this along to anyone thinking of starting a blog. She told me that I ought to have 10 posts written before I even published my first post. I’m so thankful for that advice. It really helped me keep traction at the beginning. 

Then when ‘life happened’ in the middle of my first sequence of ten posts, it was my husband who encouraged me to veer from what I planned and allow myself some spontaneity in the post cycle. After all, a blog of this type is usually about what’s happening NOW and interrupting my plan to reflect on the current events would be totally in-line with what I was doing.

When I started this post, my goal was to alternate posts between one of my thoughts/ideas and adoption related topics. I did that pretty well for a while. But, those posts started to get fewer and far between. What started as a deep need to talk out the adoption process and pass along information to others who might be in a similar place, moved to a need to discuss the information I was taking in from so many different sources and opinions about interracial adoption and even race/culture in general.

The posts moved from a place of safety (just telling my story) to a place of personal tentative viewpoints (posts about race/culture). How would my posts with the topic of race/culture be received, understood, and viewed? Did I write them in a way that was loving and honoring to everyone involved? Did I often come out with a white woman’s perspective or was I able to write with another perspective in mind? And while I’m bringing that up, how in the world do you separate your own life-long perspective, the one that you don’t even realize you have, with the other ones that you’re reading about and listening to and really thinking about? It’s hard to do. I still don’t know if I’m doing it well, but I believe I’m trying with a pure heart. So, I wrote out the hard questions I had and made myself come to and voice a place of conclusion, at least for the time being.

Somewhere in the Middle…

Somewhere in the middle of the past year, I started to fall in love with my musical side again. I expressed my deep connection to music and moved through what it’s like to create music and also teach others. The joys of helping someone else ‘win’ at creating music is so rewarding! Yet at the same time, this focus on music began to pull my own heart towards creating music again. I immersed myself in figuring out how to play piano so I could play and sing on my own. I went out on a limb and recorded myself learning this new musical ambition. Then, in act of true transparency, I posted the recordings, mistakes and all, in hopes that I could be an encouragement to others to keep progressing towards their musical dreams. 

My first recored and posted video
My most recent and posted video

The Present Place…

Now, a year later, I’m in a very different place for writing. I don’t have the stash of posts ready to publish anymore, but I do have a long list of topic ideas yet to be explored. I don’t have the swirling craziness inside my head anymore. Instead I have a great system (blogging) for thinking through and expressing the journey of any particular thought or idea. I don’t have as many posts about adoption. Instead my lack of posts reflect where we’re at in the journey – waiting. This blog has helped me organize my thoughts, express them, and then dialogue with others about them. Sometimes I get pushback on what I’ve posted, but most of the times I’ve been incredibly encouraged by you, my readers. 

All in all, I’m feeling really glad that I went out on a limb, publicly, and started to blog. I’ve found a really helpful way to organize my thoughts, talk them out with others, and find expression for the deep feelings inside of me. As I’ve written, I’ve felt God encouraging me that my vulnerability and authenticity will allow others to be the same. It allows others to ask the hard questions and wrestle with what they really think. While I share my story, through writing or the music videos, I’m giving voice to what’s going on inside me and that’s really important for all people.

In January 2019, while I was in England and talking with God, He told me, ‘You have a voice and it’s meant to be heard.’ It seems that over this year through blogging, singing, and teaching, that statement is being walked out. It’s thrilling and terrifying. It’s exciting and sometimes humbling, but in the end, I feel peaceful. I’ve followed God’s leading and in a sense, I’ve ‘grown up’ or matured because of it. I’d like to keep that trajectory in the following years.

What’s Next?…

So, what does the next year hold? I plan to keep writing, that’s for sure! But where and what will my blog posts explore? I hope that we’ll make an adoption match soon and I can share the process of being on that journey in a fresh, new way! I hope my musical ambition will continue to push me forward into new spaces and remind me of the all the things that have formed me. I hope I won’t shy away from hard subjects, but instead invite a dialogue about these topics in order to learn more and get new perspectives. What’s next? I honestly don’t know, but I’m excited to witness the change in me, my family, and my ‘world’ a year from now. I’m looking forward to sharing more with all of you!

God, Kingdom, My Story, Voice

Helping Others Achieve Freedom

Historical Persons…

Lately, my third-grader has been learning about all sorts of great historical figures through her class projects at school. I’ve been answering questions for her and helping her understand some of the harder, more grown-up concepts that make these people great and remembered. 

When it was time to learn about Harriet Tubman, my heart swelled. I remembered how I felt as a child while learning about her story. I thought she was so brave and courageous! She was a hero to so many, and to me. My heart burst with joy that through her acts, so many people were led to freedom. Truly she was a marvelous woman. 

Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center in Cambridge, Md. mural by Michael Rosato

I hadn’t thought about my feelings towards Harriet Tubman for 25 years! But, relearning her story anew with my daughter, brought it all back. I was surprised that the depth of emotion over her legacy still rang out in my heart as an adult. It made me wonder why it was such a big deal to me. So, I asked God. “God, why does my heart feel so connected to Harriet’s story? What is it that connects so deeply in me?”


“FREEDOM,” He said. God showed me that my connection to Harriet Tubman’s story when I was a child was a foreshadowing of what He tucked away in my heart for my future. The thread of wanting to see people set free has run through my life since I was a child. It’s one of the purposes God’s made me for. He made me to partner with people (and Him) to see them set free from the chains and weights that hold them back. 

While teaching singing, I see many students hindered by timidity, uncertainty, and hiding. But through voice lessons, students gain confidence, joy, and inner-comfort at sharing their God-given voices. Still other students have come to my studio exhibiting a need to control their voices, their emotions, and even their appearance in a way that ends up inhibiting the natural voice inside them. As we move through lessons, these things begin to melt away and they experience freedom in their voice and freedom to trust themselves and others; to truly BE the fullness of who they are without worrying how they’ll be perceived. In all these ways, my students move from some type of bondage, whether inner or outer, to a freedom that propels them forward as vocalists and people! FREEDOM!

My heart is burdened when I see people going through relational difficulty. Now, I don’t have it all together in this area, but God’s taught me so many things and brought me through so much that I can perceive more relational un-health than I once had. So, when I notice people in tough relational situations, I want to run to them and share my story of how God showed me a better way to relate. I want to see life growing between people and not dying off. My heart is so uplifted when I can engage with other people to help them regain, maintain, or start fresh in relationships with a new perspective on how to relate to others. Hearing their stories of how they were immovable in relationships and partnering with them to now be more fluid and free brings me great joy. FREEDOM!

The Past. Need I say more? Perhaps one area that I see more bondage, oppression, and being ‘under the thumb of’ is The Past. Why, oh why does the past have such an effect on our present? I’m still in process, but I have learned that my past reframed so many situations as I went through life, making it so I couldn’t see the truth. There was a jadedness that kept me from truly trusting, rejoicing, thinking the best, and hoping again and again. It was so closely related to many areas of my past. Through much prayer, conversation, and good community, God has brought healing. He freed me from many parts of my past! Now, I want to see EVERYONE ELSE set free from the past that has them in chains. Chains of unforgiveness, control, fear, doubt, worry, self-image, trauma, pain, punishment, bitterness, defeat, and so much more. It’s so encouraging to pray people through the pain and see the smiles light up their faces on the other side! What joy there is in being set free! FREEDOM!

What About You?…

So, what about you? Can you think of a historical figure that you really took interest in as a child? What is it about that person that you see showing up in your present life? I’d LOVE to hear about it. 

Adoption, My Story, Voice

Cultural Curiosity

Curious Questions…

While in England, we dined at a nice restaurant with a great group of people. The conversation was very nice and we seemed to be hitting it off well. Since I felt a level of comfort with these new friends, I went ahead and started asking all my cultural questions about England. Most of them revolved around the differences in the names of food. I had expected to go to England and understand the menu, but instead I found myself surprisingly confused by words I didn’t recognize. Once explained, I understood and ordered a tasty meal. 

But as we headed out, I wanted to use the bathroom before we got back in the car to travel to our next stop. I didn’t think twice, I just asked, “What do you call the bathrooms in England? Do you use the term bathroom, or is it water closet or something else?” The looks of confusion caused me to wonder if I had just asked too many questions or been improper while trying to be more culturally aware. In case you’re wondering, the answer is toilets. 

I don’t think I actually offended these people with my questions, but it certainly made me become a bit more introspective about my questions habit. Am I being offensive or rude with my line of questioning or even just annoying? Do other people want to talk about the differences in our cultures or is it just me? Is my curiosity for other cultures a personal trait or does everyone have it? I certainly don’t feel shy about asking questions. Over our visit I asked some other clarifying questions and really learned a lot. Still, occasionally, I saw some strange looks when I said things that might not have been quite understood because of my American way of interacting.

How to Learn…

This leads me to yet another question, what are appropriate ways to learn about other cultures, especially the ones in my own back yard? Obviously, reading is a wonderful way to learn. I love to read up on a country’s history before visiting. I can also watch documentaries about different cultures and hope they’re giving the correct information. But, what I really want to do after I’ve had a glimpse into another culture is ask questions to someone from that culture.

But how close of a relationship do I need to have with a person from a different culture before engaging in this type of dialogue? Can I read about Latino-American culture and then just jump into asking a ton of questions to a person from that culture? Can I watch an adoption training video on black hair care & styling and expect that it’s acceptable to then ask questions of just any African-American that I come in contact with?

Conversations about Culture…

The obvious answer is that it’s best to have conversations about culture with friends or close acquaintances. I agree. However, I find that my natural exuberance to talk about what I’m learning and ask questions leads me to try and engage in conversations with any person that I perceive as knowledgeable and with whom I feel comfortable. In my mind, I respect this person’s opinion, so I’m asking. But sometimes I wonder if it’s looked at as ignorant, distasteful, or even condescending.

Amsterdam’s Coat of Arms

My hope is to emanate love and acceptance through my desire to understand a person’s culture. What do you call the bathrooms in England? Why is Amsterdam’s flag and coat of arms three X’s (XXX)? How do the habitants of Brussels interact so fluidly with people from so many nations? Why are dreadlocks called both dreads and locks? Do Christians of Mexican heritage participate in the Day of the Dead and how do they view it from a spiritual perspective? How do the Chinese feel about population control? 

My questions can go on and on, but who’s safe to talk to? How do I know that it’s all right to ask my questions to a particular individual? I guess, sometimes I’ve just asked and had a favorable response. As an aside: Thanks to anyone who’s answered my curious questions! There have been others who opened the conversation first and so it was as easy as responding and going from there. Thank you! And still others have invited me to ask when a question comes up. There are people in my life who know we’re planning to adopt interracially and they have offered their wisdom and guidance for the present and the future. Thank you. This means so much to me!

In an age where I could search the internet to find my answer and troll social media, I find that I’d rather speak with real people who are living out the answers to my questions on a daily basis. I want open conversation between me and other cultures with an understanding that my seeking for more knowledge is my way of honoring the differences between us and not a way to exploit them. I see this as especially important as we’re moving closer to the day when we’ll have a child of a different racial make up than us as part of our family.

Relational Capital…

So, I guess the answer I’ve come to is Relational Capital. It’s important to have relational capital with people when asking questions that might be sensitive in nature. Being aware of the relationship I have with others and how much I’ve given to it versus how much I’ve taken from it is really important. Assessing this can help me know more fully who’s appropriate to ask questions to and when I should look for another person instead. Not only is it helpful to me, but it’s showing respect to the other person. It’s actually considering the other person and choosing whether I can ‘make a withdrawal’ or should ‘make a deposit.’ All people and relationships are different and worth being considered when my cultural curiosity speaks up.

Safe People…

I’m thankful I have people in my life who I’ve cultivated relationships with, like those who have already offered to be a safe person for me to bounce my questions off of. They have given me a hope that I won’t be alone when the questions come. I have more confidence in moving forward with our interracial adoption because I know that I have people who will walk me into understanding as the need arises. I don’t have to learn only from reading books and watching videos. I have real, live people who want to see me succeed and want to help me in this new space. I am aware of the people that I have relational capital with and who value sharing their experience with me.

When I think about these people, I know that I too want to be a safe person for someone else to ask questions of, even if the relational capital is on the low side. I want to be open to sharing my experience with many people. Do you want to ask about American politics? Do you want to know about white skin & hair care? Do you want to know what it’s like being married to a pastor? Do you want to know more about getting into singing or music? (See video on releasing tongue tension below) Do you want to ask me something? I invite you to ask me. I’ll do my best to see the curiosity in your question and the desire to understand and through our dialogue I hope we’ll continue to build up our relational capital.

My Story, Voice

Can’t You be White and Sing Gospel Music?…

Can’t You be White and Sing Gospel Music?…

“Can’t you be white and sing gospel music?” This was food for thought brought to me by a black friend after reading through my post ‘Braids, Gospel, and  Connection’. He really got me thinking. How would I answer this question? How would I honor both black and white people with my response? It felt like a loaded question with an answer that someone, somewhere would find fault with.

As I spent weeks, months even, thinking on this, I spun out different answers, but each of them fell short and cast a light on the complexity that such a question brings. I came to realize that I can’t answer this question for the vast majority of people. The only way to answer is to openly and honestly share my own thoughts on this. As I delved into what was behind my thoughts towards culturally or even stereotypically black things and the answers I came up with, I realized where I had errors in my own thinking, insecurities in my racial awareness, and how very scared I was to ‘open up a can of worms’ on this topic. 

The Fears Within…

If I let my fear win and never respond, how can I ever be a part of healthy racial discussions? I really want to be safely free to ask questions about black culture and be willing to answer questions about my own culture. I wrestle with the worry, ‘Will my curiosity and naivete be misconstrued as belittling or racial bias when I ask questions or will it be seen as trying to understand another culture, black or otherwise, with openness and a desire to truly see from another perspective? 

Out of Reach…

With that in mind – wanting racial & cultural understanding and my own self-exploration – I answer the initial question, ‘Can’t you be white and sing gospel music?’ The short answer is, ‘Yes.’ However, underneath this question seems to be, ‘Why did I perceive gospel music to be somewhat out of reach for me as a white person?’ As a child, I saw gospel music represented by mostly black choirs on CD covers, in movies, and in conversation. I felt like an outsider looking in because I wasn’t connected to a community that participated in this type of music. 

Moses Hogan, Composer

True, I sang along to the songs that I loved and I imitated the stylist effects that I heard in gospel music at home, but I didn’t have an external outlet for it. When I reached high school and college I got to know about more traditional gospel and spiritual music through choir. When we got to sing a Moses Hogan song I was elated! It felt so good to sing with the depth of feelings this music evoked inside of me. But, I was also aware that it wasn’t ‘my’ music to own. I couldn’t fully give in to the passion of the music because it wouldn’t ‘look right’ for me as a white person to be ‘acting black’ while performing. Would my enthusiasm be misunderstood as me trying to be something I’m not? Would I be offensive to the culture that created this music? Would I be judged or laughed at? At what point could I be comfortable being white but fully engaging in something from another racial culture and at what point would that be acceptable to said culture or become offensive? What I was missing was a sense of permission to enter into this cultural context.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery…

‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…’ is a well recognized quote. We see something we like and imitate it because we want to be like it, or in this case, that people group. But, I once heard it suggested that white people are trying to take things that belong to other cultures and make them their own. Whether this was said in seriousness or as a joke, it brought up a new worry.

This topic is even addressed in the popular musical, Hairspray, when the black group of kids come up with some really cool music and the white group takes that music and presents it as their own in a more palatable-to-whites way. However, there are a few white people in this musical (the main character) that recognizes how awesome the black culture’s way of doing music is and is warmly welcomed into this new group. She and her friends break cultural barriers (in the 60s) to create racial unity.

Racial Unity through Dancing in the musical ‘Hairspray’

More recently while watching an African American sitcom, one of the black characters said, ‘Katy Perry wearing cornrows? Seriously? Can’t we have anything of our own?” So, still in today’s society, I worry, ‘Will another race or culture think I’m trying to ‘steal’ or ‘change’ something that was created by them just by expressing myself similarly? In my heart, I’m just doing my best to enjoy the creation from that culture.

That Mediocrity Can Pay to Greatness”

Obviously, white people can sing and participate in gospel music. But for me, it really had to do with my fears of rejection, being misunderstood, and accidentally offending people. I needed to feel like I was permitted by this people group to do these things. These are big worries and concerns for a (recovering) people-pleaser like myself. If I’m really true to myself, then I say…bring on the gospel rooted music! Let it dive into my being and bring up the treasure of my soul. Let me try my best to imitate what’s been done even though it will have my own racial and cultural stylings too, because as the quote says in full…

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness

So, I’ve come to realize that some people will misunderstand me, others will critique me, and still others will cheer me on in this endeavor. But in the end, I need to decide how I will feel about me. I need to be true to myself and that means I need to freely sing gospel from time to time. It means that I will hold my head high, unashamed, as I respectfully engage more in this style of music. I can be white and sing gospel – and that’s not being dishonoring of my African American friends, but rather celebrating them and their cultural heritage!

Leadership, My Story, Praise and Worship, Voice

I am a Private Voice Teacher

I am a Private Voice Teacher…

Not many people know the ins and outs of the profession I chose. It’s not one that gets put on display often and it’s done in the privacy of my own home. Each day I get the excitement of partnering with people to improve their voices, specifically singing voices! I am a private voice teacher. Others might call me a vocal coach. Some say singing teacher. No matter the term, it all leads back to the same idea. I teach people how to use their voice in a way that it’ll last for a long time to come (health) and sound pleasing to the ear (tone). 

My Home Music Studio

I love it. It’s as simple as that. I. Love. It. When I began studying voice, it was because I loved to sing, but now it’s morphed to loving seeing my students sing. We rejoice together over an improvement, we problem solve together to get the voice to reach new heights and goals. We talk together when it’s just plain hard to sing due to emotions and we come out with a song on our voices and a smile on our faces. I’ve come to see how much of a wholistic art and process that voice teaching really is. It’s not solo, it’s a partnership. It’s not just the vocal mechanism, it’s the whole being – body, mind, and spirit/soul. 

Academic Plus More…

Me Teaching During a Voice Lesson

I began teaching with the model of academic musical goals due to my college experience. It’s been great to have the structure of classical music and style. However, teaching from a private studio has brought all sorts of singers to my door. I’ve had the classical singers, the rock band singers, the international singers, the musical singers, the church singers, etc. Each new student brings new goals into the studio and I’ve acted as a detective to tease out the best way to teach each person and help them with their goals. It’s often looked different from the requirements of an academic setting and it’s made me a more rounded teacher.

Teaching Voice and its Effects

I don’t think I can begin to explain quite fully what teaching gives to me and how it changes me on a regular basis. The highs and lows are there and each of them are connected to a person… a student… a partnership. We are on the mountain together and in the muck and mire together. We wade through the intense work and soar to new heights when we’ve had breakthroughs. Perhaps the most surprising thing has been the relational side of lessons. A student and teacher must be connected enough to be vulnerable in singing and teaching; in trying new things and new ways of doing things; in sharing why we’re not 100% focused during that days lesson. Because of this close connection to my students, I feel with them as they go through the non-singing parts of their lives too. 

Me and My Student of More thank Ten Years!

Try and Then Try Some More

But on the practical level… We sing! They sing their song and I suggest trying it this way or that. They sing again. I suggest a repeat or a different technique or trick to try. They sing again. The students who willingly try and try again, whether it’s two times or ten times, will succeed. They will strengthen their voices and become more self aware of their whole singing mechanism. They will listen with new ears and make minute adjustments that only they and I know about in order to change their sound, get out a note, or paint a phrase with tone color.

My Student Tuning the Guitar for Her Voice Lesson

These students of mine… they are awesome! I’ve had so many students that work hard and use their whole hearts to go at it again and again. I’m so impressed with the focus my students have shown me over the years and even when they’re not taking lessons, they keep at it! They keep practicing the things they’ve been taught. Teaching voice is seriously one of my top rewarding experiences. Not just one experience, but each lesson is a repeated joyful experience. Thank you, my students, for all that you’ve taught me and given me over the years. I’m so super blessed to have you as part of my life story.

One of the Many Triumphs…

With that, I’ll leave you with a song that two of my students co-wrote and then recorded live and then released as a new single this weekend! It’s a Praise & Worship song called To The One. The male lead singer and the female background vocalist in the video below are students that have touched my life and teaching experience.

‘To The One’ written & performed by Kyle Howard & Joanna Machen
My Story, Voice

Embracing the Musician Within

Not a Music Nerd

Let me be honest. Sometimes the things I am most passionate about, I play off as having only a passing fancy. I cover up my excitement so that I don’t come across as immature or uncool. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as the person with only this one interest or seem obsessed and with nothing else to talk about. No, I want to be well-rounded. I even went to a liberal arts college that gives a person an educational experience across multiple disciplines. But what happens to those things I’m truly passionate about when I push them aside?

Go Royals! Bethel, my Alma Mater.

Losing Myself…

Reflecting on my childhood, I realize that somewhere along the way, I took on so many interests that my highest ‘joy-giver-interests’ started to get watered down. I started to question, ‘Who am I really?’ and ‘What’s actually important to me?’ I thought, ‘I feel like X is important to me, but so-and-so really has a good argument for Y being important. So, maybe I should rethink that and move towards Y.’ This happened over and over again and each time I chose to put my passion in a box for the sake of another’s passion, mine got buried deeper and deeper. No, it wasn’t completely gone, but it wasn’t at the forefront either.

Finding Myself…

Slowly, I began to see that some things just weren’t for me. They weren’t life giving and it didn’t feel like God was leading me in those directions. So, I stopped doing them. As more ‘potential interests’ got thrown out, my passions started to float to the surface once more! There was a wind on them that sent them pushing ahead and showing up in so many places. It was exciting and I felt more alive again!

Embracing the Musician Within…

Me and my music scarf!

This past year one of my greatest passions was reignited – Music! Yes, I have been doing music non-stop in a professional manner since I graduated college, but still I found myself ignoring the importance of it in my life. Very few people in my social circles seemed to have a true interest in music and when I came across those that did, we ended up talking about other things. But somehow, this year is different. Suddenly, I don’t seem to care if I am nerdy about music. I want to publicly show my love of it! My home decor changed (music lamp, music mugs, etc) and even some of my fashion accents (see scarf in photo). I sought out other musicians to talk to and felt joy and excitement rise again inside of me!

Me and a piano that Handel (composer of ‘The Hallelujah Chorus’) frequently played!

I’m not afraid to say, ‘I am a musician!’ I love music. It helps me express things that I can’t put into words. It helps me process underlying emotions. I am a singer! When I sing out, I feel like I’m soaring along with my voice to a new land that’s full of adventure and the unknown! I am a music professional! I can ‘talk-shop’ with other musicians and know that I have something to say because of my years of practice, teaching, and observing. So, bring it on! Let me sing! Let my voice be heard! This is who I am… (at least in part)… and it’s such an important part.

If we find ourselves feeling dull in life, then let’s look at what we’re giving time and energy to. How many of these things are life-giving to us? Do we purposely carve out time to interact with our passions? Are we constantly trying new things at the expense of what brings us joy? Are we letting go of things that ‘clutter’ our space for our higher passions? It’s so important to remember that when we move those things out, we’ll have more room to explore the passions that God has put inside each one of us. They’ll be life-giving, hope-filling, and joy-bringing!

Leadership, My Story, Praise and Worship, Voice

Perfection to Praise – Part 2

Perfection to Praise

A wise friend said to me, ‘Leading praise and worship is not about perfection (self-focus), but about bringing people into the presence of God (God-focus).’ When I first heard this it jarred me. Was she saying that she didn’t think I could lead worship from a heart of praise, but that I’d be longing for perfection and the affirmations from people instead? Whoa! Time out! I had to think about this. I dearly loved my friend and knew that she was not saying this to hurt me, but rather to challenge me. Since I also dearly loved God, I didn’t want to do this worship stuff ‘wrong.’ But even that response was self-focused. My mindset was so focused on the ‘right’ and the ‘wrong’ way to do things that even in this, I was using a perfectionistic mindset.

Praise of Man or Praise to God…

Because of my friend’s caution to study my heart before jumping on the church stage, I paused and considered my motives. I still participated in the praise choir weekends and even co-led them. I really enjoyed doing this. I also led a group of carolers in the Christmas season for multiple years and this group had the opportunity to join up with a local music store and carol around at area businesses! Finally, I served on the kids worship team, but I still didn’t move forward with trying out for the worship team because I just couldn’t figure out if my motives were to perform and hear praises from people or to truly lead a congregation with a heart turned fully towards God.


I also had a hidden insecurity. What if I wasn’t good enough? I was asked once, just once, to do background vocals at a leader’s meeting many years ago. It didn’t go well. In my defense, I had barely any practice, not a lot of feedback or input, and I wasn’t confident in harmonizing since all of my experience was in singing the melody! But this realization, that if I was going to be on the worship team I’d have to begin with harmonizing, was terrifying. For me, it was SO MUCH EASIER to sing the melody than come up with harmonies on my own. So, I practiced in the audience for many years. When it was time to sing, I’d turn my heart to God and also try out some harmonizing in the safety of a thousand voices.

Where am I now?

Today, I trust my heart enough to sing with purity of praise to my wonderful Heavenly Father. I can even harmonize much more confidently and accurately. But the stage of life that I’m in makes being a regular member of a worship team a very difficult task. I don’t feel like God is calling me to sing on-stage right now. Instead, I have the privilege to teach on-stage vocalists and see them improve and go further because of proper voice use! My heart bursts into praise as I lift my voice with my students and the congregants around me. But, God’s stirring something else. He’s been talking to me about honing this skill and being self-led in worship. So, I’m learning to play piano chords and sing at the same time in the private space of my home. Jesus and me… and my little kiddos, playing in the swirl of music, voice, and praise.

Check out my earlier post leading up to this time: Perfection to Praise – Part 1

My Story, Praise and Worship, Voice

Perfection to Praise – Part 1

Worship Thread

Years ago, God challenged me to reconsider my motives for leading worship on stage. Some might be surprised that I would write on worship because outwardly, it doesn’t look like I have much to do with the worship community. However, I’ve been connected to it here and there throughout the years since high school. More recently, I’ve been involved through teaching voice lessons to many worship leaders.

So, as I reflect on my past , I see the connections woven throughout. I’ve been on the church stage my entire life. My earliest known solo was when I was a pre-schooler! From there, I’ve been involved in as many weekend services and special events as children and teens are welcome to participate in. Those were all fun and I loved being on the stage. But, my true ‘praise & worship’ participation began in high school. I was already a performer at heart and so it was natural to join the youth worship team as one of the singers. I LOVED singing with this group. When we went on our mission trip, I got to sing with the band there too! What a thrill. Truly, I would be happy to sing anywhere and at any time.

Singing onstage at church as a pre-schooler

Studying Music…

When I got to college, I didn’t sing on a praise team anymore, but I was constantly on-stage. Most of my time was spent studying music and performing with my academic groups rather than doing music recreationally or with my church. I spent hours practicing solo and chorus songs. I applied technique and really got to know my voice and how to manage it and make it go where it needed to go. I thoroughly enjoyed this process, but my performance mindset was shifting. The world of musical study is often associated with working towards perfection. I still experienced great joy in singing, but a lot of it was filled with being constantly aware of how ‘on target’ I was in my tonality. Of course, I didn’t notice the subtle shift happening inwardly, but I did know that every day I wanted to work towards improvement and get better and better.

My college choir singing in Europe! (I’m in the middle front)

Life After College…

When I graduated, I received my Bachelor’s of Music in Applied Performance: Vocal Emphasis. After my choir toured in Europe, I got married and moved to a new state to prepare for my next stage of life: being the wife to a Physics PhD student! I had already been teaching voice lessons during college, but stopped for the first year of marriage as I adjusted to what my new life would be like. I worked full time in a non-music job for the next four years. After a year of not teaching, I had to get back into it. A part of me really was missing without it. So, I started teaching again and little by little grew my voice studio to a part-time business. At the same time, I got involved in my local worship community by co-leading the praise choir at our worship leader’s invitation.

Perfection to Praise…

During this time, I became good friends with a worship background vocalist. I talked with her about being on the worship team as a background vocalist and what that would be like. The only thing I remember from that conversation was her remark that ‘leading praise and worship is not about perfection (self-focus), but about bringing people into the presence of God (God-focus).’ This really got me thinking about my heart behind wanting to be on the team. Was it for worship and praise to God or for perfection and praise from people?

more to come on my heart journey of worship…