Filed under: Activate, Culture, Faith and Faith Life, Media & Art, Missions, Music | Tags: audition, light, love, shadows, Songs, songwriting, Theology
Sunday, July 15 2012: Teaching from Colossians 2:15-17, our pastor spoke on what he calls “God’s shadow activity.” For over 25 years, as a professor and expert in theology, he has tried to make sense of the God we see on the Cross -who abhors wars and violence, taught us to turn the other cheek and sacrifice ourselves in love for even our enemies, and expressed that core truth in the most inconceivable way when He suffered a God-forsaken death by crucifixion – and the God of the Old Testament who seems, at times, to have been a genocidal, ethno-centric maniac who commanded Israel time and again to slaugher hundreds of thousands of men, women, children, infants. Our pastor’s theory – which makes sense to me and finally articulats both the tension I’ve always sensed in the contradiction and a reasonable reconciliation – is that these were God’s “shadow activites.” That just as a shadow acts as a negative contrast to what is real, and in so doing points to reality, so these situations show God not as He is, but as He is not. They show Him bearing their sin as His own, and thereby showing who He really is: the selfless Savior. Rather than denying and rebuking their behavior altogether from the get-go, as His true character does (which we see fully in the person, teachings, and life of Jesus), He becomes one of them (in Christ, but also as “The God of Israel”), takes on their sin as His own (even though He himself knows no sin and abhors the sin), and shows Himself to be quite the opposite of them: utterly selfless in His love for them and for all mankind….so selfless as to take on their sin to show how far He’s willing to go to win them. I can’t explain it as succinctly or adequately, and I know a lot of people will label him (and probably me also) a heretic (again) for even voicing the idea. But it makes sense to me. And it brought back to my mind a lyric I wrote who-knows-how-long-ago, “Love is not the shadow but the light that casts it on less important things.” [For a fuller understanding, listen to the sermon here (it’s worth it).]
Monday, July 16 2012: I took a pretty big risk yesterday, threw myself way out on a limb, and after being personally “sought out” by a talent producer and allowed to skip the cattle call and move straight to “call backs,” I auditioned for one of those televised karaoke contests. And I failed. Miserably. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever sung so off-key, or tried so painfully – and obviously – hard to impress people, or just been NOT myself. I don’t know what I was trying to be, other than hopefully something the judges liked. And it was stupid, because the whole reason I was invited to audition in the first place was because they DID like me already. I put way too much pressure on myself, on the audition, on the opportunity, and I seriously effed it up. They may have even laughed as I left. And so for the rest of the day, I was reliving the horror. Going, “Wow, this is what I do, and yet I can’t actually do it.” Thinking, “This is the story of my recent life: When the time comes, I am utterly incapable of doing what ought to be so basic and natural. I couldn’t have a baby without screwing up so badly that I almost died even though this is what women do. I couldn’t successfully audition for a singing contest when singing is what I do. I felt like a colossal failure. Utterly inadequate.
Today: Yesterday’s crap audition and Sunday’s sermon gelled a bit in my mind. I’ve wanted, for ages, to finish that lyric…to see it bloom into a song. But the rest of the song just wasn’t there. And truthfully, I’ve been in every place other than the Songwriting Place lately. So it slipped to the recesses of my mind. But I took it with me into yesterday’s audition, thinking “maybe this is the love…”. And as I went over and over the whole situation, I was reminded: God, HE is Love, and He doesn’t withhold any good thing. He doesn’t cast shadows over good things in order to tease us. He is the Light, and He shines the light to cast shadows on lesser things, to draw our faces to Him. To reality. To what He actually desires for us, rather than what we want Him to desire for us. He turns us from our shadowy selfish will to His glorious, inconceivable design.
I’ve been reminded over and over and over this year that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind conceived what God has planned for those who love Him.” (1 Cor 2:9) I’ve been reminded to turn my eyes to Him, to seek Him in the promise that He will be found, and to dream inconceivable things.
I think the dreams I’ve had for myself, though lofty, have been far too stereotypical and, I confess, entirely selfish. I want a massive audience to enjoy and be moved by my songs, so I can sell CDs and make a living doing not only what I love to do, but what I’m meant to do…what I can’t not do.
Every time I’ve “almost” gotten there…or developed some momentum…or had an opportunity that could or should rocket me forward…it’s gone awry, and – as time always tells – in the most beautiful ways. I’ve been given little tastes of That, and then been reminded there are better, sweeter, richer, more eternal things to be done.
There are songs to be written for and with broken people…forgotten people…people here and there and everywhere who actually own my heart even if we’ve never met. People who deserve a voice, even if it’s only mine.
I’ve been reminded that when a shadow falls over the plans I’ve drawn up for myself, it’s not the meanness of God, but His great goodness and love that cast that shadow to draw my eyes to Him.
And today…I caught a glimpse.
Today, I turned my face to the Light rather than dwelling on the shadow.
Today the words came.
“Love is Not the Shadow”
dark are the days
i am seeking your face
i am finding you are ever near
they announce where i go
as i step and stumble around here
and there are times when i feel
when i am begging to belong
and to be loved
and to be known
and you say
hope is hiding where i least expect to find it
faith grows not in what you want, but i need need and
love is not the shadow but the light that casts it
on less important things
with each new sunrise
new questions arise
and i strain to hear what you will say
as often as not
you are silent, i’m caught
by the need to trust you anyway
these are the times when i feel hopeless and alone
and i am begging to be heard
and to believe
and to behold…
when you say
hope is hiding where i least expect to find it
faith is growing not in what i want but need and
love is not the shadow but the light that casts it
on less important things
“…there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it. There is [no] device which will make pain not to be pain.” (CS Lewis, A Grief Observed)
In the days after returning home from the hospital, I had a number of heated conversations with God. I was angry that I never had the chance or opportunity to bargain with Him, and hurt that He’d seemingly cruelly left me without something that felt so essential to being me.
Oh, the things I would’ve given up in exchange for my uterus. Almost anything. Anything but what could have saved it from the start – Elijah and his daddy.
I mentally flogged myself for all those times in high school and college when I foolishly begged – pleaded – for someone to come and remove my uterus so I wouldn’t suffer those wretched, debilitating cramps ever again.
I was clueless.
I look back at those old blogs and shake my head.
I worried about losing sleep, my changing marriage, not getting showers, doing laundry, keeping a clean house, and losing my career. From the time I learned I was pregnant until May 6, 2011, my worst fear was that it’d take years to get my pre-baby body back…or that I’d never see it again. And I loathed the idea of a c-section; those scars are so ugly.
Today…not so much. I don’t get a lot of sleep, but being awake and getting to stare at and shower with kisses the most beautiful, daily-changing face in the world (without being called a creepy stalker), is sweeter than any dream I can imagine. I don’t want to miss a moment. My marriage? If entering the covenant five years ago didn’t do it, this gift and loss are creating the unbreakable bond. Showers, laundry, and home? I’m clean enough, deodorant and hats are magic, and my newborn doesn’t care about clean parents, clothes, or floors. And my career? Surely more songs will come; they always do. But for now, my son, his father, and my Savior are the only songs I want to sing, and the only ones I want to sing them for.
About those pounds I so feared…It’s three weeks out and I’ve lost 32 of the 37 pounds I gained during pregnancy (roughly 2lbs of that was the uterus I lost…). Already I miss the weight and all it represented. I look in the mirror and wonder if I ever really did have a baby inside me. I can’t imagine a greater insult than, “You look like you were never pregnant!” Especially now that I know it can’t ever happen again.
And that scar? Thank God for that precious scar. It’s my proof. If the weekly pictures and maternity photos are worth a thousand words each, my scar is the definitive word. That’s all I need: the one word.
I get why Jesus cherishes and celebrates His scars. They mean…everything.
Anyway, as grief goes, I don’t know how it works, but I’m sure it’s happening as I speak. And there’s no way around grief but to go through it.
As Lewis said…”there’s nothing you can do with suffering but to suffer it;” nothing that can make the pain anything but what it is. All we can do is hope to find suffering’s partner, comfort, somewhere along the way.
Even if Comfort is simply to be “sharing in the sufferings of Christ.”
Filed under: africa, Baby, Culture, Faith and Faith Life, Home Life, Humanitarianism, Media & Art, Missions, Music, Politics
Having realized January 1, 2011 was not only the beginning of a new year but a new decade as well, I feel obligated to contribute yet another top ten list to the great expansive black hole that is “Top Ten Lists From Random Users of Facebook, The Blogosphere, and Other Social Networking Utilities.”
Now, of course, because 2010 was a rather significant year in my personal history, there will inevitably be some carry-over, and the year will provide two equally significant memories, which do not “tie” for first, but which cannot be discluded here either. The same thing happens in 2001 and in a couple other years. But only because each of the significant happenings of those years are too significant to leave out of this story.
This will surely be an exercise in both memory (which will be entertaining not only because it’s fun, but because pregnant-woman memory is notoriously hole-y) and creativity (as I will try to only choose the best of the best and/or most significant of the significant memories, and find an accompanying photo to boot. Disclaimer: There will be times when no photo is retrievable aside from me digging through my attic and employing the scanner…in which case no photo will be applied. Because I am lazy today).
So once again, here goes.
IN THE YEAR 2000, I was half-way through my freshman year at Oak Hills Christian College, during which time I not only neglected to vote in the first elections for which I was actually eligible to vote (bad news), but I also performed for the first time with a band (good news). I tried my best at (and did an OK job of) rocking out to Jennifer Knapp’s “Into You” from her second studio album, ‘Lay It Down.’ This was the beginning of what would later become “something.”
IN THE YEAR 2001, some rather passionate and – if I may say – crazy men crashed three planes into the Twin Towers and near the Pentagon, and I paid $5/gallon for gasoline. No one wants to remember the gruesomeness of 9/11/01, much less the snowball of events it set in motion…least of all me. But in reality, this was the moment of the year. This was the event they were all referring to when they told me, “For every person, there will be an event so culturally and socially significant that she will be able to look back and remember exactly where she was, what she was doing, and what thoughts crossed her mind when the event struck.” For many in my parents’ generation, that day was – until 9/11, anyway – the day JFK was assassinated. For all of us, 9/11 will forever be that day.
Later in 2001, I met Jennifer Knapp for the first time. She does not remember meeting me then. I would not expect her to, but I nevertheless have the picture to prove it. It is significant for reasons to come.
IN THE YEAR 2002, I made the first record I was ever going to make of some pretty amazingly crappy songs. And thanks to my fellow Oakies (that’s what we students at Oak Hills Christian College called ourselves when we were feeling particularly sentimental and/or stupid), the word got out that this girl Amy Courts made music. (I pray, to this day, that all copies of those early recordings have been either lost or destroyed. God forbid anyone should ever be subjected to that awful noise ever again.) (And once again, no photo can be provided. You’ll just have to trust me: it happened. And it really was that bad.)
IN THE YEAR 2003, I graduated from college. I don’t have a picture to prove it – well, actually, I’m sure I do, but I’m not going to dig it out. I do have a diploma to prove it, which I’m also not going to dig out and scan. But it did happen. And I have made little use of my college education since. After that, I moved to Nashville TN to begin the career I was never meant to have…in professional musical performance. For the previous four years – all throughout my college career – I was dead set against a career having anything to do with music. Never mind that writing songs was easily the most satisfying and natural thing to do. Never mind all those Oakies who said, “you really should think about doing this for a living.” Never mind all that. Because I was NOT going to be “that girl” who moved to Nashville to become a singer and became a waitress instead. But alas…when God closes one door… Or rather, when God slams every. single. other. available door in your face, you go through the lone open door. So when the Denver doors slammed…and the Nebraska doors slammed…and the other doors slammed…there stood one lonely open door, behind which stood this rather amazing girl named Katie Spain who willingly offered a home to a perfect stranger. She is now my best friend. (Sorry, no photos of those early days in Nashville, or of me and Katie, so a picture of me with Katie’s daughters will have to suffice.)
IN THE YEAR 2004, I met Paul Koopman, the unbelievable singer/songwriter who’s voice and songs so immediately melted me that I felt compelled to fearlessly approach him (which I NEVER do…or did…until then) to praise his undeniable talent. This began a professional relationship that would later turn, uh, well, pretty personal. He was, after all, the man who would later become my husband. That’s pretty significant…and (lucky you) self-explanatory.
IN THE YEAR 2005, after nearly 18 months of dating – nine of which were long distance (which, might I add, is not for the faint of heart) – that man proposed to me. Also significant and self-explanatory.
IN THE YEAR 2006, a number of really significant things happened, so I’ll only tell you the top two. First of all, we got married. This is a big deal. So big, it was the biggest thing to ever happen to me up until that point. It was the best day of my life up til then, but – I’m happy to say – has been exceeded by even happier days in the nearly five years since then. Amazing, eh? OH! And guess what else I got when I got married? Not just a husband…a stepson too. Who is, for the record, the greatest 14 year old on the planet (and I dare anyone to challenge that).
And the other big thing that happened in 2006 was that I (finally, after nearly two years of working on it) released my debut EP. Again, a significant accomplishment not only because it was the reason for which I moved to Nashville in the first place, but also because these were seven songs I was truly proud to give to the world (for $.99/each or $10/album, thankyouverymuch). As it were, that album is still available for your purchase and enjoyment today. (Like how I did that? What kind of artist would I be if I didn’t slip a sale or two in here…? On that note, if you want to purchase the album or individual songs, simply click on the photo to be redirected to my store. MAN I’m good at this!)
IN THE YEAR 2007, having decided (with the blessing of my husband) to quit my job and do this musical career full-on, balls-to-the-wall, I went on my first tour. This was a very big, impressive thing for me. I sent out hundreds of emails, made hundreds of phone calls, and (with the equal effort and help of my enduring tour mate and fellow indie artist Katy Kinard), set about playing something like 10 or 12 shows in 14 days…over Easter…in Kansas and Colorado. It was a rather huge step for us both, and more fun than I can say, despite that I somehow caught a cold that nearly killed me by the end (and despite that I returned from those 14 days with nodules on my vocal cords). What an incredible experience!
IN THE YEAR 2008, I released my second album, a full length record with 10 of my most favorite songs. It was a bit of a bigger deal than the first (if you can imagine) simply because of everything we invested – time, energy, soul, money – to make it exactly what I wanted and needed it to be. It was also the first time I even considered – much less followed through with – recording a song written by someone else. But not only did I record the song; I took the album’s title from its lyrics. So if anyone is wondering why the song “Breathe” is so outstandishly brilliant compared to the other nine songs on the record, now you know: It’s because Paul Koopman (yes, my husband) wrote it. (Again, if you’re curious to hear and/or purchase the record, simply click on the album cover below. Wink, wink.)
IN THE YEAR 2009, once again, two pretty amazing things happened, neither of which can be left out of this. Actually, three incredible things. I’ll start with the least incredible. First, in April and September of 2009 I ran my first half marathons (13.1 miles). It doesn’t sound that exciting, considering that literally hundreds of thousands of people cover this distance at hundreds of thousands of races every year. But for me – the girl who never even ran until 2004, and who certainly never saw herself covering any distance greater than 3 miles at a time – it was pretty huge. And it was the gateway into one of the most satisfying and rewarding things I do: run distances. Running long distances has saved me from a) going crazy, b) getting morbidly obese (thanks to the way too much food I consume; again: I run to eat), and c) devolving back into a grossly insecure person who controlled her life by anorexia. Running is perhaps the greatest lesson one will learn regarding what the body can do, and even more significantly what the mind can do…with the proper training and care.
In October 2009, I finally traveled to Gulu, Uganda…a place to which my heart had been aching to journey for three years prior. There’s no short way of telling that story, except to say it did exactly what I expected and feared it would do: change me, utterly and irrevocably. (The long story, for those who are interested, can be read here or by clicking on the picture below.)
And finally, upon returning to the States after those 10 incredible days in Gulu, the third significant thing happened: Jennifer Knapp – my favorite singer/songwriter of all time, who seven years prior simply vanished from the earth (well, OK, from the music scene anyway) – reappeared. She started following me on Twitter; she added me to her top friends on Myspace; and then – miracle of miracles – she came to one of my shows, specifically to see me, and liked it. She liked it so much that three weeks later she invited me to join her on stage at the Belcourt Theater here in Nashville and sing with her on some of my favorite of her songs. It was surreal. It was magical. And it really. Did. Happen. And THEN we became friends. (And I pinched myself about ten times daily, thinking, “What is happening? To what magical universe have I been transported where dreams really do come true!? This MUST be some hidden-camera Disney movie…”)
AND IN THE YEAR 2010, well…you all know the Top Ten (and Top Two) happenings last year! I went on tour with not just one, but TWO of my musical heroes: Jennifer Knapp AND Derek Webb (you can see that post here, or click the photo below)…
…And I made a Baby with Paul Koopman!
I HAVE NO IDEA what 2011 or the decade ahead holds. But if it’s even half as good – and I trust it will be, given that the God I serve and am continually amazed by makes a habit of outdoing Himself all the time – I will be an evermore satisfied woman. And that’s really all I can hope for.
Cheers to the next ten years!
Filed under: Activate, Culture, Faith and Faith Life, Humanitarianism, Media & Art, Missions, Music, Politics | Tags: art, donations, Faith, hope, Humanitarianism, international missions, justice, local service, love, Music, salvation, service
In the midst of the current political climate as we all explore the foreign and economic issues that will inevitably (and have already, in so many ways, proven to) define a generation of a nation, it’s often difficult to pull out the lens and widen the perspective. To remember to look at things in terms of morality and individual responsibility, and bring the health and progress of our country – and our world – back to our own level, taking it into our own hands.
But then there are times we hear or read encouraging clips reminding us that ultimately, we have the power to change and rearrange the way things are. In fact, it is the calling for which we’ve been especially enabled.
Over the past couple days, I’ve stumbled across some incredibly engaging and empowering stories of people like you and me refusing to leave our world and its care – especially that of the least of these – in the hands of politicians, or really, anyone else. These people refuse to assume anyone else will do what must be done and choose to use their voices to empower the weak and provide for the orphan and widow.
Yesterday, I read Relevant magazine’s review of the Art*Music*Justice tour with Sara Groves, Drek Webb, Sandra McCracken, Brandon Heath, and Charlie Peacock. And while the article certainly highlighted the sickening ability of the artists to weave melodies and lyrics in such a beautiful way, the focus of the article was on emphasizing the purpose of these artists whose mission is to use song, video, and prose to engage and empower listeners, driving them to action on behalf of worldwide victims of injustice. And as an artist and singer-songwriter, I have to say how righteously jealous I am of these artist’s ability to tell a story of injustice and hope in song. It is such a struggle for me to get out of my own head and thoughts and write about issues more important than me, especially because I feel so inexperienced in the writing. But they inspire me…to go, see, experience, and bring it back as fuel for the engine that will drive us to the end of poverty, sex trafficing, genocide, and all worldwide injustice.
And it all leads me to one inevitable conclusion. If we, who even in the midst of economic crisis, are still among one of the wealthiest nations on earth, then certainly we have the means to act on behalf of those Christ loves. No longer is it simply an opportunity, or even an obligation or responsibility (though I do believe, given the commands of Christ and the sheer volume of Scripture’s references to making the care of orphan and widow our primary concern, as they are His dearest).
Instead, it is our greatest honor.
That we humans who so often find thousands of reasons to avoid others and focus on ourselves have been not only commissioned with the care of the victims and impoverished, but entrusted with their care tells us that not only does God want this from us and for them, but that He believes we can do it because He – the Almighty God of the univerise – has equipped us to accomplish it.
Besides the fact that our God is so passionate for the fatherless and the widow that He has embedded in each of us a similar passion (that only needs to be uncovered), it is the greatest hope to realize He has chosen and specifically equipped we who love Him and love what and who He loves to accomplish His will among the least of these.
My heart bursts with fiery passion that you would know the deep riches of the love of Christ, and to pour this same love on those He so desperately loves and longs to see us serve. There is no such great hope, nothing so exciting or empowering among politicians, no matter who we each believe ought to be the next President of the United States.
Ultimately, beloved ones, we are the ones with the tools to change the world. We have been entrusted with the care of the victim, with stewardship of the Created earth, with the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual development of our children, and most importantly, with the love of Christ going into the world. We are His ambassadors whose fight is for justice and peace around the world.
This is our charge; this is our responsibility; this is our honor.
Let us not sit idly by waiting for someone else to do what is only ours to do!
GET INVOLVED THROUGH ANY OF THESE (AND SO MANY MORE) ORGANIZATIONS:
(Give a one-time gift to any of these organizations and watch it go for miles):
Freedom’s Promise (rescuing victims of sex trafficing and restoring hope through freedom)
Blood:Water Mission (digging wells and providing medicine to meet the two greatest needs of Africans today: clean water and clean blood)
Charity:Water (100% of donations taken in are applied to clean water projects throughout Africa)
ONE (Eliminating poverty worldwide)
Food for the Hungry (FHI provides the basic physical needs of children worldwide while developing programs for education, spiritual development, and international advocacy.)
(Make a monthly committment to supporting individual children and village projects with as little as $7 per month)
Mocha Club (This organization, with which I’m an artist sponsor, takes $7 per month – the cost of two mochas – and funds the development of orphanages, rescue villages, universities, medical facilities, and more throughout the continent of Africa. Bonus: If you join my team supporting the Child Mothers Village of Hope in Gulu, Uganda, you get FREE downloads of BOTH my CDs!)
Compassion International (Through Compassion, we can sponsor children from almost everywhere in the world, and with just $32 per month provide for their education, medical care, clothing, food, and future hope.)
World Vision (Similar to Compassion, one person with about $30 per month can become a child’s sponsor and watch their growth and development over the course of their youth.)
USE YOUR HANDS (Donate Your Time)
(Call your local organization headquarters and get involved on the ground either in your own hometown or around the globe through any of these organizations.)
Habitat for Humanity (HH not only builds houses for lower-income families, but offers financial and lifestyle coaching for all its receipients while giving everyday people an almost weekly opportunity to serve our neighbors.)
Youth for Christ (Contact your local branch and find out how you can serve the youth in your community by either coaching a group or hosting a party, etc.)
Goodwill Industries, Salvation Army, etc. (Locate your nearest store and ask the manager how you can volunteer.)
Mercy Ships (Join a Mercy Ships crew for a minimum of one year and be part of saving lives through providing FREE major medical operations and basic health care for the impoverished in Africa and the region.)
American Peace Corps (Similar to Mercy Ships, you can join for a year and travel the globe meeting basic needs of people in thousands of impoverished or developing areas.)
Contact Your Local Homeless Shelter, Domestic Violence Shelter, or Teen Shelter and find out how you can help, whether by volunteering your time (or gathering a group to serve), or gathering goods for their use.