amy courts: en route


Light and Shadows

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
branches below
they announce where i go
as i step and stumble around here

and there are times when i feel
hopelessly alone
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



Trading Futures
May 5, 2012, 11:15 am
Filed under: Baby, Faith and Faith Life, Home Life, Music, Travel

Tomorrow we celebrate one whole year with my sweet Elijah David. I can hardly believe it. This past year has simultaneously flown by and granted me hundreds and hundreds of honey moments that drip and drizzle so slowly I can still savor them.

The year has taken us on some wild adventures through near-death and baby-tours to a brand new city where we’re still in the process of making our first house the home we’ll grow old in.

The year has taken me from the highest heights to the deepest depths and back up again, and left me lingering at times in a lost limbo of in-between. Sometimes I’m able to climb with Rocky-esque ease to the top of the mountain where I do nothing but celebrate the journey. Other times, the climb is a mountain marathon I can’t even begin, much less finish. Sometimes the descent is a peaceful journey down into the valley where I’m able to rest despite the depths. Other times, it’s like a free fall whose crash landing leaves me bruised and broken all over again. Lately, the journey has been across rolling hills that scale both hills and valleys over and over again, leaving me exhausted at each day’s end.

This morning, as I was cleaning the bathroom (company is coming!), I was stabbed by a pang of self-pity and doubt. I was nearly overtaken by that old toxic lie, “God is punishing you.” For what, I’ll never know. I go over and over the events of that day, thinking to death what I could or should have done differently. I always land in the same place: I did everything right in pregnancy. I was as healthy as I could be. For medical reasons, at the behest of the professionals, we chose to induce, but that should have been safe and uncomplicated. And yet…

Cycling on repeat… “I did everything right, God. Why did you take this away? Why did you rob me of this future?”

And then. I remembered back to the summer of 2002, when I was engaged to someone else. How we did everything right. More than ever before, I was following at God’s heels, stepping exactly where He directed my feet. I was obedient. I was chasing Him. I was devout! And I was…oh, I was crushed. For having done everything right, it ended in utter disaster. I was angry, hopeless, replaying those same words… “I did everything right, God. Why did you take this away? Why did you rob me of this future?”

God is so good to remind me.

Because now, I see now.

I see my husband, whose love is deeper than any depths I’ve sunk to; whose grace is wider than any desert I’ve wandered. Whose long-suffering is…well, loooooong suffering. I see my best friend, my lover, confidant, provider…my champion. The man who scales walls with me and for me, who carries me through and abides my tantrums. Who celebrates me – and us – in ways only I can appreciate. He is the best expression I’ve found of God’s perfect love for me.

I see our son. This perfect, blessed boy who draws from me more exuberant joy than I ever dared imagine. Whose smile, I’m certain, could light the world on a dark night. Whose hugs and kisses smother me in inexpressible cheer. Whose cries stir in me a cast-iron will to surrender life, limb, and soul to see him safe and at rest. The boy for whom I would endure infinite hell to ensure he’ll never see its gates.

I see our life. This life I never deserved and never would have had if the other future I’d so desperately wanted and “done right” for played out in reality. This life I wouldn’t trade for a thousand other “good” – but not “this” – lives.

And I am reminded:

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind conceived what God has planned for those who love Him.”

Just as surely as He took one future away in order to give me a better, more perfect one back in 2002…so He will do is doing again.

I hope in glory for the day I see its unimaginable fruit.



Conceiving the Inconceivable
January 5, 2012, 11:18 am
Filed under: Activate, africa, Baby, Faith and Faith Life, Home Life, Music

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” -Shel Silverstein

I ran across this quote this morning. I pondered it. I thought about it along with something I’ve been considering for a few weeks now: that perhaps my fear and paralysis, my eternal worry about my professional life, is my own doing. My own responsibility. My own failure to believe and really internalize what is both simple and true… that I am meant to dream inconceivable dreams so that God can out-do them and so prove Himself bigger and better than I’ve ever imagined.

“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – C.S. Lewis

I’ve spent a long time being afraid I’m asking too much, expecting too much, wanting too much, hoping too much. I should know better. In one year – 2010 – I watched, in stunned jaw-dropped-ness, while God brought me home from Africa (where He taught me what it is to surrender) only to meet and tour with my two musical heroes, Jennifer Knapp and Derek Webb; then, for the first time ever, gave me exactly what I asked for in the exact context which I asked: I got pregnant “accidentally” and found out on my birthday.

So I ought to know better than anyone why we should ask for more than we can ever imagine having…because God is in the business of doing the inconceivable for those who love Him and ask it, with hope and expectant confidence.

But it’s taken so long to even recognize the concept, much less believe it. It is still a struggle for me to actively believe that God wants to give me amazing things. But if the Apostle Paul was telling the truth, then He has already planned the inconceivable for me.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind conceived what God has planned for those who love Him…” – 1 Cor 2:9

The only question, then, is what I find inconceivable. I’m beginning to believe that the less inconceivable it is to me, the  bigger God is allowed to be.

In all of this, my dreams are shifting. They’re not as much for me anymore, but for Elijah.

I may never change the world. But my son can. And the most powerful thing I can give him is a taste for the Inconceivable.

May Elijah ever know that the impossible is always possible; That he can literally be anything he wants to be, and do anything he wants to do; That what’s inconceivable to him is small potatoes to his Infinite God whose dreams for him are bigger than even mine.

And may I only ever empower and equip him with tools of courage, hope, faith, fearlessness, boldness, confidence, and above all love – for God and others – that he might dwell in the truth that no matter how small he is or may feel, his God is infinite.

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.” – Maximus

Oh, that he would echo.



…But You Will Be Safe In My Arms…
September 4, 2011, 9:27 am
Filed under: Baby, Home Life, Music

I very nearly bawled my little green eyes out this morning all over the clothes I was folding.

Why?

As ever: because of a song.

I was listening to Plumb’s “In My Arms” (which is FREE at Noisetrade right now, along with 5 other pieces of musical honey) for the first time since having a baby. I used to think that song was a little cheesy. But now I’m a mom. I get it. And there’s no cheese about it. Except maybe the sweet, cream cheese icing kind of cheese.

Anyway. It’s going so fast. Too fast. Elijah is rocketing skyward. He’s talking and giggling and – I swear – holding entire conversations with me and others in a language that can only be described as Screech. And before I know it, he won’t want to talk to or be around me anymore, and after that he might want to, but he won’t need to. He’ll be a grown man, showering his own beloved wife with kisses and diapering his own babies’ perfect little butts.

How do mom’s do this?

A few days ago I was wondering if music is done with me. Now I’m not entirely sure I’m not done with it.

No, I’m not done with it.

But it is, at best, a back burner love these days, a tool I’ll use only as often as needed to say to this boy what no other form of communication can convey.

I just don’t want to miss a second of Elijah’s fleeting days. I want to soak in every one.



The Thing About House Shows Is…
August 29, 2011, 11:41 am
Filed under: Faith and Faith Life, Music, Travel

…they’re not just about giving private concerts to a select group of uber-special people (though they are that, too). They’re about fellowship. Storytelling. They are, to me (as an artist), the quintessential picture of the Church as it was back in the Day. People gathering to eat, talk, share burdens, and be lifted…through music and message and hope and just being together.

I love house shows because even when I enter the home of someone I’ve never met or even spoken to, I leave with a few new Great Big Family members. I have new friends I know will listen if I need an ear, and who know I’ll listen too.

There are plenty of artists out there who would prefer to do big stage shows, who don’t do a lot of intimate interacting with their frands* and I get why: some are huge and famous and it’s just unrealistic; for others, they simply prefer to keep their professional and personal lives very separate. That’s just not me. My music is a pretty major expression of who I am and what goes on in my head, so sharing it with people is inviting them into a deeper place anyway. Why not make it even more Real by making it a shared, listen/listen experience, rather than a one-sided singer/audience one? You invite me into your living room, I’ll invite you into my writing space. You feed my belly, I’ll try to feed your spirit.

Anyway, that to say I’m looking very much forward to another round of House Shows with one Ms. Bethany Dick-Olds in a few weeks. We’ll be hitting some spots again, like Spartanburg, SC and Asheboro, NC, and a few new ones as well, like Greensboro, NC and Philadelphia, PA. If you’re anywhere nearby – or somewhere along that route – give me a shout. We’d love to come share with you!

*Frand:
Noun.
1. A fan of one’s professional artwork who has become a personal friend.



Celebrity vs. Things That Actually Matter
August 24, 2011, 10:45 pm
Filed under: Activate, Culture, Missions, Music, Travel

God always speaks most clearly when I least expect it. Usually when I’m wallowing.

Take tonight, for example. I was browsing Jeremy Cowart’s unbelievable photography, clicking through gallery after gallery of people famous, beautiful, and/or rich enough to hire him. (Oh, that I had the money to pay him to make me look like a celebrity. Ha!) A small seed of jealousy set in and I began to think, “Why can’t I be important enough for someone to become my manager and make me famous and hire Jeremy to take my picture for a magazine or an album cover or something very cool that would show the world how truly unique and important I am? Woe is me; woe is me indeed.”

Yes, I confess: I am addicted to myself, and sometimes it’s rears its head like that one really scary scene in Lord of the Rings when the elf queen lady Galadrial gets that wonky voice and looks like a skeleton and starts talking about ruling the world…you know, when Frodo is practically sleep-walking? Anyway, that’s how I look when I get like this.

Anyway, so back to the point: Tonight, I was doing that…looking at amazing photos of disturbingly beautiful and famous people and wishing I was like them and wondering why I’m not, when I skipped to the next gallery – the “Voices of Haiti” gallery.

After the devastating earthquake of 2010, Jeremy took a team down to Port-Au-Prince, where they documented the aftermath. He says in the gallery’s intro, “After the 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti on January 12th of this year, I was deeply moved as most of you were. For days I watched as the television flashed images of gloom and doom… dead bodies, crumbled buildings… It just felt like a heartless display of numbers and statistics. ‘How were the people feeling?’ I wondered. I was tired of hearing endless reports from strangers that just arrived to this devastated nation. So I decided to go to Port-Au-Prince myself and ask them directly. My question was simply ‘What do you have to say about all this?’ This photo essay reveals the many answers to that question.”

As I scrolled through the photos of homeless, broken, lost, and abandoned men, women, and children who’d lost house, home, life, livelihood, and family members, I was struck again by the simple truth that while we know almost none of their names (except, perhaps, Jeremy & crew), these people and their five-worded-statements had the power to profoundly change their photographer and doubtless countless others…like me.

Theirs is the reality I want to be part of. Theirs are the lives in which I want to invest. Theirs is the hope I want to see flourish. Theirs are the futures I want to see become. They are nobodies. They are everybody.

And they are, I’m quite certain, first on Jesus’ mind and heart.

These people don’t know me, nor I them. They aren’t famous. They aren’t modelesque in beauty. They are – according to their own country and most of ours – incidental and forgettable at best. There are millions of people just like them in Haiti, in Uganda, in India, in Cambodia…all over the world, people in dire need of help whose best hope is a guy like Jeremy taking their pictures and showing it to us, that we might be moved enough to see them as Real and equal, and do something.

Even if all we do at this moment is recognize their inherent, incomparable value, and our brotherhood with them.

So yeah. I guess my choices, if I want to be photographed by Jeremy Cowart, are to either a) become sickeningly beautiful and famous, or b) move to a rundown, third-world city too few care about, and live among unnamed masses too few have heard about.

Jeremy did his job tonight. He made me fall in love with the face in the photo. He made me want to live among them. He made me want to be part of something bigger and infinitely more important than celebrity and wealth and influence. He got me out of myself.

And he made me desperately miss Gulu, and ever more anxious to return to the only place I’ve felt I truly belonged.



Your Little Heart (new song)
June 21, 2011, 10:33 pm
Filed under: Baby, Faith and Faith Life, Music, Video

I wrote this song for Elijah while he was still baking. I even mentioned it here. Tonight, I got to sing him to sleep with it. It looked like this:

And it sounded like this:

Oh, my Elijah, your precious little heart.