amy courts: en route


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.

Advertisements


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.



In response to a response to… (On Men, Women, Romance, and Stories)
August 11, 2011, 10:44 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I wrote this in response to Rachel Held Eveans’ response to Donald Miller’s blogs about Great Love Stories (for men and woman). I figured I’d post it here as well. Why not? Tangents and rabbit trails are always fun.

—–

I’m gonna go ahead and say the thing I think a lot of women (in my experience) are afraid to say:

I am a supporting character in the story. So is my husband. But in our marriage, I’m the supporting character, the Helper. He’s the leader, I’m the Helper. Which I used to think was bad or somehow inferior, until I realized the only other Person to whom that title (“Helper”) is given is the Holy Spirit. I don’t mind keeping company with the Holy Spirit, who was sent to be my Helper. It’s pretty exclusive company. And that makes for a fairly interesting story.

Whether I like it or not, I am defined by my sexuality, past, marital status, and body. …And a lot more. But those are elements I can no more abandon without abandoning my self (and becoming something altogether different) than a fish can abandon its gills and still be a fish, or a bird its wings, or a shark its dorsal fin. And I think all those definers make for a fairly interesting story.

I have cried into my pillow, waiting for someone else to give me purpose and direction in life. And when I’ve done it honestly, God has appeared more visibly and audibly – more powerfully – than ever before. I’ve learned to cry into my pillow often, because God likes when I’m weak and vulnerable, at the end of myself and finally willing to hear Him. He did it in Africa and it change my life forever. And that makes for a fairly interesting story.

I do fit into some of the predictable roles well-meaning Christians have prescribed for me as a woman, mother, wife, artist, and Believer. I’ve been pretty passive, at times, expecting and then allowing God to do things I didn’t try to do because they were beyond my comprehension, much less my action, and have seen some pretty amazing things form thereafter. What makes it interesting is the fact that those well-meaning Christians (and their counter-parts who defy those roles & prescriptions) didn’t actually expect me to do it (neither did I, for that matter), and I’ve done it much to their chagrin, because I’ve done it within – but without – their parameters. I’m an artist who would rather be a stay-at-home mom, but takes her baby on the road anyway. I’m a wife who loves being her husband’s Helper, despite that I’ve been told I should take offense at the very idea. That can be pretty interesting in conversation.

And all of that makes for a story that transcends race, gender, nationality, socio-economic status, family and creed. It makes for a story whose characters are single, married, celibate, gay, young, old, male, female, rich, poor, powerful, and weak, and of which I am only one, but a significant one within the ever-relational community. And stories about relationship are always interesting.



Ghost Hunting
August 5, 2011, 10:56 pm
Filed under: Baby, Faith and Faith Life, Home Life

Cameras are amazing. They capture images our minds might otherwise fail to properly retain. In the hands of a particularly gifted eye, what we see can become even more powerful and moving once the real image has faded and the paper replica is printed and framed. We can see what we once saw and somehow, without returning to that place and time, return to that place and time.

Audio and video recorders are the same. We can capture sounds on these little plastic discs and relive a moment just by pushing play. Granted, the moment isn’t quite as sweet or thick or consuming…but it can nevertheless transport us to a place where, with the help of visual and audio triggers, memory can produce a respectable duplicate if not a perfect replica.

But what of touch? What about those little sensations that are as fleeting as a breath and as impossible to capture?

Like the first time a first-time-mom feels that flutter in her belly and knows that’s her baby’s tiny foot?

What of the emotional current humming beneath those moments, bolstering in them this overwhelming, indescribable, yet inescapable power?

Like the pure, Nirvana-esque  …bliss… of Being the carrier during that moment in time.

What of those moments?

Because I can look at a photo taken that very same day and experience nothing of the moment. I can hear the very same words, in the exact phrasing and intonation, against the backdrop of the same song on the same radio station, and feel nothing but cheated.

…Like it’s sitting there, teasing me, just beyond my grasp, daring me to try and catch it but knowing I never will.

I feel like I’m clawing for a hold on ghosts of damned memories that can’t ever again find form or substance.

I wish there was a machine on which I could simply push “play” to re-feel all those sensations I didn’t mean to take for granted. Or, no…not that I took for granted; just that I never thought I’d so desperately need to remember.

__



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.



…But Now My Eyes Have Seen You
June 2, 2011, 5:16 pm
Filed under: Baby, Faith and Faith Life

In the days immediately preceding Elijah’s birth, I was convinced I’d been abandoned by God.

After all, I spent my days dedicating my full passion and much ferocity to praying that Eli would come on his own, and focusing all my physical energy on making my body (and his) conducive to a “successful” natural labor. I did everything all those websites say induces labor, from walking to running to drinking red raspberry leaf tea to exercise-ball-bouncing to using the breast pump to sex to acupuncture to eating pineapple. The only thing I refused to do was drink castor oil.

And the boy wouldn’t come.

So I was pretty angry with God. He was ignoring me. He wasn’t pressing the “Elijah, come forth!” button, and seemed to be interfering with my attempts to press it. On those evenings when 5 hours of consistent contractions just inexplicably stopped, I was certain I was the butt of some not-hilarious cosmic jokes.

I was being teased and ignored; I was sure of it.

And then Friday happened. And everything fell apart. I had inconceivably hard contractions. My son’s heart rate rapidly disappeared. I very nearly bled to death.

But lying in my ICU bed, listening to the perfectly soothing sounds of my Labor & Delivery iTunes playlist (and for the record, I am very skilled at creating situation-appropriate playlists), I took stock of the days and only then started to realize how perfectly near God was throughout.

Like I said in a previous post, I have no idea how long Eli had a knot in his cord, or what effect those weeks and weeks of braxton hicks contractions might have had on his little heart while he wasn’t on the monitor. I know there were two contractions the day he was born – one in the morning, the other in the afternoon – that caused a major deceleration of his heart rate. And yet, he was delivered in perfect health. I believe God very actively preserved his life.

I’m also convinced it wasn’t mere luck that landed me on the operating table in the hands of some of the most skilled doctors and surgeons at Vanderbilt. I didn’t get the B-student doctors; I was cared for by world-class over-achievers that night. One Doula-friend in Texas even said that if any of her patients ever had to have a c-section, she’d want it done by Dr. Spetalnick, who performed mine. I can’t count the times I heard ICU and postpartum nurses comment about how lucky I was to be under the care of Drs. Gold and Rebele, et.al. during my surgeries. They saved my life.

Neither did luck land me under the care of The Best SICU Nurses In The World, who ignored my early morning belligerence (you have no idea how frustrating it is to wake up in an unknown bed with the horrifying sound of elevator music blaring from the speakers in the bed itself with no way to say “turn that off NOW!” thanks to a breathing tube snaking down to your stomach…), and instead treated me with kindness, gentleness, and total but compassionate honesty…and seriously doted on my most adorable baby boy.

But maybe more significant than any other anecdotal bit is the sheer number of emails, texts, or other messages and comments I’ve received from people who, for whatever reason, had me on their minds or couldn’t help but pray for me that night and over the days that followed. They knew something was wrong, and – as one person said – felt “compelled to pray.”

For me.

I’m no great intercessor, and it’s rare that I ever feel that burden to pray for specific people. So it’s miraculous to me that God actually interrupted other peoples’ lives on my behalf. And not just one, but many people.

During our weeks of lessons on “how to do this thing naturally,” my Doula kept telling me about how during and after the births of her two sons, the Scripture that was burned on the back of her eyelids was Job 42:5 – “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” She told us over and over that’s what childbirth does to you: It shows you God.

But for me…well, it wasn’t going to be “my” verse. It just didn’t resonate.

Until I was there, on my death bed, and pulled back to mother my newborn (only) son…Until I saw and understood the weight of what happened to us, and the significance of the literal salvation all three of us – Paul, Elijah, and I – experienced that night.

Now, that verse carries all the weight of the world, especially when I consider the context in which it’s situated biblically:

4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
   I will question you,
   and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
   but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
   and repent in dust and ashes.”
                                     (Job 42:4-6)

Indeed, my ears had heard. But now my eyes have seen God in all His goodness and wonder, working on my behalf, and I am compelled to my knees in utmost gratefulness for delivering us in so many ways, and in repentance for having ever doubted His goodness or questioned His presence…for having accused Him of something He promised He would never, ever do.

And I declare (if I can do so without sounding either ridiculously Southern or sillily archaic):

God does not abandon or forsake us.

He simply does not.



Observing Grief
May 28, 2011, 11:14 am
Filed under: Baby, Culture, Faith and Faith Life, Home Life, Media & Art

“…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.”