The weight was lifted, a new door was opened

The music played loud and I could feel it in my chest. The bass rattling the base of my faith. My rock was huge compared to many of the others. It worked out well, because Jesus always works things out, because I had a huge leap to make and it would take a big rock to write it on. I could have written one word on my rock. One word to represent a step of faith. That would have been okay. It would have been easy. Instead I wrestled with God. There in that top-level seat, I fought with God in a toddler-like stubbornness complete with crossed arms and squinted eyes. I shook my head back and forth until finally, almost defiantly, I wrote on my rock. My white-knuckled hand hung over the white bag, full of the steps and leaps of faithful IF sisters.

And then, I let go.

Gently, like an exhale, a door closed.

***

photo (6)Last weekend I hugged my husband and four kids goodbye and traveled from my  beautifully-chaotic home in Southern California to Austin, Texas for the  IF:Gathering. In its second year, the conference consisted of phenomenal teaching,  powerful worship, and 2,000 women who attended, expectant.  We were joined by  women in homes and churches around the world, watching live online. It was two  days of looking inward and looking up. We heard Christ-centered messages instead  of watching speakers. We shook hands, hugged, and laughed, and we didn’t  compare or criticize. Always, in the speaking, in the music, in the personal touches,  we were encouraged. Gone was the fluff, replaced instead with a real, honest, raw  message of faith. It was a get-your-hands-dirty-be-courageous-focus- on-Jesus  weekend.

I traveled with two dear friends. We laughed, hard. We ate, a lot. We prayed, we walked, we brainstormed. We explored what it would be like to take the things we were learning and apply them to our ministries.

About 10 minutes after the 2014 IF:Gathering ended, we started talking about traveling to Austin in 2015. We were among those able to get tickets in the midst of slammed servers and a ton of women, all trying to do the same thing. We purchased our plane tickets in November, just before we sat around our family tables, giving thanks. And then, we waited. We waited as February neared. When it was finally time for IF, we left our husbands with reminders, instructions, suggestions and prayers.

I knew that God was going to move in some area of my life. I went, wringing my hands, excitedly fearful.

I listened as Christine Caine told us to let go of the past, that it would only hold us back. “You’re afraid to step into what will be because you’re hanging on to what is dead,” she said. “If the horse is dead, it’s time to dismount.”

Tucked in Jen Hatmaker’s message I heard her say, “Sometimes we go back to bondage because freedom is too painful to imagine.”

Bob Goff sat on stage next to his lovely wife, “Sweet” Maria, and pointed out that “people who love people the way Jesus did are constantly misunderstood.”

Bianca Olthoff reminded us that “there’s something beautiful in being obedient.”

Then, on Saturday when I was already all-in, Amena Brown happened. I can’t even. I can hardly string words together to convey the powerful way Amena uses words to share Jesus with the world. “Be strong and courageous,” that’s what played my heart strings.

After two days of asking ourselves, “If God is real, then what?” After two days of being challenged. After two days of personally standing in front of two doors, the conference drew to a close. In a theater steeped in musical history, 2,000 women sang their hearts out to Jesus. “You’re a good, good Father. It’s who You are, it’s who You are. I am loved by You. It’s who I am. It’s who I am…”

***

I finally wrote on my rock. My white-knuckled hand hung over the white bag, full of the steps and leaps of faithful IF sisters.

And then, I let go.

After five years of writing for the newspaper, I’m writing my final column this week.

Gently, like an exhale, a door closed.

Instead, I’ll focus my writing attention on Christ — on this blog, and on poetry that points right at Jesus.

A boulder-shaped weight lifted, and a new door flew open.

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Dear Sisters

typewriterRecently I performed three pieces at Dwelling Place, a weekly women’s Bible study  at Southwest Church. This letter was among the three, and it was an honor to read it  to the ladies…

Dear Sisters,

A note of thanks.

To those whose hands are held together with arthritic knuckles and tissue-thin skin.  Thank you. Thank you because you remind me of my own grandmother. In the  wrinkles and crow’s feet, I see only laughter and wisdom’s wings. You have taught  me about hard work, dedication, patriotism, and a faith that rests on hymns, and  Christ’s feet. You may not feel as strong as you once did, but you have moved  mountains.

To the women whose youth was marked by an assassinated president and freedom fighters. My mother’s generation. The women who put the first cracks in the glass ceiling, but never forgot that Jesus is King. You watched a nation march for peace, and you wanted to shout from the hills that in the corn fields and the jungles, Christ was the answer. You helped raise an entire generation of women who are proud to be daughters of the King, and moms and employed – all at the same time – if we so choose. You paved the way for that. You raised up game changers in the Church. Not women who seek to rock the boat, but women faithful enough to step out of it. Those women you raised, many of them are my friends.

To those women. Thank you. For your stories and your experiences and all the things you bring to the table. For your passionate pursuit of God’s presence and the way you seek after Jesus with wild abandon. I see you. I see you fighting to tear down walls, yours and mine. I see you juggling responsibilities and spinning plates and wearing hats. I’ve seen you at your best and you’ve seen me at my worst. I watch you with your own daughters. Together we worry about our girls’ hearts and their futures, because we are a generation of mothers who drop our children off at school and pray they stay safe. Thank you for your examples of faith and joy. Thank you for the laughter.

My prayer for 2015 for all of us – from the ladies with great grandbabies to the ladies who are practically still babies – is that we keep our masks off, and our hearts open. That we are vulnerable, where His strength is perfected. That we let His light shine through the broken places. That we are so focused on our Father’s business, our lives can’t possibly be about show business. I want this to be the year that we unpack our baggage and stop trying to become what we think we should be, rather than becoming, simply and boldly, more like Jesus. I think, when we get to that place, we won’t care what people say about us, whether they like us or not. We’ll be so focused on Christ that our approval rating won’t matter.

My prayer is that we rend our hearts. That we act as a connector between the hurting world and the healing love of Christ, always keeping our lamps lit and our feet firmly planted. But never motivated by recognition.

I’m asking God that we not let our jobs define us. All the quarterly reports, commissions, paychecks, accolades — it can all become the rat race very quickly, and it can make it difficult to run the race. May we all be filled with the knowledge that we are His daughters, first. We are not what we do for a living.

In 2015, I pray that we stop comparing ourselves to one another. When we were created by our Father, He put so much thought into our giftings. It’s our uniqueness that makes us beautiful. How it must grieve His heart when His daughters miss how stunning they are because they’re so focused on how He created someone else.

This year, dear sisters, let’s not gossip. Hold me accountable, and I will return the favor, if you want me to. Our daughters, and sons, are watching.

And, let’s smile more. There is much to be joyful about. Because no matter what we do, how bad we mess up, or how difficult things seem, Jesus loves us huge. Let us all, humbly thank Him for what we have, and gently remind each other of those blessings when our complaining drowns out our worship.

What if the next 12 months were about stepping outside of our comfort zones, and thinking outside of the box? What if we do the thing God has been whispering to us, but we’ve been ignoring? What if, by doing that one thing, generations from now, someone will be saying that we moved mountains? Not for applause or promotion, but for His glory. Be brave, and do not conform.

Let’s vow, that this year, we become audacious in our faith. That we turn to the Word, talk to God, lift our hands, open our hearts, put on His armor and get radical. Because if every woman in the Church were to do all that, what else could it be but radical?

It will be a year of planted seeds and lives saved.

Finally, again, thank you. All of you. For teaching me and putting up with me, laughing at my jokes and overlooking my myriad faults. For taking my calls, holding my hand and encouraging me – with your words, your faith, and your example.

Sisters, may 2015 be the year everything becomes new again.

In Christ’s love,

Amelia

Almond croissants and peace (these two things *may* be synonymous)

funny 3My husband calls me a hypochondriac.

I’m perpetually waiting for my diagnosis. I’ve planned my own funeral in my mind dozens of times, and I’ve thought of how sad John will be. And how he’ll never re-marry. Ever. (Focus on the kids babe, geez).

My father had cancer, both his parents died of it, his sister had it. He once told me he couldn’t remember any of his aunts and uncles not dying of cancer. My mom had breast and ovarian cancer. I guess it’s not surprising that I can be a little paranoid.

A rash is skin cancer. Bruises can only mean one thing — lymphoma. A headache, depending on the severity, is either a tumor or an aneurysm. Not always, but enough so that it’s become a bit of a joke.

It’s not limited to “The Big C” though, lest other ailments and maladies feel they’ve avoided my neuroses. I made the mistake recently of watching “Monsters Inside Me,” a show on Animal Planet that profiles people who have had obscure parasite infections. Now, when my eyes are tired, I worry there might be a giant worm inside my eyeball. Google it. It’s a thing.

I say all of that because I know it’s ridiculous, and most of the time I’m overly-dramatic because it’s funny. However, waiting for a huge disappointment, something bad to happen, a terminal illness to be diagnosed, or a tragedy to occur is not a good way to live.

It’s not healthy.

I have a friend who was driving with their spouse and child when they were struck head-on by a drunk driver traveling at a very high rate of speed. The accident was nearly-fatal for the small family. Miraculously, they survived. Less than two years later, while bicycling, that same friend’s spouse was struck by a car and killed.

It’s hard enough for us to wrap our minds around something like that, let alone plan for it.

So, how do we process the barrage of “what if’s”?

Isaiah 55:8 comes to mind.

The New International Version says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

I love how The Message puts it: “I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.”

What do I think about that truth? Thank. You. Jesus. That’s what I think.

Let’s just consider for a moment what would go through Jesus’ mind if my thoughts were His thoughts…

“I want an almond croissant.”

“Why is curling even in the Olympics?”

“Why does everyone hate Shia LeBeouf so much?”

Clearly not the thoughts of the Savior of the world.

So how do we stop expecting the worst, planning for the tragic and waiting for the negative, and instead focus on what’s right in front of us, right now?

Isaiah 26:3 (It’s OT day on the blog, yo!):

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose eyes are fixed on you! (New Living Translation)

Good advice, for those of us who may find ourselves waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Truth Reflected (a spoken word poem presented at Southwest Church, Nov., 2013)

mom-child-walk-425jh101209

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am a five-letter word.

M.O.M.M.Y.

I’m not sure what you thought I meant.

I as mommy look different than you as mommy,

It’s not good or bad.

It’s different.

No mother is perfect.

Walk a mile in my shoes,

I’ll drive a mile in your minivan,

and we can meet somewhere in the middle

and quickly learn

that we all birth replicas of our hearts.

They lay in our arms,

Crawl on our floors,

Run through our homes.

Yes, we birth tiny versions of love,

and that is common ground.

Over our swelling hearts we prayed.

In labor we cried out to God.

Through scrapped knees, snotty retorts and missed curfews,

we implore Jesus to help.

So when we walk the aisles of our stores,

and trek through the halls of our schools,

and sit under the roof of this Church,

let us not compare our labels to other women,

since the only thing we know

for certain

is that we serve Jesus and are called according to His purposes.

There is another word.

Not a good one like “mommy.”

It’s four letters.

It stings like the wasp that got me the day I grabbed the hose too fast.

It stings me, right here, every single time.

It’s how I introduce myself,

describe myself.

It’s the reflection I see in a sink full of dirty dish water,

how I define myself when I look into the eyes of my sons and my daughters.

It’s four letters.

J.U.S.T.

I am just a wife.

I just take care of the house.

I don’t work, I just serve at the church.

I am just a mother.

That lie digs deep.

It steals our joy,

and preys on our insecurities.

We are more than just.

So much more.

We are His workmanship.

His chosen ones.

His children.

Tiny replicas of His love.

The sheep of His pasture.

We all gather and kneel at His altars.

We are His.

He owns me and I am totally okay with that.

Also, we are broken.

Hairlines and fault lines and heartache.

Tokens of past mistakes that cause us

to pluck the strings of our hearts

like guitars

and sound a mournful tune of errors made.

So I ask:

How has evilness wrapped its hand around your throat?

What’s your label?

What do you see

as your identity

that makes it so hard to breathe?

A drunk? a user? a cheater? a liar?

A bad wife? Just an okay mother?

Too heavy? Too ugly? Too dumb?

Just so you know,

those are lies.

Every single one.

Forget just.

It’s in the past.

Our past mistakes aren’t even a part of the story reel

that plays today.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.

The old has passed away.

We should count ourselves blessed to have friends

who will remind us of that everyday.

So you can stop calling to mind the former things,

or ponder things of the past.

We’re called to let it go,

lay it down.

Not lay it down while you’re wrapped up in it like a blanket.

It’s more like, burn it and run.

Christ is our defender

and tomorrow’s freedom

will only come from today’s surrender.

We are broken,

but our God, our Potter, He makes us whole.

Sometimes He takes us to a place of brokenness

to perfect His work in us.

At His wheel He shapes and creates.

In wombs He knits.

Were created in His likeness.

Oh yes, there are times we feel battered and are left bleeding,

but we are worth more than

the lies.

The lies that say we’re just….insert something here.

But now, O Lord, You are our Father. We are the clay and You are our Potter

and all of us are the work of Your hand.

He designed us to live wholly, without cracks that slice through and leave

pain in their wake.

In the trials that hurt, we have to see God in the mending.

But the wheels come off and

We forget

That our identity is in Christ.

We drown in the comparisons,

putting the focus on our differences

instead of seeing them for what they are.

They are God’s fingerprints.

We are all loved and pursued by Him

Equally.

A new four-letter word.

Free.

It’s on the parchment.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free

so stand firm

against the enemy’s schemes.

Do not let evilness

tell you that you are not good enough.

Do not let the world set your standard

for attractiveness.

Do. Not. Conform.

Be rebellious against the enemy.

It’s his fist that

beats us down,

but our names are inscribed on the hands

of the One who wears the crown.

And I get it.

Life can be boring.

Laundry and homework and meals and toilets.

Just hear this,

the days are long but the years are short.

Until our tiny heart replicas march off on their own adventures,

they are our adventures.

They are our tears of joy and the reason we cry,

“I love you!”

and

“Knock it off!”

in the same day.

We should see them through the eyes of that friend

who always says,

“Seriously, you have good kids.”

They’re a gift.

We are their mothers.

We should all seek to see that truth reflected

in the eyes of our sons and our daughters.

Steven Curtis Chapman interview

On a spring afternoon last year I hid in my closet and interviewed Steven Curtis Chapman over the phone while my children napped. He was humble about his success and honest about his tragedies. The interview appeared in the April, 2011 edition of Desert Christian News.

Steven Curtis Chapman; Desert Christian News; April, 2011

Steven Curtis Chapman has graced the music charts for nearly 25 years. He’s sold 10 million records, received 56 Dove Awards, 5 Grammy’s, an American Music Award and has had 45 No. 1 singles.

Chapman recently took time out of his world tour to speak with Desert Christian News; he spoke candidly about his career, his next album, the tragic passing  of his daughter, Maria, and how his family is doing three years later.

Tell us about your current tour and your show at the McCallum Theatre in April.

The tour has been awesome so far. Right now we’re in Canada. It’s been 15 years since I’ve been here. After Canada, we travel to the U.S., to Jerusalem and back to the U.S. Geoff Moore, my song writing partner, and his wife Jan are with us. It’s on our bucket lists to take a historical tour through the Holy Lands, so we are really excited and honored to go.

As for the McCallum, I’m excited to be back in California. It’s been a while. California audiences are always wonderful; they listen to music in a different way and engage in a different way. An added bonus is that, when we’re in California, we can go to In N’Out.

Your tour is taking you around the world. Does your family travel with you?

My sons, Caleb and Will Franklin, and my wife, are with me. They have been a part of my band for the past five or six years. Will, who is 20 now, was 16 when he toured with me for the first time. My sons are amazing musicians. Caleb is a great writer and both boys are in their own band called “Caleb.” They’re beginning to have their own opportunities and offers. Anyway, they opened on this tour and the last tour. My days are numbered; I will be excited when the boys go off on their own, but I will be sad as well. I love having them with me.

You’re releasing re:creation, your newest album, this summer. How is work on the album going? Can you tell us a little bit about it?

I have wanted to recreate some of my music for quite a few years. With the death of our daughter Maria, the last three years have been about walking through the loss. All of the songs that I’ve written that are particularly special to my family have now taken on a whole new meaning.

Artistically, spiritually and creatively, I see things with a new understanding. The majority of the album is a reflection of that. There are new songs as well. This album sort of represents a new beginning for our family. Much of the last few years we’ve been in a very dark forest, we’re beginning to take steps out of that. The songs on this album are the beginning of those steps.

Christian music has changed so much in the last 25 years, how do you think you’ve been able to stay at the forefront of the industry?

All I know is that I’m really thankful. I’m like the nerd at the prom who is just glad to be there. It’s encouraging and humbling to hear that my music has been a soundtrack to people’s journeys. I really do feel so blessed and fortunate that not only has God allowed me the gift to write songs, but that I’ve had the incredible gift of doing that for many years and having people listen.

It’s due to God’s grace. I’ve been honest with people through the years, people say I really connect because of that. I am amazed and grateful.

As the three-year anniversary of Maria’s passing nears, do you and your family have plans to celebrate her life?

Her birthday is May 13, just a few days before she went to be with Jesus. We celebrate her birthday as a family. We obviously remember; not a moment or day goes by that we’re not thinking of her or remembering what we’ve walked through. Three years later, it’s not necessarily easier. It’s probably more bearable, but in some ways more difficult. Some of the numbness wears off and the clouds lift; you see some of the devastation and process that in a different way.

As a family, on May 21, we gather at her gravesite. We gather there to remember her life and remember that the day is coming when we’ll see Maria again. We don’t try to put on a happy face; we sit and cry, we sing worship songs and remind ourselves that we are trusting God and we are going to bless His name when He gives and when He takes away.

We’ll continue to gather at her gravesite until we’re with her in heaven. May 21 is a day that we hold sacred and make sure we’re available to each other; we just need to be close.

A lot of fans are wondering how your son Will Franklin is.  

Will is a walking miracle for us as a family. We look at him and are amazed. God entrusted so much pain to him and it’s been amazing to watch him take one step at a time and trust God. He just knows to keep moving forward and trust that he’ll see his little sister again.

Until then, he wants to use the time and gifts God’s given him to honor Maria’s memory and honor God. I believe Will’s life tells that story. He feels very strongly that it’s his mission to fight through that darkness and trust God. I see him as an amazing, mighty warrior.

Music has been such an important part of how he’s been able to carry the burden. He’s seen how our story encourages others who are hurting. With him, there is a profound sense of letting God use our story. Will wanted a permanent physical reminder of Maria and had an “M” tattooed above his heart. Recently, he had Hosea 6:1 tattooed on his arm along with the flower that Maria drew the night before she went to heaven.

Tell us a little bit about Show Hope, the nonprofit you and your wife Mary Beth, started.

We started the organization ten years ago. Through the organization, families trying to adopt receive financial assistance. We do orphan care work in China and Africa. Through Show Hope, 2,600 families have adopted children from 45 different countries. Maria’s Big House of Hope in China is a place where orphans who need medical assistance can go. Long-term care for those who are terminal or can’t be adopted due to illness is available there. We want to communicate to these orphans that there’s a God who loves them.

Maria’s Big House of Hope is the beauty that has come from our tragedy. Every spring, near her birthday and Home-going, we do a show in Nashville that raises awareness for adoption. The National Symphony, along with musicians, Broadway performers and celebrities perform the musical “Cinderella.” It’s a really special thing we do in memory of our daughter and is a way to bring more awareness to orphans.

Anderson University is awarding you with an honorary Doctorate in Music in May. How do you feel about that?

It is really, really crazy because I didn’t even finish school there. I do credit Anderson University as the place where I really grew and learned a lot about music and song writing. It was there that I began to understand what God was calling me into and began to hone the craft. It’s so neat that they would ask me back.

They did ask me to speak at their commencement though; I’d do better if I could sing the speech. I am humbled and honored. I don’t feel like I’ve earned it. It’s another reminder of what grace looks like. God doesn’t give us what we deserve, instead He pours blessings out on us.