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  • Captive for Christ

    Posted on May 29, 2013 by John van der Veen


    "Tell us what we want, or we will beat you. You might as well tell us now and save yourself."

    The story of Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh is not just a story isolated unto itself. It's not just a story about two young missionaries in a highly politizied country. It's not just a story of the persecuted church.

    But it's my story.

    It's your story.

    It's the story of what Christ is doing through His precious Bride. The Church.

    In their new book, Captive in Iran, Maryam and Marziyeh recount their 259 days in Evin, the notorious Tehran prison. Here, prisoners are routinely tortured, abused, and violated. Executions are frequent and sudden. But for these two women, this hell on earth was a place of unlikely grace as they reflected God's love and compassion to their fellow prisoners and guards. Against all odds, Evin would become the only church many of them had ever known. It's an amazing story of unyielding faith—when denying God would have meant freedom. Of incredible support from strangers around the world who fought for the women's release. And of bringing God's light into one of the world's darkest places—giving hope to those who had lost everything, and showing love to those in despair.

    I had the privilege to sit down and converse with Maryam and Marziyeh about their life of pursuing Christ.

    John: Ladies, what an honor it is for me to talk with you. I’m very thankful to you for giving us the opportunity to dig into what’s been going on in your lives. Obviously, you have a book that tells the entire story of what took place and your activities. When I was going through it, I was amazed that, ultimately, this is a God story. I’m wondering, maybe, before we get into some of the specifics of that story, if either one of you, or both, could share with me, and the folks who read this blog, what is it like growing up in the Middle East? What is it like growing up in Iran as a child? What are some of your favorite childhood memories?

    Marziyeh: Thank you, John; it’s really a blessing for both of us to share. Whenever we share, we consider it an opportunity to be a tool in God’s hands and we really appreciate you having us. About life in the Middle East, we both were raised in Muslim families and, as you know, Iran is an Islamic country. In our country, religious laws and regulations always stop people from knowing the truth. But, I can say that there are some differences between countries like Iran or other Islamic countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt. It’s not the same; especially the way that the people follow the rules and the religious laws.

    In Iran, most people are not real Muslims and they don’t believe in Islam. In fact, they are tired of these Islamic rules and believe that Islam is not their religion, but is forced on them. Most of them don’t know anything about the Koran or its teachings, and it might surprise you to know that they are very open to hear about Jesus and the message of salvation. That’s the difference between Muslims in Iran and Muslims in other countries. But, the government usually tries to force people to follow the old religious rules.

    I remember from childhood we had to follow these rules. For example, at school, students were forced to read the Koran or other Islamic books or pray in a mosque that is in Arabic. And they didn’t let the student’s learn about other religions, especially Christianity. And all we were told at school was that Jesus was the prophet of love and peace, nothing more. It was not just about Islam and Christianity; they don’t even let the students do research and learn about other religions either. We both remember that when we were children of about seven or eight years old, they would force us to stay in line and say things against the U.S. and Israel. They forced us to say, “Death to America. Death to Israel,” before going to classes. At that time we were just children, we had no idea what we were saying, but these are the things that the government tried to force people to do even though they don’t want to do this.

    Maryam: And I can add one or two more sentences about that. As you know, women in Iran have less rights compared to men, because according to the Koran there are many verses which are about women and about their rights [or lack of]. About how a husband can punish his wife it she doesn’t obey, and most of their rules are against women. Women usually have to wear a hijab, which most of the women don’t believe in, and don’t want to do. But, this Islamic government, they force them to wear Islamic cover.

    John: Based on what you both just told me, is there a condition in Islamic countries, or, I guess it sounds like it’s okay to be specific to Iran, that when people think of Christianity they think of America? Or if they think of Americans, they think of Christianity. In other words, are both of those words synonymous with each other?

    Marziyeh: I can say that I usually teach people that Christianity is good for Western countries because they teach them that most Christians don’t have hijab and don’t follow Islamic rules, and they don’t cover their hair. That’s why they teach (because of this) that Christianity just belongs to Western countries.

    John: So any Western country, not necessarily the United States?

    Maryam: It’s mostly about the United States. When they refer to the West, they refer to United States.

    Marziyeh: Yes.

    Maryam: And I remember I had this experience when I was talking to people about Jesus, especially young people. Some of them, their first question was, “Oh, so in Christianity, we are allowed to drink wine because in Bible it says that you are allowed to drink wine?” They like this about Christianity and they think that this is from the West.

    Marziyeh: And also, they tell people who converted to Christianity that you are converted to Christianity because of this, these things, that you can drink as Maryam told or that women don’t have hijab. And also in their worship, they dance--sometimes they dance. And they tell that most Iranian people who are converted to Christianity is not because of Jesus, it’s because of freedom in Christianity.

    John: Ladies, can you take a few moments to talk about how you were introduced to Christ?

    Marziyeh: My story is a long story. Can I tell whole testimony or just briefly?

    John: You can do whatever you would like.

    Marziyeh: Okay, so Maryam said that about 10 years ago we both converted to Christianity, but at that time, we didn’t know each other. It’s been about 8 years we have known each other and we have lived together. As Maryam explained about Iran, we both grew up in an Islamic country and from my childhood I always loved God and wanted to find out more about His truth. I did everything to get closer to Him. Since I was born into a Muslim family, my only means of getting to know God was religious teachings among the Muslim and at school. But, I always had many questions that Islamic ideology and Sharia law [the moral code and religious law of Islam] could not answer for me.

    The God who created me, He is like a father. He is closer to me than members of my family and I didn’t believe the wrong belief that exists in Islam. Because in Islam, they teach people that God is one who rules over the human right and punishes them for their life of sin. I believe that that was a terrifying image of God. I didn’t believe the daily mosque prayer bending several times in front of a God who was already in my heart. I had many questions like, “Why should I speak to my God in Arabic instead of my native language? Doesn’t this God understand my native tongue? Why should I pray to Him as if He is a great leader or ruler over me? and Why should I cover myself in front of a God who created me?” There were many questions like this in my mind and the answer I was getting at school was not convincing me. Despite all of this reservation, I decided to follow my religious duties and told myself, “I may be wrong, and the truth will show itself to me one day in the future.”

    So I prayed in the mosque for two years with the prayer I used to with the Koran. And even would wake up in the middle of the night and pray to Him again. But this type of prayer and worshipping were not making me feel any closer to my God. On the contrary, they were distancing me further from Him as they had become a routine action that I was forced to do, not that I wanted to do. And I remember before I converted to Christianity, I had a dream and God spoke to me through my dream.

    In that dream I was praying to the sky, suddenly the sky opened and a white horse came down and it spoke to me, and it said, “Sit on my back.” When I obeyed, the horse took me to a city where they were just coming out of the mosque.

    At first, they couldn’t see me, or the horse, but suddenly the Muslim worshipers were revealed as wild animals with savage features. As soon as I saw them, they could see me, and they tried to kill me. So the horse ran like the wind to save me and I remember as I held its neck I felt its love pouring into me with the power and purity I have never known. After that, we were safe. I awoke but I couldn’t explain how much love God let me touch in that dream. I’ve never touched love like this before.

    After this dream, I decided to put aside my religion and came to the conclusion that the most important part of being a believer is just my heart. Then I began to speak to my God in the way of a relationship between a father and a child. And one day I heard, at that time, one day I heard (from my friend who had converted to Christianity) about Jesus. That Jesus is the Son of God who has come to this Earth for us, for freedom from our sin. At that point, I became very curious, because I haven’t heard anything like that about Jesus. I just thought He was just another prophet as He had been introduced to us in our textbook at school.

    John: I want to interrupt here. Did the idea of having a personal relationship with Jesus scare you, to some extent, because it’s so contrary to how you were raised?

    Marziyeh: No, it doesn’t scare me. But I didn’t know anything like that, I didn’t hear anything like that about Jesus. Because I just thought He was only another prophet, because in our school they teach us Jesus is just a prophet.

    John: But He was not Mohammed? I mean, there is something very …

    Marziyeh: They teach us He is a prophet, but not like Mohammed. In Islam they believe that Mohammed is the best and perfect prophet and that you cannot compare Mohammed with any other prophet. And that’s why I became very curious about this. I told myself, “How do I know Jesus is the truth?” It was the first time I heard that about Jesus, that Jesus is not a prophet, but that He is the Son of God. So I decided to study other religions and also I began to read the Bible because I wanted to find the truth. But, after awhile I realized that I could not possibly spend many years to study all religions of the world because there are many religions in this world, even in Christianity. I just decided, I just knelt and prayed and told God, “Please show me the truth because if Jesus is the truth, you must guide me to the right path and save me from being misguided. Because I don’t know what is the truth in this world. You are my God, you created me and you know what is the truth.”

    After this praying, at that time, if I want to tell the whole story it’s long. But, I had a disease and for the first time I was invited by my friend who told me about Jesus to a church. It was the first time, first experience that I was in a church and it was very interesting for me because people were worshipping in joy and praying in their own language. And during the worship, suddenly, I heard the voice in my heart that told me Marzi, you are healed, Marzi, you are healed. I wanted to ignore it, but I told my friend, and she told me, “That is Jesus and he can heal you.”

    And later at the medical appointment--that day I had a medical appointment too--when I went to my doctor’s office, when he wanted to write my prescription, he couldn’t. He put his pen down and told me, “I don’t know why I cannot write anything for you. Come back another time.” I wanted to insist him, but God reminded me of His message in the church and told me to trust Him. He had healed me, but I didn’t believe Him. I didn’t fully believe in Him because the healing was not enough proof for me. I just asked God to show me more about Himself and I wanted to be sure about this. Actually, at the bottom of my heart I had begun to believe in Jesus. But, still I had some doubt. For example, I had read the Bible but I had some doubts about Holy Spirit. What is the Holy Spirit? I couldn’t accept it; I didn’t believe it.

    I remember one day I was praying, and suddenly the flames of the Holy Spirit came on to me and I received it and I began to pray in tongues. I couldn’t know what had happened to me. I didn’t know the meaning of my words but I could fully understand what I was telling to my God. And at that time, I remember while I was crying, suddenly I saw Jesus in front of me who was standing next to a large throne, which was covered with shining gold. And at that time, I wasn’t on the earth, and the middle of my forehead was burning as though someone had branded it. Suddenly, all my doubts disappeared and I felt that God had removed the curtain before my eyes and now I could see the truth. I couldn’t stop my tongue and just kept worshipping Him and I remember it was 12 at night until four in the morning. I kept praying and singing the song of praise nonstop. It was like a spiritual lovemaking that I didn’t want to end, but I couldn’t control it. By about four in the morning, I stopped praying, but what had happened to me was so incredible that I couldn’t describe it.

    I always tell people that no one had forced me into anything or manipulated me. No one had cast a spell on me or hypnotized me. The explanation that I could legitimately derive from that experience was that I had met my God through the Lord Jesus Christ. From that day on, I dedicated all my life to Jesus and it’s been many difficult years with Him. During these years, I had many stories and dreams about God that each one is a long story. But I always tell that Jesus was the only person with me, every single day during the lonely life I had. And even without going to a church, I always have long walks with Him. He is next to me and He has been my guide in my life.

    After that, at that time, I was working in a beauty salon and I had earned a trainer and management degree for training new hairdressers. I had this passion from the day I converted; I had this passion to talk with people about Jesus. After that, some of my friends suggested to me to start my own business. But I wasn’t interested in that because I believe my calling with people is their heart not their hair. So I quit my job, and after one of my friends suggested theology, I traded a certain future for the unknown because I had this passion to follow Jesus.

    John: Were both of you ladies in Iran when you became Christians?

    Marziyeh: Yes.

    John: Is it different for a man than a woman being a Christian in Iran?

    Maryam: Because women’s situations are different than men’s in Iran, we believe that women are more open to hearing about Jesus and the message of Christianity. This is because in Islam they don’t have equal rights with men. There are many Iran rules in the Koran about women, like temporary marriage. I don’t know if you have heard about this. Men can have a wife and also they can have temporary marriage. They can marry a woman for a few hours, for a week or a few months. They just sign a contract, they spend time with the woman, and after the contract expires, they are not together.

    And there are also many other rules that men have. Husbands can beat their wives and [it says] that the wife needs to obey her husband. Because of all these wrong rules in Islam, especially for women, the women are more open to hearing about Jesus. They are tired of these rules and they don’t want to follow these rules. But I cannot say that men are not eager to hear about Christianity, too. They’re also open to hearing about Christianity; but in comparison, women, we believe, are more eager to hear because of all the Islamic rules against women.

    John: Obviously, your story centers around the fact that the two of you started a couple of house churches that were underground. One was for prostitutes and the other one was for women. So both of them for women, but one was for prostitutes, specifically?

    Marziyeh: No, the second one was for young people, women and even some men.

    John: Oh, for young women and men. Okay, all right.

    Maryam: Especially for young people.

    John: Okay, like college age or even younger?

    Maryam: Yes.

    Marziyeh: Yes.

    John: Yes, college. Then you were both turned in and you went to prison for almost a year? And not just any prison, but you went to one of the most severe prisons in Iran, in Tehran there, correct?

    Maryam: Yes.

    John: What was the most difficult part of being in prison?

    Maryam: Prison is prison, and going to prison is not a pleasant experience for anyone. From the first day we suffered from many physical and mental tortures. For the first 14 days we were in a detention, which was in the basement and we had to spend our time with women who were prostitutes, addicted and homeless. The women who ran away from their homes… they sent us to that detention. We had to sleep on the ground. There were no carpets and we couldn’t eat for five days, for the first five days we didn’t eat at all.

    Also, in Iran prisons, the situation is very difficult. Not just for political prisoners but for all prisoners. For example, there is not enough medical care and there is no doctor in prison. We could be, for nine months we suffered from different kinds of physical diseases but we were not allowed to see a doctor. Especially when they heard that we were Christians, they did not let us to see doctor. Most of the time we were under pressure and we believe that mental torture is even worse than physical torture. They sent us to a building, which is called 209 for interrogation. For 20 days we were not together and once a week we were being interrogated by two interrogators for long hours. We had to sit on chairs facing the wall blindfolded. These are all pressures that we suffered in prison.

    But our most painful experience in prison was executions of prisoners with whom we were living every day; we had never experienced such a thing, it was so horrible. After those executions, we could feel the spirit of sorrow and death. We couldn’t say anything, we were just, we were shocked and we stared at each other but we had no power to speak. That was the most difficult experience for us in prison. Especially after prison, because when we got released, they executed one of our best friends and that was a shock for both of us.

    Marziyeh: And also, you know our situation in comparison with other prisoners was worse because we were Christian. We were not allowed to use other facilities that there are in prison. For example, there were some classes. I cannot say it was good classes, but there was a center in prison that each prisoner could go to every day and participate in some classes. But when they heard that we are Christians they told us, “You are not allowed to come here. You are dirty. You are Christian. Because you have converted to Christianity, you are dirty.” The managers talked with me very bad and she told me, “You should be executed. You shouldn’t be here because you manipulate the mind of other prisoners. That’s why we don’t allow you to come here.” In most situations, like Maryam explained about the clinic, about these places, our rights were less than other prisoners.

    John: How does one share the gospel story in an Islamic culture?

    Maryam: We had this experience in New York after we finished the study in theology in 2005. We returned to Iran and we had this passion to go back and talk to our people about Jesus, because we knew how much they were thirsty to hear and how much they needed Jesus as their savior. I can say that when we were in prison, we were trying to, when we wanted to evangelize to people, we wanted to share our own testimony because we were from the same background. We were from Muslim countries and they would listen to us when they heard that we were from a Muslim background and our situation was the same as theirs.

    Sometimes some of our American friends ask us, “How do you evangelize to people and how can we evangelize to Muslims?” We always tell people, it’s better for a Muslim to hear about Jesus from a Muslim background person who converted to Christianity because they can see the changes in our life. They could see how Jesus revealed himself to us and it had a great impact on them and they would listen to us. But if a person, for example, from Europe or America goes and talks to people in Iran, they wouldn’t listen as much as they listen to both of us. Usually, I share our own testimonies and how Jesus revealed himself to us.

    John: Switching gears just a little bit. What do you ladies think of the church here in the West? Or, specifically, here in the United States? Is the church healthy here?

    Maryam: We had different experiences here. When we moved here we understood that there are different denominations here and the churches are different. That teachings in churches are different from each other too. In Iran, there was just one official reading that the pastor was preaching in Farsi [a widely spoken Persian language, primarily spoken in Iran] and we could attend that church. But when we moved here, we observed that there are many churches, many denominations. We had both good experiences and sometimes not very pleasant experiences because of some teachings. Some churches, we believe they are just following the rules and in some churches we could see that people and believers are not--how can I say it?--alive. We couldn’t feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in some churches.

    But, we had very good experiences also in other churches. We were in a church recently and we told the pastor that it was good that we came to their church because we could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. We met with many believers; some of them are really an encouragement and blessing to both of us. I can say that it’s different. Some Christians here are just believers. They are Christians because they are born as a Christian, like Muslims in Iran, they are born as a Muslim. There is a difference between a person who calls himself or herself a Christian or a person who is really a believer and had some personal experience with Jesus.

    John: I’ve heard it said before that the persecuted church, that brothers and sisters in Christ who are being persecuted for their faith in other countries are praying, to some extent--and take this in the right way--that those of us who are in the church here in the West become persecuted, because then we would live a more authentic Christian life. Do you feel a similar thought or ideal when you think of the church here in the West? Are we authentic? Is the church passionate enough for the glory of Christ?

    Marziyeh: In our country, I can say sometimes persecution helps. For example, in our country they say because of persecution many people came to Christianity because they don’t have any hope. They are hopeless and they are disappointed. It helps to have a good relationship with God. What about here…? We heard in some churches that they believe that America needs persecution because people need persecution to have a good relationship with God. But, I don’t believe that we should pray for persecution.

    In America, there is freedom, and Maryam explains that many people are born as a Christian. People should have a live relationship with Jesus, they should have a personal relationship with him. Most of the Christians here are born as a Christian, and they don’t touch Jesus in their life, it seems. They don’t have personal experience with Him. But I don’t believe that persecution can help these people or that we should pray for persecution. I don’t believe it’s correct.

    Maryam: And also I think, I have this question because in some churches the pastor asked us, “If you need to pray for persecution, come to our churches.” But I don’t believe we need to pray for persecution and we don’t need to wait for persecution to come to change ourselves. These days we can hear the news about Middle East, about countries like Iran. There are many examples like Marzi and I, and other people who are in prison. These days an American pastor is in prison and many people, thousands of people hear the story. Why should we wait for persecution to come? There are many examples around us, we can look at them, we can start changing by just knowing that we cannot always be free, we cannot always worship God in freedom. There may be some time in our life that we will experience persecution. Persecution is not just going to free them. We all have difficulties in our own life and I don’t agree that they need to pray for persecution to come.

    John: Amen. The truth is is that the persecuted church is still very much part of the church that I belong too. We are the body of Christ and if the church is persecuted anywhere, all of us should be on our knees praying for our brothers and sisters.

    Maryam: Exactly.

    Marziyeh: Yes.

    John: Ladies, how can those of us who are reading this blog or reading your book, or how can the church here in the United States be praying for our brothers and sisters in Iran? What is the biggest need?

    Marziyeh: There in Iran, there are many Christians who are still there in the prison, like Saeed Abedini, I’m sure that you heard about him, and also Farshid Fathi, and there are also Christians. After we got released we heard the Iranian government arrested many Christian groups. We don’t know all of their names, but as you mentioned earlier we are all part of a body, one body in Jesus, and we should be responsible for those who are still suffering. We can pray for them. Maryam and I, when we were in prison, we could feel the power of these prayers and we have, we believe that we have power in our prayers and that we can change many things with our prayers.

    And also, it’s very important to send letters to prison. When we were in prison, we heard from guards every day, we received about 50 letters and they told us that your letter is more than our official letters. And this kind of support scares Iranian government because they knew that Christians all around the world were uniting. And Christian people who are in prison are not alone. Because of all the pressure, they are scared to continue their cruelty. And also, it’s very important to inform other international organizations, people who work for human rights like the United Nation and embassies. Also, when we were in prison, we heard that the Pope from the Vatican sent a letter to the Iranian government, and that all of this activity scared this government that kept us in prison. We believe that when the public speaks out, it makes a huge difference.

    John: How can we be in prayer for you ladies?

    Maryam: We would like to ask you to pray for our families. They are still in Iran and we usually ask readers to pray for them. Also, here after publishing the book, we are under pressure from some attacks. Whenever we start a new mission, we have felt these attacks from Satan. When we were in Iran, we wanted to start our house churches or start distributing the Bible, and we had some attacks. Here also… it’s been three weeks since our book was published and we can feel these attacks, and we just need to be focused on our mission. We don’t want to be focused on the enemy. We want God to strengthen us so we can be focused on what He wants us to do.

    Captive In Iran by Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh

    Download the first chapter from Captive in Iran by clicking here.

  • The Beautiful, Wonderful, Simple Life of an Artist.

    Posted on May 28, 2013 by John van der Veen

    Bonnie Mohr is wife. A mom. A farmer. An artist. And normal. She wrote once, "My work is a reflection of who I am, and what I believe.  It is simple, and it is truthful!  It defines moments, places, and things in life that are good, pure and right.    I believe that if you engage  your life and everything you believe in whole-heartedly , with conviction, passion and love…..everything else will fall into place."

    If you are reading this and thinking, "I have never heard of Bonnie Mohr." You are probably wrong. Her paintings have been seen by thousands, if not millions of people. It's because of Bonnie's simple approach to both her life and work that drew me to want to sit down with her and find out what is on the other side of that brush.

    So read on. I hope that you will not just get to know Bonnie in a better way, but you will understand more of her passion.

    John: Bonnie, you grew up in a large family, correct?

    Bonnie: Yes. There were eight children: seven girls and one boy. I was the second oldest. We grew up on a small, family dairy farm in Southern Minnesota. I really would have to refer to that as a simpler time compared to way we raise our children now. Especially with social media and the technology era that we live in. I grew up on a dairy farm and because most of us were girls, we grew up as a strong family unit. We worked as a family. Us girls, we milked cows and stacked hay and picked beans, and picked up rocks in the field.

    We grew up in a world where less is more. It was also a world of hand-me-downs and shopping at the garage sales, and, I guess you’d say, really just being happy with what we had. It was kind of a nice way to grow up. Our family believed in church and togetherness. My parents gave us a strong foundation to go on with life and we learned to make the most of what we had. So that’s my upbringing.

    John: Have you and your husband raised your kids in a similar fashion then?

    Bonnie: Totally. Our strategy is to allow our kids enough freedom to grow and fit into the world of today, while instilling a strong foundation. What a lot of kids lack today are strong roots and the basics that prepare them for life. By that, I mean work ethic and responsibility and trustworthiness; about the ethics of life and going to church. We follow in line with a lot of families in that our kids participate in sports and are involved in different clubs and activities, and so we don’t always have those sit down meals three times a day—like I grew up with.

    I find that our lifestyle is more on the fly and more on the go, but the advantage we have to raising our kids today is that we do live on a farm, and a dairy farm on top of it, which is quite labor intensive. A lot of the learning about responsibilities just naturally happen on a day-to-day basis around here. It’s not like we have to think of ways to try and raise our kids to be good, responsible young citizens. It’s a lifestyle. Farming has all the hard work and sacrifice and commitment that goes into a very rigorous lifestyle, and it’s one that’s almost hard to make a living at.

    The upside of it, the silver lining in the cloud has been that if you’re trying to raise good kids, it happens almost in a natural manner on a farm, because of the things that happen here. They learn about life and death, they learn about care and responsibility. They learn about working together. They learn that our livelihood is contingent on the weather and circumstances that are out of our control. Truly, out of us eight kids growing up, there are only two of us now that live on a farm. And I’m the only one that is sort of repeating my own childhood in the way we are raising our children. I think it’s just a real rich blessing and I know that our kids are going to be set for life.

    Our job is to raise them, and I say we’ve got them until they’re 18 and after that they’ve got to be ready to go. Having a farm and being able to raise our kids this way has been just a huge, wonderful blessing for us and it feels good. There aren’t a lot of people who have that opportunity anymore.

    John: That’s very true. Bonnie, you had mentioned that in your family growing up, church was certainly an integral part. How did you become more aware of who Jesus is and how did you start to follow Him, as opposed to, say, riding the coattails of your parents?

    Renew

    Bonnie: I think everybody has his or her own journey in life to finding Jesus, and then with figuring out to what degree of commitment you’ll live your life for Him. For me, my life every day is a glorification to God and what He has blessed me with. I know that the blessings in my life are because of God and that it is He that works through me to create and fashion my life. I think as a kid growing up, I just followed in line with the rest of my siblings. We didn’t question going to church. We didn’t question who God was.

    We were taught who God was. We were taught what our religion is and we went to church. We grew up in an era where you didn’t challenge your parents or talk back. You were just obedient and disciplined. I’m really thankful that I was blessed to have that sort of an upbringing, because at a pretty young age I became aware of who God is and why we’re here. And that everything we have is a blessing from God, too. Thankfully, I married another Christian, and we were both Catholic. That was another blessing: not having to choose what religion we would raise our children with.

    Renew
    Come to the water
    Live in the moment, and Be.
    Refresh your mind. Rest your body. Renew your spirit.
    Regain a gentle heart and Peaceful soul.
    Reclaim Yourself.
    Restore in The Power that is greater than you.
    - Bonnie L. Mohr

    For me, once we started farming and my business was starting to grow and we were having children, the load got heavier and heavier. Managing and coping with the load of life, really hit a threshold for me when our third baby was born. I was still trying to be a farm wife and milk cows. I was up at night with babies and I was trying to paint and I was running my own business by myself.

    I guess the defining moment for me in life where I really made a 100% conscious decision that I needed God in my life--and that Jesus was my strength—was when that third baby came along. I crashed and burned. My wonderful, busy, happy life became too much for me. It was at that moment that I truly turned my life over to God. And I saw that because I was young and ambitious and strong and healthy, like a lot of people in life, I was wanting and expecting more faster and was in the “bigger is better” mindset.

    I wanted it all, so to speak. I couldn’t work fast enough and the days weren’t long enough and I was trying to do everything. But what I was really doing was living life with my own set of goals and values, and not asking myself what God and Jesus wanted for me. It was at that time that I turned my life over to God and decided that I would let him take the wheel. That I would be happy and enjoy and embrace every day of my life and whatever he put in my path for each day. That was a big turning point in my life. And ever since then, I’ve really lived my life more about what does God want me to do. What does God want me to do with what he’s given me? How am I able to serve him?

    Living

    I’ve really started to learn that the true root of my happiness is living my life for God and for Jesus. When you are open to that reality, all sorts of wonderful things start to happen to you, because you now are … you’re working for God. Your life is for Him and life here takes on new meaning and purpose all of the sudden, which makes it very exciting.

    The other part is that, I guess, for the first 15 to 18 years of my career, I thought I was going to be a cow artist. I grew up on a dairy farm and I was painting cows and rural America and domestic animals and the like. I have built a very substantial following in the rural American art field, and especially, in the cow world with dairy farmers. Kind of obtained a level of worldwide recognition as a cow artist. When I starting painting inspirational art, and when my life starting changing, I began to see and feel that there was a lot more to what was going to happen with my art. And now I really believe that the first part of my career was a warm-up for the more important stuff, for what’s coming ahead.

    "Life is not a race - but indeed a journey. Be honest. Work hard. Be choosy. Say 'thank you,' 'I love you,' and 'great job' to someone each day. Go to church, take time for prayer. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh. Let your handshake mean more than pen and paper. Love your life and what you've been given, it is not accidental - search for your purpose and do it as best you can. Dreaming does matter. It allows you to become that which you aspire to be. Laugh often. Appreciate the little things in life and enjoy them. Some of the best things really are free. Do not worry, less wrinkles are more becoming. Forgive, it frees the soul. Take time for yourself - plan for longevity. Recognize the special people you've been blessed to know. Live for today, enjoy the moment." - Bonnie Mohr

    I think really I’ve just started to tap into the second phase of my career, which I believe will be more inspirational art that holds great meaning and changes people’s lives. It’s been pretty amazing so far, and I’m more or less just a sponge soaking it all up right now. So I’m very excited about what type of work I will be producing down the road.

    John: I really appreciate you sharing that testimony, Bonnie. It sounds to me like God has done some amazing things in your life, and I know those words carry a lot of weight behind them, so I certainly appreciate that. I’m wondering if you could share a little bit about how you first became interested in being an artist and painter, and if there are any other mediums that you enjoy?

    Bonnie: I work only in oil. At the beginning, I started out in some acrylic and a little bit of pencil drawing, but oil is my number one choice because of the richness of it. And also because of, I guess, the qualities of oil paint and everything you can do with them. I’m fascinated with—frankly, in love with—oils for another reason, too. The masters used it. I think, if you’re going to do anything in life, why not try to be the best and stack yourself next to the best if you can. Why not try to emulate them? So because they painted in oil, it’s just my love and fascination also to paint in oil.

    I would love to do some sculptures some day, but there’s just so much for me to learn in this area yet that I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to get that far. As far as why I’m an artist, there’s really only one answer to that, and it’s because this is what God’s quest is for me. The likelihood of me becoming an artist, in my opinion, was about equal to me becoming an astronaut. I had no calling at a young age for it, other than that I was fascinated with color and design. There was something magical about artwork to me, though, and I was just drawn to it because of color and design. I had a silly fascination for anybody that could paint. I just thought that was so cool.

    I remember going to college for Dairy Production, with a minor in Communications, and one day while studying in my dorm room, I began thinking about how great it would be to spend my whole life doing something fun, like the way hobbies are fun. Like an athlete, a pro athlete, who gets to play football or basketball their whole life and get paid for it. I started thinking about using the talents that I’ve been given--and we each have something we’re good at—but then I kind of just put that thinking away in a box and put it up on a shelf somewhere and that was the end of it. It was the seed, perhaps.

    On a side note, on evenings and weekends when I wasn’t studying or going out or traveling, I used my art as expression of who I was. I enjoyed picking up a paintbrush and putzing with it. That was really the extent of it then. In fact, I have no formal training; I’m self-taught. I just have always had this fascination with art. I went to some art shows back in the ‘80s. I don’t know if you remember, but western and wildlife was huge and there were western and wildlife art shows all over the country. You could go to convention centers and attend art shows and look at artists’ work and things like that. I did that.

    I went to a couple of shows and walked around in great awe of these people who had this talent, this amazing talent. I really don’t know why, but I just thought, “I wonder if I could do that?” Thinking back to high school, I did take an art class and loved it. I’d say I was maybe average or slightly above average. As I got older, I continued to have this magnetic attraction for art and just kept wanting to do it.

    Living

    When we got married, my husband had a job where he traveled a fair amount and so I had time on my hands. I did pursue learning to teach myself to paint. At that point it was purely a hobby though. The more I worked at it—and it was a struggle since I’m not naturally that gifted or talented—the better I got. I’ve had to learn a lot, and I struggled, but I really worked hard. There are no artists in my family, and I didn’t know any artists personally. What it really boils down to, I believe, is that this is the path God wanted for me. I’m just a slow learner and it’s taken me awhile to get this far and develop my skill level.

    Living Today

    Today is a gift. Embrace it with joy and anticipation... realize the possibilities. It beckons you towards your destination in life. Be at peace - you are exactly where you are meant to be at this moment. God has carefully chosen the people, events, joys and challenges on your path today. The things you will encounter are stepping stones of what is to come. Make the most of today. Focus on "the present" - you will see and appreciate things you might otherwise miss. Follow your heart - search to find your purpose in life and you will find meaning and happiness.

    Use your talents, do your best, contribute. Make a difference, because you can. Be passionate about your journey - sing, dance, laugh, and love as you go. Give praise and allow time for prayer. The promise of tomorrow begins with the endeavors of today. Do not let the fast-forward pace of the world deprive you from savoring "the now." Seek things that fill you with love and bring you joy. Have faith, it fosters hope - it makes the difference. Believe, with God all things are possible.

    Live well - live today, for it is a gift.

    - Bonnie L. Mohr

    Once I really got going with it and became serious about my art, I just did it on evenings and weekends while I had my other job. I was in marketing and communications for a publishing company. At that point my husband traveled and we didn’t have children, so I had time to work at it. In a very big nutshell, that’s really the process I went through. I guess, after about two or three years of actively pursuing art and teaching myself on a serious level, my skill level got to a point where I was painting quite well. I started showing my work and I landed a job with an IA company to paint one their bull studs.

    At that point, I decided I was going to try this full time, and I put in my notice at my job. My husband was very supportive and he just said, “You know, if it doesn’t work out, you can always get a job.” I made the decision that I wouldn’t wait until I was 65 to pursue my dream, or wake up one day and say, “I wished I would have done that.” I decided that I would try it in the here-and-now, and it’s been a big journey. I definitely have earned my stripes. It’s been wonderful, and there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the path God chose for me. I think that’s where faith really comes in, when you need to stick with it and pursue it. So, here I am.

    John: Bonnie, who would you say is your biggest influencer? Who do you look at and go to or listen to or read or whatever and find yourself inspired by that person?

    Bonnie: I have a couple of pieces of art, actually, hanging in my home that are by an Italian artist from the 18th century. William Adolf Bouguereau is his name. It’s very interesting; he’s painted a lot of religious images. He was actually French. His work is phenomenal. He has some great religious pieces that he did. I’d say right now, he is probably my greatest inspiration as an artist. Actually, hanging downstairs in the house I also have a couple pieces of other pieces I love by … Oh, geez; I’m drawing a blank right now. I’ll run down and check after a while, but I don’t know. I’d have to say that as far as artists those two are probably my favorite and as far as authors, I don’t know. I don’t really read a lot. Max Lucado.

    John: Yeah, Lucado.

    Bonnie: He’s a very inspiring man as well. I love some of his books. He’s sort of been an inspiration to me as well.

    John: What would you say to the young inspiring artist? The 8-year-old or 12-year-old young man or lady who looks at your work or at William Adolf Bourguereau’s work or anybody else’s and says, “Wow. I want to do something like that.” How do you encourage that young person?

    Bonnie: I think the thing I have learned is to dream the impossible, because it really is not the impossible after all. I truly believe that if you have a love of something, if you are passion-driven and want to achieve it—whatever it is—then there’s no replacement in the world for that passion and hard work. That’s probably what I learned as a kid growing up on the farm and that’s probably what has carried me to where I am today. Like I said, there’s really no logic to why I’m doing what I’m doing. I think I was just really true to myself and followed my heart. I prayed about it and I never gave up.

    I think we live in a world today that’s more of a disposable, fast-paced, instant gratification type of world, and unfortunately our younger generations are learning that they have the ways and the means to have what they want instantly, and so much, too. Fortunately, that’s not the way I grew up, because that’s really not the way it works when it comes to really great things in life. Really good things require hard work, dedication and persistence, and they require having a dream and, of course, conviction. That’s sort of the moral of my story, I guess, since nothing has come easy for me either. But I had, and still have, the desire to be successful. My belief, as I’ve said, is that if you work hard and pray about what you’re pursuing—and if you persist—you will probably succeed.

    Most people just never take it that far, from what I’ve seen. Many people give up. Then I think it’s all about being happy with what you have. Finding true joy and satisfaction in what you do have or already do is important too, because too many people in life just mope about what the next guy’s got and what they don’t have. Life can’t be about what they wished they could have, but about really plowing into their own life and what they do have. I think that’s it.

     

     

  • Skillet. The Rock Band That Doesn't Quit

    Posted on May 14, 2013 by John van der Veen


    Skillet recently made headlines when their last album, Awake, became one of just three rock albums to be certified platinum in 2012, forming an improbable triumvirate with the Black Keys’ El Camino and Mumford & Sons’ Babel. The news that Skillet had sold more than a million albums in the U.S. came as a shock to all but the band’s wildly diverse horde of fans, male and female, young and old—known as Panheads—whose still-swelling ranks now officially number in the seven-digit range. This remarkable achievement was announced just as Skillet was putting the finishing touches on their eagerly awaited follow-up album, Rise (Atlantic/Word).

    As soon as the master was turned in to the studio to finish post production on the new album, I sat down with John Cooper

    John

    (lead singer) to talk through what was behind Rise. As you will see, while reading this, John is a passionate man. He is passionate about his music. His wife. His family. About Christ.

    John: I’m wondering if you could share a little bit with us about the new record, Rise. What’s the story behind this?

    John C.: It’s a story about a typical, American teenage kid coming into adulthood and being faced with how brutal the world is. There are shocking things in the outside world, like school shootings, war and all the things you see on the news everyday.

    This album is about how those things affect the life of a teenager. And it’s not just about the big problems from outside, but also about problems from within. That is, living in a single family house with an abusive dad, fighting at home, school bullying, just not being happy with who you are as a person and about trying to find faith. The whole record is about finding faith in a dark world. Rising up out of your circumstances. It all leads to a climax of the character realizing he is never going to be good enough. He is never going to do enough, and is born to let himself down. Even if the outside world doesn’t let him down. Even if his friends don’t let him down. He is going to let himself down because he needs to be redeemed. He reaches out to God and basically just says, “I need to be saved. I need something bigger than myself. I want a change and I want to be new.” That is the climax of the album during the song “Salvation,” in which he cried out for Salvation. All of the sudden, he is safe and able to rise up out of his circumstance.

    John: John, throughout your discography, you guys have always had one or two songs that have dealt with that person who is being pressured by the elements of this world, by the things of this world. You’ve really kind of encouraged people to rise above it and move past that. This certainly has been part of your call as an artist and as a songwriter through the years. Is this a personal story in a sense, John C.? Do you know this person?

    John C.: Right, well there certainly are aspects of me in this person. It’s not a mural. It’s not every little thing that happens. But, yes, absolutely. In fact, I dare say, there are elements of all of us in this person. I think that’s why this record is coming off well.

    So far, people are experiencing it personally. I think it’s because most of us can relate to that feeling of worthlessness, or maybe we let ourselves down and we just realize that it’s amazing that someone else would love us, especially God. A holy God, for that matter! That He would like us is real shocking. There are personal things in my life, of course, that contributed to this, certainly.

    My mom died when I was young. I was 14. My dad and I didn’t get along for a long time. There were times growing up that I felt afraid and wondered if God was there. When I cried out to Him to help me through those hard times. My story is embedded within this record, definitely.

    Good to be Alive
    Written by John L. Cooper, Zach Malloy, Tom Douglas

    Verse 1
    When all you've got are broken dreams
    Just need a second chance
    And everything you want to be
    Gets taken from your hands

    We hold on to each other
    All we have is all we need
    Cause one way or another
    We always make it, you and me

    This life can almost kill you
    When you're trying to survive
    It's good to be here with you

    CHORUS
    It's good to be alive
    It’s good to be alive
    I was lost and I was gone
    I was almost dead inside
    You and me against the world
    It’s a beautiful night
    It’s good to be alive

    Verse 2
    Driving down this highway
    Soaking up the sun
    Got miles to go before we get home
    And the journey's just begun

    We hold on to each other
    You are everything I need
    You feel like forever
    You're a second chance for me

    Bridge
    It's a beautiful night
    Yeah, it's alright
    It's good to be alive

    John: Your last three records have allowed you guys to walk into various ideologies or arenas of thought where you've been able to speak a very significant message. What has that been like? How has that experience been for maybe you, your wife and for you guys as a band over the last couple of years?

    John C.: It has been thrilling, because evangelism has always been kind of what my life is about. Ever since I became a Christian when I was five, it was a natural gifting and leaning towards sharing my faith with people. That longing and zeal has never changed for me. The only thing I think that has changed is the way I do it and the way that we go about it.

    To answer that question, yeah, I think Skillet has begun to write songs, as you said, songs we could all relate to, not just Christian people. I kind of look at it like the way that Jesus told his parables. That is—and I’m just going to be honest here, but I hope nobody takes it bad—I’ve been a Christian since I was five, and still when I read Jesus’ words I still sometimes go, “Man, I just wonder why he wasn’t more clear about what he was talking about.” It’s a little elliptical you know? You have to dig in and watch it rise and see what he was pointing at. The only answer I have come up with is that the Bible said if you seek God, you will find Him. I started thinking, you know what? That’s how I’m going to write my songs. I’m going to leave them open to interpretation of things that we can all relate to, and then when people go to the website or they come to the show and they hear me doing an interview, they will begin to hear what the songs are about. I hope to point them toward Jesus in that way. The songs are kind of grouped by a message that people can relate to. That is kind of how Skillet has written our songs.

    To answer your other question, it has been thrilling because I love evangelism. They tell of people that have gotten saved from music. Could be the unreachable type, the unreachables of the world and that is where I feel I have a lot to share.

    When our last record came out, there was a guy who basically sent me an email saying he heard our song on NFL. “Hero” was playing and he liked it. He said he went to their website and found out who the band was, and bought the song. He said he loved the song and came to a show. One thing led to another, and basically this guy and his wife were both in the pornography industry. They both were filmmakers. The guy got saved and ended up leading his wife to it too. So they were saved now and got out of that industry and have gotten into church. And it was all from hearing our song on NFL. Stories like that are amazing! It’s something only God can do. And we are so honored He is using our music to do it.

    What I Believe
    Written by John L. Cooper and Korey Cooper

    Verse 1
    The world around me
    Is lost in misery
    The only good I've got in my life is you
    No meaning, no other reason
    When everything feels wrong I feel right with you
    So madly, desperate, deeply, obsessed your love is better than life to me
    Can I have this moment forever?
    Take me to the beginning

    CHORUS
    You are what I believe
    I'll live and die for you
    This is all that I need
    When nothing is real you are my truth
    In the darkness you shine
    Can you keep me safe tonight?
    When I’m down on my knees
    You are what I believe

    Verse 2
    When we started, wholehearted
    I never needed anything or anyone else
    I was broken, you made me whole again
    The only one I trusted more than myself

    So madly, desperate, deeply, I will live for you completely
    Can I have this moment forever?
    Take me to the beginning

    Bridge:
    Believe in your love
    Believe in your life
    Believe that you can put me back together on the inside
    Chase all the fear away
    Every time I speak your name

    Take me
    You are what I believe

    CHORUS
    You are what I believe
    I'll live and die for you
    This is all that I need
    When nothing is real you are my truth
    In the darkness you shine
    Can you keep me safe tonight?
    When I'm down on my knees
    You are what I believe

    John: That is absolutely amazing, John. And I appreciate you sharing that.

    Let’s shift gears now and talk a little bit about the new record. How does a concept record get played live? What is the live show going to look like for Rise?

    John C.: Well, at the moment, we are just going to keep showing our shows as we do them. The really cool thing about this record is that I think the songs live on their own outside of the concept period. It’s really cool because with concept records, sometimes individual songs aren’t as strong on their own outside of the full story. We wrote these songs not intending to make it a concept album. The songs themselves do live on their own, and yet the story seems quite clear per song.

    That’s why I think this record is kind of unique. It’s a concept record full of songs that stand alone with impact, we hope. At the moment, we are going to keep playing the songs as-is, but in the back of our minds, we hope this album garners enough excitement, respect and sales that we could go out and do a tour. The whole show is basically like theater, not a theater performance, but more like cinema rock. Like a movie all the way through. That would be really great. You can’t really plan on that kind of success. You have to hope for it and wait and see what happens.

    John: It’s all about cinema rock, isn’t it? Is there still going to be fire?

    John C.: I sure hope so. I love that. Again, going back to Skillet, in the past a lot of people have told me, “When I’m listening to your music or I see the show, it kind of feels like I’m watching a movie.” People have said that quite a lot. I like the theater aspects and the fire. We were adding some stuff this summer that we’ve never done before. I won’t give it away right now, but we’re beginning to add other effects to our show that I think are bringing even more to that sort of theater/movie experience. We’re going to keep adding surprise elements. I hope that fire is always one of them for the rest of my life.

    John: I do too, man. I keep voting for fire.

    John C.: I agree. It was my birthday [a while ago] and I got these new shoes that I’m really excited about. I put them on and I said to my son, “So, what do you think? Do you like my new shoes?” He said, “Yeah, but I think they would be cooler if there was a skeleton on the side and his skull was on fire.”

    John: I love it.

    John C., with that in mind, either in a live setting or even on your records, we will hear hints of 80s glam rock.

    John C.: Right.

    John: I know you were born in the mid 70s. Are you in love with 80s glam rock as much as I am?

    John C.: Absolutely. You definitely can hear it. In fact, it’s funny because some people ask in interviews, “Who is your biggest influence?” This is awful to say, but I think that in Skillet’s music you hear decades of influence. You definitely have that 80s glam thing. You see it in the show with the fire and the guitar solos. Everything is a little bit over the top.

    Also, I am a really big fan of 70s rock, like the stuff Journey, Kansas, Yes and Fleetwood Mac put out. You can really hear that in the music, too. Even some Meatloaf. It’s got this kind of Queen opera rock thing to it that feels a little dramatic. I think with the strings, it feels a little romantic as well. You can definitely hear all of those. But my voice, I don’t sing like an 80s guy. I sing more like a 90s guy. That is, when I started really singing in rock bands, it was 1992–93, and you had Nirvana, Pearl Jam and all those kinds of bands on the scene. So we definitely have a variety of decades of influence and skill with our music and sound.

    John: Cinema rock.

    John C.: Yeah.

    John: So you are a husband, a father, a songwriter, singer and follower of Jesus. Help the ordinary man—whether in high school, college or married—who has followed your career for the last few years. As someone who is reading this blog who struggles to follow Christ on a daily basis, how do you work that up? How do you follow Jesus on a daily basis and how could you encourage others in their walk?

    John C.: That is a great question. The problem is there is not a great answer, like click your heels together twice and take this pill. I wish there were because it would be easier. I think especially what I’m seeing with young people, young people’s attention spans are just so short these days because of the amount of information available. It is constant bombardment with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube. There is so much stuff happening that I think we get drawn into fads. We go, “Man, I’m all about this new TV show, or twit picks. Or the new iPhone.” It’s constant bombardment. Within all of those things, there may be a time for a lot of Christians that they are all about Jesus but then they move onto something else because it’s just constantly moving.

    I tell people, “You have to make a decision in your life now, what your entire life is going to be about.” It’s kind of like when I chose to marry my wife. I made a decision and I knew for the rest of my life until I died or she dies, we are going to be married and that is just the way it is. Nothing is going to change that. I have a kid. Nothing is going to change it. You are going to be a father. Nothing in the world can stop that anymore. Even more importantly, that is what it means to follow Jesus. I am making the decision today that my whole life is going to be about Him, and I will do what He says and I just won’t falter from that. I think a lot of it just comes down to making a decision and sticking to it rather than jumping on and off fads.

    For me, I made that decision years ago and I surrounded myself with other people who made that decision. My pastor, my friends, and my wife. We all have made that decision together and then when things are hard and the new fad comes in, and I go, “Man, maybe I want to give working out more time than I give Jesus,” I have my wife and pastor and friends chime in, and we all pursue Him together.

    I think a lot of Christians don’t make that decision. I always tell people it’s not going to be easier to live for Jesus but you have to make the decision and it can be done. It becomes easier to live for Jesus once you have just made that commitment because that is what your life is about. Instead of finding things that seem more fun, find the most fulfilling thing and that is living for God. Knowing His love, speaking to Him every day and talking to Him. It’s absolutely more fulfilling to your soul than all of these other “fun things.” Anyway, that is what I do. Of course, I read my Bible and I pray, but a lot of it comes down to what our lives are going to be about, and it is Him.

    MY RELIGION

    Music and words: John L. Cooper and Korey Cooper

    Verse 1
    Who's gonna save my soul
    Nothing and nobody but you
    Who's gonna make me whole
    Nothing and nobody but you

    Can't change me, sway me
    Don't know what to make of me
    You've got my devotion fanatical though it may be
    I love you mind, heart, body and soul
    You're the only sanctuary that i know

    CHORUS
    I don't need to stare at stained glass and a steeple
    I don't need to dress to impress all of the people
    Don't need no priest
    Don't need no pew
    You are my religion my religion is you

    I don't need no other purpose
    You give me a reason
    Ain’t their business what I wanna believe in
    You are my priest
    You are my truth
    You are my religion, my religion is you

    Verse 2
    Who's gonna heal my pain
    Nothing makes me feel like you do
    Who can drive my demons away
    Nothing makes me heal like you do
    I love you mind, heart, body and soul
    You're the only sanctuary that I know

    CHORUS
    I don't need to stare at stained glass and a steeple
    I don't need to dress to impress all of the people
    Don't need no priest
    Don't need no pew
    You are my religion my religion is you

    I don't need no other purpose
    You give me a reason
    It ain’t their business what I wanna believe in
    You are my priest
    You are my truth
    You are my religion, my religion is you

    Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
    That saved a wretch like me

    Bridge
    Mind, heart, soul and strength
    Belong to you, belong to me
    Got my devotion I will follow where you lead
    I won't be told what to feel and how to show
    My love can't be stopped
    Love you any way I want

    John: I love it John, and I really appreciate your honestly there. That is really good to hear. One last question before we leave?

    John C.: Hit me.

    John: Red Bull, Mountain Dew or coffee.

    John C.: Oh gosh, you know what? I’m not in love with any of them to tell you the truth. These days I drink coffee, not a lot, but I do drink coffee. I haven’t been drinking sugar or caffeinated drinks. I got off that. I am over six months Dr. Pepper-free. Dr. Pepper was my drug of choice.

    John: That’s right, I forgot about that. I’m sorry I should not have offended you by saying Mountain Dew. I should have said Dr. Pepper, Red Bull or coffee.

    John C.: It would be Dr. Pepper but I am recovering.

    John: You are recovering.

    John C.: That is one of those things that I could never touch it again because I’m like a Dr. Pepper-a-holic. I haven’t told anybody that in interviews. You are the first person to hear me say that I’m six months Dr. Pepper-free.

    John: Can I ask why you gave it up?

    John C.: It was just bad for me. Diabetes runs in my family. I’m like, you know what? I love this drink too much and it’s not good for me so I quit it. I think even more important than that, is they refused to promote Skillet and put anything behind it. So they haven’t put me in a Dr. Pepper commercial. If they did, then I wouldn’t mind drinking it (laughs). I would give them my Dr. Pepper anonymous card, and I would take it up again if they would put me in a commercial.

    John: There you go. All right, Dr. Pepper, it’s on the line. It’s all up to them now.

    John C.: Yes.

    John: John, thank you, Man. You’ve made me laugh. You encouraged me in my walk with Christ today. I appreciate you. I appreciate your band and your ministry and your art. I’m excited about this new record.

    John C.: Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it. It was good to talk to you.

  • Q & A with LINDY BOONE MICHAELIS

    Posted on May 6, 2013 by Family Christian

    On June 19, 2001, Ryan Corbin, grandson of Pat Boone, accidentally stepped through a

    Linda

    skylight and fell three stories onto a cement floor. When he broke through that roof, Ryan fell into a very different life from the one he had before as the beloved son of Lindy Boone Michaelis and first grandson of entertainment icon Pat Boone. As Ryan lingered between life and death in intensive care at UCLA Medical Center, Pat and Lindy decided to take action, in a big way; they went on Larry King Live, shared their faith, and asked millions of TV viewers to pray for Ryan. And so, they prayed. Heaven Hears is an unbelievable story of answered prayer—and it’s not over yet. This book will inspire you to look for answers to prayer and to see God’s miracles.

    Lindy, yours is a book that no mom really wants to write because it’s in response to an experience that no parent ever wants to have. Please describe what happened to your oldest son, Ryan, on June 19, 2001.

    Ryan wanted to get some sun that afternoon. He and his friend and roommate Steve went up to the roof of their apartment building, and Ryan stepped on a skylight that was not protected with any border or railing. He stepped over it but not quite far enough to support his weight, and he fell three stories to a concrete surface in the courtyard of the building. Ryan was bleeding and unconscious, and his roommate Steve fortunately was there to call 911. They lived close to UCLA Medical Center and the paramedics arrived quickly, but we learned later that Ryan was not expected to survive the injuries he sustained. His lungs collapsed, his spleen burst, and he incurred massive internal bleeding. Ryan’s jaw was broken and a couple of ribs cracked. All his internal organs were traumatized and he labored to breathe. Ryan’s heart stopped a couple of times as medical professionals fought to save his life, and the huge concern was whether he had been deprived of oxygen for too long. And then of course no one can fall three stories and have that kind of impact without incurring a very serious injury to the brain. Ryan’s spleen was removed, his bones have healed, and his other organs have become stable again, but he is still on his recovery journey from a traumatic brain injury.
    One of your darkest moments was when you were airborne on your way back to California and had no idea what would await you when you arrived. How did you handle the sense of helplessness you felt?

    As it became more and more clear to me what I had been told about Ryan’s accident—and that the doctors and nurses couldn’t even risk moving him to the imaging room for a CT scan— I knew that his life was hanging by a thread. I felt unbearably trapped in that plane.
    Then I had a thought. I absolutely had to write or I would explode and have a meltdown in front of everybody. My hand started pouring out the feelings of my heart on the back of one of my husband’s work papers from his briefcase. My words were a mixture of my heart emotions and my passionate prayers to God to help me face what I was about to walk into. I begged him not let the pain be for no purpose.

    What was your life like prior to Ryan’s accident? We know you grew up in a famous entertainment family. Tell us how being a Boone prepared you to face the unthinkable.
    I grew up in the real 90210 on the corner of Beverly Drive and Sunset Blvd, right across the street from the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel. I always knew that my dad, Pat Boone, was famous and beloved by loads of fans everywhere we went. But at home, my parents were very down to earth and normal. They worked hard to keep us from feeling entitled or spoiled. My three sisters and I had structure and rules and chores and never missed a church service unless we were sick. I was a very happy, content child and I truly meant it when I accepted Jesus at a young age.

    I was 12 years old when I was baptized. I had watched my parents go through marital difficulties and witnessed a transformation in them, in their marriage and in their relationship to the Lord. Our faith took on more relevance to our day-to-day lives and became more than just about being “good” and attending church. Nothing truly prepares you in advance to handle pain, but it is so important to be grounded in the Word of God.
    When I hit the first major crisis of my life at age 45, I can’t say I was prepared but I had the tools available. I decided to plunge into all I had believed about God, prayer, faith, and healing and learn to use those tools more often and more skillfully. I immersed myself in God’s presence in order to regain my footing. I put what I had been taught to the test, and when I did that, my parents’ beliefs became more my own. It’s not hard to believe in a loving, all powerful God when you live in a Beverly Hills mansion, go to private school, and have every material need met as soon as it arises. But when faith has been tested,then it becomes yours. You cannot deny it when God comes to your rescue.

    If “it takes a village to raise a child,” then you must have relied on the support of family and friends to assist with Ryan’s ongoing care. Tell us about that.

    At first Ryan was so very fragile. He was in six facilities over a ten-month period. My mother and I shared the time at each facility during the day. I was there for six hours, and she spent six hours, and we overlapped our shifts so we had some time together each day. At night another family member, my husband Mike, Ryan’s dad Doug, his stepmom Vic, and other family and friends would sit with Ryan for three hours or so before a paid caregiver would come to stay the night and keep watch. Hospital staffs are stretched thin, and I couldn’t bear to have Ryan be alone, trapped without the ability to communicate and nobody with him to notice if he was in distress.

    We brought him home as soon as we could modify our home for a wheelchair and shower that could work downstairs. Ryan’s condition was still so complicated that our insurance allowed a high level of in- home nursing care. It felt as if we had the benefits of the hospital in our home. I prayed for God to bring us the right caregivers who would be with us day in and day out after the nursing care ran out, and I know that our prayers were heard and answered in such a sweet way. God brought us James and Joseph to work with Ryan from the time we brought him home, and later Chris joined us, to round out a three-person team of caregivers. We had been warned that keeping good caregivers was one of the challenges that we would face, but in our case Ryan has had amazing men that I believe were sent to us. They have the biggest hearts and really have bonded with Ryan. After 8 years Joseph moved away, but he left us in good hands with his brother-in-law Erwin. We feel blessed because Ryan has had such great guys to help him.

    Larry King has been a longtime friend of your family’s, and early on he asked you and your dad to come on his network TV show to talk about Ryan’s accident and ask viewers to pray. Why did you decide to appear on Larry King Live, and what was the response?
    At the first request, I told my dad I couldn’t do the show and he should go on without me. I didn’t feel I could expose my pain and raw wound to the world. It felt too personal. But after thinking it over for a short while, I thought about what Ryan would want me to do. He loved the Lord. He believed God was going to use his life to point others toward Him. I believed in the power of prayer and realized this was a huge opportunity to ask the world to pray for Ryan. If Ryan hadn’t been in a coma and we could have talked about it, I knew he would have told me to go on and lift up Jesus and ask for prayer.

    I had recently read about Jesus praying aloud for his friend Lazarus, who had already died. Jesus publicly said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here that they may believe that you sent me." After this he called Lazarus from the grave and he lived! Even Jesus prayed in public for the benefit of the people there watching him. If he thought it was important to pray in public in his own pain (he had wept for his friend), I thought I was being signaled to go on that live broadcast and ask God to heal my son aloud and in faith.

    Your book is called Heaven Hears. Given the fact that Ryan’s health has not yet been completely restored, what are some of the ways in which you feel that God has heard and answered your prayers?

    I would so much like to have written this book with a different ending. I would love to report that Ryan miraculously got up out of his wheelchair and started walking, and that his behavior straightened out completely and his memory returned 100 percent intact. But when I look at the Bible as a whole, I see that some answers to prayer were a long time coming.

    Sometimes God’s promises aren’t immediately evidenced, and there are many Scriptures to point out why that could be. James 1:2-4 talks about considering it pure joy when you face trials because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance which must finish its work so that we may be mature and complete.

    My pastor, Rick Warren, often says that God is much more interested in our character than our comfort. This recovery journey with Ryan has grown the faith of every one of us in our family and caused us to go deeper in God. Ryan is still coming back to us. As we sat in the waiting room for weeks and weeks, we often put together jigsaw puzzles to pass the time. I think of Ryan like that, being put back together, piece by piece, and it’s so satisfying when another piece is found and slides into place. And with each piece I see the Ryan I know coming back, smiling at me. Each night Ryan and I both speak words of restoration to his brain, his body, and his behavior. I know heaven hears us call the Kingdom of heaven to earth. In the Kingdom, Ryan is already completely whole, and we are calling the manifestation of his wholeness to earth. I’m seeing it happen before my eyes, yet in the process, God is making all of us who are waiting and believing to be more mature and complete ourselves.

    If this story was yours and Ryan’s alone, you would not have written a book. What advice do you have for others who have faced tragic circumstances within their families?

    I wanted to write a book that I could share with families who are in that darkest part of their lives, afraid and confused. I know how it feels to have your world turned upside with nothing that makes sense. It’s lonely, and you feel that nobody can really understand the isolation. People come around but unless they have experienced that phone call about a beloved being hurt who is hanging between this life and the next, they don’t know what to say and can’t relate. But there were a few people who reached out to me who did know, for they had been there. These were survivors who came to comfort and encourage me.
    I also sought out books that offered hope about people who had suffered TBI (traumatic brain injury) and had better outcomes than doctors were telling them to expect. In many cases doctors take away your hope by telling you “what the odds are.” They don’t want you to be disappointed but rather pleasantly surprised if your loved one has a better outcome. But the nurses and often therapists offered stories of hope.
    Ryan’s story will offer hope to many people. Some may not want to hear that he’s not perfectly healed yet. That’s not the story they are looking for. I may have had that attitude early on. But some families would be delighted to see their loved one make the progress that Ryan has made. They need to have hope that their loved one can get better than they may have been led to believe and that they themselves will smile again. I didn’t think I ever would.

    I want people to know that when their foundation is shaken and it all comes crumbling down, they cannot rely on medical specialists or their own strength of will. The only sure place they can stand is on is God’s Word. We can place our confidence in His unique ability to take our rubble and broken pieces and rebuild something amazingly beautiful. I want others to know that they can fight but to fight the right enemy -- take the battle to their knees and know that they have heaven’s armies to back them up.

    You and your family have begun a nonprofit foundation to help survivors of brain injury and their families. Tell us about Ryan’s Reach and the ways in which Ryan’s own story is still unfolding.
    We know we are fortunate because Ryan received a settlement after his accident which allows us to be able to afford caregivers. We are in the minority, though, and most mothers and fathers are the caregivers. We started Ryan’s Reach so that we can address the needs of families who have exhausted their resources and energy and need help.

    Ryan attends High Hopes Head Injury Program in Tustin, California—a day program for people over 18 years of age who have suffered a traumatic brain injury or stroke. We raise money primarily through two annual fundraisers which provide scholarships so others can attend this great program. High Hopes is a nonprofit, but it still requires approximately $2,600 a month to attend the program full-time. This is nothing compared to facilities that are for-profit. Most of the students at High Hopes are in no position to pay this, so they are in need of funding. We assist as many as we can, but we want to do so much more.
    Our vision includes increasing the numbers of scholarships we can fund and helping High Hopes grow to be able to accept more students. We also foresee a respite care element to our foundation, allowing parents and spouses to get a break. Many parents haven’t had a vacation or even a date night in a long, long time as it’s hard to trust others with the complicated needs of someone with TBI.

    To read more about Lindy's book, Heaven Hears, click here.

  • Q&A with We As Human

    Posted on May 1, 2013 by John van der Veen



    The journey of hard rockers We As Human from one of northern Idaho’s most beloved, bone-crunching indie acts to ink a deal with Atlantic Records is nothing short of extraordinary. After touring throughout the region alongside a soundtrack slot in a national commercial for Xbox 360’s “Section 8” video game, the guys scored an unexpected networking opportunity of a lifetime.

    “Our road manager at the time was working a Skillet show as a runner and a couple of the band members ended up in our touring van,” recalls frontman Justin Cordle. “As they were driving around, he said ‘Hey, I know you get CDs all the time, but this one from We As Human is way more awesome than all the others.’ It wound up making its way to the band’s frontman John Cooper, kind of as a joke at first because they really do get demos pitched to them all the time, but he put it in, absolutely loved it and said we were one of the best bands he’s heard in quite a few years.”

    The new album from We As Human streets on 6/25. Read below for our recent Q&A with Justin Cordle.

    1 - What is your background? Where did you guys grow up? What made you interested in music?

    A: We started our band in Sandpoint, ID, if you don’t know where that is, don’t feel bad, nobody else does either! We all come from different places though, Adam & I grew up together in Sandpoint and meet each other when we were kids attending the same church. Forshaw hails from Western Washington, Dave from Eastern Washington and Jake was reared in the lands of Austin, TX & New Mexico.

    Music was a passion in each of us from a very young age and as we grew, it became more and more obvious that we were of the musician kind. God gives everyone a very distinct desire and passion to produce something in this world, ours has always been music. From the first time I stepped on stage with my guitar at 8 years old and sang a Don Francisco song -out of key probably-, I was hooked.

    My desire to pursue music went into hyper-drive when I was 13, my parents and I were coming back from a conference in our 1989 wood-panel-sided Caravan, and I fell asleep and had the only dream I’ve had in my entire life that I knew was from Christ. In that dream I was standing on a stage singing and playing my guitar, I heard “This is what I have for you”, then I woke up. That was it, but, it was so profound, it altered the entire direction of my life to this very day.

    2 - What are your biggest influencers? Musically and spiritually?

    Our spiritual influencers are a ton of people you have probably never heard of, they are our friends, fans and family who keep us encouraged and accountable. When we’re on the road we often listen to guys like Ray Ortlund (My amazing pastor), Timothy Keller, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll and other dudes who love Jesus.

    Musically, well, that’s where it gets weird! A few artists that have shaped us into the musicians we are would be : Alterbridge, Skillet, Steve Via, John Meyer, Extol, .S.R.V., Alice In Chains. Garth Brooks, Darrell Evans, Hillsong & Keith Urban, just to name a few.

    3 - What does your live show look like?

    We love playing live, and I think our love for music and our fans comes through in our performances. I don’t know how to explain our show, but I can say, we leave it ALL on the stage every night. We have walked off the stage on more than a few occasions bleeding. There is an excessive amount of guitar-head dodging, accidentally running into each other and guitar shredding on our stage every night to be sure. It’s the epitome of our musical passion and it’s where we feel the most comfortable and alive.

    4 - Coffee or Mountain Dew?

    This one is easy, Coffee, but not just any coffee, we like coffee served by a spider monkey who is wearing sandals, lemon-yellow-pleated shorts, and a T-shirt that says, “I’m here for the party!”.

    For more on We As Human, and to listen to snippets of the latest EP, click here.

  • Richard Stearns - A Vision For All Of Us

    Posted on April 26, 2013 by Family Christian

    Richard

    Richard Stearns lives in a magic kingdom.

    That’s how he describes the wealthy existence of most people in first world countries like the U.S. As World Vision President, however, he’s also familiar with those living in a “tragic kingdom,” where food, clean water and medicine are chronically in short supply. Stearns says the common denominator between the two is what both are missing: both the Magic Kingdom and the Tragic Kingdom need a breakthrough of God’s kingdom.

    Richard Stearns encourages readers to discover their unique roles in God’s Kingdom, regardless of where they live. His new book, Unfinished: Believing Is Only the Beginning, describes how to find a life of true significance and meaning. “I believe there is a direct connection between the unfinished work of God’s kingdom and our sense of feeling incomplete in our faith,” writes Stearns. “This is inevitable, because there is a direct connection between our story and God’s story. If we are not personally engaged in God’s great mission, then we have missed the very thing he created us to do.”

    Below are some questions about his new book.

    Q: Since the release of your first book, The Hole in Our Gospel, you’ve spoken to thousands of people while traveling on behalf of World Vision. What are you hearing from Christians?

    A: There is a powerful common thread of longing that I hear from them—a yearning for a
    deeper sense of purpose and significance in their walks with the Lord. They want to discover that one thing that God is calling them to do. They long to feel that they are doing something important for God and that their lives really count for something. Many of them tell me they feel incomplete, as if something about their lives is unfinished. They are young and old, male and female, wealthy and not-so-wealthy. They are lawyers and real estate agents, homemakers and students, accountants and engineers, receptionists and CEOs. All of them want to experience the satisfaction of really knowing that their lives matter and that they are living in “the zone” of God’s calling and purpose for their lives. They want to feel complete and whole, living lives in which their faith is integral and not just something they do on Sundays.

    Q: What perspective can you offer those who are seeking God’s call on their lives?

    A: If I have learned anything about the purpose, meaning, and significance of life over the
    years, I have learned that, for a Christian, it is not found in any job, even a job like mine. It is not found in any human relationship, no matter how important. Nor is it found in any
    accomplishment, no matter how significant. Meaning, purpose, and significance are found only by aligning our lives with God’s purposes in lives committed to following Jesus Christ. That bears repeating: The meaning, purpose, and significance of our lives are found only by aligning our lives with God’s purposes, in lives committed to following Jesus Christ.

    In other words, it is not our work that brings purpose to our lives; nor is it our spouses, our
    families, our educations, our abilities, our money, or our accomplishments. Rather, it is the
    purpose of our lives that brings meaning to everything else. And we find the purpose for our lives only in Christ.

    Q: If it’s that simple, why do so many first-world Christians lack a sense of purposeful
    living?

    A: We all know the familiar expression “He can’t see the forest for the trees.” It is used to
    describe a person who is so absorbed in the things right in front of him that he has lost a sense of the bigger picture. I believe that this is exactly what has happened to many Christians in the twenty-first century—we have become so absorbed by the “trees” of our everyday lives that we have lost a sense of the bigger story within which our lives take place. We grow up, go to school, begin careers, get married, have kids, and struggle daily with life’s challenges.These are the “trees” of our lives that occupy most of our waking hours.

    Our church lives aren’t all that different. We go to church each week, sing some songs,
    and listen to a sermon. Maybe we even pray before meals, read our Bibles daily, and participate in small group Bible studies. But they can become just more trees in a life already cluttered with trees. What happened to the forest; what happened to the bigger story? Who are we? Why are we here, and where are we headed? How do we fit into God’s big story? A hiker who no longer has a sense of the bigger landscape around him becomes lost and confused, often wandering in circles because he is disoriented and no longer knows where he has come from or where he is headed. If we are ever truly going to find purpose and meaning in our lives, we first have to rise above the trees to rediscover the forest—we have to understand what God is doing in the world and how we fit in.

    Q: And this re-discovery of mission is the theme of your new book, Unfinished?

    A: As the title of this book suggests, there is some unfinished business for followers of Christ in our world: And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matt. 24:14)

    I believe there is a direct connection between the unfinished work of God’s kingdom and
    our sense of feeling incomplete in our Christian faith, because there is a connection between our story and God’s story. If we are not personally engaged in God’s great mission in the world, then we have missed the very thing he created us to do. We are like birds meant to fly but living in a cage; fish meant to swim but floundering on the beach. It makes sense when you think about it. If the Author of the universe created us to play a key role in his unfolding drama but we have failed to find our place in that story, then of course we would feel incomplete.

    Q: How do you hope readers will respond to this mission?

    A: There are as many ways to join the great mission of Christ in our world as there are people. My book introduces just a few of the hundreds of people I’ve encountered who are living their own kingdom adventures. The one thing they all share is the unwavering belief that God made them for a purpose, to serve him and to build his kingdom. They have rearranged their lives to put Christ and his kingdom mission at the center. They have enlisted; they have joined the rescue mission to take back the world for Christ, to serve as ambassadors of his love and to herald the good news of the gospel.

    I hope readers respond by looking around them. What can you see? What is yours to do? In God’s expanding kingdom there is no unimportant job and no insignificant person. Is there a single mom who needs your encouragement, a child who needs your love? Do you see the elderly woman, lonely for a friend; a drowning teenager, hungering for a dad? Have you
    looked into the hearts of those you work with and seen the desperation in their lives? Is there an immigrant family struggling to adjust, needing a friend to guide them in a foreign place? Is there a social problem that you might mobilize people to solve? Do you have in your bank account the money that a floundering ministry needs to survive, that a homeless man needs to get a fresh start? Do you have skills and abilities that others need— in finance, as a doctor or lawyer, or as a handyman who can repair a broken-down car? Is there an issue of justice for which you can advocate, a wrong that you can right? Do you ache for the children who die from hunger, the orphans lacking a home, or the widow with children who just needs a loan? So many people are crying out to God for his help. Might you be the answer to one of their prayers?

    You are needed to help build God’s kingdom. This is where your adventure begins.

    As president of World Vision, United States, Stearns is responsible for fundraising among
    American donors, program management, and advocacy to the U.S. government on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Working in about 100 countries, World Vision (www.WorldVision.org) is a Christian relief and development organization dedicated to helping children and their communities worldwide reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty.

  • Michael Sweet. A Rock Singer Pursuing Christ

    Posted on April 18, 2013 by John van der Veen

    Without a doubt, Stryper is one of the top Christian rock bands of all-time, and certainly the most celebrated Christian metal band of all time. Comprised of Michael Sweet (vocals/guitar), Oz Fox (guitar), Tim Gaines (bass), and Robert Sweet (drums), Stryper has been rocking since 1983, and is responsible for such '80s metal classic albums as 'Soldiers Under Command,' 'To Hell with the Devil,' In God We Trust,' and such MTV hit singles/videos as "Calling on You," "Free," and "Honestly."

    After a sabbatical for much of the 1990's, Stryper returned strong in the early 21st century. But it was not until their 2011 covers set, 'The Covering,' that the aforementioned definitive Stryper was reinstated, as the band welcomed Gaines back into the fold.

    Recently, I sat down with Michael to talk through what had transpired in the previous months until now. What I heard amazed me. Michael and his band mates have continued to be on a mission for over 30 years. To point people to Christ. In this interview Michael shares what is on his heart. He is honest and real.

    John: Michael, just to kind of start… you guys have a new record out now called Second Coming—which certainly brings back a lot of amazing memories, probably for you guys as well as for us as fans. I want to go back to the beginning. When it all began, when it was you and your brother and a couple of other guys with long hair. You guys wanted to change the world. Take us back. When was that? Was it 1983 or ‘82 when you guys formed the band?

    Michael: It was 1983 when we officially formed—the four of us: Tim, Oz, Rob and myself. Robert and I had been doing it long before then, of course, but when Tim actually came and joined forces with us, and the four of us decided collectively to pursue the Stryper thing, that was 1983. And it’s been virtually nonstop since then, with just a few detours along the way.

    I left the band in 1992, and then we didn’t head out on the road again until 2003. That was over ten years later; and we didn’t officially reunite again until 2005, and that wasn’t even with Tim. Tim did the ‘03 tour, but he didn’t reunite with us when we did it officially in 2005. He wanted to pursue other things, so we wound up going out with a different bass player. But then Tim came back to the band in ‘09 and we’ve been going with him ever since.

    It’s been the original line-up since then, and that’s what you get on this record, Second Coming—which is really unique and rare, I think. Most bands that are 30 years old don’t consist of the original line-up, so this feels really good to us as a group. In fact, we’re very proud to be able to say that.

    Michael

    John: I’m sure! I mean it certainly has been a remarkable story, following your career and seeing how you guys, in a sense, went separate ways, but then somehow came back together again.

    Michael: Well, you know, I think that’s one of the misconceptions about the band. I think because we are a band that consists of Christian guys (we’re four Christian guys who have deep faith), people expect us to be perfect and to not have any issues, and to get along 100 percent of the time and that’s just not the case. I mean, we wind up going through ups and downs and relationship issues with each other, even to the point where we need breaks from one another. We really do need time away from each other sometimes. That might sound odd to people when they hear it, but those are the facts. It’s just kind of how life is. And the beauty in that, because of our faith, you know, is that God always restores and heals. So with a little bit of time away, we come back restored and revived, and God works through the band again and incredible things happen.

    It’s really been quite a unique story and to be a part of it, I’m blessed. I’m so blessed.

    John: How does that transpire? Do you guys just kind of call each other on the phone and say, “Hey, I think we have something again?” How did things start moving in that direction, where God orchestrated the four of you to shift toward coming back together again?

    Michael: Well, just speaking for myself… I’m sure if you ask that question of us individually, you might get a different answer or a different reaction, maybe similar but different. But, my answer to that is I’ve always wanted God to lead the way. I felt from 1992 to 2003 like it wasn’t time. He didn’t want me to be a part of it. He had other plans for my life and other things that he wanted me to do, and to fulfill that did not mean at the time rejoining Stryper.

    I just followed His lead, or at least I felt as though I was following His lead. I know there were some fans who were upset about it, and couldn’t understand why we split up. Even my brother didn’t really understand. When I left the band, he was probably the most hurt out of the bunch, and it didn’t necessarily make sense to him. He always thought brothers would stick together no matter what, through thick-and-thin. Yes, that does apply in the private life—it should apply—but not always in terms of business—and that’s the thing, we’re a ministry, but we’re also a business. So sometimes when you’re in business with family, as you know, if you’ve ever experienced that, it doesn’t always work.

    You kind of need to step back and say, “Okay. I’ve got to clear my head here, because (and not a lot of people know this) we went bankrupt.” I mean, we never incorporated the band, and because of that we were just a partnership. And we wound up building up and racking up this incredible debt, basically spending more than we made night after night for years, all to put on this production and what not. We wound up having this huge debt and as individual partners we had to file bankruptcy. There were a lot of things like that, which I’ll talk about in the book I’m working on. It’s an autobiography, and I get into all the details of those things. So there were a lot of reasons why I needed to clear my head and get away from it all; so much so, that I moved from the West coast to the East coast. Not only did I need to get away from it, but I needed to get as far away from it as possible. So, that’s what I did for a while.

    John: To say that there’s new life in Stryper is kind of a misnomer though, isn’t it?

    Michael: There is new life in Stryper, and that’s because of Christ. I don’t mean to sound cliché, but there really is.

    John: That’s not a cliché. That’s the truth.

    Michael: It is. It’s the truth, and only God can do that. Only He can restore and heal, and change men’s hearts—only Him—and that’s what happened. After some time away, healing took place and we were able to come together again. Not only come together, but to love each other more than before, and to work together better than we ever did. It’s really incredible. It demonstrates what God can do and is a powerful testament to His love.

    John: I can’t remember what year it was, but I saw you guys a few years back. You played the Wild Horse in Nashville TN, and man, it was as if you had not missed a beat. I literally was standing there going, “I feel like these guys have never left.” Like you’d always been playing together, all four of you guys.

    How have you honed your craft as a group in all of these years? How have you guys stayed on top of the game? I mean, you guys sound great!

    Michael: Well, thank you, first of all. Thank you very much. I think a lot of that comes from, first, the fact that is Robert and I are brothers. There is something that comes with that in terms of meshing, and we just lock. He goes for a cymbal, I know he’s going to go for a cymbal and I’m going to go for a chord and he’s going to hit a kick and I’m going to stop with his kick. We just kind of know what each other’s going to do. I’ve heard this from other brothers in the music business as well: Eddie Van Halen and Alex Van Halen, on and on. There’s something to be said for that connection, and not just with brothers, sisters or siblings, or what have you. There’s just something to be said about that. So that’s the first thing, and then secondly, we all went to high school together. We all grew up together pretty much.

    Even prior to high school, we knew each other. Oz and Robert and I, so growing up together in the same time, in the same area, I think, plays a big part in it too. We just know each other so well, and we know what we’re going to do musically, that we could play it in our sleep. There’s a certain chemistry that happens and so a lot of it’s just instinctual.

    John: You guys decided to come out with the Second Coming. You do classic songs—is that the right word to use? Do you like that word?

    Michael: Yes, I think so. I mean I would call them classic. They’re certainly fan favorites, and they’re old. Some of those songs date back to 1981.

    John: How did you go through and pick those songs?

    Michael: That was really easy. The reason, or purpose, rather, for this record was solely for our publishing company. We were going to re-record a handful of the songs—as many as we could afford to and that we had time for—so we could retain the rights to the masters so that nobody else would own them. We would own them, and the publishing company would come directly to us and say, “Hey, we got this movie Mark Wahlberg is in, and we want to use ‘Loud and Clear.’” We’d say, “Cool” or something like that, and the deal could be done in one phone call, versus them having to go to Disney and Hollywood and trying to get someone on the phone for two weeks. Because once they do that, then they would have had to go talk to their boss, and get back to them in two weeks. And then when they finally do get back to them after a month has gone by, the deal has either gone south, or they don’t want to do it, or they want too much money or something.

    This happened time and time again, and we got fed up with it, and said, “You know what? This is silly. I mean, let’s just go re-record these songs and make it simple and cut out the middleman.” And that’s why we did it. Once we went and started recording, we kept that in mind. We figured we’d do the favorites. So we did the most popular tunes and tackled the first three albums, and then our mentality was we’ll get to the other albums later.

    John: Yes.

    Michael: When we have the time and the money, that’s what we plan on doing. Right now, we don’t have any set time frame. We don’t know when that will take place; maybe in two or three years we’ll do another Second Coming or a re-record. We’ll hit albums like, In God We Trust, Against The Law and maybe even Reborn and Murder by Pride.

    John: You were thinking of all the fans, like, “Hey, these are the songs these guys want,” and I love it. I absolutely love it. It’s fantastic!

    Michael: Well, I’ll tell you, honestly, we weren’t initially thinking of the fans at all, because we had no plans to release it to the fans. It was only being done for our publishing company.

    John: Well, on behalf of your fans, Michael, thank you. Thank you so much.

    Michael: You know what, we’re really pleased that it worked out that way, and that we were able to release it to the fans too. We wound up hooking up with a great company, Frontiers, who has a vision for what we’re doing. They had a super high belief level in Second Coming and they got behind. They made it happen, and they released it and God bless them. We couldn’t have done it without them, no way.

    John: So is there a tour planned?

    Michael: At the moment, believe it or not, no tour is planned. Here’s what’s going on. This year, we’re going to do a handful of select dates across America starting in June and going through September. But first, we’re going to make a new record. We signed a three-album deal with Frontiers, and they put some pretty heavy deadlines on us. We’re okay with that, though. They’re going to release another record this year—coming out in either September or October. It’s going to be an all-new, original 12-song album. You’ll need to put some head gear on, John, and get in the boxing ring, though, because it’s going to punch you in the face about 10 times, or 12 times I should say!

    John: I love it.

    Michael: It’s going to be real heavy. We’re going back to our roots, which is exactly what people expect from Stryper, I think. I really believe it’s going to be our best album to date. People are going to hear it and hopefully think, “What in the world? How is this possible?” We’re really excited about that.

    Then we’ve got those dates that I talked about from June to September, and then we’ll to do another album, probably a live recording of our rehearsals in Nashville in November. That’ll come out early next year, in the first or second quarter of 2014.

    John: You certainly are not very busy, is what I’m hearing. (laughs)

    Michael: You know what, brother? I’m overwhelmingly busy! I have a solo record coming out, supposedly this year, with a book. I’ve been asked to sing for another band too (which I actually can’t really talk about at the moment), and maybe do some touring with them in October. It’s been kind of crazy, really. I think about it, and I don’t remember a year in the history of Michael Sweet ever being this crammed full of stuff. It’s just ridiculous. I guess that’s a good thing. I’m very, very blessed.

    John: Michael, as we’re kind of nearing our conversation here, I just want to touch base on that. Obviously, I was kidding you in saying that you’re not very busy. As a man who pursues Christ, how do you challenge either your peers, or the people at your church, or others you come across—like those reading this blog—in the midst of life’s busyness, to stay focused on Christ? What is your process in going through that, and how can we learn from you?

    Michael: Well, not only do I challenge everyone, but I challenge myself more than others, because I’m guilty of not doing this. That is, when you put your feet on the floor in the morning, and when you lay your head on the pillow every night, I’d say thank God. Talk to Him, and develop a relationship with God through a simple prayer, a long prayer, meditation, or even going into a closet or into a room and closing the blinds, if you have time. If you don’t, do whatever you can to make time for Christ. For connecting with Him. I think so many times we visualize God as being somewhere else, being distant in heaven, far away, but the fact is that he’s right here in front of us and around us daily at every moment.

    I think if we come to terms with that part, that He is with us all the time and as close to us as anyone can be, it might help us develop a close relationship with Him and talk to him more. I try to include him more and to think of him more. Unfortunately, daily life often robs us of that one-on-one time with not only God, but with anyone else who might be close to us. The people we love, unfortunately, kind of get thrown out the window, and we wind up focusing more on our business and the tasks at hand and what we have to do today. It’s the old To-do list. Then we realize after 30 years passes, how much time we’ve wasted, that we didn’t use to focus on loving God and our family.

    I would just share with people to just love God with all your heart. Put Him first, and then put your family second, obviously, above all the other stuff that just truly doesn’t matter.

    John: So, here are two slightly random questions coming from a few followers, a few friends of ours here. You did a stint with Boston, the band, is that an ongoing relationship?

    Michael: It’s not really. I’m in touch with them, mostly with the co-lead vocalist, Tommy Decarlo, I’d say. He and I are dear friends and have stayed true friends over the years. I’ve kind of lost touch with Tom and Kim, Tom’s wife, for no particular reason. I wound up deciding to leave them almost two years ago because I wanted to focus on Stryper. I felt like there were too many distractions, as we were just talking about, from my priority band, the band that I started building as a kid with my brother. I just wanted to focus on that, instead of working with the inconsistency of not knowing when we were going to do this or that, and being a little more on and off, if you will, with Boston.

    I just felt like it wasn’t the ideal way for me to conduct my affairs or scheduling, at that point. So I left that, even though some people might think, “What? Are you crazy? And some might think I was crazy for joining Boston in the first place. I mean, I got some flack for that from the Christian community. Like maybe I wasn’t a Christian or something because I joined a secular band. So, you hear all this kind of stuff, and you just think, “Wow. Okay, I guess that’s what determines your Christianity and your faith to some.”

    John: Is there ever a moment, Michael, where you or Stryper will not be under the microscope when it comes to the Church?

    Michael: I don’t think so, because we’re just so different. We weren’t raised in the church. We were raised in Hollywood on Sunset Strip, and because of that, I don’t think we’re ever going to really fit in or be a part of “the club.” We love our Christian brothers and sisters, don’t get me wrong. Man! We love them to death, and some of my best friends are into that, but Stryper’s just always done things their own way. In saying that, I don’t mean that we do things our own way in the sense that we don’t listen to God. We absolutely 100 percent listen to God. We pray about everything. We wait on everything, and we do everything according to God’s lead. But it doesn’t always line up with how other Christian artists or people in this industry are doing things. So, because of that, we get a little flack. We’ve taken some beatings over the years and that’s okay. We’ve got tough skin. We’re okay.

    John: As we close here, I’m wondering, I’m sure you’ve had some embarrassing moments on the road with the guys? Is there something that comes to mind?

    Michael: Most embarrassing moment, let’s see. I talk about this in the book. For me, it goes way back to a time when some guy was banging his head in front of my feet at the bottom of the stage. He was banging his head so hard that his glass eye popped out.

    John: Oh, my goodness.

    Michael: It was at my foot. I didn’t know it was a glass eye and he kept yelling at me and I bent down and flicked the eye. I didn’t know it was an eye! And it went through the audience, and then he was obviously livid for the rest of the show. It was in Australia, and it’s one of the most surreal, oddball stories I’ve ever told, but it’s real. It’s a true story that actually happened. It was crazy.

    John: Oh, my goodness.

    Michael: I was very embarrassed and it was difficult, but I had to get through another 45 minutes of the set with this guy yelling at me and wanting to jump on stage, and probably give me a good slap across the face, but hey.

    John: Wow. Unbelievable.

    After listening to The Second Coming, many times, I have to say that I have pleased. This band still rocks. Michael can still hit those high notes. Both Robert and Tim still have rhythm. Don't get me wrong, these guys are not some grandpas trying to sound relevant. They are a rock band that has stood the test of time. They sound great.

    For Stryper tour information, click here.

  • Gina - A Foster Mom with a Passion for Missions

    Posted on April 15, 2013 by John van der Veen



    To say that Gina is ordinary is certainly an understatement.  She is most certainly not. Gina is an extraordinary woman who has a passion for God. And orphans.

    I recently sat down with Gina to talk through a recent Good Goer mission trip that she had been on.

    John: Gina, what led you to the point of wanting to go on a mission trip in the first place?

    Gina: I guess, I am trying to think, I guess in general, I feel that I try to make the big decisions in my life based on Jesus saying, “To whom much is given, much is expected,” and I feel that I have been given much by … I have two wonderful parents and I also have come to know the Lord, and He has given me amazing peace and joy, and so for me, I am specifically interested in missions that focused on orphans.

    I feel that I was really, really fortunate to grow up in a home with loving parents, and for many kids in our world, they don’t have any parents, much less loving parents, so I have always just been passionate, I guess, towards ministering to orphans. The reason I chose to do something, like you said, mission-based rather than Peace Corps-based, is because as I have come to know the Lord, I just realized the peace and the joy He has given me. I feel that truly, truly the best gift I can give anyone, would be how to have a relationship with Jesus and experience that peace and joy for themselves.

    John: That’s awesome. Was there something in your life that drew you specifically to orphan care? What all of a sudden made your head, or your heart rather, move into this orphan care?

    Gina: Through loving parents, I guess. I am just trying to think, I should have asked in advance what the questions were going to be. I honestly can’t really pinpoint a time as far as when I became interested in taking care of orphans. I feel that, most of my life I’ve always been for the underdog. I worked in adolescent group homes for a number of years in Wisconsin, and I worked with, some of the kids there were court-ordered to the group homes because of delinquencies and some of them were wards of the state. For whatever reason, foster care wasn’t working for them. Sometimes they were so damaged they couldn’t form a bond with the foster families; sometimes it was their own behaviors that drove some away, and I remember, in particular, one young lady.

    She was having a real hard time. It was right around the holidays. Her behavior was outlandish, and I remember looking her in the eyes and saying, “What can I do to help you?” and she looked me back in the eyes and said, “You can’t do anything, all I want is a family,” and that broke my heart, and that led me in the road of foster care. Like I said, I just have always been driven, I am sorry, I can’t tell you specifically why I became interested in orphans. I read a lot of books, my heart beats for Africa, just through reading, I guess.

    John: Gina, how long have you been doing foster care, or at least participated in it?

    Braiding

    Gina: Since 2008.

    John: 2008 and how many children have you had?

    Gina: I have had two full-time foster daughters live with me and I've had 17 kids stay with me. The county I live in has what is called a Rough Bits program, where some of the kids need a place to stay for short-term, like usually a weekend. Sometimes it's like a Rough Bits for the foster home. The foster parents are going out of town or they are burned out, they need a break, and I’m a licensed foster home that children can come to, and other times, there's definite issues going on at home and the kids and the parents need a break from each other, and they come by me for Rough Bits. Some of the kids have just come one time or a couple of times just ... they live in a foster home and the foster parents needed a break.

    Other kids will come every other weekend during a month or every other weekend for nine months due to strain at home. Another girl just started out living at home, then she moved into a foster home, and she came every once a month for three years. It's for a variety of needs and lengths of time. Like I said, two girls actually lived with me long-term.

    John: Yes, and then you somehow discovered either Guatemala, or you discovered Good Goers.

    Gina: Yes, I discovered Good Goers. I had gone just on an independent service trip to Kenya about a year ago, and my cousin had contacted me to see, she was going to have some time off from work this winter, and wondered if I wanted to go back to Kenya. As much as I would love to go back to Kenya, it wasn’t an option at the time. For me, it was time off from work and what not, with travel back and forth to Africa, and ... but I asked if she'd be interested in going somewhere else and she said she would, and I had remembered getting some information ... I'm an avid shopper of Family Christian in the stores…

    John: [Laugh] We thank you for that!

    Gina: No problem, and this summer they had asked me if I wanted to give one of the bears for the James Fund, and at that time, I just ... sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t, and I did it, and the associate was putting away papers and I was like, “Wait a minute, do I have to pay for the papers, too, or can I still get the papers?” and she said, “No, you can get the papers,” and I took the papers and it had information about Good Goers on it, and I just put them away.

    When my cousin and I were looking for a destination for a trip, a mission/service trip, I pulled out the papers and looked up the destinations and Guatemala just seemed to fit. One of the priests at the parish where I grew up, he had done missions in Nicaragua, and it was always on my heart to go to Central America and my cousin felt the same way, so we signed up. I think there were three spots available when we signed up and we were thrilled to be selected right away and we went together to Guatemala and it was just fantastic. We loved it.

    John: Did you say that you have been to Central America before or you had a heart for Central America?

    Gina: I had a heart for Central America since I was in elementary school.

    John: This is your first time in Guatemala; this is your first time in Central America. Your first thought getting off the plane, how did you feel?

    Friends

    Gina: Oh boy, I am trying to remember. It was neat. We found out, I overheard a conversation when we were waiting to deboard the plane, and it turned out that two of the people in the row in front of us were on our team, so that was fun. My cousin and I met, it was a mother and daughter, we met them right away and walked through the airport following the rest of the team.

    For me, it was just exciting to be part of a team. The first trip that I went on was more of an independent trip that I went with--an organization that I had found online. I had to send my picture in that one and I got picked up at the airport independently, and so this was really neat. I liked the feeling of being part of a team. There were other people with the same mission as me.

    John: Through the week, were you able to continue that bonding?

    Gina: Yes.

    John: What was the best experience that you participated in while you were in Guatemala?

    Gina: That’s a great question. I would say when we went in to do the home visits with the families. When we did home visits and improvements in people’s homes. To me, generally speaking, that was the best experience, because I love culture. I like seeing, upfront, how people live and so I really liked that. And then specifically, we ministered to this one family where, I had asked in advance if is ok to bring some craft supplies and we were told by Marilyn that yes, I could bring craft supplies, and so I brought all this … had them in my backpack for when we got to families' houses, and this one family, they had a couple of little girls who were really interested in the crafts. They were interested in attention, I should back up, and I noticed the women in the family were kneeling on the porch, kneeling, with weaving looms attached to their backs, just making beautiful, beautiful needlework.

    I was pretty humbled by that, and I was half-guilty and half-furious. I silently said “I am not taking the crafts I brought out of my backpack. This will be embarrassing. These women are doing beautiful work,” but the little girls had plenty of attention so I was like, “Okay.”

    I reluctantly took the yarn projects out of my backpack and the girls absolutely loved them, and then the adult women came over and were looking at them, too, and one of them asked me, “Cuanto cuesto?” so I figured out in quetzals how much a skein of yarn would have cost, and I told her 40 quetzals, and she walked away, and … first when she said “Cuanto cuesto?”, I said “They from United States,” and then, “Si, cuanto cuesto?” and that's when I figured it out in quetzal and told her, “40 quetzal,” and then she walks away and then I thought, “Oh no, she must have wanted to buy some.”

    I walked over to her, took some extra yarn out of my backpack and handed it to her and told her it’s for her, and she had the biggest smile across her face, it was just amazing. When I had told my team leader about that experience, he was like, “Wow, you probably just provided her with material to feed her family for a month.” That really hit me, being I like doing a lot of crafts and it’s just something that I enjoy, but it really hit home for me, I guess, that it’s something that I do for fun and it’s something that they do out of necessity. That was really eye-opening for me and also a neat way to connect.

    John: Just to paraphrase, then, do you think on some level, because of those crafts that you took along with you, Gina, there was … the language barrier, in a sense, went away?

    Gina: Yes.

    John: You felt a connection with these ladies.

    Gina: Yes.

    John: Did you have an opportunity, and I don’t mean to put you on the spot here with this question, but did you have an opportunity to communicate the Gospel specifically to anybody while you were down there?

    Gina: No I didn’t, and in a sense, part of me would say that was disappointing, but the other part of me would say that I understood that it wasn’t going to necessarily be part of the trip. I feel that what we did indirectly allows the Gospel to be shared. Because I feel that what we did supported Manos de Jesus, which is the partner ministry we were with. And I can say, from being on the back end when I worked at group homes, from the service thing that different groups would come in and do things for us, it allowed us more opportunity to focus on the meat and potatoes of the program, if you will. I feel that even though I did not get the chance to share the Gospel, I am hopeful that some of the service that our team did, hopefully set the ground work for a full-time ministry.

    John: That’s awesome. Looking at the future, Gina, without trying to pin you down to anything, do you think you would ever go on another Good Goers trip?

    Gina: Yes.

    John: Is there a particular country that you would go to or do you think you would actually end up going back to Guatemala?

    Gina: I would either go to Kenya because that is ... honestly, my long-term goal to do more missions in Africa and I know Good Goers has a trip to Kenya.

    John: We do.

    Gina: Possibly … I've scanned through the website. I am also interested in the Haiti trip, specifically because you stay right in the orphanage and that’s something, to me, that’s really attractive. I would like to feel what it’s like to actually stay there.

    John: Gina, you are an inspiring person. I hope that when folks hear of you they will be inspired. Inspired to go on a mission trip.

    Just to hear you talk about the ease of sharing those crafts with those families down there is basically, to some extent, a talent. How qualified do you need to be to go to Guatemala to share crafts with somebody?

    Gina: Yes, not real talented.

    John: I'm sure you are, but you know what I'm saying, that you just need to love on people.

    Gina: Absolutely. That's where we're at.

    John: Yes, absolutely. Gina, it is great to talk with you. I am so glad that I had this time and you had the time for me to chat with you today. God bless you, sister. I am so glad to have met you finally.

    Gina: You're welcome, John; thank you so much, and I just have to put in one more plug for the Good Goers trip, two more plugs just from my experience.

    One is I really, really liked how, as a team, we gathered, we ate dinner together, and we gathered for the picture of the week, and it was just really nice bonding and feeling like I got to know my team. And then the other thing I had alluded to earlier, there was a mother and daughter on our team, and to me, that was just really, really impressive. To see, obviously, them as individuals, but it was just neat that Good Goers makes accommodations for that and allowing it to be a family trip.

    John: Wonderful, Gina, thank you so much.

    For more information on how you can be a part of a Good Goer mission trip, click here.

  • Get Lost with Dannah Gresh

    Posted on April 15, 2013 by John van der Veen

     

    Dannah Gresh is the best-selling author of eighteen books, including And the Bride Wore White, Lies Young Women Believe (with Nancy Leigh DeMoss), and What Are You Waiting For? A popular speaker nationwide, Dannah has long been at the forefront of the movement to encourage tweens and teens to pursue purity.

    Dannah's new book, Get Lost, she traces God’s language of love through Scripture to help you pursue your heart’s deepest desires and seek love the way God designed it to be. Because once you identify your true longings and let God answer them, you’ll know just how to respond when romantic love comes along.

    I exchanged a few questions with Dannah recently and wanted to share them with you.

    What made you interested in being an author?

    I have loved writing since I was very small. Entered a national poetry contest when I was in first grade and won. Haven't stopped since. The catch is that when I was a teenager I dreamed of being a fiction writer. If only! God calls me to write the truth of my life transparently so that others can learn from my hurt and heartache without taking the field trip themselves!

    What books are you reading?

    I have a dozen books on my nightstand at any given time. A few favorites this past year have been One Thousands Gifts by Ann Voskamp and Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis. I'm counting the days to summer because I have [Frank] Peretti's Illusion waiting for a day on my hammock under the shade trees!

    Who is your biggest influence?

    My mom! Her faith led me to Christ and she has been a prayer warrior for me through the years. I long to have her selflessness and purity of heart.

    What does your family do to relax?

    We live on a hobby farm with horses, peacocks, llamas, fainting goats, chickens, dogs and cats. Relax might not be the right word, but we like loving them. (Translation: We muck stalls, throw hay and herd them when they get loose).

    Coffee or tea?

    I'm a tea girl, but everyone on my tour team drinks coffee so they are slowly winning me over. I'm up to half a cup of coffee with half a cup of milk in it! Of course, they say I am a wimp.

    Click here to download a chapter from Get Lost.

  • Amy Grant - The Wife/Mother/Singer/Songwriter

    Posted on April 10, 2013 by John van der Veen



    There’s nothing like life experience to provide a deeper, richer emotional palette for a songwriter to draw from when crafting new music. For Amy Grant, it’s been 10 years since her last full studio album and it’s been a decade marked by soul-shaking milestones. As she’s always done, Grant has embraced both the triumphs and challenges, distilled them to their essence and poured the lessons learned into songs that ache with honesty and reverberate with gentle wisdom.

    How Mercy Looks From Here is the soundtrack of a life well-lived. “A lot of major life changes happened during these past few years.” Grant says. “So on this record, there’s zero filler. Every song has a real story behind it.”

    In chatting with Amy, I saw, again, that here is a woman of deep faith. Deep love. Love for family. Love for art. Love for food. Yes, food. And love for God.

    John: Before we talk about the new record, do you want to talk a little bit about what you’ve been doing over the last 10 or so years since the last new record? Is that too big of a question?

    Amy: I’ve been… Ten years is a lot of life!

    John: That’s a lot of life.

    Amy: It’s not that I haven’t made music in 10 years. I’ve toured and just from a work standpoint, I never stopped working. Just had a little less energy for being in the studio. In the last 10 years, we’ve gone from four kids under the roof to one. It’s a big change. I have two daughters living in New York now, a son who’s getting his engineering and applied mathematics degree and then a lot of personal changes that you just never know when those things are going to happen.

    There was the death of some good friends and my mom. A fellow musician, Will Owsley, who I’ve made a lot of music with. A good friend of mine who’ve I’ve played music with, my gosh, for 15 years, passed away in 2009. Anyway, I think there are times that are just sort of more creative, and there are times to just hunker down and be in life.

    John: When you go through the process of creating art, is that something you more or less feel compelled from your own heart, where it just kind of flows from you? Or is it more structured than that? Do you sit down, and take the time to say, “Okay, now I have to work here.”

    Amy: As far as song ideas, those just appear because they’re triggered by something. I might hold onto a song idea for quite some time before I sit down to put it into a song. Probably what makes me focus on an actual project is a deadline. I don’t know how you are in your life, you’re clearly a writer, but I don't know much time you make to sit down and just write for art’s sake. Since this last year I knew I had a record due and sometimes the responsibility of a deadline makes you disciplined. I consider it a gift.

    John: Do you know how many songs you have written?

    Amy: I don’t write 100 songs a year or anything like that. I’ve written only a couple songs some years, but I’ve done this for a long time, so I don’t know. Maybe a couple hundred.

    John: Amy, you are a singer, you’re obviously a songwriter, you’re a musician, you’re an actress and you’re an author. How do you encourage some of the people that are reading this now, who feel like they have too much on their plate and they don’t have time being a wife or a mom or a daughter or a co-worker? How do you manage all of life?

    Amy: I have to go back and say that I would use the term actress very loosely. I can’t speak for a man, but for a woman it might feel like we’re juggling all things at all times. But I think in reality that different things take priority, kind of in a revolving pattern. If you’re a working mom, there are times that a deadline at work forces you to put that on the front burner and there’s no rest until it’s done. I think maybe it’s good to say occasionally what matters the most, either to write it down or to talk about it with a good trusted friend.

    If how you’re spending your time never matches up to what your priorities are, then I think we need to be honest and say, “This is my priority.” If something is a priority and it never matches up with the time that you’re spending on it, there needs to be a change in how we’re spending our time. I have done all those things, but someone told me that one time. Everybody’s life is so different that it’s hard to say what’s going to give someone more time.

    The list of things I’ve done doesn’t tell you how I spend my time on a daily basis. For instance, we don’t eat out very much. You might think I do. Maybe it’s because when I’m on the road, I’m never digging into my own refrigerator. But I think the kitchen is the hub of the home. And because I travel so much with work, when we’re home, I’m almost always cooking something. I’m not a great cook, but I’m decent, so I always make sure there are good things in the refrigerator.

    When I get really overwhelmed with work or I feel very scattered, I will go into the kitchen and start cooking. Easier said than done sometimes, I know. For someone who has a 9 to 5 job, that might not work so well. But you can do it on the weekends. I find that when I start cooking, I have time to think. People walk through the kitchen because they smell something good, and they go, “Hey, what’s that smell?” So there’s the social side of it too. And if you don’t have an idea at first of what you’re going to cook, just cut up some onions and put them in a little olive oil in the skillet and then it starts to smell good. My family may ask, “What is it?” I go, “I don’t know. I’m just buying time.” That’s just for me.

    Cooking’s a very centering process. Somebody is always hungry and I’m cooking in mass, and so I know one of my friends is not going to have had time to make dinner or somebody I know might be sick, but I will just go, “Oh, man. I am feeling so scattered and really sad. I feel like I’m untethered. I can’t figure out what’s wrong,” so I start cooking. We all have our trigger points. For me, if I can start cooking, it gives me time to think, and then people come into the kitchen. My daughter will come in, sit on the kitchen counter and we just start talking. Anyway, those are some of the reasons I like it.

    John: Who’s the better cook, you or Vince?

    Amy: He only really cooks one meal a year, Christmas breakfast for the whole family. He loves to eat and so it’s nice to cook when you’ve got someone in the house who loves to eat.

    John: Does he make the same Christmas meal every year?

    Amy: It just kind of anything breakfast-y that you can think of.

    John: He goes beyond just, “Here’s bowl of cereal.”

    Amy: Yes. It’s like sausage, bacon, sometimes waffles, eggs. He started doing that years ago. It’s so nice to just sit there with a cup of coffee and watch him work. I like that.

    John: That’s a nice gift. Amy, let’s talk a little bit about the new record, How Mercy Looks From Here. What went into that title as a theme?

    Amy: It’s the title of one of the songs. I had that phrase floating around in my head for quite some time. I was anxious to write a song. I think the great thing about living for a while is that the longer you live, the less quick you are to say, “This is a good thing, this is a bad thing.” I just say, “Well, this is what it is, and now we live with this.”

    John: In one of the lyrics in that song, I think you sang, “I would have given up drowning in my tears if it wasn’t for your voice all these years.” What’s behind that?

    Amy: That song originally came from a really difficult time. I think the idea for that song was born in the first week of May, 2010. A lot of really awful things happened that week, and some really beautiful things as well. But with each extreme, what I experienced alone and what I experienced with my family was that we encountered a kind of gentle grace and mercy.

    Some within, with each other. I’ll tell you what happened that week. It started off on a Friday, Will Owsley, a good friend of mine, a musician, killed himself. It was awful and I went to his home that night. His mom and dad had come up from Anniston, Alabama and we were all just in shock. Then it started raining on Saturday, the next day. The biggest flood that’s ever been in recorded history hit Nashville. I guess it crested on Monday. Like a lot of people, we were not physically hurt, but we lost a lot of things.

    A lot of guitars that were at a storage facility and a rehearsal hall called Sound Check; probably all of our road cases and guitars. Of course in the wake of Will’s death, that seemed like nothing, but it was actually very difficult to even get in the car to go to his funeral because the roads were still flooded. Then it was also beautiful being with his family. And it was beautiful watching the community of Nashville come together to help each other out with the flood.

    Then, as a family, we were anticipating the wedding of our oldest daughter, Jenny, which was that Saturday. We were forging ahead with this outdoor wedding in our yard and making those plans, putting up tents. The woman who was the wedding planner, and handles all the decorations, said her home was completely destroyed. She was living out of a hotel and we said, “What can we do?” She said, “You know what? I can’t get home until the water recedes.” Her car was, I mean, the whole thing was under water. She said, “I’m living in a hotel and I just want to lose myself in this celebration. At the beginning of a married couple’s life and I’ll just deal with the mud later.” Watching that, we were going, “Oh, my goodness!” It was the most beautiful, joyful coming together. All week there were preparations and it was just so great. My mom and dad were over every day. Then on Thursday, a cousin of mine was killed in Afghanistan. Friday morning I’m at their home mourning again. Extremes.

    We were just talking about what a blessing he was. And his four siblings had sat around and made this recording with a friend of ours for several hours, reminiscing about family history. Just the timing of it was so merciful. Everybody was thankful for Skype, and that it hadn’t been months or weeks since they’d seen Adam’s face. Just processing, but feeling this sense of love and the mercy in the middle of it.

    Then that night, we had Jenny’s rehearsal dinner in our front yard because the location had been rained out for her rehearsal dinner. Our house is at the top of a little hill on the street. She got married in the front yard, I mean the rehearsal dinner’s in the front yard and the next day the wedding was in the side yard and the reception was in the backyard. I got to tell you, that was such an emotional rollercoaster week, the whole thing. I came away from that week saying, “I feel like from every angle I have seen how mercy looks. “ It took a couple of years to write the song, but I kept going, “I’ve got to write that song ‘How Mercy Looks From Here.’”

    John: I don’t want to say that all of your other records are not spiritual, because they certainly are, all of them are, but there are songs on here that go really deep. The one you were just talking about, “How Mercy Looks From Here,” which is the title track, and the first single “Don’t Try so Hard,” are quite spiritual. Has there been a spiritual awakening or a deep rootedness you’ve felt? You obviously have been talking about the various things that have happened in your life in the last few years, has God done something amazing?

    Amy: Well, I think He always does. Whether you’re writing about it or not. I think that on this record, in particular, I wanted every song to matter. That came directly from a conversation I had with my mom. My mother passed away in April of 2011. It’s February, I was home from a road trip, kind of an extensive tour with Michael W. Smith, from Fall 2010 to the Spring of 2011. Anyway, I had gone by to see my mom and dad, they both suffered with dementia.

    My dad’s still living and he has full blown dementia, but my mom … If you’re going to have to vote for a kind of dementia to have, Lewy Bodies is a good kind to have because it doesn’t change your personality. It just changes your relationship with reality. Sometimes it comes and goes, sometimes it seemed almost like she was in time travel or something like that.

    One time my niece was visiting her and my mom was so excited. She confided in my niece that she thought she was pregnant, which would have been a nightmare since she was 78. But she was so excited about … My aunt Gracie said, “Doe, you’re 78. There’s no way you’re pregnant.” My mother’s like, “I am? That’s awful.”

    And there was the time I had gone to see her in February. It was nighttime and we had our visit and then I said, “Mom, I’ve got to go pack and get back on the bus.” And she said, “Oh, you’re getting a bus.” I’m like, “Yes, I’m going to do a show. I’m traveling with Michael W. and I’ve been singing so much this year.” She went, “Ah, you sing?” Okay here we go… I said, “I do.” I’m so used to that pattern of her being there and then not being there. I said, “I do, I sing.”

    “What kind of songs do you sing?” she asked. I told her and she asked, “Will you sing something for me?” So I did and she was so adorable. Then she said, “Can I go with you?” I pictured my mother crawling into one of those bunks and I said, “Maybe not this time. We’ll talk about it when I’m back in town.” I kissed her on the cheek and I was heading out the door and she said, “Hey, will you do me a favor?” I turned back and I said, “Sure, what?”

    She said, “When you get on that stage, sing something that matters.” I said, “I will do that.” That was not our last conversation, but it was in the last eight weeks of her life. I’m dedicating this record to her. Gloria Napier Grant. I believe that was probably a driving force in the song choices. They’re not all of the spiritual nature, but they all matter.

    John: Amy, on the song, “Deep As It Is Wide,” you have some quest vocals.

    Amy: Yes, but that’s the only song on the record that I was not a part writer on.

    John: Who are the other singers?

    Amy: Erik Paslay. He wrote that song six years ago and I have loved it. I’ve had a copy of it for four years. I’ve loved it.

    John: It’s a great song.

    Amy: I’ve listened to it incessantly in the last months of my mom’s life. He is the one that gave me the permission to sing it with him. He wanted to do a group thing. Erik and Sheryl Crow and myself. I’m just crazy about that song and they’re both dear friends of mine. Erik and I were both at the studio, because we were working simultaneously with the same producer, Marshall Altman. I said, “Erik, either say yes we can do the song or no we can’t.”

    He was really dragging his feet because so many people had asked him to record that song. Little Big Town wanted to record it, Lady Antebellum wanted to record it and he kept saying, “No.” I said, “Just say no, it’s okay.” He said, “No. I think I want you to be singing on this song,” and I said, “Okay, well great. What else? Do you want it to be like a group of singers?” He said, “I guess so.” As a songwriter, what you write, those are your gems. That’s clearly a great song. Erik will, hopefully, have a great career in country music.

    I have good audience in the Christian music community and so I said, “Why don’t we ask Cheryl, because she’s more of the rock-n-roll background. That way we’re really speaking to three different communities. He said, “I like that. I like that.” Because really it’s about the song, especially that song. We called her up and she said, “I’m getting ready to lie down for a nap. I’ll listen to it as soon as I get down, and I’ll call you back.” She called back and said, “How did I get lucky straw to get to sing on this song?”

    John: That’s great. Amy, do you have a passage in the Bible that you’re particularly close to right now?

    Amy: That’s a good question. I spend a lot of time memorizing Scripture. I would say the eleventh chapter of Hebrews is swirling around my head currently. Really the whole thing, I think, because it dove tails with this book that I’m reading right now called The Epic of Eden. Who’s the author of that? Let me see. Sandra Richter is the author. She’s a professor at some seminary.

    The songs on How Mercy Looks From Here represent a season of growth, yet as personal as they are, they are also universal. Everyone can relate to love, loss and the passing of time. “At some point in life you realize that some things really matter and some things don’t,” Grants says. “Living matters. Celebrating life matters.  Seeing the value in hard times matters.  Relationships and people matter.  Faith matters.  I feel like that’s where my head has been while writing and recording his project.  I feel this is a very positive record. I hope it is life affirming. Life prepares us for the journey. You don’t know what’s ahead and that is one of the great things about getting older in a framework of faith.  Faith is the one thing that stands the test of time.”

    Amy Three Caregiving Tips
    In this video, Amy talks about caring for her father who has profound dementia and what families can do to make this time one of meaning and spiritual growth.

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