Fiction readers rejoice! Irene Hannon has a new book available, titled Vanished.
Are you familiar with Irene? Irene is a bestselling, award-winning author who took the publishing world by storm at the tender age of 10 with a sparkling piece of fiction that received national attention. Okay…maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But she was one of the honorees in a complete-the-story contest conducted by a national children’s magazine. And she likes to think of that as her “official” fiction-writing debut!
Since then, she has written more than 40 romance and romantic suspense novels. Her books have been honored with two RITA awards—the “Oscar” of romantic fiction—and she is a six-time finalist for that prestigious honor. Her books have also won a Daphne du Maurier award, a Carol award, a HOLT Medallion, a National Readers’ Choice Award, a Retailers Choice Award and two Reviewers’ Choice awards from RTBook Reviews magazine. One of her novels was also named by Booklist as one of the top 10 inspirational fiction books of 2011.
Irene, who holds a B.A. in psychology and an M.A. in journalism, juggled two careers for many years until she gave up her executive corporate communications position with a Fortune 500 company to write full-time. She is happy to say she has no regrets!
In her spare time (like she has any), Irene enjoys cooking, gardening and singing. A trained vocalist, she has sung the leading role in numerous musicals, including “South Pacific,” “Brigadoon,” “Oklahoma” “The King and I” and “Anything Goes.” She is also a soloist at her church. When not otherwise occupied, Irene and her husband enjoy traveling, Saturday mornings at their favorite coffee shop and spending time with family. They make their home in Missouri.
Recently we sat down with her to ask her a few questions.
FC: Irene, we are excited to read your new book Vanished. Tell us about it.
Irene: Vanished is Book 1 in my new Private Justice series, which features 3 ex-law enforcement operatives who join forces to form a PI agency. In Vanished, reporter Moira Harrison is new on the job in St. Louis…but she’s no rookie to investigative reporting. She knows how to dig for answers and get results. But when she hits a pedestrian on a rainy night in a wooded area—only to have both the victim and the good Samaritan who stopped to assist disappear—she turns to P.I. Cal Burke, an ex-homicide detective, to help her sort out the puzzle. Cal is more than a little skeptical of her story, especially since the police have dismissed it. But as clues begin to surface, bringing them closer to answers, the danger mounts. Because someone doesn’t want this mystery solved—and will stop at nothing to protect a shocking secret that will destroy a life built on lies.
FC: Who’s your favorite character in all your books and why?
Irene: Ooohh…that’s like asking a mother to pick her favorite child! I love all my characters, especially the heroes and heroines. I also enjoy getting into the heads of my villains and trying to figure out what makes them tick.
FC: Are any of your characters based on real people?
Irene: No. All the characters are imaginary. But I work hard to make them real for readers.
FC: Are you a character in any of your books or is there one character you relate to the most?
Irene: I think there’s a piece of me in many of my heroines. As for which one I relate to the most—I like them all and could be friends with any of them.
FC: Tell us something about you. Favorite books? Music? Your favorite thing to relax?
Irene: I love to read, though I wish I had more time to read for pleasure. I also enjoy taking walks, travel and spending time with my husband and family. I was once an avid figure skater, but again, there are only so many hours in the day. I do love to sing, and in addition to being involved in the music ministry at my church, I love to perform in community musical theater productions. In fact, I was in a show last summer!
FC: What has God been teaching you lately?
Irene: To keep my priorities straight. In the new year, I’m going to try very hard to turn off my computer by 6 p.m. every night and work less on weekends. Writing (and the requisite social media obligations) can be all-consuming, but people need balance in their lives and I need to do a better job at creating that.
FC: What’s on your bucket list?
Irene: I’ve been lucky to do many of the things I’ve wanted to do. But in line with the previous question, high on my bucket list is finding a way to simplify my life so I have more time to spend with the people I love.
Family Christian: Chris, congratulations on your new album. What can people expect to hear on Burning Lights?
Chris Tomlin: Hopefully, they will find songs that are more than just the latest flavor—but they will hear the heart, the passion, the fire, the joy, the majesty, the surrender, the truth, and the triumph in every listen.
FC: The first single from the album draws from II Kings 6. Tell us a little about the connection between that story and the song, “Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies).”
Chris: My friend Matt Redman says it best, "Worship is about seeing. We sing in response to what we see.”
In II Kings 6, there is an enemy army surrounding the town of the prophet Elisha. Elisha proclaims to his servant, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." He then prays for the eyes of his servant to be opened to truly see what is going on around them. The Lord opens the eyes of the servant and he sees the mountains filled with horses and chariots of fire (angel armies)! Truth is, we live in the same reality. There are enemy armies constantly at our doorstep, and many times, we live in a state of fear. I hope and pray this song can build faith in people to know the truth that "those who are with us are far more than those who are against us."
FC: On that song, the lyrics, “The One who reigns forever, He is a friend of mine,” feel very personal. What inspired this line?
Chris: I love this line. What a concept and truth to grasp. The creator of the heavens, the maker of every living thing, the One who sits on the throne of an everlasting kingdom calls us "friend." Every time I sing this line, I can barely contain the thought of it.
FC: What else would you like listeners to know about this album as they worship the Lord with these songs?
Chris: In the end, it’s about the heart of the song. Does the song move people or not? "I'm just a shepherd boy, singing to a choir of burning lights.” And I’m asking everyone to sing along.
FC: As you contemplate a new year, is there a passage from Scripture that the Lord has been speaking to you about lately?
Chris: I would easily say the passage from II Kings 6 I referenced earlier. My prayer for my own life: "God open my eyes to see the true reality...give me a fearless heart."
FC: In your travels around the world leading worship, can you recall a particular story that has really impacted your life or ministry?
Chris: The ministries of Compassion International and Watoto have truly blown me away. So many people are doing amazing work for the kingdom of God. Sitting in the shanty of a little boy named Julius in Uganda—it was just him and his grandmother, everyone else in his family had died (mostly of HIV). He had the disease as well. Through Compassion, he was receiving the medicine to keep the deadly disease away. He was five years old and so full of life and hope. And to know he was just one of the countless that this ministry and others like it are touching.
I have been humbled every time we have traveled around to these other nations and experienced the passionate worship of Jesus.
In a world of facades, Lysa TerKeurst’s transparency is a breath of fresh air. That’s why people are gravitating to her newest book, Unglued. There’s something empowering about accepting you can’t keep it all together, but realizing that God loves you too much to let you keep losing it. Our recent interview with Lysa had us feeling like we were catching up with an old friend…
Family Christian: Hey Lysa, could you start by telling us a little about your upbringing?
Lysa TerKeurst: I was raised by a dad who was an atheist and a mom who went to church when she could. I had a chaotic upbringing in that my parents got divorced. When my mom got remarried, they started having more children. One of my sisters, (my half-sister, but still very much my sister) tragically died at a very young age because of some medication that a doctor gave her that was in too high a dose for her small body. So a lot of heartbreak, chaos and a lot of sadness in my upbringing, but at the same time I still very much remember my mom, even in the midst of so much brokenness being such a cheerleader for me. I always thought that I would grow up to be either a country music singer or the President of the United States. But as I got older I realized that I couldn’t sing and I didn’t like politics (laughs), so that proved to be a little problematic. But even so, my mom was such a cheerleader. She would always say, “Honey I think you sing great!” and “I still think you’d be a fantastic president,” so she’s just the ultimate encourager. I finally did find my niche in writing and then eventually in speaking. She’s continued to be such a wonderful encouragement to me. And so that’s a nutshell of how I got to be where I was. The country music singing and the road to the presidency didn’t really pan out like I thought it would when I was a small child (laughs), but I love what I do today.
FC: So who is your favorite country artist?
Lysa: Well when I was a little girl I was an absolutely huge Loretta Lynn fan. Of course she’s not really on the radio that much anymore so now I guess I’d say Taylor Swift, although I’m not sure people would qualify her as country music, but maybe. I like her music and maybe it’s because I have five teenagers and they like her music. So then in terms of Christian music I love good old fashioned praise and worship songs. Hands down that is my ultimate favorite. I’m so fortunate, I go to Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC and our worship team is amazing. That’s probably my favorite.
FC: Lysa would you mind giving us a glimpse into how you were introduced to Jesus?
Lysa: Yeah, well, like I said, growing up going to church was very hit or miss. We didn’t go on a consistent basis. One of my memories about going was when I was little (I was probably about 8 or so) and the pastor was one of the preachers that would bang his fist on the pulpit. Very animated. I just remember sitting there as a small child and thinking, he needs to try to relate to the younger generation a little better. And I don’t know why I thought this was a good idea, but I told my mom that I’d really like to go have a meeting with the pastor and she thought that I wanted to get baptized, but that’s not at all what I intended to speak with him about. When we got into his office I started telling him all of the mini-ways that I thought he could be a better communicator. And my mother was absolutely horrified, we didn’t really go back to that church after that. So we took a break from that for awhile – so when I say it was hit or miss, it was probably more misses than hits. Even when I was there I was always thinking of how people could do church a little bit more effectively and probably listening from the wrong vantage point. So I knew about Jesus but I can’t say that I understand what it meant to have a personal relationship until I was in my early 20s and it was after my baby sister died. I was very angry and running away from God and I wound up getting into a relationship where I got pregnant before I was married and made the really, really sad choice to have an abortion. There was something about the depth of brokenness that happened in my heart after the abortion that I cried out to God in complete desperation. Really what I was doing was begging God to let me die – to put me out of my pain. But God was so sweet and sent a person into my life that constantly put Scriptures in front of me. At first she really got on my nerves, but eventually the Scriptures started connecting deep in my heart. One night after reading one of her notes and pondering the truth of the verse that she put in front of me, I didn’t know how to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior so I just kneeled down right beside my couch in my little apartment and I just said yes to God. And my life has pretty much been a string of many days and years that followed of me continuing to say ‘yes’ to Him everyday.
FC: That’s powerful. Thank you for sharing. Let’s switch gears a little and talk about your family’s story of adoption. Those who are familiar with you have probably already heard it, but could you tell us a little bit about how you and your husband decided to start down that path of adoption? And then how did that turn into impacting not just your family, but your faith community too?
Lysa: Well, I did not have any plans to adopt because we already had three little girls. My husband and I felt very complete and I kinda always thought that adoption was for people who A. Either wanted lots of kids and had a real international perspective of family and maybe a missionary family or B. Families who couldn’t have children. And we weren’t either of those! We were an everyday family living in America with three little girls just trying to get through each day. My kids were small at the time (they were 9, 8 and 4). Life was very busy, very full. We didn’t feel like I was a good enough mom to have more children – I felt like I was barely hanging on, but the Lord directed us to go to a concert one night because one of my daughters was in Brownies (a division of Girl Scouts) [and they were] studying Liberia, so we thought it would be a good cultural experience for her. In the middle of the concert the Lord clearly said to my heart “Two of those boys are yours.” And after the concert two of the boys walked up to me, wrapped their arms around me and called me ‘Mom.’
FC: And you had never met them?
Lysa: No. I had never met them before. So it was a crazy thing. I never thought my husband would agree that we should adopt two teenage boys from Africa. It sounded scary and unreasonable, I didn’t think we could afford it, I didn’t think it was safe for my girls, I mean there were a lot of obstacles and lots of fears. And really, they were healthy fears. I mean, when you have three little girls, it doesn’t sound reasonable to adopt two teenage boys from the other side of the world. But God confirmed over and over and over to me and my husband that this was part of His unique plan for us. So while it might not make sense for most situations, God just assured us by paving the way, opening every single door, helping us to meet every single obstacle. He really calmed our fears by sending people into our lives who would speak truth to us. It was really pretty amazing how God just said, ‘maybe this isn’t an assignment that sounds reasonable or rational for anybody else, but it is my assignment for you.’ And so we agreed to adopt and then our friends all thought we were crazy. But we decided to have a concert to invite all of our friends just to get to know our boys a little bit better and to see them sing as part of the last stop that their choir was going to do. At that concert all of our friends who thought we were so crazy, the Lord moved in their hearts and they eventually all came forward and decided to adopt the rest of the boys in the choir, and then we ran out of choir boys! So then mission trips were formed and they went over to Liberia and more and more kids were brought back. As of now, we’ve had over 45 kids from those orphanages adopted into the families of our community.
The TerKeurst family
FC: That is unbelievable. Is it primarily people within your church or outside of your church too?
Lysa: Yeah, it’s outside of our church. And really, it’s even outside of our community now too. There have been many children that family members in other cities or states have adopted, so it’s expanded out probably more than we’ll ever know. I mean, those 45 kids are just the ones that we know about, but I’d imagine that there have been many, many others that have been adopted, because we were on the Oprah show and the Today Show. We could look at the rate of adoption from Liberia into America, it grew dramatically. And we didn’t know all of those people, but we definitely saw a spike in interest after our story went so public.
FC: We don’t know if you knew that here at Family Christian our calling is James 1:27, to look specifically after the orphan and the widow, so we have this huge campaign both inside and outside of our building to bring awareness and action. We are all about foster care and adoption. So to hear stories like yours is fantastic, near and dear to our heart.
Lysa: Yes, I spent some time looking at your website, so I could understand fully what you’re doing. It’s called The James Fund, right?
FC: Yes, The James Fund is our non-profit organization, and what they primarily do is help to seed other organizations and defray some of the cost of adoptions, but also to help build housing and make lives better domestically and abroad. We’re also part of the Nehemiah Project whose number one goal is to eradicate the foster care system within the United States. It’s bound and determined to find homes within the faith community for all of the kids within our foster care system. We believe that this is the church’s responsibility, and we want her to rise up and take initiative in this arena.
Lysa: That’s amazing, I love that.
FC: It’s a tall task, but we’re excited to see what God does with it. Ok, let’s talk about your new book Unglued. There are a few topics covered in your book and we were hoping you could comment on a couple of them. First ‘the working mother’s balancing act.’ You mentioned that “Women need to lean on other women to support them so they can let down their guard and become transparent.” How do you see that in your own life?
Lysa: I definitely think motherhood – no matter if you’re a working mom or stay at home mom – is really tough sometimes. It can really leave us each day with a sense of wondering if we’re doing it right. You know, it’s a long term investment. You don’t see big returns in the short term. Raising a child can easily pull you into being hyper-focused on the tough everyday moments of life. The toddler that doesn’t want to be potty trained and the infant that won’t stop crying and the middle schooler who is just getting into these hormonal fluxes – happy one minute and so upset the next that you can’t even figure out what happened, then teenagers who are really trying to push the limits – I don’t want to be a child, and yet I need a parent, but I’m not yet an adult. It’s all these things, I mean; it can be really hard on a woman’s heart especially when the everyday is filled with moments that don’t feel so wonderful. We love our kids, we treasure our kids, but it’s so easy to get caught up in the chaotic emotions around trying to understand how to raise a child. So in Unglued, I really go right into a big issue that mom’s face, women face, even a lot of men face, and that is: how do we react in that moment of conflict? There’s going to be lots of conflicts that we face every single day, but what do we do in that split second when we’re just about to react to that thing that’s happening? The relationship conflict, or the situational conflict, or the stresses of everyday life that pull at our emotions. And so in Unglued, I really help people see that it is possible to exercise self-control in that split second before we react to the circumstances of our life.
For the purpose of people better understanding themselves, I list out four different reaction types; there are two kinds of ‘Exploders’ and two kinds of ‘Stuffers.’ The Exploders need to add into that split second moment a pause and a dose of perspective. And in Unglued I show them how to do this. And then the Stuffers need to let go of pretending and let go of approving and I show them how to do those in the split second right before they react. It’s really amazing to see what kind of feedback we’ve been getting from people – not just moms. Certainly we’ve been hearing from moms because at the heart of who we are, we want to raise our kids right and be good examples, but sometimes the chaos of everyday emotion or circumstances make us question if we’re being good examples for our kids. We have been getting letters of marriages being saved, moms feeling like they’re becoming better moms, friendships being saved because people are having kind but honest conversations for the first time in their friendships, even work relationships are being repaired as people are learning how to better handle their reactions in the workplace. So it’s really cutting across all of the circumstances and situations that people face and equipping them to have better reactions. If you equip people to have better reactions, you’ll equip them to have better relationships.
FC: You’ve said that the purpose of Unglued is not to get people to a place where they are perfect at keeping their emotions in check; the goal is “imperfect progress.”What would you say to the woman who looks at your life or people on a talk show who appear to have it all together and think “they have a perfect life, but mine is a complete disaster”? How do you address this person who sees their imperfections, or their messy house and compares it with this pedestal of perfection?
Lysa: Well yeah, I’m one of those people because I look at other people all of the time and I think man, they’re so much better at life than me. So I am the woman who has the pile of laundry and the dirty kitchen (laughs) and the five kids who are sweet but sometimes disrespectful. It’s easy for me to compare myself to other people and really start feeling down because I compare their perfect outsides to my very imperfect insides. But here’s what the Lord’s really been teaching me: We aren’t supposed to strive for perfection everyday. If we were perfect, we’d have no need for Jesus. And it’s through our imperfections that we really feel the pull toward our need for a Savior. So the imperfections serve a wonderful purpose if we’ll let them. Now, do we always need to be striving to be better? Absolutely. But I encourage people in Unglued, to seek to make imperfect progress. Seek to get a little better each day. Wrap each step in grace and be okay that imperfect progress is at least moving forward, it doesn’t have to be perfect…
FC: Thank you Lysa so much for talking with us today and for your insight. Keep up the good work, and we’ll keep helping to get the message out.
Hearing From God In Your Daily Life
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You’ve probably heard the phrase, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Sure it sounds simple, but grabbing hold of that idea’s roots has revolutionized the way Bob Goff lives. He’s cracked a simple code for finding God’s direction for your life with his new book Love Does. How does God feel about (fill in the blank)? And what are you good at? Cool, now go.
So what exactly does love do? We caught up recently with Bob to ask just that…
Family Christian: Hey Bob, could you start by telling us a little about how you grew up?
Bob Goff: I was raised in California. If you read the book you’ll know that I slanted all [of my answers to] aptitude tests to make it absolutely clear that I was supposed to be a forest ranger because I wanted to live in the Redwoods and hang out. Then I went to the Redwoods and I saw where forest rangers live on cots, the neon lights and all that and how they give people tickets for parking in the wrong places (laughs) and I said, I’m out. So I moved to southern California (totally disenchanted) to just surf and went to San Diego State and had a terrific time. And it was in that whole process that I bumped into this outfit called Young Life and they do just a terrific job with high school kids. At the time that I first got acquainted with them I was in high school and it made all the difference for me.
FC: So how many redwood trees did you drive through?
FC: Ya know, because that’s a thing. Where you can veer off highway 101 and drive through a huge tree…? It’s like a side show or something…
Bob: Right, with a big paper mache Paul Bunyan or something? (laughs) Yes! I went to school at Humboldt State because I was going to be a forest ranger and I used to drive by that place all the time. So for all those years I drove by, I never stopped until just a couple of years ago. My son and his friend and I started in Mexico and we bought some Harleys and said, we’re going to drive all the way up to this place we have in Canada. And when we got up to northern California we actually drove through that stupid tree. (laughs)
FC: Good for you. I grew up in Oregon and actually had a similar experience. My dad decided to lasso all of us together, threw us in a van and we all drove down to Southern California to Disneyland.
Bob: Oh! My favorite place in the whole world! How was your trip?
FC: Oh, it was great – but it was many years ago…
Bob: Isn’t it a great place? Actually a pastor from Uganda came a couple of days ago, and I think he was thinking we’d meet in a boardroom and wear suits and ties and everything. And I said, “do you want to go to my office?” And he said, “Yes.” So I put him in the car (laughs) and we drove to Disneyland because my office is on Tom Sawyer Island. It just is. I mean, Disneyland doesn’t think it’s mine, but I think it’s mine. So we met out there. It was terrific!
FC: Bob, so tell us about your transition from Young Life to Restore International. When was it that you saw, perhaps, a greater need going on around you?
Bob: I really kinda backed into it because every outfit that I wanted to work for, Young Life, World Vision, International Justice Mission, it seemed like everybody didn’t want me to work for them. (laughs) I got out of college, and I’d raised all my support so I asked Young Life if I could go on staff and they said no. And I thought “rats!” (laughs) I knew it wasn’t because they couldn’t afford me because it wasn’t going to cost them anything, and then I went to these other outfits – really doing terrific things all over the world, and because no one would have me I just felt like – I’m going to make a difference and I’m not going to be head-faked by all of these inexplicable no’s. I’m just going to pick something and do it. It’s like picking a fight. You don’t want to pick a fight with just the guy at the deli, [you want to] pick a fight somewhere in the world and just run towards it. Run because the fight is going to go on without you if you miss it. So that’s where Restore International was born. It was born out of a desire to make a difference. A lot of people see things like this as “open doors” or “closed doors” and I don’t really see Jesus that way. I see these doors [as situations where] you sometimes have to find another way in. So we started Restore International and started chasing bad guys in India using India’s laws to prosecute them and we ended up in Uganda shortly after that (probably ten years ago) and started making differences there.
FC: I’m thinking about all of these organizations saying no to you. What would you say to a person who is in similar shoes? What does a person do when they’re in a world of no’s and they’re beating their head against the wall because they thought they were pursuing things they thought God was calling them to?
Bob: I think that is such a common feeling – I’ve sure had that as well. But I just decided I’m done spending my life doing the things that I’m able to do. Because (like a lot of people) I’m able to do a whole bunch of things. And so [why not] try to tease out what it is I’m made to do? And then to do a bunch of that. So we go to organizations (and there’s nothing wrong with organizations, they’re terrific) but Jesus didn’t have one. He said, let’s just go do stuff. Love God. Love people. And do stuff. That’s my punch list everyday. (laughs) Ya know, somebody says, what’s on your to-do list? And I tell them the same thing, Love God. Love people. Do stuff.
So when you identify with an organization and you want to do stuff [but] you get this inexplicable ‘no’ – a lot of people get off the end and think, Well, God must have said no to me. No! The organization just said no to you. Find what it is that you were made to do and get on it! Go do what you were made to do. So for me, I knew that justice was something that has always been a big part of my life. And I know that Jesus is nuts about kids. He doesn’t seem to think much of lawyers (laughs) which really lands close to home, but He’s nuts about kids and loves justice. So I said, why don’t we go do that? And do a lot of it? And if you get a no from somebody, don’t say, ‘I’m going to take this as some big cosmic signal.’ No, you just got a no, deal with it. Just go to the next step. I never know what all of the steps are but I do know the next step. So the next step for me was to engage a country (just pick one, there’s nothing mystical about it, just pick a fight), and then run towards it. What’s the next step? Buy a ticket to Uganda. What’s the next step? Find a judge. Where do you do that? The courthouse. Ya know, the next thing you know you’re sitting in the office of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I know that’s nuts, but I think Jesus does that to blow our minds. He doesn’t want us to think that we’ve got all of these plans laid out. I love that Jeremiah passage [when God says] – the plans I’ve got are good. And I keep doing my plans. The problem with my plans is that all my plans work and I get these puny little returns that go with my plans, but when you do this cannonball – did you do a cannonball when you were a kid? Where you just grab your knees and jump in? I love that! So when I think of faith, I’m thinking of a cannonball. You pick a fight – wherever it is, in the Congo or down the street from you and you run toward that. I love that scripture in Joshua of him headed toward the fight and he meets this big angel with the sword drawn, and I think Joshua had some lawyer in him because he said, ‘whose side are you on?’ And the angel said ‘neither, take off your shoes.’ I love that! So like, instead of picking sides on this thing, keep picking Jesus and keep running toward the fight.
So that’s a long way around the bush but I just decided I wasn’t going to get head-faked by an inexplicable no and I just did the next thing, which was doing justice things in Uganda. From there we ended up trying cases. I bought the entire Ugandan law library – both books. (laughs) And I just tried cases, and people were like – were you invited? And I said, ‘no, but as followers of Jesus we’re invited to everything!’ (laughs) It doesn’t seem polite but I’m telling you, you could show up at my house for dinner, man, you’re invited. And I think Jesus is saying that about all these fights out there – you’re invited. Bring your hook shot; bring what you’re good at. I’m good at law stuff, so bring that. So when we tried the first hundred cases of kids [who were] stuck in jails without a trial, we dropped off 98 at home, with all of the charges resolved. And I go, Man! I don’t need to have a memo from God on that. I know God loves them and justice, and then there’s this idea that you and I can be part of that…? Ya-hoo.
FC: So whose responsibility is justice? Is it the state’s or the church’s?
Bob: I’d say it’s all of the above. We each are stakeholders. It’s government and the various people in positions of power – they have a responsibility. But I think of the church as this bride of Christ, who is incredibly capable of doing amazing things. And so where we see injustice, we come, not with fists clenched but with palms up. And we say, what’s the next thing we can do? And the stuff we do is the stuff we were made to do. I know that sounds so circular, but for you, what you were made to do, is different than what I was made to do. But instead of spending all of our time having Bible studies about what we were made to do, go do stuff and you’ll figure out what you were made to do, because you’ll be great at some things and you’ll be terrible at others. And I say, do less of what you’re terrible at and more of what you’re good at. I don’t know if that sounds too simple, but it’s been working for me.
FC: No, I don’t think that sounds simple at all. I think it actually sounds quite profound. It seems that sometimes we can over complicate our value system so much it almost prevents us from doing anything good.
Bob: Yeah, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for getting together with men and women in small groups around Scripture and letting it just wash over us, but for me, I’ve been meeting with the same ten guys for like 15 years now, but we don’t have a Bible study every Friday, we have a Bible doing. We say, let’s not just agree with Jesus about this stuff, let’s do something – so what’s the next step? You know those [studies] where you’re reading about Lazarus and he’s raised from the dead and they say well, dead in Greek means this, and dead in Hebrew means this, and dead in Aramaic is…? And then the compelling question is “when was the last time you were dead?” (laughs) and I’m thinking like NOW. (laughs) And what I want to say is, let’s go do something! Let’s either head to the morgue or let’s pick the next thing to read that we’re actually going to do something with because Jesus never got all of the disciples together and said, guys I just want you to agree with Me. So I mean, I get it, Jesus won’t think we’re swell if we do a bunch of stuff, He already thinks we’re swell. He’s just nuts about us, our pictures are in His wallet. So now that we’re done with that can we just go do whatever the next thing is… So for some person, doing stuff with the court systems and justice, that would be a train wreck, it would be the worst thing they could ever do because it isn’t what they’re made to do. They’d be able to do it, but it wouldn’t be what they were made to do.
[What if the] body of Christ said, “What are you good at?” And people responded, “Well, I’m good at this”, and we said, “Ok, are you doing a lot of that?” “Well not really,” so ok, “Why don’t you do some more?” It probably wouldn’t feel so complicated. And don’t ask guys like me, ask my wife “What is it that Bob’s good at? And what does he stink at?” And she’ll know. I would say to all men, listen to your brides! The stuff that they’re saying is really good. These are words of truth to you. Maria Goff and I have been married for 26 years, 1 month and 23 days, I kid you not, I’m counting. I spent so much time trying to get that girl to like me that I’m going to count every single day. (laughs) And you know what she’s been telling me the whole time? Bob, work the plan. She never tells me what the plan is, but I know what she means when she says that. It means like all this stuff that Scripture says you’re supposed to be about? Do that! Ya know that stuff you were made to do? Do that. And this stuff over here on the other side that you kinda stink at, or it kinda feeds your pride – not that. So it’s really been terrific. I’m so glad she got dropped into my life and tells me to ‘work the plan.’ I think that’s really a beautiful way of viewing the Christian faith. Jesus is saying work the plan. You want to know what the plan is? Read what I wrote about it and then go do it. Then overlay it with the stuff you’re good at and do less of what you stink at. And as to your pride and selfishness, try to arrest that. As to compassion, try to enhance it. And that, that’s the plan.
FC: Before we talk about your new book Love Does, we’re curious what you think about the church here in the United States. Are we in a healthy state?
Bob: Oh I’m nuts about the church. Have you ever gone to a wedding and brought a card with you that says “7.5” like the Olympics? (laughs) And as the bride passes by you say, Oh, I’ve seen better…? Not at all! We’re the bride of Christ, and what makes the bride look so great, at least at the weddings I’ve gone to is, not only is she dressed up nice, but the groom – you just sense his anticipation. He knows everything about her and he picked her and he said, I’m in. So when I think about the church, I’m just nuts about her. She’s looking good, she’s got this Groom that’s just crazy about her. Does the church have all kinds of problems? You bet, because it’s made up of people like me, so I get that part too. But all I need to know about the church is that Jesus picked her. Wouldn’t that be lame if you were trying to talk me into what a swell gal your wife was? I mean, all the information I need to know is, you’re married. With that comes all the information I need – that she must have taken you by storm. You must have given up everything. I bet you would have given up food if she would have gone on a date with you. Like that kind of thing, that’s all the information I need to know about the church, Jesus picked it. And so instead of me telling the church how she would really look better if she had this in her hair, or that over there (and I’m not just being shallow here), I think I’m just respecting the Groom’s pick. The bride is going to do great things, and has the ability to. I think one of the times the bride looks great is if she is just trigger-locked on the groom. Wouldn’t it be weird if the bride was just looking to the right and the left the whole time she was just walking down the aisle? Distracted by this and that? What if a bride came down the aisle reading a list of all of her opinions? “This is my opinion about this…” wouldn’t that be a screwed up wedding? I mean, really?! (laughs)
So one thing I do is (and I realize this might sound nuts), every month or so, I try to take like an Etch-a-sketch [so to speak], and I clear my faith. I go to zero, clear the deck. And I start adding things back to my faith, one at a time. What would be the first thing I’d add back? Jesus. It sounds a little bit like a Sunday school answer, but that’s what I do. Then what’s the next thing? And I’d say, well, loving people. And then the next… and what’s crazy about it, (just try it yourself) what would be like the seventh thing you’d add back to your faith? I bet you won’t get there. I think you’re really going to have a hard time even getting back to seven things. And we start sometimes talking about number 80! Like, this opinion about this, or that. If the bride is looking to other things, we’re [essentially] talking about number 80. I want to say, just as an illustration – what’s number 7? Because I think if I can get number 1 and number 2 right, and then number 3 and 4, those will instruct what my number 5 and 6 are – and I’ll probably never get to 80. But if I do, it will probably be so instructed by those other numbers that then it’s just trigger-locked on Jesus. Just eyes focused on Jesus.
FC: Bob, what was your goal in releasing Love Does: discover a secretly incredible life in an ordinary world?
Bob: Oh it’s a terrific caper. Thomas Nelson asked if I would write a book and I said, “Oh I don’t know, would you build a school?” (laughs) And they said, “How big’s the school?” and I said, “260 kids and 40 teachers in Gulu, Northern Uganda.” Many of these kids are child soldiers and they said “Wow, big school!” And I said, “I don’t know, big book!” And so we did it! It was everybody together, Donald Miller, Thomas Nelson, me and everybody just said, let’s go build this school, and it’s built! You can build a school out of a bunch of pages of paper. That’s amazing to me.
FC: And is that what Restore Leadership Academy is?
Bob: Yes! Isn’t that great?! And get this, they’re the number one school now in all of Northern Uganda. We’ve sold a couple more books than we thought and this thing hit the New York Times [bestseller’s list] a couple of times and we’ve got seven more buildings underway right now. We’ve got a library with 5,000 books in it, already. It’s the first one in Northern Uganda. It’s nuts! So, that’s what we set out to do. We said, what if there’s nothing on the other side of the equals signs? Just Jesus. We don’t even really tell anybody until the last page of the book, and then it’s hey, do you know what you guys did? All of the proceeds of this thing go to help these terrific kids.
FC: We won’t tell anybody either… well, not until the end of this interview.
Bob: (laughs) Ahhhh! Terrific!
FC: Bob, at the end of your life, what do you want people to remember you for?
Bob: (laughs) Well, we had all of these pets growing up – did you do this as a kid? Ya know, the rabbit would die or a squirrel or a canary. Well, I never wanted to tell the kids that their pet died, so we’d always say, “it got away.” (laughs) Isn’t that crazy?! They’d say, well, dad, where’s the bunny? And I’d say, well, it got away.
Actually one time I was too chicken to say it… We had this long-eared rabbit called Ben, so I found a replacement rabbit and I put it in the cage and everything because Ben “got away.” But it was a little bit bigger and the spots were in different places (laughs) and when they got home they said, “Where’s Ben?” And I said, “This is Ben” and they said, “Dad this is NOT Ben.” So we named him Bennigan. (laughs) So I’m flaking on your what’s-on-your-tombstone thing… I hope it just says “He got away.” (laughs) I know that’s what the kids will put. But I hope that I leave a legacy of capers and mischief and joy. And there’s a difference between a caper and a prank. A prank is like playing Ding-Dong-Ditch, you know, you ring the doorbell and then run and hide in the ditch. That’s a prank. It has no shelf life, like reassembling the principal’s car up on the roof of the gym. It’s cute and everything but there’s no shelf-life, and it can actually be kind of destructive. But a caper is different. It’s something where everybody has made it in. so I hope that I can leave a legacy of capers. We have a thing around the Goff house. The first one to make dad cry around Christmas, they’re the big winners. And all I want are photographs of the kids. And so anything flat… if the kids pick up something flat and start walking toward me – I just start crying because I know it’s going to be a picture of them. (laughs) It could be the Beatles White Album, but if I thought it was a picture of them, I’d start to cry. So the kids this past year put together a book of all the capers we’ve done in the last 15-20 years and there’s a lot. It was a pretty thick book, and so I’m just weeping, turning the pages from one caper to the next. And at the end of this book there was an envelope with three letters in it. They were letters that the kids had written to the children that they don’t have yet. They’re not even going out on dates yet (laughs) but they wrote their [future] kids. And so to read this letter from my son Adam to his kids talking about a life filled with whimsy, filled with joy, filled with adventure that he’s looking forward to, and then to see at the bottom of the letter signed, “your dad, Adam…” that just took me out. That’s what I want to leave behind. That kind of legacy where the kids are already plotting and planning for their kids, and I think that’s what the church did. They had all these hopes for us early on. They said this is who we could be. This is this big God that we follow. They were hoping, they were just rooting for us. That’s that ‘great cloud of witnesses.’ Rooting for us, hoping we’ll live into the people that God meant for us to be. The people that God made us to be. Not just [who we’re] able to be.
FC: Are you a book reader?
Bob: I am! I tell you, every time I read a book now though I think, here’s a guy or gal who did their job. (laughs) They finished the book! It took me so long to do it. Sometimes with reading it’s hard to make the time. I think Don Miller’s probably one of my favorite authors of all time because he just writes with his heart. He’s just a good guy. I’ve learned a lot about love and friendship from how he lives his life.
FC: How about music?
Bob: Oh, probably Brandon Heath is one of my closest friends and he’s releasing a single called, get this, “Love Does.” Isn’t that fun? He totally mugged me. Like he played the song for me, and I’m crying and he’s like “Bob I put this on the album, I hope you don’t mind.” And I’m like what? And he played the song and I’m like NO! (laughs)
Born into a legacy of gospel music, J. Moss continues to blaze an R&B trail with his addictive beats and no nonsense message. Through his new album Volume 4… The Other Side and powerhouse production team, J. Moss is breaking new ground in the industry and challenging gospel artists to let even their stage presence open new doors for ministry.
Family Christian: Would you start us off by taking a few minutes to describe your childhood?
J. Moss: (laughs) Well, it’s kinda fast. My dad basically stuck a mike in front of my face at the age of 5 years old and I’ve been doing it ever since. At the age of 41 this year, that’s 36 straight years in music. So of course, you can only imagine what that type of childhood is like, being in the limelight right at the time you can complete full sentences. But I think it took every bit of that time to nurture and shape who I am today. But it also took me away from being on the local football teams and basketball teams, a lot of movies I didn’t see, a lot of parties I didn’t attend, get-togethers at school I didn’t get to experience. During the summers my dad had us on the road. I wasn’t able to do things with my friends in the neighborhood because of the calling that I had and of course what my dad required of us. Definitely a very fast, expedient (if you will) childhood. I missed a lot, but that’s why I’m making up for it now – still a kid at heart.
FC: So you come from a long line of musicians – your dad was part of the Moss Brothers and your cousins are the Clark Sisters. As you just alluded to, you went on tour as a child. At what point did you realize that your life was going to continue moving in that direction, as a Gospel singer?
J. Moss: I always knew it, way back from when I was 5, on those old 45 records that we put out years ago. I always knew I’d be a singer in some capacity. Whether I’d be in a group or a solo artist I didn’t know, but I definitely knew at a young age that a calling was on my life and I was different from other kids. No better than the other kids, but I was different; the pull on my life (and not just what my mom and dad were requiring of me), there was something to my heart. A passion deep down that hadn’t even been awakened yet. It probably came [to fruition] when I was at Michigan State University. Those years are where it really started to shift and I was kind of able to guide it to where God wanted it to be.
FC: May we ask what you went to MSU for…?
J. Moss: Electrical engineering.
FC: So you’re one of those guys (like a lot of us) who are not doing what you went to college for…
J. Moss: Right, not at all. (laughs) It wasn’t easy, but I definitely utilized that education, I programmed microphones and was a programming instructor for Microsoft for 7 to 10 years. I was able to utilize some of that training and even get more training (at a certifiable level) with Microsoft. But I’m not using a lot of that now. It’s all about music and music production.
FC: Let’s talk about music a minute. You seem to take the listener on a journey in every single one of your songs. What is your process for writing a new song?
J. Moss: Well, it varies. Sometimes [I get ideas while] mowing the lawn, pulling weeds out of the garden, sometimes it’s on a plane. There’s no finite way to write a song, it comes in many different forms. You just have to be open and available for it to drop in your spirit. That’s what I love about art; there is no right or wrong way to do it. We just have to be open to those feelings as they drop into us. That’s pretty much how I live my life. It could be 3 AM or 3 in the afternoon that I go to the piano and get something going on. That’s just how it is. That’s how we make it happen. I don’t run from that, I embrace it and my family understands that. My wife automatically knows that if I jump up in the middle of the night and run out of the room, 9 times out of 10 it’s not an emergency, it’s that something’s been pulling at me during the night, during my sleep. I’m just always in a receptive place for whenever or whatever God wants to do.
FC: How would you describe your music?
J. Moss: My music is definitely very in-your-face, very one-on-one. Humanistic, if I can use that word. Just a real down-to-earth kind of writing. They’re songs that people can put in and say “that’s neat” without having to decipher through. I write by Scripture, but there’s not a lot of scriptural “jargon” to pick through. A lot of the songs just kinda hit you in the face just dealing with your everyday situations. Marriages, parent/child relationships, things that go on in our churches, our jobs, things that happen while we’re driving home from work, things that happen in school, in relationships. Things that aren’t miracles. Just a real, in-your-face, down to earth, grimy kind of style that hits home with everybody.
FC: In writing your latest album Volume 4… The Other Side did you set out to write around a specific theme? We aren’t music critics, but we’re pretty sure we’ve picked up on one…
J. Moss: Well, [typically] the theme you’d guess is exactly what we set out to do. We’re very strategic with our albums. Very strategic with what’s going to be the direction or focal point. We try not to be all over the place so we can give the listener or those who are going to experience the project a pleasurable experience. So this album is definitely one of victory and triumph, being on the other side of victory. So many gospel albums are very somber, slow, very “in the struggle” or “in the storm,” types of concepts and what we wanted to do was go on the other side of that; get into a more celebratory, triumphant and victorious type of delivery. Where we’re talking about the advantages of God bringing healing and bringing you out of it – God doing what He promises that He would do. So probably what you felt is what we set out to do.
FC: What would you say to a person who is spiritually “in the wilderness?” They realize that God is there, but in their heart they feel abandoned…
J. Moss: Well, that’s where the song “Good and Bad” comes from. I just got so tired of people falling into this hopelessness. And it’s not necessarily just individuals; it’s those of us who are leaders, ministers, recording artists, what have you. It’s our job, our duty, to let them know that God has not abandoned us. That’s a really serious thing. That’s heavy on my heart. I’m on a campaign to let everybody know, hey look, God is still there, He’s still healing. As long as you have breath, the Lord has your back. All we have to do is tap into that. A lot of times we stray so far away that we can’t find our way back home – so basically what you have to do is use your spiritual GPS system (which is the Word of God), and a healthy supporting cast – your friends and family. You want to hang around the people that actually speak those things into existence and you’ll be able to find your way back to the light. But by no means has God punished us, left us, abandoned us. That’s what this record is about. It’s about reminding people of God’s faithfulness. Great is His faithfulness. It’s because of His mercies that we’re not abandoned, we are not consumed. And I live by that promise. Every single day we are renewed. That means every morning He gives us a clean slate. The things we’re ready to ask forgiveness for He’s already thrown into the sea of forgetfulness. Now all we need to do is just press on toward the high calling which is in Jesus.
FC: J, you’ve said “this record is a clear reflection of my life and where I am at this moment.” You’ve talked briefly about going through the wilderness and living on the other side of that. Do you write from your own experience, or for a particular audience?
J. Moss: Well, I’m definitely writing [in response to] things that I hear on Facebook, read on Twitter, what I get in emails and from people walking up to me at the end of shows we do. People saying “thank you J for your transparency.” I’m hearing these stories and these issues and experiences that others are going through, so a lot of the final form is not targeted just at J. Moss – but he gives you a lot of himself. [I showed you] the fragile human being in the 3rd project Just James, but with V4… The Other Side we came out of that and decided to really just be a servant of the people again and give them what they needed to hear – a word of encouragement to continue to press on…
FC: So obviously you’re a solo artist, but also along with your business partners – Paul Allen and Walter Kearney – you’ve formed PAJAM Music Group and have had the privilege of working with a ton of heavy hitters: Byron Cage, Hezekiah Walker, the Trin-i-tee 5:7 girls, Karen Clark Sheard, N’Sync, Boyz II Men, Patti LaBelle…? Dude, seriously?! How do you continually balance all of this and keep Christ at the center of your heart?
J. Moss: You have to balance it out. You know, you can’t say yes to everything. Sometimes you just have to say, “look I’m unavailable right now” even if it’s just for a 30-40 minute reading or meditation session with God, or I’m going to Bible study and I’m not going to be bothered. A lot of times it’s family that will keep you rooted and grounded in those things. You have to balance family, spirituality and business all at the same time and you only get 24 hours a day to do it per day. Plus you gotta get sleep in there, exercise, health, all of that in there. Balance and management of time truly is key. And again I can’t say enough about the supporting cast. You gotta have management and partners around you who understand the demands on your life and will allow you to breakaway and break free to do certain things. A lot of times it’s our business affairs guy, Walter Kearney, who handles most of that [for me]. He’ll call me sometimes and say J, we have an interview in five minutes and I’ll say, Walter, I just sat down at the table with the family to eat. And he knows that we’ve been out of town for a few weeks and that the time is important, so I won’t even have to deal with that – he’ll intercept it for me, call the radio station or media outlet. You need people like that around you so you can keep a level head about these things. Because you’ll always be pulled in different directions, and eventually you’ll just explode. So I thank God for the people at PAJAM, my family, friends, siblings, mom, all of them who really understand what it takes to be somebody like J. Moss and they really help me the best that I can be.
FC: This is kind of a curve ball – In all of the various people that you’ve worked with in the past, do you have any embarrassing moments or hilarious memories with them that you’d be willing to share?
J. Moss: Well if anyone follows us on Twitter or YouTube you’ll know we always have a top 5 or 10 [artists]. One artist that is consistently in our male vocalist top 10 is Marvin Winans. He was gracious enough to lend us his talents on the V2 project that we did with Byron Cage. So we did the vocals, recorded it and he did a wonderful job, and somehow between Paul, Walter and myself, after it was done we somehow threw the vocals into a digital trash can and could not get them back. We had nothing. I mean, man, for days we went back and forth first to try and find the vocals, and once we realized that it was just a no-go, we had to call him. We almost did everything but flip a coin to see who was going to have to call Marvin. (laughs) I mean we were so on edge, He’s a Grammy award winner, he’s our mentor, he’s helped us in so many areas and given so much to our ministry, he’s just been a great friend down through the years. But still, out of respect for who this guy is and his time, how do you tell him on a vocal that he already approved that we lost it and now he’s got to do it again. On one hand you look like you don’t know what you’re doing, and ya know, on the other hand he’s busy and he may not want to do it again, or he may get upset with us. So Paul and I had a time on our hands just trying to figure out the best way to break the news to him. The funny part about it was, I ended up being the one to break the news to him and really all he did was laugh. I mean, he couldn’t stop laughing. He’s a jokester so he clowned us. We have a very personable relationship with him. If you would have seen us, you never would have thought the end result would have been him laughing and clowning with us. It was definitely a time to be remembered.
FC: Ok, last question - every time we have seen you live or on video, you are a ball of fire! So we’re wondering, do you drink Mountain Dew or Red Bull? Are you just jacked up on caffeine all day long?
J. Moss: (laughs) You know what, that has been one of those things people have always said to me. If you look in the gospel music industry, especially black gospel, there’s just not a lot of artists that can target the young person in how they want [music/ministry] presented. So when you look at Kiki [Kierra Sheard], myself, Deitrick [Haddon], you know, outside of the few of us, there’s not many more. Of course Kirk [Franklin] does what he does, but just for that incorporating of the dancers and all the movement, jumping from one side of the stage to another, it’s all really just trying to give people in general (not just young people) an experience, and let them know that we’re excited and having a good time. We’re happy with this commission that we have on our lives. I just think that’s where God put me, not just in a place of standing flat-footed to sing, it’s always about being excited about Him. I think the more people can see the excitement in you, they will be more engaged and that will prompt them to get more involved in the service and what’s happening. When you can capture their attention on that level, then you can start feeding them that word of encouragement from the Word of God and start [seeing] changed lives. So PAJAM and I are all about artists who are sticklers for their presentation, because if we can get their attention and get them in the palm of our hand, we can start feeding them what our ultimate purpose is – the Word of God.
FC: We love it. We just really appreciate your music and have especially enjoyed this last record.
J. Moss: Thank you so much, we appreciate your love and support – allowing us to use you as an outlet to get this message out. We are going to continue to stay in the studio, in the books, on our knees before the Lord and try to provide excellent product.
Family Christian: Congratulations on your new album! What can people expect to hear on this CD?
Jeremy Camp: Thanks! People will hear music that encompasses a new season in my life. It’s more of an exhortation for people to go out and have a heart for the lost and understand what Christ has done in our lives.
I hope it helps encourage people to go serve and love on everyone, no matter who they are! I am so overwhelmed by who Christ is and I have to go proclaim to everyone who He is and what He has done for all of us. That is what these songs are about!
FC: "Reckless," the first single from the album, really challenges believers to live in radical faith. What inspired this song?
JC: I feel that God has brought me to a season in my life where He is challenging me to live recklessly – not in a destructive way, but in an “all for Him” way.
I’ve also been inspired by verses like Matthew 28 18-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
FC: How have people responded to "Reckless"?
JC: A lot of people have said that they have a lot of challenges in their life, especially fear, that this song has helped them overcome. It’s helped them to have a renewed outlook on exactly how they are living their life for the Lord.
FC: We're featuring your worship album, We Cry Out, as a Members Only title right now. It's full of songs that align our hearts for worship. So we wanted to know: what's a worship song that's meaningful to you right now?
JC: I would say "Never Let Go" by Matt Redman. It fully relates to my life and all the things I have been through.
FC: We'll soon be wrapping up 2012. What were some of the highlights of the year for you?
JC: 2012 has been an amazing year and God has been doing some awesome things. One of the highlights has been starting our nonprofit called Speaking Louder Ministries. I’m excited to be able to use this ministry to serve communities in major cities around the world and host free concerts where I’ll be able to lead worship and share the gospel.
FC: Wow, that's a full year! What are you looking forward to in 2013?
JC: I’m excited to see what God’s going to do next year and how He’s going to use this ministry. We are preparing to play overseas in several different countries that God has placed on my heart. Other than that, I’m really looking forward to releasing my book, I Still Believe, and the new album!
FC: As we wrap up, what are some of the things God has been teaching you lately?
JC: The biggest thing right now that I feel the Lord is teaching me to do is rest in Him and His goodness. To trust fully in ALL of His ways. To be still and listen. I know I still have a lot to learn about this subject of rest, but feel each day I am getting closer to understanding the fullness that God has for me in this.
She recently took a few minutes to chat with us about the memories and moments that make Christmas the most wonderful time of the year.
Family Christian: Tell us about one of your favorite Christmas memories.
Francesca Battistelli: My mom set up a nativity scene every year at Christmas. She would hide the baby Jesus in an old Grandfather clock, and it was always my job to place him in the crèche on Christmas Eve. Such a fun and memorable tradition!
FC: Are there any other Christmas traditions you love?
FRANCESCA: Being with family, talking about Jesus, eating delicious food and sleeping under the Christmas tree!
FC: Music is such an important part of the season. So what Christmas songs or carols hold special meaning for you?
FRANCESCA: I've always loved "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and my favorite non-traditional Christmas song is "Breath of Heaven."
FC: You have two little ones now. How have your children changed how you experience Christmas?
FRANCESCA: I think this year will be the best yet, since our son is 2 now and really understands what a gift is. It's incredible to see this time of year through a child's eyes.
FC: So what are you looking forward to celebrating this year with Eli and Audrey? FRANCESCA: We're going on tour with NewSong, and so there will be much Christmas cheer to be had with their "Poppa" (Billy from NewSong)!
FC: 2013 isn't too far away. What does the new year hold for you?
FRANCESCA: Watching my little ones grow, touring in the spring and starting to work on my third album!
With his new autobiography Finally FreeMichael Vick opens up about his past, controversy and a brighter future ahead. We caught up recently to meet a little bit of the man behind the cleats.
Family Christian: Michael, can you start by giving us a synopsis of your childhood?
Michael Vick: My childhood consisted of pretty much a little bit of everything. Almost like any other kid. A lot of ups and downs. Situations that occurred – where you have to think through. Some you do, some you don’t. [I got] a lot of spankings, a lot of learning, and a lot of football games that I played at a young age. A lot of trophies and relationships that I was able to build.
As a kid, I always set my sights on doing the right thing. [My goal was to] make my mom proud. Before I did anything, I always thought about her.
FC: As you look back at your childhood, would you it was a good one?
Michael: Yeah. Looking back at my childhood, I would say that I had great childhood. You know a lot of things that I went through shaped and molded me into the person that I was. Growing up into a young man there were times that it was tough. My mom and dad faced difficulties that reflected on us as kids. We managed to keep the faith and pull it through. My mom was the rock of our family. Her faith is through the roof… like out of this world. Even when we were going through trying times, she was always somewhere praying. Even talking to her now, she is always telling me that God has answered so many of her prayers… prayers that He answered while I was in prison.
FC: Fast forward from your childhood, you obviously at some point started getting an interest in football. Was that something that was born instinctively within you or was that as a result of family members or people in your neighborhood? How did you start experiencing the desire for football, then recognizing your own talent?
Michael: When I was six years old, my grandmother was a Washington Redskins fan. She always watched the Redskins on Sundays. So I used to sit and watch the games with her. Then I would go outside and play the same type of football with my friends. Even though we didn’t have pads on, we still played aggressive-style football. I tried to emulate everything that I had seen on TV. Which, I think, [plays] into the player that I have become. That and [eventually] a lot of coaching and great people [who came] into my life. When I was younger, I thought it was one of the best games ever created.
FC: You obviously played it in high school, as well as college. Did you have a good time playing football in college? Was it that a good experience for you?
Michael: Yes. College football was a great experience, because I knew I was one step away from a accomplishing my lifetime goal; making in to the NFL. When I played, I had so much confidence, belief in myself and a higher power, I was able to just enjoy it. I wasn’t out worrying about having great stats. So putting up tremendous numbers just kind of happened. And I think because I enjoyed it so much was the reason why I was able to go number 1. Because I had a great time playing football.
FC: You then signed with the Atlanta Falcons and had a great career with them – about 5 years. What were some of the highlights that you had with being with them?
Michael: Some of my greatest highlights were from the playoff game against Green Bay. Beating them for the first time, when they had never lost a playoff game. Obviously playing in an NFC Championship game in which I took them to 2004, which was a great milestone for me at such a young age in my career.
All of the relationships that I was able to make – Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Jim Mora, who was a great coach. Dan Reeves. The people that I was able to meet while I was there. Anybody that I left out – they know who they are. Just a lot of great people. More than anything, I still have those relationships.
FC: And then it all came crashing down in 2007.
FC: Are you okay talking a bit about that time?
Michael and Tony Dungy
Michael: It’s okay. In 2007, I was convicted of a crime that I was involved in. And everything kind of came crashing down. I lost everything. I was put into prison. I didn’t have any money. My family didn’t have any money.
All I could do was depend on God, my Higher Power – and to keep
the faith. My faith was through the roof. I just felt like something was going to happen. Especially while I was praying. That’s when I grew closer to God, and the things that I needed the most. [To move] away from disobedience.
Michael: I met Coach Dungy one time in 2005. But [it was] really when he came out to visit me during my prison sentence [that we got to know each other]. We just sat and talked for a long time. Shared a lot of life experiences together. He just told me that he believed in me. He told me that my future was bright. I may not be able to see it, but that he had faith in me. That’s where we made that connection. I do appreciate Coach Dungy so much to this day.
FC: Michael, where was God in all of your life up to that point? In your childhood, you talked about…
Michael: He was always there.
FC: He was always there.
Michael: I always knew that I had to have a form of obedience, a form of belief in God and the Holy Spirit. When I was in high school, I slept with the Bible under my pillow, I talked about that in my book – because I believed that the only way that I could get there with all the adversity and controversy that I was facing then as a black quarterback… that I needed to do something different. I felt like I just had to have a great deal of faith. A great deal of understanding and to comprehend by doing the right things.
During all that – the only answer I could come up with was “put my faith in God.” Still to this day, I find myself doing it. I did it this morning. I am doing it right now. I’ll be doing it Sunday before the game. So on and so forth for the rest of my life.
Michael ministers to people in prison.
FC: Is there a particular Scripture that you have in mind that continually comes back to you? That you find a lot of encouragement from?
Michael: Psalms 23. You know Scripture.. Everyone pretty much knows there is so much merit to it. It gives you confidence, plus it gives you strength. It gives you faith in yourself. Belief in yourself. And whatever you are about to endure, you can always walk through it with confidence if you read that Scripture before it. Off the top of your head, you can just rehearse it in your mind. It puts you in a different mindset.
FC: As you look over your life, your past and your present, and obviously on into the future, without stating the obvious Michael, you are a famous person. There are thousands, if not millions of kids and adults that certainly look to you, some with a critical eye and some with fondness. What do you hope that people would know about Michael Vick above everything else?
Michael: I want people to know that I was true to my faith and that I was true to myself. When things weren’t going so well, I acknowledged it, and I accepted it. I believe that change can come and that it happened. I couldn’t have done it without God... and I’ve got to give all the glory and thanks to Him.
So I just hope that everybody sees that I am changed person. That it’s my faith that really got me through it. It was me believing that something was really going to happen. For that next day. Or the next day. Or the next day. Whether it was just me changing my mindset, or life was changing, or my financial situation changing. My living situation. Or the situation with my family. It all came to fruition – and it was all because of my faith.
FC: What do you think of the upcoming season?
Michael: I’m excited about the upcoming season. I think it will be one that we will all remember. I have been doing a lot of work and preparation. I believe in myself. I believe in my team. And I know that we can kick this off.
From the unexpected beginnings of Desperation Band, to the ups and downs of serving in his local church during a tumultuous public scandal, Jared Anderson has learned that he’s never walked alone. His new album, The Narrow Road calls believers to trust and walk a God-centered life, even through the toughest times.
Family Christian: So where did you get your start leading worship? At New Life Church in Colorado Springs?
Jared Anderson: I did grow up at New Life but I went away to Oral Roberts University [in Tulsa, for college] where Glenn [Packiam] was my next door neighbor and Jon [Egan] was on my wing. I met all those guys that are in Desperation Band. And we all ended up at New Life together. None of us intended to go to the same place or thought we’d be working together at all, so it’s pretty cool how that all happened. Came back, [although] I swore I’d never go back to Colorado…
FC: …And you left because Oklahoma was so beautiful?
Jared: (laughs) Ha, yeah… no. In high school I always thought, “I can’t wait to get out of here.” But it didn’t take too long of living in Oklahoma before I realized, you’ve got a pretty sweet spot in Colorado. I did not see myself working in a church or leading worship – [but I] started helping out and kind of didn’t realize that I became a worship leader until I was one. I was just trying to help out and serve, but the Lord had me there.
FC: Did you go back to Colorado with this idea, “hey, we’re Desperation Band”?
Jared: No, not at all, the only reason Desperation Band happened was because David Perkins wanted to start a conference and he asked Glenn to lead worship at it, because Glenn was there about nine months before Jon and I came on staff. So once that happened, David was like, man, these guys are writing songs, it would be great to record a CD to help get the word out about the conference. And when they said we’re going to record a CD at the first conference Glenn didn’t want to do that by himself so he asked the two of us to be a part of it. [And] that was our start. So the band started for the conference, but then we started getting asked to do stuff, and we were like, we gotta call this something.
FC: So then how long was it before you decided to go out on your own?
Jared: Glenn stepped down in ’08, the first conference was in 2002 so that was 6 years, then I stepped off the staff in ’09 and moved to Nashville and that’s really when Jon started running with the band. I was doing solo stuff on the side anyway, so we felt like that was the right fit for all of us.
FC: And are you still in Nashville?
Jared: No, I was there for one year writing and trying to figure out – I knew I wasn’t supposed to be on staff but I didn’t know what the next step was. We had sold our house and we were going to build a house, but I said, before we build I want to make sure this is the right thing for me.
FC: Please keep in mind that if we ask anything uncomfortable you don’t have to answer, but we’d like to talk a little about the massive transition New Life went through a few years ago, which led to Pastor Ted Haggard stepping down. Obviously people on the outside had a lot of feelings about how the church handled it and you were on-staff at that point. Everybody could kind of imagine your response corporately, but how about you individually? How did that unfold or affect your walk?
Jared: It was massive. (pauses) I think… it is really difficult to lead while you’re processing, yourself. It was really a vulnerable [time] because you’re like “there’s no handbook for this. I don’t know that I want to lead or even have anything to give at this point.” But somebody’s gotta lead – I mean, what are we going to do, all stay home? It’s a point of decision to put one foot in front of the other. We’re going to worship the Lord. Really, the fire has a purpose of reducing to the gold. The gold is only refined in the fire and I feel like every church, every Christian has to walk through that to realize, to know if there’s anything there or not.
FC: So now 6 or 7 years ago when you look back at that, we’re assuming you don’t look at it fondly, but what is your feeling of that time? Specifically concerning your own personal walk with Christ, or your view of what happened corporately as a body, your family. Would you characterize it as a wilderness?
Jared: Totally. I mean, it’s what makes you who you are, ya know? Anyone has a testimony, it’s not something you would ever wish on anyone to have to go through the struggles that you went through, but everybody’s going to have to go through struggles. So if this is the thing that makes me who I am, great, because the Lord was with me the entire time. With my wife, with our marriage, with our church and we’re still standing. I think that’s a testimony.
FC: As a follower of Jesus, outside of this job of leading worship – how did you walk through, what sustained you?
Jared: I went through several seasons of doubt like, well I just drank the Kool-Aid, I’ve been living a lie, my leader had been leading something that wasn’t true, self-admittedly so! [I wondered] maybe there’s a lie inside of me that I have to discover and so [it led to] this question of okay, what do I believe? If none of this structure still stands, what do I carry inside of me? And it’s the faith – following Jesus. It was just one foot in front of the other, He’s still there, He’s still faithful. We’d get together as friends – the staff – night after night after night. We’d play it all out in our heads and try to analyze it, discover it, but then finally you just gotta quit talking about it and go back to living, ya know? I think what it did primarily is change my “success criteria” of ministry. That’s the bottom line. What a trial will do is make you go okay, what does it mean to be successful? And that’s to follow Jesus, to raise godly children, to have a great marriage that reflects Christ and to minister to people in authentic ways that lead them by the Holy Spirit to the person of Jesus.
FC: So your family has grown, you have four kids and you’re in the process of adopting. When do you hope to have these 2 additional children?
Jared: Last year we had two miscarriages in the span of about 8 months and my wife really started to feel like her desire to bear more children was lifting – which I never thought would happen because she loves having kids. We’d had miscarriages before, and they’re hard, but you get through them. So we decided to start the adoption process in November [of 2011]. We went down to Haiti in January to meet the director and we met John Diego then.
FC: So what has the adoption process been like for you so far?
Jared: When we lived in Nashville our neighbors were in the process of adopting when the earthquake hit [in Haiti], so they went down and got their kids out – and we watched that process happen. We thought this is amazing, when we’re done having our own, we want to do this. So that’s kinda how we got started. We went down there with our old neighbors and met all of the people that they already knew and were just kind of curious about this little boy, John Diego, when we were tucking all of the kids in at night. We thought he probably had a home because his crib was decorated with little toys and stuff and that usually comes from the parents who come to visit, so we’re like oh, isn’t that fun, he’s got a little family waiting for him. So the last night we’re there we’re like, we should check and see if he’s available at all and turns out he was, so we thought we’ll take him. They called us about 6 months later, [and] they were not supposed to have any girls available for 2 years and to get a baby girl was even more distant. But they called us at the end of May and said – we have a 5 month old girl for you. So we hung out with her in June. So we’re just going to keep going down there to visit our kids until we get them and it will probably be at least another year. The orphanage is called New Life Link and we work with an adoption agency called Love Beyond Borders.
FC: Here at Family Christian our calling is James 1:27 “…to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” so that’s what all of our efforts are really for; to help propel that Kingdom calling. We want kids adopted and foster kids in homes.
Jared: One of the things the Lord laid on our heart was that we’re not supposed to carry this burden on our own, so we had this puzzle made. We took a picture of John Diego and had a 250 piece puzzle made of it then asked people to sponsor just a piece of the puzzle. We’ll write their names on the back of each piece and then at the end, we’ll get a 2-sided frame and hang that in his room so he’ll know who helped to bring him home. The time has come upon us to have all of the finances and we have to raise about $15,000 [more] in the next 40 days so we’re on an active mission to get the word out.
FC: Let’s talk briefly about The Narrow Road, your new record. Everything you’ve talked about today, Colorado to Oklahoma to Nashville to Colorado, then everything you went through at your church and now the adoption. Do all of these things feed into the record? What’s the theme?
Jared: Yes, for sure. When I left the staff position at church I felt very much like the instruction God gave Abraham leave your country and go to a place I’m sending you felt very much like [what He was saying to] me. Two things really helped shape my psyche in this transition: First was reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. It’s all about the journey of Christian away from the city of destruction to the Celestial City. And his wrestling with distraction and meeting all of those characters along the way. And the other was the experience of visiting one of our missionaries in Mexico and going from house to house with him; his process of making disciples. Discipleship is you come with me and we go here. And I think in the mega-church world that had become to me kind of a lost art. Training people to just pick one [person] at a time, and [say] you and I are going to live life together and go forward. That’s reducing discipleship to its most basic format and anyone can do that. The road is narrow and only a few find it. That’s a hard message to swallow sometimes, but this is calling people to holiness, a separateness away from worldly wisdom and away from morality and religion and these things that take our focus and distract us and make us think that we’re successful. [These places] where we can have the appearance even when we’re not really on the road. That’s sort of the journey I’ve been on.
FC: In talking about “the narrow road” you mentioned Abraham being called out of something and into something. How much of this record reflects this idea of I’m moving and I don’t know where? Is that part of the story for you?
Jared: I think every season builds on itself so I don’t know that I’d say… well like, there’s a line between leaving and disowning. I’m not disowning anything of my past. That has brought me to what I am, but I do feel called to run with a message that the Lord has given me and it’s a new season for me doing this full-time. Going and ministering to people on the road it’s like – ok, what is the message? I’m not just a songwriter or a song leader – I’m a message bearer, an ambassador. To go and preach the Gospel really is the goal, so that’s kind of a new effort.
FC: What do you hope this record will do?
Jared: I think it’s the soundtrack for that road, for the journey of life in Christ.
FC: When you write your songs, do you write for yourself, for individuals you know, for the broader audience who is participating in worship music?
Jared: I write what I need for me for the day. That’s the Lord’s reveal. I can’t give anybody anything that I haven’t experienced. A lot of times I feel like I write a message or a burden that’s in my heart, and the Lord causes me to have to live that out. For instance, the song “Jesus Makes the Impossible Possible.” It’s something I needed and am still walking through with this adoption, like man, what a burden, what a journey, how’s this ever going to work out? How long is this going to take? It’s my ‘impossible’ right now, it feels like a huge mountain to climb. And yet I know that this is what God has called us to do and He’s going to make a way. He’s going to reveal Himself through it. So that’s joyous… There’s joy in that.
FC: Has there ever been a song in your catalog that you go back to and you’re like – I don’t know how I wrote that song, but it was for me?
Jared: Yeah, well like, “The Great I Am” totally. I couldn’t go back and just sit down and say, I’m going to write a song like that today, ya know? [laughs] But that has been a journey for me to draw near to the Lord and then to see how big, vast and overwhelming He is. To ask, why have I ever had any trace of fear when I’m included in a God of this magnitude…?
Just as mountaintop experiences are a part of the Christian faith, so are valleys; moments of struggle and searching for truth. Bebo Norman’s new album Lights of Distant Citieswas forged through just such a time. What Bebo discovered through the process was this: sometimes it takes a dark time to see just how beautiful the light is...
Family Christian: So could you start by giving us some personal background?
Bebo Norman: I grew up in a town called Columbus, Georgia, about 90 miles south of Atlanta. Not a super-small town – probably a couple hundred-thousand people. Definitely off the beaten path, a little bit. I honestly grew up in a Christian home, in a strangely functional family. I say that with a grain of salt, because we definitely have our dysfunctions just like any family. But it was a pretty beautiful environment to grow up in, honestly. [I had] believing parents, but also parents who sort of gave us… well we grew up under their strict guidelines in a lot of ways. [However], they also allowed each of the four kids in our family to have their own sort of freedom in finding our way to faith, if that makes any sense. And so all four children did, in their own unique time through some labor and struggle. That’s were I grew up and what my back ground was.
FC: Where did the name “Bebo” come from?
Bebo: My younger sister; the youngest in the family. When I was probably 4 or 5 years old, she couldn’t say “big brother” and started saying “Bebo” instead. Which is super cute when you’re four, and not quite as cute when you’re about to be 40. Know what I mean? [laughs] So I have had to sort of adjust, but it is what it is.
FC: It is what it is.
Bebo: People ask me a lot if it’s a stage name that I made up. And I’m like “seriously?” If I was going to make up a stage name I can promise you it wouldn’t have been Bebo. It would have been something much cooler like “Sting” or something… Well, I suppose Bono is not exactly too cool, but he is a pretty cool guy.
FC: So at some particular point the persona out weighs any type of difficulty with the name.
Bebo: That’s what I like to tell myself anyway.
FC: So how did you get introduced to music and songwriting? Was that a part of your upbringing?
Bebo: It was. My dad played this thing called a Uke which is basically a four string guitar or an oversized ukulele. He [also] played guitar. And he didn’t play it extremely well. And honestly I haven’t seen him play it since I was a kid. He used to play these old folk songs, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez songs and really old folk traditional folk songs. And he would make up songs about our dogs and anything random that he could. That’s my first real memory of loving music – my dad playing those songs to me and my brother. We shared a room, and when we would go up to bed at night, he would come and play a song every now and then. And the truth is, he may have only done it a handful of times… I don’t really remember, but it was enough to make a significant impact. And I think the interesting thing was he was playing these old songs that were really written about kind of plain, ordinary life. And sort of finding these strangely profound things within the context of playing in a plain and ordinary life. And I think in a lot of ways that’s why I write the way that I write. And of course that has a lot to do with what influenced me once I started playing music and once I started writing music.
I still listened to a lot of singer/songwriters at that point. But it has a lot to do with the fact that that’s how faith is played out in my life... in finding the profound and the extraordinary in a plain and ordinary life. I think that is kind of how God has moved in my life. And so it tends to be why I write about the things that I write about. So I think my dad’s influence early on had a lot to do with that.
FC: So at some point did something happen in your heart or your head where you said “I want to switch gears and maybe make this a full-time gig”?
Bebo: Well, honestly, it was definitely an end-of-college/post-college sort of thing. I tell people all the time that I have a degree in biology – that is what I studied in college – and my plan was to go to medical school. Which is just insane in my mind to think about now. Mostly because that was almost 18 years ago now. The thing was, I started writing songs and playing the guitar when I was probably 16 or 17 years old. I started writing songs pretty quickly after that. Once I knew a few chords – and ironically I write most of my songs with the same few chords. It was an interesting process going through college and starting to really focus on songwriting more as my own sort of personal therapy sessions, more than anything else. There was no desire in my mind at that point to play my songs for people. I mean, I did, but that was not at all where it came from. I played them for friends and every now and then for small groups of people, but I never really performed for people – it was more just something that I did. And if somebody heard me singing they might ask me to play it for them or something. Right before I was graduating from college I just started feeling this intense sense of “Hey I need to at least see what would happen with this music.” A lot of that came from people in my life where they sort of forced me to ask that question, and they would say, “Hey, you need to at least see what would happen with music.” So, I tell people all the time I took a year off after college before I was going to go apply for medical school just to see what would happen. If I am honest about it, it was probably a little more intense for me than that. It was more of an intense “Yeah, I am thinking about taking a year off to see what happens, but this is really what I feel like what I am supposed to do.” In an intense calling sort of way. And oddly enough that year has turned into seventeen years.
You asked me if it was a hard decision or if there was a definite moment where I felt compelled to see what would happen with it. But I never felt like “hey this is going to be my life or my career.” I just thought that this was something that I needed to dive into and see what could happen – and still [all these] years into it, I feel kind of surprised a lot days that I am seventeen years into it. So, it’s been an interesting journey to say the least.
FC: So then you met the guys in Caedmon’s Call? Or somehow you were introduced to Watershed Records and did a deal there... How did you feel after that first record came out when you realized that you had national exposure?
Bebo: Well I was completely surprised by it. I was in the independent music world for years. So I really didn’t know what I was doing. Honestly I took out a loan when I graduated from college. My dad co-signed the loan for me to make an independent CD. And it was the beginning of the days of being able to make a CD digitally. We recorded it on these digital machines back in 1996. And that is when it released. So it was one of those things where I didn’t have any real expectations except, I am going to make this record and if I am making a record then maybe I should try to find places that I can go play, because I made a record before I played any real concerts. Then I started playing for Young Life camps and things like that back in the day. And that led from one thing to another…
[So] this independent music scene was sort of rising up at that point and I had heard of this band Caedmon’s Call through independent music circles. And they had heard of me. And oddly enough, I was traveling through my home town, (I wasn’t living there at the time, I was living up in North Carolina), to go play a show in Florida and Caedmon’s Call happened to be playing a show in my home town and a friend of mine was promoting their show. So I went over to see the show. It ended up that these guys knew of my music and I knew of their music and we sort of hit if off that night. They asked me that night if I would tour with them the next spring. They were releasing their first national record at that point.
So that was the beginning of this process of getting real national exposure. That’s when record labels started talking to me. And I ended up on Watershed/Essential Records with Caedmon’s Call and Jars of Clay. Andrew Peterson came shortly after. That record label is now Provident Records which is probably one of the largest record labels in the Christian music world. Definitely an interesting journey. That is how it all sort of unfolded early on.
FC: So was it in your time with Young Life that you learned how to play wiffle ball so well?
Bebo: [Laughs] Such an obviously leading question.
FC: Well I remember reading something about that a couple of years ago – didn’t you break a bone?
Bebo: Yeah, I did. That was it. I would love to be able to tell people that I broke my leg doing some extreme sport like sky diving or something, right?
FC: I was going to say, don’t you play wiffle ball with a plastic ball and a plastic bat?
Bebo: In my way of wiffle ball, it’s a high collision sport. That’s the way I see it. High impact. It was a random, random thing on a Memorial Day. I can’t even remember how many years ago it was now. In fact, it probably was six years ago, because I broke my leg right before we had my first son, who is five now. So anyway all that to say – yeah, I had to have surgery, three pins put in my leg all from a silly, little game of wiffle ball. I was running home and jumped up and landed funny. Just a complete freak accident.
FC: Did your team win?
Bebo: No! [laughs] I tied the game up when I landed on the home base. And then we went into the bottom of the last inning. The other team scored. Not even worth it… It was not even worth it.
FC: Great story, nonetheless. Maybe someday wiffle ball will be at the Olympics.
Bebo: That’s right. That’s right. And if it is, I won’t pretend to be a player, maybe I can be an honorary coach or something.
FC: So since your time at Watershed, you’ve moved labels and are now with BEC Recordings. You’ve been really active since signing with them and have a new record coming out called Lights Of Distant Cities. We came across this quote recently and wondered if you could kind of talk us through what you meant a little bit. “The last few years have been pretty intense - a long, slow progression, or digression, into a spiritual desert. I struggled to write anything hopeful. But I wanted to be true to the season I was in, so I simply wrote about the hopelessness I was experiencing.” Now often times, Bebo, throughout the history of Christendom, there are people who follow Jesus and they say “there is absolutely no darkness once you are with Jesus.” From your quote, it doesn’t sound like that’s necessarily the case. Bebo: Well, I certainly don’t fall into that camp. It wasn’t given to me as my spiritual gift. And I say that honestly. There was a time in my life where I really found great frustration with God in the sense that, in the fact that I felt like, that was sort of the thorn in my side, in my flesh, if you will. Which makes me question the whole [idea] that when you become a believer, there is no darkness. Just because Scripture doesn’t seem to back that up, at least the Scriptures that I have studied. So I struggled with the fact that I had this tendency towards that doubt. Tendency toward questioning. And this tendency toward this idea that I sort of spiral at times into a place where I look around the world and it seems – and this is where I was writing from on this record originally – looking around the world and seeing so much that is dark and difficult and confusing. So much that is broken about the world.
I just started asking this question “It just doesn’t look like love is winning in this world. So well, if love is not winning, then is God not winning? And if God is not winning, then who is God? And if I am wondering who God is, then, who am I within the context of who God is?” So much of my identity is wrapped up in what I believe and not just in just my Christian world view, but in how I have been transformed by who I believe God is.
So that’s where I started this record. And even coming out of my last record which is really a record that is a lot about longing for something and being honest in writing about being in that place of longing for something. And I think this record, in a strange way, ended up becoming about finding that something. Because where I started writing from has a lot to do with the quote that you just read, this place of really struggling with the idea that our faith has these two counterpoints to it. One side is what we know to be true, and the fact that we make choices and the “decision” part of our faith. The willing ourselves toward love and toward faith because we know that truth is truth. There is a decision part of that and a will part of that. The other end of the spectrum is the emotional part – the part that feels what we feel. The things that when the Holy Spirit sort of overwhelms us, and gives us a sense of what it means to really fall in love with God. With a real understanding of what God is doing in the world.
I think when we are young, our tendency is toward that emotional side, and it can tend to really sway and lean heavily on what it feels like to have a faith experience with God. Then we get older and we begin to realize that our emotions ebb and flow. They wane at times. Then they are full of hope at times. They are full of desperation at other times. We can start to really rely heavily on that decision. That “will” part of faith. I think I just found myself in a place, that slow digression that I mentioned, where I have been praying for so long to God. To find that first love again. To experience that feeling of falling in love again. That emotion of faith. That being overwhelmed with the Holy Spirit. I had been relying on for so long – it felt like years really – on the will part of my faith, on the decision part of my faith, to trust that truth is truth, regardless of what I feel. I just started praying real honestly to God as I looked around the world and saw all things that were wrong with it. Love was not winning. Just praying that God would really give me a sense in my heart and in my emotions again, that He really is who He says He is. And that He still really is in control of the world that just feels so out of control from time to time.
What ended up being profound to me while writing for this record is that I started writing in that place of desperation and kind of about half-way through the writing process. And by that I don’t mean that I had written half of the songs, and then wrote the next half of songs. I had written half of all the songs. All eleven. They were all, kind of, half-written. I was writing again from that honest place, wanting to convey those emotions. The desperation. About half way through that process, God sort of met me in a really profound way.
There were three days that I went and spent in solitude by myself. And God just showed up in a pretty moving way. For me. In an intense way. I just felt overwhelmed with a sense of what it means to fall in love again. To be moved by what God is doing in this world that feels so out of control at times.
So in a strange way, all the songs on this record sort of represent that transition. That transition from the season of desperation to the season of recovery and renewal. So the title, Lights in Distant Cities, that’s what that song and this record is about in a lot of ways. As I look back on the writing process, it’s that moment when you come around the bend and you see something in the distance that is beautiful. And mysterious. And moving. And that thing, sort of likening that to lights in distant cities, it’s what pulls you forward in life. It’s what draws you in that direction again.
And that is how I would describe what God did. How He pulled us into those places where He gives us those glimpses of who He is. A profound sense of who He is. That really draws us forward in life, and pulls us out of a season of darkness that we might have been in.
So that is really where it was written from, where the title comes from and really what I was hoping to convey. Or what turns out was conveyed on the record in the long run as a whole.
FC: Do you think that’s indicative of the Christian walk? That there are times in our lives – in a true, authentic walk – that we go through periods of wilderness or desperation?
Bebo: Absolutely. I don’t know how… well… it certainly has been in my life. Like I mentioned earlier, there was a time in my life where I really felt frustration with God. That He gave me this tendency to doubt, this tendency to sort of move into the wilderness places. I sort of came into this place of real gratitude for that. Because in a lot of ways I think it sort of keeps us as a church, at least from my perspective. I think most often in walks of faith that I have seen in my life, from people, whether they are authors or friends in my life, they have all gone through these seasons of real wilderness. A sort of dark night of the soul.
It kinda keeps us from becoming that church of Ephesus. The church that Revelation 2 talks about, the one that becomes the “loveless” church. They were the ones that had done so many profound things in their faith, but then became [the church] that lost it’s first love. I think when we go into those seasons of desperation, when everything else gets stripped away, we can’t become fat and warm and lazy. Or sort of lukewarm as a church. Because we feel desperate. And we feel lost. And we realize that we can’t pull ourselves out of it. It’s really about relying on a God Who’s bigger than the burdens of this world to pull us out of it.
So absolutely, I think that’s indicative of what it means to walk and live our faith. Do I absolutely understand it? Absolutely not. Do I wish in a lot of ways that it wasn’t that way? Absolutely, because it can be painful at times. But my goodness, it makes for a beautiful experience. And one of the real quotes that moved me in the writing process for this whole record was a quote from an old German mystic from the late 1300’s, Meister Eckhart was his name. A lot of times when I have fallen into that place where I say “God, why did you build us this way, where we have to go through these seasons of the desert? Why is the world the way it is with all this darkness built into it?” Meister Eckhart said simply “If the soul could have known God without the world, God would have never created the world.” So, in some way we are built so that our soul, to really truly know God, has to go through those seasons; has to go through a world that really is a bit broken and dark, in order to really know who God is.
That quote was a pretty massive turning point for me in the writing of this record. As simple as it is, it was pretty profound and foundational for me in a lot of ways.
The Broken - lyric video
FCS: We so appreciate your honesty. Bebo, what would you say to brother or sister who is struggling right now in the wilderness? Who seems either overwhelmed by sin, whether it be their own, or sin in the world, or just overall darkness. That they just don’t feel like their prayers are getting to God. Like they would feel like their prayers are just hitting the ceiling. How do you speak to somebody like that?
Bebo: The first thing that comes to mind and that would come out of my mouth is I’m with you. I mean, I have been there. I will be there again. I happen to be in a season right now where God has really kind of “shown up” for me. In a way that I was just describing to you before. But it came out of a long season. A really long season, honestly, of feeling like my prayers were going unanswered. Feeling like… you know there is a song on the record called “Collide” and it’s probably the most indicative song of what you are talking about. That talks about these kingdoms that we build. When I don’t feel love. When I don’t feel saved. When I feel emotion-less in my faith. When I am thriving and surviving only on will and decision. Knowing that truth is truth, regardless of what I feel. When I go through long, long seasons of that, which I have done several times in my life, my tendency is to start looking for that feeling elsewhere. So I start to build these kingdoms up. And I might be peoples’ tendency to be in a dark place right now, or overwhelmed with their own sin or the sin of the world or the brokenness of the world or their own brokenness. We start to build these kingdoms up that are our attempts to fill that emotional need in our life. And those kingdoms can really be beautiful things. Things like family. Like our children, or our spouses. Or community. Even my music, for me, has become a kingdom at times. Where I seek to find my value and my worth in that kingdom. And I seek to be filled in that emotional sense. Or what strangers think of me as a musician. Of filled or completed by what my wife thinks of me. Or how I am as a father with my children. Those can be beautiful things, but when they become the center, when they become what we are drawing our emotional value from, they are bound to crumble. And truthfully, every single kingdom that I have ever built in my life has crumbled in one way or another, because they are all temporal.
My wife is not meant to be the source of life for me. And I am not meant to be the source of life for her. My kids are not mean to be that for me. That’s too heavy for them to carry, and my wife to carry or for me to carry. Certainly our music or our career is not meant to be those things for us. They are meant to be beautiful things, but they not meant to be the source. So the song “Collide”, that is what the whole song talks about, is these kingdoms that we build. And we continue to do it over and over. The whole song is written from this desperate place and the very last line of the song says “I build these kingdoms. I continue to build them. I continue to watch them fall.” Then the last line of the song says “And then You say to me, “You’re mine.’” Here I am, this desperate guy, seeking to find you in all these other ways, and you still continue to manage to show up in some way, and remind me that I am still yours.
And that’s what I would say to someone who is in a desperate place. Hang on for that “bend” that comes when we go around the corner as we see lights in the distance. [Lights] that are mysterious and beautiful and intriguing and they pull us forward in life. Because that to me, is how God has worked profoundly in my life and in the course of writing this record.
FC: Are you a book reader?
Bebo: I am. I love to read. I am slow book reader. So I tend to read just a handful books a year. And a lot of times I read them several times, to try to soak them all in.
FC: What are you currently reading?
Bebo: I am reading a couple right now. I have gone back to sort of start a book again. I love Tim Keller. He is one of my favorite authors, or really pastors. He has a book called Reason for God. Which every now and then I just need to go back and be reminded of the details of what a real, healthy Christian worldview is. I am also reading a book by Bob Goff right now called Love Does. He is a friend of mine. So both of those I love. But my staple, that I go to a lot is an author named Annie Dillard. They are not novels in any sense, but she has a profound spiritual sense in how she writes and what she writes about. That’s what I go to a lot. I am reading a book from her right now call the Maytrees that I just started. So those are the ones that I am reading currently. I read a whole bunch all at the same time.
FC: One last question for you. When you go into a Starbucks, what drink do you order?
Bebo: A decaf triple-tall, Americano. That’s my drink. I haven’t done caffeine in ten years, but I love coffee. So I pay a little bit more to get good coffee, because bad decaf is horrible. So good decaf may seem like a misnomer to some people, but I am here to vouch for the fact that it’s true. So that’s my drink at Starbucks.
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