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July 25th 2014 / 13 comments

Little by little I have been turning my manuscript over.

Over to an editor and a copy editor. Over to a designer and a printer. Over to my family who lets me share their story in order that I might more fully share mine. Over to friends whose grace, humor and compassion ebb through the stories that fill the pages. I turn it over.

I have been in the public arena for long enough that I know what comes next. Scrutiny, opinions, criticism, praise and litmus tests by those in the industry who want to predict whether I have created a product that is commercially viable or not. It’s not personal, it’s business. And if I had any business acumen I am quite sure I would run a company the same way. In any case, I have learned over the years that I cannot let the praise or criticism sway me. I must continue to be who I am and do what I am compelled to do. That’s the best gift I can offer.

So when an industry person recently commented to their colleagues that in their opinion, my manuscript felt like, “Wow, my life is really hard,” there were no hard feelings. It is their opinion and they are completely entitled to it. Not having spoken to the person personally- or even knowing them for that matter- I can’t say for certain why that is the only thing they walked away with. But I do know that the conversation that followed prompted that particular group of people to reach out to me and ask if I would consider revising the end of my story to make it a little more palatable by giving my story more “resolution” and giving the reader a few more “benefits” “take away points” or “inspiration.”

They said their intention wasn’t to coerce a watered down, trite or cheesy ending.  Just less of the Wow- life is really hard business and more of the Wow-God’s gonna fix it!  business.  A little less tension. A little less reality. A little more inspiration.

And hear me: I believe God is a healer and a fixer. He has healed and fixed before and God will heal and fix again. I think you and I are always, ever invited to the table to be made well. But I believe many things aren’t physically restored- the way we hope they will be- this side of heaven. Not because God is withholding healing from us, but because it’s a broken place we live in and for every ounce of beauty we encounter, there is suffering- remnants of evil among us. The hard reality of life is that some things, this side of heaven, remain broken. Still, there are many brave people among us who daily choose to live in the tension of being a person of FAITH and HOPE whether their earthly situations are ever fully restored or not. They live in that hope because they know this isn’t the end of the story; the story already has its ending and it is magnificent.

So I’ve thought a lot about the industry people sitting around their table here in Nashville. Discussing whether my manuscript might be made into a more inspirational book, debating whether readers really want to read a book laced with humor, love, insane life stories and yes, tension in the not-yet-arrived happily-ever-after. Wondering whether they could market a “no solutions” book from a Christian. Wondering whether my story shouldn’t end a little more happily-ever-after versus the way it currently ends, all Isaiah 43ish. But on my best days, Isaiah 43 is all I’ve got.

“But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.”

That is all I need from the gospel. Emmanuel is with me. That is enough.

My grandpa passed away last night and gosh did I adore him. I can’t think of a major event in my life that he wasn’t there to witness. He and Grandma made the drive from Mississippi to Texas to be with my sisters and I more times than I can count. I can’t think of a time I said good-bye where he didn’t say, “Okay baby I love you.”  I don’t know what life is like without a loud, funny, brilliant, kind, arguing-with-the-TV Grandpa. He has fought for his life the past six months as his legs slowly became infected, then his blood became infected, then his lungs filled with fluid…then life support, his Priest, last rites and leaving earth for eternity with his daughters holding his hands.

We do a whole lot of living and dying between life and death. This is the tension in our humanity. And the great tension of our faith.

This week alone we celebrated with friends whose baby lived when she was supposed to die and mourned with those whose children did not make it. We told our 5-year-old that she was going to her second funeral in four months. I went to the asthma doctor, the psychiatrist and the dermatologist; places for those of us who are not yet whole. We picked carpet, waited on a house appraisal, had two picnics, went swimming and gathered at the table to cry with a friend who found out devastating family secrets. This week alone planes were shot down, children were herded like animals into filthy holding cells on our American borders and entire people groups continue to bomb and devour each other…

and I haven’t had a chance to respond to the well-meaning, industry people sitting around the table here in Nashville who wonder if I might make my manuscript a little less, “life is so hard, ” but the answer is no.

The answer is no BECAUSE IT IS.

Life is hard. All hard? No. All bad? No. All suffering? No. But hard? Absolutely. And for some people- cruelly hard.

If we acknowledge that life is laced with beauty, joy and celebrations without acknowledging that life is also complicated, confusing and often times painful beyond words,  then we are deceiving ourselves and shortchanging the depths of what it is to be fully human- people of joy and sorrow. We also miss a beautiful connection with God that is most often found in the unknowing, unraveling and unbecoming moments of our journeys.

Truth is- life is short on answers, long on grace. Short on neat bows, long on unraveling. Short on happily-ever-afters, long on God showing up in raging rivers and scorching fires. Short on perfectly curated plans, long on re-dreaming and re-building and re-dreaming and re-building. Short on “Life is perfect!” and long “Life is really hard right now.”

What I am learning along the way is this: My life is short on “God will intervene and fix it” and long on “God will be with me as I walk through it.”

Might you get to the end of my book and think life is hard? I sure hope so. To deny the frailty and pain of our condition as humans is to also deny the beautiful scope of our redemptive existence. Robert Benson says that in heaven there may well be no grace or mercy because all will be well and whole- there will be no need for grace and mercy.*

But here? Now?

We laugh, we celebrate, we dance, we cheer each other on, we gather at the table and we most fully experience God’s rich gifts of companionship, grace, peace, mercy, community, selflessness, bravery, random acts of kindness and deep abiding love for one another because it is hard.

Our stories are the stories of grace and mercy because we are people who live in the tension of earth and eternity.

And to me— that is inspiration enough.

 

 

Between the Dreaming and the Coming True: The Road Home to God
(one of the most influential books I have ever read)

 

 


May 16th 2014 / 2 comments

Usually, around the sixth grade, kids start honing in on their talents. They have had a few years of dance lessons or been a part of soccer teams. Graduated from the recorder to the oboe or created at least one piece of artwork their parents deem to be revolutionary and have been upgraded to real sketch pencils.

I was not that kid.

Sixth grade rolled around and the only team sport I had ever been a part of was Bible drill.
Yes- that is a real thing.

I sang along to Michael W Smith’s Go West Young Man cassette tape on my Karaoke machine at home and wrote my own family newspaper, but I was convinced those things were far less “real” than the extra-curricular activities the other kids my age were a part of.

But then one day I found a team and a talent. It all started when my sixth grade teacher at Daniel Elementary School, Mrs. Isaacs, nominated me to be in the prestigious flag corp.

Nope. Not the kind of flag corp where you dress up in cute spandex leotards and prance around with a all your dance-class-knowledge waving a flag. I was completely unqualified for that. No, she nominated me for something much better. Mrs. Isaacs nominated me to be on the team that put up the American flag each morning before school started on the towering flag pole that greeted people as they drove in to the school driveway. FLAG CORP.

I was elated.

As with all jobs in my life (And I have had taxes withheld since I was 16 years-old, so there have been many.) I took flag corp duty with every ounce of seriousness and dedication I had in my wiry-90-pound-twelve-year-old body. Some might say I was hell-bent on being the best flag corp-er that ever walked the halls of that intermediate school.

Backtrack:
If you’ve been around my life stories for any length of time, you know I come from a military family. Collectively, my extended family and I are that family who will give you the God-forsaken-stink-eye if you even THINK about cracking jokes during Lee Greenwood’s Proud to Be an American at the end of the State Fair laser light show. We will glare at you, mouths slightly aghast, if your hand is not over your heart and body facing the flag during the singing of the National Anthem and we will insist on your deportation if you don’t start Memorial Day off at a freaking MEMORIAL DAY service. Your humanity will be seriously questioned by family if you don’t get a wee bit misty-eyed when the old men come along at the end of the 4th of July parade wearing their WWII Veterans hats. Mmmmmmkay? We’re that family.

Now you can imagine the seriousness of the sheer American-patriotic duty coursing through my blood as I showed up at school one hour early to properly, perfectly adhere the flag to the flag poll.

I vigorously studied the flag code book and could beat most Eagle Scouts in my comprehension of it. Under my watch, that flag would NEVER touch the ground. It would always be briskly raised and lowered slowly and ceremoniously. It would be folded properly and perfectly. Every. Single. Time. No cutting corners. And in our hearts, everyone on my flag duty team would be asked to truly understand the importance and significance of the raising and lowering of our nations most beloved insignia. I may have been slightly made fun of for my due diligence in honoring the American flag. But whatever.

I felt a huge responsibility, honor and duty.

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Today, for the first time in a really long time, I feel that same weight of responsibility, honor and duty as I set out to properly invest the $52,995 given to me by my friends, family and fans for the purpose of creating my debut book and a independent EP.

It is not lost on me, not for one second, what a truly amazing gift it is to be the receiver of such an enormous amount of funding. Ryan and I are excited and joyful, but we are also moving into the next few weeks of budget meetings knowing that we carry a tremendous responsibility to wisely steward the money we have been gifted for these projects.

I feel like that wirey-90-pound-twelve-year-old little girl who would very solemnly and seriously show up to an empty school while the lights were still dim and the hallways smelled of chlorine washed floors, in order to take the American flag out and raise it in such a way that it honored the people who gifted it to me in the first place.

With great gifts comes great responsibility.

So to those 464  people, and the bigger picture of families, friends and finances you each represent, thank you for a great gift. Please know that with every ounce of seriousness, dedication and responsibility I possess- I will honor your gifts and use them to craft words that remind people of the beauty, life, joy, HOPE, redemption and love that God has put on display for the whole world to see.

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May 15th 2014 / No comments

24hours

Exactly one month ago today I launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking $20,000 to fund the printing and publication of my debut memoir, The Road to Becoming. It was an audacious goal that my husband and I weren’t exactly confidant we could achieve. Never in my wildest dreams or boldest prayers did I imagine I would be writing this letter 29 days later to let you know we have raised $52,160!

I am overwhelmed, humbled, grateful and SO EXCITED!

We have surpassed EVERY goal that we set. And most importantly, 434 people have come together to raise enough funds so that we can publish a book, record new music, and give them away!  Because of the generosity of so many, we have the means to set aside 1,000 copies to give away to women coming out of prison, shelters and recovery programs. Women who most need God’s love, redemption and HOPE sung over them!

So here we are with only 24 hours remaining and it’s not too late to join us. Yes, we have exceeded our goals, but pre-orders on the front end allow us to stretch this money and truly create a book and music with the upmost excellence. So think of this last 24 hours as your final chance to pre-order my new book and EP.

$25 =

  • -Physical copies of BOTH the book and new EP
  • -Free Shipping
  • -Digital downloads of BOTH products
  • -An invitation to a Kickstarter-only, online concert
  • -Behind the scene look as I record this summer and access exclusive book chapters
  • -AND, all pledges are currently being doubled by an anonymous donor!  This means instead of giving away one CD to a woman in prison, shelter, or recovery—I can give away two

This will be the last chance (and lowest price) to pre-order The Road to Becoming and To Be Well: Songs for Healing before they release nationwide in September.  

We’d love to end strong tomorrow with a team of 500 people! Will you join?

Much love!

-Jenny

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