A Collection

It was Ryan's birthday. His parents drove from an hour away to bring him to the free show. They celebrated his big day in Ft. Smith, Arkansas- at a coffee shop- listening to a slightly neurotic girl tell stories and sing songs. His parents had tears sliding down their cheeks the entire night. His eyes, made bright by the bushel of red, moppy hair on his head, glowed with peace and joy. They squeezed my hands tight. His dad's face was covered with a scruffy beard and his hands felt like a man who has known hard work. "Thank you. Tonight was... well, let's just say it was divine that we ended up here. And we needed it. My wife and I..." his voice cracked, "This is exactly where we were supposed to be tonight."

I wonder if anyone else sees their tears or hears the crack in his voice? It's just a night to some, but to others, the night is holding them together, carrying them into the moring.


I can't remember her name, though I know I have it written down somewhere. I have it written down on the same card that tells me what size clothes her daughter wears. The 15-year-old who is beyond mortified that she and her parents live in the StayBridge Suites in Irving, Texas. Right down the street from the big church she attends every Sunday and Tuesday. "We're poor, aren't we mom?" Of course they both know the answer. But her daughter still brings it up nearly every day; the lady hasn't told anyone in our church; and they both live with questions.

Not only are they poor, they have moved ten different times in a matter of years. Bouncing from one place to the next, living off of disability and compassion. She is at the women's Christmas dinner because someone drops out at the last-minute and she is offered the $20 ticket to come and eat, talk, and listen to a slightly neurotic girl on stage who confesses she is wearing control top pantyhose for the first time ever and makes all the ladies in the room shake their car keys and sing jingle bells in their dirtiest-countriest-twangiest-voice.

She hugs me after it is all said and done. "I may live in a hotel room, but God keeps giving me small blessings every day. Like this free ticket to come tonight. I wanted to come but didn't have the money. And here I am- and here I am hugging your neck telling you that you gotta keep telling other women like me that hope is out there. Just gotta have hope."

I wonder if any of the beautifully dressed women in that room know that right under our nose is a woman living out of a hotel room?


He is an astronaut. Yes. A real- live-astronaut. And I sort of have a thing for real live astronauts. But there he is, looking so normal and gentle (and in my mind they don't look that way because they possess super powers which make them abnormal and far from gentle). He's asking if he can get me a bottle of water. Me. A lowly girl who has never stepped into the great big nothingness of outer space- let alone stepped out for twelve hours, tethered to the side of the International Space Station. He is holding bags of merchandise wondering if he can help me set up my table, wondering if he can get my purse for me so that I don't have to step out into a big crowd and be seen by people. Dude- you're the astronaut.

He has pulled off this concert. Start to finish. And I find myself looking over the room wondering if they have any idea what kind of man made this possible? Wondering if they knew a real live astronaut was standing casually by the back door as if he had never floated around in the galaxy. Did they know?


They were there that night too. The night with the astronaut. I had never met them, though I had seen them with my eyes. Sort of. I sort of saw them with my eyes in between tears and snot and swollen eyelids. Their son, brother, and uncle was murdered. He was a pastor here in Texas and was murdered at his church by robbers during broad daylight. The night of the tragedy I couldn't sleep. Knowing my sister and her husband had lost a friend- knowing a whole church was grieving over a senseless tragedy- I found myself unable to sleep. I found myself in my closet praying. It was about 2:30 a.m. when I felt like something was urging me to reach out to his church. To tell them I was here and available if they needed anything. I shot off an email and woke up the next morning wondering what kind of crazy girl listens to a voice in the middle of the night in her closet and actually acts on it? I told my husband, "I volunteered us to be at the pastor's church on Sunday- you know, the one who was murdered?"

"You did what??? Jen, seriously, you can't just do that kind of stuff. I don't care if you heard a voice or not. It's really weird." I knew it was weird. I knew he was right. Still, I had this overwhelming feeling that I was supposed to do it. So I did. And they called and asked for us to come and sing the song Hope Now. And we did. And there was his family and new bride sitting on the front row, only a few hundred feet from where his body had been discovered 48 hours before. And we sang. And we left. And it wasn't until this past week, at the church with the astronaut, that I looked his mamma in the eyes and hugged his brother's neck for the very first time.

Long before I sang Hope Now at Clint Dobson's church that sunday morning, the song Hope Now had been embraced by the Dobson family during a really difficult season... they had even emblazoned the phrase onto jewelry. When I showed up that morning to sing "their song" it was, for them, one of the first (of many) ways God began to say loud and clear, "I have not forgotten you. I will be with you."

Looking deep into his mom's eyes, and his niece's eyes that night, I started to wonder... does anybody have any idea the story that is living and breathing and taking shape in this room tonight? Does anyone realize the significance of how this story continues to unfold? Does anyone know that there is a momma in this room who is walking out our worst nightmares with faith unshakable?

So many faces.

So many stories.

Everywhere we turn. So many glimpses of God showing up.

And I wonder if those around me are seeing it?


People, as numerous as the stars, shine and flicker and tell a unique story. 


There was a dentist- who owns the biggest house I've ever stepped foot into- who practically fell over backwards to give our family free dental work (apparently he does this for any family that needs it). A single mom raising three sons, cooking a huge pot of soup for their arrival home from college... while also getting an entire group of people ready to go into a women's prison that night, a side project she pursues out of deep conviction. A prison counselor who loves the women she gets to inspire as much as she loves the God who inspires. A group of college girls, taking a break from studying, giggling and sipping coffee and being as free as college girls with no real pressure can be. A radio DJ who has lost over 100 pounds simply inspired by a conviction to not let food control her heart and her life any longer; and she glows. A beautiful, artistic mom who shows up to take pictures and to worship- a night away for herself. And an old man who wants to buy a goat from World Concern on the condition he gets to name it Fred.

Whatever you want old man.

Just buy a stinkin' goat... and you can name them all Fred!

(You too can buy and name your own goat! Visit worldconcern.organd give a life changing gift this Christmas!)

There's a Methodist church in the country, outside of St. Louis, full of people who feel like aunts and uncles and cousins. Who share their coffee and desserts and ham with us. You wouldn't know by looking at them that one is the president of a major St. Louis bank and another runs a preschool and another fights to keep their nephew in rehab where he is safe, while another is dreaming up a new business venture: a hot dog and smoothie joint.

You wouldn't know the kid in the corner goofing off with the other 17-year-old guys could play Silent Night on the violin so effortlessly, so beautifully, that an entire gymnasium full of inmates would sink softly into the sound of beauty and freedom and they would forget they were in prison...


People, as numerous as the stars, shine and flicker and tell a unique story. 


I just got back from my husband's office Christmas party. And I think it's all starting to make sense to me now.

I would say 50% of the room was composed of Africans from Rwanda and Sudan tonight.

We shared turkey and tea and trivial conversation. A few games and gifts and then James- a guest from South Sudan- began to tell us his story.

And right there, in the midst of an odd collection of people who didn't know one another very well, in the midst of a typical staff Christmas party, in the midst of turkey and tea- James tells us the story of how he became a Lost Boy of Sudan. The story of death, murders, pillaging, rape, escape, and hearing John 3:16 for the first time at 17-years-old and how that changed his entire life because he no longer had to fear death.

For James, every day spent alive, meant another day to dread your own death. All he knew of life was that it meant nothing. That is, until he heard John 3:16 in a refugee camp and his world was turned upside down. He had never heard of this God- and never heard that there was no fear in death. But knowing that changed everything.

When the US government came in to rescue the lost boys and give them a new home in America, James declined. He knew that no one in his village of witch doctors and statue worshippers had any hope beyond what he was given as a child, "that all people die and go to be buried under mud."

He wanted to stay.

He wanted them to know there was more than murder and rape and death and mud.

And here he is, tonight, sitting right across from me... and as tears fall down my face I wonder if anyone has any idea where I am tonight? Who I am listening to? The importance of the man sitting in front of me. A lost boy from Sudan who is now finishing college and helping to rebuild an entire nation by establishing schools and reconciliation training and getting water wells into villages. He could have just come to America and left the horror behind. But he stayed- and each day he risks his life in an unstable land- all because he heard a voice tell him that he was loved.

I want to go outside and scream, "YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT KIND OF MAN IS IN THIS HOUSE."


People, as numerous as the stars, shine and flicker and tell a unique story. 


So if you were to ask me about the Christmas tour, this is what I would say.

I didn't make a ton of money. And I am pretty sure driving from Texas to Illinois with a two-year-old is not something I want to repeat in the near future. The shows were good- the hotels were good- the food was good- sure, but that's not what I will remember ten years from now. And none of the other things matter.

Instead, I will remember two weeks marked by hundreds of faces. Moms. Dads. Children. An astronaut. A banker. A student. A prison guard. A single mom. An old man. A red-headed ball of fire. A lady living out of a hotel. A mom whose son was murdered. A brother who cries at the words Hope Now. A woman saying no to addiction. Another woman saying yes to life. A prison inmate. College girls and little girls dancing by the front of the stage each night.

Young. Old. Employed. Unemployed. Wealthy. Poor. Brilliant. Gifted. Weathered. True. Honest. Strong. Mourning. Resilient. Seeking. Joyful. Beautiful. Real. Live. flesh and blood...

Shows come and go. Circumstances come and go. But people?

They surround us. Surprise us. Serenade us. Stupefy us. Spoil us.

Save us.

I'm convinced people save us. 

as numerous as the stars, we shine and flicker and tell a unique story,

a story full of characters that could only be envisioned, created, and designed by a creator with infinite creativity...

More and more I see the face of God showing up on the faces around me and I am trying to step back, take a deep breath, and realize what it means that Emmanuel, God with us, shows up all the time...

sometimes we just have to look at the people around us to see Him