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Showing posts with label Published Writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Published Writing. Show all posts

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The past whispers constantly

This is a story of the power of listening to someone's story and caring about her journey. Still today, it makes me cry thinking about this adventure we had.

The past whispers constantly
Published in Longleaf Style, Summer 2009

The past can be haunting. For some people, lingering questions of “who am I” often distract at inconvenient times. Maybe it’s a family reunion where one blond is surrounded by a sea of dark hair. Sometimes it’s in the doctor’s office where the family history is left blank on the forms.

At other times, it is meeting a stranger and wondering, “Could she be my mother?”

Not all adopted children wonder about their birth families, but, for some, the past whispers constantly. Anniston resident Catherine “Cathi” Handy heard those whispers and grew weary of trying to drown them out. “I tried for years to find out who my birth mother was, but I didn’t know what to do,” she said. It was never a secret to Cathi that she was adopted.

The one thing that was a secret was her birth mother’s name. Any reference to her identity was blacked out on adoption papers. Cathi had treasured a few facts, she knew she was born prematurely in New Haven, Connecticut, on December 14, 1949, and she was adopted on September 17, 1950.

She knew a few nuggets about her birth mother; a single mom, abandoned by her sailor boyfriend, who was in her sixth month of pregnancy when she contacted Catholic Social Services about adoption.

“She felt unable to provide a home for her child without the support of a father or her family . . . adoption is in the best interest of the child,” the adoption papers read. Cathi’s mother also added a few details of her own, like the fact that her birth mother died. Cathi always felt this wasn’t true. A strange intuition?

Perhaps. After graduating from high school in East Haven, Connecticut, Cathi married and had two children, Jo-Ann and Steven. After her husband’s sudden death of a heart attack at 31, she was a single mom working labor jobs to pay the bills. Eventually, she re-married and moved to Alabama and came to work at The Anniston Star in the building department. In the midst of her adult life, she attempted to find information about her birth mother and even left a letter with Catholic Social Services.

She heard nothing.

Life went on.

The Search 
There are times when a conversation is idle and has little life-changing value. But, often, if you listen closely you will find something priceless.

One morning in October 2007, Cathi and I, a friend and co-worker, had our usual chat about the day’s work and somehow her love of opera came up. She said something like, “I wonder if my birth mother liked opera.” I was curious about her comment. I had to know more.

As I listened to her share the disappointments about not knowing her medical history and exactly where she fits in a the family tree, I wrote down all the details she had gathered through the years. She was ready to know more. Besides, her adoptive parents were both deceased and she felt a quest for the truth would not be painful to them.

“I had a good life, I have no regrets.” she told me. I wanted to help Cathi. As a former church social worker, I had contacts. My first call was to Catholic Social Services in New Haven, Connecticut. The organization emailed an “Adoption Reunion Registration” form, which Cathi and I completed on October 31, 2007. If her birth mother had completed the same form, then she would be reunited.

We hoped against hope. I also made a call to the probate office and inquired about adoption laws in Connecticut. Then, we waited. After several months, we knew the next step had to be taken. So, on May 9, 2008 we completed a “Search” form with Catholic Social Services and sent it along with a $200 search fee.

Then, we waited some more.

Occasionally, I called the caseworker and told her all about Cathi’s excitement and prayers while inquiring about the search. Since the adoption was in 1950, our contact had her work cut out for her. In July, the caseworker called to tell me that she was being reassigned, but she wanted resolution on the case before she left.

Cathi and I got to the point of not even bringing up the search when we passed each other in the hall at work. We just nodded. Our patience couldn’t handle the pressure of conversation.

Then, On September 9, 2008 I received a call from the new caseworker. The news was not good. She faxed a death certificate. I called Cathi and told her that I had news.

As we sat in my work area, I started to cry as I told her that her birth mother died of breast cancer in 2004. Along with our year-long search, Cathi’s journey ended. But, much to my surprise, Cathi said, “But, you know her name!”

She then whispered “Mary” a few times. Also, she wondered out loud if she had any siblings. Cathi and I had been on this quest too long to stop. We were committed to the search. I called the local newspaper in New Haven to get a copy of Mary’s obituary and was referred to the library. After another form, another fee, and another search, a copy of the obituary was mailed. Cathi now had the name of Mary’s husband and children. A quick Internet search yielded an address.

Cathi wrote a letter. More waiting.

Almost a year to the date from the beginning of our search, Cathi received a phone call from Ellena, her half-sister. I received a call from Ellena as well. It seemed she had been searching for Cathi for many years, as had her mother.

Mary and Ellena didn’t have much information to help in their searches. Mary, Ellena said, had been told that her baby died. She always felt it wasn’t true. Strange intuition indeed.

Mary’s Story 
Mary was, in fact, an unwed mother in 1949 and was “promised the world” by her boyfriend, until she got pregnant that is. Raised in a strict Roman Catholic Italian family, Mary’s father was abusive and put the 19-year-old out of the house. She lived with family and friends. Since the time her mother died when she was six, Mary had probably never felt more alone. She turned to Catholic Social Services as her last resort.

When Cathi was born in 1949, Mary was still under the influence of her strict father. She was torn between doing what was right in the eyes of her culture, family, and faith regarding keeping her baby. She knew her firstborn was a girl, but she never got to hold her baby. After her discharge from the hospital, Mary went back and told them she changed her mind and wanted to keep her baby. She was informed the baby didn’t survive. She went back again a few days later and was told again the baby didn’t live.

She was taught to not question authority; so she went on with life. Mary married the love of her life and they had three sons and a daughter. Ellena told me that she and her father were the only ones who knew about Cathi, but it wasn’t something she talked about much. When she died of breast cancer, Mary told her daughter to find her sister. It would be naïve to say that this story had the happy ending that Cathi, Ellena and Mary dreamed about. As the two sisters get acquainted, the life of their mother is resurrected through memories. This is not always a comfortable feeling for other family members, such as Mary’s 80-year-old husband. He held the secret close to him during his 54-year marriage and from their church and community. It’s safe to say that even in death, Mary is under the influence of a strict code of silence.

Now, after finding each other, Ellena and Cathi are getting to know each other and plan to meet in New Haven In July. Cathi plans to take Ellena to the opera because she has never been. They will hug, share stories and visit Mary’s grave. More than anything, they will realize that Cathi, Ellena and Mary are not connected because of a haunting past, but through their roots.

Theresa Shadrix is managing editor of Longleaf Style. She counts her experience as helping Cathi locate her birth family as a precious one. 


Friday, January 29, 2016

My Home's in Alabama

This was originally published on A Good Blog is Hard to Find. on Monday, June 15, 2009.


Kathryn Tucker Windham, Scarey Ann, and Theresa Shadrix at the 2009 Alabama Book Festival. 

With the latest issue of Longleaf Style magazine focusing on roots, even a Bubba could figure out why I’ve been thinking so much about home and the South. In the summer (2009) issue, we have Rick Bragg’s “Why I write about home”, Diane McWhorter wrote about Birmingham and the civil rights and Nathalee Dupree gives a tasty ode to Southern cooking. To think about anything other than the South would a downright shame after reading it.

Truth be known, I used to feel somewhat like a carpetbagger. Yes, I was born in the South and I’ve lived in the South for over two decades. But, my childhood memories of the South are slim, thanks to my mother’s second marriage to an Army man.

With two separate tours in Germany, I was a bonified cultured girl. I toured castles and camped under the stars in Munich. I shopped stores downtown markets. I bought fresh pretzels from street vendors. I never went to church and didn’t know one single thing about VBS, GA’s, or Sunday School. I learned to play soccer with kids who couldn’t speak English. I listened to Oingo Boingo, Led Zeppelin, and Generation X. I got my ears pierced in Frankfurt. I read C.S. Lewis and Trixie Beldon.

I was in the 9th grade when my family returned to the South and made our home in Alabama. I couldn’t have been more out of touch with Southern reality as I was then. In the mid-80s, I was a European-inspired fashionista who talked funny. My “oil” rhymed with boil and I had not grasped the concept that anything that came before “bless your heart” was probably an insult in sweet disguise. I didn’t eat biscuits or grits or lard in my green beans. I had never seen the Andy Griffith Show. I was really quite pitiful.

But, I’ve come a long way. I married a born-and-bred Southern boy almost 18 years ago. 

I live in the country and drive by pastures with grazing cows every day o my way to work. 

I can make biscuits from scratch, prefer creamed potatoes to rice, can’t stand to eat those five minute boxed grits and green beans are not cooked unless seasoned with a touch of lard. 

I reference tweezers to Barney and hunting tigers. 

I love my relationship with Jesus Christ more than I love fried okra and home-grown tomatoes. 

I also prefer to listen to Rick & Bubba than Larry the Cable Guy because they are real good ol’ boys. Speaking of which, I’m not scared of rednecks, overalls, trucks or camo shorts. I can’t wear white to before Easter, even if they do in New York. I don’t flinch if I see a Memaw put a pinch of chewing tobacco in her mouth after supper. And, for Heaven’s sake, I capitalize “South”.

And, I love Southern authors!

As an editor, no writer has influenced me more than Kathryn Tucker Windham because she was one of the first “girl reporters” in Alabama. And, she has a mess of talent even at 91 and she really, really loves the South. 

At the 2009 Alabama Book Festival, she told the crowd that something was wrong with people who put sugar in cornbread. She was serious too. She cried when I gave her a "Scarey Ann" doll that I found online. If you don't know why "Scarey Ann" means so much to her, well, read her latest book "Spit, Scarey Ann & Sweat Bees."

I really love to recommend Southern authors to my friends cause there is nothing like telling someone, “”One Mississippi” by Mark Childress will leave you feeling a little beside yourself, but just remember that not everyone down here is crazy. He just wrote it that way for fun.”

Most recently, I recommended Cassandra King’s “Sunday Wife” to a northern writer friend, who is also a pastor’s wife. 

I also told one friend, who suffered minor headaches, to read “Ray in Reverse” by Daniel Wallace and she said she had to think so much that it cured her. (I’ve also learned to embrace my sense of humor, which, I think, comes from walking barefoot in red clay in Alabama.) 

The only books by northerners I recommend are “Life with Father” by Clarence Day, Jr., who died in 1935, and anything by Erma Bombeck.


My list of authors who influence, entertain and, sometimes, warp me is very long. I bet it will continue to grow. I like reading Southern authors because they make me feel at home. 

I may have lived for a few years in another country but I wouldn’t live anywhere else than in Alabama. I think it’s because the South has a way of wrapping her arms around you and squeezing the city right out of you. Bless all our hearts.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Ordinary Teens, Legendary Shots

By Theresa Shadrix
Longleaf Style magazine
Winter 2010/2011

   Legends are usually born because people seem to have an internal hunger for accomplishment, even for greatness. We lift up those who are bigger than life or have excelled with high expectations. Not too many legends are born from boredom.

Carson Stalnaker, 17, is a typical teenager and it was a typical day five years ago that he and a group of friends were playing basketball in the driveway of his Hoover, Alabama home. “We were bored in my driveway and just started to shoot,” Stalnaker said.

Stalnaker and his neighborhood buddies were all around 12 years old when they bounced basketballs off his house or from his neighbor’s roof and into his portable basketball goal. The shots started off pretty simple and soon morphed into what seemed the impossible. The neighborhood boys probably all had dreams of playing in the NBA, but that wasn’t on their minds that day when they first attempted their shots. Instead, they wanted to get amazing basketball shots, ones they deemed “legendary,” on video so they could compile it into a DVD and sell it to the friends. As modern youth, they decided to upload the homemade videos to YouTube.

It was word of mouth and the click of the mouse that helped spread the word about the kids from Hoover with the “legendary” basketball shots. Since they called their video compilations “The Legendary Shots” that’s the name that stuck. Stalnaker and his basketball posse are quick to point out that they are not legends. “We are just normal kids,” he says.

From the driveway to YouTube, the boys and their shots piqued the interest of a public relations firm and their basketball shots were featured in national Hampton Inn ads. The first commercial aired in December 2008, then others ran in January and February 2009. A fourth one ran in January 2010.

More national attention came last year when Evan Sellers made a shot from atop the Vulcan stature in Birmingham in August 2010 and the “Legendary Shots” crew was crowned king of “The Farthest Basketball Shot.”

It’s interesting to note that a group of Texas A&M students started their own trick shot team called “Dude Perfect” in 2009 and they claim to have made the “World’s Longest Basketball Shot” from the third deck of Kyle Football field at Texas A&M in September 2009. Between fans, it’s a battle of “longest” versus “farthest.” The Dude Perfect team was selected in the most recent Hampton Inn ad too. But, you won’t hear any of the Legendary teens complaining and they refuse to say anything negative about Dude Perfect.

Stalnaker noted that they’ve been making these shots and posting them online for over five years and they aren’t out to make this into a contest. “We just want to have gas money to go to places and make shots.” He also noted, as did Stalnaker’s mom, Jill, that they don’t want to do this for the rest of their lives. The teens are all high achievers in academics and plan to go to college to pursue careers. “We all want to go to college,” John Massey said. “And we want to share the love of Christ.”

Dude Perfect is complimentary as well. “We want to support them. We think it’s cool that they use their platform to also glorify Christ.” said Tyler Toney, Dude Perfect Co-Founder. The Texas group mirrors the Alabama teens in more ways than trick shots uploaded on YouTube and Hampton Inn ads. Both groups have a strong Christian influence and raise money for charity with profits from advertising on YouTube. Stalnaker said they are supporters of Compassion International and Project125K, which seeks to assist orphans in the United States. Dude Perfect also sponsor children through Compassion International.

There are distinct differences between the two groups as well. The Legendary Shots are normally driven to locations by their parents, the only hint of management is Jill, and their website is far from flashy. They are, as Stalnaker likes to point out, just a group of teens that likes to have fun.

While Stalnaker and his friends may have changed physically in five years, not much has about the way they get the shot. In September, I witnessed first-hand as the teens attempted shots at Talladega Superspeedway. While only one teen can make the shot, others assemble a line to retrieve balls and help with direction. The Legendary Shot crew at Talladega was Carson Stalnaker, William Snoddy, Evan Sellers, Chase Martin, Jeffrey Higginbotham, Bryan Anderson and John Massey. Most of them grew up in the same neighborhood at Hoover. Martin and Stalnaker had a chance meeting with Sellers on a family vacation at Panama City about two years ago.

Of course, the youth bounced basketballs and filmed them and Sellers became a part of the Legendary crew. Sellers played basketball until 9th grade and was a quarterback at Pinson High School his junior year, until he suffered a back injury. He didn’t have to think twice about joining the group when they returned home. “It something we go out and do to have fun. It’s one of those hobbies we do.”

At Talladega Superspeedway, Stalnaker is clearly the one everyone looks to for guidance. After an interview with TV24, the boys began scouting possible shots at the track. The first shot, by William Snoddy, was on turn four on the track. But before that could happen, the boys had to pump air into a few of the 11 basketballs they had gathered from their homes .

Then, with the assistance of the dads, the goal was set up on the track. Snoddy climbed the 33-degree asphalt track and started bouncing balls. Everything is off the cuff and there were no painstaking measurements done by the boys. “Move a little to your right,” one would yell. “Hey, throw harder,” from another. Finally, after about 15 minutes, Snoddy made the basket on the 57th attempt and everyone, myself included, screamed with excitement.

The second shot by Stalnaker from the top of the Gadsden Tower, was, according to Talladega Superspeedway president, Grant Lynch, the tallest spot in Talladega County at 140 feet. Battling wind, gravity and a three-phase power line, the attempts were a little more risky. Lynch was a little nervous when the basketballs bounced off the ground and hit the power line a few times. After 45 minutes, Stalnaker made it on his 62nd shot. “I high-fived my mom,” he laughed.

A third attempt by Evan Sellers from the top of the Scoring Tower was halted because the wind became so intense and the teens really wanted to take a ride around the track in the pace car, courtesy of Talladega Superspeedway.

Rumors of the boys faking their shots hold no ground for everyone who witnessed the patience and perseverance from that day. And, they all point out patience is what it takes to make a legendary shot. “You gotta keep shooting. Don’t give up and keep trying,” Stalnaker advises.

And keep trying they will do indeed. Big Communications of Birmingham asked the group to make shots at various well-known landmarks in the Birmingham area. Stalnaker’s mom, Jill, said they will continue making legendary shots as “long as it doesn’t get in the way of grades.” Until then, they will be ordinary kids who just don’t want to be bored.

Check out the Legendary Shots on YouTube. Click here.
Check out Dude Perfect on YouTube. Click here.
Theresa Shadrix is managing editor of Longleaf Style magazine and has yet to make a legendary shot.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chapmans share talents, pain during "A Night With the Chapmans"

Mary Beth & Steven Curtis Chapman
By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
December 2, 2010

At A Night With the Chapmans on Nov. 14 at Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Vestavia Hills, Steven Curtis Chapman and his family came together on stage, just as they have off stage — supporting each other, sharing their talents, lifting up the name of Jesus and initiating support for orphans.

Before a packed sanctuary, the band Caleb opened, featuring Chapman’s sons, Caleb and Will Franklin, as well as Hunter Lamb and Scott Mills. Then Chapman performed current and past hits. After the music, Chapman’s wife, Mary Beth, spoke to the audience in a summary of what she penned in her book, “Choosing to See.”

“I told God that I would never home-school, adopt or speak in public,” Mary Beth joked. However, she has home-schooled her children, Emily, Caleb, Will Franklin, Shaohannah, Stevey Joy and Maria Sue, the youngest of whom are adopted from China, and joined her husband on this 34-city tour for the first time to speak to audiences about her journey in faith and with her family.

Chapman has been at the top of the charts and the depths of despair. And through it all, his faith in Christ and his family have been constant.

The contemporary Christian musician has sold more than 10 million records, earned Grammy Awards, American Music Awards and 56 Dove Awards, but nothing could prepare Chapman and his family for the death of his youngest daughter, Maria Sue, on May 21, 2008.

The day was casual and almost mundane. Chapman was in the front yard on his cell phone; Mary Beth was in the house working on plans for their eldest daughter Emily’s upcoming wedding. In the backyard, the three younger daughters, Shaohannah, Stevey Joy and Maria Sue, played on the playground. When Will Franklin came home and drove toward the house, he was neither speeding nor talking on his cell phone.

As he drove around the house to park in the back, he did not know Maria Sue was running toward the car to ask him to lift her onto the monkey bars.

“He was the best big brother,” Chapman said of Will Franklin. “He would do anything for her.” In a tragic accident, Will’s car hit Maria Sue and she did not survive the impact.

As Caleb the band played songs from its new independent album, Caleb the eldest son shared the emotions of dealing with his sister’s death.

“As a lot of you know, May 21, 2008, my little sister went to be with Jesus,” Caleb said. “There’s a moment when tragedy hits and you find yourself a mess.

“Everything done on this canvas is a blur. When we step back on the other side of eternity, we are going to see the full canvas. What the world saw as a huge mess is God’s canvas,” he continued.

Mary Beth said when she looks back at that time, it is difficult to see anything. “It’s like I’m watching myself. Everything I believed up to that moment was true or not.”

But she said that as she lived a parent’s worst nightmare, she felt God’s presence and could feel that people were praying for her family.

In his latest album, “Beauty Will Rise,” Chapman reveals the emotional journey he has been on since 2008. He said his inspirations for songs come from life, and “Beauty Will Rise” is evidence of that fact. In every song he has ever written, he reveals what he is learning about God, he said.

“In all cases it is God revealing Himself.”

An essential element of the tour for the Chapmans is not just sharing their sorrow. It is the continued mission to help orphans. A Night With the Chapmans is sponsored by Show Hope, a nonprofit organization created by the Chapmans that offers resources and adoption grants. In July 2009, Show Hope opened Maria’s Big House of Hope, a six-story building dedicated to Maria Sue that assists in caring for special needs orphans. Located in the province of Luoyang, China, the program serves children under the age of 5.

One of those children is Oliver, an adopted son of Jason and Kelly Blackburn. Oliver underwent lip surgery last summer at Maria’s Big House of Hope. Jason, minister of children and media at Hillcrest Baptist Church, New Albany, Miss., traveled with his wife to Shades Mountain Baptist for the event.

“I never expected our lives to intersect with [the Chapmans],” Kelly said. “I never expected Maria’s life to impact ours.”

The Blackburns plan to travel to China in December to bring Oliver, their third adopted child from China, home.

Jason said he is grateful for the Chapmans, Maria’s Big House of Hope and the vulnerability of the Chapman family. “I wish more people understood the need of adoption. The church is the answer and God can work through the church.”

The Chapman family will continue their mission for orphans and sharing their experiences. Chapman shared his advice to Christian songwriters, and it seems to be his advice for life. “God puts us in very unique places. So bloom wherever God plants you.”

Friday, December 03, 2010

Sandi Patty opens up about her life in new book, album


Sandi Patty

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
November 4, 2010

Looking over the edge of a cliff is sure to make even the most adventurous person nervous. But for Sandi Patty, it’s a chance to see the divine.

“Living on the edge isn’t always the most comfortable existence, but it’s a place where we tend to do more looking around for help, which, for Christians, means looking for God,” Patty said.

In her new book, “The Edge of the Divine,” Patty reveals how she looked for and found help in dealing with both internal and external struggles through her relationship with Christ.

Her first original album in seven years bears the same name, and both projects are very personal in nature, offering an insight into why the Dove and Grammy Award winner took the bold step of having lap-band surgery Aug. 26, 2008.

One of the most difficult challenges in the post-surgery process was changing her focus on food. Breaking up is hard to do, Patty admitted, so she wrote a breakup letter to food, which she shares in her book.

“I’d seen that overeating is more about what’s happening in my head than in my stomach,” she said.

The surgery didn’t come without risks either. A year after the lap-band surgery, Patty had an anxiety attack. With the help of her doctors, she realized she had to take special care when on tour.

Having the surgery was not easy, Patty admitted. She has lost between 75 and 80 pounds and said she would like to lose 10 more pounds. But to tackle the external issue of being overweight, she had to face serious internal issues.

“I kept coming back to that point of realizing weight loss is an inside job,” Patty said. “Jesus didn’t go through (His) ordeal so that we could merely survive. He said He did it so we could have life and that we might have it more abundantly.”

So the surgery was only part of Patty’s journey, as she had to come to terms with a dark secret and the reality of forgiveness. When she was 6 years old, she was sexually abused by a female friend of her family.

“She did not hurt me, but she touched me in ways that traumatized me,” Patty said.

The daughter of a minister of music, Patty’s family often went on tour singing at various churches around the nation. The abuse happened when she was left in the care of a trusted family friend, as her parents were on tour. When they returned, she kept silent about the abuse and buried the memories until adulthood.

Patty wasn’t hindered by the abuse in regard to her music. Her life was fairly normal, and she joined her family on tour and crafted her singing ability. Then, when she was 18 years old, she discovered the “perfect” role and auditioned for The Kids of the Kingdom singing and dance team at the Disneyland Resort in her home state of California. Confident from her audition, she called the office a few weeks later after not hearing anything. She was devastated to learn that they loved her voice but felt she was too heavy.

But Patty was not about to let the rejection stop her. She enrolled at Anderson University in Indiana and eventually joined Bill and Gloria Gaither on tour. Her voice and name would become one of the most recognizable in Christian music with songs like “We Shall Behold Him.”

Patty also married, had four children and continued to focus on her music. Everything seemed to be perfect. But her marriage to John Helvering was literally falling apart. Crisis would follow when she admitted an adulterous relationship during her marriage, and the backlash from Christian radio stations and fans was harsh.

In the turmoil, Patty fell in love. “Before the court finalized the divorce (from Helvering), I fell in love with Don Peslis, a handsome, talented singer who performed with my backup group during national concert tours,” she said. They married in August 1995.

In the book, her music and her conversations, Patty is open and frank about her struggles with weight and relationships. She said her current projects and journey have helped her to see the first step in change is forgiveness, the second step is preparation for change and the importance of truth shouldn’t be ignored.

Patty said forgiveness was the key to healing in all aspects of her life. “I think that in order to really make a change you have to really forgive yourself and (others),” she said. “You have to unearth some not-so-pretty chapters in your life story and come to peace with some very difficult ones. I really do believe in my favorite verse, John 8:31–32, “and the truth will set you free.”

Looking back is not something Patty does. She continues to do the one thing that honors God and brings Him glory — sing.

“For so many years, I really didn’t know how to be verbal,” Patty said. “I would find that I would be drawn to those songs that would say what I wish I could say. For so long, the songs were my heart. They still very much are, but I’m learning to use my words.”

For more information, visit http://www.sandipatty.com/.




Friday, October 15, 2010

MercyMe’s latest album brings fictional character to life

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
Published May 27, 2010

It’s not every day that a fictional character comes to life. But through MercyMe’s latest release, “The Generous Mr. Lovewell,” one does just that.

About a year ago, lead vocalist Bart Millard had the idea to create a character and use it as a way to promote a “pay-it-forward” and Christlike mentality. So he had a concept for the character, Mr. Lovewell, but nothing else. Millard said after a trip to the Dominican Republic to visit a child the band sponsors, the songs on the album began to take form.

Millard said joining the fictional character concept and the message of love was not very difficult once the band sat down to write everything. “We wanted a creative way to influence. It’s about knowing your neighbor enough to know their needs and those type things,” he said of the album concept. “(Loving people) is really not asking a ton from people, but it’s a big task that’s worth it.”

And loving people is the message of all the songs, said Jim Bryson, MercyMe keyboardist. “It’s pay it forward but based around the cross. It can be simply mowing the yard of an elderly neighbor or buy someone’s meal,” he said. “You can leave a note with a Bible verse or tell them why you are doing it.”

There are even “Mr. Lovewell was here” business cards available at www.mrlovewell.com. Mr. Lovewell also can be found on Twitter (twitter.com/mrlovewell), offering real-life advice about how to “pay it forward” and love people in Christ’s name.

On both Twitter and the website, the band members hope people will share the good deeds that Mr. Lovewell has done either through them or for them. “We are just trying to create conversations,” Millard said of using the website and Twitter.

Characters and good deeds aside, the new album also has a different sound than previous works by MercyMe. While this album has the usual worship-style songs that the band is known for, it also has songs that are more upbeat. Millard said the band wanted to get out of its comfort zone a little with the sound of the music, so it brought in Dan Muckala, an award-winning producer whose resume includes working with CeCe Winans, newsboys and Backstreet Boys. What resulted are songs that reflect the personality of the band members.

While all the songs have a serious message about Christ, loving others and living a Christ-filled life, not all of them are slow melodies. Some of that is intentional. Bryson said when MercyMe debuted its first album “Almost There” in 2001, the members were still trying to figure out who they were as men and musicians.

With Bryson on keyboards and Millard singing lead vocals, the two started playing together in June 1994, when they traveled to Switzerland to lead worship for a camp. When they returned home, they decided to pursue music as a full-time ministry.

A hometown friend, Mike Scheuchzer, joined the band as guitarist, and the three of them returned to the camp the following year officially as MercyMe. Nathan Cochran (bass), Robby Shaffer (drums) and Barry Graul (guitar) later joined the group. MercyMe eventually signed with INO Records and released their first album in 2001, which included the song “I Can Only Imagine.”

So with this project, they felt the freedom to play around and not be limited to one sound. “The longer you do music, the more you learn how to put your personality in the music,” Bryson said. “We do this for the love of music, and today I’m more patient and I know more than I knew even eight years ago.”

Also on this album is probably one of the shortest songs the band has recorded. At one minute and 36 seconds, the last song on the album, “This So Called Life,” is a dramatic song that speaks of good deeds without Jesus being completely in vain.

Millard said he wrote the songs’ lyric first as poems and then the band worked on the music so they didn’t really think about how long, or short, the songs were going to be. He simply felt as if everything that needed to be said had been said in this case.

“I think the success of the decent songwriter is showing restraint,” he said, noting “This So Called Life” is everything he wanted to say. “It’s very powerful. I hope it keeps people coming back for more.” Already it seems people are listening to the music and the message.

“The Generous Mr. Lovewell” has given MercyMe their highest debut on both the secular and Christian charts. It’s No. 3 in the nation on Billboard’s Top 200; No. 1 on the overall Contemporary Christian chart; No. 1 selling record at LifeWay Christian Stores; and No. 1 iTunes Christian album. Both Millard and Bryson said they are excited about the success but stress the mission of the band is the same today as when they founded it 16 years ago — for people to know Christ.

Copyright The Alabama Baptist 2010.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Serious and lighthearted: Overheard at Atlanta's Women of Faith conference

By Theresa Shadrix
Consolidated News Service
The Anniston Star
September 5, 2009

ATLANTA — Some 9,000 women converged on Philips Arena here last weekend to laugh, cry and be inspired. They left the laundry, the chores, work, football games, family and to-do lists at home to attend the Women of Faith conference Aug. 28-29.

Women of Faith is a non-denominational organization that hosts events and publishes books and other resources for Christian women. With a rotating roster of Christian speakers and musicians, Women of Faith will tour 28 cities in the United States in 2009. The Atlanta event was the 17th stop on the tour, and the 11th time Atlanta has hosted a conference.

Steve Arterburn, author of Every Man's Battle and founder of the Christian counseling ministry New Life, organized Women of Faith in 1996. In 2000, Thomas Nelson Inc. purchased the organization. In 2005, the organization added The Revolve Tour for teen girls.

Arterburn is still heavily involved in Women of Faith and is one of the guest speakers this year. Also on the lineup are musicians Sandi Patty and Steven Curtis Chapman. Other speakers and musicians in Atlanta included:

• Marilyn Meberg, author and counselor.
• Sheila Walsh, author (including children's books), speaker, singer.
• Lisa Whelchel, former Facts of Life child star, now founder of MomTime Ministries.
• Luci Swindoll, sister of minister Chuck Swindoll, former corporate exec, art lover.
• Patsy Clairmont, author and speaker.
• Mandisa, fifth-season finalist on American Idol, now Grammy-nominated artist.

The issues raised by some of the speakers were deep and dark: abortion, guilt, adultery, childhood molestation, alcoholism, inappropriate friendships, temptations. But it was leavened with humor. Good Morning America comedian Anita Renfroe belted her YouTube sensation "MomSense." Clairmont, Meberg, Patty, Walsh and Whelchel all shared emotional stories but made them easier to handle with a dash of humor.

Below is a collection of overheard comments from conference speakers and attendees. They also mix the serious with the lighthearted.

"I didn't win, but the message of Jesus Christ was aired by the producers."
— Mandisa on her American Idol experience, which included telling Simon Cowell she forgave him after his negative comments about her weight.

"Mandisa changed my life. I'm going to lose this weight."
— Woman to a friend while waiting in line to use the restroom.

"All the men's restrooms have been converted to women's. Except one."
— Anna Trent, daughter of Sandi Patty and Friday emcee.

"As humans, we internally fuss with ourselves and we need to claim forgiveness."
— Marilyn Meberg

"All abuse makes us feel worthless. One fourth of women have been molested."
— Marilyn Meberg

"God is in charge of all things."
— Marilyn Meberg

"I think I'm going to faint."
— Self-admitted Women of Faith "junkie," as Patsy Clairmont passed her in the hallway.

"The real impact of ministry is you."
— Women of Faith president Mary Graham, when presenting information about the group's partnership with the World Vision children's organization.

"Hot flashes are my inner child playing with matches."
— Anita Renfroe

"I'm not defined by failure."
— Steve Arterburn, after sharing he started a conference one year before Women of Faith that only attracted 1,000 attendees in 12 cities.

"Some people spend a lot of time avoiding pain. Not all pain is harmful."
— Steve Arterburn

"It's a myth that we shouldn't look back. We learn from experiences."
— Steve Arterburn

"This is just the tuning of the orchestra until we go home."
— Sheila Walsh on the difference between earth and heaven.

"Forgiveness is God's gift to us in a world that is not fair."
— Sheila Walsh, after sharing a story about forgiving her husband after poor financial choices emptied their savings, retirement and banking accounts.

Copyright 2010 Anniston Star. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Writing about home

Here is my latest offering at the Southern Authors Blog

My home's in Alabama by Theresa Shadrix
Kathryn Tucker Windham, Scarey Ann and Theresa Shadrix at the 2009 Alabama Book Festival.

With the latest issue of Longleaf Style magazine focusing on roots, even a Bubba could figure out why I’ve been thinking so much about home and the South. In the summer issue, we have Rick Bragg’s “Why I write about home”, Diane McWhorter wrote about Birmingham and the civil rights and Nathalee Dupree gives a tasty ode to Southern cooking. To think about anything other than the South would a downright shame after reading it.

Truth be known, I used to feel somewhat like a carpetbagger. Yes, I was born in the South and I’ve lived in the South for over two decades. But, my childhood memories of the South are slim, thanks to my mother’s second marriage to an Army man. (Vincent O’Neil, I so understand your post!)

With two separate tours in Germany, I was a bonified cultured girl. I toured castles and camped under the stars in Munich. I shopped stores downtown markets. I bought fresh pretzels from street vendors. I never went to church and didn’t know one single thing about VBS, GA’s, or Sunday School. I learned to play soccer with kids who couldn’t speak English. I listened to Oingo Boingo, Led Zeppelin and Generation X. I got my ears pierced in Frankfurt. I read C.S. Lewis and Trixie Beldon.

I was in the 9th grade when my family returned to the South and made our home in Alabama. I couldn’t have been more out of touch with Southern reality as I was then. In the mid-80s, I was a European-inspired fashionista who talked funny. My “oil” rhymed with boil and I had not grasped the concept that anything that came before “bless your heart” was probably an insult in sweet disguise. I didn’t eat biscuits or grits or lard in my green beans. I had never seen the Andy Griffith Show. I was really quite pitiful.

But, I’ve come a long way. I married a born-and-bred Southern boy almost 18 years ago. I live in the country and drive by pastures with grazing cows every day o my way to work. I can make biscuits from scratch, prefer creamed potatoes to rice, can’t stand to eat those five minute boxed grits and green beans are not cooked unless seasoned with a touch of lard. I reference tweezers to Barney and hunting tigers. I love my relationship with Jesus Christ more than I love fried okra and home-grown tomatoes. I also prefer to listen to Rick & Bubba than Larry the Cable Guy because they are real good ol’ boys. Speaking of which, I’m not scared of rednecks, overalls, trucks or camo shorts. I can’t wear white to before Easter, even if they do in New York. I don’t flinch if I see a Memaw put a pinch of chewing tobacco in her mouth after supper. And, for Heaven’s sake, I capitalize “South”.

And, I love Southern authors! As an editor, no writer has influenced me more than Kathryn Tucker Windham because she was one of the first “girl reporters” in Alabama. And, she has a mess of talent even at 91 and she really, really loves the South.

At the Alabama Book Festival, she told the crowd that something was wrong with people who put sugar in cornbread. She was serious too. She cried when I gave her a "Scarey Ann" doll that I found online. If you don't know why "Scarey Ann" means so much to her, well, read her latest book "Spit, Scarey Ann & Sweat Bees."

I really love to recommend Southern authors to my friend’s cause there is nothing like telling someone, “”One Mississippi” by Mark Childress will leave you feeling a little beside yourself but just remember that not everyone down here is crazy. He just wrote it that way for fun.”

Most recently, I recommended Cassandra King’s “Sunday Wife” to a northern writer friend, who is also a pastor’s wife. I also told one friend, who suffered minor headaches, to read “Ray in Reverse” by Daniel Wallace and she said she had to think so much that it cured her. (I’ve also learned to embrace my sense of humor, which, I think, comes from walking barefoot in red clay in Alabama.) The only books by northerners I recommend are “Life with Father” by Clarence Day, Jr., who died in 1935, and anything by Erma Bombeck.

My list of authors who influence, entertain and, sometimes, warp me is very long. I bet it will continue to grow. I like reading Southern authors because they make me feel at home. I may have lived for a few years in another country but I wouldn’t live anywhere else than in Alabama. I think it’s because the South has a way of wrapping her arms around you and squeezing the city right out of you. Bless all our hearts.

Theresa Shadrix is the managing editor of Longleaf Style magazine. Her first book “Naked before God” is in the Lord’s hands, on her agent’s mind and hopefully soon will be in a publisher’s heart.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mandisa: True freedom found in God

Mandisa's new album "Freedom" comes out March 24, 2009 and it is filled with both up-beat songs as well as emotional and reflective ones. I had a chance to talk to her this week about this album and what is going on in her life. I posted the article on The Christian Post but here it is:

Mandisa: True freedom found in God
By Theresa Shadrix

Gospel performer Mandisa defines herself not by the world’s standards, but God’s, and said she has finally discovered what freedom means. Her sophomore album “Freedom”, available on March 24, is a testimony to her struggles with food and deliverance from her addiction. After five weeks, the first single, “My Deliverer” is number 16 on Billboard’s Christian Adult Contemporary chart. “Lose my Soul”, her collaboration with Toby Mac and Kirk Franklin is at number eight.
“I used to think freedom was the fact that I’m free to do anything I want to do,” she said via telephone from her home in Tenn. “True freedom is doing what I want to do within the boundaries of God.”
The Grammy and Dove Award nominee had a goal to lose 100 pounds before the March release of “Freedom”. “I’ve lost 80 pounds,” she proudly admits.
In order to lose the weight, she had to change not only the way she eats, but she had to dig deeper into the word of God. “The more time we spend with God the more we are chiseled into the image of His son,” she said. “We need to reflect the glory of God.”
Mandisa hit the national scene as a contestant in the fifth season of American Idol in 2006. Her powerhouse voice garnered her loyal fans, but judge Simon Cowell brought up her weight with such comments as needing a bigger stage. Mandisa said his comments hurt, but she credits Simon with helping her learn how to forgive.
“I’ve just learned based on the word of God, that we should forgive because all that God has forgiven us for.” This is exactly what she told Cowell during the show and he apologized for his comments. She said she forgave for herself though. “I’ve learned that forgiveness is as much for the person. Simon would have gone the rest of his life not thinking about anything he said. I would have gone on and let a bitter root set in me,” she said. “I forgave him for me. As soon as you realize that you are holding on to anger, then forgive.”
Although she finished ninth on American Idol, she has found success as a solo performer in Contemporary Christian music. In 2007 she debuted “True Beauty”, the highest chart entry for a debut artist in Sparrow Records history and the only female soloist to hit number one in the 27-year history of Billboard Christian Retail charts. In 2008, “True Beauty” was nominated for Grammy’s “Best pop/Contemporary Gospel Album” and she was nominated for the Gospel Music Association Dove Award for “Female Vocalist of the Year” and “New Artist of the Year”.
She said last year’s nominations were a total surprise but she really didn’t expect her Dove Award nomination this year for “Female Vocalist of the Year”, which will air April 23 on the Gospel Music Channel at 8 p.m. EST. Among the nominees are Francesca Battistelli, Brooke Fraser, Karen Peck Gooch, Natalie Grant, Sandi Patty and Laura Story. “I don’t allow awards to define my success because I really want to let the fruit and the message speak,” she said. “But, these are saying you are on the right track.”
Mandisa is humble about all of her success and credits her relationship with Jesus Christ first and foremost. The Calif. native said one of the songs on the “Freedom” album, “Not Guilty” speaks to the message of grace from Christ. “We are given the verdict of not guilty. It is not by our works but it is the grace of Jesus Christ.”
For now, the 32-year-old said she is trying to stay focused on singing about this message of grace and freedom found in a relationship with Christ. “God has given us freedom over anything that will hold us captive.”
Copyright Theresa Shadrix.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Warm Springs, where a president 'let it all hang out'

I wrote this story in 2007, but you can see some braces made by Marion Dunn for yourself. On Saturday, Jan 31, 2009 from 10 AM - 2 PM, Dunn's tools and several types of orthotics he made while employed at the Polio Foundation will be on display at Roosevelt's Little White House, 401 Little White House Road, Warm Springs, GA.

By Theresa Shadrix
The Anniston Star(AL)
Originally published: February 17, 2007

Marion Dunn was only 17 when he met President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

A certified prosthetic and orthopedic technician, Dunn made the braces that FDR wore on his polio-stricken legs. Dunn was - and still is - a frequent visitor to the Little White House, Roosevelt's favorite retreat for relaxation and polio treatment in Warm Springs, Ga., located about 60 miles southwest of Atlanta.

"He joked and played around with employees," Dunn recalls. "There was one time FDR dunked a boy in the water and then roared back with a big belly laugh. He had a great laugh."

Dunn, who often brings homemade pies to the staff at the Little White House museum, says Warm Springs gave Roosevelt a chance to be himself outside the scrutiny of politics, the public and the press.

Roosevelt was infected with the polio virus in 1921 (although a study in 2003 said he may have had Guillain-Barré syndrome, a different neurological disease). He was paralyzed from the waist down and doctors said he would never walk again. (The polio vaccine would not come around until 1955.)

His relationship with Warm Springs began when he visited the area in 1924. At the suggestion of close friend and Georgia native George Foster Peabody, Roosevelt - at the time he had left politics to practice law in New York - traveled to Warm Springs because Peabody believed its warm swimming pools might help him. When in the pools, filled with natural mineral water from Pine Mountain springs that stayed at a constant 88 degrees, patients felt recharged and some, like Roosevelt, were able to freely walk about in the swimming pools.

But Warm Springs was not designed as a treatment center. From the 1890s until the 1920s, it was a place for the wealthy to relax. The Meriwether Inn, located on the property, was capable of housing 300 guests and keeping them entertained with a bowling alley, tennis court, trap shooting and swimming pools, among other amenities.

Roosevelt invested $195,000 of his personal fortune to buy 12,000 acres in Warm Springs and to rebuild the resort and make it a place that offered polio treatment. The land deal included the Meriwether Inn, cottages, swimming pools and the land on which he built the Little White House.

With Peabody and others, Roosevelt formed the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation (now the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation), a center for treatment of polio. He consulted physicians and scientists on rehabilitation and worked with architects on the design of a new pool complex, which featured indoor and exercise pools.

Since there was no cure for polio at the time and patients were quarantined, Warm Springs and Roosevelt's foundation offered polio patients what they could not get in modern medicine - relief, acceptance and seclusion.

But Roosevelt's hope of restoring Warm Springs to a resort failed as the president learned firsthand the fear felt by people in regard to polio. The misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about polio kept visitors away because they believed swimming in the public pools would infect them with polio.

But it didn't prevent Roosevelt from visiting it often, and it was there that he died.

The last image
One of the most treasured pieces at the museum is the unfinished portrait of Roosevelt. It was on April 12, 1945, during a sitting for the painting that Roosevelt collapsed in the tiny living room at the Little White House. He was carried to his bedroom and pronounced dead at 3:35 p.m. His body was then taken to Washington, D.C. for a state funeral and Roosevelt was buried at Hyde Park, N.Y.

Greg Morrow says the room that holds the original portrait was designed by him and Burke. The room is equipped with lighting to preserve the painting for future generations.

It was at Warm Springs that Roosevelt found a purpose in life far beyond politics. His reputation before 1921 was that of a stoic, somewhat aloof aristocrat, but some would say that the small Georgia town warmed his personality as well. In his car, specially equipped with hand controls, Roosevelt traveled the country roads around Warm Springs and stopped to picnic or talk to people along the way, Dunn says.

"Roosevelt's experience in Georgia influenced him philosophically and politically," Burke says. "I hope everyone walks away with something positive."

"His programs and the things he did for rural people had me in awe of working at a presidential site," Morrow says. "They say when he came down here, he didn't realize how people in rural areas lived and it opened his eyes and it was what inspired him to begin all the social programs. Those programs started in Warm Springs."