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.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Odd Eggs

I wrote a post about "Odd-Egg Editor" by Kathryn Tucker Windham, one of my favorite books and authors, for the Southern Authors Blog. Click here.