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Making Music and Babies: Christian Singers Open Up About Motherhood

March 3rd, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

What happens when you’re in the middle of living the dream… and another dream comes along?

Jaci Velasquez had spent over half her life recording and performing Christian music by the time she gave birth to her first son a decade ago. “I remember thinking to myself, How can I ever go back? How can I ever make music again?” said Velasquez, whose No. 1 singles include “On My Knees” and “Llegar A Ti.”

Many popular female artists spend their 20s focused on their careers in ministry, releasing albums, going on tour, and picking up Dove Awards and Grammy nominations. But around 30, these Christian singers confront the dilemma that women across industries face: deciding when to start a family and figuring out what their jobs look like after motherhood.

Amid her uncertainty, Velasquez—now a mother of two, releasing her first album in five years—remembered that “being faithful to God is being faithful to all the things God has placed in your life, that being my husband, my children, and my ministry.”
Faith offers Christian artists a sense of assurance in the messy realm of balancing motherhood. For them, being a musician or a mother isn’t merely their choice but a calling affirmed by prayer and counsel. Still, that God-given confidence doesn’t eliminate the practical struggles of raising a family while writing, recording, and touring.

“While I was pregnant, I remember thinking to myself, ‘Babies are so portable! It’ll be a breeze in the first few months! He’ll just absorb into my life!,’” said Audrey Assad, a Catholic singer and pianist, who gave birth to a son in 2014. “I couldn’t have been more wrong about our own specific situation.”

Kari Jobe with her son, Canyon.

For several months, baby Will would only sleep on Assad’s chest, and she stayed up all night nursing him on the tour bus—forced to nap the next day to recover enough to perform. She now schedules shorter tours, flying back to see a happier toddler Will at home.

No amount of popularity, record sales, or sold-out arenas can compensate for the emotions and exhaustion that accompany the earliest months of motherhood. Multiple moms—including Assad and Kari Jobe—described the intense worry that swelled up the first time they returned to the stage.

“I remember just crying to [my husband] Cody and saying, ‘I feel the weight of going back out to lead worship tonight, and I’m worried I won’t remember what to do,’” said Jobe, who went on tour with Hillsong Worship, Jesus Culture, and Passion six weeks after her son, Canyon, was born last year. “I felt so different, being a mom today and a worship leader tonight. I told him, ‘I don’t know how to change these roles.’”

The 35-year-old new mom felt at ease when her husband, a fellow worship leader at Gateway Church, reassured her, “The pressure not on you. It’s on him. God’s got this.” When the two tour together, they take along a sitter to care for Canyon during rehearsals and while they are on stage.

Meanwhile, male artists typically don’t travel with their young kids. “You’d see them backstage before they’d go out, trying to tell their kids goodnight over the phone,” said Jobe, who’s known for her popular rendition of “Desert Song” as well as hits like “Forever.” “You can tell they miss them, and their hearts are aching.”

While singers like Jeremy Riddle and Matt Redman started their big families early (both have five kids each and welcomed their first by their mid-20s), the female singers on today’s Christian music charts became moms a bit later. Women like Jobe, Kim Walker-Smith, Christy Nockels, and Laura Story had their first kids in their late 20s or 30s.

Ellie Holcomb with her daughter, Emmylou.

Ellie Holcomb, who sang alongside her husband in Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, assumed that once she started a family at 30, her performing days were over. “I really quit the band to be a stay-at-home mom,” the Nashville-based mom of two said. “I was telling the Lord that’s what I was going to do, and he had different plans for me.”

Instead, she spent her pregnancy writing songs that ended up on her first solo album, As Sure As the Sun. Motherhood essentially launched her own career, and she earned the Dove Award for best new artist in 2014.

The Holcombs’ lives with four-year-old Emmylou and one-and-a-half-year-old Huck can be unconventional as both parents tour—sometimes separately, sometimes together. Holcomb learned that to avoid ratcheting up the inevitable “mom guilt” she’d have to stop looking beside her for comparison and critique and instead focus on Jesus.

“I’ve been sent into serious shame storms by conversations with people at shows who don’t intend to be critical at all, but they ask questions like, ‘How do you do that? Are your kids okay?’” said Holcomb, who just released her second full-length album, Red Sea Road. “You’re like, ‘Well, if it’s God’s will for my life to be doing this; it’s God’s will for their lives too.’”

Working in the music industry has given their family the opportunity to talk about calling and obeying God with their kids at a young age. When Emmylou is sad at a goodbye, they explain God has “adventures and good works” for all his children to do. They tell her about how they have said yes to this calling just like she will one day grow up to hopefully say yes to an adventure of her own.

Even with less quiet time for contemplation and writing, parenthood brings its own kind of inspiration for making music, particularly worship music, and prompts a deeper recognition of God’s love for his own children.
“Anything I sing that references Jesus coming as a baby (like “Humble,” or “Winter Snow”) has much more incarnate significance for me now,” Assad told CT Women.
A couple of years ago singer Sara Groves—whose oldest kids are now teenagers—talked about how impossible it is to separate her family life, her work as an artist, and her faith. She told blogger Jerusalem Greer:

Faith, our gifts, our relationships are integrated, like it or not. We might try to compartmentalize our time, but I think the best and most true creative expression comes when we don’t compartmentalize our lives, when we push back against definition/labels, and let some unedited stuff come out… To get somewhere, you have to let it all flow together.

Over the past year, Jobe has approached parenting as a challenging, exhausting gift. The birth of her son following her sister’s miscarriage flowed into the themes in her new album, The Garden. “A garden is just significant in our life with the Lord. It’s a place of life, it’s a place of no sorrow, it’s a place to watch things grow,” she said. “Canyon’s doing that for us as well.”

Since different evangelical settings have different expectations for women in leadership, female worship leaders lack an established model for their role in the church and for navigating transitions like marriage and family, according to Tanya Riches, a Hillsong collaborator and researcher at the University of Birmingham’s Cadbury Centre. (Hillsong’s Darlene Zschech opened up to CT Women a year ago about how her gender was a particular hang-up when she performed in some US locales.)

Jaci Velasquez with her husband Nick and their 2 sons, Soren & Zealand.

Riches emphasizes the importance of connecting with fellow female worship leaders for solidarity and advice and going deeper with worship as a personal spiritual discipline. “And if all else fails,” she said, “put on Brooke Ligertwood’s ‘Desert Song’ and remind your heart by singing at the top of your voice: All of my life, in every season, you are still God, I have a reason to sing; I have a reason to worship.”

Throughout seasons of motherhood, artists also find family demands shifting. Now that Velasquez’s sons are in elementary school, she wants to be as present and as clear about her priorities as possible; her parents worked in ministry and at times neglected her older brother’s activities, so she doesn’t want the same to happen with her family.
She recounted a recent discussion with her son Soren, who turns eight this year, over her tracks for her new album, Trust, which releases next month.

“He goes, ‘Mom, do you like your songs more or do you love me more?’ I said, ‘Baby are you kidding me? I love you more than everything! You are my heart! There’s no question,’ And he goes, ‘Oh, okay. I was just checking,’” she said. “I have to make sure to continuously remind them they are much more important than anything.”

For Those of Us Who Grew up in Church, This Article Resonates…

March 3rd, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle
Dan Darling talks about how the repetition of old hymns and programs in his church growing up cultivated in him a love for Christ and His church.

Boring Church Services Changed My Life

While I fought to keep my eyes open, the gospel pressed deep into my heart.

I’ve never really had a moment in my life—39 years—when I wasn’t going to church. My parents got engaged and married in the church. I was born into, raised in, and baptized in church.

My parents, first-generation Christians, were devout church-goers. We went every time the doors were open—and many times when they weren’t. My father, a plumber, volunteered thousands of man-hours helping build church buildings. My mother volunteered, worked as a secretary, and later served as a preschool teacher.

Since the age of five, I sat in church services: Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday night prayer meetings. I wasn’t allowed to draw. I was required to sit up straight—no fidgeting. And I wasn’t allowed to fall asleep.

Up through my teenage years, I thought of church as a bit boring. Sure, there were some life-changing, soul-stirring messages at summer camp or a special service. But for most of my life, including my years as a pastor, I did pretty much the same thing every week: singing familiar hymns or choruses, standing up and reading Scripture, listening to a sermon.

Ironically, one of the axioms of my childhood evangelical faith was this: Church is more than the service or a building; it is the called-out people of God, living on mission every day. Church, I was told, will not get you to heaven. Only a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ will do that.

I still believe this, more strongly now than ever, but I also believe that in some ways church does—or did—save me. It didn’t save me in the ways you might expect: a spectacular Sunday service, a homerun sermon, or a gripping worship set. God’s primary tool to transform my heart was not the conference speaker or the travelling revivalist or the worship concert. Those events were important, but now I realize that, more often, God changed my life using routine worship services in which I sang hymns I didn’t quite understand and heard messages I didn’t quite grasp.

In dark and stormy seasons, what comes into my head first? The lines of hymns I learned as child in church. The verses I memorized on Wednesday nights in my Awana class. The passages of Scripture we stood and read aloud.

During times of fear and anxiety, I drift back to the words of hope from Martin Luther’s epic hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”:

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

When I feel insecure, I recall the lines of the Methodist hymn, “I Stand Amazed in the Presence”:

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how he could love me,
A sinner, condemned, unclean.

The hymns of the blind poet, Fanny Crosby. The majestic lines from Isaac Watts. The simple melodies of Bill Gaither. These are just a few of the hundreds of hymns that were cemented in my heart from week after week of “boring” church services. As a young child enduring the routines of our Baptist church, I didn’t realize what was happening to me.

In his book, You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith talks about the way our hearts are formed:

There is no formation without repetition. Virtue formation takes practice, and there is no practice that isn’t repetitive. We willingly embrace repetition as a good in all kinds of other sectors of our life— to hone our golf swing, our piano prowess, and our mathematical abilities, for example. If the sovereign Lord has created us as creatures of habit, why should we think repetition is inimical to our spiritual growth?

This repetition built in my heart a deep reservoir of theology. And now, as a husband and father and pastor, whenever I stand and sing these hymns, I can barely contain myself. At times I cannot sing; I can only weep. Some choruses evoke memories: My father serves communion while “Jesus Keep Me near the Cross” plays faintly in the background. Dad fights back tears as we sing “Jesus Paid It All.”

These rituals train our hearts. We sing to ourselves songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. We hear the same gospel preached to us, over and over again. We lift the cup to our lips and the bread to our tongues remembering, again, our place at the King’s table. Through these practices, God takes our hearts and seals them for his courts above, to paraphrase another hymn writer, Robert Robinson.

Don’t get me wrong. We shouldn’t eschew creativity in the church or stick with only one era of church history to form our Sunday liturgies. We are, after all, “new creation” people, and our churches should find fresh and innovative ways to communicate that old, old story.

But that’s just it. Our creativity should not seek to tell a new story. It should be designed to communicate to our hearts that same, old, wonderful story of salvation.

When I think back on the simple routines—the liturgies—that changed my life, I’m encouraged in my own pastoral role. I’m reminded afresh that the work of ministry is not so much about finding new, tantalizing ways to make people excited about Jesus, but about the timeless rituals that shape their hearts.

Because somewhere in your congregation are children singing words they don’t know, listening to Scripture they don’t understand, and fighting sleep during a sermon that doesn’t hold their interest. They don’t realize it yet, but the Spirit of God is pressing the gospel message, through yet another “boring” church service, deep within their hearts.

Daniel Darling is the vice president for communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). Previously, he served as senior pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

“Fighting for You Teaching Video” From Tenth Avenue North’s Mike Donehey

March 3rd, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

St. Patrick’s Day Fun

March 3rd, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle
We love celebrating life! Check out our fun, green treats & ideas to make St. Patrick’s Day one to remember.

16 Simple Lent Activities for Kids

March 3rd, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Family
I have often written through the years about Advent. It is the season of waiting immediately before Christmas, a joyful and expectant time when Christians prepare for the birth of Christ. Lent is a similar time of waiting immediately before Easter, but it is a solemn and expectant time as we remember the sacrifice Jesus made in giving his life for all humanity.

Lent is observed as the six weeks before Good Friday. It is preceded by Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, the day on which observes eat the last of their fatty, rich foods so that they don’t go to waste during the fasting season of Lent. The first official day of Lent is Ash Wednesday (today!), then there are 40 days of fasting and 6 celebration days (Sundays). The timing reflects the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, hungry and tempted by Satan.

I have often heard my Catholic friends talk about observing Lent, but I have not often heard my friends of other Christian flavors talk about observing it.

The beautiful thing about Jesus is that we can all remember his sacrifice, whether or not we strictly observe a particular denomination’s traditions.

Any family can talk about Jesus’ sacrifice and celebrate his resurrection, no matter what they choose to eat on Fridays or whether they fast during Lent. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition.

With that in mind, I want to start observing Lent with my kids. I want to talk about Jesus more. We will still have Easter baskets and Easter egg hunts and the Easter bunny, but I want them to know that this whole Easter deal is to celebrate our risen savior who conquered death.

16 Simple Lent Activities for All Christian Kids

  1. Give up something as a family. Jesus fasted for 40 days. That is a very long time! It would be meaningful to teach your children about fasting by giving up something for the entire Lenten season or on Fridays during Lent. It could be giving up desserts, not going out to eat, or drinking only water. The key is that it has to be something you enjoy and want to do/eat/have. If you hate brussels sprouts and decide to give them up during Lent, you may need to reevaluate.
  2. 40 bags in 40 days. Instead of or in addition to giving up something for Lent, you could purge a bag’s worth of stuff every day during Lent. You choose the size of the bag, and you should definitely make it a family affair. (Unless, of course, you are purging toys or something, and then maybe you don’t want to get the kids involved. ha!) Just think of how clean your home will be by Easter!
  3. Build a Lenten Cross. Similar to an Advent wreath, you light one or more candles each night during dinner for the entire Lenten season. I want to get this going with my family this year.
  4. Observe Passover with a Christian Passover Dinner.
  5. Attend a Maundy Thursday church service or have your own at home. My church has a Maundy Thursday service where the pastor washes everyone’s feet. You could do this with the Christian Passover Dinner, instead of it, or on another day.
  6. Read Easter books. Some of our favorites are The Parable of the Lily and The Jesus Calling Bible Storybook. One Spring Lamb is really precious for littler kids.
  7. Read the Bible together every day. I think this is a given, but it’s worth mentioning. You need to be reading the Bible with your kids every day, and this would be a great opportunity to focus on the ministry of Jesus.
  8. Make a Lamb of God craftWe made these mobiles last year as a way to talk about and remember that Jesus was the lamb of the sacrifice.
  9. Study A Sense of the Resurrection. These sensory-based activities lead your kids through the crucifixion and resurrection. It is so meaningful for kids and adults alike. Definitely check it out.
  10. Make and study as set of Resurrection EggsI just love these eggs. They are a set of 12 plastic Easter eggs, each containing a trinket related to the Easter story. Using the eggs, children can tell the whole story of the crucifixion and resurrection. We have used them for a lot of years now.
  11. Make a prayer chain. Write a person or situation on each of 40 strips of paper. Assemble them into a paper chain. Remove one link per day, and pray for that thing with your kids.
  12. Serve 40 ways in 40 days. Check out my post on 60 Acts of Kindness for kids.
  13. Make empty tomb crafts. Here are some really cool ones: made from dough, made from paper, made from paper plates, and a really elaborate (and super cool) one you’d have to start 1-2 weeks before Easter.
  14. Grow something. Make sure you get The Parable of the Lily which is a wonderful explanation of how something wonderful can grow from something dead and ugly. There are lots of spring bulbs and seeds in stores already, so you should be able to get some inexpensively.
  15. Write a thank you note to your pastor. Help your kids to thank him or her for teaching them about Jesus’s death and resurrection.
  16. Bake pretzels. Pretzels were first baked during Lent because they can be made with only water, flour, and salt. The shape came from a posture of prayer, with arms crossed and hands on opposite shoulders. A monk made dough into this criss-crossed shape, and the pretzel was born! You can get a simple recipe for homemade pretzels at Catholic Icing.

No matter how you choose to observe Lent with your kids, the key is that you actually do it. Talk to your kids about Jesus, about His sacrifice, about their Savior. Start today.