I Can Only Imagine – The Story Behind the Song

i can only imagineYou may be familiar with the hit song “I Can Only Imagine,” but you probably don’t know the history and background of the song and the story behind it. In “I Can Only Imagine” Bart Millard tells his story along with the story behind the song. Really, his story IS the story behind the song as Millard tells of the difficulties that he had growing up.

Throughout Millard’s recounting of his story, he describes some of the details of his early life and just how MercyMe became a band. Millard tells of his dual ankle injury while playing football that led to him quitting football and joining the choir. Eventually, he even starred as Curly in “Oklahoma.”

Much of Millard’s story focuses on his relationship with his father and the pain and abuse that he suffered at his father’s hand. After being hit by a car while directing traffic on a construction site led to a frontal lobe injury in his father’s brain, his father was never the same. His parents eventually divorced and Bart was left to live with his father. Even though Millard had an older brother, his father somehow seemed to have targeted him with the verbal and physical abuse that he doled out.

While in the 9th grade, Millard’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Knowing that it was terminal resulted in a dramatic change in his attitude and behavior. As his father faced his own mortality, he began to become more like the man that had existed before his accident. The abuse stopped and he began to really embrace the faith that he had only outwardly professed. This began a relationship and friendship between Bart and his father that had not existed before.

As his father’s health continued to deteriorate, their relationship grew deeper and stronger. When his father finally passed away, Millard talks of just how much God had done to restore the relationship that had been so frail and volatile.

Along the way, as Millard describes everything that happened between him and his father, he also tells of how he and his wife, who he’d known since they were young, kept coming back to each other. Eventually, they realized that there was a reason for that and they broke off the relationships that they had with other people to embrace what had been right in front of them all along.

Millard also tells of how he wrote “I Can Only Imagine” in a matter of minutes and how the music came to be at the end of a recording session which had all but been wrapped up. And in the miracle of this short span of time came about a song whose span and influence exceeded any other song before it.

The story of the song, the band, and this father-son relationship engrossed me. Having lost my own mother to pancreatic cancer, I was gripped from the very beginning. I could relate to Millard’s story in some ways and not in others, but his telling of the story was powerful and moving, drawing me in and keeping me reading page after page as the story unfolded.

“I Can Only Imagine” had always been such a powerful song to me, now having read the story behind the song and the songwriter, an already powerful song somehow became more so. Regardless of where you stand in terms of faith, it would be hard to read this account without being moved in some way. I urge you to pick up a copy of this book and dive into this story. You won’t be disappointed and it may just be an encouragement and a jolt to your faith to read of how God’s hand worked in the life of Bart Millard.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

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Killing Spiders

kill the spiderWhat happens when we know that something is wrong in our life, something that needs change? We see the evidence of it throughout our lives, in our habits, in our relationships, in the nuances of how we go about living day to day. We begin to clean up the evidence of what’s wrong and never really go to find the source of it. It’s like a spider, we see the spider webs throughout the house, we clean the webs in order to make the house look tidy again, but that doesn’t remedy the problem. If we really want to get rid of the spider webs for good, we’ve got to kill the spider; otherwise, we’re just doing cursory work.

In his book, “Kill the Spider,” Carlos Whittaker tells his own story of getting to the heart of the issues that he faced in his life. His marriage was falling apart, he was losing his family, and he realized that he wasn’t fully convinced of the convictions upon which he had staked his life. He needed to find, identify, and kill the spider that was wreaking havoc on his life.

“Kill the Spider” is an autobiographical wisdom book. Whittaker shares his story with raw and deep details. He holds back on revealing everything, but it’s hard to read this book without feeling his feelings, thinking his thoughts, and perhaps even finding yourself identifying similar experiences in your own life. What Whittaker doesn’t capture with literary eloquence or powerful prose he makes up for with intense and reflective sharing of what he went through.

Whittaker journals his experience of losing his faith and finding it again in a week-long intense counseling retreat. He offers his insights into how he was able to push past the cobwebs and do the hard work of identifying the spider that was ruining his life. He never claims that answers are simple, easy, or quick. The old adage that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” proves true here when considering the amount of time it took Whittaker to get to the place from which he couldn’t escape on his own. In fact, he points out, although he was able to come to grips with the reality of identifying his spider, he wasn’t able to kill it on his own. The only one who could was Jesus.

Whittaker is no theologian, just a simple storyteller. This book is just the chronicle of someone who hits rock bottom and discovers an approach to getting back to the top again. Whittaker shares helpful insights from the Bible and even shares prayers that have been helpful for him. Whittaker was not able to come to grips with the heart of his problem until he was willing to get real and honest with himself. He shares the steps that brought him to that place.

“Kill the Spider” was a fast read. I finished it in just a few days. Whittaker’s ability to tell a story drew me back to the book and I found myself wanting to know just how he came out of the pit in which he found himself. Some might not appreciate the rawness with which Whittaker shares in the book. His cursing was most likely used to emphasize just how low he found himself and how raw he had become, and although they did not deter me, there are some who will close the book when they read those words.

If you’ve been struggling in your life to get to the heart of the things that have been bringing you down, “Kill the Spider” may be a helpful book for you. The way that Whittaker crafts and tells his story alone is a compelling enough reason to pick up this book and read it.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

To Whom Much Has Been Given…

A Disruptive GenerosityIn the introduction of “A Disruptive Generosity,” Mac Pier writes, “Every risk we have taken for God has been transcended by his provision.” His challenge to the reader is to read this book devotionally over the course of one month. One chapter a day to reflect on the various stories that he shares here.

Mac Pier ties these stories to the biblical story of Isaiah. Each chapter begins with a verse or passage from Isaiah. Pier shares, “We cannot underestimate the importance of being placed in a strategic vocation and location.” Throughout this book, this point is well-proven. We hear stories of people with great financial means and influence who use their means and influence to make a difference sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the cities where their influence can be found.

It’s possible that the reader may read these stories and never be on the same tier as those of whom these stories speak. I don’t think that’s Pier’s point in writing this book though. These stories should bring encouragement about how God can use people in whatever place he has them. They should also encourage those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ to know that we serve an incredible God who can impact this world through those who are following him.

Pier shares these stories to encourage people in their generosity. As he writes, “When we are generous, we affirm the nobility of God and grow in our own nobility.” The generous spirit of those in the stories of “A Disruptive Generosity” is seen in the stories and hearing just how God has used that generosity.

While I don’t know that I will ever be on the same financial level as the people in these stories, I still found encouragement here. I think that the intended target for this book is those who have the means to make a financial impact throughout this world. That’s not to say others won’t benefit from it, but if you know of some followers of Christ who have significant financial means that can be shared, this may be just the book to share with them to encourage them to allow God to work through what he has given them that they may experience the blessing of generosity, even when it’s disruptive.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Responding to the Tension

welcome to charlottesvilleThe events in Charlottesville last weekend and the continuing turmoil that we are feeling in our country at the state of disarray and disunity may have us a little on edge. Some of us will look at the situation and say that things are not as bad as they appear, while others will look and say that things are far worse than they appear. One thing that we know for sure is that there is a problem and anyone who would deny that is denying reality.

 As human beings, we can do a really good job of pressing down the tensions and conflicts that are trying to rise, we can make it seem as if the problem is not as big of a deal as we might think it is, denying out of fear, out of pride, or out of something else deep within us, sometimes denying it outright altogether. But the problem remains and, in fact, grows more severe the longer we push it down and deny it.

 Some say we have a problem with racism in our country, and I agree. The racial tensions that we have been experiencing in recent days are not new, they have been lying underneath the surface for a lot longer. I choose not to assign blame to a political figure for their sins of commission or sins of omission, because I think that the problem is much deeper, it extends far beyond just one person. While actions and words (or a lack thereof) may have perpetuated and even instigated other actions, the problem lies much deeper than just outward demonstrations. It’s a heart issue.

 The problem is racism, yes, and the problem is a heart problem, yes, but I would actually go a step further to boldly say that it is actually a sin problem. It’s one that extends far beyond our country to our world, for anytime that we deny that God created us as anything less than equal, we are being disobedient and denying that ALL of us have been created in the image of God.

 Many may disagree with me. Those who don’t espouse to any religious beliefs may think that’s a bit strong, but I think that we could all still agree that it is a moral and ethical issue. There is a cancer that runs deeper than signs and protests, deeper than freedom of speech or expressing opinions, and far deeper than the foundations of the monuments that are in question at this time.

 God’s people, the Israelites, would set up stones at the place where God had done something significant in their lives. They stood as monuments to all that God had brought them through. I am sure that the sight of those stones would bring back a flood of memories, some good, some bad. The words of Joshua to the Israelites in Joshua 4 resound to me, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.'”

It’s interesting, because Joshua didn’t tell them to tell future generations what the stones meant to them, but what had happened there. There was no interpretation necessary. But the stones were not there because the stones were important, the stones were there because what had happened was important and they never wanted to forget.

I think we’ve forgotten. I think we’ve forgotten what happened here and I think that some of us have forgotten to tell our stories. We’ve elevated a movement or a person or even a bunch of stones, and we’ve forgotten what was behind them and we’ve forgotten to tell our stories.

There will always be extremists, and extremists always get the press. But the rest of us who live in the tension between extremes have a choice. We can either ignore those extremes in hopes that they go away, or we can make our voices louder, choosing to tell the stories of why we’re here. We may not always agree, we may have differing opinions, but if our end goal is to tell truthful stories, I honestly think that some of those differences and disagreements will begin to fall away.

I sat in my office this morning sad. I was sad and even scared that I had three children who had been brought into the world to face these kinds of things. But beyond my sadness and my fear, I could see hope. I could see hope in knowing that I had the opportunity to lift up a different monument for my children, not one forged in stone and steel, but one that was written on their hearts. I have the opportunity to tell them the stories, not to promote a movement or an agenda, but to promote us living according to how we were created, in the image of the One who created us.

Everybody’s Got A Story

There’s a little town just north of where I live that considers itself the “center of the universe.” I’m not quite sure exactly how it acquired that moniker, but it’s been there for much longer than I’ve been around. It’s a little college town and even has that quaint small town feel about its center. Little “Mom and Pop” grocery stores and restaurants, warm and friendly people. In some ways, it reminds me of where we used to live in Asheville, North Carolina, except on a much smaller scale.

Of course, the smaller the town, the more likely things that are different will stand out.

In this little town, there is a man who rides a bicycle and always wears a little tutu. I’ve never met him, only seen him as he rides by. Never had the chance to talk with him. Never even had the chance to find out much about him.

At least, not until the other day.

I go to Goodwill…..a lot. The people who frequent Goodwill may only be paralleled in curiosity by those who frequent WalMart. People watching can be a spectacular event when going to either place. But beyond just the people watching amusement, there are stories to be heard if you listen….okay, if you eavesdrop.

The other day I was in the Goodwill in this small little town. I was minding my own business, looking through books and music. I was feeling pretty good as I had found a Carpenters record, a memory of my childhood and yet another memento of my mom.

As I stood at the register, waiting to pay, I couldn’t help but hear the conversation that was going on between the cashier and the woman who was in line right in front of me.

I’m not sure what had happened before I got there, but the woman in line in front of me seemed agitated at some of the clientele of Goodwill (kind of ironic since she was no peach herself, but I digress). She was asking why a certain person couldn’t be banned from the store. I looked around to see if I could figure out exactly who she was talking about, to no avail.

As she continued to talk to the cashier, the conversation turned towards this cross-dressing man. All at once, the woman just started saying all kinds of things about him. She started making a lot of judgmental statements about the man and then the cashier said, “Do you know his story?” The woman said, “He’s a weirdo, that’s what I know.” I wish that I could have seen a picture of my face at that moment, because I’m not usually shocked, but I think that statement caught me off guard.

The cashier went on to tell the woman that the man’s son had been killed and his son was gay. Now, I’m not sure whether one had anything to do with the other.  From the way that the cashier said it, it certainly seemed like there was a connection, but that’s speculation.  Anyway, this man’s attire was meant as a statement about his son.  Not sure whether it was meant to draw attention to him so that he could tell his story or what, but again, there was some connection between one thing and the other.

All at once, my heart broke, for both the man who had lost his son and for the woman who was standing in line right in front of me.

Now, I have thoughts and opinions about things like sexuality and cross-dressing, but I also realize that we all have our experiences, our stories, and I usually try to listen to those rather than pass judgment. We have all been impacted and affected by the things that we go through, our losses, our failures, our defeats, our victories, our gains. While I might not agree with someone and their choices, it seems only fair to give their story a hearing.

As I walked out the store, I wondered to myself what would happen if that woman in front of me ever ran into the cross-dressing, bike-riding man. What would she say to him? Would she simply cast judgment? Would she ask him about his story?

The thing is, I could easily see myself doing the same thing as that woman. I am judgmental. I do jump to conclusions. I do look at a book and judge it by its cover rather than opening it up to see what’s really inside.

I’m quick and easy to do it to other people, but how angry do I get when someone does the very same thing to me. How frustrating it is when, before words have even escaped my mouth, someone already knows what they think about me.

Yes, it takes time to find out someone’s story, but maybe that’s what someone really needs, someone to just listen and hear them.

It seems like I learned a valuable lesson, and next time that I’m in the “center of the universe,” maybe I’ll look for a man on a bike wearing a tutu. If I run into him, maybe I’ll have the courage to ask him about his story. Maybe I’ll find out that there’s so much more beneath the surface than fits in the nice and neat little box that I’ve made for myself.

Further Thoughts on Place

This past Sunday, a young woman shared her story of faith and doubt in our community of faith’s corporate time together. I had heard bits and piece of it before she had stood that morning, but I hadn’t heard all of the gory details that she shared. A story of rejection, of hurt, of pain, of doubt, of abandonment, and finally, redemption and restoration.

As she shared her story, she looked around and started by saying that she didn’t fully realize until that moment that part of the story that she shared, part of her rejection, took place in that very room. As she talked about a gang of middle school girls who bullied her and said some heartbreaking things to her right there in that room.

She shared her story for a few minutes and when she was done, she received applause that continued…..and continued…..and continued, until the whole place was standing. There in that room, in that moment, redemption had happened.

It wasn’t until later that I fully appreciated what had just happened. The very place where this young woman had been rejected, the very place where she felt that her faith had died was the very same place where new life was given. There in that middle school cafeteria, the place that had probably haunted her memory for years, new memories were made. As she courageously shared her story, the story from life to death back to life again, she saw a room full of people who saw her as she is, a forgiven child of God. She was affirmed in her honesty. She was affirmed in her bravery. She was given a new start.

Isn’t it just like God to take the very source of our hurt and turn it around? How hard it is for some of us to face certain things because of the memories that those things conjure up for us, yet he sees fit to use some of those very things to remind us that we are not in control, nor are those things or those circumstances. He is the one who is in control. He is the one who can turn things around.

I’ve seen it happen in my own life, and I am reminded that God cares about the little things. Sparrows don’t fly or die without him knowing about it. While we shouldn’t be so consumed with some of the trivial things in our lives, we also shouldn’t be surprised when God shows up in some of those places where we least expect it. God is in the redemption business and there’s nothing like seeing it played out right before your eyes.

Why I Blog

I’ve been getting together with a friend every Tuesday morning for the past half a year or so. We’re going through our second book together. Having started with “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning, we’re finishing up “To Be Told” by Dan Allender. Allender is the president of Mars Hill Graduate School near Seattle, Washington. He is a professional counselor, therapist, speaker, and author and speaks/writes/counsels not only out of his education but out of his own story and experience.

As I come to the end of Allender’s book, I come to realize more of why I choose to blog. Allender shares that we all have a story to tell. While many of those stories have their fair share of victories, joys, and celebrations, many of those stories are also marked with hurt and pain. Part of our responsibility as followers of Christ is to share our stories, to allow others to enter into those stories. In doing so, we allow them to know us more but we also allow them to know that the hurt and pain that they have experienced or will experience was not specific to them. In other words, they aren’t alone in that pain and hurt.

Writing is therapy and I have had to write a lot over the past few years. Out of the brokenness that I have experienced and the pain that I have been through, it felt like an essential part of who I am to write, to do my best to put into words what I have experienced, what I have felt, in order that others might know that their stories are not simply floating out there in space, solitary and alone. Allender even takes a step towards saying that sharing our stories is required of us as Children of God. Our stories are what God has given us and they can be used for the benefit and healing of others. If we fail to share out stories, we fail to be stewards of the gift that we have been given.

I’ll be honest, my story doesn’t often feel like a gift to be shared. The hurt, the pain, it isn’t something that I would have chosen for myself, but at the same time, I can’t let it be wasted, especially when there is a chance that it might connect with someone. In my blogging, I have encountered others whose stories have far outdone my own as far as tragedy is concerned. But it’s not about outdoing one another in pain and suffering, it’s about entering into one another’s story, learning to listen, learning to practice the gift of presence with those who simply need to be heard.

More than once over the past few years, I’ve heard from others who have experienced loss. They have shared with me that the words that I have shared have had the power to capture feelings and emotions that they’ve felt but were never able to fully articulate in words. Those messages have made it all worthwhile to me, even if there are only a handful of them.

It gets very tempting for me to write in order to get more hits on my blog, and I will admit to pandering towards certain topics which I know will generate more interest. But I can also admit that some of the pieces that I have put the most effort into are the very pieces that go seemingly unnoticed, and I have to be okay with that. Quality is important. Quantity? Not so much.

I will keep writing. Writing is as helpful for me as it is for those few that have somehow connected with what I have written. I hope and pray that I am being a good steward of my story and in being a good steward, I hope and pray that my story can be used to help others in the midst of whatever story in which they find themselves.