Today’s episode touches on themes of acceptance and how God loves us just the way we are. Lisa Harper is a Bible Teacher and a speaker. She shares about how she moved past the shame and trauma associated with early sexual abuse in her life by being able to view herself as worthy in God’s eyes. Shelley Breen, Leigh Cappalino and Denise Jones join us from award winning contemporary Christian singing group Point of Grace. They share their joy and honor at being able to bring messages of hope and acceptance to the world through music for over 20 years; plus their thoughts on favorite hymns and worship songs that are part of their new record “Beautiful Name.”
Just As I Am: Lisa Harper and Point of Grace – Jesus Calling Episode #93
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Our guests today are Bible teacher and speaker Lisa Harper and the members of popular contemporary Christian singing group Point of Grace. First up, we speak with Lisa Harper. Lisa has written 12 books, including her latest, which she discusses with us today “The Sacrament of Happy: What a Smiling God Brings to a Wounded World.” Lisa shares some of her early journey to becoming a Bible teacher and is candid about being a survivor of sexual abuse. Dealing with the shame and feeling that she was “damaged goods” because of this early trauma, Lisa recounts how over time she was able to embrace the scripture that says “Therefore, there is no condemnation or shame for those of us who are in Christ Jesus.”
A Daddy Who Won’t Walk Away
Lisa: My name is Lisa Harper. I’m a Bible teacher and author — not a very good one, very mediocre author — but my mom keeps all of them in her basement. I’m a bit of a wind bag storyteller. I love words. I use too many. I am a mom… an adoptive mom to the most amazing kid in the universe except for yours, of course.
I grew up in central Florida and had a good family life, although my parents divorced and that just cast a pall over everything I loved. Dad left us for another woman and her child, and that kind of marked me.
I thought it must be at least partly my fault and so that sense of having an orphaned spirit kind of took hold when I was a little girl. Mom remarried two years later to my stepfather John, but there was definitely that shadow of feeling fatherless when I was younger.
“That sense of having an orphaned spirit kind of took hold when I was a little girl.” – Lisa Harper
I grew up in church. I always say, “I became a church member in utero,” because I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t in church. We went to a wonderful, conservative church when I was 5 years old. Right after Dad left, I walked an aisle because the pastor was preaching on “How God is a Dad Who Doesn’t Leave His Children.” And I remember I was holding on to the back of the pews in the service. They sang “Just As I Am,” you know, 500 times, and on the 499th time (felt like that anyway), I walked up the aisle. I told Brother Jimmy that I wanted to give my heart to Jesus.
I, of course, didn’t understand the theological ramifications, but I just knew I wanted a Daddy who wouldn’t walk away, and so that began my faith relationship with Jesus. But of course, as a walk of faith, I have stumbled a lot along the way, and I’ve had some prodigal seasons, but the church has always been a real cornerstone in my life.
“I just knew I wanted a Daddy who wouldn’t walk away, and so that began my faith relationship with Jesus.” – Lisa Harper
Lisa: I love to study; not that we can ever fully comprehend the mind of God. You filter the mind of God through the mind and the mouth of men and women, it’s going to be distorted at some level. But I thought, “I will have due diligence when it comes to studying the Scriptures.”
I can tell you exactly when I decided to go to seminary. I had the privilege of speaking at a national women’s event — I was on staff with Focus on the Family — and there were almost 20,000 women at this event. It was in Nashville, Tennessee. I wasn’t living here then, I was living in Colorado Springs on staff with Focus. But I was onstage, 19,800-some odd women, and I was in the middle the stage. It was in the round. I don’t remember what I said… I said something that caused the women to laugh. And I thought, “You know, all these women–almost 20,000 women–are listening to me, and I don’t know if what I just said was heretical or not because I don’t have a seminary background. I don’t have the scaffolding that I think I should have to hold a microphone in front of this many people.” I realized, really, the gravitas of that position as a Bible teacher, and I decided then, “Lord, if you will give me the opportunity, I will go to seminary, and I will just study my fanny off.”
Filling the Hole In Your Soul
I love all the dead guys. I’ve got platonic crushes on Schaefer and C.S. Lewis and a lot of others, but one of my favorite living theologians is a guy named Dr. Ed T. Welch, and he wrote a book called Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave. And in that book, he said, “All addictions are ultimately a disorder of worship.” In other words, if you do not put Jesus in the biggest hole in your soul, you’ll run to the wrong things — whether it be meth or carbohydrates. And based on that rationale and those parameters, I consider myself a recovering addict. I don’t say that lightly because I have not been through the kind of suffering that some of my friends have. I’ve never been incarcerated. I didn’t lose my teeth to meth. I’ve never lost a loved one or my kids because of my addiction. But I ran to abusive men and to carbohydrates for years to fill up that deep hole in my soul. I knew Jesus. I loved Jesus, but I didn’t think he liked me very much.
“If you do not put Jesus in the biggest hole in your soul, you’ll run to the wrong things” – Lisa Harper
The Scars of Secrets Kept
Lisa: There’s some sexual abuse in my background. Some things that just really scarred me when I was younger. When I was a little girl, soon after my dad left, some men came and went from our family–presumably to help. They were kind of “uncles,” if you will, because my mom is this divorcee and my Daddy had had been less than kind as he left my mom. A couple of men who came and went from our families sexually molested my sister and myself. You know, I already felt like I wasn’t good enough. I felt if I was a really good little girl, Dad wouldn’t have left. But then for men, who were pretending to be helpful, to sexually molest me — that just underscored that feeling of being “less than” on my heart and soul. Then, I think if you aren’t really careful… I didn’t tell mom about it. I didn’t tell anybody about it because I thought, “My mom’s already been through enough pain,” so I don’t want to add something else to her plate.
So I just kept silent, and I really thought it had to be partly my fault. When you keep secrets, secrets cause us to be sick, and then that’s just a perfect environment for shame to grow. So, by the time I was in high school and college, I didn’t look like a girl who was molded by shame. I was very outgoing, I was an extrovert. I was in a lot of leadership positions. But inside, I always felt a little bit dirty. And so I was very drawn to abusive men.
“When you keep secrets, secrets cause us to be sick, and then that’s just a perfect environment for shame to grow.” – Lisa Harper
One of the main reasons I’ve been candid about my sexual abuse and molestation in my past is because I meet so many women in what I get to do who’ve been abused, and they think they’re the only ones. Or they think: “If anybody knew this happened to me, I’d be ruined for the rest of my life.” So I do think there’s some freedom that comes with pulling what the enemy allowed to happen in the dark, you pull that into the light, and it loses its power. I didn’t know that for so many decades. It’s like a handprint is made in wet cement, and the handprint that was made on my little girl heart was, “You deserve to be abused. You don’t deserve to be valued.”
“I do think there’s some freedom that comes with pulling what the enemy allowed to happen in the dark, you pull that into the light, and it loses its power.” – Lisa Harper
Then that also kind of sets the course, at least in my life, for the men I was attracted to. I was very attracted to abusive men, and I always tease and say, “God protected me from the men I was attracted to, but he also protected the men — the good Godly men I dated–from me because I was such a hot mess relationally.
And so I could teach about forgiveness and our sins — or the sins that they committed against us — being wiped away all day long, but I could not hang onto the truth from Romans that “There is now, therefore, no condemnation or shame for those of us who are in Christ Jesus.” It wasn’t until I got some really good Christian counseling in my 30’s and 40’s that the final shroud of shame was lifted. And again, one of the reasons I’m so forthright about this is: I see way too many women who you can just tell are bound by that. I don’t want my daughter to ever experience the same things I experienced. My kid—she’s only 8 years old.
Refusing to Be Defined By Shame
You know, shame is really one of the reasons I didn’t become a mama. I’ve wanted to be a mama for as long as I remember. I remember, even in high school, seeing an older friend who’d just become a mom, and she got one of those handprints from the hospital where they put your infant’s hand in plaster of paris. I saw that infant handprint, and I thought, “Oh, God, if I ever have one of those, I’ll hang it on my wall in this place of honor.” I just always wanted to be a mom.
But I think, because I was so broken relationally, I was really drawn to abusive men, and I wouldn’t go so far as getting married. I would back up from that because I knew I couldn’t stay with an abusive man, but I really squandered my 20’s and 30’s in some really, really broken relationships. So by the time you get to be 40, you realize you’re probably not going to be a biological mama. I really thought that was my fault. I’ve never in a million years thought our God was capricious, but I do think there are consequences to sin… my relational sin. I thought I had sabotaged the shot at becoming a mom or marriage.
Then, I began praying about adoption, and I thought “Oh, goodness, I probably shouldn’t adopt either because I’m single.” But it’s like God just kept bringing it up over and over and over again. I almost started the process when I was 40, but a woman at church actually pulled me aside and privately told me that I should not adopt. She said, “You shared with us that you were sexually abused when you were younger,” and she said, “Lisa, I know you have been in counseling, but just in case you weren’t fixed, you might unwittingly transfer some of the trauma you experienced on the child of your own.”
She said, “You should go to the National Humane Society and adopt a dog because you’ll really do good with pets,” and that resonated with me. She didn’t mean it to be unkind. She thought she was giving me good advice. But again, it was just one more layer of “You’re not good enough,” and I received it.
The Heartbreak & Joy of the Adoption Process
Lisa: So it wasn’t until seven years later I was actually brave enough to dip my toe in the adoption pond. I told the adoption agency, I said, “don’t give me a kid has a shot at a mom and dad because,” I said, “I don’t know if I’ll ever marry. I don’t know if that’s what God has for me. But if there’s a kid who doesn’t have much of a shot at a mama and a daddy, I’d love to be considered in that case.” The first little mama I walked with for seven months was a hardcore crack addict and a prostitute.
That one is still heartbreaking because I lost that baby just five days before she was born, and the little mama didn’t go to rehab. It was a heartbreaking experience for everyone involved.
Two weeks after I lost that first adoption, I got a phone call from an old friend, and she said, “Lisa, I just got home from Haiti.” she said, “While I was there, one of the moms in the village died of AIDS,” and she said, “She has a two and a half year old little girl that she left behind who has HIV and cholera and probably tuberculosis. The doctors in Port au Prince have said she’ll die in the next couple of months if somebody–really anybody–from a first world country doesn’t stand in the gap for her.”
She said, “I immediately thought of you,” and she said, “Would you pray about this? And I said, “Nope.” I said, “I’ve been praying about this for 30 years. Sign me up.”
I got off the phone and was like, “What have I just done? I just committed to adopt a little kid everybody thinks is dying in Haiti.” Six weeks later, I was on a plane, and they put her in my arms, and it was just amazing. After a few minutes (she didn’t like me at first), she reached up, she grabbed my pinky finger, and she said kind of angrily, “Hello, Mama Blanc.” That means,” Hello, White Mama.” I was like, “Stick a fork in me. I’m done.” And it took two years to bring Missy home. I brought her home April 14th, 2014. She’s now 8 years old and healthy as a horse.
She is joyful. Her HIV is undetectable. She is just the embodiment of redemption. I love the verse in Lamentations that says, “Our God restores the years the locusts have devoured,” and I feel like I kind of served up years of my life to the enemy because of shame and a lot of other sinful things. I feel like God has just restored more than I dreamed or hoped through this little girl. She’s healthy. She was supposed to die. She loves Jesus. She calls me Mama… I never get tired of her calling me Mama, and so I’m really undone. I make a lot of mistakes as a single mom, but the one thing I do well is I’m grateful. I wake up grateful every morning for what God has redeemed in our story.
Happiness Coinciding With Grief
Narrator: Lisa has found joy in the midst of difficult circumstances. Her latest book “The Sacrament of Happy” shares stories from her life and looks at the scriptural basis of why she believes Christians are called to be happy. She also talks about what Jesus Calling has brought to her life and her relationship with author Sarah Young. Finally, she shares about new a project for kids, a book she wrote for and with her daughter, that is coming out in October 2018.
Lisa: I am a rabid fan of Jesus Calling but even more so, Sarah Young. Sarah and I were in a Bible study together years ago at a church here in Nashville, and I didn’t know she was “Sarah Young.” I just knew her as Sarah. She was so kind and so humble, and we would talk after the Bible study all the time.
It wasn’t until about a year after we’d been in Bible study together that someone from the group said something like, “Have you read Sarah’s stuff?”
I was like, “Sarah who?”
I was like, “Oh, I love Jesus Calling.”
And she was like, “Well, that’s Sarah.”
I was like, “Our Sarah is Sarah Young?” I was like “Oh, you are kidding me.” Of course, Sarah would have never let it be known. I don’t think she even thought about it, but that made me fall more in love with Sarah because of her humility, not just her gift as an author.
Well, After talking about Jesus Calling, I feel just a little silly to talk about my book because that’s like Crème Brulee and pudding or Kentucky Derby and a donkey because I’m nowhere near her level as a writer. But I decided to study the concept of “happy” in Scripture and see if it was actually there because I had kind of been accused on my life of being “too happy” to be a Christian. I think a lot of people consider Christians to be a sober lot. I even heard when I was younger that joy was based on that acronym “Jesus-Others-Yourself,” but happy was based on “happenstance,” so happy was not good. But I thought, “Is that really a biblical truism?”
So I just wanted to spend some time seeing if “happy” is even in the Bible, and I was shocked to find out it’s all throughout scripture. God actually describes himself as happy. It’s not happy the way we talk about it in modern culture. It’s not, “Haha… superficial happy.” The biblical definition in Hebrew and Greek is “the deep contentment, fulfillment, and delight that comes from relationship with God.” And it’s “asher” in Hebrew. And it’s “machiros” in Greek.
So, the Psalter at the beginning of the Psalms actually starts with the word “happy.” We usually you know we usually translated as “blessed,” but the accurate translation is also “happy.” And then in Jesus’ very first public sermon on the Mount—I’m going to Israel next year so I can’t wait to be back. I’ve been there twice — but when he stood on that hill and gave that sermon, that very first word of his very first public sermon was “marchiros” — “Happy is the man who walks…” You just go, “Oh, my goodness, this is not a superficial second cousin to joy. It is a biblical truism.” And the reason I said it was a sacrament is because a sacrament is an inward grace that has an outward expression. So you go, “Boy, if anything ever fit the definition of sacrament it would be happiness. That contentment and that light that comes from intimacy with Jesus.
So happiness is not the absence of sadness. A lot of people think, “I can’t be both happy and sad,” and that, also, is not good theology. Throughout scripture you will see happiness, contentment, and fulfillment coincide with deep grief. Interestingly enough, it was while I was studying happiness in the Bible that I began studying the life of Job. I started studying them at the same time because you don’t think of Job as being happy, but there’s this unlikely joy that permeates Job, and it’s because of the presence of God even in the most difficult circumstances. Job 19 is like the “Prozac” chapter of the Bible, you know? My daddy would have said, “He would have to reach up to touch a worm’s belly.” He’s lost everything, and yet He says, “I know my Redeemer lives.” There’s this unlikely joy.
I’m really tickled about this. My publisher said, “We think you should write a children’s book.” They said, “Is there any subject you’d like to write about?”
And I said, “You know what? There’s actually one subject.”
And they said, “What is it?”
And I said, “Well, I’d like to read a book called “Who’s Your Daddy?”
You know, the whole room was kind of shocked… these wonderful, Godly publishers are like, “Who’s Your Daddy? How could that be a Christian children’s book?”
And I said, “When Missy went to kindergarten, one of the boys in asked Missy, “Who’s your daddy?” It was Parents’ Day at school or grandparents day — I can’t remember — but of course, she didn’t have a daddy who showed up. So when she got in the car that afternoon for carpool, I could just tell she seemed a little off.
“Baby, did something happen in school today?”
And she said, “Yes, ma’am. George asked me where my daddy was.”
And I said, “Well, what did you say?”
And she said, “I don’t have a daddy.”
And I said–because it just threw me; it was like a knife to the heart–and then I thought and thought and thought, and I said, “Baby, you know you actually do have a daddy.” I said, “You don’t have a skin daddy (you know, a daddy with skin on), but you have a Daddy God, and He’s the perfect daddy.
And that started the sweetest little season at our house of us talking about the difference between a skin daddy — who’s a wonderful gift if God gives you that. But sometimes they leave. My skin daddy left. Sometimes something happens where they aren’t as good a daddy as you deserve. So we talked about skin daddies and Daddy God and how it’s awesome if you have both, but if you don’t have a skin daddy and you have Daddy God, you have everything you need.
So, because the question was “Who’s your daddy?” that’s what the book is based on, and Missy actually helped me write the book. The illustrator is amazing, and she’s based all the illustrations of the girl in the book on Missy. Of course, you know, I’m pathologically biased. I think my kid is just gorgeous, so she’s got the brown braid, and it is really a redemptive book.
Narrator: To find out more about Lisa Harper, her latest book “The Sacrament of Happy” and her upcoming children’s book, please visit LisaHarper.net.
Narrator: We’ll continue with our next guests after this brief message about a free offer from Jesus Calling.
Want a daily reminder that we can have hope, peace and joy each day in Jesus? Now it’s as easy as opening an email. The Jesus Calling Daily Email brings you a thought from the Jesus Calling family of devotionals every day. Brighten up your inbox with this little reminder and take a minute to connect with God during your day. To sign up to get your free, daily thought from Jesus Calling, please visit Jesus Calling.com/daily-email.
Point of Grace Celebrates Jesus’ Beautiful Name
Narrator: Our next guests are the members of top contemporary Christian singing group Point of Grace. Shelley Breen, Leigh Cappillino and Denise Jones have been singing together for over 2 decades. With over 8 million recordings sold, 3 GRAMMY nominations, and multiple Dove awards, they continue to share their musical gifts for the Glory of God. They join us today to share about recording their very first Hymns record entitled “Beautiful Name: Hymns and Worship Songs.” and why the hymns of the church are so special to them all.
Shelley: My name is Shelley Breen, and I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and I’m a wife to husband David. He and I have been married for over 20 years now, and we’re getting close to that quarter century mark. That sounds really old. We have a little girl, Caroline, and she is 15, and I’ve been singing with Point of Grace for longer than I’ve been married or had Caroline.
Leigh: Hi, my name is Leigh Cappillino. I’m originally from a little Mayberry town in South Carolina called Belton, and that’s where my family still lives. However, me and my husband of 26 years live in Nashville, and we have a 15 year old daughter and a surprise, a bonus, as I like to say, on our 25th anniversary, and he’s five. So we have a daughter and a little boy. Just love living in Nashville and love being a part of these chicks.
Denise: Hi, I’m Denise Jones from Point Grace, and I am the wife of my husband Stu. He’s been the Point of Grace husband the longest. We married about the same time Point of Grace moved to town, and we have two boys—a 20 year old and a 17 year old — so I’ve got one off in college, and one’s getting closer every day. I just love being a mom and love living here in Nashville. I’m the boy mama of the group, for sure, and we’re Boomer Sooner fans.
Shelley: We’ve been Point of Grace for about 25 years now, and it’s really special to have gone through so many changes of life together. When we first started singing, nobody was married or had kids or anything like that. We were just kind of college students who were footloose and fancy free and traveling around in a van with a trailer and singing in churches and camps and stuff, and so as the group evolved so did our lives, and it’s been just a blessing to us. We love to do this so much, and that God would allow us to get married and have children and go through all of these seasons of life, and yet we still get to go out and sing and make records and make music together all these years later. So we feel really blessed.
Our Favorite Hymns
Denise: My memory of hymns is, you know, I grew up in a church where my grandparents went to that church, my parents were there, aunts and uncles… And so my memory is in a pew with family members around me, and Sunday school teachers opening that hymn book and singing those hymns. It’s always been a sweet spot for me, a real sweet spot. Now, I’m not saying I always understood the theology that I was reading, you know, but to have the congregation around me singing all in parts and harmonies and all that–I just love it. So it’s just been a really sweet spot for me.
Shelley: I kind of had a different upbringing, church upbringing, than the other girls did. I grew up Lutheran, and they grew up Baptist, and some of our hymns were the same in our hymn books and some were a little bit different. But honestly, one of my favorite ones — and Denise brought it up for us to record — is “Praise to the Lord the Almighty.” We used to sing that on Easter Sunday and throughout the year, and I always just loved the melody of that song. You don’t really understand the depth of the lyric when you’re young.
Leigh: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” was my favorite hymn as a little girl because, I don’t know, I can just remember singing that hymn. My aunt and I would share the hymn book together, and she would do a part, and I would do a part, and we could never do the same part. We would look at each other, and I just remember that song being just more of that “jolly song” whereas, it’s not “Bringing in the Sheeps,” it’s not “Bringing in the Sheeps,” it’s “Bringing In The Sheaves.” I didn’t really know what a “sheave” was, and honestly, I’m not really sure I know what as “sheave” is now. Today, my favorite hymn is “How Deep The Father’s Love.” It personifies just recognizing God’s redemption in my life, and He went to great lengths.
Denise: Probably my all-time favorite would be “Because He Lives” because, I don’t know, I can just remember singing it and singing it as loud as we could. So, it’s probably one of my favorites.
Shelley: I think our minds are immediately engaged because of the lyric. Scripture tells us that community is a good thing and to be with other believers and to worship God together in spirit. So, I think that that’s an important part of any believers routine that you would do that. I think it’s beneficial to us to recite these things together. Sometimes, if you watch the news and I’m just by myself in the daytime or whatever, you can start to feel really alone and like you’re the weird one. sort of, almost– just believing what we believe in–that you’re really the minority, almost, to to have a strong Christian worldview. So, just to be with other believers and be reminded that you’re not the only one– I mean, that’s good for your faith, I think,
Leigh: I remember growing up my mother had a small little–she used the Home Life–and she would go on that daily devotion, and I remember every day it was flipped to whatever the date was. I remember vividly thinking to myself; she took a little bit of time to do what God can do with a lot of message. That’s what I love about Jesus Calling. It’s that little bit of time that can do a lot for that day. So I love it.
Leigh: I used to journal a lot. And then when I had my first kid, I began to give excuses why I shouldn’t journal anymore. I was tired. But she encouraged me–as you read your Jesus Calling, write something that happened that day–that either you know that you don’t want to forget, or maybe just a prayer. So I started writing, and that was part of my journal with my Jesus Calling.
Shelley: My mom, for Christmas two years ago in my stocking, put the calendar, and it’s the same as the book; you just flip over the pages and it just sits right on my desk. I’ve honestly enjoyed that so much. It’s a great reminder to grab and read while you’re sitting there in the morning looking over your daily–what you’ve got to do for that day–it’s just right there. So, I’ve actually really enjoyed that.
Denise: It is a great thing when you are a little bit more in a hurry. But it’s always been one of those things–even when I’ve had trouble like you know sit down to do a Bible study or sit and read my Bible, or spend some time in prayer. Sometimes your mind is just so jumbled and it’s a great starting place for me to to kind of just go, “OK, let me sit and kind of begin that process.” We actually used it before–now my kids drive and everything—but before, when I was driving them to school, we’d have the kids Jesus Calling, and that was one way that we could read on the way to school and and go over those things. So, it’s a great tool to have.
Narrator: Shelley reads a favorite passage from Jesus Calling from March 14th, and the girls share why this passage is meaningful to them.
“I rejoice over you with singing. Open wide your heart, mind and spirit to receive my richest blessings. Because you are my blood bought child, my love for you flows continuously from the throne of grace. Look up and receive all that I have for you. Listen and hear me singing songs of joy because of My great delight in you. You can approach me boldly with confidence, trusting that you are indeed the one I love.” – Shelley reading from Jesus Calling
Denise: I’ve always told people, that in my journey with the Lord, His tone of voice has changed for me–and we’re being reminded here that that’s really His tone of voice and where His whole heart comes from. Even when He’s letting me know I’m not doing things the right way, that’s the tone of voice that He wants me to hear it through,
Leigh: Oftentimes we hear what a song did for somebody and to know that reminder that “He’s always singing over us.” If one of our songs can bring such comfort to somebody out there–knowing He’s singing–even more comfort.
Narrator: To Learn more about the new Hymns and Worship Songs record from Point of Grace entitled “Beautiful Name,” please visit PointofGrace.net
Narrator: Next time, we speak with former NFL quarterback and Super Bowl champion Jeff Hostetler. Jeff shares about his faith and how his mother was a great influence in his life.
Jeff: My mom was constantly praying for me and constantly sending me little quotes, and sending me verses, and encouraging me, and telling me, “God’s going to reveal it to you. Just stay focused. Stay diligent.
That’s a woman of prayer that believed in the power of prayer. She’s with the Lord now. But I know at that time, God honored her prayer. She was an integral part of who I am.