Roma Downey and Jenn Gotzon Chandler are both actresses who are committed to shining the light of their faith in Hollywood. In addition to being an actress, Roma Downey is an author and producer. She is probably best known as the star of the iconic television show “Touched By An Angel.” In her newest book, Box of Butterflies, she talks about how important it is to recognize the blessings in front of us each day. She also shares about the special relationship she had with her Touched By An Angel Co-star Della Reese, who passed away last year, and the comfort she has in knowing that we’ll all be together one day in heaven. Jenn Gotzon Chandler aspires to inspire and uplift through the medium of film and storytelling. In her latest movie, “My Daddy Is In Heaven,” she plays the role of a young woman her loses her husband in a tragic accident, and how she comes to terms not only with his passing, but with raising her daughter alone and explaining to her why Daddy isn’t coming home. Her powerful portrayal of this role, and how God gives us the hope of heaven amidst our suffering, gave her strength when she was facing her own personal crisis.
The Light of Heaven’s Promise: Roma Downey & Jenn Gotzon Chandler – Jesus Calling Podcast Episode #91
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today, we visit with two women who have let their light shine as actresses and women of faith in Hollywood–Roma Downey and Jenn Gotzon Chandler. Roma Downey is back for a second visit to our podcast. She is an actress, producer and author. She came to fame as “Monica the Angel,” a beloved character in the long running hit show “Touched By An Angel.” She speaks with us today about her new book “Box of Butterflies.” She also shares about her close relationship with legendary Touched By An Angel Co-Star Della Reese, who she lost just last year, and the comforting truth that heaven is our ultimate home.
Roma Downey’s New Book: Box of Butterflies
I’ve had the privilege of being able to combine what I believe with what I do for many years beginning from my time on Touched by an Angel and then working with my own husband Mark in bringing the Bible to life with the series and the feature film, Son of God.
We certainly felt the challenge of bringing the Bible to screen and illustrating the amazing stories of our Bible and being able to bring the Gospel right into people’s living rooms and into their TV screens. And I know that many people have shared with us that they were then able to go back to their Bibles with full color in their imaginations… to reading scripture and imagining characters come to life.
I’m here today to share with you a little bit about my story and a little bit about my brand new book which is called Box of Butterflies.
Discovering The Unexpected Blessings; Even In Tragedy
So, many years ago, when I was just 10 years of age, my mother unexpectedly died. And as a child, it was an incredibly traumatic and heartbreaking event as you can imagine. It was as if the lights had been turned out and all the color removed. My father took me up to the city cemetery in Derry, my hometown. We brought up a bunch of pansies because those were her favorite flowers. She always said they looked like little butterflies. As I knelt down to place a bunch of pansies on her grave, a real butterfly flew up from behind the tombstone, and my father said, “Would you look at that wee butterfly there? That could be your mother’s spirit.” And when I tell you that that pierced the darkness and brought me so much comfort as a child… to think that I wasn’t alone and that I wasn’t having to deal with this loss by myself and that God was with me. It was such a great and comforting symbol.
Butterflies have appeared all through my life and not just in gardens, but sometimes as a piece of jewelry or somebody’s clothing or… Once I was I remembering being in New York City and just being so down and so disheartened, and a waitress took my order for a cup of coffee, and she had a tattoo of a butterfly on her wrist. I’ve just seen them, and I’ve appreciated their significance of just reminding me that in those times when I felt alone, that I’m not alone because I know that God has walked every step with me.
A few years ago, my husband Mark Burnett gave me for Valentine’s Day a beautiful gift. He knows that the butterfly is very significant to me, and he gave me a box… a white box. It was very lightweight. He told me to be gentle with it. We took it out into the garden, and I took the lid off the box, and out to this beautiful real butterflies. It was such a thoughtful gift of his.
Afterward, as I was back writing my book, I thought, “He gave me a box of butterflies…Box of Butterflies! That could be the title of my book.” And it became the working title. It just stuck. It just seemed like a beautiful phrase. If we think of our lives as the box and the butterflies become the blessings coming out of our lives because the subtitle is “Discovering the Unexpected Blessings All Around Us.” And in my experience, when we have eyes to see and ears to hear and the heart to feel, there are blessings all around us if we’re just quiet enough to pay attention.
“When we have eyes to see and ears to hear and the heart to feel, there are blessings all around us if we’re just quiet enough to pay attention.” – Roma Downey
When these little symbols show up as little reminders, it can be terribly reassuring. I think, particularly for anybody who’s lost a loved one and is feeling the hurt of that loss, something like that can be truly significant and meaningful. These are the unexpected blessings. We just have to keep our eyes open. We have to keep our hearts open. These were things that I wanted to explore in my book.
A Friendship On Both Sides of Heaven
Home, of course, is heaven. Home is the heart of God. Home is where we’re all headed… home to heaven. I’ve written the book in this way, hoping that it on any given day when you just need it a little bit of courage, that you could open to that chapter and that there might be words and then that will give you exactly what you need.
I can tell you there was no safer place on the planet to be than in the arms of Della Reese. I remember meeting her on the set of Touched By An Angel.
It was in 1994 on the very first day of filming. They told me that she had arrived, and she was in the hair and makeup trailer. I went over to pay respect and to introduce myself, and I went in and politely held out my hand to shake her hand. I said, “I’m Roma, and I’m going to be playing Monica.” She just laughed this real easy laugh, and she said, “I know who you are, baby girl.” She took me into her arms. She took me into her heart. She took me into her life, and loving her healed places in me that were motherless. I know God brought us together. She was such a blessing.
“I can tell you there was no safer place on the planet to be than in the arms Della Reese.” – Roma Downey
We really truly became dear friends. The relationship was incredibly meaningful to me, and so last year she knew I was writing this book, and I discussed chapters in the book with her. She was a great sounding board for me… for ideas and themes that I wanted to explore in the book. She was teaching. She was wise and loving. And when it came close to time to deliver the draft or the final manuscript to my publishers, I asked her if she would consider writing the foreword, and she said, “Baby, I thought you’d never ask.” And she wrote the most beautiful foreword. I don’t know that either one of us knew at that moment that she wouldn’t be alive to see the book published, and so it’s bittersweet, but I feel her with me. I know she’s around and certainly she’s alive within the pages of this book, not just in the foreword but in the stories that I tell because the relationship impacted my life in so many ways.
What a privilege it was for me to be able to be with her in the last few weeks of her life and to sit by her bedside and to pray with her and to read my Bible to her and to play gospel music to her and to just be around her with all of her family and friends. She was a big loss to all of us.
Della Reese: A Life Well Lived
The journey that she had and the courage that she had, she was such an inspiration to me and to many because she… It’s hard enough in show business as a woman, nevermind what it must have been as an African-American woman, especially at the time she came up through the ranks. You know, she was allowed to sing in Las Vegas, but she wasn’t even allowed to eat in a restaurant in Las Vegas.
I read about this, and I’ve seen this in movies, but she was like, “No, this was my life.” You know, this is not that long ago. And she sort of broke down some of those barriers and opened up some of those doors.
She had the first ever female, African-American talk show. She led the way for Miss Oprah, and Oprah always says that she did. She was an inspiring, great lady.
The Promise of Heaven
The promise of our faith and the promise that Jesus gave us by rising is that we are all going to be together again, and I take such hope and comfort in that. It’s a through line in my book, and I really do pray that the book can be an encouragement to the reader.
Before I begin to write, I imagined a woman who was hurting because she had lost some very dear to her, and I really wrote the book for her. And the fact that other people will enjoy the book and read the book is a blessing, but I know that out there, there’s a woman who needs to read this book because it’s going to remind her that we’re all going to be together again, and it’s okay. Yes, of course we mourn, and we’ll miss people that we love and we wish there were still were here…
I spent time each day for a few hours writing. Then I had to go and do my regular job of running Lightworkers, which is my inspirational content site.
I know from traveling around the country that there are many good things happening and that there are good people everywhere doing good and kind things… people doing things to help each other.
Using Jesus Calling To Discover His Word
When I’m traveling, to have Jesus Calling on my phone with just a push the button, it’s a beautiful thing. I am Jesus Calling fan—I have it at home by my bedside. I have it in my office on my table. I have had my iPhone in an app. So, if I’ve forgotten to bring the book with me… I happen to like the book. I happen to like the feel of the book in my hand.
Each morning, when I go in to discover the Word, it feels like it just for me that morning. It always seems to have and to hold exactly what it is that I need. It feels so personal, and so tender, and so loving, and the sweetness of the Lord and His mercy and His goodness and His kindness and how He speaks to the broken and hurt places inside of us. I have really valued it.
Narrator: We continue with our next guest, right after this message about a free offer from Jesus Calling.
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Narrator: Our next guest is award-winning actress Jenn Gotzon Chandler, who stars in the movie “My Daddy Is In Heaven.” Jenn’s goal as an actress is to impact and inspire audiences through the art of storytelling on film. In this film, Jenn relates to the brokenness of the main character, who is based on the real-life story of writer Rebecca Crownover, who tragically lost her husband and had to come to grips with raising her daughter alone. Jenn encourages us that God stands by us in our suffering and that the promise of heaven is real.
Jenn Gotzon Chandler: Bringing God’s Light Through Darkness
Jenn: My name is Jenn Gotzon Chandler. I’ve been in the arts for over 20 years, and the call that God’s put on my heart is to tell stories onscreen by bringing God’s light through darkness.
People go to movies to be entertained and to laugh, and the heart and the call God put on my heart is to be able to do these movies, but to also leave pearls of wisdom in your soul.
I grew up surrounded by cornfields in a broken family. My mom and my dad are married, but my dad was not a religious man. My mom loved Jesus because her daddy taught her about Jesus, and so we went to a Catholic church. I grew up in the Catholic faith and then experienced a real relationship with Jesus at a conference in Ohio. From that point on, I just have fallen in love. I now go to Hillsong in New York City with my husband.
“The call God put on my heart is to be able to do these movies, but to also leave pearls of wisdom in your soul.” – Jenn Gotzon Chandler
I was 15 years old, and I went to our small town movie theater with one screen, and we watched a movie that Dolly Parton starred in called Straight Talk. During that movie, I remember myself resonating to the character that I was seeing. And I wasn’t aware of it — when you’re young, you don’t really understand what’s really happening while you’re developing and trying to understand who you are — but I do remember what I experienced when I left that movie theater from that movie. There was a passion and electricity it felt like if someone doesn’t know how to relate to that, it literally felt like you drank maybe five cups of coffee and you were told to stand still. It was that type of a presence that came upon me. It was a calling that I identified, and that calling was to be able to follow Jesus and make movies that make people feel what I just felt watching that movie.
So that’s when I knew the calling that God put on my heart as an artist, and I studied the craft because my drama teacher told me I didn’t have enough talent to make it as an actress in high school, and I knew this was the calling God put on me. I just knew that I knew. It was after I was saved and knew Jesus personally. That’s why I felt like I understood this is my direction, so I needed to learn how to do the craft… to learn to know how to access my imagination, my emotions, my expressions, and understanding the journey of taking script — words written on a piece of paper — and then trying to bring that to life naturally and organically. Then, once you understand that, how do I allow the Holy Spirit’s light to shine through?
So I identified the calling that the Lord has wired in me are movies that truly inspire and impact the soul into the human condition and playing characters that I pray people can relate to.
Hope For a Difficult Season
The Lord has me in a season of being as transparent as I can be and not putting on a guard or a facade, so I’m going to share something that’s very honest. When I was filming the movie Doonby, it was my first big, big role. It was in 2010, and I was nervous as all heck. I went through an eye surgery, and I almost went blind. So I had a medical condition, and I was so nervous as an actress desiring to do her dream, but never had the opportunity to.
My mother-in-law–and the reason why the transparency is because she’s no longer my mother-in-law because her son and I divorced–and I have been struggling with the pain of that shame. But my mother-in-law, Leslie, she came upon Jesus Calling, and she sent me the book, and I was in this movie trailer that literally looks like an RV — that’s what trailers look like. And as I was sitting — it was the first time was ever in a trailer — and I was sitting there, every morning before we would shoot at 6:00 a.m. They would pick us up, and I would be so tired because I’m not a morning person, and I would get to the trailer, and the first thing I would do was get my food for the day and that was filling my soul with Jesus.
And because I was so nervous, it was hard to focus, but I was able to open up Jesus Calling, and I was able to go through the day, and it allowed my mind to focus on the day of that devotion. And it felt as if Jesus was speaking to my soul and was able to order my thoughts and help take the nervousness and the fears of not being able to do a good job and just be able to enter into His presence. To this day, this morning I woke up and read Jesus Calling. My journey, as a human, has grown and eight years later, the Lord has given me a sweet picture of Him. I think it’s because I use my imagination as an actor, and it’s like I imagine that Jesus is sitting right next to me, and He’s reading the words to me. So, it’s as if He’s speaking to me, but He’s right next to me as if I’m having a fellowship moment with a friend — like a heart to heart with a friend. That intimacy, when I’m able to just experience and imagine Jesus saying it to me and sitting next to me as if I’m holding coffee and He’s holding coffee — and if I read something that doesn’t connect or maybe my mind wanders or my mind thinks on something different or I get distracted, my mind will then go back to “Wait, Jesus is sitting right here.”
“It felt as if Jesus was speaking to my soul and was able to order my thoughts and help take the nervousness and the fears of not being able to do a good job and just be able to enter into His presence.” – Jenn Gotzon Chandler
Surviving the Heartbreak of Divorce
So when I went through the divorce — feeling so ashamed and so unloved and so alone and rejected and not beautiful and all the things that we strive to feel with how God wired us to be — my mom would take me by the hand. And I’m a grown woman. I think I was like 34 or 35, and she would take me by the hand, and she would take me outside with a cup of tea, and we would sit outside on our porch, and she would read me Jesus Calling because I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t strong enough to do it on my own, and my mom would read it to me, and it I felt like I was dead inside. But she would pray, and then she would read it again, and it would breathe life to me. And it was Jesus calling my heart back to Him… calling me into His safe space… calling me into healing.
“It was Jesus calling my heart back to Him… calling me into His safe space… calling me into healing.” – Jenn Gotzon Chandler
My ex-mother-in-law, Leslie, introduced me to Jesus Calling, and I introduced Jesus Calling to my mom — gave it to her as a gift for Christmas one year. And then God ministered His word through through that special journey. So, when we look in the hindsight of life, God brings special people into our journey so we could come close to Him.
“God brings special people into our journey so we could come close to Him.” – Jenn Gotzon Chandler
My Daddy Is In Heaven
I think that’s why My Daddy is in Heaven, this movie, is so special because it really speaks to that pain, that grief, that sorrow, and that hurt. The storyline really speaks to it. It becomes a gateway to basically see, “This is what I feel and how do I find breathe again? How do I really find hope again when I feel this way?” And in My Daddy is in Heaven, they use humor — because you don’t want to cry all the time; no one wants watch a movie and cry out time — But the movie uses humor to help communicate really how to experience hope. And Rebecca Crownover — who the story is about, it’s her story — was so courageous to be able to say, “This is honesty.”
She prayed. She believed. She had such a strong faith in Jesus and then came this accident. And she was by his bedside. She knew Jesus was going to heal him, and when Jesus didn’t, her heart became hard and turned from God. She said, “I can’t deal with this.” And she left her daughter with her dad, and she went out on weekends with her best friend from high school who lived a different life, a party life — a life of boys, bars, and drinks, and party, and scene, and just a complete opposite lifestyle than back on the farm. And she was there with her friend, and she entered into that space because it was an escape. Drinking almost like medicated that hardness because the grief is so deep. The anger is so deep… the bitterness and the hardness. And it was in that season that God came to her and met her and then finally brought her home, in essence, and said, “Breathe. I’m here.”
It was there God met her through the scriptures of life and brought her home where she realized that that her husband, Adam, is with Jesus. And I actually want to read the Scriptures today from Jesus Calling because it’s so relatable to this.
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live… even though he dies.” John 11:25
Reading Jesus Calling this morning in preparing to share with your audience about Jesus Calling, and I was like, “This is this is the scripture of people dealing with death because in Romans 8, God says His Spirit is the Spirit that raises Jesus from the dead.” It’s His Spirit. And that same Spirit, God’s Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, it’s that same Spirit that He gives our mortal bodies and our physical bodies. So if you look at your body and you shake your arm, that’s the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead that’s in us. He gave us that Spirit, and so when our spirit dies, here in John 11:25, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live… even though he dies.” So when we die, we live with Jesus in Heaven, and that’s a celebration.
The Light and the Truth of Scripture
With the movie My Daddy is in Heaven, I get so excited about this particular story because I think it’s so relatable. What Rebecca Crownover went through… because this movie is based on her real life story of healing from when her husband who she loved so dearly died tragically, and she had to explain to her daughter “Where did Daddy go?” and her trying to understand, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
She was able to take the lie that she’ll never see her husband again, and she was able to bring it to the light and that truth of Scripture knowing that he is with Jesus, and that is the faith that we are able to celebrate that Jesus provides us. She took that lie and brought it to the light and had peace and hope and joy, knowing soon she is going to be with her husband who she loved so much in Heaven. She was then able to tell her daughter, her five year old daughter — in fact, I’m not sure how old she was at the time. She was a little girl, and she wrote a story book called My Daddy is in Heaven with Jesus. And she wrote a story book with illustrations and pictures to help tell her daughter where Daddy is. Daddy is in heaven with Jesus and this is something to celebrate. Then the exciting moment in this story is that God brings all things new which is why I bring this up because it’s so, kind of , full-circle special that Rebecca Crownover and I have spoken about.
“She took that lie and brought it to the light and had peace and hope and joy, knowing soon she is going to be with her husband who she loved so much in Heaven.” – Jenn Gotzon Chandler
Rebecca Crownover explained why, at the moment when Nick appears on screen, which comes towards the end of the movie, it’s this officer that basically saves “Becca” who comes into this prayer circle. He comes to save “Becca” and bring her home… that’s my husband. That actor is my husband Jim E. Chandler, and Rebecca Crownover said what’s so special and magical is because God took me from tragedy and brought me to triumph and brought Jim into my life. God brought Jim into my life to help walk alongside my wounds and together, we’re healing because he has his own wounds.
Out of Tragedy Into a New Beginning
No human is perfect. We come together with our wounds, and we’re growing. And with Rebecca, that’s the same journey. God brought her out of that tragedy into the triumph and has brought a new hope, a new man, a new life–a new beginning. And God wants new beginnings for us. He does.
“God wants new beginnings for us.” – Jenn Gotzon Chandler
But sometimes that season of darkness feels like it goes on forever. It doesn’t need to. You don’t need to live in that darkness anymore. Right now, you can make a choice right now, today, to say, “I am not living in that darkness. I’m going to believe that Jesus is real. He’s here with me. He goes before me and behind me. He has created me fearfully and wonderfully made in His image, and He will never leave me or forsake me. And He is my light that is a lamp unto my footpath. He has commanded me to be strong and courageous, and therefore, He will guide my path, and He has given me a hope and purpose.” Lift your eyes to a new day–like when Peter got out of the boat looking at Jesus, standing on water, he walked to Jesus on water until he looked at his circumstances. Take your eyes off your circumstance and look to Jesus. Jesus’ hand is holding you. He’s calling you to Him, and that’s why Jesus Calling, this devotion, s so powerful because it calls deep to deep.
“Take your eyes off your circumstance and look to Jesus. Jesus’ hand is holding you. He’s calling you to Him.” – Jenn Gotzon Chandler
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling podcast, we talk with Marshawn Evans, the author of Believe Bigger. Marshawn is an entrepreneur, a Miss America finalist, and has been a competitor on the Apprentice. She shares about the “split rock” moment in her life when she learned, just days before her wedding, that her fiancé was cheating on her and how God showed up during her heartbreak.
Marshawn: Maybe the only way God could get that new life — because that’s what water symbolizes — maybe the only way He could get that new life out was to take you to a desert place where you’re not relying upon man-made reservoirs, not relationships, not the success mountains that I write about in Believe Bigger, not the people that usually are the ones that usually give you the word from God. Because when you’re in a desert, you do not have anything else to rely upon but the Hand and the nourishment and the Voice and the leading of God.
CALL TO ACTION:
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