Amy Kavelaris: You can totally see life through art through the way that light’s hitting things. I just think it’s neat how God intertwines all of that, because He is the ultimate artist. It’s just so cool.
Meeting the Healer of Broken People: Amy Kavelaris & Austin French – Episode #185
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today’s guests share how God met them in their broken places and, through spending time in Him, they began to see healing: visual artist and children’s book author Amy Kavelaris, and contemporary Christian music artist Austin French.
If you walk into a Target store or small boutique, chances are you may see something painted by Amy Kavelaris. Amy shares how she learned to express herself through art from an early age, how she faced a season of unexpected loneliness and depression, and about the visual art she does today—often inspired by the wonder-filled worldview of her three little girls.
Amy Kavelaris: I’m Amy Kavelaris, I’m a full-time fine artist and children’s book author and illustrator for HarperCollins Christian Publishing. Now, as our family is growing, I get to paint from home with my babies on my lap, and sell my work worldwide in some really wonderful stores like Anthropologie, Target, some smaller boutiques, et cetera.
I laugh now because years ago, my family would say that in my mind, I kind of lived in like this movie world, this dream, you know? I was a good student, but I was always daydreaming. And now I get to create those daydreams for a living, so it’s really fun for me.
I actually have a little bit of both my parents in me. My father was very entrepreneurial. My mother was an art teacher for thirty years. So I guess I have a little piece of each of them, just from watching them work, and their example in how they were treating others. They had this infectious positivity and love for the Lord, all of these things were just really awesome learning tools for me growing up, and also for the work that I do today.
[From the time I was old enough] to hold a pencil, I remember taking so much joy—and I would just study, I would just look at light and the way that it hits things, and was always thinking in my mind, How would I draw this? You know, at a very young age, I loved studying the human face and expression and watching my mother create beautiful artwork in all different mediums. She could do clay. She could do paintings. She could draw. She was exceptional. And watching her and the joy and the glow that she had as she was creating, it was infectious to me.
I can recall, vividly, the very day, the very place I was when I first heard about Jesus at four years old. And it’s funny, I just had this innate feeling that God existed and that I just wanted to follow Him with my life. And it’s so cool, with all the time that I spent out in nature and sketching, I just had such a connection to the Lord, even as a small child. And now, I get to use those same tools every day in my work. So it’s just really special.
“I just had this innate feeling that God existed and that I just wanted to follow Him with my life.” – Amy Kavelaris
It’s funny. As a college-aged girl, I always felt like [I had] kind of a boring testimony. I grew up in a Christian home. My parents were great, you know, like, “How is that going to influence anyone?” But now as a mother, I’m like, Gosh, I’m so thankful for parents that guided me at such a young age towards the truth. It’s just such a blessing, truly.
Facing a Season of Loneliness
So halfway through college, I transferred from an exceptionally large Division I school, like, one of the biggest ones in the country, to another very large, division one school.
And I found myself at a complete loss of sense of identity and purpose from who I was before. I was always very social and involved, and I think I probably found a lot of my identity in what other people thought of me or whatever. [I] transferred to a new place, where kids weren’t all new. They had all been freshmen and had gone through freshman and sophomore year together, so everybody had a sense of community, and I found myself, all the sudden, just so overwhelmed, diving into this new school. And I was like, Who am I anymore? It was just really overwhelming.
But my best friend Nicole—who I grew up with—she was there at the same school that I transferred to. She and I we would do prayer together. She’s such a wonderful friend. And she was like, “Let’s go to this passion conference in Georgia.” So we went, and it was wonderful. We heard these wonderful speakers, and I found the book Jesus Calling there.
I was so captivated by the concept of the writer, Sarah Young, sharing her perspective on how God spoke to her heart. Obviously, she was in a very, very different season as a missionary. But I love how she writes it in a way that is like totally sola scriptura, all deeply rooted in biblical truth, from her perspective of how she would hear God speaking to her heart, I just thought that was such a beautiful concept. I had never seen that done before. She was going through so many of the same heartaches and trials as I was, even though we were in such different seasons of our lives. And I just gobbled up every last word, because I thought, Gosh, this can be influential to anyone because it sees you right where you’re at. I just couldn’t wait for the next day to read my next devotion. It was so cool.
I just saw this complete change in my overall effect and the way I was seeing everyday life. I did see a therapist then, and she’s still in my life. I love her so much. Once I got out of that pit of depression, I just couldn’t stop sharing about the Jesus Calling book with my friends and family. In fact, my almost-ninety-year-old grandmother, who I would consider being just such an inspiration in my faith journey, she reads it every single day, and I gave it to her like a decade ago. And she still reads it every day, she starts fresh every year. She’s just so sweet, and I love that. She already has all this wisdom, and something that I was able to share with her, this precious book of Jesus Calling, she actually is using it in her everyday devotions. I just think that’s really precious.
Sharing the Sparkle of God’s Creation
There’s so many interesting stories you can tell just by looking at the way that light hits something. I remember our pastor did a sermon two weeks ago, where he would stand in the light when he was talking about certain parts of scripture, and then he’d stand in the dark and have such a great visual. I think it’s God’s so intentional with His use of light biblically, too.
We need to raise our children with a real understanding of the world, not [pretending this is a] dreamy, whimsical world all the time with them, because there’s hard stuff that’s ahead. But on the other hand, I think it’s so important that we celebrate God’s creation. It’s fun to add a little whimsy and sparkle into the every day because our kids see the every day as wonderful and extraordinary. And the different ideas that they have and the way that they approach life is so special. It’s so fun to bring that to not only kids, but also adults, and to kind of remind them, like, God’s creation is really quite whimsical and wonderful. We get so caught up in the every day that we forget to look up at that beautiful tree or that beautiful sunset.
”I think it’s so important that we celebrate God’s creation. It’s fun to add a little whimsy and sparkle into the everyday, because our kids see the everyday as wonderful and extraordinary.” – Amy Kavelaris
It’s been fun and having my girls around, because they get to paint with me during the day, and they get to be in the studio when I’m working and stuff. But I get so much more from watching [my girls] and seeing how they react to [the world]. It’s just this beautiful relationship that we have, where it 100 percent inspires what I do every day. It’s just really sweet.
”I get so much more from watching [my girls] and seeing how they react to [the world]. It’s just this beautiful relationship that we have, where it 100 percent inspires what I do every day.” – Amy Kavelaris
And I want to be totally honest: I do have help a couple of days a week. I think a lot of moms would be like, “How do you not lose your mind having your baby there with you painting?” And there some days I do totally lose my mind. That’s the truth. But I do really want them [there] because my mom was wonderful at engaging me with her work, I want them to experience it. So I do have a couple of easels set up in my studio so that the girls can come in and they can create a mess and I don’t have to worry about it. They have their own set of supplies. I couldn’t have written a more special situation for us to have. I’m so thankful for it.
A Silly, Soothing Bedtime Book
My book is called Good Night, My Darling Dear. I had countless ideas about where I saw this storyline going, but I kept having this tugging on my heart to make it an incredibly soothing, almost lullaby-esque style book. I guess I just felt very compelled, with so much darkness in this world. It seems like anxiety is on the rise, even in our sweet little small kiddos. I wanted to write them the most just dreamy, calming, encouraging book to send them off to dreamland. It’s got all these little various, whimsical animals, and the narrator is the voice of a parent or a loved one or a caregiver that’s sharing all the hopes that they have for them, and speaking blessings over them as they go to bed.
The color palette is very soothing, and it’s kind of silly. Some of the critters have some cute, sweet little smiles on their face, which is a little different than what I traditionally do in my paintings that we sell online and through different retailers. But we thought that it would be kind of fun as a nighttime book, to sort of take whatever struggle they were going through during the day and set it aside and interact with these sweet little critters. I’m so excited for this to get this into the hands of the little ones and parents.
Putting on a Cloak of Light
We have been so busy, and so many things have been coming into our life, and the more your children grow, the more [you get] full with things that they have going on. For me in particular, I just don’t want to wish away these childhood years. I treasure them. I just have so much joy, and I know every season is going to be wonderful, but right now it’s just so special with them being young. Our business keeps growing, so that gets tricky, and I have to be intentional with getting up early in the morning and doing my devotions and spending time in prayer constantly throughout the day.
But in fact, these last few weeks in particular, there have been several times where I’ve suddenly felt very overwhelmed. For whatever reason, that old Gaelic hymn, “Be Thou My Vision,” I kept playing that in my mind and I kept thinking, Gosh, why does this song keep coming into my head? I need to print that off. And I printed it off, and it’s all around my studio, all around my house, so that every time I get frustrated or feeling overwhelmed, I have that right in front of my face, so every time I look up, I can be reminded [to not] be overwhelmed. God’s got this. The only reason you’re doing this is because God’s provided this opportunity for you. I can read those lyrics and sing that song in my heart, and all of a sudden like, Ahh, I feel like this weight is lifted, and I feel like, Okay, we can do this. This is all about Him. He’s the only reason I’m doing any of this.
”This is all about Him. He’s the only reason I’m doing any of this.” – Amy Kavelaris
So that would be one thing, and then also I love having the Jesus Calling app on my phone because Lord knows I look at that phone a lot during the day, and it’s right there when I open my phone in the morning. It’s like the perfect way to start the day. I can open it right up and there it is. It’s just so good.
It’s actually great to have the app, but I love having the book, because I can write stuff in the margin that’s so good to use, and I can go back to a different season of life and see what I wrote. So I love having the book and the app, they’re both really helpful.
[This is the passage from] Jesus Calling, June 9th.
Seek to live in My Love, which covers a multitude of sins: both yours and others’. Wear My Love like a cloak of Light, covering you from head to toe. Have no fear, for perfect Love decimates fear. Look at other people through lenses of Love; see them from My perspective. This is how you walk in the Light, and it pleases Me. I want My body of believers to be radiant with the Light of My Presence. How I grieve when pockets of darkness increasingly dim the Love-Light. Return to Me, your First Love! Gaze at Me in the splendor of holiness, and My Love will once again envelop you in Light.
Oh, my gosh. Well, first, I want to paint that concept of wearing God’s love like a cloak. I mean, how gorgeous is that? What a great visual, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed, and you can just picture this love cloak that is just radiant for Jesus.
I think our culture seems to celebrate looking inward for our own needs and our own truth, when I find that the only joy and freedom is when we gaze upon His light and His truth. It’s then that we find that true, indescribable joy, and stop chasing after what the world tells us we need. Speaking of light and light in art and how that all comes together, I just feel like there’s such a visual every morning when we wake up—that light visual—and just seeing God in the light, in the everyday moments. I just feel like that speaks right to my heart. I love this passage.
“I find that the only joy and freedom is when we gaze upon His light and His truth. It’s then that we find that true, indescribable joy, and stop chasing after what the world tells us we need.” – Amy Kavelaris
Stay tuned for our interview with musician Austin French after a brief message about a beautiful new Jesus Calling book that’s a perfect way to celebrate the Easter holiday.
The Easter season is filled with joy and hope. Now, there’s a new way to focus on the holiday with the new book, Jesus Calling® for Easter. With 50 Jesus Calling devotions selected just for the Lent and Easter season, Jesus Calling for Easter includes Scripture verses alongside breathtaking imagery and exquisite design. Jesus Calling for Easter makes a stunning gift for those who love Jesus Calling and would like a new way to observe the Easter season. To learn more about this beautiful new edition of Jesus Calling, please visit jesuscalling.com/books.
Narrator: Rising contemporary Christian music artist Austin French would never have thought that he would be competing on reality singing competitions like ABC’s “Rising Star” and NBC’s “The Voice,” much less serving as a worship leader at a church. Austin’s growing up years at home were tough—yet his family was expected to keep up appearances at church, despite the abusive situation in their home. Austin opens up about the hurt he experienced in those years and how he almost walked away from his faith…and what (and who) eventually brought healing.
Austin French: My name’s Austin French, I’m a contemporary Christian artist, and I’m from Georgia originally, and I live in Nashville, Tennessee now with my wife and two little boys.
Facing Rejection from the Church
Early on in my life, I just didn’t want to be a Christian. I didn’t want to go to church. But our family growing up was the family that everyone looked at, saying “Oh, they have their life together, everything looks perfect.” But on the inside, as soon as we got into the car, or got home, it just felt like World War III at our house.
It was an abusive situation. It was a dangerous situation. It was awful. But we’d put this mask on for church. And as an eight-year-old kid, I remember writing down in a journal that I didn’t want to be a Christian. I didn’t understand why we had to change who we were at church and why we couldn’t be who we were all the time. As an eight-year-old kid, I wrote down: I never want to be a Christian.
“I didn’t understand why we had to change who we were at church and why we couldn’t be who we were all the time. As an eight-year-old kid, I wrote down: I never want to be a Christian.” – Austin French
Then my parents got a divorce when I was eight, and it was a really big thing in a small town in Georgia. We were [part of] the biggest church in the area, and their worship pastor got a divorce because of a very terrible home life and a lot of different things that went in that. I remember the pastor coming to our house and sitting down with my two sisters and I, and my mom, saying, “Hey, we love you, we’re hurting for you, but please never come back.”
I decided at that point that, Well, now my church is embarrassed of me, I must have something wrong with me that the church can’t handle. I kind of decided, at that moment in my life, that I was just done with the church forever.
So after my parents got a divorce, my dad and I had a terrible relationship. I held a lot of bitterness, and I would look at my friends playing catch in the yard with their dads, and I didn’t have that anymore. I just remember feeling that, even as a young kid, My life would never be the same. I’ll never have a real dad in my life.
And that’s just something I kind of came to grips with. As a young kid, it kind of affected me, it maybe caused me to grow up a little bit faster, too. Until I was in eighth grade, I kind of just played the part of the Christian for a long time. I knew the answers about Jesus, I just never met the guy.
And then my mom got a church job as a worship leader, and it wasn’t until later on, about eighth grade, when I decided I wanted to play the guitar. It really was through this process of wanting to play guitar, my mom shipped me off to this music camp, and a guy got up at the very end of the night and talked about hypocrisy. [It was] the very first time I’d ever heard about it. He said, “There’s a lot of people that follow Jesus with their lips, but they never follow Him with their life. That’s not what being a Christian is. It’s called hypocrisy.” And he said, “Don’t judge Jesus on the people that He came to save.” He said, “Broken people, hurt, broken people.” And at that moment, I realized that I had been hurt by broken people, not Jesus. Jesus is what He told me He was—He was the healer of broken people.
“I realized that I had been hurt by broken people, not Jesus. Jesus is what He told me He was—He was the healer of broken people.” – Austin French
The Road to Hope and Healing
I needed healing. I was hurting. I had unforgiveness in my heart, scars that I just needed someone to heal and step in. That night, I met Jesus, and everything changed. Like my relationship with my dad, it changed a lot throughout the years after I got saved and realized that forgiveness needed to be a part of the process. But because of the relationship I had with him and I, that was my basis on who God was as a Father, right? But God is His own thing. God is a perfect father, an example. So that relationship that [my father] had with Jesus and that He wants with us, that redefines the relationship. So, yeah, I just think a lot of people have been scarred by the relationships around them.
I needed to forgive my dad. At that point, our relationship was super rocky, [we were] barely talking. I remember calling him up after I got saved and just saying, “Dad, God forgave me tonight. God forgave my life. He gave me a hope. He gave me something I don’t deserve. And I think you deserve it, too.” And that was really hard. I wish I could say I let all that bitterness go in an instant, but it was a process for me. It took years to really let go of everything I had seen and experienced through the years. But I was trying. I was trying to have conversations with my dad, spend time with him. My dad is an amazing guy now, God got a hold of his life. It’s something that only God could do.
A Crisis Brings Perspective
My dad was in a serious car accident. And at this point, right before this accident, we had kind of gotten to the point where my dad finally asked for forgiveness. He kind of said, “Okay, Austin, will you forgive me? I’m sorry I wasn’t the man I needed to be.”
And I said, “Okay, Dad, I forgive you.” And our relationship grew more and more.
Then I remember getting a phone call about three in the morning, saying that my dad had been in a serious car accident and that he may not make it. I just remember that it was the very first time I went to God and said, “Why God? Why would you take my dad? The dad I lost as a kid, I feel like I’m just getting him back and you’re gonna take him from me?”
I went to go see my dad, and at that point, he was still awake. He could still see me. And I was just praying for my dad. I remember at one point in my life, as an eight-year-old kid, wishing my dad was not around because I was so afraid of him. And then at this moment, [I was] seeing my dad on his hospital bed and praying, God, please, just keep him here. I don’t want to lose him.
Those feelings that I had for my dad in that moment, I never thought I’d have them. It was just proof that God does heal hearts. He didn’t wake up totally healed. But despite all the doctors’ advice and things that they said were going to happen, he did wake up and he was alive and breathing.
My dad is permanently blind for the rest of his life now, but my dad’s alive. My dad’s breathing, and he’s with us today. He is a huge fan of my music, and he’s a fan of me. Our relationship is better than ever, and I’m grateful [that even though] God may have not given my dad’s sight back, He gave him his life back. That’s something to be grateful for.
Staying Connected in a Busy World
[My wife and I], our story is a little crazy. I was on a TV show, and I got married in the middle of the show. I’m touring a lot. It means my music is out and people are interested in it. But if I’m being honest, anytime the Lord is doing something, the enemy’s gonna come and attack it. Just last night, me and my wife were sitting down and talking, and we feel like my career is on this mountaintop. But our family honestly just feels like we’re kind of walking through this valley of, “How do we juggle this? How do we stay connected? How do we continue to grow together?”
I know this is where God has called me, and where He has us [is where He wants us], He’s made that very evident, even to my wife. A lot of times, it’s kind of that, Why, God? moment again.Is it bad for us to ask the question, “Why God, is this so hard?”
We have to continue to lean on the Lord daily to be everything that we need because we’re very needy people, all of us. We need people. We need a God who’s with us and working with us.
“We’re very needy people, all of us. We need people. We need a God who’s with us and working with us.” – Austin French
The way that we stay connected on the road is, one, I take a lot of early flights home. I drive through the night a lot of times to get home as much as I can to be here. But FaceTime is a big thing. And also, trying to lead my family spiritually while I’m on the road is a big thing. I like doing devotions together and reading the Bible through FaceTime together, praying together, whether I’m here or I’m in another state, you know, we try to stay connected as much as possible.
My family has been a fan of Jesus Calling for a long time, I got mine for a high school graduation gift. [That helped navigate] a moment for me, really, the first year at college, out of high school. There were a lot of crazy things happening in my life. I know I shared a lot of them already. It helped me navigate a season of not knowing what I was going to do with my life, where I was at, and in a season where I just felt like, Okay, what? Where do you want me? What am I doing? Where am I going? What is my purpose? And that’s honestly where Jesus Calling came into my life, reading that here and there. God used it to speak into my life.
And actually, it was actually through a Jesus Calling devotional that I realized that I needed to go into full-time ministry. I just remember God specifically speaking to that, that I needed to pour myself out for the church. After reading Jesus Calling through that season of my life, I decided I would go into full-time ministry, and that’s a big reason why I’m doing what I do today.
“We’re Not Defined By Our Scars—We’re Defined By His.”
I think the only way to find a relationship with Jesus and truly find freedom in Jesus is to understand that brokenness is a part of this story. No matter how perfect your life has seemed, or how messed up it’s been, or how many scars you have, Jesus wants all of it. He died for all of it. I think somewhere along the way, we as Christians, or maybe even the Christian culture or the church culture, it’s this whole thing of turning our life into these perfect things or this idea that we have to be perfect people following Jesus. That’s not why Jesus came. He came because He knew our need for Him.
”I think the only way to find a relationship with Jesus and truly find freedom in Jesus is to understand that brokenness is a part of this story.” – Austin French
So I would encourage anyone who’s listening to this podcast, or anyone who is trying to figure out their own relationship with Jesus through the scars that they’ve had, I want you to know that those scars are literally the example that you need to need Jesus in your life. He’s not the one who’s caused the scars. Maybe the people around you have. And I don’t want you to think that those scars define you. Scripture tells us Jesus was scarred for us, and He was persecuted for us. He was beaten and bruised for us. He wore a crown of thorns for us, secured a cross for us. And now we’re not defined by our scars or the scars that you’re walking through right now— we’re defined by His.
“We’re not defined by our scars or the scars that you’re walking through right now— we’re defined by His. – Austin French
If you’re having trouble relating to Jesus because you think He’s this perfect thing, or this perfect religion, that’s not what Jesus is. It’s a relationship with someone who was scarred for you so that you can be reconciled with Him.
Narrator: You can find out about Austin’s music at his website by visiting AustinFrenchMusic.com.
If you’d like to hear more stories about God heals our hearts, check out our interview with MercyMe’s Bart Millard.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak with Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons. Rev Run was the frontman of the legendary hip-hop group RUN DMC, who sold tens of millions of records around the world and were recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But even at the height of his fame, Rev Run admits he wasn’t happy.
Rev. Run: Being Run DMC, it was a big thing and it was all over televisions and all over the charts. It was a big thing. But, you know, there’s this void that success and money can’t fill. So my top—my very top—became my bottom, because you keep looking for something to fill this, I want to be happy. I want to be happier. I want to be the happiest. And you think that making hit records or money or cars or fame or people saying, “Oh, you’re the greatest,” people praising you for making your music would do it. But when you start praising God, that’s when you get happy. That’s what happened for me.
Narrator: Do you love hearing these stories of faith weekly from people like you whose lives have been changed by a closer walk with God? Then be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling: Stories of Faith Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, leave us a review so that we can reach others with these inspirational stories. And, you can also see these interviews on video as part of our original web series with a new interview premiering every other Sunday on Facebook Live. Find previously broadcasted interviews on our Youtube channel, on IGTV, or on jesuscalling.com/media/video.