The Awards Banquet

…It’s awards night at the ICVM Annual Conference, and I’m wearing a new jacket. A nice blue one, brighter than my old navy blazer, and I’ve got a light blue t-shirt underneath. It’s awards night, as I said, and we have three different projects that have been nominated. I may get a chance to graciously accept something, should we win, and I’m happy to do so on behalf of the team that works with such skill and diligence on our films.

Lynn Barrington, a producer, catches me on the way into the banquet and asks if I might sit at her table for the dinner. Of course, I accept. Lynn is an emerging friend and there is much to learn from a person like her. What she has done is set me at the table next to her friend Gary Chapman. Gary is there to sing a song in memorial for a dear friend of ICVM killed in a recent car accident.

"But what lingers for me about that awards banquet is not the nice crystal trophies sitting in our lobby, nor even the chance to meet one of my musical idols; what lingers is a father who loves his little girl so much he can’t wait to tell a stranger all about her."

If you don’t know the name Gary Chapman, here’s how I knew him. He married Amy Grant in the early 80’s, and therefore, none of the rest of us did. So, of course, we all hated him. But Gary was always funny and self-effusive and always mega-talented. A great songwriter and guitar player, he wrote Amy Grant’s first hit single, “My Father’s Eyes.” But that portion of Gary’s life didn’t have a happy ending. Substance issues, along with I have no idea what else, led to a divorce. Divorcing Amy Grant when she was at the very height of her fame and “music ministry” wasn’t going to be a quiet thing.

So fast forward several decades.  Last year at this same conference, Gary was scheduled to be our worship leader for three successive mornings. But on the first morning, at precisely 8:25 AM, five minutes before the worship time, Jared Geesey, ICVM President, catches me in the hallway and asks if I’d brought a guitar.

“Yes, it’s right here at my booth,” I answer.

“Gary’s daughter has had an episode and he’s not going to be able to be here,” he says. “Is there any chance…” “I’ve got it.” I reply.

I grabbed my guitar, walked into the hall, plugged it in, and we had a wonderful time of singing and worship. The bizarre thing was that I had awoken that morning with a strange premonition. “What would I sing if I had to lead worship today?” I thought to myself. And at 6:00 in the morning in my hotel room – I’d practiced a little set. So, when Jared Geesey asked me, I was prepared.

So now, a year later, I’m sitting next to Gary Chapman at dinner. I set down my salad fork and asked him a question. “How’s your daughter?”

I had no idea the depth of that question. Two weeks prior, Gary’s youngest daughter, Eva Rose, had undergone brain surgery to remove a tumor in her 6-year-old brain. Gary showed me the photo of the horseshoe shaped zipper of stitches on her little head. The good news was that the surgery was a great success. Gary told me about the great faith and skill of the surgeon, undoubtedly the best man in the world for the job. He told me how his daughter’s vocabulary had expanded exponentially in only the past couple of weeks. He told me that if she were at the banquet tonight, she would undoubtedly find a way to hug every single person in the room.

Later that night, Gary sang his song in memorial, and it was poignant and respectful of our fallen friend. And later in that course of the evening, our team won five awards – two golds, two silvers, and a bronze. I got to show off my new blue jacket twice from the podium with gracious acceptance speeches.

But what lingers for me about that awards banquet is not the nice crystal trophies sitting in our lobby, nor even the chance to meet one of my musical idols; what lingers is a father who loves his little girl so much he can’t wait to tell a stranger all about her.

A fun part of being a filmmaker is when people appreciate your work. It is undeniably rewarding, humbling, and a little bit empowering when you win nice awards. But along the way, when you meet people like Lynn Barrington, who introduce you to people like Gary Chapman, who tell you about amazing little girls like Eva Rose – then it’s more than just fun. It’s blessed.