A little over one month ago I boarded a plane for what was a secret dream of mine. I had only spoken it out loud a few months earlier:
“I’d like to be in a movie or on a TV show I enjoy.”
It was actually #7 on a list of 21 dreams I held in my heart with God, and I decided to finally share it with my family, including my mom and a beloved teen girl who may as well be kin. We were on our way home last Fall break leaving my hometown and the Destin, FL coastline. It was suppose to just be car talk, something to help us get to know one another better and such. But unbeknownst to them, and even myself, it was actually my private act of war.
A growing sense of worthlessness had been creeping up in my soul for several weeks. I had been carrying a heavy weight of rejection for months that would only prove to get heavier with more (at least perceived) rejection in the months ahead. I was doing my best to fight it with truth, but I wasn’t doing very well. This small act of dreaming with God felt like a holy resistance to the creep. I couldn’t rid myself of the heaviness but I could stir up my tiny flicker of faith for more yet to come. I just didn’t realize what “more” would mean!
Even as I said the words out loud in the car I did so with a laugh. I mean, I’m a 43-year old homemaker (I think we can bring this title back with some honor now, we appreciate how hard it is to hold a home and family together in our world today, don’t we? If not, let’s.) Sure, I’ve written some books and sometimes I talk to women in a gathering, but I’m not sharing macaroni and cheese with agents in Hollywood over here. My life is simple. Beautifully so, but simple.
So just imagine my shock when just one month later this happened.
I was sitting on my couch folding laundry, still weepy after re-watching an episode from The Chosen (Season 1), and did what you do when you cannot get enough of a show. I watched every single interview and read every single word related to the film, including everything on the free app. I even read the “boilerplate legalese” because to a lawyer even that can be interesting. That’s when I read fine print (on the app) about a unique and very limited opportunity to be considered as an extra in the filming of the historic scene the “Sermon on the Mount”! It involved a donation with some hoops to clear, and seemed like the longest long shot ever, but with my husband’s blessing we jumped the hoops and then waited to find out the result.
And waited. And waited. And waited. But then…
Right before Christmas I received an email with the good news that I was “chosen to be in The Chosen!” It was surreal, and yet I had a hard time getting too excited.
The only things (but big things) that stood between me and living out my 7th dream with God were 2 strategic COVID tests. One before flying to Texas, and a second one the morning of the filming, before I could board a bus onto the set. I wrote extensively about what God taught me in this season of “testing” (literally). I’m saving it for another day, or maybe just for women I see face-to-face, but I’ll say this much — God wants us free from lies we are believing about Him and ourselves. Even more than we want this freedom really. If we ask Him to, He will faithfully reveal lies to us and will help us dismantle them and rebuild new with life-changing truth. It won’t be easy, we’ll need to want Him to do this work in us, we’ll need to surrender to the discomfort (at first) of learning new ways of seeing and living, but it’s worth everything.
Finally, after a couple months of communications coordinating costuming and passing both COVID tests it was official: I was cleared to board a bus filled with other “extras” in central Texas destined for movie-making history!
To say I was thrilled was an understatement. My husband and I had flown down 2 days earlier (1) to be sure we didn’t miss this amazing day due to flight delays, and (2) to spend a little time at Magnolia in Waco.
The extra time in Texas proved to be providential, too. Unbeknownst to us Texas was on the brink of a major winter storm that would end up breaking all kinds of records. Already the temps were starting to drop, and by the day of filming they were calling for terrible weather, icy conditions and even snow. My light linen 1st century clothing with a thin layer underneath wasn’t going to cut it – I needed “gear” to endure the wind chill we were going to experience outside filming for 10-12 hours!
Jonathan found a Cabela’s in Texas like a kid finds a toy in a toy box. With joy and ease he sold me on a neck gaiter, a thicker mask, a winter hat, heavy duty thermal underwear, hot hand warmers to stuff in my new gloves and new knee-length wool socks that I squished into new slip-on sneakers (so I could leave my costume sandals in my 1st century straw bag as long as possible). Getting dressed for the day was a process and the other logistical puzzle was trying to figure out how I’d move about staying warm all day and still “store” all my gear when it was time to film the scenes.
Even with all the logistics, not once was I anything less than overwhelmed with joy and amazement that I got to work through these unique challenges. I’d soon find this was a recurring theme with everyone on set.
The Day of Filming
After arriving on set we were able to get our bearings and settle in for the long day of wait, film, wait, film, wait, wait, film, film, film. But even with the constant bitter temperatures and sitting around outside, I never heard the first complaint. The VidAngel team had prepared a stage and special entertainment as a blessing while we waited. We didn’t mind sitting on the ground, the icy wind suctioning our nostrils together, the cold coffee and rows of port-a-johns. We were happily distracted by recorded interviews with the actors telling us new back stories, and with live performances by artists like Phil Wickham, Kari Jobe, Michael Jr., and others.
But another happy distraction and joy for the day was getting to meet one another!
People were “chosen” from around the world. I heard of some flying in from Ukraine and Germany. I met a man from North Carolina, a woman from Iowa, another from Illinois, a woman from Utah, one from Colorado. I never met another person from Tennessee, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. We shared stories, hot hand warmers, body heat, and in all of the conversations I found a theme: we have hope in Jesus coming back soon.
It was almost eerie actually, but in the best way. It affirmed something I had been sensing myself about the times we are in, but thought it was maybe just me.
Every exchange quickly, and without even willing it to, moved to what we see God doing in our lives and communities, and with every conversation I heard this sense of urgency. Not with fear, there was no distress, no paranoia or anything, just a laser focus on the horizon. A resolve to run the race marked out ahead with intention, a people all in, paying attention to the things that really matter.
In fact, after it was all finished and I was later asked for the first time what I thought about it all, this was the best real summary I could form:
The Saints are ready.
I think this is in part why we are seeing such an astonishing viewer response – millions and millions around the world with at least one viewing a day in every nation on the planet thanks to its unique media platform.
God is moving to prepare His Church for the ultimate next season.
And in that field in central Texas it was a preparation for that next season we could feel in the air!
But Back to Filming…
After some time of “suffering in the wait” (6 hours) our wait was over. It was actually time to go film all together. We were so excited! And, a little apprehensive. We shed our “gear” and the arctic chill felt shocking. We walked together through the fields to get to where we would “camp” next for several hours and I couldn’t help but think of Israel and their constant wandering. Thankfully, there was no whining or complaining in this camp, everyone around me was prepared to do whatever was necessary and were happy to “suffer” for the sake of the cause.
And a little suffering would indeed be endured, for the temperatures seemed to be getting colder, not warmer. The threat of thunderstorms right at the time of filming turned to snow warnings. We heard of people being escorted off set for signs of hypothermia. The cold was real! One of the men near me kept a running update on the wind chill temperature: feels like 15, feels like 13, feels like 11. Felt like we needed a new focus! And just in time, we had one.
There we were crowded together in front of this large stage-like platform with linen curtains suspended and a slit in the center. A camera with a large arm extended into the sky while several other cameras were set up all around the perimeter of our collective. We were close to 2000 strong, straining to listen and respond obediently as best as we could when he came through the slit and greeted us.
It was Jonathan Roumie, wearing a warm blue jacket over his thin linen clothing, yes.
But for a split second all we saw was Jesus.
The One our hearts love.
I know, like we all did, that Jonathan is just a man. That he is just an actor playing our Savior. He knows this too, and is daily moving in practices to help him carry this mantle with wisdom and poise because it’s no small role. We saw him in fact work through some of this awkward and heavy deity role-play. He has this beautiful habit of praying with Director Dallas Jenkins before big scenes, and maybe before small ones too, I don’t know. We saw him though, in another scene filmed very close to me, embrace and pray forehead to forehead. It was powerful, and one of the many expressions we witnessed that helped us see that this project is not just about a film going all over the world. It is about hearts, first and foremost. The hearts of viewers are not the only ones being considered and prayed for in this endeavor, but the hearts of the cast and crew, us — the extras — mattered too, the merchandise team, bus drivers, food delivery staff, hotel employees, everyone.
Hearts matter. All hearts.
In fact, it wasn’t until I was in the airport the next morning recapping with some new friends who shared the experience that I realized I had been holding my breath the whole trip.
Watching Season One had been so impactful for my personal relationship with God, especially during 2020. I wept deeply with each episode (watched multiple times) and was drawn to Jesus with fresh confession, deeper longing to follow Him, and a heart more open in prayer. I so appreciated the ability to lose myself in a scene of Scripture playing out, imagining the text and myself engaging with Jesus and the disciples in it — forgetting myself really, and forgetting that these people live on streets in states in my country. I realized I was holding my breath in Texas though, because I feared experiencing Dallas Jenkins, Jonathan or any of the other disciples in a way that would ruin my joy and ability to get absorbed in the film. I was braced in case I saw “Jesus” clapping his hands demanding his “latte” or something like you see dramatized in movies about some actors.
But the beautiful news that I wanted to share with everyone after I left was that my experience was exactly the opposite.
From Dallas Jenkins all the way to the merchandise team, everyone on set that day not only proved to be committed to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, but to showing it too. As best as we humans are ever able.
As for actually seeing me in the shows, we’ll just have to wait and see. It is most likely going to be like trying to find Waldo, so at least you have an idea of what to look for here in this post! Surprisingly, even though black was a color allowed for women’s dresses, I was the only one wearing it that I could see around me. Jonathan says I must have been in mourning, and actually that is pretty fitting. This season has been one marked by the belief that I am NOT chosen, that I am rejected, overlooked and forgotten. So leave it to our God to reach down and pull me out of that dark pit and place me smack dab in the middle of a dream. Dream #7 to be exact. (It makes me also wonder what is possible with the remaining 14 dreams on my list!)
And words fail me a bit here talking about the actual scenes we filmed, because the moments were just indescribably beautiful to me. The first scene captured, with Jesus coming out of the curtain to address us as a crowd — really the beginning of His larger public ministry — was exciting. The camera would raise up and crew would shout through our ranks, “Pictures up! Quiet on the set…” It was then that we’d hustle to hide all our modern winter gear and cell phones under our “mats” or blankets to be scene ready. We’d scan around to check on one another, tucking in anything poking out, straightening or at times making tunics and scarves authentically crooked. Then in the instant we’d hear, “Annnnnd action!” a calm would settle over everyone. All of a sudden you’d have thought the temperature jumped to a comfortable 75 degrees, for all signs of shiver disappeared! We were focused, you could even hear chatter in the field over we were so quiet (in fact, one time Jonathan Roumie had to kindly ask for quiet on the set in another scene we filmed — can you imagine? Being shushed by the Messiah! HA! Please don’t send the messages correcting me, I know I know. The jokes just made the freezing temps easier to endure. I cracked one about how I wish we were filming the scene in the Old Testament when Israel followed God in a big pillar of fire!)
In the second scene, the crowd shifted and we created a center circle opening for “Jesus” to stand in and walk around teaching us the Sermon on the Mount. It took 5 takes because Jonathan desperately needed to take breaks to thaw out and keep his voicing from breaking. It was incredible. He was so close!
Pages of Script-ure.
Jonathan memorized it all and powerfully, convincingly spoke it over us. In fact, Dallas had to remind us all that we’ve never heard the Lord’s Prayer — so not to mouth it quietly along with Jonathan! That reminder shook us, we laughed but it was because we weren’t trained as professional actors and had not fully shifted into the history of the moment until then.
We were a crowd of people who didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer. We didn’t know who Jesus was, what He was talking about, or what He was there to do for us. We had no gospels, or letters from Paul. We only had Torah and priests and traditions and sacrifices. We were also oppressed with heavy Roman threat, exhausting taxation and religious rules demanding a perfection we couldn’t sustain. We were separated from God, aware of His existence and our need for Him but unable to bridge the gap between us because of our sin. We had heard the stories of a Messiah coming, our grandparents grandparents passed the faith and prophecies down to us, but now we were looking into the eyes of a man who was going to say He was Him.
Our world was not just shifting, it was splitting in two: the world before knowing Him and the world after knowing Him.
Which brings us to Easter.
In a season when I have felt the most “unchosen”, God has worked out a message for my heart that I cannot deny, and has given me a courage to just be because He is with me and this is enough.
And the even better news is that I’m not the only one.
God chose His Son to serve as our final and ultimate sacrifice for sin.
Jesus chose to come to earth of His own free will. He chose to live, to die and then He rose again – overcoming death and defeating sin once and for all.
Jesus chose this because He chose us! He chose you and me.
Now we get to choose our response.
Our belief will be one of faith – like many of our beliefs – and we can expect a struggle with this one. While we will see Jesus soon, we can’t see Jesus like the disciples did. Not now. We won’t get to witness Him raise the dead and heal the lame and give sight to the blind…not in person, but we can see Him in the Word (and portrayed on film!) for now. We can also see Him using us, His hands and feet with His Spirit doing the same works He did, and things even greater than these. (John 14:12-14)
It will take faith to believe, but it is our faith that pleases Him! (Hebrews 11:6) Like the joy of a parent whose kid trusts his promise because the parent is good and worth trusting, even when there’s nothing to prove he will come through but his word.
This is the invitation of Easter: to believe in the One God has sent.
It’s the work God asks of us, that we believe Jesus — that He is God’s Son, God’s Messiah, God’s solution to our sin problem. (John 6:29)
It’s an invitation we have now before us, this week even. But it’s not an invitation that will stand open forever. It’s an invitation to be a part of something so great, so wonderful, so epic and indescribable, a Forever Family…but the invitation comes with a timeline. We could feel the timeline in central Texas, we could feel ourselves nearing the finish line inch by inch. We spoke of the cheering, the celebrating, the need for focus and boldness in the days ahead.
Because hearts matter. All hearts matter.
A time is coming, and I got a glimpse of it at the end of filming, when we won’t be with Jesus the way we are now. We won’t be learning in bodies that wear down with use. We won’t be enduring harsh conditions. We won’t be desperate for clean jokes and hope to keep resolve.
We will be free. We will be with Jesus smiling at us face-to-face. Hallelujah!
We will hear words our souls were made for in the womb, and I pray we are all prepared to hear them with joy like we heard these:
And that’s a wrap!
About Season 2…
The Trailer for Season 2 is officially out now and it’s incredible. Watching it reminded me to keep on praying for Dallas, the cast and crew, and the countless people touched by this historic multi-season story of the life of Jesus. Oh, how I hope it blesses you as it has me and my family. You can watch Season 1 several ways (YouTube, PureFlix, the free app) but you can only watch Season 2 by downloading the free app. *Sneak peek: Already I see a scene in the Trailer that I was there for — I’m on the other side of that slit in the curtains!
You can watch Episode 1 for Season 2 (so appropriately) on Easter Sunday, April 4th at 8:00pm EST over on the app. I pray you enjoy a feast as you #bingeJesus friends!