Unexpected Places is the personal story of gospel singer Anthony Evans, son of well-known pastor Tony Evans and brother of author Priscilla Shirer. In this intimate and moving memoir, Anthony shares the details of his struggles with depression and doubt, and encourages readers with the unique story of his search for purpose and identity.
From growing up duty-bound to his name, to his time as a finalist and then talent producer on The Voice, Anthony explores the pressures he experienced as a child and as a young man in Hollywood. He describes the journey to his renewed faith in God and exposes the vast differences between what the world teaches us to value and how God values us. Anthony examines what his parents did right in raising him but also describes how they unknowingly missed his pain. Finally, he reveals how God orchestrated His plan to grow Anthony into a man who is in love with his life, his heritage, and his individual calling.
Anthony has learned to embrace the incredible beauty of his unique voice. In Unexpected Places, he invites readers on their own journey to do the same.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
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About the Author
Anthony Evans has voiced the gospel for more than a decade as one of Christian Music’s premiere male vocalists, songwriters, and worship leaders. With eight solo projects, multiple music videos, and inspirational literary collaborations with beloved pastor and international speaker Dr. Tony Evans and sister Priscilla Shirer, Anthony has vibrated the doors of the church and ventured beyond.
Read an Excerpt
NEVER BE HIM
Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in obedience to him. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Yes, this will be the blessing for the man who fears the Lord.
— Psalm 128:1-4
There were sixty-three thousand men gathered in Texas Stadium, fathers and sons shouting and chanting and stomping their feet. They were not there to cheer on Troy Aikman and the Cowboys against the 49ers. They had come to hear about the importance of integrity, honor, and keeping one's word. A football stadium jam-packed with men all yelling for Jesus.
August in Dallas is blistering hot. I was twelve years old at the time, sitting in the backstage area, waiting. Dad often wanted me to tag along for ministry trips, and his recent stint with Promise Keepers had already taken us to Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Detroit. Nearly a million men attended the Stand in the Gap conference at the mall in Washington, DC. It's crazy watching one million people listen as your dad speaks. I was glad to be back in Dallas, closer to home. A rumble echoed through the giant arena as the lights went down. My ears and cheeks burned as the rumble turned into a roar and they announced his name.
Tony Evans. That's me. His name is my name too.
There were blue-shirted ushers everywhere with Promise Keepers tags around their necks. As Dad began to speak, they looked from him to me. Smiling. Nodding.
And all the expectations that come with carrying that name.
I sat listening as my father preached, challenging men to stand strong and stay committed, to guard their hearts and families with their lives. Reminding them we can't just call ourselves Christians and not be men of character and truth. They weren't just empty words. If anybody knew that, I did. Dad lived what he preached.
Every man in that building was on his feet, many with hands lifted, crying and saying, "Amen." The air was charged with hope as he brought his message to a close.
"If you want a better world made of better countries ..."
The sound of Dad's voice boomed through the corridors and off the concrete walls.
"... inhabited by better states, made up of better cities that are illuminated by better churches made up of better families-you have to start by becoming a better you."
As the crowd shouted their approval, I shrank back, looking for a place to hide. Though thousands were stirred and encouraged by his message, I could only think one thing:
I can never, ever be him.CHAPTER 2
GROWING UP EVANS
Children, obey your parents in the Lord [that is, accept their guidance and discipline as His representatives], for this is right [for obedience teaches wisdom and self-discipline]. "Honor [esteem, value as precious] your father and mother" [and be respectful to them]--which is the first commandment with a promise--"so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."
Preachers' kids are often a bit off, some even a couple degrees from crazy as they try to find their own way. My dad is Dr. Tony Evans, founding pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas. For the past forty-two years he's preached all over the world, having been heard on the radio, seen on TV, and even authored more than one hundred books.
My beautiful mother, Lois, has stood right beside him and supported him every step, running the business of ministering behind the scenes. Eventually she started her own ministry, reaching out to pastors' wives. As parents go, they're pretty amazing.
There are four of us kids. Chrystal, my oldest sister, is the brainiac. Totally analytical and a great help to me as she develops her own writing and ministry. Then there's Priscilla. She's Ms. Personality. Growing up, Priscilla talked a whole lot and sometimes it would get her in trouble, but it seems to be working well for her now. She's all across the country, speaking and writing best-selling books. You may have seen her starring in the film War Room. Number one at the box office!
My baby brother, Jonathan, he's super logical, an excellent businessman, and a devoted husband and father of four. Jonathan signed to play for the Dallas Cowboys and then later became their chaplain.
And me? I'm the sensitive one. I might look like a grizzly bear, but some days I've got the emotions of a teddy bear. Artists are just weird like that. It's part of the deal. Which works great when it comes to music and leading worship--but honestly? Sometimes those same emotions can overwhelm me.
* * *
"What was it like growing up as Tony Evans's son?"
That's the first question church folks usually ask me. Some people are looking for dirt, I think--to see some ugly picture behind the scenes or to find out the famous preacher is a hypocrite at home. It sounds a bit silly to say, but most of the time, living in the Evans house felt like a Christian version of one of those eighties TV shows where trials were always an opportunity for life lessons, the family pulled together, and things turned out okay in the end.
As a kid, you take everything for granted, but now I realize how much work it took for my parents to be as solid as they were while running such a big and busy ministry. Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship was already blowing up by the time I was born, so I never knew anything different. Truth is, if there was one problem for me growing up as the son of a famous pastor, it was this: I wasn't all that crazy about church.
I'm not talking about the church. I loved God and Jesus and God's people. I just wasn't a big fan of church activities twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Every child has their own particular struggles and sensitivities. I was the introverted Evans kid-the one who needed a lot more one-on-one time but who was too shy to speak up and let anybody know. And when your dad is the preacher of a giant church? You are around people all the time. Every day there are a bunch of people at your house. Or you're over at theirs. There is always a wedding or a funeral or a revival or a church dinner going on.
Preachers' kids are expected to be pretty much perfect-to be seen but rarely heard, to always take a back seat to the needs of the church. My parents didn't put that on me, but I definitely felt the pressure all around. Over time, I developed a smoldering resentment. Leave my dad alone. Leave mom alone. Leave us alone and let us be normal people. He has to be "Pastor Tony Evans" all day. Can't he just be ours on nights and weekends?
But that's not how it works in ministry. You share your parents. Nights and weekends are when all the crazy stuff happens. Emergency room visits. Married couples fight. Some new convert has a crisis of faith. The church drama queen has an "urgent need" to share somebody's business so you can pray. Somebody's old uncle gets drunk and out of hand.
The needs were always imperative, and who did they call? What's the church version of Ghostbusters? My father. Didn't matter if it was nine o'clock at night or four in the morning.
To add to the tension, we lived across the street from the church, so people would just randomly show up at our door. I would open it quick and tell them nobody was home. Someone would call asking for Pastor Tony--and I would straight hang up on them. Don't bother my dad. Later, after puberty hit, I would lower my voice and pretend to be him. "I'll have to call you back," I'd say in a rush, ending the conversation before they had a chance to speak. (I don't think he ever knew this. Sorry, Dad!)
Somebody was always wanting something from my parents, but I felt like I needed something more. There were many other pastors to choose from. I only had one dad. And I didn't feel like I should have to apologize for needing time with him.
Our church kept growing. Hundreds became thousands. The load got even heavier and the needs louder as my parents tried to stay on top of things. Dad's desire was for Oak Cliff Fellowship to be known as the "little big church." Regardless of the size, people weren't numbers, they were individuals, and he felt like it was important to know each and every one.
I mean, my parents started Oak Cliff in their tiny apartment from nothing. Dad wanted it to remain personal. On an everyday basis, you don't realize the toll it takes.
I understand that now. But as a child? You can't process events that deep. A six-year-old is not going to ask his mom to go to counseling so they can discuss how to voice his needs. My personality is a people pleaser and peace keeper. I always wanted to be an asset and never a burden. I wanted my presence to be associated with ease and a smile no matter the cost.
It wasn't my parents' fault. Because I was so quiet, they thought I was the simplest kid in the world to deal with, when really I was just keeping it all inside and looking for other ways to bring attention my way.
Here's one example: The Christian academy I attended was very strict. Students were expected to be focused and obedient at all times. There was a girl in my class named Cece Roberts, and I went through a phase where I would chase her around nearly every day, teasing her and pulling her hair. Acting all crazy even though I knew good and well there would be a spanking coming my way after school.
"Just wait till your father gets home, Anthony!" Mom would say. I think I was subconsciously figuring out that negative attention was better than none. You wonder why so many preachers' kids misbehave? That might be your answer right there.
Once I grew up, I learned that resentment is pretty common among children whose parents are in full-time ministry. I realized I was not the only one.CHAPTER 3
THAT'S THE WAY
whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. --Ecclesiastes 9:10
I was charging across the pasture on a pony named Grey Sky at Pine Cove Camp, a Christian retreat in Tyler, Texas, out on Lake Palestine. Dad was a speaker there every summer, which allowed us some really great out-of-the-box experiences.
I'd been going to the camp since I was three, and by the time I turned eight, Pine Cove was my most favorite place on earth. They had skate parks and climbing walls and zip lines over the water, and the counselors there always had the enthusiasm and time to teach a young boy about the love of God through the beauty of nature. If I was hungry for attention, Pine Cove provided a feast.
It was a perfect summer day, and I was looking at the tall pines between Grey Sky's ears, the lake shimmering in the distance. Then Grey Sky seemed to be going one way and me another. Next thing I knew I was slipping sideways. Then all of a sudden-bam! Down I went.
I tumbled through the dirt and laid flat, staring at the sky. What? I thought. Why am I on the ground? Involuntary tears started to flow because of the shock. I think I also added a bit of dramatic crying and breathing to the moment because I knew a bunch of attention was coming!
A commotion followed, counselors running my way. Next thing I knew, a tall, bowlegged cowboy grabbed me and hauled me to my feet.
"There, now," the cowboy said, dusting me off and checking to make sure I was okay. "You don't look too much worse for wear now, do you?" He smiled and stooped down to eye level. He had a big straw hat and stubbly beard. His face was weathered, but his eyes seemed kind.
"No, sir," I managed. "I'm okay." Falling was more of a shock than an injury, so I met his steady gaze and gave back my best eight-year-old, rough-and-rugged cowboy nod.
"Atta boy," he said, holding out his callused hand to shake. "I'm Mr. Tim. But everybody calls me Swanee 'round here." He led Grey Sky back to the barn, loaded me up onto his horse, and handed me the reins. "You know what we gotta do now?" he said, nodding back. "Right?"
Little did I know that falling off a horse would result in meeting one of my most important mentors in life. God was turning my fall into a moment of grace.
"Right!" I replied.
After that, Swanee was always happy to see me. And once I was old enough, he was ready to put me to work around the stables. I wouldn't be at camp five minutes before he would start handing me buckets of feed to haul or a rake to gather up hay. His thing was to teach the kids biblical principles through practical application, which helped me a lot more than any lecture ever did. The best part, though, was when we got to work directly with the horses.
"See that one over there?" he told me during one visit a few years down the road. "That's Pilgrim." Tethered to the fence was a short, stocky, brown-and-white Paint Horse that clearly had a Napoleon complex. He was thrashing around wildly and snorting, pulling against his restraints. Swanee wasn't being cruel. A horse, even a little one, has to be gentled before you can let them work with kids.
"I named him Pilgrim because he's got a lot of progress to make before we can use him," Swanee said, chewing on a long piece of hay. "But he'll be okay. Soon Pilgrim will figure out that resistance to his master only causes pain. Similar to the kind of pain we feel when we don't listen to God. Resistance to Him only makes our lives more difficult, and it brings us that much more confusion and pain."
I stood at a distance, watching Pilgrim twist and pull, a thousand pounds of sheer energy and rage.
"We train a horse to trust his master and let him lead the way," Swanee continued. "Horses can be stubborn. They want to run when they want, eat when they want. But by trusting the master's plan, all their needs will be supplied. They'll live a good life, and through their obedience, others will be blessed. But they have to learn to trust us first. Sometimes that's a long, hard process."
I watched Pilgrim pull back, buck and snort and fight that fence post, thinking about all the ways I resisted God's plans-all the ways I didn't fully trust and obey Him yet. I thought I knew about horses by that time, but Swanee's lesson was something new. Resisting the process made Pilgrim that much more miserable. And it was that much longer before he could be used in service. But Swanee and his team of wranglers were patient. They wouldn't give up. They would keep on working with Pilgrim until his training was complete.
Even though Swanee was head wrangler, he wasn't above doing the lowest job. He'd always say, "Whatever you put your hand to, do it with all your might and do it right." I think he saw I could be a bit distracted, so he was always looking for ways to teach me excellence by example, to push and challenge me in my relationship with God.
If something wasn't right, we'd do it over and over again. If I saddled a horse and made a mistake, he'd call me over. "Anthony, what's wrong with this picture?" he'd ask. Sometimes I'd stare at those straps and the cinch twenty minutes trying to figure it out. Eventually I got better and better until one day Swanee hired me on to help part-time.
Swanee would be at the stables at four every morning, and I was right there with him, getting the horses ready before our breakfast trail ride at seven a.m. One time the horses had been out all night and one Palomino, Patience, was particularly coated in dirt. It was more than obvious that she had decided to roll in mud-it looked like she had played in it.
Swanee handed me a curry comb and put me on one side, and he took the other. "Now, Anthony," he said, "the objective in this exercise is to get this horse cleaned up and ready to work. I am going to do it with you, and when we finish, I expect your hands to be every bit as dirty as mine."
I started combing my side of Patience, but it was hard going. The dirt was embedded so deep in her coat that I didn't seem to be making any progress at all. Swanee let me struggle at it for a while. Finally, he looked over Patience's flank and showed me a better way. "The combs go in a circular motion," he said, demonstrating as he spoke. "We gotta stir the dirt up to the surface first in order to get her clean. And Anthony, when the dirt is embedded this deep, it's gonna take a lot of effort to get it to the surface. It's the exact same way we have to admit to and talk about our own shortcomings in order to get our hearts clean. We've got to let Him bring all that dirt to the surface first and deal with it for what it is."
Watching Swanee closely, I copied his motions until clouds of dust started forming around Patience's body and settling on our skin. Together, we worked the entire horse. By the time we finished, we were both covered in dirt, but Patience was clean and shiny in the morning sun.
We stood shoulder to shoulder for a minute, admiring our work. I looked down at Swanee's filthy hands. Then I held up my own. They were just as dirty as his. Swanee smiled, slapped my back, and we coughed in the dust. "Yes, sir," he said with a nod. "That's the way it's done."CHAPTER 4
PATIENCE FOR THE PRACTICE
Jesus replied, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."
For the first few years of school I made As and Bs and didn't get my first C until all the way in sixth grade. I thought maybe it was a freak accident, but then more Cs started coming my way.
Oh my goodness, I thought. I'm average.
About that same time, Dad's speaking ministry was taking off and he was gone a lot, flying around the country for events. Mom sometimes went with him, and while they were away, I stayed with my aunt Elizabeth, better known as "Auntie." Eventually, it was just more convenient and beneficial for me to go to school closer to where she lived. The schools there had an excellent reputation, and my parents believed it might help improve my studies.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Unexpected Places"
Copyright © 2018 Anthony Evans.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART 1: DALLAS,
Chapter 1: Never Be Him, 3,
Chapter 2: Growing Up Evans, 7,
Chapter 3: That's the Way, 13,
Chapter 4: Patience for the Practice, 19,
Chapter 5: Already Good, 25,
Chapter 6: Truth Is, 33,
Chapter 7: And the Truth Shall Set You Free, 39,
Chapter 8: Rebirth, 47,
Chapter 9: My Life Is in Your Hands, 51,
Chapter 10: The Show Goes On, 57,
PART 2: NASHVILLE,
Chapter 11: Big Hit Life, 63,
Chapter 12: Broken, 69,
Chapter 13: The Huddle, 77,
Chapter 14: A Miracle Which Is Not to Be Forgotten, 83,
Chapter 15: Renovation, 89,
Chapter 16: Gideon, 97,
Chapter 17: Redefining Success, 103,
Chapter 18: The Apology, 107,
Chapter 19: Progress Over Pride, 111,
PART 3: HOLLYWOOD,
Chapter 20: The Voice, 119,
Chapter 21: Real Talk, 123,
Chapter 22: Common Ground, 129,
Chapter 23: Honest, Vulnerable, and Transparent, 135,
Chapter 24: Courage Over Comfort, 141,
Chapter 25: Trust and Obey, 147,
Chapter 26: Passion Over Perfection, 153,
Chapter 27: Dream Big, Dig Deep, 159,
Chapter 28: War Room, 165,
Chapter 29: The Change, 171,
Chapter 30: Caged No More, 175,
Chapter 31: Waiting for Mercy, 181,
Chapter 32: Redefining Rest, 189,
Chapter 33: Plan B: Unexpected, 195,
Chapter 34: Back to Life, 199,
About the Author, 207,