We all have one. But as we navigate our way into adulthood, life urges us to pack away our imaginations. To put away our crayons. To think and feel in black and white and gray. We are not afforded the luxury of living in color; life comes hurdling toward us way too furiously for that. Too fast to think about the fact that God has an imagination of His own.
2004 was a life-changing year for 16-year-old Bethany Dillon. Her self-titled Sparrow Records launch, featuring the #1 single “All I Need,” was the top-selling female solo debut in Christian music that year, and she landed GMA Music Award nominations for both Female Vocalist and New Artist of the Year. While purposely embracing the whirlwind of opportunity, she also had to consciously make time for ‘a real life.’ And somehow, the challenges of the journey have unearthed a stronger knowledge of God’s grace, acceptance of the mystery that is God, and the freedom that comes from daring to trust Him.
“After close to a year of traveling, I had seen things in the world and in myself, both good and bad, that I had never noticed before,” says Bethany. “I was struggling daily with pride and insecurity, homesickness and loneliness, with the burden of picking up my cross and following Jesus. This journey produced a new hunger for redemption in me.”
Bethany’s highly-anticipated sophomore effort, Imagination, reveals her relentless desire to peek into the heart and mind of her Maker. Indeed, the record’s songwriting showcases an artist whose eyes and heart are open wider for trying, all the while carving out her own unique place among the most respected singer/songwriters in Christian music.
Produced by Ed Cash, the 2005 GMA Music Award-winning Producer of the Year, Dillon wrote or co-wrote every song on Imagination, painting with broad strokes in bright greens, earthy browns and deeper hues of blue. Green, Bethany says, “Because I see a lot of growth and a lot of brightness here, and yet there’s also a lot of restlessness, which is sometimes the result of growth.” Brown because “I just love earthiness musically. A lot of the songs almost feel like standing at the edge of a cliff and just staring out and seeing a lot of open space, a lot of freedom.” Deep, dark blues—like the swirling ocean in the moonlight—reverberate throughout the album, hinting at the mystery of the marriage of grace and freedom and the adventure in not having to know how or why.
Wash those colors across the life of this young lady, and when the whole thing dries, what is left is undeniable: “God’s unearthly grace and immeasurable love for us is the heartbeat of this whole record,” Bethany says. “This is a story of hope and redemption, one that paints a brutally and beautifully honest picture of what it is to really live by faith.” From the light and airy “All That I Can Do,” a song about learning to trust, to the whimsical equalizing effect of “In An Airplane” to the worshipful “Hallelujah,” to “Dreamer,” the captivating, mythical story of a good king who gave up every-thing for his kingdom, Imagination soars with thought-provoking, heart-bending stories that make listeners contemplate God’s grace and redemption in new ways.
A small-town girl from Bellefontaine, Ohio, Bethany’s ability to paint a musical canvas with such seasoned and poignant lyrics has unquestionably been cultivated by the strong influence of her home life. “I come from a big, close-knit family, and we’ve lived in the same town my whole life,” she says. “It’s all so much a part of the music I make, of what I know to be real.” Missions-conscious and service-focused, the family prays together, plays music together and is more than content to be together. Her parents have been involved in social work for many years, fostering kids and even adopting two sons, and most importantly, they’ve instilled in all their children a rich spiritual heritage.
“Even in the moments when I want to give up, when I want to just be careless and act my age and not feel the responsibility that God has given me, I can’t help but feel the desire for Him. I can’t help but try to follow Him. And even that desire is from Him. I couldn’t do that by myself.
“I’m trying to learn how to listen to people and how not to think that this is all I am,” Bethany adds of her life in the spot-light. “It’s not going to change the fact that at home I’m going to put away the clean dishes, and I’m going to have to be nice to my siblings. It encourages me, but it doesn’t define me.”
And so, as Imagination is born, Bethany continues to wrestle with the stuff of life, trying not to close off her heart nor pack away her true colors. And God continues to teach her more about what those colors look like…and the beautiful life He’s imagined for her, even beyond what she can begin to fathom.