Jennifer Knapp  ---  The Way She Is

By Charles White



Ten years ago, something amazing happened to Jennifer Knapp. This event caused her to begin a journey that would lead her around the United States and to distant lands like Estonia and the Dominican Republic.  It would lead her to take up her guitar and become both a popular and critically acclaimed figure in the recording industry.  It would cause her to examine who she is and what she believes.  What happened to Jennifer Knapp ten years ago? Jennifer saw God and it changed her life forever. 



Jennifer was born and raised in the state of Kansas. At the age of three, her mother and father divorced. She spent the remainder of her childhood living with her father and stepmother and had  little contact with her biological mother. At the age of 18, Jennifer earned a music scholarship to attend Pittsburgh State University in Kansas. During her freshman year, Jennifer found her self at a low point in her life. She was spending hundreds of dollars a month on alcohol, unable to realize what she was doing to herself.


“When I was a teenager, I was pretty angry and bitter. I liked to party, so I drank a lot, I smoked several packs of cigarettes a day at my worst, and I fell in the area of sexual purity. When I started college at the age of 18, I was at the bottom of my low. I had nothing left. I had no idea who I was half the time and how to get to my own home. I set out to abuse my body because I didn't care about life."


In the midst of the alcohol and her self-abusive lifestyle, Jennifer saw God in the person of a neighbor.  Jennifer reflected on this in a recent interview. “In the midst of this behavior during my freshman year, there was a girl living across the hall from me who simply loved me day after day with the love of Christ. I thought she was geeky for being a Christian, but time and time again, she’d put me to bed when I’d come home and not know which room was mine because I was so drunk.”


These countless acts of mercy by her neighbor and dozens of other Christian schoolmates caused her to take a hard look at how she was living her life. In these Christians, Jennifer saw something different, something special. "I ran into some people that I could just see differences in their lives.  It was like they were talking about a trusted friend." Jennifer found a group of people that were excited to be alive. Their peace, joy and belief in God touched her. 


This caused her to struggle for many months to determine what she believed. As she struggled, she remembered the powerful witness of her neighbor and her Christian schoolmates.  This led her to eventually turn to prayer and the Holy Scripture for answers. "The more I prayed and the more I read the Word, the more it started to make sense to me. More than that, I felt like I was hearing from a living God."


The result of her struggle was a deep awareness of Christ's presence in her life and a desire to live a life in Christ. This struggle also helped her to see how self-destructive she had become.  With the aid of friends and the power of her faith, Jennifer began a long journey to kick her addiction to alcohol and tobacco; a long battle that she eventually won.


With her dedication to Christ came a change in her music. Music became a way for her to share her joy and her faith in God.  It became a way for her to share the love of Christ with others, just as her neighbor had done for her on countless occasions. "Wherever you go, people are largely the same. They want to be loved, they've experienced hurt and heartaches and they want to be encouraged and music is a great way to do that."


Her hard work and dedication have earned her the accolades of fans and garnered her critical acclaim. At the 1999 Dove Awards, Jennifer was honored as the Dove Award's "New Artist of the Year" and captured an award for "Rock Song of the Year." Her debut album, Kansas, spent eighty weeks among the top 25 on the Christian charts. This same year she received a Billboard video award and was invited to join Lilith Fair.


2000 brought her similar success. Her second release, Lay It Down, has been certified as Gold and has earned her a Grammy nomination as the only female artist in the Best Rock Gospel Album category. Lay It Down was hailed by as one of its critically chosen 10 best Christian and Gospel CDs of 2000.


Her hard work is not confined to music, however. Remembering the example of her neighbor in college, Jennifer works to touch the lives of others through her work with organizations at home and abroad. Jennifer constantly performs work with international philanthropic agencies in countries such as Estonia or the Dominican Republic. At home, she has worked with Children's hospitals, Mercy Ministries, Ronald McDonald House and various Children and Women's shelters. "It has shown me that God does some pretty amazing things."

As one listens to the powerful lyrics and haunting melodies of Jennifer Knapp, you hear not the ringing of the cash register, but the cries of someone who continues to struggle each day with her faith. As she struggles, she cannot help but share her life and her belief with others. It is her conviction and willingness to continually wrestle with her faith that makes both her music and her presence a powerful witness to the awesome power and love of Jesus Christ. In her music, we can hear echoes of the psalmist who wrote, "Give me the joy of your saving help again and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit. Open my lips, O Lord and my mouth shall proclaim your praise." 






This is Jennifer's great new album, just released November 20, called The Way I AmNot only does Jennifer sing this album, she also wrote it!  Enjoy some RealAudio clips from The Way I Am below as well as Jennifer's own comments about the lyrics she composed.


By and By

It makes sense to open up the record with this song because it begins the search for grace.  It's an acknowledgement that I need hope for the day.  It's kind of an up throwing of hands saying, "OK, there's gotta be something else.  I need a solution, need it now, I'm waiting.  Here we go."  The energy of it is somewhat purposed.

Say Won't You Say

Even though I know God loves me, sometimes I still need reassurance.  It's not some big glory chain of events.  It's just all I need to hear, that small voice.  This song started as that prayer.  I demo-ed this song at my house and didn't give it much thought after that.  But when I started playing new songs for Toby and the people at Gotee, they loved it!  Before I knew it, we had recorded it for the album.

Light of the World

I literally wrote this song as an actual prayer, sitting in my room one night.  I'd come back to it again and again, and I never thought that it would be out in the open on a record.  I wanted to make sure that we had a solid tie on this record that people could really sink their teeth into and think about how Scripture fits into this process of admitting our humanness.  So I asked Toby McKeehan to read Psalm 4 over the music.  The timing on it is so artful.