Maria-José Tennison is the Vice President of Brand and Production for Sight & Sound Theaters. The purpose of their business is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ and sow the Word of God into the lives of those who attend their shows, which are inspirational and visually stunning. Maria shares about the early years of her career rise, and how during a season of brokenness, God gave her strength.
From Brokenness To Strength: Maria-José Tennison – Jesus Calling Podcast 37
Maria-José Tennison: It was in my pursuit of wholeness, and really relying on Him to be my source and to be my identity, that I recognized that it was through brokenness that we get to real strength. You know, sometimes it’s counterintuitive, but to go through the pain, to go through the brokenness, to acquire that level of strength is very much well worth it.
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling podcast. Today, we visit with Maria-José Tennison, the Vice President of Brand and Production for Sight & Sound Theatres. The purpose of their productions are to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ and sow the Word of God into the lives of those who attend their shows, by visualizing and dramatizing the Scriptures, through inspirational productions. Maria shares a little bit about her life as the child of immigrants and the early years of her career.
Meet Maria-José Tennison
Maria: My name is Maria-José Tennison and I am the Vice President of Brand and Show Production at Sight & Sound Theatres.
I am responsible for the teams that actually work on the development of the productions in relation to the design, engineering, the construction of the shows; so all the magic that happens to get the show on the stage.
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and my parents immigrated to the states when I was fairly young, so I don’t have a whole lot of recollection of my life in Argentina. I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles to parents who were very courageous and very driven. The fact that they moved from a country without understanding the language and having to give up their life, everything they knew; really starting over. One of the reasons that they left Argentina was; at the beginning of the Dirty War in the 70s, the military had taken over the government and life felt uncertain at best. Typical immigrant story; they really believed that they could provide for a better life for their daughters in the United States.
When we first came to the states, resources were tight and we lived in a very small apartment. I shared a room with my grandmother. She came with us, and my father worked several jobs in order to put food on the table.
I remember a time where my mom went to the bins behind the supermarkets to look for food. I remember her falling into it. I remember dying laughing, but I was little, so I didn’t understand the context of what was happening; but she laughed as well. I think they protected us from the reality of what was really occurring for them.
In some ways it provided a certain amount of resiliency and also sent a very clear message around how we dealt with with pain. There was a little bit of a lack of acknowledgement, as well. It’s like “you know what? We pick ourselves up from our bootstraps and we’re tough people and we keep going.” That was very much both of them. They were very loving, they were very playful with us, but they were tough people. So there wasn’t a whole lot of room to fail.
The Power of Education
My parents believed strongly in the power of education and certainly the gift that we had received as being part of this country. I just remember my parents saying to me; as just a young, very young child, “It doesn’t matter that you don’t speak English and it doesn’t matter that you don’t have the things that maybe other people around you do. All that matters is that you work really hard, because in this country, it can happen,” which was very different from what they had experienced in their own native home.
I always felt that education was a high priority for us. Thankfully, I received a scholarship, and I went to school. I couldn’t not work, in order to help pay. I continued to help the household and also with books and things like that.
I landed a job in an advertising agency. It was a small Hispanic agency, so it was in-language. We worked on high profile accounts. It was the “Got Milk?” campaign in Spanish for the California Fluid Mile Processor Board, and I got a lot of experience early on with high profile brands. Then after that, that just opened the door for me to continue a career with high profile brands and high exposure brands.
There was definitely a certain amount of establishing of how I was doing life; even early on, like working lots of hours, traveling extensively; from the very beginning. So, in my 20s, I found myself to be completely about the work.
Looking For The Lord When You Face Anxiety
As I got into my career and I found myself in such a competitive environment and making those types of choices, that resiliency, with no acknowledgement of a certain amount of reality; that caught up to me. In my early 20s, I started experiencing panic attacks and the first one came during the middle of a presentation with some clients. I was about to go on, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t even speak. I just felt my heart racing and my palms were sweating and everything in my being wanted to get me out of that room. I couldn’t understand that; I thought something was physically wrong with me. I managed to get through that presentation, but after that, after that initial panic attack, others came. It became a recurring thing. I began to allow fear to take root in my heart in a way that shrank my world. I would avoid certain situations, or I would avoid certain opportunities; which is very difficult to do when you’re in a highly competitive environment that is requesting all of you.
I began to allow fear to take root in my heart in a way that shrank my world.
When I felt like I was dying in that season, no one noticed. Not even the people that I was spending most of my time with. So I started to really explore this thing that was happening to me. One day, I remember driving to work and listening to the radio and there was a spot on the radio with a woman describing every single symptom that I was experiencing, and that’s when she called it “anxiety disorder.” I have to say, I had heard of anxiety disorder, I had heard of depression. I had heard of those types of behavioral health things. The reality was that there was no room for that in my life, because I categorized that as; that was for weak people, and I was not weak. My parents weren’t weak. There was no example of what dealing with “weakness” or “brokenness” would have looked like.
I didn’t know what to do with it, when I found myself in that situation. But that’s when that’s when the Lord showed up.
Healing The Wounds Of Life
When I look back on it now because it was so all about my career, my relationship with Christ was not the first thing. I was a Christ-follower, I was a Christian by label. Christ did not actually become real to me until my mid 20s.
You know, when you break a bone, the place where it heals is stronger.
I walked through my 20s and my early 30s with the Lord from a place of healing and allowing Him to begin to manifest Himself in my life and heal some of those wounds that were there that I had never dealt with. He really began showing me that the pain and brokenness isn’t a deficit, but it’s where everything comes from. It’s the source of strength; and recognizing that and walking through that.
You know, when you break a bone, the place where it heals is stronger. There are so many things that indicate that that’s His process. Spiritually, in our core, He’s going to use that brokenness to show us how He can become our strength.
Joining Sight & Sound
Narrator: When Maria began to recognize her brokenness, a season of healing began which led her to a new outlook, and eventually to a new career at Sight & Sound Theatres.
Maria: I met a recruiter that they were using for some organizational restructure through a personal connection, and she filed me away, in the back of her of her mental rolodex. When the opportunity for a marketing person came up at Sight & Sound, she reached out to me, and I was like, “well, that’s interesting and thanks but no thanks.”
I turned her down and she approached me a second time. I checked out Sight & Sound and there were a lot of things that were interesting to me. I loved theater. I actually had a theater emphasis in college. Theater had always been a passion for me; even as a child, writing plays and things like that. And to be a Christian theater, that was really interesting.
The scope that Sight & Sound was telling these stories, was just fascinating, but not what I considered to be the path that was best for me; what I had chosen for myself. It wasn’t aligned with my “goals,” so I turned down a second time. The third time, she sent this really long dissertation of what she felt; that it would be a good fit for me, not just as a career move. She was looking at it less of it as a career move, but more as a “whole person” move. I just remember being impacted by what she wrote, but I turned her down a third time.
Then weeks went by, and I moved on with life. I remember saying to my husband vividly; it was weeks after, I said to him, “why can’t I stop thinking about this job in the middle of a cornfield in central Pennsylvania?” He was like, “you know what, why don’t we pray about it and just take a closer look?” So, I called the recruiter up that day and I said, “hey, is it too late to throw my hat in the ring?” She was like, “We’re finalizing the interview process, but let me catch you up.” So she got me in here. We traveled out here for a weekend of interviews.
Right then and there I kind of thought, “you know what Lord? If you want me to be part of this, I’ll follow.”
I remember walking through the shops and seeing everyone’s smiling faces, and it made no sense. I’m standing out in the in the parking lot. I’m watching these buses come in and I had been given access to their budgets and some of the things that they were doing in there. At that point, we were bringing in 600,000 people in attendance per year. I remember going around into the shops and looking at the welders and people. All these people are making these crazy sets and everybody was so friendly. There were 400 employees that were relying for their livelihood in this place in the middle of a cornfield.
I just remember, in that very moment, regardless of how impressive my resume was and all these fancy brands that I had had an opportunity to touch and to work on, I felt very unqualified, because I could tell that this was bigger than just one person, and it was not in the natural. Right then and there I kind of thought, “you know what Lord? If you want me to be part of this, I’ll follow.”
Showcasing The Truth Of The Word
This place has been a gift. The thing that is most compelling about being here is that everything that this organization does is to share the Gospel and to tell these stories that are not ours. We get the privilege of telling them in a way that hopefully is bringing them to life in a manner that people haven’t thought about before. These Bible stories that are just inspirational and anointed. They have the power to change people’s lives, and that’s what we believe in.
We are completely sold out to the idea that by telling these stories in the way that we tell them, we can invite people to get to know the Bible. That’s just humbling to us; that anything that we can do, is driving people to really delve into the Scriptures more and even to see Christ in a refreshed way.
We are an entertainment organization, and we’re telling these stories in a way that provides entertainment. Our purpose is much greater than that. So, throughout our design process, we really challenge each other to not create spectacle for the sake of spectacle.
We really feel that we’re called on to bring these stories in a way that’s going to bring truth and to really showcase the truth of the Word; the truth of the Gospel and the complete potential and freedom that comes with a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Seeking Truth Daily Through Jesus Calling
Narrator: Maria realizes that the work she does goes beyond the lights and massive production of Sight & Sound shows, but reaches into the hearts of each audience member who may be hungry for hope and encouragement. She is committed to helping people know the truths of the Bible and she herself seeks truth daily through Scripture and through the pages of Jesus Calling.
A friend actually gave me my first book years ago and I just remember the whole concept; the posture of Jesus Calling was just so moving to me.
We tend to compartmentalize Jesus. I think we put Him over here and that ongoing reliance that, as I’m getting older, I’m trying to cultivate more of that partnership; that expectation about having His voice be heard so loudly in my day to day–more loudly than I give Him credit for. The devotional helped me see Scripture from that point of view and from that first person perspective. I will say, that even now, Jesus Calling–we have a children’s devotional that we use every day–as a mom, that has been even even even more incredible, because I see how my children resonate with that perspective.
We’re able to have conversations around Scripture and values and what the Lord’s love does, and the protection, and His perspective around bringing our troubles to Him.
We use it daily. My kids will bring it to me, like, “mom we forgot to do devotions today.” They’ll bring it over, and they bring the Jesus Calling books, so it’s just been a part of my life personally as a woman, but also now, n my children’s life and it’s been really impactful.
Honestly, in this season, I’ve kind of surrendered a little bit of my agenda around recharging, and I just have given it to the Lord. Every morning is kind of like, “listen Lord, You know what I need to do today and You know the things that I need to be fully present for. I want to partner with You in being able to do that well. So refresh me. If I’m too tired, if I’m too distracted. Give me what I need to be able to represent You well in this moment.”
From someone who was very much about the the trophy, the medal, the title, the certificate, the gold star; you know I lived for getting that gold star. I have clarity on who I live for, and I have an audience of One. So, every decision that I make is to please Him.
Narrator: Sight & Sound’s production of “Jonah on Stage” is a one night event on May 2, 2017. For more information, visit jonahstagemovie.com. Or, to see a live show in Branson, Missouri or Lancaster, Pennsylvania, visit Sight & Sound’s website for more information at Sight-Sound.com.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we visit with Ernie Johnson, Jr. – a three-time Sports Emmy Award-winner and popular host of TNT’s Inside the NBA. Ernie discusses his rise to the top of sports broadcasting, from battling cancer to raising six children with his wife, Cheryl, including a special needs child adopted from Romania.
Ernie Johnson, Jr.: Here’s where we are.” He said. “You decided in December of ’97 to trust God with your life,” I said “right.” He said what does that trust look like right now? He said, Does it look like “Trust?” (question mark). Trust,”if?” Trust, (comma)? Does it look like, “look God, I’ll trust you if this next test about this non-Hodgkins lymphoma comes back the way you want it to?” He said, “or does it look like this? Trust God. (period)?” And that’s where we landed the plane.
Narrator: Today’s featured passage comes from the July 13th entry of the Jesus Calling audiobook:
I want you to experience the riches of your salvation: the Joy of being loved constantly and perfectly. You make a practice of judging yourself, based on how you look or behave or feel. If you like what you see in the mirror, you feel a bit more worthy of My Love. When things are going smoothly and your performance seems adequate, you find it easier to believe you are My beloved child. When you feel discouraged, you tend to look inward so you can correct whatever is wrong.
Instead of trying to “fix” yourself, fix your gaze on Me, the Lover of your soul. Rather than using your energy to judge yourself, redirect it to praising Me. Remember that I see you clothed in My righteousness, radiant in My perfect Love.
Narrator: Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling Podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.