Where two or three gather together

“For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20)

I have to be honest.  I dragged myself to the office that day.  I wasn’t stressed, and there wasn’t a lot to do at my desk, but I needed to finish my weekly tasks.  However, I was low on energy.  I thought about putting off my office time and going in the next day, but even though I was less than enthused, I talked myself into just pushing through and getting things done. 

I was nearing the end of my tasks for the day when a visitor came into the office— a woman had an unexpected request.  “My mom is in the car,” she told us.  “I asked her where she wanted to go, and we thought we could stop here at church.”  She explained that her elderly mother had not been in church much since the Covid-19 pandemic began, and they just wanted to sit in the sanctuary, read devotions and maybe sing a little.  Somehow, I found myself offering to play a few songs for them, so together, we made our way to the sanctuary. 

The piano had been pushed to the back of the stage to make room for the band that had rehearsed the night before.  So I stepped up to the keyboard that was plugged in and ready to go, and I began to fumble my way through “Trust and Obey,” “I Love to Tell the Story,” and “How Great Thou Art.”  I didn’t always know all the words (sadly, I had left my prompter at home), and I was a bit rusty on the piano, but it was a beautiful little impromptu worship service.  It was just me, the mother and her daughter, and our church administrative assistant. 

It immediately brought me back to our pre-recorded services during the Covid-19 lockdown.  During the pre-recorded services it had been me, our pastor, our videographer, and audio/visual tech, so our small number in the sanctuary that day was very similar in nature to those sweet little worship times earlier in 2020. 

I belted out “How Great Thou Art,” and even put in the dramatic key change that I have grown to love.  It’s a marvel how quickly that musical muscle memory comes back, because it had been a long time since I had played that hymn all the way through.  It was a priceless, God-ordained, tender moment.  We listened as the daughter read devotions to her mother and then we prayed.  We also cried; I think all four of us cried.  I needed this mini Thursday afternoon worship service more than I can even put into words.  The last eighteen months have been extremely challenging, and I couldn’t believe the spark of energy, rejuvenation, and renewal that worked through me just from having those twenty minutes together.  This had not been just for the elderly mother and daughter; it had been just as meaningful for me and our administrative assistant. 

I realized that God had truly brought all of us into that sanctuary that day.  And to think, I had almost delayed my trip to the office by one day.  This mother and daughter had not even planned to come to the church that day; it had been a last-minute decision. But clearly God knew what all four of us needed that day.  The Holy Spirit had clearly prompted each one of us and drawn us together for just that pre-ordained time.  Do you believe in divine appointments?  I certainly do, because I just experienced one. 

Let me Tell you a Story

I love a good story.

I’m a bit of a talker when you get me one-on-one, and if you’re willing to listen, I can go into detail.

I love to read a good story— a blog, Facebook post, memoir, or fictional tale.  My idea of a good Friday night is me, a cup of tea, and a good book.

I also like to write a good story.  Not too long ago, I stumbled upon a file on my computer that I hadn’t accessed in a while.  It was my completed novel from 2012, an unpublished sequel to my 2011 release, The Promise.  I started to click through the pages, thinking about everything I would change if I could rewrite it or reveling in the portions that I thought were really strong.  In reading through my earlier work, a spark reawakened inside me.  I knew I didn’t have the time or energy, but there was still a longing to get back to writing again. 

I considered my current list of priorities, and quickly shot down the possibility of returning to writing.  Besides, who needed to write a novel when it felt like I was living through quite the page-turner already.  It was all I could do to keep moving as the story of my life spread out before me with all of its twists and turns.  If I could tell you the story of the past eighteen months, it might go something like this:

March, 2020

I was exhausted.  I felt a sharp pain in my ear, and when I reached up my hand to investigate, I found my ear canal was wet with discharge and painful to the touch.  To my knowledge, I had never had an ear infection before, but I knew that this couldn’t be good. 

I went into the office that next morning to hear my pastor say something strange: “So there’s this virus out there.  Schools are shutting down, and I’m thinking the church will need to close too.  You are going to need to be flexible because we might need to record our services.  I’ll keep you posted on what to do next.”

I had heard about Covid-19 and even the reality of a toilet paper shortage, but this caught me by surprise.  Trust me; I even considered that because of my probable ear infection, I may have heard him wrong.  But the reality soon became crystal clear.  We entered into nearly three months of lockdown with pre-recorded services and quite a bit of working from home.  I led worship mainly by myself during that time, only adding in one other vocalist on Easter Sunday.  It was a lonely yet also extremely busy time.  I had just come through an intensive songwriting mentorship, so the creativity was still flowing, which was a huge blessing because it kept me motivated. 

There was sadness during this time as well, because I said goodbye to a dear loved one whom held the role of best friend in my life.  If this were a chapter in my story, it would be marked with adversity, longing, fear, doubt, and most of all, grief.  The chapter concluded with a farewell and the end to a life-long connection. 

July, 2020

A new chapter begins.  Services are live and in-person, but the crowds are small.  I am fatigued from leading worship almost every week, and my pastor gives me a one-week respite for bereavement.  I come back to work, rested but still missing my loved one.  There is a bit of hope on the horizon, however, as we start to have outdoor services.  After a great ordeal, I manage to get my new piano in place, essentially saying goodbye to the instrument I had played for twenty years.  It was sad to let go of the piano where I had written many of my first songs, but I was excited for something new so I could record and create new melodies.  If this were a chapter in my book, it would be marked by letting go and new beginnings. 

December, 2020

The overwhelm, the stress, the fatigue, the extended lockdown…. November, 2020 brought another lockdown to our church.  I began leading worship alone again, and we recorded almost all of the services between November 15 and the end of the year.  I truly struggled in my worship leading.  I had always memorized the music I played, but I never realized how much I had relied on my fellow worship team members to get me back on track if I lapsed on a lyric.  When I was on stage all by myself and I couldn’t hear anyone singing with me, I began to doubt I knew the lyrics to the songs I had been singing for such a long time. 

One late afternoon in early December, I completely fell apart.  The despair was so acute that I couldn’t catch a breath in the midst of my tears.  I was at a crossroads.  Either I needed help or I simply couldn’t sustain the workload.  I prayed with an intensity that exhausted me nearly as much as my constant tears.  I asked God to help me, but I couldn’t imagine the answer to my prayers. 

When my exhaustion was complete, I had no choice but to stop my crying and simply listen to what God had to say.  It was then I felt the prompting to check out prompting technologies.  Prompting had been something I had considered before but I never thought it would work for me and my limited vision.  But in about two hours, I had my answer.  Thanks to a free app from the Google Play Store, I was on my way.  Two weeks later, I had an adjustable stand that would place my prompter (an Android tablet) right at eye level.  For the first time in my nine years as a worship leader, I had an adaptive tool that could help me with lyrics and arranging my music.

I reveled in the victory that came from this adaptation, but the celebration only lasted twenty-four hours.  The very next day, I got up from the table after eating lunch, and my heart started racing.  I had felt this rapid heart rate before, but only occasionally over the years since I was a teenager.  Typically, the feeling would pass in a few minutes or last as long as maybe an hour.  I had always equated my rapid heart rate to be evidence of a panic attack.  I have struggled with anxiety for a long time, so this self-diagnosis always seemed probable.  But there was a small part of me that wondered if it could be something more serious.  Heart-related concerns exist in my family, so it wasn’t completely impossible that something could be wrong. 

My heart kept racing that day, and two hours later, I still didn’t have relief.  I realized this couldn’t be a panic attack.  I had just found a way to deal with a lot of my stress, and I was relieved to have the prompter to assist me.  So the rapid heart rate didn’t make much sense, and I was starting to get worried. 

A dear friend called me in the midst of all of this, and immediately, she knew something was wrong.  I told her to distract me.  I thought that by talking to her I could somehow calm down.  But nothing changed, and my friend encouraged me to call 911.  I wasn’t sure taking that step was necessary, considering I wasn’t feeling like my symptoms were life-threatening, but I agreed that I would get someone to drive me to urgent care. 

I left the house after unplugging the Christmas lights and making sure everything was in order.  My friend stayed on the phone with me as I walked a few houses down to knock on the neighbor’s door.  Fortunately, he was home and quickly sprang into action.  He couldn’t enter the hospital because of Covid restrictions, and I felt the separation keenly as I faced the hours ahead alone.   

I was not prepared for my two-day hospital stay.  My blood pressure had spiked and could not be controlled.  A protein level was elevated in my blood as well due to my prolonged episode of supraventricular tachycardia.  Yes, I had a diagnosis.  Yes, I had panic and anxiety, but my Friday afternoon heart rate spike had not been panic after all.  I now had a name for the uncomfortable pounding heart rate that had plagued me on and off for years. 

January-April, 2021

The next few months were marked with doctor appointments, medication adjustments, and a great deal to consider.  Surprisingly, I handled the ever-changing circumstances fairly well.  I was stressed, but I knew it was important to get well, so I focused on following the doctors’ instructions and taking care of myself. 

The prompter was working out great at church, and we had returned to live and in-person services in the middle of January. 

Easter was approaching, and we began to consider the possibility of an outdoor service.  It was looking like it was going to be in the mid-seventies for the temperature that day, and since Easter in Wisconsin can often be quite chilly, this warm day was a gift.  I was able to play my new piano at the outdoor service, even working in the sound of a pipe organ so we could sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” at the top of our voices.  It was a beautiful morning when it felt like we could truly be together without boundaries.  The pandemic was still all around us, but for the first time in a year, it felt almost normal… or better than normal because the day was crystal clear and felt like Summer in April.  This chapter in my story concluded with hope and promise.

April 13, 2021

I was rehearsing at the piano when the phone rang.  It was cloudy outside and rain was threatening; little did I know the dreary weather was a pre-cursor to the long night ahead.  The conversation that resulted from that phone call changed everything.  I got up from the piano to pace the floor while I heard words like: “It’s time for me to go.”  “You’ll have to move forward without me.”  In a matter of moments, a relationship that had spanned the course of several years came to an abrupt end.  This was goodbye and nothing I could say or do could change it. 

The night ahead was fraught with tossing and turning.  If this were a chapter in my story, I would say this is where I got stuck in the middle— re-reading passages, losing my train of thought, and having to read everything again.  I cried, I prayed, I asked why.  I felt betrayed, abandoned, overwhelmed, even angry at times.  I replayed scenarios in my mind— all of the what-ifs and could-have-beens.  Why didn’t I see this coming?

With basically little to no sleep, I went into the office for an 11:00 meeting the next morning.  I was a wreck, walking in a fog, thinking all of this had to be a bad dream.  How do you move forward when nothing makes sense?  In terms of my story, I set the book aside and left it behind.  This was no happily ever after; I wanted no part of it. 

April 16, 2021

On May 14, I planned to release my song “Quiet Place” on all digital platforms.  In fact, that day I was so low on sleep, I actually approved the cover art and was thinking about submitting everything for digital distribution.  But I stopped myself from completing anything official because I was running on empty and definitely not thinking clearly.  Two days later, I got the finalized track, and hearing the completed song managed to penetrate through my numb haze.  With exactly a month to go until release, I announced the good news on my Facebook page, and for the first time in three days, I felt like I could look forward to something.  Music did its work in reviving me. 

June, 2021

I have one month to go before my ablation procedure; I am nervous but optimistic that I might soon embrace better health.  The church is transitioning.  Our pastor departed late in the Spring, and we entered the summer by welcoming in an interim.  Everything has changed, and there are days when it’s all I can do to keep everything straight.  The heat is intense, and I’m not sure if it’s my meds or something else, but I’m miserable.  I stay home in the air conditioning most of the time and fumble through songs at the piano.  I’m still stuck in the middle of that chapter from April, reluctant to move forward but yet knowing that I’ll have to turn the page soon because I can’t stay here. 

July 12, 2021

My ablation is complete, and although it appears to have promising results, I am discouraged about some of the findings.  As August begins, I am informed that I will have to wear a heart monitor.  I am weary of it all at this point. 

August 31, 2021

There is a glimmer of hope.  In just a few hours, I can take off the heart monitor and send it back to the clinic.  I check my email, and see a message from someone I’ll call “Miranda.”  That’s actually not her name, but since the season ahead is so deeply personal, I’m choosing not to go into detail.  But getting that message is like a new beginning, and I’m looking forward to the door that has opened to me.  In my story, this might be seen as the cliff-hanger with the sequel available sometime soon. 

So that’s my story… deeply personal and yet a snap-shot— a novella or short story of the last eighteen months.  I know I am not the only one to walk through significant challenges over these past few months, so if you’re reading this, I want you to know that you’re not alone.  The story is still unfolding, so even though it might seem hopeless at times, we have to remember that God is still at work within us. There is hope for a sequel of promise, a redeeming and outpouring of love and mercy.  I can’t wait to dive into the first chapter!

“Quiet Place” Available Everywhere Digital Music is Sold!

Before the pandemic brought a lockdown to our communities, I was in a songwriting course with Krissy Nordhoff.  In week 4, we were encouraged to write a Biblical Truth song, something that would speak to the culture of our church congregation and resonate accurately with Scripture.  Every week in the course thus far, I had gone week-to-week, not rushing ahead to see what we would have to write down the road.  But I knew this week was drawing near and I had been carrying around this idea for quite some time.  I had a few lyrics here and there relating to a specific theme, but nothing substantial; however, there was a melody haunting me as I went about my daily routine.  I don’t know if “haunting” is the right word, but basically the melody line wouldn’t leave me alone.  I hummed it to myself frequently, even singing it awkwardly into my voice recorder as if I would somehow forget it. 

When week 4 arrived and the assignment was given, I immediately set to work.  I had my melody and pieces of lyrics, and as the song came together, it was remarkable to see the process unfold.  I have always been a structured songwriter; I want to make sure the lyrics make sense and line up properly throughout the song.  The lines either have to rhyme or proceed in rhythm, or it drives me crazy!  At first, this song fought with me a little as far as structure was concerned.  It reminded me of my song “The Dawn,” which doesn’t have a chorus or any type of refrain— just four verses that look like hymn stanzas on a page.  When I wrote “The Dawn,” I fought with this structure for some time, somehow thinking that it wouldn’t be a real song unless it had a chorus or even a bridge.  But if I’ve learned anything by now when it comes to songwriting, it is clear that one shouldn’t mess with inspiration or creativity when it arises. 

So as “Quiet Place” emerged in front of me, I felt as if I had been in this place before with “The Dawn,” and I was modestly confident in this new song.  Of course, I was still nervous to hear what my classmates had to say, but I was particularly fond of the lyrics and I was hopeful that my work would meet with approval.  I had never written a song from God’s perspective before, so this also presented a unique perspective in the songwriting process. 

I wasn’t planning on releasing music any time soon, mostly because of the pandemic.  I have been recording at home to some degree, but it is far from professional; I knew if I was going to release anything, I would want to connect with a studio again.  Until the virus was no longer a significant threat, I was going to remain at home and create as best I could with the resources I had at my disposal. 

But in early March, I submitted song lyrics to a publication within my church denomination.  Because of my fondness for the lyrics of “Quiet Place” and how pretty and poetic they looked on a page, it was an easy choice to send this song out into the world.  I didn’t anticipate how strongly the song would connect with one of the editors, and before I knew what had happened, I was on the phone with Nate, the gentleman who produced my 2018 album The Dawn.  A plan came together fairly quickly.  I would record “Quiet Place” in the studio as soon as I had access to a portable digital piano.  Then once the song was ready, we would upload it to YouTube or Soundcloud.  Then when the newsletter published my lyrics, they could include the link to the sound recording as well.  The more we talked about the details, we came to a realization.  Basic distribution for digital music is typically under $20, and since we were going through all of the work of recording and making this release coincide with the newsletter, we might as well just submit “Quiet Place” for digital distribution so it could be available everywhere. 

So today, you can download and stream “Quiet Place” on 150+ digital platforms like Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, YouTube and YouTube Music, Deezer, and others.  Let me know what you think of the song, and I pray it speaks to your heart during this chaotic time in our history.  You can read below for the story behind the song and how it came together. 

My pastor preached a sermon in the early part of 2020 on Mark 1:29-34, adapted from Henri Nouwen’s article ‘Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry’ in Leadership Magazine, Spring 1995.  He focused on Jesus and his example— how he spent time alone with the Lord on numerous occasions, taking the time to go to a quiet place early in the morning.  After his times of solitude, he would move back into community— calling his disciples and nurturing their relationship with Him.  Then as he would move forward in His ministry, He would send them out into mission— two-by-two and connected in community to share the Gospel.  It begins with solitude and being rooted in personal relationship with Christ, being encouraged and participating in fellowship through community, and then being motivated to extend community into mission in order to draw others into relationship with Him.  It begins with solitude and then circles back to solitude.  It’s a continuing cycle of connection with the Savior. 

I wrote this song with a hymn-like structure with these core themes: solitude, community, and mission.  The lyrics are included below.   

Quiet Place

© 2020 Words and Music by Cassandra Lokker

Come with Me to a quiet place.

Seek My presence, seek My face.

This sacred ground where two hearts meet—

Lay your burdens at My feet.

Leave your cares, your fears behind.

Be still and know, renew your mind.

Come away to a quiet place,

A quiet place with Me.

Come together and fill this place.

Extend a hand, a warm embrace.

This offering of praise you bring—

The words you pray, the songs you sing,

Join together with one voice.

Glorify My name, rejoice!

Come together and fill this place.

Come and worship Me.

Go and be sent from this place,

Sharing love with tender grace.

Hear My call and count the cost.

Embrace the hurting and the lost.

I send you out by two, by three

To fish for men, to set them free.

Go and be sent from this place.

Come and follow Me. 

Come with Me to a quiet place.

Seek My presence, seek My face.

This sacred ground where two hearts meet—

Lay your burdens at My feet.

Leave your cares, your fears behind.

Be still and know, renew your mind.

Come away to a quiet place,

A quiet place with Me.

“Quiet Place” Credits

Written by: Cassandra Lokker ©2021

Vocals, piano: Cassie Lokker

Engineered, mixed, and mastered by: Nate Wycoff (Frequency Farm Recording Studio, Woodville, WI)

Photography: JoAnna Lampa

Art and Design: Anna Mitchell

Transportation/ Studio Assistant: Mary Logterman

Top Songs of 2020

At the close of 2019, I offered up a list of the songs that had impacted me throughout the year. I would like to do the same at the close of this year. The following songs have played a significant role in my life over the course of the past year. Some were used for corporate worship, while others ministered to me on a personal level. Where they are available, I have included YouTube links for the songs so you might be able to listen to them. Please consider supporting these artists by purchasing their albums or downloading their songs.

“After the Longest Night” Lex Buckley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_YB_iGmQBg

“Amadeo (Still my God)” Ryan Stevenson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9B-Jd_qGVBA

“Count me in” Switch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0d-remVn3k

“Enough” Koryn Hawthorne https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqavwKI

“For a Moment” Elevation Worship https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_JBRECGhtM

“Goodness of God” Bethel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvSuGyJQ6oM

“I have this Hope” Tenth Avenue North https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjetZn5lrBc

“I Know whom I have Believed”: My grandma passed away this year, and this was one of her favorite hymns to sing! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fINZWk6SEcQ

“I will Praise You” Ginny Owens: I watched many Facebook Lunchbreak Live mini concerts by Ginny Owens this year, and this inspired a song I shared at the FRC Thanksgiving Eve service. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQfWBDrCSrM

“Praise You in this Storm” Natalie Grant: When I wrote my book Beyond the Fury between 2005 and 2007, this song by Casting Crowns was a theme song of sorts.  Now, Bernie Herms has released this song with his wife Natalie.  I love piano ballads and coupled with the beauty of this song, its no surprise that this is one of my songs of the year.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fo0A7jpLsk

“Safe and Secure” Matt Crosson: I met Matt during the Worship Songwriter Mentorship this year, and this song was my favorite of the many tunes he composed throughout our nine weeks together.  I even had a chance to cover it at FRC. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpMCXNkYVTc

“The Blessing” Cody Carnes, Kari Jobe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKd0B2YhHpk

“The Sun will Rise Again” Becca Bradley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65RCZHeWldU

“While I Wait” Lincoln Brewster https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rb9M5vzUyZ0

Valleys and Victories

This will be a vulnerable post.  2020 has been hard for a lot of us, myself included, and the past two weeks have been almost as dramatic when I think of the year as a whole. 

I have to confess, I didn’t really mind when we went into lockdown in mid-March, especially when it came to leading worship.  It was sad not hearing the voices of my team members and congregation sing with me, but I became accustomed to the new normal and the flexibility it provided me in terms of preparation and practice time.  When I only had to consider myself on a musical level, my practice time became efficient and almost comforting in its routine.  There were a few of our crew along with my pastor and his wife who joined in our pre-recorded services, and it was enough for me to feel connected to the process. 

Through most of the Summer, we were able to meet in person for worship again, and I slowly began to integrate more team members as long as we socially distanced while rehearsing.  I felt relief when I realized I would have the help of my team.  I hadn’t realized until then how much I relied on my team members’ help with lyrics if I would happen to blank out during a service. Just in case you weren’t aware of this, let me remind you that I never have lyrics or music in front of me when I play and sing.  I just can’t get close enough to the music rest to see anything no matter how large I make the font on the page in front of me.  Being without my team for a few months in the Spring wasn’t easy and I had to really concentrate on memorizing the music, so having some singers with me during the Summer was incredibly freeing and I enjoyed participating in community. 

But then in Mid-November, we were advised to go back into lockdown and return to pre-recorded or live services with just our crew in the room.  My pastor’s wife no longer attended our recording, and all of the crew wore masks and distanced in the back of the sanctuary.  I couldn’t hear anyone singing, and I felt the separation keenly.  Three services in a row, I blanked out on lyrics.  One time, I even had to stop and start the song again because I didn’t know the first line.  My confidence wasn’t just shaken; it was rattled.  I’ve always been nervous while performing or leading worship, but as the weeks progressed, my nervousness became a pit of dread in my stomach. 

Now, before I go any further, please don’t jump to the conclusion that I dreaded or hated my role as worship leader.  I have always loved my job and been grateful for the impact working at FRC has had on my life.  But as November drew to a close, I was desperate to find some calm and perspective.  I still loved to sing, but I was consumed with the fear that I would continue to forget lyrics.  In the times I forgot the words, I quite often fumbled on the piano as well because of my anxiety. 

Late one afternoon, I sat down at the piano and just cried.  I didn’t want to practice.  I didn’t want to sing.  I was so tired of fighting my negative thoughts and nervous dread.  So I prayed… for a long time… telling God everything that was in my heart.  I was exhausted by the time I finished with everything I had to say.  I didn’t move for a long time but just sat there until I felt as if I perceived the nudge to check out prompting technologies. 

Now, I’ve considered having a prompter on stage before, but everything I’ve researched has never seemed to fit me visually or as a piano player.  I would need a screen or some kind of system at very close range that wouldn’t require much attention while in use.  I have found that the larger font I use, the less that fits on a printout or screen, so usually that means I have to turn the page or swipe to the next slide after just a few phrases.  When you’re playing piano, you can’t afford to lift your hand to turn pages or swipe to the next slide, especially when you would have to do it constantly in my case. 

That afternoon, I was thinking my research wouldn’t amount to many options.  But even though I was doubtful, I had a tiny bit of hope rise to the surface.  It was 2020, after all, and there had to be some new technology out there. 

Within an hour, I had found a free application on the Google Play Store.  It came highly recommended in the reviews; a user who was visually impaired even remarked that it worked well for them.  I downloaded the app immediately after reading the promising words from my visually impaired peer, and upon launching the app and importing some lyrics, I started crying all over again. 

I COULDN’T BELIEVE MY EYES!  There is no pun intended there!  I was instantly transfixed on my screen, and I practically ran to the piano to try it out.  I don’t have a music rest on my piano at home, but I was able to set my Tablet next to me and start the prompting.  I increased the font to 70 and it began to scroll.  IT SCROLLS!  I quickly learned I could time it to scroll fast or slow, depending on the speed of my songs, and I can place stops or blank lines in certain places if I need to play an interlude or instrumental between the vocal lines and I don’t want the lyrics to get ahead of me.  I basically never have to touch the prompter while in use— NO SWIPING OR TURNING PAGES!

As if the app wasn’t enough, two days later, I was on the phone with a family member, and I related my discovery over the weekend.  Within an hour, an apparatus was ordered on Amazon, a swivel/ boom-type stand that I can place my Tablet inside and have lyrics essentially inches in front of my face.  We had to wait a week for it to be shipped to me, but I was excited at the possibilities. 

In the meantime, I tried a few songs with prompting at a recorded service.  Since I didn’t have the rest of the equipment yet, I simply propped my Tablet on the folio stand in front of the music rest and let the prompter run during two of my five songs.  IT WAS A GAME-CHANGER!  All of the nerves and dread were GONE!  I was at ease.  I was calm.  I LOVED IT!  I went home, motivated and excited for the weeks to come. 

But the very next day, I came crashing back to reality.  I won’t get into details here, but 24 hours after we recorded our service, I found myself in the ER.  Within a few moments, I was diagnosed with a somewhat common heart condition that I have probably had all my life without knowing it.  From what I understand, this condition is manageable and treatable, but these past few weeks have been overwhelming.  I have many doctor appointments on the horizon and medications to manage.  I feel like I came from the valley, shot to the top of the mountain, and now I’m back to the valley.  I’m anxious about it, but I’m grateful that I’m able to still work and function without depression or negativity. 

I think the hope of the Christmas season is helping.  I have had such great support from my co-workers, neighbors, and household assistant.  I am getting to appointments and receiving help around the house when I need it.  I am loving my Christmas lights and practicing with my prompter.  My friends even brought my Tablet to the hospital so I could keep working on importing songs into the awesome app.  Working on the prompting kept my thoughts from spiraling in anxiety toward my new diagnosis. 

I’m grateful for the ER doctor who diagnosed me, the nurses in the hospital who cared for me, those who are driving me to appointments, and those who are checking in on me periodically.  I’m also grateful for SingerPro (the prompting app) and the developer who created it.  And now that I’ve been able to set up the equipment on the piano at church, I am grateful for a piece of hardware that has made a MONUMENTAL difference for me as a musician. 

I might be in the valley right now, but I can still see the victories.  I am hopeful, grateful, and blessed.    

It Shouldn’t be this way…

I’m sure many of you can relate to my situation this past Spring.  Many of us were in lockdown and simply trying to find something to keep us motivated and focused.  I had plenty of music to keep me busy, and since I had just graduated from the songwriting mentorship, I had seven new songs that practically begged to be arranged, produced and performed.  Being new to the whole recording thing, I spent the rest of the Spring trying to find my sound.  My Spire, my twenty-year-old Roland FP-3, and headphones were my companions as I acquainted myself with a new skill— that of recording engineer and producer.  Let’s just say, I think I’ll stick with singing and songwriting, but I’m getting there in terms of competence in this new creative realm.

As much as I loved my piano, my FP-3 was showing its age.  Its sampled piano sound was far from modern and any time I wanted some strings to create depth in the background, I only had two choices for tones.  The rhythms and beats were limiting, and I found myself pulling out my tiny Yamaha keyboard just to find a rhythm pattern that suited a particular song. 

“You need a new piano,” my mom commented one day, and although the thought excited me, the reality was overwhelming.  I didn’t even know what was on the market, and I knew I would need to do my homework if getting a new piano was in my future.  So in between practicing, arranging, and recording, I watched hours of YouTube videos and immersed myself in online reviews.  By the middle of August, I had centered my research on two stage pianos, but I wanted to play them first to make my final decision.  I knew how they sounded online, but nothing compares to moving your fingers over the keys and judging their weight and escapement. 

I had a medical appointment scheduled for a day in the middle of August in Woodbury, Minnesota, so I reached out to a music store close to the facility and asked if they had my top two piano choices available in their store to play and see them in person.  Since going into lockdown in mid-March, I hadn’t been far from home or done any shopping beyond my local grocery store, so to journey 35 minutes from home was kind of a big deal.  When I called the store, I was informed they only had one of my two choices, and they didn’t anticipate having the other in stock any time soon.  I knew chances were slim that I would get to play the other piano in person, so I simply set my sights on the one they had available. 

On the day of my appointment, my parents and I entered the music store— a well-known nationwide franchise, where I had purchased my FP-3 nearly twenty years earlier.  I had high expectations— expectations that were quickly dashed.  The piano was there and all set up, but it wasn’t plugged in.  Once they found a power cord, I thought I would be able to play to my heart’s content, but no.  There was no pedal, and every piano player knows how essential a damper pedal is to the whole playing experience.  They found me a pedal, but by the time it was connected, the polarity was all messed up— meaning that when I pressed the pedal down, it did the exact opposite and the notes only sustained when I lifted my foot from the pedal. 

I was pretty frustrated at this point since I was unable to truly experience the sound and potential of the instrument.  But I could feel the keys beneath my fingers and that was enough for me to make the decision.  I told the salesman that I wanted to purchase, and so the salesman and my dad made their way throughout the store gathering up a stand, speakers, pedal, and the other accessories I would need.  I was expecting that I would have to order the piano and have it shipped to me, so I was surprised when the salesman offered us the display model.  “You can take it home with you today,” he told us.

My dad was happy with this development.  He would be able to help me set up the piano at home then and I wouldn’t have to struggle through the set-up process days later when he wouldn’t be there with me.  We were just about to ring up my purchases when my parents realized that something didn’t look right with the piano.  Once they had brought it into the main room, up by the cash registers, the harsh, fluorescent light revealed deep scratches and grooves into the metal body of the instrument.  I was not making an investment in something so valuable when it was damaged from the beginning.  We made the salesman aware of the situation, and he offered the possibility of taking ten percent off the order.  “No,” I said.  “Absolutely not.  I want it new, straight from the box.” So I left the store that day with all of the accessories and no piano.  My new Roland stage piano would be shipped to me, and I would just have to wait. 

Two days later, the phone rang at home.  It was a store in Middleton, Wisconsin, a part of the music store franchise I had visited a few days before in Minnesota.  They informed me that the store in Minnesota had sourced my order to their location and they were getting ready to ship me their display model.  Was that okay?  Um… no!  Again, I make it clear, I want this piano new, no blemishes, no scrapes and scratches, in the box, untouched.  The salesman in Middleton said he understood, and he offered to check to see if any other stores in their system had a new model in the box, ready to ship.  He told me I would have an answer the next day.

The next morning, I got the good news that my piano was being shipped from a store near Fort Worth, Texas.  It would arrive via UPS three days later.  I was nervous about the condition of the piano, hoping and praying that it would arrive safely without damage.  I had been talking to my cousin, and he offered to help me unbox the piano when it arrived.  He knew how nervous I was about the whole thing, and he was prepared to look everything over to make sure there were no issues.  Then he planned to help me set it up. 

When UPS came to the door, I asked the gentleman to carry the large box into the living room.  Then I texted Justin to let him know it was go-time.  Fifteen minutes later, the tape was cut away and the box gaped open to reveal my piano.  “Does it look okay?” I remember asking, my voice probably squeaking with nervousness. 

“Um… yeah, I think so,” Justin replies as he lifts one end of the piano out of the box.  Then I hear a grumble of frustration.  “Cassie, you’re not going to like this…”

“What is it?”  Again, there was probably that nervous squeak in my voice. 

He takes my hand and guides it to the upper portion of the keyboard.  The top five or six keys are smashed down, stuck in place, and they don’t release when you touch them.  Not only that, but there is a piece of the exterior that is missing on the end of the piano.  Justin searches all over the box, looking for the broken piece, but it is nowhere to be found. 

I slump down to the floor and start laughing hysterically. 

“What’s so funny?  Why are you laughing?” he askes me, probably thinking that I’ve officially gone cray-cray.

“If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry,” I say, wiping a few tears away even as I say this.  “What do we do now?”

The next few hours were spent returning the defective piano to the Oakdale, Minnesota store.  Thanks to Justin and his truck, we were able to take it to the store and leave it there.  I was told my purchase would be refunded through an even exchange.  A new piano would be shipped to me from their warehouse.  I should have known better.  How would they be able to ship a piano from their warehouse, when just three days earlier they were having to source my order from individual stores?  Did they suddenly have new stock?

Somehow, I wasn’t surprised when I received an email the next morning.  “We’re sorry.  Your order has been cancelled,” the first line read.  I barely held in my frustration as I called customer service.  I didn’t even bother calling any of the three stores I had done business with over the past three days.  I was so done with this franchise, and when they asked me if I was interested in a different piano, I flat-out declined.  I made it clear I wanted a refund, and I was promised that would happen in three-seven days. 

If you know me well, you know that I don’t cry unless I’m really angry.  Well, I was there.  I allowed myself a good cry once I got off the phone, but I couldn’t wallow in despair much longer.  My senior pastor and administrative assistant needed me to call into the office, and I had to update Justin and my dad on the process of the piano buying fiasco.  I was glad I had work to keep me busy that day because I was one step away from crying at any moment.

Throughout the day, I texted with my dad and youngest sister.  They encouraged me to reach out to a local, small music store.  I knew what I wanted, and even if they didn’t have my piano in stock, maybe they would be a dealer and they could order it for me.  I really didn’t want to go through having a piano shipped to me again, so I thanked my family for the idea and decided it was just too soon to think about ordering from somewhere else and going through the process all over again.  But my sister, in particular, was insistent.  She even suggested she could call a music store near her to see if they could order a piano for me. 

Finally, I decided to call my local store, a family-owned business about 20 miles from my home.  I had been in their store before, and they rarely had pianos on display.  There just wasn’t enough room in there, so I was pretty sure they wouldn’t have my piano available for purchase.  But I wanted to set this to rest, and maybe, prove my baby sister wrong. 😊  When the store owner answered my call, I briefly told her that I had tried out this piano while out and about one day and that I had quite the experience trying to purchase and get it safely home.  “Oh, Cassie,” she says to me.  “Why didn’t you just call me first.  I have one sitting in the box right next to me.  Would you like to purchase it?”

An itsy-bitsy flutter of hope started to rise up inside of me, manifesting itself in my rapid heartbeat.  Oh, how I wanted that piano!  But I had gotten my hopes up, only to have them dashed cruelly, and I was fragile and distrustful.  I asked her if I could think about it over the weekend and get back to her.  I talked to my parents later that day, and they were quick to recognize that this connection seemed like it was meant to be all along.  We didn’t know why I had to take such a prolonged detour to be led to the right place, but it was clear that I was going to get my piano from my hometown store in River Falls, Wisconsin. 

Three days later, the store owner herself delivered the piano to my house and was gracious to help me set it up.  My first text was to my cousin Justin, thanking him for his help and support during the long and drawn-out process.  “Now play away!” he texted back. 

I set out to do just that— play away— and right away I was pretty disappointed.  The piano didn’t sound remotely like it had in all of the YouTube videos I had watched over the past few months.  What was going on?  It was tinny and thin sounding, so I began to play with the settings for reverb and EQ.  That seemed to help a little, but I still wasn’t satisfied.  A little research through YouTube and some Roland piano forums gave some insight into other tips and tricks.  It was also suggested that the quality of the speakers or amp connected to the piano could also impact the sound, so knowing that my speakers were likely to blame, I set out to craft the perfect sound that would work with my set-up. 

Its not perfect, but I think I’ve got a piano sound that works for me now.  I used “Eastcoast Studio” as my template and brought in EQ and reverb until I could play through a few songs without my critical ear derailing my practice time.  I’ve got so much to learn and a beautiful piano to enhance my creativity.  It didn’t come without some major challenge, but for some reason, I had to endure the delays and defects to get where I am today.  It shouldn’t have been that way, but maybe the winding road that led toward my hometown music store was the ultimate destination?  Sometimes delays and detours don’t make any sense.  Why would buying a piano— something that should be so good… a means for me to create, worship, and write songs to honor my Creator— be riddled with such challenge and difficulty?  Maybe it was the enemy trying to frustrate the process.  Maybe it was me getting in the way.  Maybe, just maybe, it was God’s way of working in my circumstance, teaching me about patience.  Even when the piano was finally here, I still had to craft my piano sound.  My entitled mindset was thinking that I shouldn’t have to take the time to make the piano work for me like that.  It should have been ready for me in the first moment I set my fingers on the keys!  But in light of these circumstances, I could wait a few days more to draw that enhanced sound out from the piano.  It was worth the wait. 

God showed me infinite mercy as I cried and rebelled in the waiting.  Looking back, I know he was faithful to show me the way, to draw close as I meticulously craft my sound so I can make music again.  The process is ongoing and I’m not done learning.  I’ll do my best to let Him take the baton and lead me forward.  My music is incomplete and meaningless without Him.    

Wind-blown, out of the Abyss Survival

One awesome phone call brought it all screaming back to me— the fear, the doubt, the grief, the uncertainty… and above all else, the immense gratitude.  “Wait, what?” you might be asking.  “An awesome, meaning good?… phone call brought up all of those emotions?”  As hard as it might be to believe this, it’s true!


I was in the middle of a tedious Zoom meeting when my cell phone rang.  I ignored the call because it wasn’t from someone in my contacts, but then my landline rang right next to me, displaying the same number in the caller ID.  With a bit of hesitancy, I decided to answer the call, my guard up because of so many unwanted, robocalls over time.  I was surprised and elated to hear a welcome voice on the other end of the call, that of my retina surgeon.  It had been over a year since I had been in his office, and obviously, because of COVID-19, my upcoming appointments have been put on hold.  He called to ask about my well-being and to go over some developments with my case.  I hung up from the call, practically brimming with thankfulness.


Almost three years ago, I was confronted with a frightening reality: the very real possibility that I could lose the remaining vision contained to my left eye as a result of retinal tears.  I had always said with a bit of confidence that if I lost my remaining vision someday, I would be prepared to some degree since I was already partially blind anyway.  But when there was an immediate threat to my vision, my confidence and bravado were gone within a blink of my blurred, light-sensitive eye.  I was a mess of fear and worry, and I found myself clinging to a fifty percent chance that the surgeons could save my vision.  I prayed that God would grant me a miracle.


Healing from the surgery was a long and tedious process.  It was a long time before we could say with certainty that my vision was clearing and that the retina was intact.  My rare eye disorder, a birth defect of the cornea, often prevented a clear view of the back of my eye, so there were many ultrasounds in the months following my operation.  Now, almost three years later, my doctor has declared the operation a success, and I am beyond grateful that I am able to type this to you today while still able to squint at the computer screen.  It isn’t as comfortable for me to write now as it was before my surgery, but I take breaks when I need to, and I make the most of days when my dry eye isn’t bothering me or there isn’t a headache present.


Lately, I have found it strangely fitting that I have correlated the events surrounding my retina surgery with our current reality in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In June of 2017, just three months before my impending surgery, a tree on my property split and came crashing to the ground.  This actually happened twice over the course of a few weeks, and both times, I was completely unaware it had happened.  Once, I was sleeping the deep sleep of an exhausted workaholic, and the second time, I was away from home.  You would think that something so significant: the crash landing of tree branches would cause some alarm, but I was oblivious.  The same was true as the pandemic crashed onto the scene in March, 2020.  I can remember standing outside my pastor’s office when he uttered the strange words: “So I’m going to need you to be flexible here.  We may need to record some stuff for services.  I don’t know what to tell you specifically… just be ready.”


I walked away from the conversation, thinking, “Okay, yeah, so there’s this virus threatening the U.S., but shutting down church and recording services?  No, that can’t happen, right?”  Well, boy, was I surprised when a week later I found myself at the piano in a nearly empty sanctuary, recording our first virtual service.  I knew the pandemic was upon us, but I ignored the signs, just like I had tuned out the sound of the tree falling outside my house.


We had landed ourselves in a deep cavern of unknown, which felt a whole lot like the days following my surgery.  I remember blogging about those days of panic and doubt, even up to two years after my surgery.  Even though my healing had been progressing, I was terrified my retina would detach again, and my symptoms would return.  I was living in gratitude that my vision was back, but I wasn’t embracing that gratitude and living like it had won over my fear.  In many ways, I was standing in the valley, too afraid to welcome in the light of day and the beauty of vision because at any moment it might disappear.


About a year ago, our pastor preached from the book of Genesis and reminded us all of the story of Joseph.  When Joseph’s brothers threw him into the cistern, they meant him harm, yet the cistern was not the end for Joseph.  When slave traders lifted him from the abyss, he was carried off to Egypt, where he had to adapt to a new life.  He was now living and forced to work in a foreign land.  I’m sure he wanted to give up a time or two; after all, he was dealt disappointment after disappointment: abandonment by his family, wrongful imprisonment, and haunted by dreams that probably seemed like a mockery when he considered his reality.  How could God bring good out of the abyss?


I have found myself asking that question, first with my retina detachment and now with COVID-19.  A few weeks ago, I wrote about bittersweet blessings, and I still consider these past few months to be characterized in this way.  It hasn’t been easy, but there has been goodness sprinkled in amongst the challenges.  I know many are struggling right now as a result of illness, loss of employment, or battling through the frustrations of social distancing.  I can understand these realities, although I am grateful to be employed and relatively healthy.  I miss a dear one who is currently housed in a long-term care facility; I miss her so acutely, that sometimes it hurts to breathe when I consider the separation.  I pray for her and her fellow residents daily, but it doesn’t bring her any closer.


Bittersweet blessings are harder to perceive because you truly have to look for them.  Joseph could have easily given up in Egypt, but he kept moving forward because the Lord was with him.  Several times in the book of Genesis, this was made known: “The Lord was with Joseph.”  Potiphar’s house thrived, the dreams that God interpreted came true, and Pharaoh appointed Joseph to serve at his right hand.  The kingdom began to thrive, and Joseph carried the land through the impending seven years of famine that followed the seven years of plenty.  What his brothers meant for harm became something infinitely good.  Joseph just had to look up and be lifted out from the abyss.  In writing of Joseph’s experience in Egypt, author Max Lucado has this to say: “Survival in Egypt begins with a yes to God’s call on your life.”


What goodness can I say “yes” to as I embrace the call on my life in order to survive this modern-day Egypt of COVID-19?  I believe it begins with a simple willingness to get up every morning and sing and write the songs He has given me— to lead the people of FRC and anyone else watching— into worship through song each Sunday morning.  It means memorizing verse after verse of hymns so I can lead with confidence.  It means persevering through not one, but two services each Sunday until we move out of phase one.  It means leading alone because right now it’s too risky to have multiple musicians on the platform.


If this doesn’t sound “good” to you just yet, hang with me for a moment or two more.  Despite the isolation and extra hours of work, I am content, because this is my task right now.  I have enjoyed the challenge of leaning into new realities as a worship leader.  I have tried out new songs that I might not have explored if I weren’t forced to lead alone.  I wouldn’t be memorizing so intently if I had the other musicians singing with me because ordinarily I would fall back on their voices if I missed a lyric here or there.  This season of COVID-19 has sharpened my focus— taken it off of my own comforts and helped me to consider the bigger picture.


I still admit to feeling some fear in the midst of the unknown.  Often, I can be found wearing a mask and intentionally limiting the people I bring into my home.  I don’t want to get sick, and I don’t want to unintentionally infect someone in the event I might be asymptomatic.  But even as the twinge of fear tries to take hold, I have done my best to embrace the beautiful moments:


  • Hearing the sweet sound of 30-some voices muffled behind masks at worship
  • Face masks that my mom made for me, one of which has Green Bay Packer print on it
  • Finding simple amenities like soap and toilet paper when they are in short supply
  • The gift of a 90-day free trial of Amazon Music that I thoroughly enjoyed
  • Learning and falling in love with songs like “Safe and Secure” by Matt Crosson, “Living Hope,” and “The Blessing”
  • Creating music on my Spire
  • Stumbling across a small group through the RCA and unexpectedly feeling like I might somehow fit into such a diverse group
  • Live Facebook concerts from some of my music mentors like Tenth Avenue North, Ginny Owens, Natalie Grant and Cheri Keaggy
  • Online conferences through the RCA, Crown and Worship Leader
  • For a few weeks, being able to experience true weekends since we pre-recorded our services on Fridays: sleeping a bit longer on Sunday mornings, waffles for breakfast, and watching my dad’s church online
  • Meeting my three-month-old nephew for the first time and getting to hold him for the briefest of moments
  • Having a girls’ day with my best friends, having our nails painted and enjoying a meal together even though we had to maintain social distancing
  • Deliveries for online orders when I couldn’t just drive to get what I needed
  • Neighbors and my domestic assistant who look out for me and offer support
  • Renting a movie that I wanted to see for a long time
  • Being able to ride my trike to and from work and walk to and from the grocery store— pretty much the highlights of my week.


I could say so much more about the good right now, but then you might be reading for longer than you have time to engage, so with that I am going to sign off.  Do me a favor, friends.  Don’t let the unexpected wind gusts take you down.  Look up from the abyss and embrace the beauty of bittersweet blessings.


Challenge Accepted!

Yesterday felt a little bit like the first day of school. Now, just to be clear, I haven’t been enrolled in formal education since 2011, although I have taken a few classes and web-based trainings since. But after attending K-12th grade and then moving through college and grad school, the feeling of the first day of school is all-too-familiar. Quite often, there was the nearly sleepless night before the big day. There was frequent checking of my alarm. I couldn’t oversleep because then I would miss the bus or be late. The nervous flutters were present along with pressing questions: What would my classes be like? Would the homework be hard? Would I have a good connection with my teachers? Would I make any new friends? It was the unknown of what waited on the horizon that characterized that first-day-of-school feeling.

Yesterday wasn’t the first day of school, but some of the emotions and nervous jitters were definitely present. We were re-opening our church in a limited capacity after being closed down for nearly three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We had been pre-recording our services and releasing them to our website and YouTube, so the church was definitely still up and running, but we didn’t have the usual level of activity in our building. On a typical service recording day, it would just be me, the associate pastor, the senior pastor, the administrative assistant, and our audio/visual tech. We maintained social distancing and limited in-person contact. In fact, I mainly worked from home and only came into the office on the days we recorded.

But yesterday, we entered a new phase of ministry, and I think my nerves mirrored the way I felt when I first started leading worship in 2009. I knew there would be people in the pews, but I had no idea if I would be able to hear them singing behind their masks. We would be doing two services instead of just one, and that was also something to consider. It would be an early call time for sound check and a long morning. I had all the protocol and the schedule in front of me, but there was so much unknown until I would actually experience this first day of phase one re-opening. I was nervous but I was up for the challenge.

In many ways, the past three months had prepared me and the rest of our staff for this new reality. I think I can say that none of us had ever walked through anything like it before. We were in uncharted territory. There were no instructional manuals entitled “How to Lead a Congregation through a Worldwide Pandemic.” We had to figure things out as we went along. There were a lot of prayers, tears, and hopeful hearts as we led into the week of March 16 up until June 7. We delved into technology. We asked difficult questions and sometimes had to settle for not having the answers. We prayerfully pursued guidance from the Holy Spirit. I spent hours at the piano, intentionally selecting music for our services. Our staff, particularly Pastor Tim, examined the Scriptures and studied intently in order to share the Word with our congregation.

Although there was nothing routine about our circumstances, we began to build a schedule and a semblance of routine anyway. Fridays began to feel like Sundays, because that is when we recorded our services. Weekly phone calls quite often took the place of in-office meetings. Emails replaced network file sharing. We were only together on Fridays, but in some ways, our communication and connectedness was stronger than it had ever been before. I smile at the memory of one service recording in early April. It was snowing and blowing outside, but we had just recorded our Palm Sunday service and there was an element of festivity in the air. The staff and our pastor’s wife sat in various pews throughout the nearly empty sanctuary and planned out how we would proceed through Holy Week. There was joking, fun, and camaraderie. There was nothing normal about our socially distant staff meeting, but if the past few weeks had taught us anything, it was a welcome moment in the midst of the unknown.

I don’t consider it a coincidence that I purchased recording equipment just before the start of this pandemic. I never knew that this Spring would find me recording music for weddings and worship services, when I thought I would mainly be recording demos for songs I wrote during my songwriting class. It was a crash course in music production, and I was far from prepared for the workload in front of me. But if you know me at all, it won’t surprise you when I confess that I like a good challenge. If I have time and the necessary resources to really explore something, I quite often jump in with two feet. But I need hands-on orientation, or the challenge becomes more of a frustration. My mother can attest to the moments of frustration and overwhelm in my late teen years as I began to consider moving out on my own. She was a busy mother of four, and there were certain tasks she couldn’t just demonstrate for me while I watched. I needed to do the work, hands-on with strong verbal instructions. She didn’t have the patience to deal with my stubborn independence, so when I turned eighteen, I was sent to an independent living school for the visually impaired.

Even now, I look back at some of the skills and perspective I gained from my time at the independent living school, and I’m grateful for the training I received. Although sometimes it might be easy to give up and walk away from a challenge, it doesn’t result in any movement forward. Sometimes, if you want to get somewhere or learn something, you have to stick with it for the long-haul, much like our experience in leading worship through COVID-19.

It was while I was recording one day that this all came together— the challenge, the struggle, and the choice to either give up or press into it. I had just finished the piano and lead vocal parts for a practice demo, and it was time to add the vocal harmonies. Everything went really smoothly, and it wasn’t long before I had exported my completed recording to my computer. I listened to the track critically as it was being finalized. There was a little glitch near the end, but I was willing to let it go because it wasn’t worth tweaking one of the harmonies just to smooth over such a brief patch. After all, it wasn’t like I was going to release the song professionally.

I was surprised that I wasn’t more inclined to go back and fix that little spot in the back-up vocals. My perfectionism had taken a backseat, and that wasn’t normal for me. But I should have known this passive perspective wouldn’t last for long. I was making dinner while listening to the finished track on my phone, and I found myself cringing at the one trouble spot in the harmony line. For some reason, it was really pronounced and obvious on my tinny phone speaker. I got out my headphones and listened to the spot that way, and although I could hear the dissonance, it wasn’t so obvious. But as soon as I listened without the headphones, I was cringing all over again. Now it was driving me crazy and I had to get to the bottom of it.

So I set my equipment up again and meticulously listened to each line of the track: first the piano, then the lead vocal, and then each harmony. I listened for a wrong note or if something was flat or sharp. Then I found it when listening to the highest harmony part. It clashed with the lowest harmony part, and there were times when both voices should have lined up in octaves. But the pitches were not matching, and it was so obvious to me when the parts were isolated from the other track lines. I knew what I needed to do: record both the lowest and highest harmony lines again. I groaned when I thought of the work ahead of me, but I knew the music would be incomplete without the fine-tuning and extra effort. So I focused in and got it done. The relief and accomplishment that came with the finished product was well worth the challenge and struggle.

I felt similar emotions yesterday as we met for in-person worship for the first time in nearly three months. The hard work and intentionality had been worth all of the effort that had been expended. At our first service, I nearly gave in to tears when I heard nearly 20 voices raised with mine in corporate worship. It was even more noticeable at the second service when there were more than thirty of us in the room. It had been so long since I had led worship with a live crowd present. There was so much more to consider beyond the music— hand sanitizer, face masks, social distancing, and the added precautions and restrictions in the building— but the music and the preaching of the Word were constants in the ever-evolving season of COVID-19.

It will probably be a long time before we can all worship together at one time in the same room, but yesterday was a start— a first day of school of sorts as we continue to navigate these uncharted waters. We have a long way to go and I’m sure there will be many more challenges on the horizon, but I am willing to move forward, even if it means digging in and isolating one factor at a time. Its meticulous work but well worth it in the end.

Bittersweet Blessings

I haven’t written here in two months. I have been silent on the blog for extended periods before, but this absence from posting seems really significant for some reason. Maybe it’s because of our current circumstances. I had a feeling one of two scenarios would play out for me as we navigated these uncharted waters: either I would be writing and sharing frequently during this journey or I would say next to nothing. Well, it’s interesting that a third scenario actually emerged; I have something to say, but I don’t know how to say it.

A few nights ago, a Facebook friend did a livestream and her vulnerability gave me courage to move forward with posting here. My friend is a seasoned musician, someone I have followed in their musical journey since I was in junior high. Her songs and passion for songwriting fueled my own love of songwriting, and it was inspiring to watch from the sidelines as another piano-playing girl lived out her dream on the stage. I nearly had a fan-girl moment when in September, 2014 my songwriting mentor from afar became my Facebook friend. We have remained in contact ever since, and it has been a blessing, just as her impromptu livestreamed concert was a blessing. In between songs, my friend shared that she had felt somewhat guilty for not doing a live concert sooner during quarantine; she said it just hadn’t felt right to add her own livestream into the plethora of bands and musicians also offering their songs online during this time. It wasn’t until that morning that she felt it was finally time to share from her heart and sing for an audience.

Like I mentioned earlier, her vulnerability and honesty gave me the courage to finally write something today. My thoughts aren’t organized though, so I don’t know how well this will read. But all I can say is that this season has been filled with blessings. As my title implies, they are bittersweet blessings though, because if it weren’t for this very challenging and trying season in our lives, we wouldn’t be able to recognize the blessings right in front of us.

I started to recognize these bittersweet blessings on March 20, nearly two months ago when I stepped onto an empty stage and sat down at the piano. The stage, the piano, the sense of routine were all welcome that morning, but the changes were staggering. I was getting ready to lead worship at church, but it wasn’t Sunday; it was Friday. The sanctuary should have been filled with people, but when I turned my head to take it in, there were only five faces. My visual impairment didn’t allow me to see their faces clearly, but I knew they were there because I could hear their voices. In the quiet moment leading into our recorded service, I focused on one voice in the silent room as Justin counted down to when we would be rolling: “Five, four, three…” Then I started playing. That’s when I realized I could barely hear anything. Yes, there were only five voices singing with me, but that wasn’t the only reason I couldn’t hear well; I had an ear infection, and it felt so isolating to sing and play when my voice was the only thing I had to anchor me in the music.

But as the service continued, I did my best to focus on the things that hadn’t changed— the things that were constant even in the midst of a worship service recorded during a pandemic. God was still present; His presence was so thick in our sanctuary that morning. The songs I led proclaimed His sovereignty in the midst of a world searching for peace and hope. I simply sang and worshipped, and now and then, I could hear our pastor’s wife singing with me from the front row. There were only six of us in the room, but we were recording a service to be viewed by our entire congregation; so even though it felt empty and foreign, I had a job to do and that was to lead God’s people into worship.

Optimistically, I thought this recorded worship service mentality would only last a few weeks; then we would get back to “normal.” But two months later we are still here. As I drove home yesterday after doing our eighth recorded service, I marveled at the change of seasons. When this all started, it was the middle of March. There was still some snow on the ground and it was pretty cold. I was battling my mold allergies, and the ear infection was miserable. I spent about four weeks in an allergy-induced fog. I led worship for our recorded services and was fully engaged when I needed to be, but in the quiet moments at home, it was really hard to concentrate and stay motivated. I had just exited the nine-week course in songwriting, so I had virtually gone from a steady work flow to a far less hectic schedule.

Little by little, I began to bounce back. By mid-April I was feeling a lot better, and while everyone else sneezed and wheezed through pollen allergies, I was ready to hit the ground running… only there really wasn’t anywhere to run. So I buckled down and basically went crazy with creating music. I didn’t write anything, but I arranged and pulled new songs to lead at church. An old friend from church asked me to sing at her wedding, and I began to contemplate what a wedding in quarantine would look like. Before long, I learned that I would be recording my songs for the ceremony and sending them in; I wouldn’t even be present at the wedding, and that was such a strange reality to consider.

And then came “The Blessing,” quite literally. Some of you, or rather, most of you are probably familiar with the recently released worship anthem co-written by Cody Carnes and Kari Jobe (also Steven Furtick and Chris Brown). Pastor Tim was planning on continuing his sermon series from 1 Peter and he moved into chapter 3 this week. He wanted to focus on believers extending a blessing to others, even being willing to bless those who are harder to love. That’s when he suggested I lead “The Blessing.”

At first, I resisted. The song is all over the Internet, and in the past two months, the YouTube videos and covers have piled up; I didn’t feel the need to add my voice to the sea of renditions already out there. Besides, how does one girl at the piano sing a song well when there is such energy and vitality in the harmonies and the interplay between multiple musicians? I was feeling under-qualified and quite a bit intimidated.

But I didn’t want to disappoint my Pastor, and more importantly, I wanted to be obedient to the Holy Spirit if “The Blessing” was a tool He wanted to utilize in our worship service. So I sat at the piano and tried. I had to arrange the key to fit my voice, and even then, it just felt lacking without the harmonies. I got the piano part down rather effectively, putting a little pad sound behind the chords to provide some ambiance. I managed to get it recorded and loaded into my Spire (my awesome recording equipment). Then I left my piano and went into the other room. I have a little corner designated for recording, and I set up there for the next few hours, laying down the lead vocals and all of those harmonies that had been begging to find a place in the song. By the end of the day, I had a rough demo for my take on “The Blessing” and a means to help me move forward with leading worship later that week.

Friday morning as we recorded our weekly service, I played and sang “The Blessing.” It was certainly odd singing it in a nearly empty sanctuary, but unlike two months ago, I could actually hear a little more and engage with my surroundings. The five others in the room were singing with me, and it was a sweet moment— a blessing in itself. But I felt unsettled. As I drove home in the beautiful Spring afternoon, my offering of worship felt incomplete; the blessing wasn’t yet fulfilled. Many church members wouldn’t tune in to our service until Sunday morning, so it would be two days yet before I would know if “The Blessing” would connect with the congregation.

Now as I write this on Saturday, the day after our recording, I still don’t know if the song will resonate with our people. I’m not expecting it to latch on quickly and be an anthem that our people can sing along with easily. If anything, it can be a song that can simply minister to their hearts. It has already been a way for me to pray for my team members and the people I haven’t seen for two months. The benediction and blessing in the lyrics have given me a way to extend love through song through the screen. It seems inadequate in many ways but fitting too. This song that I was so reluctant to sing in the beginning has now been a blessing to me in so many unexpected ways.

I plan to share my recorded demo on Facebook once our recorded service has had time to reach our congregation. I am praying that the words I sing and the notes I play can bring an assurance of God’s heart for His people. While I wait, pray, sing, play, and ride my trike through this time of bittersweet blessing, I will give thanks and praise Him for His faithfulness. Amen…

Nine Weeks and New Songs

Nine weeks ago, I signed into a Zoom call to interact with six strangers. I had enrolled in Worship Songwriter Mentorship with Krissy Nordhoff, and although I was excited for the opportunity, I was really nervous. Although I have been writing songs since I was seventeen years old, I have rarely pursued my songwriting craft with such intention. After releasing my album in 2018, I gave myself permission to rest a bit from the creative process of writing and recording. I focused my energy on leading worship, memorizing and crafting arrangements, and just simply taking time to reflect and unwind.

But when I learned about WSM, something resonated deeply with me and I couldn’t quite put it into words. All I knew is that if my friend John were still alive, he would practically be begging me to enroll. In the seven years John and I knew each other, John was not only my dear friend but also my songwriting cheerleader. Whenever I made excuses as to why I wasn’t writing or expressed that I felt inferior as a songwriter, he would simply say, “You’re a songwriter; go write a song.”

Well, after graduating and completing this course, I am amazed and filled with gratitude to be able to say that I completed seven full songs and was able to engage with other writers throughout this journey. Today, I wanted to tell you a little about my experiences so you might be able to rejoice with me and celebrate God’s faithfulness.

Week 1: I was introduced to my small group members: our leader Amanda and course-mates Karen, Lara, Mac, Matt, and Suzanne. We learned about Psalming, which is basically singing a Psalm off the page instead of just simply reading it. I composed a Psalming of Psalm 13, which I called “Good to me.” I shared it on Facebook with my small group and my Facebook friends. I also shared it in worship one Sunday morning and received great feedback on my composition.

Week 2: This was a hard week. A dear loved one was really sick and I was really worried about this person’s health. I was trying to do a Psalming, but I was feeling uninspired. I asked God to help me complete my assignment, because I truly didn’t have the energy or focus to do it on my own. I opened up my Bible to Psalm 25, and it was like God conveyed to me unwaveringly that I needed His hope and strength. I wrote “My Hope” in less than an hour, but it took a full day before my ideas and the structure were fleshed out to make the song complete.

Week 3: There was a snow storm in Wisconsin and I spent a rare Sunday morning at home instead of attending worship at my church. But I wasn’t alone that morning, because I spent two-and-a-half hours on Facebook Messenger call with my course-mate Lara. We had been assigned to co-write a song, and we made the best of our seven-hour time difference to make this happen. Something interesting to note is that Lara is from Germany; she speaks English fluently, so we had no problem communicating verbally. I was grateful that Lara didn’t press me to do a video call. Being on video is challenging to someone who is visually impaired because I can’t really see who I’m talking to and I have no idea if the camera is lined up properly so the other person can see me. In the end, I didn’t have to worry about that because our phone call was really effective. We crafted “I Need You,” and just two weeks later, my OneVoice girls and I were able to introduce it to our congregation.

Week 4: I wrote a Biblical truth song, focusing on the idea of connecting with God through solitude, in community, and in mission. I called it “Quiet Place.” It is a modern-day hymn with three stanzas, and the first stanza is repeated at the end of the song, so in all, the melody repeats four times (four stanzas). My course-mates and some of my early listeners called it the “Lullaby Hymn” because of its peaceful and reflective content. But yet, it’s a call-to-action song, so it’s definitely something special, and I don’t think I would have written this song if it weren’t for the course.

Week 5: I wrote “Meet us here,” a song exhibiting space and contrast. I was inspired to write the song while standing in a crazy, busy bowling alley. I was anxious that day, and the crowded building certainly wasn’t helping to bring calm. I knew that I had to take a breath and step back for a moment in order to find perspective. What resulted is a song that calls the listener to set aside the hustle and chaos of life and simply meet God with open hands and willing heart.

Week 6: I wrote a warrior song. This song was challenging because I wasn’t inspired in the way I thought I should be working through the assignment. I was actually worried I wouldn’t have anything to say. Then, as I was preparing for our Ash Wednesday service, I began to consider the idea of being refined. Our Ash Wednesday service further cemented these ideas on my heart, so I went home and wrote “Again and Again.” It’s a song that speaks of God’s faithfulness and provision even in the midst of being held to God’s refiner’s flame.

Week 7: We were tasked with re-writing a song or editing something we had created during the course. I had completed two Psalmings earlier in the course, one from Psalm 40 and the other from Psalm 62, and the similarities in theme and melodic structure led me to explore what it might look like to combine these two Psalm-songs and create one new song. Interestingly, I ended up calling it “New Song,” because the chorus is based on Psalm 40:3: “He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.” I couldn’t think of a better song to mark my last week in this course. God had been so faithful to inspire so many new songs, giving me probably the most fruitful time as a songwriter. I wrote “New Song” to celebrate His goodness and kindness.

Week 8: We met together in our Zoom call to celebrate the completion of the course. We were encouraged to play our re-written song live, but because of time constraints, we were not required to share. I opted not to share my song initially. I had been using my desktop computer during our Zoom calls over the past eight weeks, and I don’t have a webcam on that computer. I also couldn’t get close enough to play my piano while logged on to my desktop. So even though I prayerfully considered setting up my phone or tablet and figuring out a way to be on camera, I eventually decided to enjoy our last call and listen to my course-mates play live. But about halfway through our meeting, our small group leader essentially quoted the lyrics to “New Song,” and my course-mate Matt typed into the chat that I should sing it. I expressed my situation and reluctance to play live but that if there was time remaining I would try to make it work. So with trembling hands and having no idea how to sign into Zoom on my phone, I logged off my desktop and signed in on my phone. Although I couldn’t see anything, I took a leap of faith and just went with it. I didn’t know it at the time, but about halfway through my song, Krissy Nordhoff logged onto the call, and she heard me playing and singing. She was so kind and generous in her comments on my song following my performance, and I was blessed to be able to share my song, not only with her, but my course-mates. Did it make me uncomfortable? Yes. But was it worth it? Yes! I didn’t realize that I needed that sense of completion to bring the course to a close. There was something about playing live that day that put everything into perspective. On our first day of class, I never would have imagined doing something like that. God truly worked in my heart throughout this course, for I am not the same girl who logged onto our call nine weeks ago.

In closing, I would like to share my Story of Thankfulness Reflection that I wrote during week 8 of the course. I am beyond grateful and humbled that I was able to be a part of this journey.

Story of Thankfulness

“He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:3)

This verse from Psalm 40 essentially gives voice to my heart of gratitude. Nine weeks ago, I signed into a Zoom call with trembling hands and heart beating wildly with nervousness. I had enrolled in Worship Songwriter Mentorship back in December when I was making purchases on Cyber Monday. My head told me that it was time to pursue my songwriting with this endeavor, but my heart was overwhelmed with uncertainty.

In the brief time that I knew about WSM, I knew it was something I wanted to explore, but a few things held me back; finances were tight and I wasn’t sure I was willing to fully invest my time into such an intensive experience. I have often said that I don’t like the messiness of songwriting. Since I play by ear and memorize during the songwriting process, it is time-consuming and sometimes not very fruitful, especially when a great deal of my time is dedicated to learning and memorizing songs to lead in worship. Often, songwriting gets shoved to the back burner because I just don’t have the energy to process and make the effort.

Once I committed to WSM, I knew I had to follow through. From my first Psalming attempt with Psalm 5, which I never shared with anyone to my final assignment, “New Song,” I gave this process my all. There were days when the creativity wasn’t flowing and I wanted to give up, but I kept going because there were more creative days than there were days when I struggled. In all, I wrote seven full songs, and in looking back at the songs I’ve written since I was seventeen, this has been my most fruitful songwriting period in my entire life. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the ways in which God has worked in my songwriting and my personal relationship with Him. It’s remarkable how strongly you can retain the Word of God when you are memorizing and singing it every day. I am so grateful that I now know about the process of Psalming, for it has given my songwriting new life and purpose.

Now nine weeks have passed, and although I battled some fear and insecurity while taking the course, I can definitely say I am not the same girl who logged onto that call on January 15. I took the leap and played “New Song” during our final session, and when the course started, I never would have imagined doing that unless it was required in order to graduate. I don’t perform live very often unless you count leading worship, so being on camera was something foreign to me. But I wanted to sing that day for two reasons: 1)_I was so grateful for the opportunity and doors God had opened over the past nine weeks and 2) for my friend John.

Ten years ago, I met John in a small church in Arvada, Colorado, and it was music that brought us together. John always encouraged me to write music because I was a songwriter. When I tried to give excuses like, “John, I don’t have time to write songs with all of the memorizing and new music to learn for church” or “I don’t have anything new to say,” he would simply say once again, “You’re a songwriter. Go write a song.”

In 2017, John passed away unexpectedly, and I feel a profound void every day I go about making music without him here. In 2018, I released my album “The Dawn,” and I dedicated it to his memory. When I learned about this mentorship, I knew immediately that this was something that John would want me to do. In fact, if he were still alive today, I would have sent him all of my recorded demos and song ideas so he could listen and critique them. When I printed my certificate of completion at work today, I had to wipe away a tear because in that moment I wanted to call him and say, “Hey, John, guess what? I wrote seven songs.” I think he would say, “Good! It’s about time!”

God has given me a new song, or rather, several songs through this process, and I am truly amazed at what He has done.