Top Songs of 2022

At the close of 2021, 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/streaming their songs.

“After the Longest Night” Lex Buckley

“Always” Chris Tomlin

“Count me in” Switch

“Flourish” Mike Donehey

“Happy now” Pentatonix

“Keeper of my Heart” Kendrian and Lauren Dueck

“Maker of Miracles” Austin & Lindsey Adamec

“Never once” Matt Redman

“Over and Over” Vertical Worship

“Press on” Selah

“Remind me You’re here” Jason Gray

“Relate” for KING & COUNTRY

“The Sun will Rise Again” Becca Bradley

An Open Door

It was an ordinary week-day at the church, midway through December. Christmas preparations were reaching their final stages. I had just finished rehearsal and was making my way down the hall toward my office. I searched my pocket for my keys, and once I had them in hand, I glanced up.

There, across the hall from my closed office door, was something I hadn’t seen in months. The door to the senior pastor’s office was wide open and the lights were on. The unexpected sight caused me to stop in my tracks and stare for a second. Obviously, preparations were being made for our new pastor, so the open door shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did; as I sat down in my own office seconds later, I considered my response. Why did I feel tears at the back of my eyes and yet also a flutter of excitement all at the same time? It was just an open door. Did it really mean anything?

Yes, I decided, it definitely meant something. It symbolized a new beginning— a welcome to hope. Even though our pastor hadn’t arrived yet, there was the promise that our time of waiting would soon be complete. It was as if to say: “We are ready for you; please come in.”
I’ve expressed it so many times over the past eighteen months, but I’ll share from my heart again. Almost from the moment our senior pastor had departed our church in May 2021, I was eager for the new beginning. I knew it might be a long wait before we would call our new pastor, but I was so hopeful. I had just walked through the pandemic with my congregation in worship and music, all while enduring the loss of a dear loved one and battling a health diagnosis. Often, the new beginning seemed so far off in the distance, but just like you can smell rain before the storm or hear a train whistle from a mile or two away, I could feel the changes taking place. The new beginning was on the horizon.

Advent has been a journey for me this year, and I have engaged with the season more powerfully than ever. I was submitting photos for a photo montage that would be included in our church’s Christmas program when I thought of a song I had sung for years at my annual Christmas concert. The photo that had jogged my memory was of me and a fellow singer, and we were posed before one of our performances. As if my memory was replaying scenes from a movie, I began to recall many of the songs we had sang and played together and the beauty of our harmonies. In particular, I thought of “Just a Girl,” originally written and performed by Brandon Heath.

From the first time I played the song, I fell in love with its piano progression and storyline. It chronicles the perspective of the innkeeper that first Christmas— the innkeeper who turned away Mary and Joseph before the birth of Jesus. Now, the Scriptures don’t say anything about the innkeeper, and His name is never mentioned. The Bible also doesn’t detail the innkeeper’s thought process or emotions during this critical time, but the lyrics of “Just a Girl” imagine what he must have been thinking and feeling.

It made me ponder the door the innkeeper must have opened that night to the travel-weary Mary and Joseph. “Just a Girl” tells the listener that they didn’t “have room for anymore” and that the innkeeper closed the door and went back to bed. He didn’t know who was standing on the other side of the door, beyond that they were a couple, seeking a place to stay. The song goes on to describe the innkeeper’s guilt as he realizes that the Son of God has just been born in the humble stable. He asks, “What have I done?”

Now, I’ve never been faced with the innkeeper’s reality, but I do know what it feels like to be faced with a decision of the heart. I’m a pretty guarded person, and after the past eighteen months, it feels like the walls around my heart have risen even higher. I struggled to lead worship during the pandemic, only to experience significant loss. The eighteen months of pastoral vacancy were an uphill battle at times, and there were moments I had to temper my expectations so I wouldn’t be crushed by disappointment. Relationships were tested and some suffered greatly; to this day, I am still awaiting healing for two personal connections and my heart aches for restoration. I will admit that I have hidden my emotions and limited my interactions with others this year because I didn’t want to feel the pain of loss and rejection any longer. I know one has to open their heart in order to welcome in something new, but like I expressed earlier, I am guarded. I want to hope, but at what cost? Will the new beginning arrive and be everything I thought it would be, or will there be broken promises along the way?

Yes, it’s been a difficult few years, but it’s nothing in comparison to what the Israelites experienced as they waited for the Messiah. I was reflecting on this recently as I got ready to release my latest track, “New Song.” I gave a testimony at my home church on the morning of the release, and I shared my personal journey with our congregation and a charge to keep the faith as we completed our time of waiting for our new pastor. As I was preparing my message, I told one of my co-workers that this testimony was resonating pretty strongly with me, even though I had written it and lived through it. My time of preparation brought to light one striking reality: I do not wait patiently. In fact, if the past few years have revealed anything, it has been my lack of calm endurance. When things got difficult, I shut down. I didn’t try. I sought out the shortcuts. I didn’t have the energy to go one more step. I wanted to see resolution and restoration immediately, and it was slow in its arrival.

So as Christmas approaches, I wonder: am I prepared to celebrate this year? And by asking this I mean to say: am I truly ready to celebrate Christ’s birth? For so many years, Christmas has been a flurry of memorized songs and service planning. Yes, I remember the real reason we come together in worship, but often, its easy to get caught up in the preparations without truly opening my heart and mind to the wonder of the season.

This Christmas, I want my heart to be an open door— open to more than just the music on the stage, the hope of welcoming in a new pastor, or simply working through the hustle and bustle. I want to be open to witnessing the hope of Christmas, recognizing that a babe born to “just a girl” would have the power to change the world. There is no better “new beginning” to witness than the fulfillment of the greatest prophecy. God, keep my eyes and ears, heart, mind and soul open to receive the gift of Your precious Son this Christmas. Amen.

From Five Minutes Frozen to Seeking the Light

Since I am visually impaired and can’t drive, I quite often find myself walking or riding my tricycle to work or the grocery store.  Due to the fact that I am out in the open, its important that I know the weather forecast.  Quite often, I look at the weather on my phone; I use an app from a local television station that shows the current radar and gives an hour-by-hour forecast.  So for example, if there will be a seventy-percent chance of rain at 3 p.m., I probably won’t be going out unless I have a ride. 

A few weeks ago, my domestic assistant was scheduled to work at my house, and her schedule for the day changed.  At first, I was concerned that this would throw off my day, but in the end, the schedule change was a good thing.  Severe weather was possible for our region later that day, and since she was now coming earlier to work, I knew I could run errands as soon as she left my house and then get back in time to hunker down if the weather deteriorated. 

As soon as the schedule allowed, I packed up my trike basket.  I needed to drop off a gift for someone, so along with my purse, prompter tablet, and lunch cooler, I made sure I had the gift bag and greeting card.  My basket was full, but I had a lot to get accomplished, and I knew I would feel relieved when everything was done and I could return home with a lighter load. 

Two hours later, I was tired but feeling fulfilled as I pulled into my garage and began to unload everything.  The gift bag was gone and the lunch cooler was empty; all that remained in the insolated bag was a few thawing ice packs.  I went into my home office with my tablet and purse, and immediately got to work on my computer.  I had been putting off upgrading my operating system, and I had a few hours carved out in case the downloads would take awhile.  Once I got the download process started, I went to YouTube and Facebook, seeking out some of the weather-related content I typically follow.  I’m a bit of a weather nerd.  Tornadoes and severe weather make me nervous when they’re happening, but I love learning about how storms come together and even seeing pictures and video of the clouds and sky.  It didn’t take me long to find a Facebook live that was going with local coverage; storms had already started to move into my area, and that was kind of surprising since it didn’t look overly threatening outside other than some light rain.  Occasionally, the live stream would cut out, so I filled the silence with music playing from my video display.  All the while, my computer continued to download the operating system. 

At one point, everything got quiet… so quiet I could hear the storm siren sounding outside.  My video display and Facebook live had both frozen up on their respective screens, and my computer had halted in its download at 85 percent.  I tried to bring up the radar on my phone, but since everything was frozen, I didn’t get very far.  Thanks to the storm siren, I knew there was a warning of some kind for my county, so I went to the living room to turn on the TV.  I had just hit the power button when everything in my office unfroze and I heard the Facebook livestream call out my home town and county specifically by name.  “If you live here, golf ball-sized hail is on the way for you.  This storm has already caused broken windows and other damage in surrounding communities, so take cover now.”

Much like my devices had frozen up, no doubt due to the impending storm, I found my body freezing and tensing up at the weatherman’s words.  Golf ball-sized hail?  How big was that again?  Over an inch, right?  Now I knew why the sirens had gone off; this seemed pretty serious. 

Last Spring, we had gotten a hail storm in my home town, and many plants were heavily damaged.  That hail hadn’t been that large, but even so, it had made a big statement.  This coming storm had the potential to be even bigger, and I was instantly nervous.  Since my TV was now blaring from the living room, I took a few moments to assess the coverage; according to the projected arrow coming out from the radar, the storm would be over my house in two minutes.  As if to confirm its approach, I heard a distant rumble of thunder and heavy raindrops or maybe even pea-sized hail began to clatter against the windows. 

Since I don’t have a basement, I didn’t want to chance anything; I closed myself in my interior master bedroom and clenched my phone tightly in my hand.  I was good and scared now, and I knew I needed a distraction.  Thankfully, a good friend answered when I called a few seconds later.  I asked her to tell me a story to hold my attention because all I could think about was the threat outside. 

My friend was amazing, speaking to me in a calm voice, launching into a silly little story.  But even though she was doing exactly as I had asked her to do, I couldn’t focus.  I heard the first hailstones hit the roof, and the sound was deafening.  I put my friend on speaker phone, because my fingers had begun to cramp around my phone because of my tight grip.  “Its okay,” my friend said, stopping in her story.  “I hear it now.  Yeah, its loud, but you’re going to be okay; I promise.”

I think something like a whimper or a squeal came from me when I heard a hailstone hit the side of the house, maybe even a window.  Why wasn’t the storm letting up?  I was no expert, but I didn’t think hailstorms were suppose to last this long. 

Finally, blessedly, the clatter on the roof lessened, and I drew in my first deep breath in several minutes.  I told my friend that I thought it was over, and I left the bedroom.  I went around the house, checking the windows, making sure nothing was leaking or broken.  Once the clouds began to clear a bit, I cautiously ventured outside, bending down to gather a few of the ice chunks that now dotted the lawn.  The hail was huge!  It was confirmation that everything I had heard while it was coming down had not been a figment of my imagination.  It had sounded like thousands of hammers, forcefully driving in nails or large rocks being slung at the roof and windows.  My Dutch friends might get this analogy when I compare the sound to a multitude of a thousand-pound klompen dancers in their wooden shoes, making my roof their stage.

As I gathered up enough hail to put in the freezer, I thought about the potential damage outside.  I had no way of knowing if the roof was okay or if there were dents in the siding, but I knew time would reveal the outcome.  Hail like that would leave an impact, and there would be no doubt as to the cause. 

It got me thinking about the past two years of my life.  Circumstances have certainly left me feeling a bit dented and trampled, much like being under that hailstorm.  But unlike the hailstorm when the weatherman’s voice had cut in to warn me, I had no preparation for the catastrophes that would slam into my personal life. 

I know I have not posted here very much over the past few years, but if you know me personally, you might have an inclination of what I have been through: losing a dear loved one, health concerns, significant changes at work and ministry, and fractures within long-term relationships.  I don’t have physical marks that show the damage, but I do feel like I’ve been tossed around by a storm or two, trampled and clobbered by the hailstones of life.  My hair has thinned, probably due to stress.  I am tired and weak.  My health has improved, but sometimes stress and anxiety bring symptoms to the forefront.  Sometimes, if I’m being honest, I just want to give up because I don’t feel like I have the strength to continue. 

It has been two long years since Covid-19 changed everything and my world started spinning chaotically.  I know many of you can relate to this because almost everyone I’ve talked to has had a story to recount of some struggle they have endured over the past few years. It’s similar to the aftermath of the hailstorm; almost everyone I’ve talked to in my local area can tell me where they were and what they were doing when the storm hit and the damage that came from it. We are weary of the struggle, and much like enduring the hailstorm in my bedroom, we wonder how much longer the pain will rage over us. 

When I looked at my video display after the hailstorm, I took note of the storm’s duration; the camera recorded the hail for just over five minutes.  I couldn’t believe it!  Usually, five minutes doesn’t feel like an eternity.  It’s the length of a commercial break, listening to a song, reading a few pages in a book, or the time it takes to get across town when I have a ride.

I have wondered what those five minutes felt like for my friend on the phone that day.  It always seems like the wait is longer when you’re the one directly enduring it.  To her, it probably felt like five minutes, but for me, it felt like an hour or perhaps even longer.  Hope seemed so far away, and the wait seemed endless.  In those five minutes, I was frozen; I couldn’t think or even pray.  The comparison to the last two years is so similar that I found myself desperate for relief.  There’s nothing quite like golf ball-sized hail to rattle you enough to break through the numbing chill, even as shards of ice rain down from the sky. 

I have known for some time now that new beginnings are right on the horizon.  I have already caught a few glimpses of this hope on the way, and I long to reach toward the light instead of dwelling in the storm.  The weight has been too much to carry on my own, and I need to relinquish a great deal of my hard-headed and hard-hearted independence in order to let God in.  He has the strength and endurance to carry me through any storms that might be looming on the horizon.  And although I’ve been through a lot the past few years, I know He has faithfully carried me and my load as I have tried to forge ahead on my own.

Its kind of like my packed trike basket earlier that day of the hailstorm.  Even though my lunch bag had been emptied, it still took up space behind me.  So many times I have run errands and wondered if I can trust that anything I leave in my trike basket will stay there.  The only way I can be sure my things will stay secure is if I take everything out of the basket and carry it with me into each store and business along the way.  I realized then that I needed a new backpack, and when I saw an insulated cooler backpack online, I knew it was just the thing I needed. 

But this isn’t just any old cooler backpack; it is bedazzled with sunflowers!  I love the reminder of the sunflowers, knowing that these blooms are created to seek out the light of the sun as they grow each day.  The sunflowers are always looking toward the light until they grow heavy enough to be harvested and they can no longer turn to face the sun. 

As I left for work this week, I had to smile as I strapped the sunflower cooler to my back.  I could feel the little burst of energy that came over me as I started up the first hill on my trike.  I didn’t have to burden my trike basket with excess baggage any longer when I could simply carry my light-weight lunch on my back.  And the sunflowers were there to remind me to look to the light and the blooming and flourishing that will one day come if I do not lose hope.  For as the scriptures say, His burden is light, and I’m living in that promise.     

Top Songs of 2021

At the close of 2020, 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/streaming their songs.

“Amadeo (Still my God)” Ryan Stevenson

“Anchor” Skillet

“Be Still and Know” Hannah Herr

“Control (Somehow You want me)” Tenth Avenue North

“Count me in” Switch

“Do it Again” originally be Elevation Worship, PCBC Great Hall Worship

“Fighting for me” Riley Clemmons

“For a Moment” Elevation Worship

“Healer” Meredith James

“I have this Hope” Tenth Avenue North

“Into the Sea (It’s Gonna be Ok)” Tasha Layton

“Keeper of my Heart” Kendrian Dueck, Lauren Alexandra Dueck

“My Arms” Ledger

“Need You Now (How Many Times)” Plumb

“Never let you Down” Hawk Nelson

“Never will” Life.Church Worship

“Over and Over” Vertical Worship

“Peace be Still” Hope Darst

“Provider” Cade Thompson

“Run to the Father” Cody Carnes

“Safe and Secure” Matt Crosson

“Shattered” Blanca

“The Sun will Rise Again” Becca Bradley

“Truth I’m Standing on” Leanna Crawford

“Up Again” Dan Bremnes

“Warrior” Hannah Kerr

“What if” Blanca

“While I Wait” Lincoln Brewster

“Yet not I but through Christ in me” CityAlight

“You make me Brave” The Bright Ones

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

“Amadeo (Still my God)” Ryan Stevenson

“Count me in” Switch

“Enough” Koryn Hawthorne

“For a Moment” Elevation Worship

“Goodness of God” Bethel

“I have this Hope” Tenth Avenue North

“I Know whom I have Believed”: My grandma passed away this year, and this was one of her favorite hymns to sing!

“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.

“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.

“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.

“The Blessing” Cody Carnes, Kari Jobe

“The Sun will Rise Again” Becca Bradley

“While I Wait” Lincoln Brewster

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.