The One Thing

A few weeks ago, I sat around the table at a committee meeting as we discussed the upcoming Thanksgiving Eve service at our church. The discussion that evening centered on how we could express thanks to God for who He is and what He has done in the year passed. The pastor wondered if we could give voice to the one thing we were most thankful for— not just friends, family, a roof over our heads, and the material things of life— but in relationship to our Father, Lord, and Savior.

Instantly, I had a response, and I couldn’t help but tear up when I thought about that one thing— the way in which God has shown Himself most fully to me in 2011. It all started with the recommendation to read Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love. I know I am not the first to be impacted by this author’s work, for I was one of the many that were called to action by Chan’s focus on Christ’s love and our response to those we encounter every day. The book seemingly struck me over the head in places and tugged at my heartstrings, compelling me to reach out to the people that God placed in my path on a day-to-day basis. Basically, I was called out to serve, and my goals for 2011 took a step in a thrilling, yet challenging direction.

I was motivated to share Christ’s love with others as I experienced an outpouring of his lavish, crazy love for me. Never have I felt to close to my Creator and Best Friend in all my life! He carried me through late-night prayer sessions, meaningful times spent studying His word, and inspiring times of music and worship at church. All the while, He began to draw me out of my comfort zone as I was introduced to people I normally wouldn’t have encountered on my own terms or according to my own will. I had difficult conversations and heart-wrenching realizations as I witnessed circumstances outside of my neat and orderly world. Even now, I am conflicted with overwhelming excitement and nervous anticipation for everything that is yet to come in 2012 as I continue to move beyond what was once comfortable and ordinary.

Lately, I have been working through a series on “Cassie Contemplates…” called “Ordinary People: Defining Moments” in which I have told the stories of Biblical characters following God’s lead and allowing Him to use them in extraordinary ways to increase His Kingdom and tell His story. I have certainly felt a lot like some of these characters in recent months. I have been through the wringer emotionally, taken to the height of mountain peeks, and overwhelmed with God’s grace and mercy at every turn. And even in the times when I start to doubt that he could ever use someone like me, He surprises me with yet another blessing in this phase of my life. I pray that as I venture into 2012, I can continue to hold to my 2011 commitment to serve God’s people and be His hands and feet. But for now, I can truly say that I am thankful for my Savior’s crazy love and His nudge to go out into the world and share that crazy love with renewed passion and focused intent.

Blessings‏

Every year as Thanksgiving Day approaches, I take a look back at the year passed and reflect on the many blessings God has placed in my life.  Thus far, 2011 has been an incredible year filled with unexpected challenges but blessings as well, and I am so thankful for God’s provision. 

Below is my Thanksgiving acrostic for 2011.  Enjoy!

Amanda— What an unexpected blessing to find your friendship at a book signing.  In the past few months, you have blessed my life in so many ways, and I am looking forward to all that is ahead for us in our relationship.

Brandon Heath— His music challenged me and called me to action in seeing God’s people as they truly are and loving them with no strings attached. 

Crazy Love— The first book I read in 2011 that launched me into serving others after witnessing a compelling view of God’s incredible, crazy love for me.

Danielsons— my second family.  Thanks for the Friday night pizza outings, long phone calls, and your love and support.

Editing clients— Thank you for believing in my work and skill as a writer and editor.  I have enjoyed helping to polish your projects and seeing them come to life on the page. 

First Reformed Church— In the words of the Apostle Paul, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3).  Thank you, church members, for your love, prayers, and support as I have grown up in your midst.  It has been an honor to serve you through leading music over the past two years.  I am grateful for the opportunity you have extended to me in the job you have so graciously provided. 

Graduation— It was rewarding to finally reach the end of my Masters program in March.  I am thankful for a good education and the opportunities it has given me. 

Hazelnut Tree— my hometown coffeehouse which has been the starting point for many new relationships over the past year.  Thank you for being that place in Baldwin where you can go to just hang out and enjoy some coffee and conversation.  Thank you also for hosting Hazelnut Tree Christmas in the past few years!

Inspiring Scripture, music, and books that have motivated me to keep serving and pressing forward in what God has called me to do.

Jesus Christ, who has continued to prove over and over again that He is my best friend and will never leave or forsake me.

Kim and Katie— two friends who have stood by my side this year and have been such a blessing to me every step of the way. 

Lisa— a dear friend who was truly there for me on one of the most monumental days of 2011.  Thanks to you, I will always remember our bashing of the Bad Banana, haha. 

Marlys— the most incredible camp nurse, friend, roommate, and confidant a girl could ever ask for.  Thanks for the 1:00 a.m. chats and for encouraging me in my quest to reach out to those who are sometimes difficult to love.  Thanks for dedicating your time and energy to all of the trips to Madison as well.  You are truly a blessing!

Nelson— the guitarist, arranger, and producer for “The Promise” single.  Without him, the project may not have even gotten off the ground. 

OneVoice— the praise and worship team that I have recently formed at church.  I am grateful for all of you who have committed to being a part of the journey— Colleen, Kim, Patty, Beth, and Amy.  Thank you for serving Him through your gifts and talents.   

Pastor Tim— a true mentor and encourager.  I am beyond blessed to have you in my life!  Thank you for your support and for giving me the opportunity to serve alongside of you at the church.  Your confidence in my musical abilities has given me such an incredible platform.  May God continue to bless you as you serve Him at FRC. 

Quiet nights in the dark of my bedroom— long talks with my Best Friend and Savior as I battled through even the most difficult times in prayer and silent supplication. 

Recording “The Promise” single— Thanks to Kyle, Nelson, Tessa, AnaLise, Ashley, Lisa, and Britta for making The Promise book trailer all it could be.

Stories— of how God has used The Promise to reach my readers and impact their lives.

Truth and honesty— from friends and family even when it might have been hard to take it in.

Understanding and knowledge— gained through my last few classes and interacting with people of varying backgrounds.

Variety of opportunities— from completing my degree, to giving concerts, to releasing my third novel, to directing YLF, to mentoring individuals with disabilities, to leading praise and worship— I have been given the chance to interact with a diverse group of people and make several connections that could have only become possible through God opening doors along the way.

Wednesday morning Bible Study— with Kim and Amanda.  Thank you, ladies, for being willing to dedicate your time to studying God’s Word and being vulnerable in sharing your life and experiences with the group.  Here’s to digging deeper in our study of prayer in the coming weeks!

Exciting prospects for 2012— Okay, so it’s the closest I could come to using the “x.”

YLF staff and delegates— Thanks for a great summer!  And to Abe, my incredible Treasurer and Secretary, I owe you big time for your dedication and countless hours buried in paperwork.  You are an amazing asset to our program.

Zondervan NIV Bible— a valuable resource for preparing for Bible Study, personal devotions, or quickly referencing a passage.

David: The Battle is the Lord’s‏

1 Samuel 17:17-53

One day, my father said to me: “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. They are with Saul and all the men ofIsraelin theValleyofElah, fighting against the Philistines.”

Early the next morning, I left my father’s flocks with a shepherd, loaded up, and set out, just as my father had directed me to do.  I reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. Israeland the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other.  I left my things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines, and greeted my brothers.  As I was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion fromGath, stepped out and shouted his usual defiance:

“Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.  This day I defy the ranks ofIsrael! Give me a man and let us fight each other.”  

When the men from our army saw the giant, they ran from him in fear.  “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defyIsrael,” one of our men said to those gathered near. 

I asked the men standing around me: “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace fromIsrael? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

“The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his father’s family from taxes inIsrael,” came the response. 

I could tell that my oldest brother was uncomfortable with my involvement in the matter; in fact, he was seething with anger.  “Why have you come down here?” he asked.  “And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

“Now what have I done?” I exclaimed.  “Can’t I even speak?”

Apparently, I had been vocal enough to warrant the attention of King Saul.  It wasn’t long before I was notified that the king had summoned me.  I felt no shame in the words I had spoken, so I went before the king in confidence. 

“Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine,” I said to Saul.  “Your servant will go and fight him.”

Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth.”

I would not be discouraged.  “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.  The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

In response, Saul said to me: “Go, and the LORD be with you.”

I was surprised when Saul had me dressed in his own tunic.  He put a coat of armor on me and a bronze helmet on my head.  I fastened my own sword over the tunic and tried walking around, but I was not accustomed to the weight of the armor and found that I couldn’t move freely. 

“I cannot go in these,” I said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So I took them off.  Then I took my staff in hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of my shepherd’s bag and, with sling in hand, approached the Philistine.

All the while, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to me.  He looked me over, his eyes glinting with hatred.  He said to me, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed me by my gods.  “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!”

I said to the Philistine: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies ofIsrael, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God inIsrael. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

As the Philistine moved closer to attack me, I ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into my bag and taking out a stone, I slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. I watched in satisfaction as the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

I had killed him!

For a moment, I stood rooted to the ground, uncertain of what I should do next.  Behind me, I heard the footsteps of hundreds of men as the enemy was pressed back.  We had triumphed with God’s help, and He had been our protector— my protector— this day.  As the Israelites plunged forward and began to plunder the Philistines, I lifted my face and praised Him with incredible thankfulness.

Joseph: Up from the Cistern‏

Genesis 44:14-45:13

The famine had taken hold all over the land, and I maintained my role of leadership in Egypt— second only to Pharaoh.  This lofty position had come through an unconventional set of circumstances, but I am getting ahead of myself here.  Let me explain. 

After many years, my brothers have returned to me, although they are unaware of my identity.  When I was only seventeen years old, they lashed out at me in anger and threw me into a cistern.  They later sold me into slavery.  I was carried off into the land of Egypt while goat’s blood stained the colorful coat that my father had made for me.  For many years, my father assumed I was dead, when in fact, I was alive and well, serving first Potiphar and then Pharaoh himself.  Then the famine took hold of the land, and food was scarce everywhere.

My father, Israel, sent my brothers to Egypt to acquire grain.  Upon their first visit to Egypt, I acted as if they were strangers to me.  I called them spies, and pressed them about their background and the wellbeing of my youngest brother and father.  Although my brothers seemed disturbed with my questions, they told me everything.  I was elated to hear of my father’s good health and Benjamin’s safety.

I tested my brothers then, having Simeon put in prison and sending my brothers back to my father with their word that they would soon bring Benjamin before me.  I felt compassion on them and returned their sliver to their sacks. 

It wasn’t until the food was gone in Canaan that my brothers returned to me, offering their silver for grain once more.  This time, I at last laid eyes on Benjamin, and it was a sweet reward for the many tears I had cried over the wrongs done to me.  I was not about to let my brothers depart Egypt without one final act.

I had my sliver cup placed in Benjamin’s sack and the sliver was returned to each man’s sack as well.  My brothers were unaware of these actions and were soon on their way home.  Then I sent my servant after them to bring them back to Egypt.  It was then that I stood before them, accusing them of their wrong. 

“What is this you have done?” I asked.

“What can we say to my lord?” my brother Judah replied. “What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants’ guilt. We are now my lord’s slaves— we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup.”

“Far be it from me to do such a thing!” I exclaimed.  “Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace.”

Then Judah approached me.  “Please, my lord, let your servant speak a word to my lord,” he said.  “Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself… If the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy’s life, sees that the boy isn’t there, he will die. Your servants will bring the gray head of our father down to the grave in sorrow. Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father. I said, `If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!”

Suddenly, the tears that I had been holding back spilled over and I could not contain myself any longer.  I gestured frantically for everyone to leave the room— everyone, that is, except my brothers.  With tears streaming down my face, I urged my brothers to gather close to me. 

“I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!” I told them.  And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, `This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me— you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

“You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

And so that is how my brothers and I were reunited, and later, my father joined us in Egypt as well.  God proved his faithfulness— bringing me up from the cistern at age seventeen and bringing me to this position of prominence in Egypt.  Generations to come tell of these events, knowing that one day, His people will once more see the Promised Land.