This past week, I found myself becoming director of an organization I have been involved in for years now. The Youth Leadership Forum became active in 2000, and I attended this forum/ summer camp as a high school student. At first, I was overwhelmed and largely uncomfortable with the realization that I was attending a leadership training experience when I didn’t see myself as a leader at all. I couldn’t believe this was me— thinking I could become a leader in my community despite the fact that I had a disability.

But as I attended the forum and met other teenagers with various differing abilities, I realized that my disability was actually more of an asset than anything. I was able to communicate with my peers on a completely different level than what existed at my high school, and for the first time, I truly felt included and like I had some value in society. I sang at the talent show at the end of the week, and a year later, I was back as a volunteer staff member to help bring leadership training to another group of high school students with disabilities.

Up until 2010, I attended the forum as a staff member and speaker, taking part in mentoring and sharing my life with a new group of teenagers each year. But in 2010, everything began to change. The YLF director was going in a different direction, and I was asked to step in as Team Leader— basically assistant director of the camp. It was an overwhelming realization that I had advanced to the top of the leadership scale. I barely got comfortable in that position before the YLF director reminded me that I was in line to direct the program in the event of his retirement.

Halfway through our week’s activities during YLF 2012, the director approached me and announced he was going home. He said that I had things under control and that it would be all right in his absence. A twinge of fear gripped me as he walked out that door, but I knew God would be with me in the last days of the forum. My prayer for guidance and protection was barely uttered before all crazy broke loose.

Twenty minutes after Joe’s departure, a security alarm went off in the main conference room entry, and I had to call security to take care of it— of course with zero cell phone reception. Not long after that ordeal, I was notified that one of our staff members had become ill, and I had to find the nurse. Not more than two hours after that, a speaker showed up unannounced, and college staff had to notify me of his arrival. So at 4:00 p.m., this newly appointed camp director gathered the campers who had been sent to free time to attend this unexpected session. Through it all, I was frazzled but kept my cool, not only because I knew God was with me but because I had an incredible team of staff surrounding me.

Over the course of the rest of the week, I had my moments where I broke down during staff meetings or behind closed doors with staff. I was overwhelmed, over-tired, and not sure if I was cut out for being director; I felt so inadequate. But again, the YLF staff rallied around me and made every moment so rewarding. Nicole from the college events office kept everything running smoothly, and the facilitators and counselors from our team kept me from sinking under the weight of my newly appointed tasks. The peer mentors kept me laughing and made the mood so much lighter. And when there was a moment when I didn’t know where to turn or who should take responsibility, I was able to step forward or delegate tasks. I found with each passing day that we were working better together as a team, and it was becoming less and less about me being the director and more and more about the YLF staff and Edgewood Staff becoming a unified team that could best serve the campers/ delegates.

So here’s to you, Team: Nicole and her staff, especially Dusty and those in the cafeteria who now proudly wear our t-shirts; the facilitators: Abe, Rachel, and Greg; counselors: Kyle, Olivia, and Elise; and peer mentors: Joni, Ashley, Emma, Sydney, Robbie, and Jason. I am so grateful for all of you! Thank you for making YLF 2012 all it could be.

Letting Go

Sometimes, it feels as if God just isn’t listening.  I know I have been at that place in my life, and I’m sure you have too.  A few weeks ago, I talked about what it means to listen for His voice and follow His lead in the midst of this crazy life, and today’s post follows this same concept.

I was in bed a few nights ago when a loud crack of thunder startled me awake.  A bright flash of lightning followed soon after, and it took a moment for my heart to settle back into a normal pattern.  When I finally found a semblance of quiet rest after the rude awakening, my thoughts drifted into prayer.  I considered how I so often cried out to Him in my time of need, almost expecting that He would respond in some swift and monumental way.  There are times I wish He would just send down a memo from Heaven, spelling out exactly what He wants me to do in a given situation.

But sometimes, when God speaks, it isn’t so blatantly obvious.  His ways are all powerful, but oftentimes, His power isn’t found in the incredible display of lightning and the booming thunder outside my bedroom window.  It made me think of the text from 1 Kings 19:11-12: “The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper” (NIV).  Sometimes, we have to listen for the still, small voice, for this is often how He speaks to His people.

Recently, I have been working on a summer project in which I am studying the psalms in order to create a Bible Study curriculum for my ladies’ Bible Study coming up this fall.  As I was studying the Scriptures recently, I came across the text in Psalm 46:10-11: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (NIV).

According to Robert L. Alden’s book Psalms: Songs of Devotion, the Hebrew word for be still is the same as cease in Psalm 37: 8: “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil” (KJV).  I think the writer makes an interesting point here.  Sometimes, it takes being completely still before Him to be resigned to His will and path for one’s life.  Only then can a person begin to let go of everything and cease from what is holding them back from a close relationship with their creator.

I was listening to a discussion on the radio not too long ago, and a woman called in to the show to relay her experience in waiting on God and listening for His voice.  She talked about God’s gentle whisper, and how this exemplifies a best-friend relationship.  She pointed out that best friends often tell secrets, their faces close together as they relay something deep and personal to each other.  She compared this to the relationship that God longs to have with His people; He wants us to be so close to Him that we are able to hear the whispers He relays to the heart. 

It is in deep relationship with one’s creator that a person can truly let go of everything that puts Him at a distance.  Recently, I finished writing a song that talks about this very concept.  The lyrics speak of the many things that keep us from truly letting Him into our lives, and I’d like to share the message of the song with you as I close.  Blessings, friends! 

Letting Go

Words and Music by Cassandra Lokker

© 2012 by Cassandra Lokker


Verse 1:

All my failures, doubts and fears,

Nights of anguish, bitter tears—

You have taken; my hope is unshaken.

Stress and worry, empty dreams,

All that glitters, all that gleams—

I’ve forsaken; Your love now awaken!



I’m letting go; it’s all I can do.

I leave everything, lay it down before You.

For it’s here the healing begins

From a heart that’s broken within;

I’m letting go to let You in.


Verse 2:

All my burdens, guilt, and pain,

All I sought as needless gain—

You have taken; my hope is unshaken.

Worldly pleasures, fortune, fame,

Prideful deeds that bring You shame—

I’ve forsaken; Your love now awaken!


Independence Experienced

Just a few weeks ago, I celebrated five years of living independently.  For many people, living out on one’s own is simply something that happens at the appropriate age after high school or college graduation.  When a person is an adult, he or she gets a house or apartment and starts a life for themselves. 

But for someone like me who has a visual impairment, living on my own was more than just a right of passage into adulthood; it was a dream and something I wanted to accomplish more than anything else in life.  True, I wanted to see my name on the front cover of a book and hear my recorded songs played from stereo speakers, but living on my own topped the list.

But in order to make this happen, I needed to put forward a concentrated effort.  As soon as I graduated from college, I moved in with my parents for a few months.  During that time, I explored employment options and considered where I might live.  Eventually, all roads pointed to my home town where I had been raised.  At first, I found it anti-climactic; it didn’t seem exciting to just move back home, especially when the only lodging I had managed to find was the basement apartment in my grandmother’s house. 

But I soon found out that living in Grandma’s basement was the first stepping stone to my independence.  Three months later, I signed the lease to my first “real apartment.”  It was an older building with cheap rent, but I didn’t care; it was my home. 

Now, five years later, I have found yet another home; the apartment is smaller in size but newer and brighter.  I have great neighbors, and I am in walking distance of work and several businesses that I am able to patronize.  I value my independence and everything I am able to do on my own despite the fact that I am visually impaired. 

This was made clear to me even more when I visited a young mother and her three-year-old daughter recently.  The mother was seeking direction and advice, because you see, her daughter will most likely lose her vision over the course of her young life.  This mother was clearly overwhelmed with what is sure to be inevitable; her daughter will become blind eventually, and there is so much to consider when she was probably expecting that her child would be healthy without disabilities. 

The mother asked me how my parents handled my visual impairment as a child and what she could do help her daughter along in the years to come.  One thing I continued to address was the value of independence.  I could tell that this child was not shy about communicating with others and her outgoing personality showed promise in terms of confidence and persistence.  I relayed this to the mother, assuring her that even though the child’s attitude might border on abstinence or sudden negativity, her independent spirit was sure to aid her in one day living on her own and going for her dreams.

All of this made me so incredibly thankful for my parents and the way in which they raised me.  I was always encouraged to stand for what I believed in and to go for my dreams no matter what might stand in the way.  My disability was never seen as an obstacle, and today, I am so glad that I have the opportunity to use my disability for good.  Occasionally, someone will ask me if I ever feel anger toward the fact that I face challenges.  I have to admit that sometimes I grow frustrated when I realize I am unable to do something effectively due to my disability, but for the most part, I can say with confidence that I am actually grateful for my visual impairment. 

This might seem odd to you— this being grateful for a physical challenge— but it goes like this: without my visual impairment I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have today.  Each summer, I can encourage and speak truth into the lives of 15-30 teenagers and set them on the path to effective leadership despite disability.  I can reach out to people with disabilities in my local community and even share my experiences with a young mother, simply overwhelmed with a new diagnosis.  I simply wouldn’t have these opportunities without going through similar experiences first.

It is easy for me?— No!  But is it rewarding?— Yes, absolutely!  Today, I am thankful beyond words that He is using me and even my weaknesses to bring hope, love, and peace into the lives of others.    

Listen to the Sound

I am terrible at taking pictures.  Now, I don’t mean that that my pictures turn out poorly, but simply, I just forget to take pictures— period.  I don’t know if it’s because of my visual impairment, but I think that might be part of it; my memories aren’t triggered by photos, but I do remember the sounds and smells that accompanied many of the most monumental events in my life. 

I guess I’m in good company.  I heard recently that a survey had been conducted on emotional triggers and memory, and it was found that people are able to tap into their emotions best through the use of sound.  For a long time, I thought vision and what is seen makes a lasting impression, but in fact, sounds make the greatest impression of all. 

Many people can relate the most memorable sound they ever heard.  Mothers talk about hearing their child cry for the first time.  Some people recall the voice of a loved one that has now passed on and wish they could hear that voice again.  Even Forrest Gump, in the movie of the same name, recounts when he first heard Jenny’s voice.  He says, “I do remember when I heard the sweetest voice in the wide world.”  And then there is the refrain of a favorite song or the sounds of nature.  Certain sounds trigger certain emotions, and our memories are recalled in one single instant. 

For a girl who largely relies on her sense of hearing, I can recall many sounds that trigger emotion for me.  I hear the sound of a tractor, and I think of both of my grandfathers and their love for machinery and the acres of farmland stretched out around the area where I grew up.  I hear my father singing a silly little song, and I smile because I realize he is probably feeling contented and free of stress.  I hear a friend’s laughter, and I realize that all is well and God has everything in His hands.  The rain gently taps against my living room window panes, and my mind and heart can’t help but be driven into creativity.  And then my favorite sound of all— at least recently— is the incredible sound of voices lifted up in praise to Him. 

I’ve talked about this before— the fact that I simply can’t get enough of hearing people sing along with me as I lead praise and worship.  It means that I am not performing but instead joining in with others to bring Him honor and glory.  I couldn’t create a sound like that on my own; it takes hundreds of voices to achieve that effect, and even though FRC is a small congregation, when we get singing, it is simply incredible to be a part of such a worshipful offering. 

Thinking about praise and worship led me to contemplate the lyrics of a familiar hymn recently.  Most people can readily quote the lyrics of “Amazing Grace,” and I am certainly able to do just that.  But have you ever stopped to truly contemplate the lines of the first verse?  “Amazing grace! how sweet the sound—… I once was lost but now am found.”  When I truly thought about it, I was led to wonder: is it grace that makes the sound here?  What does grace sound like? 

In past posts, I’ve talked about hearing God’s still, small voice.  It isn’t audible but more like a subtle stirring or inner realization.  He doesn’t speak loudly to make His presence known, but even so, His voice is heard for those who are listening.  I think the lyric for Building 429’s song “Listen to the Sound” gives this idea some consideration.      

A lyric in the second verse proclaims: “Sometimes it takes a silence to finally hear His plan.”  Maybe this is what it means for grace to make a sweet sound.  Recently, I have been studying the Psalms, and I have found this to be true over and over again in these passages of Scripture.  Often, the psalmist cried out to God for deliverance and understanding, but it seemed as if God were distant or not listening at all.  But in fact, God had never turned His back on the psalmists; in fact, He never forsakes those who love Him. 

I don’t know what you’re going through now, but maybe it’s a time when God seems to be far away.  You may feel as if He has left you to struggle on your own, but maybe He is using this time of silence to speak truth and wisdom into your life.  Perhaps you will learn something from this time in the depths.  I know I have experienced times such as these in my life. 

It took nearly eighteen months for me to recover good health after struggling through an illness.  The whole time, I had pleaded with God to take away my pain and symptoms, but He remained silent.  In many ways, I felt like He had deserted me and wasn’t listening to my cries for help.

But when I finally set aside my own stubborn pride and ambitions, I basked in the peaceful silence that only He could bring into my life.  He had delivered me— not in the way I had expected— but in His own perfect time.  I pray that He will work in your life so you can “listen to the sound” of His almighty grace and mercy.

Here is a link to Building 429’s song “Listen to the Sound:”