Wind Beneath my Wings

I sang at a funeral recently, and I was requested to sing the Bette Midler tune, “Wind Beneath my Wings.”  As I participated in the service, I considered the lyrics to this song that has become a pop standard.  The pastor talked about the man who had passed away and how many saw him as the unsung hero in their lives.  It made me wonder who might be the unsung hero in my life— the one who rarely gets the credit and who stands in the shadows— but who is one of the most valuable people in my life. 

My thoughts quickly turned to my sister Carrie, and I know without a doubt that she was my unsung hero.  The two of us grew up sharing a bedroom and going to school together; she was two years younger than me, so we were close enough in age to create a close bond.  But as we moved into high school and then college, our relationship changed.  In many ways, we grew apart and didn’t have a great deal in common.  She was a socialite with many friends, while I spent my evenings and weekends at home with Mom and Dad while reading a book or practicing my music.  She was fun, outgoing, and fashion-conscious while I struggled to develop meaningful relationships or put together a stylish outfit.

I know Carrie often felt out-of-place when it came to the reality of my visual impairment.  Mom and Dad were always making sure I had what I needed when it came to medical concerns or going off to school.  As I developed my love for music, I was often the one to earn the solos while she was left to sing in the background or in the choir.  I knew she was cheering me on in my successes, but I knew it couldn’t be easy for her to watch me stand in the limelight.

But she stood by me through each musical triumph— from winning the Dordt talent show to taking first place in “NC/DC 2005” to competing at Immerse.  She celebrated with me and was my rock in the times when I wasn’t sure I had the talent or stamina to bring the necessary skill to the table.  She continued to encourage me at every step along the way.

For years now, I have tried to find ways to give back to my unsung hero.  I was honored to attend her senior art show and hear the stories behind many of her pieces.  I smiled proudly as she accepted her diploma at both her high school and college graduations.  I was also honored to sing at her wedding; I didn’t think I had it in me to sing “The Prayer,” but she had the confidence that I could make it happen. 

But of all the moments where I could support my sister, I consider this past week to be the most memorable.  She had just delivered a healthy baby girl— her firstborn— and I was excited to meet little Cora for the first time.  As I held my niece, I tried to find reality.  When did we grow up so fast and become adults?  It was crazy to think that my baby sister now had a baby of her own!  But I was honored to be a part of the day in celebrating with Carrie and her husband over their beautiful baby girl.  That day, my sister was in the spotlight and I was in the shadows— as it should be in moments like this. 

I am thinking of the second verse to “Wind Beneath my Wings” as I close, and it goes like this: “It might have appeared to go unnoticed, but I’ve got it all here in my heart.  I want you to know I know the truth; of course I know it.  I would be nothing without you.”  It’s true.  I would be nothing without my dear sister; she is truly the wind beneath my wings. 


Selfless Service

I am definitely an introvert.  I love my group of close-knit friends, but when it comes to large social gatherings, I tend to take a step backward.  My friends and family know me to be talkative around people I know really well— sometimes too talkative.  But at the end of the day, I just need to get away to recharge my batteries.

In my work at FRC and YLF, I am often surrounded by people.  When I lead worship, I am facilitating a process that has the amazing reality of bringing people into God’s presence.  As I orchestrate the events for YLF, I am giving the students the opportunity to learn and grow in their leadership potential.  I frequently feel like I have to be “on” for the task, or as my friend Amanda calls it, “bringing it.”  I’m not saying that I have to force myself to get involved; I’m only saying that it’s a struggle for me sometimes, and I need to work on it.

In those times when I just need to get away, I am reminded of how selfish this mentality can be.  I was listening to the radio recently, and the deejay was interviewing TobyMac.  Toby talked candidly about today’s culture being self-focused where people hardly ever think of others.  It pained me to hear this, for I knew right then and there that I was guilty of this very thing.

I focused my thoughts on two people I consider to be role models of selfless service in order to bring some perspective to the issue.  The first person is my pastor, Tim Sluiter.  When Pastor Tim first came to FRC, I knew almost immediately that he was serious about service.  He obviously had a heart for others, which was quickly exemplified in his passion for outreach, missions, and church vitality.  When I communicated to him of my intention to study Ministry Leadership, he was one of the first to stand behind my goals and give me a platform to share my gifts.  In fact, Pastor Tim was the first person to take me serious enough to actually welcome me on paid church staff.

Pastor Tim is committed to his ministry and family, and often these two elements converge during office hours.  His compassionate heart has drawn him to Africa multiple times, and as I write this, he and a team from our church are serving in Malawi, Africa in an effort to show love to the local people there.  While he is gone, our congregation carries on because he has shown us true service.

My second model of selfless service is one of my YLF counselors, Abraham Martin.  Abe came to us as a delegate/ camper in 2008 and hasn’t left the program since.  He has been a counselor for three years, and just last year, he became an active member on our board of directors.  He has served as both treasurer and secretary, and he completed most of the paperwork which gave us nonprofit status.  He often pulls long hours and late nights just to do what he does best— serving the delegates.

As we prepared to hire staff for this year, the executive committee coined the phrase: “serve the delegates.”  We were looking for staff that wouldn’t be at YLF just to have fun or make friends; we were looking for individuals willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to selflessly serve these future leaders in the disability community.  I would like to share a post that Abe uploaded onto his Facebook page the night before he left home for YLF 2012, for I think it puts his commitment toward his work into perspective. 

“I will stay up long into the night finishing my projects for the 2012 Youth Leadership Forum in Madison, Wisconsin. What is it you ask? YLF (for short) is a program dedicated to serving high school students with a documented disability to challenge the status quo, make change in their community, and to pursue their dreams. Why do I do it? Because I have been stepped on – Been at the bottom and YLF helped me to see the light – see my purpose which is to be an Ally for people who are Differently Abled – because anyone can do anything if they have the right encouragement. I do it because I feel I am encouraging these delegates. The Staff motto: We are here to Serve the Delegates (and to learn from the delegates).”— Abraham Martin

If you are looking for what it means to serve selflessly, perhaps you might be inspired by Pastor Tim and Abraham.  I have heard it said that our actions and how we serve others may be the only Jesus the people of this world will ever see.  I’m hoping when others look at me they see Jesus by the way I serve His people.  What about you?

Friendship Is…

I was sitting in the waiting room of the allergy clinic, filling out forms before my appointment; beside me was my good friend Amanda who had taken time out of her day to drive me nearly an hour away from home to see the doctor.  Of course, in that moment, I couldn’t help but feel guilty; the cycle was playing itself out again.  It seemed I could hardly go a day without soliciting some kind of help from my friends.  So often, I have felt as if I don’t really have true friendships because so much time is spent asking for favors.

Now I know that I’m probably making a bigger deal out of this than I need to because some of my friends have often commented on how they are happy to help.  I thank them for being willing to come to my aid, but again, I come back to the thought of wanting to have “normal” friendships— not this frequent partaking of their time and resources.

That day in the clinic waiting room, I forced myself to examine the issue with a different angle.  Instead of only thinking about the sacrifice of time and resources, I should also consider the blessing I have been given over and over again when it comes to my friends.  I hope and pray these dear people know how much they mean to me as they offer me more than friendship; they are simply irreplaceable and an incredible blessing at every turn.

Below, I offer a list-of-sorts, cataloguing what a friend means to me.  Friends, this is for you!

A friend is… 

  • Going over important paperwork for hours so I can finally grasp some form of understanding
  • Singing silly songs so what’s seriously at stake doesn’t seem so threatening
  • Chatting on Facebook about everything and nothing all at the same time
  • Talking over coffee, because in that moment in time, nothing else seems to matter but each other
  • Trying out recipes in the kitchen without knowing if the finished product will even be edible
  • Worshipping together in prayer and song
  • Learning lessons together about ministry and service
  • Growing in faith and understanding of the Word
  • Random and spontaneous outings or connections— often onBaldwin’sMain Street
  • Tearful phone calls well after midnight
  • Dreaming up songs and stories until 3:00 in the morning
  • Friday night pizza outings
  • Road trips and sometimes getting lost
  • Concerts and music fests— for at these events were born “Tomlin Time” and Jon Micah, the musician I will never live up to
  • Flowers on my desk— “just because”
  • Believing in me even when I didn’t think I could move forward
  • Opening your home to me and others when we were on the road and needed a place to stay
  • Offering me rides when it was pouring rain, snowing so hard I couldn’t see, below zero, or over 90 degrees outside
  • Supporting me in my music and giving me opportunities to share the gifts God has given me
  • Driving to see me when I couldn’t go be with you
  • Standing together in disability and persevering despite challenges
  • Helping me go shopping and telling me honestly what looks good and what doesn’t
  • Just “getting” me and not requiring words so things would make sense
  • Being my family in so many ways

And the list could go on and on…

So here’s to you, my friends; thank you for who you are and what you do!  You have been a blessing to me in so many ways, and I can’t imagine doing life without you.  


Song of Ascent

Have you ever had one of those days when little inconveniences stack up and become one big stressful situation?  Recently, I had one of those days, and I was increasingly feeling the pressure of balancing everything from my music and worship leading to the mounting workload for my directorship of Wisconsin YLF.  It was a hot and humid day as well, and I don’t think I was the only one on the brink of giving in to a bad mood.

I am usually pretty motivated and can push through any negative attitude and keep pressing forward in accomplishing necessary tasks, but that day, I knew I needed to shift gears.  So I reached for my Bible.  This summer, I am working through the psalms in order to build a Bible Study curriculum for my women’s Bible Study group for the 2012-2013 schedule. 

I was drawn to Psalm 121 and its brief but perfectly timed message.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm —
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

I was reminded of a song I have sung for years now by Bebo Norman called “I will Lift my Eyes.”  When I sing the song at concerts, I introduce it as a theme song of sorts for the season in which I was quite ill due to allergies.  I was afraid and uncertain as to how my health issues would interfere with my ability to sing and do what I thought God had called me to do.  The first verse of this psalm brought to mind the ever-present provision that God has provided for my life thus far, and I found my thoughts focused on asking Him for help to bring me through this time of stress.  I figured if I could endure sickness and find God’s amazing love and grace in the process, I could give Him all of the little things that stole my peace that afternoon.  In large part, my stresses were minor, and I was reminded of how trivial my worries and cares had actually become. 

When I went to bed that night, I prayed that God would take each of my stressors and bring me a measure of His peace.  As I felt myself relaxing, I heard the welcome sound of rain as it poured down in a cleansing shower outside.  It was then that I recalled verse six and how the Lord had not allowed harm to come to me that day.  Quite literally, He had protected me from the harmful rays of the sun and the 100+ degree heat index.  The rain brought the promise of cooler air, and I felt refreshed as I fell asleep. 

I was comforted with verses three and four, knowing He neither slumbers nor sleeps.  I knew He would guide me through the next day, and no matter where I would go, He would not let my foot slip from the path at any turn.  The reference to “ascent” in this psalm brought the reminder that this psalm may have possibly been used as the Israelites participated in a pilgrimage toJerusalem.  The path was often steep and uneven, and in the end, God brought His people to the end of the journey in safety. 

I pray that as I move forward in the weeks and months to come that I will remember these promises and cling to them as I am sure to face more stress and worry along the way.  I will seek to turn everything over to Him, for He is my Helper, Protector, and Guide.   


A Wise and Discerning Heart

Sometimes I wish I had just majored in Business Administration from the beginning.  I was determined to get that English degree despite the caution of people who meant well.  I often heard: “Are you really sure you want to major in English?  Where will that take you in the future?  Is there any guarantee of a job?”  But I didn’t take these words seriously; I wanted to write, and write I did!  I published three books, but after each release I hit a roadblock of inexperience; I just didn’t know how to promote my work and create enough buzz to keep people interested.  More than once between 2007 and today I have wondered why I didn’t heed the advice of others and majored in something more lucrative— like Business Administration, for example. 

More and more, I am wishing I could turn back time and go for more training in business management or even marketing.  My English degree has served me well, but with writing, I never felt I needed formal training; everything I know about writing a novel was learned on my own from experience with very little expertise gained in the classroom.  I wonder why I just didn’t listen to reason back then.

I am, however, glad I completed my Master’s in Ministry Leadership; in many ways, the degree has similar components of Organizational Development or Organizational Leadership but with a Christian ministries focus.  With this degree, I have managed to obtain employment at my local church and have found myself catapulted into leadership at the Wisconsin Youth Leadership Forum for high school students with disabilities.

Three years ago, a gentleman in leadership at the forum asked me to step up to the plate in a huge way.  To this day, I still question if he had any idea what he was signing up for in training me to take over as director.  I had never even been a counselor at this forum/ summer camp; I had only been a volunteer who did odd jobs during the week.  But for some reason, still unknown to me, he saw something in me. 

Now I stand in leadership of a newly formed nonprofit organization that barely has its feet on the ground.  I have often voiced the words: “I don’t know what to do” or “I can’t do that; I’m just a kid.”  I may be twenty-eight years old, but I feel like a teenager who has just left home in a new car with no GPS or map to give direction.  I feel like I am drowning in a sea of endless paperwork and millions of questions about the future of our organization.  Sometimes, it feels like everyone is looking to me for answers.

Lately, I have been reminded of the passage in 1 Kings 3 where Solomon asks the Lord for wisdom.  A friend from church echoed the themes from this section of Scripture just last Sunday when she thanked me for sharing my newest composition “Letting Go.”  After she confided in me about some of her doubts and fears, I asked her if there was any way I could pray for her.  She answered simply: “Just pray that God will give me wisdom.”

With new purpose, I sought out the verses from 1 Kings 3 and read with eagerness Solomon’s prayer which had just been echoed in my friend’s request:

“Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.  So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor —so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” Then Solomon awoke —and he realized it had been a dream” (1 Kings 3:7-15). 

I decided that my prayer would be one for wisdom as well, for I had no idea how I could possibly lead an organization into the unknown without God paving the way for me.  It is never my intent to trivialize Scripture or cheapen it, but I felt there would be no better way to present my request for wisdom to Him than by literally echoing Solomon’s prayer.  So in closing, I offer up my paraphrase of Solomon’s request to God.  I am not expecting riches or honor as was given to Solomon in the end, but I only pray that I will be able to lead Wisconsin Youth Leadership Forum, Inc. with the best of character and integrity.   

“Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant director of Youth Leadership Forum, Inc. in place of those who have led and directed before me. But I am only a kid and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the delegates, counselors, facilitators, and Board of Directors— a great group of people, too numerous to count or number.  So give your servant a discerning heart to lead these people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to lead this great group of people?”