Perspective

Have you ever heard the expression that you’re probably just too close to a situation? Well, I was certainly there this past week in a number of different circumstances. It seemed that every time I turned around, I was reminded that I was not in control and that God had everything mapped out in His own amazing way! I also learned that perspective can often be found in the most unexpected places.

The first of these incredible moments of time came when I visited my family. For many years, I have felt removed from those I love the most. Most of my family lives in an area close to two-and-a-half hours from me, so the places and things I know are not the places and things that make up the lives of my family members. Sometimes, if I’m being honest, I’m a bit nervous and maybe even dreading conversations with my parents or sisters simply because I’ve felt misunderstood. This weekend was different for me, however. Instead of feeling isolated or removed from my family, I felt welcomed and supported. I was able to celebrate my niece’s first birthday and have meaningful conversations with all of my sisters.

I found common ground with one sister in a favorite TV show. We chatted about possible outcomes for the characters and debated about what would happen next. With another sister, we bonded through shopping and fashion— not something we are usually able to do together. But I think the most meaningful interaction came through a time with yet another sister.

Since April, I had been working on writing and arranging a song that was near to my heart. Usually, I am rather reluctant to share my compositions with others unless I am very comfortable with its potential, so it was remarkable that I wanted to share my new song with her that morning. We were playing and singing worship songs at the piano when I boldly asked if she wanted to hear a new song. She responded enthusiastically, so I played through my new composition, eagerly awaiting her feedback. After I played the last chord, I looked over at her to gauge her reaction. “I like it,” she said. “But something’s missing. Don’t you have a bridge or something to bring it all together?”

At first I didn’t know how to react. A songwriter never wants to hear that their song is good but needs improvement; a songwriter wants to hear that their creation is great and needs no alteration. So when I heard her comment, I was saddened. I explained to her how close I was to the content of the song and how it affected me emotionally. She offered a hug and encouraged me to consider making the changes should I feel led to do so.

That morning, it was like I had found a release in bearing my heart through song. Less than two hours later, I was back at the piano with an idea for a bridge to complete the song. It was as if the bridge was meant to be written, but for some reason, it took close to four months for the composition to reach completion. It seemed that I finally had the freedom to let go and create without boundaries once I released my preconceived notions of how the song should go and what it should sound like.

As I worked to create a rough recording of the newly altered song, I recognized the circumstances that had also been altered in my own life. It seemed that letting go of my own personal agenda opened the door to unexpected blessings. I was able to bond with my sisters, witness the first birthday of the sweetest little girl, and participate in the welcome relationship renewal for me and a good friend. It was a refreshing week of lessons learned and altered perspective. Although things weren’t as I expected, I learned to appreciate the gift of perspective and the beauty of a Master plan.

That’s Messed up

A few years ago, I was invited to share Thanksgiving dinner with some relatives. I asked what I could bring, and probably assuming my cooking skills were limited, I was told to just bring a can of cranberry sauce. So with the canned fruit and a bowl in hand, I headed to the dinner gathering. When I arrived at my relatives’ home, I asked for a can opener so that I might open the cranberries and transfer them to the bowl.

The task of opening the can of cranberries should not have been difficult, but often I am challenged with intricate things due to my visual impairment. After a frustrating few moments trying to work the can opener and having no success, I simply assumed I wasn’t using the tool properly and asked a family member to help me. My cousin came over to me, mumbling something like, “Seriously, how difficult can it be to open a can of cranberries?”

Since she seemed to have the situation under control, I took a step back and watched her work her magic. Surprisingly, she also struggled with the task. “Good grief,” another cousin remarked. This cousin, about seven years old at the time, wasn’t fooled. He reached for the can and lifted it off the counter. “Well, no wonder you can’t open the can,” he exclaimed. “It’s upside down!”

“What?” Both I and my other cousin were stumped. “What do you mean?” I looked at the can again. I clearly read “WHOLE BERRY CRANBERRY SAUCE” on the outside of the can, so it didn’t make sense that the can was upside down.

“See,” my seven-year-old cousin responded, once more lifting the can so all could see. “They stuck the label on wrong; it’s upside down!”

“Well, that’s messed up,” I remarked with a laugh. I had nothing else to say on the matter.

Apparently, my doctor had no other way to describe my condition a few years earlier. I had just transferred my medical records over to Mayo Clinic so that I could get a few referrals to go through for my prosthetic. This particular doctor had never examined me before, so he was doing a thorough check of my eyes. He looked into my right eye, was silent for a long moment and then declared, “That’s messed up.”

I was expecting him to say something medical-minded— some jargon that I couldn’t understand. I wasn’t expecting him to say that my eye was “messed up.” Regular people, not doctors, use words like that. In fact, I have even thought of things being “messed up.” I just figured a doctor would have some reasoning or explanation behind it.

As a child and then as I moved into adulthood, I knew I was different. My visual impairment was always very obvious, especially when I carried my white cane around. I try not to let my disability stand in the way, but even so, there are times when I need to ask for help, therefore making my condition very visible.

I will often walk through my local grocery store with my own little cart that I store folded up at home. My little cart allows me to buy groceries and then wheel them the two blocks home when I’m done shopping. Often, I will get the sense that a young child is staring at me, and soon after, I will hear something like, “Mommy, why does that lady have a different cart?” The mother will frequently turn to me and mumble something about being sorry to bother me. Honestly, I don’t mind the children and their curiosity. I would rather they ask and I have the opportunity to give them a proper answer. Even when I get the blunt question: “What’s wrong with your eyes?” I don’t shy away.

But it is often the adult perceptions of my disability that disturb me at times. Like the misplaced label on the upside down can of cranberries, I often feel mislabeled and misrepresented. I am often put into the “disability” pool with all of the other people with physical or mental challenges. Sometimes I get the impression that people see my white cane and immediately assume I am completely blind. Sometimes, a person might question me about how much I can see or if I need help, but often, people set out to just do things for me without asking. I’ve often heard, “Well, I don’t know if you can do this, so maybe we should try something else.” How can a person assume what I can or cannot do?

Now, I know I’m being hard on my fellow human beings here, but I wish that we as people weren’t so quick to judge others for what we assume they need or even who they are. It even pains me when people in the Christian community assume that a sin took place or someone messed up and that’s why a person is saddled with a disability. I have to whole-heartedly disagree.

By no means do I feel saddled with my disability. True, I have faced challenges and some days I want to throw in the towel, but I don’t believe I was given my disability as a punishment for any wrongdoing. In fact, I often look at my visual impairment as a blessing. It took me a long time to come to this conclusion as I grew up with the knowledge of my strengths and abilities, but I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone else’s for any reason.

As I was reviewing YLF applications this Spring, I came upon an essay written by a sixteen-year-old girl who called her autism a gift. Her statement brought tears to my eyes, especially when she went on to explain why. She wrote about the opportunities she had been given to reach out to others and impart knowledge and wisdom from her own experiences. Even as I read her essay, I knew I would have to say the same thing although I had never put such a realization into words.

Without my visual impairment, I wouldn’t be forced to play piano by ear or memorize lyrics because I can’t read them on paper. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to work with YLF and invest in the lives of teenagers with disabilities each summer if I didn’t have a visual impairment. I wouldn’t have the same level of compassion and understanding toward those who face challenges if I didn’t have my disability. I think my life would be a darker and empty place without the blessing of my disability.

Sure, I’ve faced hardships and I know there will be difficult days ahead, but I have the incredible knowledge that God didn’t mess up when He made me. I am not a mistake! And although my eye might be “messed up” and I’m not able to open a can of cranberries without assistance, I am still beautiful in His eyes and He has a plan for me. So today, I rest in His promises and know that He created me for a specific reason and purpose. Today I choose to reach out to others in the presence of my challenges and share the blessings I have been given.

Broken and Beautiful

If you know me well, you’re probably aware that I don’t have an artistic bone in my body. Some people might argue that I’m a songwriter, author, and poet; therefore, that makes me artistic in some form. But as far as crafty creativity goes, I have little hope. I was reminded of this when I thought of a childhood art project.

In my elementary school art class, I was assigned the task of forming a clay sculpture. Some of my classmates made cups and bowls, but I set out to create the figure of a girl holding a book. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I wanted this figurine to reflect a part of me. I loved reading, and as I fashioned the sculpture, I even imagined that the girl was holding a Bible.

The final product was rather rough, but I completed it nonetheless. In the coming years, the figurine was placed in a little cupboard in my bedroom. One day, for some reason, the sculpture left the cupboard and was somehow transported downstairs to our unfinished basement. In an unfortunate set of circumstances, my little figure was somehow dropped on the hard cement floor. You can probably imagine the outcome; my clay figurine was broken.

For a brief time I was crushed. But as happens most often in childhood, I moved forward with life, practically forgetting the incident. It wasn’t until this past Christmas that I was reminded of my disaster-of-a-clay figure. My incredibly talented sister had just finished a ceramics class at college, and she had made me a tea set. She told me that I was the first person she thought of when she was assigned to form something out of the clay she was given. “I knew you would appreciate it,” she said, referring to my fondness for tea and an authentic way to partake in drinking it.

I thought of the difference between that beautifully crafted tea set and my own poor attempts as a grade school student to make something beautiful out of that clay. In the end, it came down to talent and proficiency. As we’ve already established, I am certainly no artist; but my sister is an artist and she knew what she was doing when she formed the clay to create a perfect tea set.

Now, my sister will be the first to tell you that the tea set is far from perfect. To her expert eye, there are visible blemishes and obvious mistakes. But to my untrained and very appreciative eye, I see something beautiful. Much the same is true when I think of my life through God’s eyes.

Like my broken clay figurine, I have faced brokenness in my life. I have talked frequently about the eighteen months in which I endured numerous health struggles. I was facing the possibility that I would never breathe or sing with the same ability ever again. I was scared, beyond tired, and just plain worn out. When I thought about how hard it had become to sing, I felt like my world had shattered around me. I loved to sing, and I felt empty and hopeless without the capacity to lift my voice up in song.

As I struggled my way back to good health, I faced rejection from a record label and experienced the difficulty in lining up employment in my field. Nothing was turning out the way I had planned, and I had nowhere else to turn. But in time, I learned to fully and completely turn my needs over to God, and He came in and delivered me from every struggle, one by one.

The journey was long and difficult, and my health concerns and other issues were not remedied overnight. But little by little, I began to see the beauty of His plan. Much like my sister’s tea set, I began to see a life molded and fashioned by an expert potter. I never set out to be a worship leader, but He led me into an opportunity at FRC to serve at my home church. I never set out to direct YLF, but He opened the doors so that I might be able to reach out to teenagers with disabilities. I never dreamed I would have these opportunities, but through my sickness and trial, He molded and prepared me until I was ready.

My life is far from perfect at this point, but I get the distinct impression that everything is sweeter and much more beautiful lived out according to His plan. Where once I was broken and shattered, I am now living out my days with a bright and hopeful purpose. The Creator is continually fashioning me to be the person He wants me to be, and I am excited to have a front row seat as the journey unfolds!

Sent

I grew up within the context of the Church; I was surrounded by pastors, teachers, and mentors who continually spoke of going out into the world to tell others about Christ. I heard from missionaries and fellow classmates who went overseas to share the Gospel or participate in work-related projects. Although I knew it was important to share the message of the Gospel, I never felt led to explore missions opportunities, particularly overseas.

The idea of going on a mission trip outside of the country was beyond my comfort level. I knew with certainly that people were called to overseas missions, but I was not that person. The closest thing to a mission trip for me was a work trip to Missouri when I was in high school youth group.

Like I said above, I believed other people were called to missions, but I didn’t feel that was my calling in life. I wasn’t opposed to missionary work; I just didn’t feel I was gifted in that area. It didn’t help that I also felt largely uncomfortable when I thought about leaving the common, everyday routine of my small, Midwest town.

Just this week, Pastor Tim spoke of being sent or called to do something in this life. I immediately thought of Paul, the writer of Galatians, and how he was called to travel the world and spread the Gospel. He preached and wrote letters to area churches with such passion and vibrancy that there was no doubt he was gifted and called to participate in missions.

Pastor Tim asked each one of us to consider where we might be called to minister. Now, once more, I realized that I probably wasn’t going to jump into overseas missionary work, but I immediately recognized that I definitely feel God’s call to minister within the local church. God has given me a gift for music, and I have done my best to use my voice and skill to lead others in worship. It took me awhile to realize this passion and gifting in my life, but now there is no denying why God has placed me here on this earth, especially during this season.

I suppose I could just close this post with the obvious statement: I am called to do music; in all actuality, I could just leave it at that. But the truth is, I am conflicted. I don’t believe God has called me, or even you for that matter, to just one task or purpose in this life. I believe my other calling is to minister to the disability community. Although YLF is not a Christian organization, I felt a distinct clarity as I directed the forum this summer. It just felt “right,” and I could discern God’s presence in everything as I went about the week’s activities.

In the coming weeks, I will be exploring a new venture as I participate in Joni & Friends Family Retreat. I am looking forward to ministering to and working with people and families who have been affected by disability with a Christian context. Don’t get me wrong; I love working with YLF, but I am extremely excited to weave my passion for the disability community into my work at Retreat. I am eager to share my love for God and music with the attendees there, and I truly believe God has called me to seek out this venture.

So as I sign off, I ask you to consider where God might be calling you during this season of your life. Explore ways in which you can utilize your gifts, talents, and passions to serve Him and better the lives of others. I am praying you can find fulfillment and peace as you go about doing His work.

Take me with you

A few weeks ago, I got one of those fancy phones— you know the ones that have the ability to talk to you and you can talk to it? Well, let’s just say that my smart-phone, now nicknamed Lexi, has been a valuable tool already in my daily life. I went from never texting to now being able to dictate messages to my phone that are then sent over the S Voice function. I am able to dictate reminders and appointments as well as check the weather before I leave home each day to make sure I don’t get rained on.

A few days ago, I was leaving to go visit my grandparents. On a whim, I said to my phone: “I’m going for a walk.” To my amusement, it replied: “Take me with you.” At first, I laughed it off and didn’t think much of my phone’s conversational response. But then I was struck by a deeper meaning in the midst of it all.

I had just returned from directing YLF on site, and I was tired and overwhelmed. The week had gone well, and at every step along the way, I could feel God’s presence as I worked through each challenging circumstance. Before I left for camp, I spent a significant amount of time in prayer. I often communicated to my Best Friend that I didn’t think I could do it; directing YLF without the usual adult guidance was a terrifying reality. Even up to the day before I left for YLF I was facing doubts, especially when my packing was derailed by an unfortunate incident between some bathroom cleaner and linens. I was feeling like I would never measure up.

I remember that first night on campus as I prayed fervently for protection and provision during the week, and I got the distinct impression that I wasn’t alone. A gentle voice seemed to whisper to my mind and heart that I didn’t have to be afraid. “I will go with you,” I perceived Him saying to me. And from that day forward, I latched onto His side with all the dependency of a child clinging to her father.

As the week progressed, we faced many challenges and unfortunate circumstances, but in each situation, I felt that I had the ability and focus to work through whatever came my way. In many ways, I wouldn’t have had the strength or wisdom to respond if I had to rely on my own fragility. The Holy Spirit gave me the words and follow-through to respond with grace and tact.

Now, I’m not saying I was perfect in my role as director; in fact, I have a long way to go in being the best YLF director I can be. But in everything, I realized that I wouldn’t have been able to make it through the week without my incredible staff, amazing speakers, and above all my Savior. His constant presence in the midst of it all was a reminder that I needed to come to Him with every need and at every moment.

Every time I glance at my phone now, I am reminded that I should take my Best Friend with me no matter where I go, just like I am doing with Lexi these days. I might depend on Lexi for the basic scheduling needs of my day, but it is my Savior that I must depend on if I want to truly succeed in what He has called me to do each day. So I vow to take Him with me— not only on a walk but in my day-to-day journey.