Showing up

What if I told you that I don’t always want to write? What if I told you that sometimes I grumble on Monday mornings because I have committed to updating “Cassie Contemplates”? Don’t get me wrong; I love writing. But sometimes I’m just tired, and I want a day off. That goes for other areas of my life too. Although I love music, I don’t always want to practice, get up early to lead worship, or sing through a bad cold or allergy attack. Sometimes I’m just plain tired and I just don’t want to do it.

I’m sure you can relate in some way. No one always loves getting up and going to work on a Monday morning. No one really loves cleaning the house or scrubbing the toilet. No one loves weeding the garden or shoveling the sidewalks. But the truth is, if we don’t do these things— the mundane things of life— everything stacks up and there is more to accomplish later.

Over the past few years, I have been surrounded by people with disabilities. I have seen the daily tasks that are certainly not easy. I watch mothers care for their children, taking very little time for themselves. I see fathers lifting a heavy wheelchair or carrying equipment so their child can survive through another day. I see personal care attendants come to work each day with a smile because they love their client and want what’s best for them in their daily activities.

But what if these caregivers and parents didn’t show up to do their work each day? It would be like me not showing up to lead worship. “Oh, someone else will do it,” I could say to myself and then expect Michele, Lori, or Jule to cover for me at the piano. What if neither of them was available? We probably wouldn’t have any music at church. The same is true of caregivers and parents that don’t show up to work. The person with the disability would be effected more than we probably realize.

Since I have a visual impairment, I can relate on some level here. If a person says they are going to pick me up to drive me to an appointment, I assume they will be on time and get me where I need to go when asked. But what if that person is running late or forgets that they are supposed to help me? You guessed it; I don’t go. There have been a few occasions where I have been forced to wait until someone could pick me up or I have had to scramble for transportation when someone backs out on me. It is frustrating to endure the times when someone isn’t dependable.

It makes me value and commend the people who don’t just leave their charge hanging. These are the people who don’t let illness, personal agenda, or selfishness get in the way of serving the one they love. I think of the woman I met on a flight to Flint, Michigan recently. She was traveling back home after a brief vacation where she had taken some much needed time for herself. She was a full-time caregiver to her teenage grandson who cannot speak and has the mental capacities of a toddler. Then when I landed in Flint, I was connected with a sweet mother and daughter who walk through each day with a close-knit bond. While the mother dresses and bathes her daughter each morning, they recite Scripture together as a means for both of them to occupy their minds as they work through the daily routine. I witnessed the dedication and selflessness of this mother as she put her daughter first before taking time to prepare herself for the day.

Then there are Karen and Bridget— two mothers who care for their daughters with cerebral palsy. There are daily cares to consider and a hectic routine, but both Bridget and Karen have made it their mission to serve others even though they are sure to be exhausted at the end of each day. If anyone ever needed something, Karen would be there in a heartbeat if she were needed. Although she was busy with her many commitments, she helped me find a place to live after I became sick at my previous residence. She and her family don’t think twice about asking me and others out to dinner just because they want to give back and bless their friends and family. Karen cares for her aging parents and in-laws as well and is always busy doing something at the church when someone needs a helping hand.

In addition to caring for her daughter, Bridget dedicates her time and talents to serving teens with disabilities in her local community. She commits her time and energy to making a difference in the lives of these students and enthusiastically promotes leadership training and community service. Oh, and I should probably mention that she doesn’t just care for her daughter’s physical needs. She is also a personal care attendant for others all while living day-to-day as a single mother. She is a leader, a fighter, and a selfless servant

In these past few weeks, I have been reminded of the hard work and dedication of those who serve people with disabilities, and my heart is warmed by their selfless love and service. The next time I think I am too tired to do something, I will think of Sandy, Bridget, Karen, and the woman on the airplane. These are the people that “bring it” every day and who “show up” no matter what. These are the people that are the heroes for so many others. These are the people who care.


Recently, I have been reading biographies detailing the life of the beloved hymn writer and poet, Fanny Crosby. One of my roommates at Joni and Friends Family retreat, who was also visually impaired, recommended that I seek inspiration and encouragement from this woman’s life story. Although I was aware of many of Fanny’s hymns, I was intrigued to know more, thus I began to pursue the biographies.

One of the more novelized biographies included a conversation between Fanny’s mother and grandmother when Fanny was a child. Something that Fanny’s grandmother said struck me. She told Fanny’s mother: “What can’t be cured can be endured.” Of course, she was referring to the fact that Fanny was blind and would have to endure the condition for the rest of her life.

The reason this quote effected me so greatly was because of my own blindness. I have had my condition since birth, and honestly, I don’t know what life would like with complete sight. I have become so accustomed to living life with limited vision that it seems unnatural to even wonder what it would be like to see well. Over the years, I have often been asked if I ever grow angry or upset over the existence of my visual impairment. Usually, my answer is “no;” I don’t have cause for anger at God or for the reality of my circumstances. But many of you know that I often face frustrations, and this is where I cross the line from being content with my visual impairment to wishing things could be different.

Just a few days ago, I had one of those moments of discontent. I was reading one of Fanny’s biographies, and I teared up as I read of Fanny’s grandmother describing the vivid coloring of the sunset. At first, my reaction to this scene was gratitude; I am thankful that my limited vision allows me to see color. Viewing the sunrise and sunset are some of my favorite ways to witness the beginning or close of a day. But even as my heart welled with gratitude, my eyes filled with tears for a different reason.

I was reminded that there are some things I will never see in this life. I will never really see the stars in the night sky, a bird flying high, or street signs passing by a car speeding down the highway. In many ways, these are little things that put a damper on my daily life, but they’re not deal-breakers. But frustrations mount when I realize I’ll never be able to drive a car, watch TV without the aid of my telescope, read music while playing piano, or enjoy a book without the aid of my magnifier. Sometimes, I can’t help but feel trapped in the things I can’t do— the things that require assistance from friends and family or adaptive tools.

So as my chest tightened that day and the tears fell, I had to take a moment to regroup. I thought of Fanny’s attitude toward life, and it didn’t take long to consider many others I have met in the past who have faced challenges. I personally think that people with disabilities and those with chronic illness are some of the bravest people I have ever met. I don’t say this so you can say the same about me. I am not usually the brave one in any given situation. It is easy for me to panic and go to the worst possible scenario when the world looks bleak. But I know what it is like to endure challenges, and I think this is what Fanny’s grandmother meant in the above quote.

When life throws you challenges, you have two choices: either cower in fear or simply endure. Life isn’t lived to its potential when experienced through fear; that’s why I believe the better choice is to endure. But God doesn’t call us to simply endure. He calls us to thrive in the life He has given us. I hold tight to the promise in John 9 when Jesus speaks of the blind man and how his blindness may be used to display the works of God. I truly believe this is what God has called me to do in this life— to bring honor and glory to His name and show His work in me.

Although I sometimes look at the negativity in the midst of my blindness, I also see the beauty in my challenges. If it weren’t for blindness, I wouldn’t be forced to memorize music. I wouldn’t be directing YLF. I wouldn’t be able to tell the same stories or write songs without experiencing God’s faithfulness in the midst of my challenges. If I had stronger vision, I wouldn’t to rely on His provision to such a degree as I do now. My housing, employment, and medical situation wouldn’t be as complicated with better vision, but then I don’t think I would need God to the extent that I do now in the midst of these circumstances. Even though life is far from easy sometimes, I have seen more blessings along the way than I can count.

I am not the first to endure the difficult side of life; in fact, I know there are many who have it much worse than I do. I could sit here and wish for a better life or I could simply bask in the blessings I recounted above. I will not be cured of my visual impairment in this life, so I must make an effort to endure— no, I must thrive— in the beautiful life He has given me. There is much to come on the horizon— a beautiful sunrise full of the brightest and most vivid shades and hues. I can’t wait to see what He has planned for me in whatever lies ahead!

I Know He is Love

Sometimes, I think we trivialize God’s love. We read verses like John 3:16 and find the promise of His love, but often we fail to internalize it. For those like me who have grown up in the church, God’s love for His people is a known reality. We sang songs like “Jesus Loves me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children” in Sunday school without even thinking about the words— a routine on autopilot. The same goes for adults in Sunday morning worship. We sing songs about His love and mercy and hear the same from the pastor in Scripture and sermon, but do we really give Him the honor and glory He deserves?

I began to process these concepts as I left church this past week. The pastor had asked us to complete this statement: I know God is love because… I have to admit that I choked up when I considered this statement. It isn’t very often that I stop to think of His love for me. Deep down, I know His love is real and that I am His child, but many times I find myself asking “why?”

Well, if you think about it, John 3:16 answers that questions pretty well: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God loved and continues to love us so much that even before we were born, He sent His son to die for us in our place for the sins we commit every day. Here’s the thing: despite our sinfulness and the messiness of our lives, He continues to reach out His arms to us in forgiveness. His mercy and compassion don’t always make sense, but Lamentations 3:22-23 reminds us: “Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

He is faithful in all things, and it is in His faithfulness that He has show His love for me in a tangible way. Just this past week, I took notice of His love and faithfulness, and it was in the little things where I saw Him working His best for me.

On Sunday, I saw His love and compassion embodied in my father as he drove five hours round-trip so I could be ready for my Monday appointment at Mayo.

On Monday, I was blessed with His provision in having a promising report from the doctor.

On Tuesday, I also witnessed His provision as I sat through a mandatory meeting with the managers and owners of my apartment building. I was nervous, but God showed me that He was bigger than my circumstances.

On Wednesday, I was reminded of the blessing I have in serving alongside my co-workers. It was in having an attitude of gratitude where I found the greatest joy and productivity.

On Thursday, I witnessed His love in the residents at a local nursing home. I sang and played for everyone, and their joy was contagious as we talked and interacted afterward. I saw God’s love through their eyes, and later in the day, I was able to have a long-overdue conversation with a dear friend. I began to comprehend the beauty of answered prayer, even though the journey to restoration has been long and laborious.

On Friday, He showed His love to me in that I was able to remain productive in my work. He knew I was busy, and He blessed me with limited distractions and a positive attitude.

And on Saturday, I witnessed love in the life of a dear friend as she was united in marriage to her husband. I was reminded of the purpose of marriage and how it reflects the love Christ has for His people, the Church.

In the coming days and weeks, I pray I can love His people in the reflection of the love that He has shown toward me. I may not be married, but I pray I can use my singleness to better love and serve those He sends my way. May I love God fully, bask in His everlasting love for me, and then seek to share that love with others out of the overflow of His faithfulness.

Playing in His Shadow

The idea makes me largely uncomfortable. My church is under construction and there has been talk about moving the grand piano onto center stage. For a long time, a choir loft cut off part of the stage, leaving less room for any significant activity on the platform… until now. The construction taking place in the sanctuary will now leave room for the piano on the stage, and I’m not sure I want this to happen.

Someone is probably out there saying, “What’s the big deal? So the piano goes on the stage— what’s the problem?” Well, its an internal battle in my mind and heart that goes back to 2009 when the world was very dark and the air was thin. Many of you have read in “Cassie Contemplates” of the days when I struggled with breathing concerns and allergy attacks that never seemed to end. I had finally come to the decision to go back to school so that I might get my Masters degree. I intended to pursue a position in worship and music ministry within the context of the local church, and I was excited about the future.

I eagerly anticipated being on stage and leading music. I knew I was pursuing a job in the area of my gifts and talents and it seemed that I couldn’t have found a better opportunity for me. I was a singer. I wrote songs. I loved sharing my music with other people. It couldn’t get any better than this! Since I was a young child, I had longed to be a famous singer. My best friend in the third grade and I would make up songs together and imagine being plucked from obscurity and rise to fame through some national talent competition or television show. Of course, this was before the days of “American Idol,” so my little-girl dreams never came true. Now, here I was at age 26 ready to take the world by storm; I was going to accomplish an element of that dream— singing on stage.

Although I made it my mission to minster in the church, I still had a big ego complex. I was working hard on my music— polishing it and refining my style— all so I could be the best musician I could be. It wasn’t long before my dream to be a worship leader took hold with a passion and tenacity that surprised me; it was everything to me and I held on to it with a death grip. Like I said earlier, this was my dream and I wasn’t about to let it slip away this time.

In that season of my life, I traveled to Nashville, competed in talent shows, and sang everywhere I could get an invitation. One of my friends made a comment at that time when we talked on the phone; “I look at the newspaper or see a poster hanging up somewhere around town and I think, ‘Wow, that Cassie Lokker plays and sings at everything!’” And it was true; I was all over the place when it came to promoting and playing my music.

And then one day on tour in Fairmont, Minnesota, it was like a switch was flipped and singing became more of a battle that was too difficult to overcome. I had a severe allergy attack that night in a town far away from home. I was scared and completely vulnerable. I got the proper medical attention, but I couldn’t fall asleep in the midnight hour because I was afraid that I would stop breathing and not wake up the next morning. That allergy attack and that dark night paved the way for eighteen months of illness, fatigue, and wrestling with God. I couldn’t understand why I was so sick. Why would God take away the very breath and voice I needed to sing for Him? What about my dream? What was I going to do if I couldn’t sing? Singing was everything to me— literally everything.

The journey to healing was gradual, but I saw God at work the entire time. It was obvious that God had taken away that one thing that had almost become an idol in my life. It wasn’t uncommon for me to rail at God, telling Him that at least I had a voice to sing since I couldn’t see very well. My voice was the only thing I felt I had to offer, and that’s why I held it so closely to my heart. When my voice and breath were taken from me, I went into a tail spin, and the turmoil spun me right into the arms of my Best Friend.

“Why did you take my voice?” I would cry out to him in the dark of my bedroom. “I’m singing for You, aren’t I?”

But the more I screamed and cried, the more I knew with certainty that He was trying to tell me something. He wasn’t taking my voice from me. After all, it wasn’t my voice to begin with; He gave me a voice to sing, and it was my job to honor and glorify Him with it. But instead of honoring Hm with that gift, I had taken it and misappropriated it, making it something it was not. It took losing my voice to find something much more valuable— a deeper connection with my Savior.

Now, four years later as I sit at the piano and lead praise and worship, my perspective is different. Yes, I still struggle with ego and I like the idea of being on stage, but deep down, I know its not about me. I am leading others into God’s presence, and that is a humbling and terrifying realization all at the same time. I seek to facilitate worship that points to Him and not to the girl fumbling through a song on the piano. Let’s be honest: I don’t want the piano to go on center stage. I don’t want to go back to that time where my gifts and abilities loomed larger than life and took control of my progression forward. I am afraid that being back in the limelight will cause some of that struggle to return.

Now, I love my church family and the physical structure of our sanctuary. I am not going to fight against any decision that might be made as to the placement of the piano. But in the meantime, I seek to be real in relating my struggles and concerns to some degree, and “Cassie Contemplates” has given me that opportunity. In the weeks to come, I ask that you, my readers, would pray that I would have the grace and perspective to accept any changes that might take place. Please pray that no matter where the piano sits— whether it be on the floor to the side of the stage or in the center— that I would be able to always put Him first and be content to linger in His shadow.

The Extra Mile

As many of my readers are aware of by now, I love shoes! I’ve always struggled with style and not always being confident in what I wear, but when it comes to picking out shoes, I have a great time. I like all kinds of shoes: tall heels, wedge heels, simple flats, colorful tennis shoes, and cute sandals. My love for shoes normally doesn’t get me in trouble… that is, until I need to pack a suitcase. Shoes take up a lot of space in a bag, so there is always the dilemma of which shoes to take that will coordinate the best with the outfits I pack.

I was facing this very dilemma as I prepared to fly to a conference for work. I needed to pack a carry-on for six days, and I didn’t know how I was going to accomplish it. I finally decided on three pairs of flip-flop sandals in different colors to provide the most versatility for my wardrobe, and I was content with my choices. I was aware that maybe it would be a good idea to pack some durable tennis shoes, but I figured that the only time I would need to seriously walk would be at the Minneapolis/ St. Paul airport.

Well, soon after arriving at the conference site, I regretted the fact that I had not packed a good pair of shoes. Two other conference attendees and I decided to venture off campus to find some dinner, and we quickly realized that our walk to find nourishment would cover nearly two miles round trip. We joked that we were apparently willing to go the distance when it came to getting what we wanted for dinner, and that would be Culver’s. The walk was nice and we got to know each other; the only downside was the pain I felt radiating from my feet. I later found a blister on each foot— an instant reminder of our willingness to go the extra mile.

The incident made me think back to a few days earlier when I had stayed with family friends before arriving at the conference site. I had the opportunity to reconnect with three people I love very much: a father and mother who daily care for their adult daughter with significant intellectual disabilities. Although this family faces daily challenges, they live their lives to the honor and glory of God in everything they do. The mother, in particular, spends a great deal of time each day caring for her daughter and making sure she is taken care of first before the mother sees to her own needs. I observed that it was often 9:30 a.m. before the family was ready to face the day after everyone was fed, bathed, and prepared for any activities. I marveled at this mother’s patience and dedication to her daughter. Talk about going the extra mile for one you love!

While I attended the conference, I met several individuals who dedicate their lives to caring for people with disabilities. These people go the extra mile every day to serve and provide for the person with disabilities, often laying aside their own personal agenda, needs, or wants. Facing this realization made me consider just how selfish I can be. Because I am a person with a disability, I often have to ask for favors. I am frequently on the receiving end of someone’s care and attention. As I considered those that go the extra mile for me and others with disabilities, I wondered what it would look like to reach out to others to show my love.

Disability was not a factor here. Going the extra mile is not just something that happens when disability is in the equation. I thought about how I could be more patient with the “difficult” people in my life; I call these people EGRs, meaning Extra Grace Required. When I am irritated with someone, the last thing I want to do is endure another conversation or give hours of my time to provide help. I have often told others that I sometimes don’t feel like I am compassionate toward others. I need to remember that sometimes I don’t know a person’s full story and I need to give them the benefit of the doubt before I make snap judgments. If I make assumptions about others and think I know best, I tend to separate myself from the concerns at hand. I need to remind myself of the reward of investing in someone’s life, for even though going the extra mile has its challenges and irritations, there is often a great reward on the other side.

Working with people with disabilities and enduring life with “difficult” people is never an easy journey, and sometimes these interactions result in proverbial blisters— blisters on the heart and soul. I had literal blisters on my feet that day as I went in search of dinner, but when I thought about the pain that often comes with living with disability and difficult relationships, I was reminded of the sweet reward at the end of the journey. I personally believe that people with disabilities are some of the sweetest people on earth, and I’m not just saying that because I am a person with a disability. My friend Sandy has always said that her daughter is a sweet blessing in her life. Yes, caring for her brings significant challenges, but in Sandy’s eyes, the reward is having this blessing of a daughter in her life.

As my friends sampled the famous Culver’s custard (I couldn’t indulge because of the egg content in the ice cream), I thought about the sweetness of the treat. Were those blisters on my feet worth it even if I couldn’t taste the ice cream? Absolutely! I knew my friends were enjoying their dessert. Its like my friend Sandy. She can’t always see the reward in the daily nitty-gritty in doing life with her daughter, but in the grander scheme of things there is nothing sweeter than loving her daughter.