2013 in Review

Well, everyone, the new year is almost here! 2013 is coming to a close, and it has certainly been a year to remember. I thought it would be fitting to share with you a few highlights from this past year that may not have made it into my posts here at “Cassie Contemplates.” I hope you will get a taste of the blessings God has sent my way this past year.

Over the course of this year, I experienced the world of e-books. I always said that I would never abandon the actual paper and bound book, but it looks like I have come to the other side. I still like to read authentic books, particularly from the library, but I love reading on my Tablet too. On my device, I can change background and text colors so there is less eye strain as I read.

This year, I also experienced iTunes Radio. Its a little like Pandora, only its on iTunes. Now with iTunes I can utilize my music library that is synced to my iPod, listen to radio stations from all around the world, and see what iTunes Radio has in store for me as well. All of this has helped me gather new music ideas for my personal music ministry and my work at FRC.

This year brought a few changes to my praise team, OneVoice. We said goodbye to Patty and Claire, but in turn, we welcomed Hannah, Emma, Jadyn, and Brooke. It has been such a blessing to work with these ladies and I am grateful for their service through worship.

About halfway through the year, my church congregation wrapped up our study of The Story. Our 31-week journey opened my heart to such concepts as the mystery of God’s love and His plan of restoration. I was impacted by such songs as “Alive” by Natalie Grant, “Mystery” by Gateway Worship, and “Worn” by Tenth Avenue North. I also completed a new song of my own called “Waiting Here.”

In March, I had the opportunity to attend a Brandon Heath concert! I was determined to meet him after the show, and my friends Dori and Brooke waited patiently while I stood in a long line to greet him. You see, I had the chance to meet him at two other times and both chances had fallen through. I was not going to let this moment slip away from me. We took a photo with musician Mandisa and my friend Kate.

In June, I traveled to Madison, Wisconsin to direct YLF on-site. We met fourteen amazing teenagers, and I think our staff and community was the strongest it has ever been! Thank you to everyone who participated in making YLF 2013 possible.

In August, I traveled to northern Minnesota to participate in Joni and Friends Family Retreat. I led worship each morning and met some amazing people. I came away from the experience with a heart of gratitude that I could be a part of such an incredible ministry.

Also in August, I had the opportunity to visit with the Mascow family in Michigan. It was great to reconnect and spend a few days strengthening our friendship.

In September, I celebrated my 30th birthday with a few close friends, eating cupcakes and just spending a quiet evening together.

In October, I traveled to Green Bay, Wisconsin to tour Lambeau Field. It was my second visit to the stadium, but I didn’t mind. I spent way too much money in the Pro Shop and it only heightened my love for Packer football.

Also in October, I traveled to Excelsior, Minnesota to attend a Bebo Norman concert. I was surprised to have gotten the opportunity to meet him and share a few words after the concert. Many of you may know that I perform some of his songs: “Come and Worship,” “I will Lift my Eyes,” and “Nothing without You.” He was humble and sincere, and I consider it a blessing to have spent a few moments with him.

Late in October, I cried and prayed through some difficult concerns, and in the end, three individuals stood by my side as I made sense of it all. I am thankful for the support during that season and for the confirmation I received regarding my calling and ministry. I am grateful that these individuals boldly proclaimed that I was in the middle of something and had to see things through.

In December, I once more put on Hazelnut Tree Christmas at our local coffee shop. Once again, I welcomed Vanessa Huftel to join me for duets, and she also provided background vocals. It was great to have her at my side that night!

Finally, December moved forward with the knowledge that I had made a secret plan with my sister Becca. My parents and other sisters assumed I would be busy at the church on December 22 (the day that had been chosen to celebrate family Christmas). But Becca and her husband Tim made it possible for me to surprise everyone. They traveled to Wisconsin to pick me up as soon as I was free the morning of the 22nd, and we drove down to southern Minnesota to join in the gathering. I had not truly been with my family for Christmas for several years, so it was great to finally be included in the celebration. I am thankful to Becca and Tim for making that day possible, for in the end I received another blessing. Becca agreed to join me and Vanessa to lead music on Christmas Eve.

As this year comes to a close, I am looking forward to spending New Year’s Eve with a few close friends. I am grateful for the experiences of this past year and I am looking forward to all that is to come in 2014.

Go and Tell

If there is one thing I love during the Christmas season, it is certainly the opportunity I get to spread joy. I arguably have the best job in the world: leading music during concerts and church services that speaks of the reason why we celebrate as Christian believers. It is my own way of proclaiming the message that was given to the shepherds more than two thousand years ago.

In Luke two, a multitude of angels appears to shepherds out in the fields and announces that Christ has been born in Bethlehem. Even though they are terrified and no doubt taken by surprise, the shepherds immediately decide to go to Bethlehem to see what has come to pass.

There was no delay. They didn’t ask any questions. They simply hurried off to find the baby in the manger so they might worship Him. There is something about the urgency and the unlikely circumstances of that first Christmas that strike me almost every year. To think— God chose to deliver the news of His Son’s birth to the shepherds first and foremost! They had the honor of partaking in the marvel that was the birth of the Messiah! How could they do anything else but go and tell the world of the joy they had found?

There is something about this concept of “go and tell” that has struck me recently. It reminds me of the song “Go Tell it on the Mountain.” It creates the mental image of climbing a mountain and shouting at the top of your voice, “Hear this, world below! Jesus Christ is born! Do you hear me?!”

A few weeks ago, I watched the live broadcast of “The Sound of Music,” and as the characters of Maria and the Reverend Mother talked, I clued in to a particular set of lines. They were talking about singing out in the hills and how a certain song just had to be sung at the top of the voice. “It is just that kind of song,” both characters remarked at different times.

Don’t you think declaring Christ’s birth is just that kind of message— a message that needs to be proclaimed at the very top of the voice? It makes me even more excited to share the message of the coming Christ this Christmas. Although I have heard the story over and over again, I pray it will never grow routine for me. I want it to stay new, fresh, and exciting. I never want to lose the wonder of that first Christmas. To know that Jesus was born to save me never ceases to amaze me, and I need to remember to share this incredible truth with those around me. It is a message that is not meant to be kept silent. Will you join me in telling those around you? Don’t let this Christmas go by without introducing someone to the joy that is the birth of the Savior.

Keeping Watch

Have you ever thought about the reality of the characters who make up the well-known Christmas story? I’m serious. Have you ever really wondered?

I have wondered lately about what it must have been like for people like Mary, Joseph, and even the innkeeper. A song from Brandon Heath’s Christmas album is resonating with me even now as I write. His song “Just a Girl” asks the listener to consider the innkeeper who turned Mary and Joseph away at the door, saying the inn was too full. Instead, he offered the use of his stable, and this is where the birth of Jesus took place.

Scripture doesn’t tell us what motivated the innkeeper to refuse Mary and Joseph a night’s stay at his establishment. It could be that the inn was legitimately full that night. Many people were coming and going with the census taking place, and maybe there just wasn’t any room as he told them. But what if he was lying? What if he saw a mother-to-be so close to giving birth and thought that housing the couple would just be a hassle. Maybe he didn’t want to deal with the messiness of birth. Maybe he didn’t want to be inconvenienced. What if, when he learned of the child’s birth and its significance, did he regret not letting them in? Did he realize that he had just missed offering shelter to the Son of God? Was he regretful or remorseful? Or was he hard-hearted and bitter?

Now, take a moment to think about Joseph. When the angel appeared to Mary and gave her the news of her impending pregnancy, she accepted the path laid out before her. For Joseph, the situation wasn’t as black and white. In fact, when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy, his first reaction was to divorce her quietly for her suspected unfaithfulness. But then an angel appeared to him too, and suddenly, he and Mary had something in common: the awesome stories of angels coming to speak with them.

But even with the incredible angelic visitations, Joseph could have chosen not to believe. He could have run away and told Mary she was crazy. But then he wouldn’t have been there that night in the stable as Mary gave birth because he would have taken the easy route.

I have been reading Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas by John Blase. In this book, the author tells the Christmas story using Scripture and unique renderings and character descriptions. As he recounts the angels appearing to the shepherds, I took notice of Blase’s use of the Biblical words “keeping watch” in relation to the shepherds keeping watch over their sheep that night. Later as the shepherds find Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in the stable, one shepherd boy looks at Joseph and asks if the baby is his son. Joseph hesitates, but then says that he is not the father but that the child is God’s son; he is simply keeping watch over Him.

This idea of “keeping watch” is symbolic of our focus during Advent. Just as the shepherds are keeping watch over their flocks and Joseph is keeping watch over his earthly “son,” we are also keeping watch. What are we watching for? Well, the Messiah has already come and been born on this earth. That was over two thousand years ago. But now we are watching and waiting for His return.

Advent is a beautiful reminder of the Second Coming that is still yet to be established. I encourage each one of you to take these remaining weeks of Advent and reflect on this truth. Keep watching and waiting, for He could return at any moment. He is coming, and He is coming soon.

Christmas Isn’t here… Yet

Recently, I downloaded an album from one of my favorite artists. As you might expect, considering the time of year, it was a Christmas album. But its title captured my attention. Brandon Heath entitled his album “Christmas is Here,” which is a fitting title since it is the holiday season after all, but there is more under the surface.

In the weeks following the album’s release, Brandon Heath and his team posted updates to Facebook claiming that even though the album was available in stores, Christmas wasn’t here yet. Brandon even set forth the idea of a petition, asking people to sign if they committed to not listen to Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving.

It was all fun and entertaining while it lasted. I didn’t sign the petition but I found myself agreeing with Brandon. Now, I love Christmas music and the traditions of the holidays as much as anyone, but there is something about waiting until after Thanksgiving to celebrate that makes it special.

In a way, it reminds me of the concept of Advent. You see, there is a difference between Christmas and Advent as they are observed on the church calendar. While Christmas is a time to celebrate and remember Christ’s birth, Advent is a time of waiting which leads the way to the fulfillment of Christ coming to earth. Advent gives the Christian an opportunity to wait in expectancy for what is to come. It creates anticipation and hope for the salvation that has come to save the world.

Like I said, I love the Christmas season, but the more I think about it, I think I am more excited to observe Advent each year. I love the feeling of build-up to Christmas Eve. I know what’s coming and I know why we’re celebrating. Hope, joy, peace, and love— they are all elements of why we celebrate Advent, and they are reasons why Christ came to earth as a baby. He came to bring hope to the hopeless, joy to the desolate, peace to the restless, and love to those who need it the most.

When Christmas finally comes, it is a culmination of the waiting— a completion to the mystery that is Advent. Why do I call it a mystery? Well, year after year, I still find it remarkable that Christ came to redeem people like you and me. He left His heavenly home to live among His people, to serve, to minister, and finally to die for the sins of we who are broken. I will never understand the “why,” but I know that it is true. And although I will never comprehend the full depth of His love, He came in love to save me, and that is all I need to know as we move toward Christmas this year.

Christmas may not be here yet, but it is drawing near, and I am ready and waiting. How about you? Are you ready for His coming?

Humility is the Moon

Recently, I read the following quote on Chris Tomlin’s Facebook page:

“Humility is the moon. The moon knows that it has no light of its own so it doesn’t float around in space saying, “Look at me shine! Look at me shine!” No, it simply reflects the light of the sun to the earth. That’s a picture of a good worship leader. Yes, people will look at you, but you are just a reflection of a greater Light. And this Light is life to all who seek it.”

Now, I always knew that the moon is a reflection of the sun. It doesn’t take a scientist to recognize how things work in the scope of the earth and the universe. But I guess I never stopped to think that the moon was also a picture of humility. True, the moon has no light without the presence of the sun. In fact, there is no light from the moon at certain times of the month due to the position of the earth and other factors that I’m not going to get into in this post. You see, science is not my strong suit. :).

But what I’m getting at here is a much deeper focus. In reading that quote, I began to consider what it might be like to mirror the purpose of the moon. As Tomlin pointed out, a good worship leader reflects the light of Jesus as the One True Light. I have often wondered if I am fulfilling that role as I lead in music and worship at FRC. Am I leading others to the Light or am I being more of a stumbling block in my portrayal of His Light.

A recent sermon is still hammering hard at my heart. Pastor Tim talked about loving others and working alongside those who might be difficult to love. He pointed out that many people struggle with loving others and that there is a time and place for distancing oneself from those who are angry or bitter so we don’t begin to take on some of those same characteristics. But even as Pastor Tim focused on this concept, he asked each one of us to examine our own heart. What I heard conveyed to me was an invitation to look in the mirror. Why is it so difficult for me to love certain people? Why do particular traits, behaviors, and attitudes grate on me? Could it be that the very irritants I find in others could actually be the very same things that are irritating others where I am considered? Could someone be thinking of me right now as the one who is difficult to love?

I visibly shuttered when I came to this conclusion. It was painful to look into that proverbial mirror and realize that I might not be reflecting Christ in the way I thought I had been perceived. It made me consider how I presented myself to the congregation in leading worship as well. I have sought to be the best representative of Christ that I can be— to my OneVoice girls, to the other worship teams, to those sitting in the congregation. I know I am not perfect, but I know that I am very visible to the congregation and I need to be held accountable for my attitudes and actions.

I was talking with a few church members at the conclusion of a recent service, and we were discussing how we had felt God’s call on our lives. A woman looked straight at me and said something rather profound. “We all know your calling; you’re the singer. You wear it on your sleeve.” It struck me just how obvious my calling is perceived to other people. I am obviously living it out on that stage, but am I genuine? Do I reflect Christ in every word I speak and every song I sing? Do I love others with abandon or do I need to look to the One who is the Light for further illumination?

Humility is the moon. Let this be a reminder of who I am in Christ. I am His, and without Him, I am nothing. May we all be reminded of Who we represent as we go about each day. He is the True Light and we have the honor of reflecting Him back to the earth in a radiant display.