Many of you may be aware that I have had a visual impairment since birth. My vision is limited to my left eye and my right eye is covered with a prosthetic lens. As a result, I have about a third of the vision that normally sighted people possess. Thanks to some helpful adaptations, I am able to go about my daily routine and still be able to accomplish a great deal on my own.
One of my favorite adaptive tools is my hand-held magnifier, which I affectionately call “Maggie.” Maggie goes with me everywhere. I have one on my desk at my office, one on my desk at home, and one in my purse. Maggie makes it possible for me to read labels on products at the store, decide what to eat at a local restaurant in reading the menu, or simply gives me the opportunity to read a book to pass the time. Without my magnifier, I couldn’t read anything smaller than 20-point font.
When I was a child, I also discovered that without Maggie I couldn’t see some of the smallest creatures on earth. I remember struggling through science or biology classes because I couldn’t see well enough to view insects as they flew by or swift-footed animals as they ran past. I couldn’t understand pictures or diagrams because I had no sense of reality in never having seen such creatures up close. During my high school days, I refused to dissect anything in biology class because I was afraid I wouldn’t know what I was doing. I had no sense of visual guidance.
One day, my mom brought in the laundry after it had dried on the clothesline outside. She called me downstairs into the kitchen so she could show me a pair of shorts she was folding up. “I have something to show you,” she said as she set the pair of jean shorts in front of me. Even though I had limited vision, I could see that she had used a piece of transparent tape to hold something in place against the fabric of the shorts.
“What is that?” I asked, pointing to the taped-up spot.
“Its a bee,” she said with a matter-of-fact tone. “I thought you might want to see it magnified under your CCTV.”
How my mother had managed to tape the bee against those shorts I will never know. But what was fascinating to me was that I was finally able to see the insect up close. My CCTV is a closed-circuit device that magnifies anything underneath mirrors and cameras to display on a TV or computer screen. I was in awe! The bee was so close and so visible. Of course, it was trying to wiggle out of that tape, but it wasn’t going anywhere! I watched the insect struggle for a long time… probably longer than should have been humane for the poor little thing. But what mattered is that I was finally able to see something so tiny with such clarity.
I read a reflection not too long ago from Joni Eareckson Tada that brought all of this into focus (no pun intended there :)). She said something like this: “When you magnify an object, you don’t make the object any bigger. What you magnify is your vision.”
In her devotional, Tada pointed out that this is exactly what we do when we say we magnify God. I think of Mary’s prayer in Luke 2 as her “soul magnifies the Lord.” As Tada explains, God doesn’t need to be magnified. He is already in His Kingly role and possesses majesty in all things. But if we say we are magnifying Him in our worship, what we are really doing is sharpening our perspective or vision of Him in our lives. In making Him greater, everything insignificant disappears and we can see Him more clearly.
Such an experience happened with me recently. I had been studying the Scriptures and Christian literature on the topic of worship when I was compelled to put what I had been reading and learning into practice. I was determined to lead God’s people into worship the next time I took the platform at church. But I didn’t just want to lead in worship; I wanted to lead the congregation to magnify Him— to recognize His greatness and be overtaken by His Presence. I wasn’t going to settle for anything less than true, authentic worship, so I prayed that I could come before Him with an open heart and spirit.
It is amazing to see the change that takes place in a willing heart. I have to be honest and say that sometimes I am simply going through the motions when I am leading worship. I don’t want to forget the lyrics or mess up on the piano. My mind is mechanically focused and I don’t often give into a heartfelt expression of worship. But the Sunday I prayed that prayer, I was able to let go and let Him in! I truly and honestly was able to let go of the mechanics and concentrate on making Him great! The shift was perceptible and oh, so freeing!
In magnifying Him, I could truly see the “who” and the “why” for my worship. I was worshiping my Creator because of His greatness. He deserved only the highest honor, glory, and praise.

Two Places at Once

I was booking some appointments on my smart phone a few weeks ago. I wanted to make sure I had the Christmas Eve service blocked off so I could plan ahead for some travel arrangements. “Set Christmas Eve service for Tuesday, December 24 at 5:00 p.m.,” I spoke into my phone. A few seconds later, I got a strange reply from Lexie. “Here are the conflicts,” my phone articulated in her computer-toned voice.
“What!?” I exclaimed. “How could I possibly have something else programmed in for the same time as the Christmas Eve service?”
But suddenly, it occurred to me. I have a long-standing appointment programmed into my calendar for Tuesday afternoon Bible Study. Coincidentally, Bible Study was automatically set for 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday afternoons, generating a conflict in the system when I tried to set my commitment for Christmas Eve. Of course, I knew it was an error; obviously, we had canceled Bible Study for Christmas Eve Day since we planned to be worshiping at church or spending time with our families. But it made me laugh. I wondered about the realistic possibility of being in two places at once.
A scene from a popular movie came to mind at about that same time. In A Walk to Remember, Landon blindfolds Jamie and takes her to a designated place that at first, Jamie doesn’t understand. He helps to position her feet so that she is straddling the state line. When she questions him, Landon explains that he has managed to fulfill one of her life goals: to be in two places at once. Of course, putting a foot in two different states really doesn’t constitute being in two places at once, but logically it works. In my own situation, there would be no possible way to be at Carol’s house for Bible Study and also at the church to lead worship at the exact same time. I can’t clone myself, so the only logical solution would be to simply not double-book myself.
As we journeyed into the new year, I found myself seriously thinking about being in two places at once. Over the past few months, I have considered what it would look like to find momentum in my worship ministry. In my time of prayerful consideration, I found myself at a crossroads. Could one physically stay in the same place but still move forward? My church home at FRC is small but growing, and although some may not see great promise in our tiny worship and music department, I see amazing potential. Although resources are limited and there are challenges on the horizon, I am finding that I am in for the long haul. I have committed to stay at FRC for as long as God will pave the way for our joint ministry. I look at my work at FRC as a combined effort between me, my fellow musicians, and congregation members.
Pastor Tim’s sermon a few weeks ago mirrored my thoughts in this area but with a different perspective. He talked about moving into 2014 considering God’s plan for our lives. He pointed out that God loves us so much that he doesn’t want us to simply stay there to bask in that realization. He wants us to embrace His love and seek to move forward in that love— not staying the same as we were in 2013 or in years past.
My eyes filled with tears when I considered where I had been at the end of 2012 in comparison to where I am standing today at the beginning of 2014. It wasn’t hard to recall my dismal state as 2012 came to a close. My parents left after visiting over the Christmas holiday. I curled up in my recliner to take a nap; I was getting over the flu and was jut plain wiped out. I couldn’t sleep though because the Green Bay Packers were playing an important game, which they lost. Talk about depressing! And the depression just kept piling up. As I tried to recover physically from the flu over the next few days, I continued to spiral downward. I had far too much time to myself, and my thoughts spun in endless circles. I was lonely, worried about the future, and depressed. The combination of the after-Christmas-blahs combined with physical sickness sent me over the edge and I was a wreck.
Slowly but surely, I bounced back into good physical and mental health; I made the commitment to never sink so low again. I had no real reason to be depressed, and I needed to get back to reality and focus on what truly mattered . I jumped back into my commitments and was soon as busy as ever. I had no desire to stay in the bleak days of depression; I wanted to embrace life and a more positive outlook.
Well, I’m happy to say that in comparing this January to last, I am in a good place. As I rang in the new year, once more alone in my tiny apartment, I didn’t let the circumstances get me down. I remember praying that night, thanking God that at least I wasn’t down with the flu and battling depression. In fact, I was thankful for stress. Yes, you read that correctly. I knew with the new year would come impending deadlines for the camp I direct and a new exciting project in the works for my ministry at FRC. I was grateful that I had something to look forward to and that I could move forward.
I was also eager to move forward in my relationship with Jesus on a more personal level. After all, Pastor Tim had encouraged us to fall in love with Jesus more and more each day, so that with each passing year we could say we were closer to Him than ever before. I have taken on the challenge, and I am seeking to find a deeper closeness with my Best Friend this year. Everything else is temporal in relation to Him.
Yes, the Packers lost in the first round of playoffs and the Christmas season is over for another year. But there is more to life than football and holiday trees and lights. Jesus is eternal and His love calls me to new heights. I am physically staying— in my apartment, at FRC, in my other commitments. But I choose to leave this place of passive and lukewarm relationship with Him. I want to fall in love with Him more and more each day even though my surroundings don’t change. I want to be in two places at once: my physical and spiritual words colliding in indescribable possibility and promise!

Second Fiddle

“If I hear that song one more time, I”m going to…”

Her words were interrupted by our laughter. I was at practice with my OneVoice girls, and somehow we had gotten distracted and off-topic. One of the girls was telling about her new job and the incessant music that played in the background during her work day. She confessed that the pop music was okay to hear over and over, but there was one song that seemed to be on repeat that practically drove her crazy: Lady Gaga’s single “Applause.”
Almost immediately, I could understand her reaction to the song. Although I typically listen to worship albums and Christian music, I had heard the pop song before and I wasn’t impressed. True, the song boasted a catchy tune and driving rhythm, but beyond that, “Applause” lacked something huge: humility.

Now, for those of you who are aware of Lady Gaga’s run as a pop star in modern culture, this comes as no surprise to you. Lady Gaga is known for making ridiculous fashion statements and presenting herself without a filter. She is bold and oh, so obvious when she is in the public eye. Considering Lady Gaga’s performance mentality, it was interesting that a worship practice session could be diverted with talk of her song. In my eyes, what we did as worship leaders on the stage was miles away from what Lady Gaga did on stage in her performances.

But the more I thought about it, the idea behind “Applause” served as a bit of a teaching tool. For so long, I had battled against a performance mentality in my work as a worship leader. For many years, I sang on the stage, giving each performance my all because I knew the audience was paying attention. I had to do well to merit the audience’s approval. I was motivated by the kind words spoken to me after the concert or worship service. “Oh, you sang so beautifully!” “Good job!” “That was amazing!” All of these compliments went to my head and only fed my ego.

So when I heard the lyrics to Gaga’s hit song, everything came crashing back to me. I had spent almost four years in physical and spiritual healing from a prolonged illness, and in that time, God taught me what it meant to lead God’s people in worship. It wasn’t about me at all, even though I was on that stage. He was and still is the ultimate worship leader, and I was never meant to glory in the applause of mankind.

But Gaga’s song screams to the listener that she “live[s] for the applause” and the cheers of her fans. It saddened me to witness Gaga’s dependency on the oh-so-temporary praise of fellow human beings. She is a celebrity and people are seemingly fascinated with her. But what happens if, one day, everything changes. What if her fans begin to lose interest and go their own way? Where will Lady Gaga find her worth then?
My journey away from seeking applause has not been easy for me. But leading worship has brought me into a new sense of completion. I no longer feel it is appropriate for the congregation to applaud after I sing. In leading worship, I am seeking to adore Him and bring Him glory. To applaud me after my heartfelt offering to the Creator would immediately jolt a time of worship into a stark contrast of praising me for my talents.
My voice belongs to God, and I am simply offering it back to Him as I worship. I pray that as I lead in song, the congregation will be able to follow me into true worship of our Lord and Savior. I don’t want to be a distraction on that stage. I don’t want to be the stumbling block preventing worshipers from having an encounter with the Risen Christ.
I think of our recent Christmas Eve Candlelight service as a true example of God-honoring worship. For most of the service, I was trying to focus on playing the right notes on the piano and hoping that I wouldn’t forget the lyrics. My sister Becca had joined me and Vanessa to lead in several Christmas carols and a few special numbers. I sang lead vocal and Becca and Vanessa joined in with harmony. It was beautiful and a time that I will not soon forget.

But notice how I said in the previous paragraph that our service was a “true example of God-honoring worship”? Well, when I wrote that, I was referring to the example set by Becca and Vanessa, not necessarily from myself. You see, after the service, several people approached Becca to thank her for sharing her gift of music. I too, expressed how grateful I was to have her singing with us. “Oh, it was no problem; it was fun,” she said. “But I kind of felt like we were your back-up singers.”
“No way!” I exclaimed. “You were a part of the trio… we all were! Without you guys, there would have been no harmony.”
What I said was true. Never once have I looked at the singers alongside of me during worship as back-up vocalists. The singers that support our sound on stage are just as important as my lead vocal and instrumentation from the piano. I have always been encouraged by Vanessa’s quiet example of humility on and off the stage. She often comments that she doesn’t want to sing lead or be at the center of attention. She has made it clear that she loves to sing harmony and be the voice in the background. In the times when I have tried to encourage more involvement, she more or less shrugs her shoulders and steps into the background. She is comfortable there and her humility is authentic.
I read a story recently about famed conductor Leonard Bernstein. At one time, he was asked if there was one instrument that was particularly difficult to play. His almost immediate reply was “second violin.” When he was asked to elaborate, he explained that everyone wants to play first chair violin. In a vocalist’s line of thinking, that is just as significant as singing the lead vocal. Bernstein articulated that it is often very rare to find someone who would rather play the secondary role. But Bernstein pointed out that without second violin, there would be no harmony and the music wouldn’t be complete.
It made me think of Vanessa and Becca on Christmas Eve. I hope they didn’t feel like they played second fiddle to me. I hope they were aware of the significance of their role. But at the same time, I am honored and humbled by their quiet humility. Standing in front of me that night were two young ladies who only lived for the applause of One. I still marvel at the simple quote from writer Ron Owens on the matter of applause. He has said that the only applause that we should be seeking is that from nail-scarred hands.
Nothing else matters beyond the applause and approval of our Lord. I thank Becca and Vanessa for showing me what it means to “live for the applause… from nail-scarred hands.”

He is Here

It was one of those nights— a night of loneliness, confusion, worry, and despair. I had been in bed for almost three hours, but still, sleep did not come. I tossed and turned, trying to find a comfortable position, but nothing seemed to help bring me peace. My mind spun in circles, contemplating everything from financial worries at the camp I direct to personal decisions for my career that had the potential to effect the rest of my life. I was a bundle of nerves and escalating fear.

It was so quiet in my room that I thought I could scream. The silence was so deafening that I began to wonder if I might be the only one awake in the world— or at lest in my building. I couldn’t take it any longer! In desperation, I flung the covers aside and paced the room. I began to pray out loud, begging and pleading God to give me even just a measure of peace. But as I continued to pace and pray, my agitation grew and I soon became exhausted.

I crossed into my darkened living room and flung myself down into my recliner. Now, I love my recliner; its not oversized and bulky like some recliners I’ve seen, but instead it is almost as it it was made to fit my size. I am short in stature and this chair could not be more perfect for me. I curled up that night in the recliner, wrapping myself cocoon-style in my favorite quilt. And then I lost myself in gut-wrenching tears. Why I was so emotional, desperate, and panic-driven that night I may never know for sure. But what I do know with distinct clarity is what happened next.

When my tears were spent, I was completely exhausted with no more strength to pray. Yet, I felt compelled to say something to Him— something that would communicate the deep emotional strain that still existed in my heart. I recalled a pastor’s sermon I had heard years before which focused on the Holy Spirit. The pastor told the congregation that sometimes there are simply no words to pray, but the Holy Spirit will intercede for us in what we can’t express. Scripture confirms this in Romans 8:26. So curled into my recliner, I simply uttered the name of Jesus over and over: “Jesus… Jesus… Jesus…”

I started to feel a semblance of peace come over me, and then the most incredible thing happened. I distinctly felt warmth all around me and the almost perceptible sensation of a physical touch. It was as if Jesus had come, through the Spirit, and wrapped His arms around me. He was holding me there, and I knew He had come to comfort me. After all, when Jesus told of the Holy Spirit that would come to His people after His death, He often described Him as the Comforter.

There are no other words to adequately expressed what took place that night. In fact, it was such an intimate experience that my eyes well up with tears if I think about it for too long. He was there with me in the purest reality I have ever witnessed.

You might be reading this with a bit of disbelief. You may even be wondering if I just imagined all of this to be. But I’m telling You, the Holy Spirit is present and active today and every day. Have you ever felt His presence in worship? I have been drawn into Spirit led worship on a few occasions, and like my experience in the recliner, it is just as incredible.

I can remember one such occurrence when Vanessa and I were leading worship at FRC on a particularly important Sunday. I was being observed by a committee for a potential opportunity— more or less an interview of sorts. I was nervous, jittery, and far from calm. But Vanessa, always the calm one, helped put everything in perspective. I remember praying that morning and inviting the Holy Spirit to enter into our time of worship and song. And to our utter joy and amazement, He came!

We were singing “Revelation Song” at the top of our voices when I felt it— a Presence that came over the sanctuary without a doubt as do its origin. I felt a a warmth and a chill both at the same time. Although we were singing with great volume, it was almost as if a hush had come over the room as well. There was a sense of expectancy, wholeness, and promise. It is a time and place I will never forget. For a moment, I thought I was the only one to experience it until Vanessa pulled me aside afterward.

“Did you feel it?” she asked me.

I knew exactly what she meant with her words.

“Yes,” I recall saying. “The Spirit was here.”

Now, coming from a conservative Reformed Church background, the Holy Spirit is not something that enters many conversations. Oftentimes, mention of the Holy Spirit conjures images of flaming tongues of fire at the time of the Pentecost with everyone speaking in tongues. But as I have learned in recent years, the Spirit doesn’t have to come in radiant and flamboyant display. Sometimes, He enters worship when two girls are singing humble songs to their Creator. Sometimes, He comes to comfort His child in the middle of the night to simply love and hold her.

Is it “out there”? Does it sound crazy to you? I have to admit, it is nothing of this world, that’s for sure. That’s why its often too difficult to fathom. But I can assure you that the Spirit is active and working among us. We just completed the time of Advent on the church calendar, but that doesn’t mean that Christmas is over. Christmas is meant to be celebrated all year-round. Christ came to be born as a baby and later die for our sins so that the Promise of His Spirit could be fulfilled. He is here today just as He was here more than two thousand years ago.

He is here. Will you welcome him in?