If I knew one thing for sure, my vision was not normal. Now, I’ve never had normal vision in my lifetime, but this change in my vision was not typical even for my case. Everything was overly bright around me, and at the corner of my eye, I saw a distorted, shimmery spot that moved as my eyes tracked back and forth. I comforted myself with the assurance that I wasn’t seeing floaters or bright flashes of light; those symptoms would have denoted something really serious. But even so, I was concerned because it just didn’t seem right.
I’ll be honest and say that I’m not the most positive when it comes to unexpected situations like this. I immediately went to the worst case scenarios. What if it was my glaucoma pressure, sky-rocketing out of control at very high levels? What if I had a torn retina or my retina was even detached? I would surely lose my vsion. What would I do then?
Now, I’ve faced allergies, lost my voice, and had trouble breathing. All of that was terrifying and brought a great deal of stress. At times, I wondered how I would react should I ever be faced with losing my vision. I would often think that surely I could handle such an ordeal. I had already gone through most of my life with limited vision, so I figured I would have no trouble adapting to any change in my sight. But as I contemplated the worst case scenario, I found myself back-tracking. No, I couldn’t lose my vision! That would be the worst thing that could happen! I didn’t want to lose my independence. I had come too far to be forced to start all over again.
I had to go to the doctor to konw what I was up against. I made an emergency appointment with my glaucoma doctor and was soon on my way to Mayo. Upon examing my eyes, the doctor concluded that he had found nothing significant; there was no obvious reason why my eye was distorted in vision and so light sensitive. He concluded that perhaps I had dry-eye and needed to take some drops to alleviate my symptoms.
“What?!” I thought to myself. “I came all this way for you to tell me I just have dry-eye? You mean to tell me that there’s nothing more serious going on? Check again! Surely you’ll find something you didn’t catch before!”
Of course, I didn’t say any of this out loud, but my thoughts were out of control. Instead of hearing the good news from the doctor that there was nothing serious going on, I instead focused on the negative. The symptoms were still there and I had no relief. It was hard for me to contemplate leaving the exam room without getting a clear answer. “You have severe dry-eye” was not good enough for me; I wanted something more definitive.
To my horror, I felt the tears building up at the back of my eyes, and I held my breath to stave off the storm of emotion I know was bubbling up inside of me. My mother was in the exam room with me, and she asked if I was okay. I tried to talk but no sound came out. Instead, I gasped— the sudden intake of air causing me to convulse in full-fledged panic. My breathing was rapid and irregular, punctuated by painful gasps that made me jerk almost involentarily. I was a wreck, and the doctor, the tech, and my mother could see that. To set my mind at ease, they scheduled me for an ultrasound, hoping that the results would prove there was nothing going on in my eye that would warrant concern.
In the waiting room, my parents and sister tried to calm me down. But nothing they said seemed to resonate with me. My dad tried to console me with the realization that maybe my sensitivity to light was a sign that God was healing me and enhancing my vision. I refused to believe that. Why would healing be so painful and uncomfortable? I didn’t doubt that God could heal me, but I questioned how I could deserve such a miraculous outcome. Again, I was focusing on the negative and not the positive. Deep down, I just knew they were going to find something terrible from that ultrasound. I was probably going to lose my vision and that would be that.
But God wasn’t going to give up on me. The ultrasound found nothing abnormal in my eye, and the doctors did their best to reassure me that I was fine. They encouraged me to pursue the dry-eye diagnosis and take the drops to see if that would make a difference.
Over the next few days, I tried to stay positive— to have a vertical mind-set of God at work instead of the negative worst-case-scenario attitude. It wasn’t easy, but my family was there with me every step of the way. Instead of going home to an empty apartment after the tests at Mayo, I traveled to my parents’ house to stay for a few days. All of my sisters were there and we had a chance to reconnect. One sister had been with me at the clinic, and I was grateful to her for her jokes and silly comments that distracted me and made me laugh. Another sister and I sat together at the piano and worked on a song I had been writing. Yet another sister patiently worked with me to order a new purse at a house party that she hosted during my visit. My parents, too, were supportive and patient with me— letting me cry out the fear and worry and then letting me crash their couples outing to the Olive Garden on Saturday evening. The time with family was just what I needed to focus on the positive instead of dwelling on the aspects of life that I couldn’t control.
Today, my vision is still not back to normal, but it is improving somewhat. I am continually reminded of the weekend with my family, and their postive perspective is helping to motivate me forward as I return to my regular routine. Whenever I begin to dwell in negativity, I stop and say a quick prayer and lift my light-sensitive eyes up to Jesus and ask Him for peace for the moment. And then I smile when I think of my niece’s funny antics or my sister’s jokes at the clinic. It is then that I realize that a vertical perspective is better and dispels the fear. Although it might be difficult to always be positive, the vertical mindset is one I will choose to pursue in the coming weeks.

Letter to Myself

At the leadership camp I direct each summer, the students are assigned to write a letter to themselves. This letter is encouraged to motivate the student to consider future goals and dreams. It allows the student to answer such questions as: where do I want to be in 10 years? Who will help me along in my journey? What kind of person/leader do I hope to be some day.
Recently, I considered what it might look like to write a letter as an adult, addressed to a younger self— a sort of how-to guide in reverse. If I had the chance to talk to my teenage self, what would I say regarding the future? So below, I have recorded an open letter to myself. I ask you, my readers, to consider what you might say in a letter to your younger self. What sorts of things would you warn yourself about or what advise would you offer up?
Dear Cassie,
Today you graduate from high school. Congratulations! You have accomplished a great deal, especially this past year, and I am excited for your future. Enjoy your time at Crown, but keep in mind that your stay at the college will be brief. In order to complete your English degree, you will need to transfer. 2004 will be an emotionally taxing year for you and your entire family as you leave your childhood home and continue your education at Dordt. You will experience a great deal of relational struggles during this season of your life, but hold on to Jesus during the turmoil. It will be easy to give in to loneliness and despair, but keep in mind that the best is yet to come.
Regarding “NC/DC” and the many talent shows you enter, remember who you are in Christ. It’s not about the fancy clothes, VIP treatment, or notoriety. You are singing for Jesus, and these experiences are only preparing you for a fiture in music ministry.
As you prepare to graduate from college, you will have many doubts and fears as to your calling and vocation. Take each bump along the way with the knowledge that God holds your tomorrows. Although it will be difficult and emotionally taxing at times, enjoy the journey of publishing your books and releasing your first CD. Linger in the glow of each performance at the Hazelnut Tree, every book signing, and each talent show entry.
In 2008, things will begin to get rocky. You will face the challenge of putting together a mini tour to share your music, and although you will plan to release your second book, your heart will not be engaged in the process. You will endure confusion, overwhelming fear, and deep depression. You will question everything you thought you knew about God’s calling on your life. You will spend numerious hours in conversation with your parents, Karen, Pastor Anson, and Pastor Tim as you seek to discern God’s leading in your life.
In 2009, you will enroll in the online program at Crown and begin working toward yoru Masters in Ministry Leadership. The journey to obtaining your degree will be rewarding, but at times you will want to give up due to sheer exhaustion. You will succomb to numerious allergies, your breathing will be weakened, and you will lose your voice. You will be inclined to lash out at God, railing at Him for taking the only thing that matters to you. With tears, I beg you to first consider Your Greatest Treasure. Indeed, your voice is a gift from God, but it is not everything. Let Jesus be your everything as you weather the storm of illness and depression. Cling to Jesus as He leads You forward.
As you participate in Immerse, do not look at the experieice as a waste of time. No, you will not make it to the top 3, but take into account the tremendous accomplishment of making it into the top 20 out of nearly 200 contestants. Hold onto the words the Holy Spirit spoke to your heart in that Belmont University classroom. No, you are not meant to obtain a record deal or sell your written music, but you have been set apart for something far more important.
When Pastor Tim calls you in the summer of 2011, don’t freak out over what is on the horion. Instead, bask in the peace that comes with the certainty of God’s call. Work through each hurdle, one by one, until you move into your office at FRC in November of 2011. Although your first few weeks on the job will be crazy-busy, don’t forget to treasure those first moments in this new role.
In the coming months and years, you will be immersed in an ever-changing worship and music department. Don’t ever let any of this be about you. Allow God to enter into each worship encounter and practice session. May your first times with OneVoice be marked with the Holy Spirit’s leading and guiding. May you be blessed by each girl that crosses your path from Patty, your first OneVoice member, to Brooke, your most recent.
Don’t forget to value and appreciate the members of the other worship teams. Consider the creative elements they bring to worship, and always be a cheerleader and supporter of their worship ministry. Never take Pastor Tim or Joan for granted. Love your co-workers and ministry partners with no strings attached— not for what they can give you but for what you can give them.
This letter only takes you to 2014. I cannot predict your future or protect you from anything on the horizon. But Jesus holds each day from here on forward, and He will be with you every step of the way. Let Him be your refuge and strength, for He is a very present help in time of trouble. Keep strong in your faith, and you will experience a life abounding in eternal promise.
With much love,

From Spinning to Winning

I had to get those shoes!
A friend of mine works at a small-town second-hand clothing store, and she passed along to me that there was a cute pair of shoes on the shelves there that I would probably like. Now most of you are aware that I love shoes! There’s just something about wearing something new and fun on your feet that puts a spring in your step and brightens your day. So as I was saying, I had to get those shoes!
So on Saturday morning, I made my way to the shop downtown, envisioning how perfectly those shoes would complement my outfit for the following day. I wasn’t going to leave that store until I had those shoes in hand. But to my disappointment, the store proprietor could not find the pair of shoes I described. I even texted my friend, hoping I could get some clarification on these shoes she had recommended I buy. But no amount of clarification helped the proprietor and I find the elusive pair of shoes.
Needless to say, I left the store with two cardigans but no shoes. I hated to admit it, but at first, it kind of ruined my day. I was so looking forward to seeing the potential in those shoes and what they could add to my Sunday dress. I spent the rest of the day moping around the house, watching a little TV but really doing nothing at all. I am embarrassed to admit that a pair of shoes, or lack-there-of, brought me down to such a degree.
It was as if the service at church the following day was intended solely for me. I led worship to start things off that morning and then settled in to hear testimonies from a mission team that had recently served in Haiti. The group shared that they had spent the first part of their trip disappointed that God had had not been moving as powerfully as they had expected. They had started their trip with high expectations and those expectations just weren’t being met. So the group prayed and asked that He would show each person the purpose or reason they were sent to Haiti.
In his sermon, Pastor Tim shared a meditation from Isaiah 55. “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare” (Isaiah 55:2). He shared that the Christians in Haiti do not have much on a material level but that they are rich in faith and love. Joy abounds among the Christians in Haiti, and he challenged us at FRC to consider the things we buy and consume that offer little or no eternal value. I thought of my fruitless pursuit of shoes the day before. I had followed up my visit to the clothing store with yet another grocery store run. I really didn’t need anything, but I wanted something specific for supper and I figured I might as well pick it up. By the time I returned home that afternoon, I had a bag of food that I could have lived without and a disappointed mindset since I was minus the coveted shoes.
What had I gained that day? Well, in literal terms I bought what I thought I needed. But in spiritual terms, I was empty and searching for something deeper and greater. Who needed new shoes or something special for dinner to make her day complete? Apparently, I did. But in the end, I felt guilty, hollow, and empty. It was inspiring to hear about the mission team’s trip to Haiti. It put everything into perspective for me as I considered how I had just been spinning through life. I don’t have a lot of money, but still, if I want something on a reasonable level, I can obtain it— food, the necessities, cleaning supplies, and even a pair of shoes. The people in Haiti don’t have those luxuries, yet, the Christians there are living their lives with eternal purpose.
Our privileged American culture has taught us that we can get anything we want whenever we want it. Commercials and advertising attest to this. In fact, the Superbowl media hype tapped into this as well. Of course, everyone who plays for an NFL team wants that Superbowl ring. After all, the only reason to play all season is to make your way to the biggest championship football offers. To win that championship is even more of a goal and honor. I saw my Green Bay Packers win the Superbowl two times in my lifetime, and let me tell you, its an amazing experience to be able to root your team on to greatness.
But what if you were an NFL player who only sought to play for Jesus and winning the Superbowl really didn’t matter? Well, such was the case for a few Seattle Seahawks players and their coach. When interviewed by Pastor Mark Driscoll, these teammates articulated that Jesus was “better than the Superbowl.” Yes, winning the Superbowl would be an incredible experience, but when compared with the treasure of knowing Jesus, an NFL championship win would pale in comparison.
I will never be able to be a part of winning a Superbowl or even participate in the Olympics, but I guess I would have to say that my level of comparison would come in obtaining a record deal. I wonder if I could echo the sentiments of the Seattle Seahawks and say that knowing Jesus is better than any record deal or publishing contract. In leading worship at FRC, I have gotten a small taste of this reality, and I am starting to see that, yes, knowing Jesus is better than what the world sets apart as greatness.
So now that I consider my weekend episode with the shoes, I place everything back into perspective. If Jesus is better than a Superbowl, better than a record deal or publishing contract, and better than the “stuff” of this world, then my shoes are of little consequence. I want to stop spinning and toiling for things that do not satisfy and instead focus on winning. No, I’m not talking about winning a football championship here. I’m talking about pressing on toward the goal to win the prize (Philippians 3:14). The goal is Christ Jesus and nothing else could ever come close in comparison.

Treasured Faith

It was two o’clock in the morning when I was jolted awake by the fire alarm. Like anyone who wakes up in the middle of the night to such a sound, I was immediately set into a panic-driven mentality. What was going on? Was my building on fire? Would I be able to leave the building successfully? Would my stuff be okay?
As I ran from my bedroom to find a pair of shoes, I slung my purse over my arm and made my way to my apartment door. Upon reaching the hall, I sniffed the air. No, there didn’t seem to be any smoke. I didn’t sense anything out of the ordinary except for the fact that the smoke alarm was still shrilling at an annoying decibel.
A few others began to venture into the hallway, looking around with curiosity. No one seemed to know what was going on or if the building was actually on fire. We made our way together toward the main entrance where we encountered the building manager and a few others clustered around the main office. They were in the process of turning off the alarm and getting it reset. But still, no one knew why the alarm had sounded or if there was any danger.
Eventually, we were given the all-clear and sent back to our individual units. But I couldn’t sleep after all of that activity. I crawled into bed and glanced over at my nightstand. In my hurry to leave the apartment, I had left my keys and cell phone right there in the bedroom. If I would have thought further, I would have grabbed at least the cell phone to add to my purse as I evacuated. But I had not thought that far because I was filled with panic and adrenaline.
A few weeks ago, that night came back to me with sudden realization. I was asked if I could identify one thing in my life that was my most treasured possession. I thought on it for awhile, but I couldn’t seem to decide on one specific possession that I valued more than anything else. It crossed my mind that maybe it would be my Bible, but then I realized that I could totally replace my Bible should I need to in any translation I preferred. Then I thought about my electronics— my computer, CCTV, digital piano, cell phone, etc. Sure, such things are expensive and would be difficult to replace monetarily, but the truth is, if need be, they could be replaced too.
A friend who had been asked the same question remarked that he would probably say that photos would probably be his most valued possession. That sounded like a great answer to me, but yet it still didn’t resonate. Since I am visually impaired, I really don’t remember life through pictures. Sure, I take pictures now and then, but if those photos would be lost, I don’t think I would be saddened.
After agonizing over the question for a bit longer, I came to the realization that I simply couldn’t identify my most valuable possession. But if I looked at the concept from a different angle, I could definitely identify some irreplaceable factors in life that I couldn’t imagine living without.
For example, I love my family and friends. I value my independence and accomplishments through career and personal advancement. I can’t imagine being without music in my life, so losing my voice would be tragic to this worship leader. I have already lost my voice once in this life, and God used that time to teach me valuable lessons about my dependence on Him. I learned what it meant to turn my music and ministry over to Him, and I have spent the past few years seeking to honor Him in every aspect of that part of my life.
But I think that I most value comfort and security. I don’t like surprises; I would rather stay in my well-ordered world. My day is drastically impacted when my computer has issues, when my phone doesn’t function properly, when I can’t solve a problem, when I’m stressed by some of the most menial details… I don’t thrive well in the midst of struggle. I mean, no one likes to struggle through anything, but I think I really take issue with this concept. I freak out, stress out, overreact when something doesn’t work right, and it steals my joy.
Recently, I was struck with my level of dependency on the trivial details in life. Do these things really matter? I asked myself that question in the midst of a computer-related frustration. Why couldn’t I see past this trivial stuff-of-earth and instead find my value and treasure in my Best Friend? After all, shouldn’t He be more valuable to me than a computer that can totally be replaced? I was humbled to find my “stuff” more important to me than my relationship with Jesus.
Our Bible Study lesson a few weeks ago brought everything into focus for me. We talked about giving our all for Jesus. We contemplated such people as Paul and Stephen, and how both individuals poured out their lives for Kingdom work. And then we considered a modern-day example of someone who loved Jesus so much she was willing to die for His glory.
Many of you might be familiar with the shootings that took place at Columbine High School in 1999. On April 20 of that year, Rachel Scott was more than likely going about a pretty ordinary day until everything changed. Two students with guns began to target fellow students, and many of those who were injured or killed professed to be Christians. Rachel Scott was a faithful witness to her service to the King that day. When asked if she believed in God, Rachel answered “Yes,” even though she was bleeding from gunshot wounds she had already received and a gun was pointed at her head. She could have denied Christ that day; maybe then she would have lived. But Rachel had only one mission that day and that was to live for Him on a deeper level. On April 20, 1999, Rachel entered eternal life and a forever-abiding relationship with her Savior. She had chosen what was more valuable, and though it cost her everything, she laid it all on the line to please the King.
Considering Rachel’s reality brought me to a humbling place. The next time I get frustrated at the computer or face some other stressful circumstance, I will remember what truly matters. What am I willing to set aside that I might truly serve Him? All of that “stuff” doesn’t amount to the eternal value I find in my Savior. He is everything to me, and everything else fades into the background… no more excuses, nothing else standing in the way.