Recently, I was on the phone with the association of YLF organizations from around the US. YLF is the camp I direct each summer, and I truly appreciate what the association offers me in terms of community, support, and creative ideas for programming. As our discussion began, the moderator asked each of us to share what we hope the students will take home with them after they have left YLF. I was not too excited to be chosen to speak first. I felt this pressure to set the bar high with an excellent response that would initiate conversation. But since I only had a few moments to prepare, I just spoke from the heart. I shared that I wanted the students to leave YLF knowing that they could be leaders. I made sure to point out that leadership didn’t necessarily have be directing an organization or facilitating discussion, but leadership could be as simple as demonstrating strong character, dependability, and focus. I referred to this as leading by example.
When I was chosen to attend YLF as a delegate camper at the age of sixteen, this idea of leadership intimidated me. I didn’t see myself as a leader; I was shy, awkward around my peers, and very aware of the fact that I had a disability. But YLF taught me that leadership is more than just the obvious or expected definition of the term. With leadership, particularly leadership by example, comes a certain amount of influence.
When I stopped to think about it, I realized that I exert quite a bit of influence in the areas in which I lead and serve. It caused me to consider whether I had demonstrated a positive example in the way in which I handled certain situations.
There have been obvious confirmations that I have influenced someone. For example, I mentored a young lady through music several years ago, and I can recall the girl’s grandmother thanking me for being a great role model and mentor to her granddaughter. Then there was a young man with a disability who said something like this to me: “I think I know why you and I were introduced. It was so you could point me in the right direction… to be a good influence on my life.”
Then, there are areas in which I serve where I try to set a good example and mirror Christ, but I’m never quite sure if I’m being effective. I think of the evening when a few peers and I got together to talk over coffee. One of the participants was using some choice four-letter words, which I found quite offensive. I sat quietly for awhile, just taking it in, but finally, I just had to say something. As tactfully as I could, I told her that I really wished she wouldn’t talk like that and that I was uncomfortable. She toned it down a little after that, but in the back of my mind, I wondered what she thought about the whole ordeal. I hoped that in some way, I caused her to think about the words she chose to speak. Perhaps some day, my words of intervention will come back to her before she utters any unnecessary foul words.
In a more general sense, I am aware that I influence others in a less direct fashion. I lead the worship teams at my church, the staff and delegates at YLF, and the ladies in my Bible Studies. In all I do, I strive to lead by example. No, I am not perfect, but if I truly seek to reflect Christ in all I do, I must continue to exert my influence in positive and meaningful ways.
We can all exert influence, even in the everyday and mundane. Even smiling at someone from a distance or sharing a kind word can carry influence as well. So, the next time you’re at the store, working out at the gym, running errands, or at the office, think about the people you could reach through the example you set. Even when you are on the phone, sending an email, or posting to Facebook, remember that you are interacting with people and therefore leading and influencing in your own unique way. Don’t shy away from the way in which God may be choosing to use you for His honor and glory. Go ahead; influence away!

Value Restored

I sat stranded in my apartment building entryway. My driver promised he would be there at 8:15 and it was now 8:40. I couldn’t understand it. He was always so dependable. I began to worry that something had gone wrong. I reached for my cell phone and made a quick call. The phone rang and rang, but then it went to voicemail. I went on to plan B and sent a text message. I sent the following: “This is your reminder to please come get me.”
And then I waited. After what seemed like an eternity later, I got a return text filled with apology and the reason for why he was not coming. It was then that I realized that if I wanted to get to work that morning, I had two choices: I could walk on slippery roads with the cruel, March wind in my face or I could call someone else.
I reached out to our secretary, and she was soon on her way to my place. Needless to say, I made it to work but there had been a lot of waiting around for someone who didn’t show up. Certainly, I was frustrated, but there was nothing I could do about it. An apology had been made, and I had forgiven him. I was ready to move on.
But the issue rose back to the surface just a few hours later. I was at Bible Study and we were talking about our value and the value we see in others. We each took turns talking about how we perceived value. When my turn came, I talked about dependability. I made it clear that at the time and place when someone doesn’t come through for me, a sense of value for that person is reduced. I can still see them as a friend, co-worker, etc., but I think twice before I consider them a dependable transportation provider.
It was then that I asked the ladies to pray for me. I needed to book a medical appointment, and it seemed that no one wanted to drive toward the Twin Cities. To make matters worse, my appointment would probably be scheduled during business hours, and those few friends who were confident city drivers would most likely be working. I asked that the ladies would pray for a driver to come through for me.
Just like that, one of the ladies spoke up. She said if I could book the appointment on a Monday, she and a friend could take care of the transportation. I was so elated and relieved that I’m sure I could have hugged her. In that instant, I almost forgot about the events of the morning and how I had been forgotten.
I paused to consider the ratio between the times I had been forgotten and the blessing of dependable transportation, and I had to admit that one aspect far outweighed the other. Although it was often difficult to find rides, I had had more success in that area compared to the few times I had been left behind. I had to remind myself that there was still great value in the friends I could count on to come through for me. I couldn’t let one failed trip to the office be the basis for my judgment. In fact, I had been blessed, and the blessings just kept coming.
These blessings amount to some pretty awesome opportunities either just past or just over the horizon. I have been given the opportunity to attend several events thanks to the help of generous friends: a social outing with disability advocates and peer mentors, a concert, a speaking engagement where I will get to hear Joni Eareckson Tada, a leadership conference, and of course, that medical appointment. As they say, my faith in humanity has been restored; the value of my transportation providers has also been restored… and maybe even increased.
In the end, I can’t place value on someone just because they are dependable. There is no law that says my family, friends, and co-workers have to drive me anywhere. I am simply blessed by their generosity and the fact that most of the time, they just want to help. And in the times when they don’t come through for me, I have to remind myself that my schedule is not more important than the value of that person. I need to offer grace when I am forgotten in the midst of a busy day. It isn’t the end of the world. And if it helps at all, an apology text and voicemail let me know that I am still important even though the same person forgot me hours earlier. People are human, and people have value.
So as I close, I would just like to say thank you to my “valued” friends and transportation providers who step up and make life a bit easier for this blind girl. You know who you are and how much I value your generosity and friendship.

The Bride

In 2010, I attended something called Immerse, a competition and conference for aspiring Christian musicians. While in Nashville for this event, I had the honor to attend a seminar led by Jennie Lee Riddle, the composer of the worship anthem, “Revelation Song.” I had been greatly impacted by this song, and I wanted to hear the writer’s heart behind what I considered to be a masterpiece.
Unfortunately, we arrived late to her session, but I wasn’t disappointed by what I heard from her in the remaining time. Jennie continued to reference the idea of the church being the “bride of Christ.” She prefaced almost everything she said relating to worship with the reminder that worship leaders need to consider everything they do with the Bride in mind.
Who is the Bride? Well, the Bride is the Church— the body of believers who call Christ their Savior. The bible is full of references to God’s people being the Bride— Christ’s beloved. Such a concept spoke to the heart of Mike Donehey, lead singer of the band, Tenth Avenue North. On their very first record, they included a song called “Beloved,” a metaphorical retelling of the Last Supper that Jesus shared with His disciples. In a YouTube video, Mike explains the meaning behind the song. He recounts that the relationship between Christ and His followers is deeply rooted in unconditional love. Just as a man proposes to his future wife, Christ offers us His love with the Last Supper existing as a perfect example. When He picks up the Cup, He is essentially asking His disciples (and all of us) to welcome Him in and devote our lives to His call.
We don’t have to come before Him all perfect and beautiful. A woman may put on make-up and curl her hair before going on a date with the one she loves, but God doesn’t require that of us in our relationship with Him. He has already seen us in all of our unattractiveness. Now, I’m not talking about our hair being a mess and our clothes rumpled and dirty. I’m talking about the mess of our lives: sin, grief, anger, hatred, etc. He is aware of our human and broken state, but still He loves us anyway.
In recently attending a marriage conference, I was able to look at my single life a little more seriously. I found that many of my insecurities as I consider a future marital relationship stem from the idea of someone seeing the unattractive parts of my life. I am certainly not a super model, and since I have a visual impairment, my difficulty to pay attention to trends and styles leaves me wondering if my physical appearance could ever draw a man to appreciate me on a physical level. Sometimes, I am led to give up on the idea that I would ever be beautiful in a man’s eyes.
It’s a good thing that no matter how much I mess up or how unattractive I feel, I will never be less beautiful in my Savior’s eyes. I love the imagery of a veil being lifted from the eyes as a person moves from this life into eternity. For me, I will not only have a veil lifted, but my eyes themselves will be cleared to see Him fully. No longer will I be blinded physically and limited spiritually in my finite view of His greatness. Just as a husband lifts the veil of his bride-to-be in a wedding ceremony, Christ will lift my veil and draw me into my eternal home.
During communion a few weeks ago, I think I finally began to grasp what Jennie Lee Riddle has been talking about all along. As I played piano during the sacrament, I turned my head ever so slightly to gaze out over the congregation. Although I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone and the view was mostly a blur of faces and colored clothing, I knew what I was seeing. This wasn’t just a church congregation in small town Wisconsin. This was the Bride of Christ, and even though I would never have Christ’s perception, I knew without a doubt that she was beautiful to Him. I couldn’t help but get choked up in that moment as I moved into the song “Mystery,” originally performed by Gateway Worship. “Mystery” is a song that continually reminds me of the incredible mystery of God’s grace in the midst of our brokenness. There is no way I could ever deserve it, but He loves me… better yet, He is IN LOVE with me. He is my beloved and I am His.

Pure in Heart

Recently, I attended a marriage conference. Yes, you read that correctly. I attended a marriage conference; mainly this was due to the fact that I was leading praise and worship at the event. But let me tell you— as a single woman, I learned a great deal. I began to internalize what it really looks like to consider doing life with a future spouse. I learned from the other attendees what a solid, Christ-honoring marriage looks like and how I can seek to make this a reality some day in my own marriage.
As it stands now, I do not have any prospects for a future husband on my radar. It is hard to imagine being married some day when I can’t picture someone filling the role of husband. But as a single woman, I was encouraged to consider my purpose and focus during this time of being on my own. For years, I have considered the reality that perhaps God has a bigger plan for me in my singleness than in being married. My pastor and his wife shared that they feel their Kingdom impact is greater in their relationship together, whereas, I am beginning to realize that my calling might be better lived out on my own.
In my singleness, I am granted more time to truly focus on the task at hand. I can be flexible in my hours for rehearsals, Bible Studies, and other events because I don’t have to worry about neglecting a family, particularly on evenings and weekends. I feel I can also devote more time to growing relationships with the girls on my worship team and the women in my Bible Studies. I take my role as a mentor and disability advocate very seriously as well, and even though the reality of my career can be very stressful at times, I wouldn’t trade its value for even a second. I have been called to serve to my utmost, and I want to make that happen.
At the marriage conference, my pastor’s wife shared her prayer for single people. She encouraged us to run the race for Jesus and live our lives so intently for Him that we end up running into the back of the head of our future spouse. She made it clear that we were not to run into them face-to-face, but rather that we both need to be running in the same direction— running the race for Christ— that we find ourselves colliding in this journey of serving Him.
This was a very motivational view of singleness— not one of doom and gloom, you’ll find someone some day, just keep praying, he’ll appear when you stop looking, you’re still young yet philosophy. It was a live for Jesus and Him only philosophy, and in the end, you will encounter a future spouse who is as dedicated to the call of Christ as you will be.
But even though this view was encouraging, it was a kick-start to my spiritual life as well. I had thought I was doing the best I could when it came to serving and dedicating my life to Him, but it turned out I had a long way to go. Was I truly serving with everything in my being? Was I all in? What could I do to deepen my walk with my Best Friend?
A few months ago, my pastor pulled me into his office to share the following verses with me: “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed.” Leviticus 21:16-18
Upon reading this to me, he asked for my thoughts on it. He wondered if I was surprised by God’s standard for perfection or purity in service. He questioned whether my physical disability played into how I viewed this passage. My response: “absolutely.” But upon thinking it through further, I was not a candidate for the priesthood. True, I am serving on a corporate level, in front of everyone, but the standards for service do not exist to this degree in my case.
Joni Eareckson Tada explains this further: “Leviticus 21 is a strict list of dos and don’ts for men entering the priesthood of Aaron. A priest had to be pure, with no physical defects, because he was a physical symbol of a future spiritual reality— an important type of the coming Messiah. God was looking for a physically perfect man as a priest to represent the spiritually perfect man, the Lord Jesus.”
So with this in mind, I do not need to be perfect in physical form to serve Him. I am not a priest, but I am a worship leader, mentor, and a living testament to my creator. I should do everything within my physical, emotional, and spiritual strength to serve Him without defect or fault. In this time of singleness, in particular, it is important that I live my life in preparation for meeting my future husband. That means dedicating myself to the task at hand, running the race, and focusing my eyes on the eternal. I know I can never be perfect, but I want to give my all, to the best of my ability, to point to Jesus above all else. Everything else will fall into place if I commit to doing my part.

Don’t Deserve You

There is a song playing on the radio right now by Plumb that has caused me to intently examine my relationship with God. The song considers the undeserved grace that God offers each one of us and how it is often simply too incredible to fathom. This grace that God offers is a free gift, but even so, we as believers find it hard to comprehend that we could ever deserve it when we haven’t done anything to warrant such favor.
Recently, I have found myself internalizing this idea of undeserved grace. As he shared his testimony a few weeks ago, my pastor told everyone that he had a hard time talking about the “embarrassing” story of God’s grace. He explained that he didn’t feel like he deserved such grace and mercy and was somewhat embarrassed by the unmerited favor. I was surprised to hear this from a pastor. Although pastors are human like the rest of us, I always thought that a pastor wouldn’t typically respond this way to God’s amazing grace. Pastors spend their lives serviing Him, and although burdened by sins like everyone else, it is hard to comprehend that a true, Godly servant would find enough “dirt” in their lives to warrant grace.
As a worship leader, though,I am beginning to understand this pastor-mentality. I am by no menas perfect, and it is hard to live my life out on the stage for everyone to see. I know that I don’t have to put on a show or pretend that I’m perfect, but sometimes I wonder if the view is different for those in the congregation. I can recall a conversation between friends not too long ago where I was grumpily commenting on a stressful situation. A friend interjected with a relieved-sounding laugh. “Oh, its so good to hear that people like you have issues too. You sound like a normal person.”
What? Is it because I’m a worship leader and work at church that I somehow have this outward picture of perfection: I never talk bad about anyone, I never lie, I don’t drink or party, I am never crabby or have a bad attitude…? That’s ridiculous! In fact, sometimes, I wish others knew how messed up I truly am. I may look like I have it all together up on that stage, but internally, I am fighting the same battle as everyone else.
God’s grace is truly amazing; there is no other way to describe it. That’s why the old hymn and its lyrics are so profound. Like Pastor Tim, I often find it hard to wrap my mind and heart around His unmerited favor and undeserved forgiveness. I think this is why Christians find it so hard to truly follow Christ. It doesn’t make sense that messed up, sinful human beings could be pursued by God… that He would love us with a crazy, lavish-kind-of-love.
It took a recent struggle with my eye sight to catch a glimpse of undeserved grace. I had just returned from my weekend at Mayo, and friends immediately reached out to me. In my first week back home, I had two dinner invitations, and a co-worker bought me coffee before heading to the office. With each invitation or gift of food and drink, I was blown away by the generosity of others. I hadn’t done anything to deserve any of this… other than going through a recent health struggle. I had to consider each outing as a gift— not of money and resources spent— but of time spent in relationship and community.
Although on a larger and life-altering scale, God’s undeserved grace works in much the same way. He longs to be in relationship with us. He offers His grace and mercy to His children even though we are tainted by sin and the dirt of our messy lives. If we come to Him in repentance, His love will abound in our lives. It seems almost too good to be true, but it is reality. In her song, Plumb uses the words “I don’t deserve You” as she sings of His presence in her life, but she precedes this lyric with “It’s what you do.”
It is what He does. He continues to pursue us and lavish us with He grace even though we don’t deserve Him. There is nothing we could ever do that would limit the nature of His grace. We simply need to accept it, much as I did with the invitations out from my friends. Sometimes, you simply need to humble yourself and come before Him with a heart of gratitude. His grace is amazing, and although we don’t deserve it, we can embrace it.