FRC: A Family

“So how was your weekend?” my pastor asked as I sat down at our weekly staff meeting.
“Great!” I replied. “Thank you, by the way, for letting me take that time away. It was really meaningful for me and my family.”
I was referring to the time I had spent at my dad’s church over the previous weekend as we celebrated his ten years in the ministry. As a result, I had needed to take time off that Sunday and have someone else cover for me in the music and worship department.
“So everything went well?” he asked. “You enjoyed yourself?”
“Yes,” I said. “But I missed it here.”
“You missed it?” he asked. “How? In what way?”
“Hmm… I don’t know, really,” I finally responded. “I just miss it when I’m gone.”
He seemed interested in my comment but didn’t push me to elaborate. His silence got me thinking, and I started to wonder what it all could mean. Yes, I missed my church when I was gone, but why? I vowed that I would take the time to think it over, and I promised that I would let him know when I figured it out.
To be honest, it didn’t take long to make sense of it all, and the truth was plain and simple: I loved the church. That’s why I missed it so much. I had been a part of the church since I was a tiny baby, and it held an important place in my heart. It was where I was baptized and became a member in eighth grade. It was where I sang a solo for the first time and fumbled through my first offertory piece on the piano. It was at FRC that I played my first praise song and delivered my first sermon. There were so many firsts in that church that the memories were enough to cause a lump to form in my throat.
But the most obvious reason for loving the church and missing it when I am away is the people. The people at FRC are some of the most dedicated servants of Christ you will ever meet. With a concentration on missions and a heart for sons of the church (those who have gone into pastoral ministry), this congregation has always had heart… heart for the lost, heart for each other, and heart for Christ.
But it hasn’t always been easy. In fact, in 2008, I had almost given up on FRC. I was sitting somewhere toward the back of the sanctuary on a Sunday morning to hear the report of a partner in ministry. Tears streamed down my face as he spoke, for the future for our congregation seemed so dismal. We were low in attendance, our children’s ministry had dwindled to nearly nothing, and our new pastor had arrived in the midst of this decline. For as much as I loved FRC, I was ready to turn away and maybe attend church with my grandmother across town. I was battling through depression at that time and the beginning symptoms of my eighteen-month allergy struggle, so I was already emotional. But the concerns for FRC went deeper than that.
The ministry partner spoke from the pulpit about his ties to the church and how he would always have a place in his heart for the people of FRC. I don’t know if he was aware of our recent decline, but he spoke as if he could read right through the situation. He challenged us to keep pressing forward together.
Needless to say, I stuck it out. Pastor Tim began to hit his stride in ministry, and new families began to frequent the church. The music and multimedia began to change, and it wasn’t long before Pastor Tim was asking me to help him in planning worship. After two years of volunteering in that role, I assumed the paid position of Music and Worship Director. All the while, the FRC community began to change all around me. We began to concentrate on corporate worship, investing in deep relationships, and interacting in small groups.
Now, by no means are we perfect, but we are a church that has faced adversity and kept pushing forward. We don’t have it all figured out, but we are seeking to have a great Kingdom impact in western Wisconsin. So why do I love my church? I don’t think there is a simple way to express this, but I’m going to take a stab at it. I love my church and miss it when I’m gone because of the community that exists within the church’s walls; we are a family through the blood of Christ.

It Doesn’t Matter

Aaron Rodgers, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers threw for 315 yards with 6 touchdown passes in a single game on November 9, 2014.
Taylor Swift’s latest album sold $1.2 million in its first week alone.
Frozen has grossed over $400 million in box office sales.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is now the 16th richest person in the world with a net worth of $33.3 billion.
Lady Gaga has over 42 million Twitter followers.
And then there are my statistics:
An ACT score in the twenties
A grade point average in high school and college in the 3.5 range
A 98% grade on my high school English Senior project
Finished in the top 20 at Immerse
Sure, I have had my wins: first place in “Young Authors” in third grade, first place at high school talent show, won $1,000 for my high school senior class party for writing a poem that advocated an alcohol-free environment, my song “Beam of Hope” winning first place in its age division at the local university’s songwriting competition, first place at my college talent show, winning “NC/DC Extreme”…
Yes, I’ve won some and I’ve lost some. I’ve also accomplished my fair share of goals: publishing three books, recording a four-song demo and then a 12-song album, obtaining my undergrad and them Masters degree… But what does it matter?
In the grand scheme of things, no; it doesn’t matter. Obviously, these accomplishments, whether mediocre or successful, hold very little value when eternity is concerned. But our society continues to tell us that our work, our monetary value, and staggering statistics make us somebody. So we keep striving, seeking that next milestone that will heft us over the top and bring in one more win.
Being a musician in this fame-crazed world is daunting. When I stepped down from my album-promoting and book-selling days, I thought I had seen the worst of it and moved on. But just last week, I found myself seeking that elusive draw to succeed. For seven years, I had performed at a local coffeehouse, and each Christmas season, I looked forward to the holiday event we would put on one Thursday evening. Well, that mainstay came crashing down this past week when I was denied usage of the venue.
I was crushed. I had spent seven years building this annual tradition, and now it was over. Do you see what I did there? I correlated my success to a seven-year run! Once more, I was crunching numbers, making it sound bigger and better that way. But it went beyond the seven-year stretch; there were hours of practice, arranging for the crew, getting the stage set up, getting pretty for my stage time… My musician’s heart was bruised and left in pain.
When I was in Nashville at Immerse in 2010, I heard the comment made that musicians need a church for just themselves so they can understand each others’ quirks and insecurities. Although this reality is unrealistic, it does kind of make sense. In some way, our identities are mixed up with the craft we produce and the talent that lies within us. We are so connected to the music that any music-related disappointment is a blow to us personally.
So that’s where I was last week— bruised, broken-hearted and just plain sad. I made a few phone calls and discussed other possibilities, and perhaps there will be something lined up in the weeks to come. But in the end, none of the notoriety of this yearly concert mattered. As I tried to cast aside my disappointment, I found that I didn’t care about the glitz and glamour, ticket sales and financial gain, or even my seven-year run. I just wanted to sing because it was fun and I loved practicing.
So I’m starting over. No, I’m not going to seek for a new tradition or another seven-year run of concerts. I want to live life beyond the numbers and move forward knowing that I’m making a difference in this world. Will fame and fortune come calling in small-town Wisconsin anyway? Probably not. But again, that’s not what this is about. Perhaps my job right now is to humbly serve where I am planted and let God’s plans outshine my own. A verse from my days in Nashville serves as a reminder today as I close. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.” 1 Peter 5:6

Imperfect Progress

To this day, I can remember my first full-fledged panic attack. It was in the fall, nine years ago. I was in my senior year of college, and my world was seemingly spiraling out of control. I was trying to keep my head above water with my homework load and several presentations on the horizon, and a few good friends were going through some significant health struggles. To top everything off, I had auditioned for something called “NC/DC Extreme,” an “American Idol”-like competition to be held between my college and our rival university. My sister had also asked me to speak in one of her education classes on disability, so as a result, I was very busy and quite stressed.
My drive for perfectionism and success drove me to a very unhealthy place, and one night while riding back from Fall Break, I hyperventilated and almost passed out from panic. It was a quiet panic attack in that no one else in the car was aware of it. But my body was aware of it, for sure, and my symptoms had me worried. I stewed over my condition for nearly three days; I told myself that my rapid heart rate, clammy hands, and light-headedness would pass. But nothing changed. So I found myself in the ER.
In the end, they diagnosed me with having a prolonged panic attack. The doctor asked me that night if there was any way I could eliminate some of the stressors in my life, and I told him “no.” I was a college senior, and stress seemed to follow me at every turn. Although my recovery process put a damper on my commitments over the next few days, I managed to accomplish everything I had set out to do.
My audition for “NC/DC Extreme” was successful to the degree that I made it into the competition. On the first night of the live show, my voice was strong and I was surprisingly calm. I loved to sing, and other than the fear of forgetting lyrics, I was confident in my upcoming performance… until I became privy to a few careless comments from a fellow competitor. He began by complimenting me on my beautiful voice but ended his remarks by commenting on my blindness and the potential effect sympathy votes would play in my winning the competition overall.
I excused myself from the conversation as politely as I could, but I was mad! I had worked so hard in perfecting my music over the years, and it irritated me that someone should bring my disability into the equation. It only haunted me with my continual struggle to measure up— seeking to become more than my visual impairment. It was then that I was committed to not win that competition. I wouldn’t care about the outcome; maybe then I could prove this person wrong. My blindness would not be a factor in winning “NC/DC Extreme.”
But my mind games didn’t work. My perfectionism and drive for solid performances led to something I couldn’t take back; it wasn’t in me to back off and not care. I had to try. As a result, I found myself in the top three on finale night.
“Please don’t say my name… Please don’t say my name… Please don’t say my name…” I remember repeating in my head as they were getting ready to announce the winner. I could not win this competition! It would only solidify my competitor’s assumptions. But my repeated mantra didn’t alter the results, and I heard the deafening roar of the crowd as the announcer screamed my name: “Cassie Lokker!”
I had no choice at that moment. As soon as I could get off stage, I ran! Now, I know what you must be thinking. Maybe a blind girl shouldn’t be running, unaided without a cane. But I knew that campus well, and I high-tailed it back to my dorm room.
You know exactly what running away accomplished— NOTHING. But even so, I didn’t learn my lesson. Just a few weeks ago, I wanted to run away all over again. And it was all due to unattainable perfection. In my attempt to try to please everyone, I had committed to do something with wrong motives. In the process, I drew two other people with me. I had thought this would be the perfect way to satisfy curiosity and get the answers I needed, but my plan back-fired. In an encounter a few days later, I was questioned about the decision I had made, and I had to admit defeat. I was embarrassed that I had jumped so quickly to try to please everyone. In the end, feelings were hurt and I felt regret that I had involved trusted confidants into it as well. My drive for perfectionism had brought destruction again.
Sadly, I had come to recognize my imperfect progress in a painful way. I love this phraseology from Lysa TerKeurst. This imperfect progress is something that doesn’t always have to be so detrimental. If only I could realize that I can only try my best, and in God’s eyes, my best is really all that matters. It’s similar to what one of my confidants said when she learned of the fall-out from the incident. “What’s done is done,” she said. “We can’t take it back. We can’t change it.”
It’s so true. God created me with my drive for perfectionism. Does it get me in trouble sometimes? Absolutely! But He knows that perfection is something that the human race longs to experience. The temptation and sin that took place in the Garden of Eden robbed the earth of any semblance of perfectionism seemingly from the beginning of time. I think that’s why I and others have such a hard time trying to make things right. We long for perfection, for what can only exist now in heaven.
I will never be able to please everyone. I may never move beyond this insecurity that stems from my blindness. But I can seek to progress forward in my imperfections with the goal of pleasing the One and Only— my Savior. In the end, it doesn’t matter if I win the contest or someone has a negative attitude toward me. I can’t change any of that. But I can change my focus to something more eternal. Here’s to another day of imperfect progress.

My Fuel

Since I am a musician and worship leader, I spend quite a bit of time on the stage. Most of the time, it is fulfilling and quite amazing, but sometimes, it’s a bit draining. In those moments when I find myself veering toward empty in my fuel tank, I rely on being fed by others.
What I mean here is that I often seek out a concert, conference, or some other activity to renew my focus and sense of vitality. In the early days of my ministry, I would often seek out a quiet corner in our local coffee shop and devour Scripture for hours at a time. I had hours of homework left to do and music to choose for Sunday services, but when I felt I needed some energy pumped into me, I would purposely get away to spend time in the Word. Why couldn’t I do it at home, you might ask? Well, at home there were just too many distractions. Being at the coffee shop allowed me uninterrupted time with my Creator.
Just a few weeks ago, I was sensing I was nearing burn-out. I had just moved out of a challenging summer with some issues relating to the availability of the other church musicians. For weeks on end, I found myself leading from the piano. Now, like I said before, I find my music ministry very fulfilling, but when you are doing it week in and week out for quite awhile, you begin to find yourself on autopilot.
So I was both relieved and excited to see the upcoming event announced on my Google calendar: Women of Faith Conference! I was eager to spend an entire weekend devoted to praising God through corporate worship and hearing from some well-respected speakers. The theme for this particular Women of Faith event was “From Survival to Revival.” Ha! I thought. I think they designed this weekend just for me! As I had predicted, the speakers were great and the music was amazing. I was able to just sit and drink it all in! I had some wonderful moments in quiet reflection with my Creator in addition to meeting some fantastic women in the seats next to me.
On the way home, I looked at my watch a bit anxiously. I had agreed to host a little hang-out night at my place once I returned home from the conference. My guests were aware of my weekend away and had agreed to be flexible. The plan was to call or text everyone once I was comfortable at home and ready for them to come over. Even though I had a wonderfully relaxing time at Women of Faith, I was a bit frazzled by the next thing on the horizon. For a brief moment, I considered a selfish need for solitude and a bit of physical activity. We had been sitting all day, and all I wanted to do was go for a walk in the beautiful fall twilight. But I knew I had company coming, and I couldn’t put it off.
So instead of a walk, I prepared a quick dinner and called my guests as I ate. In a matter of moments, my home was filled with laughter and good conversation. For the next five-and-a-half hours, we enjoyed ourselves, and I was shocked when I realized it was after 11:00 p.m.! I had to lead worship the next morning, and this realization alone just made me feel plain exhausted. I was relieved when my guests began to recognize the late hour and began to get ready to leave. As everyone departed, I looked around and noticed that the kitchen needed some serious tidying. So with a rag in hand and the garbage can nearby, I set the kitchen to rights. Then I turned toward the piano. I realized that I hadn’t practiced all weekend, and if I wanted to eliminate any potential distractions in worship the next morning, I figured I should probably run through the songs.
Needless to say, it was a very early wake-up call the next morning as I struggled to keep my eyes open. I figured it would be at least a three-cups-of-coffee day for me if I wanted to make it through an 8:30 sound check and a 9:30 worship service. To make matters even more challenging, we had a guest pastor booked for that morning, I felt like I at least needed to put on a positive leadership front so nothing would slip out of control. I had to stay alert.
In the end, I had nothing to worry about. After one cup of coffee, the sound check began, and I immediately felt energized by the focus and determination delivered by my fellow worship team participants. One of the women had also been at Women of Faith with me, and I knew she was tired too. But even so, the team sang with passion and beauty. As we prayed after our sound check, I specifically asked the Holy Spirit to come and wake us up even more! And boy did He respond!
As we sang “Revelation Song,” an anthem that continually astounds me with its capacity to bring me before the Throne of Grace, I felt a heightened response from our team and the congregation. Apparently, I was not the only one to encounter this sensation. The pastor relayed that He had felt drawn into worship as we sang that particular song, and he shared that with the rest of the congregation during his message. I smiled with joy when I heard that. After the service, the pastor complimented our team on our leadership and said that our pastor was “lucky” to have us as part of his ministry team. Now, I could have taken this to heart and let it swell in my head, but instead, I felt an amazing revival come over me.
The morning’s events had been such a blessing to me and had served to be just the fuel I needed to carry me forward. It had almost been more fuel for me than the conference I had found to be so amazing. It wasn’t that the pastor complimented us or that things had gone so well; it was more the fact that the Holy Spirit had come and made His presence known even in the midst of our/my fatigue. No cup of coffee could ever measure up to the grace and power that came from my time at FRC. I can only hope and pray that next week we can worship with the same energy and vitality, seeking the fuel that only the Spirit can provide.