The Compensation Game

Hello, my name is Cassie. I am a singer/songwriter, worship leader, author, freelance editor, camp director, peer mentor… oh, and I suppose you could add: daughter, sister, auntie, friend, etc. Are you impressed? Hopefully.
Whoa! “Really?” you might be saying out loud right now. If I took you by surprise by my list of accolades and job titles, that was certainly the intent. But I didn’t list things off to brag or impress you, although just a few years ago, that would have been my intention. You see, for quite some time, I was the MVP in something called the Compensation Game. Let me tell you about it.
I think it all started from an early age. I always knew my disability had given me a different life. I couldn’t do many of the same things that others could accomplish with ease. I couldn’t read a book without picking up my magnifier. I couldn’t leave the house without a friend or the use of my white cane. I couldn’t play many of the contact sports in Phys. Ed. because of the risk to my retina. I was different and I knew it… and most of the time I didn’t like it.
Over the years, I heard comments like: “You are so inspirational. You’ve accomplished so much. You’re so brave…” As if living life with a visual impairment wasn’t hard enough, I had to contend with the well-meaning but irritating comments at the same time. The only reason these comments were irritating was because of their limiting nature. True, they were complimenting me on my abilities, but they were usually putting the disability first, as if to say, “You might be blind, but you’re an awesome singer, writer, etc.” For a long time, I believed that I was only a good singer or writer because I was blind. I wondered what kind of musician or writer I would be if I wasn’t blind. Would people still flock to my music if my vision was perfect and I didn’t have obvious challenges?
At every turn, I felt like I had something to prove— demonstrating that even though I had a disability, I could succeed, and that even though I was blind, it didn’t define me. Upon graduating from college, I gave myself over to work— keeping busy as if to prove that I had something to offer to society. I volunteered at the local library and hospice agency while I worked on releasing my first book. But as each day passed, I didn’t feel any more successful, so I added in the promotion of my music— independently releasing a CD and doing concerts whenever I got the chance. I began directing the camp and mentoring other adults with disabilities. Then came two more books and grad school— all in the midst of debilitating health challenges.
It was during the days of sickness that I came to a realization. As I have shared before, my prolonged allergies and breathing struggles paved the way to better understanding myself and my role in ministry. It was in losing my voice that I realized how much I needed to rely on God to bring me to the place He wanted me to be. For so long, I had used my voice as a standard in my life. I admit to even saying to God a time or two: “You may have made me blind, but at least you gave me a voice to sing.” So when my voice was taken from me, I had to learn to exist without it.
Who was I? What was my purpose? Why had I been compensating for my disability for so long? What was I trying to prove? It was in asking these questions that I finally came to a place of understanding. I had been using all of these things— these jobs, activities, and titles to cover up for the fact that I had a disability. I wanted people to see me and the good job I did before they noticed the disability. I didn’t want to be known as the blind singer; I just wanted to be known as the worship leader from FRC who loved to praise Jesus.
When I got hired at FRC as Music and Worship Director, I began to move forward without my definitive titles. It wasn’t an easy journey, for sometimes one reminder of my earlier attitudes would come rising to the surface. I would often long for those days of accolades and praise for my talents and strengths, and I would crave the attention that would come from doing something well.
But I had to remind myself that God was the only one who needed my attention. I was singing and writing for Him, and although very few people were watching, I knew that this was the road I needed to travel. As I have ministered at FRC, I have witnessed spiritual growth in the congregation that I have grown to love. That spiritual growth has not been because of me, but I have felt blessed to walk along with this church in its time of discovery and redevelopment.
If you were to ask me today who I am, I might say “a worship leader” or “camp director,” but if you stay with me long enough to get the whole story, I think you’ll find that I’m just Cassie— doing her best to praise Jesus, even though disability is present. Although I still find myself compensating sometimes, I have pulled myself out of the game and sought out other strategies for growth and fulfillment. I am not defined by anything but Christ, and I choose that path as I move forward.

“It is the Lord!”

In the weeks after Easter, my home church studied the stories that followed the resurrection. We called it “40 Days with Jesus,” and this sermon series carried us through Pentecost. Within that period of time, we read about the disciples as they went out to fish. Jesus had made a few public appearances after the resurrection, but this time, the disciples didn’t realize it was him until there was a miraculous catch of fish and Simon Peter exclaimed, “It is the Lord!” He then jumped into the water to meet Him.
What struck me profoundly in this story was Simon Peter’s recognition of Jesus’ presence. In a matter of moments, he just knew it was the Lord. It caused me to ask myself a very important question: When I know the Lord is present, why don’t I react as Peter did? No, I probably won’t be literally jumping into a body of water, but perhaps I could be better at letting my joy and trust in Him spill over.
I can certainly learn a lot from the disciples in this passage, but sometimes I think I can learn more from what isn’t written in John 21— if I read between the lines. I have to wonder about the disciples’ experiences at that time. Were they living in fear that the soldiers would come and drag them away for their association with their Master? Were they feeling lost without their Teacher in the days after the resurrection? True, He had appeared to them, but things were definitely not the same as they were before the crucifixion. Jesus had prepared them for what would come, but they didn’t understand. Now with a miraculous catch of fish, it was clear (to Peter, at least) that He had come and provided for their needs.
Now, I have not physically seen the Lord as Peter and the disciples have experienced, but I know He is real. Although I can’t take Him in with my eyes, I have felt His presence. Sometimes, I am better at recognizing those tangible or obvious reminders that He is real and with me. But often, I take His presence for granted, and I go through my days without recognizing His work, even in the mundane.
Like the disciples, it has to be explained to me again and again. I need to be reminded that He is good and that He will provide. He is always here with me, even when I don’t feel an obvious presence. And when I do recognize Him in the midst of my mess, I need to be better at responding in gratitude, because if I don’t, I can so easily revert back to the next activity on my check-list.
I can recall numerous opportunities when I didn’t recognize the Lord until days or even weeks later, and it saddens me that I didn’t take the time to revel in the joy that comes from surrendering to His plan and purpose. He always showed up, but I didn’t always see Him.
• Losing out on what could have been a successful book contract
• A driver backing out right before I needed to travel to Madison
• Illness in a mold-infested apartment
• Financial and medical insurance issues
It took some time to recognize God’s hand in the midst of struggle, but in the end, I began to realize that He had never left my side. He had appeared to give me my own miraculous catch, if you will. When the book contract fell through, I was disappointed, but it opened the door to probably one of the best concerts I had ever given on the same day I had received the bad news. I went on to finish The Promise, and I released it mere months later.
When my driver cancelled on me, mere days before an important event, I thought I would be left without transportation. But I had no reason to fear, for a good friend came through for me, and we were able to participate in some great conversation in our seven hours on the road.
My mold-infected apartment made me quite ill, and in the process I lost my voice due to the constant coughing and wheezing. But down the road was probably the most incredible promise. Little did I know that long-term allergies would not only lead to my employment at FRC but the gift of a home that I can now maintain with order and cleanliness.
And when financial issues came knocking at the door, I crumbled at first, not knowing why things had to happen this way. I was under considerable stress at that time, and it was yet another thing on my plate that I needed to deal with. But after talking and praying with my sister, she told me to leave it in God’s hands and He would take care of it. And He did! The resolution came far more quickly than I could have ever dreamed, and the victory after struggle was worth every tearful prayer.
As I basked in the peace that came with the resolved financial issues, I read a book by Karen Elman. In Let it Go, Elman writes about what we can gain through struggle and how we can recognize the Lord in the process. Like Elman, I have learned more about God in the midst of struggle than in the times when everything is moving along smoothly. I have also found that I have gained character traits that could only have been fashioned as I have walked through trials. I also have considered who might be watching me as I work through struggle. I will definitely say that I have a great deal to work on in this area, because I often wear my struggles on my sleeve. It isn’t hard for me to hide when I am having a bad day, and I need to be more positive in my attitude. By no means do I need to be perfect, but I need to be proactive about embracing challenges with inner joy instead of crumbling on the outside.
I have also considered that my experiences might be preparing me to interact with empathy toward someone who might be struggling in similar circumstances. I have begun to use my circumstances to prepare for encounters that only I will be fully able to understand and relate to. And finally, I have learned to ask God what He might be trying to teach me through challenging circumstances. It is only in learning about God, gaining character, being aware of who might be watching, gaining empathy for others, and listening to what He is saying to me that I can truly embrace His presence in my life, even through struggle.
I might not always recognize Him, like Peter did in that fishing boat, but the story serves as a reminder to always seek His presence, even in the midst of challenges. He might not always be visible, but He isn’t far away, with bulging nets of possibility!