2015 in Review

Well, everyone, the new year is almost here! 2015 is coming to a close, and it has certainly been a year to remember. I thought it would be fitting to share with you a few highlights from this past year that may not have made it into my posts here at “Cassie Contemplates.” I hope you will get a taste of the blessings God has sent my way this past year.

In February, I learned quite a bit about myself thanks to some unexpected connections with friends. I had the opportunity to attend a women’s Valentine tea at my church, and I heard from a speaker who altered my perspective on negative emotions that I needed to relinquish. It was a meaningful Valentine’s Day, for later in the evening I hosted a girls’ night at my home. We enjoyed yummy treats, engaged in memorable conversation, and colored! Yes, we colored! I never thought that participating in something so simple could bring such joy and reward. I’m already looking forward to the next coloring party.

Throughout March and April, I interacted with the Board of Directors for the camp I directed. We selected our 2015 campers and interviewed the staff. Shortly after Memorial Day weekend, we had selected those who would participate in our program for the summer.

In June, I spent a weekend with dear friends at an outdoor music festival. We enjoyed incredible music, bonded through a hotel stay (four girls in one room), tried some pretty awesome food, and even endured a little rain. It was a weekend to remember.

The month of June concluded with some medical appointments, a visit from my mother, working through the deadlines for camp, and then leading a staff training. One of the highlights was helping to put together our annual Outdoor Worship event at the church. Unfortunately, we were rained out for the second year in a row, but Vanessa, Jadyn, Tyler and I further explored our musical chemistry as we pieced together our set list for the service.

In July, my parents and I spent almost a week together at the house. We attended a neighborhood block party and went shopping. The only downer was another medical appointment, but we were pleased with the results and options that might be available on the horizon. I also enjoyed having coffee with a dear friend who came home for a few days from Japan.

Camp was held late in July, and as usual, the event did not disappoint. For the first time in our camp’s history, we engaged the staff in a second full training day in downtown Madison. Please know that I am not exaggerating when I say that the staff traveled around the city in 90+ degree temperatures. The heat index made it feel more like 100 degrees. But our training was effective and we felt prepared to welcome our campers the next day. I was proud of our staff; even though we were all exhausted, hot, and many of us with blisters on our feet, I never heard one complaint. We were able to end our training day by attending our camp’s 15-year reunion at a local park where we met up with past staff and campers.

The week at camp continued with only minor bumps along the way. The students were great, and our staff were pretty amazing as well. But as the week moved forward, I was gripped with an unexpected realization. Somehow, I had the sense that this would be my last week directing the camp. As early as January, I had experienced some misgivings about continuing, but as August began, I was even more sure that I was nearing the end. After a great deal of prayer and tears, I composed my letter of resignation and sent it to the board. After almost six years of leadership, I had completed my service to camp.

August into early September was a difficult time for me. I felt I was ready to let go of camp, but yet, I knew that I would miss the staff and students more than anything. Camp had barely ended for the summer when I traveled to Michigan to attend a conference on disability. At the conclusion of the conference, I enjoyed a few days with friends a few hours from the conference site. I had planned to spend a few days in quiet reflection as I continued to process my resignation, but things got crazy. I had only been at my friends’ home for twenty-four hours when we got the call that changed everything. Dear friends from my home town had just learned that the adopted baby they had been expecting had arrived, and they were traveling to Michigan to meet her. In a two-day time span, we readied the house for the new parents and their baby girl. The night before my flight home, they arrived at the house, and I felt so blessed to be a part of that memorable night. It was such a joy to see a family complete after so much prayer and working through the legal process.

After I got home from Michigan, I knew I needed a distraction, and as my birthday neared, I got the best distraction ever. A good friend and I were swapping stories, and I was reminded that her husband and I shared the same birthday. We decided we needed to do something special, and we could think of nothing better than making a long-held dream come true. So we set our sights on Green Bay Packer tickets, and before the month was up, we managed to snap up four seats. On the day of the game, my sister met us at my home, and we traveled to Green Bay. It was certainly a night to remember! We didn’t get home until 4:00 a.m., but it was all worth it. I wouldn’t have traded my wet clothes and fatigue for anything. Nothing can top a Green Bay Packer game day birthday!

In November, I provided music for an event hosted by our local home health and hospice agency. Between 2008 and 2012, I volunteered for ADORAY, and I considered it an honor to give back at their 20th anniversary celebration. In December, it was time for Hazelnut Tree Christmas again. Once more, I asked Vanessa to sing with me, and we had a great time. Our crowd was a bit smaller than normal, but we sang and shared our stories nonetheless.

As 2015 draws to a close, I am grateful for everything I have experienced this year. It is hard to know what will be on the horizon in 2016, but I am praying for increased opportunities to share my gifts through music, writing, or however else God might call me to serve Him. Until then, I am saying farewell to 2015 and looking ahead to tomorrow and beyond.

Keeping Watch: Repost

December 16, 2013

Have you ever thought about the reality of the characters who make up the well-known Christmas story? I’m serious. Have you ever really wondered?

I have wondered lately about what it must have been like for people like Mary, Joseph, and even the innkeeper. A song from Brandon Heath’s Christmas album is resonating with me even now as I write. His song “Just a Girl” asks the listener to consider the innkeeper who turned Mary and Joseph away at the door, saying the inn was too full. Instead, he offered the use of his stable, and this is where the birth of Jesus took place.

Scripture doesn’t tell us what motivated the innkeeper to refuse Mary and Joseph a night’s stay at his establishment. It could be that the inn was legitimately full that night. Many people were coming and going with the census taking place, and maybe there just wasn’t any room as he told them. But what if he was lying? What if he saw a mother-to-be so close to giving birth and thought that housing the couple would just be a hassle. Maybe he didn’t want to deal with the messiness of birth. Maybe he didn’t want to be inconvenienced. What if, when he learned of the child’s birth and its significance, did he regret not letting them in? Did he realize that he had just missed offering shelter to the Son of God? Was he regretful or remorseful? Or was he hard-hearted and bitter?

Now, take a moment to think about Joseph. When the angel appeared to Mary and gave her the news of her impending pregnancy, she accepted the path laid out before her. For Joseph, the situation wasn’t as black and white. In fact, when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy, his first reaction was to divorce her quietly for her suspected unfaithfulness. But then an angel appeared to him too, and suddenly, he and Mary had something in common: the awesome stories of angels coming to speak with them.

But even with the incredible angelic visitations, Joseph could have chosen not to believe. He could have run away and told Mary she was crazy. But then he wouldn’t have been there that night in the stable as Mary gave birth because he would have taken the easy route.

I have been reading Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas by John Blase. In this book, the author tells the Christmas story using Scripture and unique renderings and character descriptions. As he recounts the angels appearing to the shepherds, I took notice of Blase’s use of the Biblical words “keeping watch” in relation to the shepherds keeping watch over their sheep that night. Later as the shepherds find Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in the stable, one shepherd boy looks at Joseph and asks if the baby is his son. Joseph hesitates, but then says that he is not the father but that the child is God’s son; he is simply keeping watch over Him.

This idea of “keeping watch” is symbolic of our focus during Advent. Just as the shepherds are keeping watch over their flocks and Joseph is keeping watch over his earthly “son,” we are also keeping watch. What are we watching for? Well, the Messiah has already come and been born on this earth. That was over two thousand years ago. But now we are watching and waiting for His return.

Advent is a beautiful reminder of the Second Coming that is still yet to be established. I encourage each one of you to take these remaining weeks of Advent and reflect on this truth. Keep watching and waiting, for He could return at any moment. He is coming, and He is coming soon.


Physical appearance— it has always been an issue for me. I think I have always felt a bit like an underdog when it comes to wanting to look the part. Since I can’t see well, I have always had to question the current style or wonder if I missed something in my quick glance in the mirror.   Having my prosthetic eye in place has helped with some of this anxiety, but I have always felt insecure when it comes to the way I look.

This is why each Christmas season when I host my annual concert, I enlist the help of friends to do my hair and make-up. I know that true beauty lies on the inside, but I also want to look my best for my night onstage. I mean, what girl wants to show up with a pasty-white face and limp hair? I was never really shown how to properly apply make-up with the challenge of limited vision, so I have always entrusted others to highlight the features that need to be amplified and cover-up those I would rather not show.

Being in the performance industry has its frustrating implications. Television and magazines lay out the expectations for musicians and entertainers— people who must look perfect for the cameras. Oh, the horror of being caught with your hair undone or a glaring blemish on your face, void of any make-up! And let’s not forget the expectation to be thin! It seems beside the point that nearly half of Americans are overweight, but that still doesn’t matter. We are a culture driven toward physical beauty and unrealistic expectations.

So imagine my surprise and intrigue when I stumbled upon a quote on a friend’s Facebook page: “Many people would be scared if they saw in the mirror, not their faces… but their character.” What would it be like to be caught with your character on display like that? I would think it would be far more terrifying than being caught with limp hair and no make-up. It makes me think of the old song by Christian Aguilera, “Reflection.” The singer asks: “When will my reflection show who I am inside?” I’m sure the song is coming from a platform of wanting to be understood beyond the physical— to be known for inner beauty. But in this case, I’m not sure I would want my character to be taken at face value through the stark reflection of a mirror.

I have come through a great deal in my lifetime thus far, and I’m sure I am not alone in this. I can definitely attest to the fact that I haven’t had the best attitude in the midst of challenging circumstances. I am often quick to stress out when technology goes on the fritz, moan in frustration when sick, grumble when challenges arise, and cry out in complaint when something is lost. I don’t take negativity and disappointment well; in fact, I’m a poor sufferer. But then again, is anyone good at suffering? It’s not fun to go through times of difficulty.

But my hope is in Christ. I should be willing to go through these trials, right? In light of His suffering for you and for me on the cross, I shouldn’t balk at the trials that pale in comparison to that ultimate sacrifice. But I balk; I whine, complain, cry, moan, and ask “why me?” And then I get questions from family and friends: Are you okay? You look worried. What’s wrong? Do you want to talk about it?

My suffering, my emotions, my grief is so visible on my face that I can’t hide it. In times such as these, it is as if I am face-to-face with a mirror. What character traits are on display at such times? Well, certainly not faith, hope or joy. Instead, my face portrays the inner turmoil. It probably isn’t difficult to see the doubt, stress, worry, or physical pain. To many, I am an open book, my emotions on full display for anyone to see. Are my negative emotions something I want others to see so vividly when I want so much to be a living example for Christ?

Yes, I am human and times of weakness take place day-to-day. But if my suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-4), then I should be willing to take a look in the mirror (literally!). What does my reflection convey about my inner character? What will others see when they look at me? Will they see the panic and uncertainty that results from the trials of life, or will they see a faith tested by the long-range plan of my Savior?

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to take some time to examine my reflection in my spiritual mirror. A physical make-over takes time, but so does a make-over of the heart. I may not achieve character-beauty overnight, but I’ll keep working at it as long as it takes to build up hope in the midst of suffering; that way, when time s of darkness come, I can more effectively portray the light of Christ.

Just a Rehearsal

The life of a worship leader is full of rehearsals, especially this time of year. Each Christmas season, I give a concert at my hometown coffeehouse, and that event is usually surrounded by at least three Advent or Christmas services. There is much to accomplish in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and even though practicing often seems tedious, I know that there is a purpose to the hours of preparation.

There is an easy parallel to the Advent season here, for the weeks leading up to Christmas on the church calendar are seen as a time of preparation for the coming of the Messiah. We light candles each week to symbolize the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. All the while, we wait in expectancy for His coming and culmination of a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day worship service.

But as our pastor has been pointing out recently, Advent is more than just a time to recognize the first coming of the baby Jesus. It is also a time to be reminded that He is coming again. We don’t know the time or the hour, but we have to be ready for the day when He will return.

As we entered into prayer proceeding a recent Sunday morning service, our pastor said something striking as he prayed aloud. He prayed that we would consider the upcoming service to be a time of rehearsal for the day when He would come again. That morning, my thoughts were awhirl with nervousness; there was a lot of music to present in the upcoming hour, and needless to say, my heart was not centered in an attitude of prayer. I just wanted everything to go well so our hours in rehearsal would not look like a wasted opportunity.

When it was my time to pray, I spoke with a voice that didn’t seem to want to work for the emotion that was rising to the surface. I mumbled a desperate prayer that went something like this: “God, help me to remember that this morning’s service is about You and for You. Strip away all of my expectations, and may this be an offering to You.”

Although I was distracted with nerves, I meant what I said whole-heartedly. As I walked up to the stage mere moments later, I thought about our rehearsal and time of preparation. We had worked through the music, but we had also communicated with one another about our personal lives. We took time to invest in community with each other, much like what we were going to be doing on that Sunday morning. This time , however, it wasn’t a rehearsal, and now we were joined by a few hundred more individuals, also seeking community and a time of worship.

As our pastor preached that morning, he mentioned this idea of “rehearsal” once more. He made sure we understood that no one can predict the time or hour, so we must be ready at all times for His return. But that doesn’t mean getting stuck in the doctrines or holding to a time frame that is marked by certain tell-tale signs. Instead, we need to continue working, striving forward to make an impact in his Kingdom.

What does it look like to make an impact? Well, it looks very similar to what we had been doing as a worship team in preparation for the morning service. We put forward our best effort, and strived for community with each other. But we also took time to communicate with God. In this time of waiting for His return, we must remember to stay in constant communication and prayer with Him.

And although this world can often be a scary place with so much unrest and danger, we should not be anxious or alarmed. God is in control, and He is coming soon. We may not know the time or hour, but we can rest assured that He knows and will come when all is ready. In the meantime, I will keep singing with my girls and rehearsing for Sunday mornings. I may never be able to strive for musical perfection at those services, but I can view these gatherings as a foretaste, a rehearsal of sorts for the “real deal,” the coming of the King. Oh, what an experience that will be! So until He comes again, I will be working, rehearsing, singing, and worshipping. Oh, Jesus, come soon.