Measuring up

It was one of those nights.  No matter how many prayers I prayed, sheep I counted, or songs that ran through my head, I still couldn’t sleep.  The sheets had come undone form where they had been tucked under the mattress, and I had to get out of bed to rectify the situation.  I considered giving up on sleep altogether, but I knew I couldn’t do that.  I had to lead worship the next morning, and I needed as much sleep as possible.  If I wasn’t fully rested, I was more apt to forget lyrics or be short-tempered with the team.  I had to get some sleep, but how?

I just couldn’t stop my whirling thoughts.  Failure after failure rose to the surface— every negative thing that had happened that day and in the days before.

  • Posts from friends on Facebook tell me that I wasn’t invited to that concert.
  • I wasn’t invited to share music at a particular event.
  • There are those excess pounds I just can’t seem to shed.
  • My cookies for the potluck usually turn out nicely, but not this time around.
  • I forgot the words during one of our worship songs.
  • I’m having a bad hair day.
  • There is a huge blemish on my chin.
  • I had to call my domestic assistant because I learned I would soon have guests and I wanted the house to be in perfect order.
  • I jammed the paper-shredder, unintentionally sucked something up with the vacuum, lost a screw in the oven door, and the dresser drawer knob came off in my hand… all resulting in me needing to ask for help in rectifying my mishaps.
  • I held off on reaching out to someone in need because I was processing my own emotional struggle.
  • I was reminded that out of the four of us siblings, I am the oldest and still single.
  • I posted a photo on Facebook and only received two “likes.”
  • I crumbled in doubt and insecurity when someone I thought was my champion seemingly misunderstood something deep at the core of my being.

There was nothing positive about my thought process.  I was feeling pretty beaten down and worthless.  It seemed I couldn’t do anything right.  Who was I to think that in just over six hours I would be on a stage leading God’s people in worship?  I was the lowest of the low— totally unequipped for such a weighty honor.

Miraculously, I was able to doze off at some point, but I didn’t wake up feeling any better about myself.  I realized I fell asleep praying… again.  Couldn’t I even dedicate a little time to Him?

I was lethargic and moody, and the last thing I wanted to do was ascend that stage and “bring it” as one of my friends likes to call the performance mentality.  As I got ready for church, I tried to channel my thoughts in a positive direction, but a heavy heart was still my companion as I walked outside to the waiting car.

That morning, we were scheduled to have a guest speaker. I had heard this gentleman speak before, and I felt a small glimmer of hope when I recalled how much I had enjoyed his message before.  I was eager to greet him and make him feel welcome, so after our sound check, I sought him out.  Almost immediately, I found camaraderie.  I was surprised when he admitted that he was feeling quite anxious and that he had been working through some challenges over the past few weeks.  Without going into detail, I confessed that my heart wasn’t in the best state that day, and we both took the time to encourage one another.

I wasn’t prepared for the message he would bring that morning.  I cannot recall the Scripture text or his main points, but the focus of his words made a direct pathway to my heart.  YOU ARE ENOUGH!  Those three words should have been freeing, but doubt wouldn’t let them sink in.  I had heard it before.  Of course God would say I was good enough.  He had created me in His likeness and I belonged to Him, but that didn’t change how I perceived myself.  I wanted to believe what the pastor said that morning, and deep down, I think I did believe.  But it took several weeks for me to work through this reality.

I was in the midst of taking an online course at the time, and I found it fitting that the text for the current unit’s study was rooted in the Gospels.  I was gripped with the text from Luke 5:32 (NLT): “I have come to call sinners to turn from their sins, not to spend my time with those who think they are already good enough.”  Here Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees as He is sharing a meal with Matthew and his fellow tax collectors.  What struck me to the core was this reality that I didn’t need to feel like I was good enough to spend time in His presence.  Jesus could have dined with the Pharisees—religious leaders who seemingly had it all together— but instead, he chose to interact with the lowest of the low at that time in society.  The tax collectors were not model citizens, nor were they considered favorably by those they encountered on a daily basis.  But Jesus associated with them!  And it wasn’t only the tax collectors who received His love and attention.  He communicated with a Samaritan woman, spoke with an adulterous woman, touched and healed the sick and unclean, and embraced the little children.  Jesus didn’t come to minister to the powerful and important; He came for the weak and down-trodden.

As I read further in Luke’s Gospel, I was reminded of a passage I had studied several times over the years— the Parable of the Great Banquet.  I was familiar with the passage because I have learned to associate it with Christ’s interaction with the disability community.  The host plans a large gathering and invites all of his important friends and associates, but the excuses start pouring in.  The banquet is set to begin, but no one has made an appearance.  So the host sends his servant out to invite the crippled, lame, and blind.  Everyone is welcomed in, no matter their social standing, physical appearance, or ability.

Once more, I was reminded that I don’t have to measure up to some standard in order for Christ to welcome me to His side.  I think I will always feel inferior in light of today’s society.  There is so much focus on outward perfection and artificial beauty.  But when it comes to God, I don’t need to concern myself with such things.  However, I will probably always struggle to truly feel like I am enough for Him.  After all, I carry sin and negative self-talk around in my heart every day and I am not perfect.  There is no way I can measure up to the perfection of Christ.

But even so, He extends grace to me, and it is my choice whether or not I am going to embrace that gift— that invitation to the Banquet, so to speak.  I need to remind myself that no matter what is going on in my life and heart, God is always good.  Beyond that, there is this reality that because He is good, I am good enough.  His grace is enough for me and I am enough for Him.

Independence Day

It’s the 4th of July.  It’s an action and adventure film.  It’s the hit song by Martina McBride.  That might be “Independence Day” for you, but for me, it’s something else entirely.  “Independence Day” is rooted in a dream, commemorated on May 1.

There is no cake with candles.  I don’t receive cards or gifts.  Oftentimes, there is no ceremony or activity to celebrate the day.  But the day is special to me, nonetheless.  I hope you don’t mind if I tell you about it.

Every year when I turn my calendar over to the month of May, I am reminded of May 1, 2007.  It doesn’t matter how much time has elapsed.  I am taken right back to that early morning as I stood shivering on the lawn outside my first apartment.  The caretaker had just placed the gold, metallic key in my hand, and I wrapped my fingers around it.  It was official!

It had taken a great deal of effort to get to this point.  First, I had to break down disability-related stereotypes.  “Are you sure you’re ready to live on your own?  How will you buy groceries, go to the bank, get to church without a car? Will you be able to afford the rent?  What will you eat?  How will you cook for yourself?

The questions didn’t all come at once but they were there nonetheless.  Some of the questions even came from family members.  I perceived their doubt and uncertainty, their care for my well-being— and it pushed me upward and outward.  I was tired of explaining the reasoning behind my decisions.  It was time to show instead of tell.

My parents helped me move in that day, and by late afternoon, almost everything was situated.  Only a few boxes of books and other trinkets were left to be unpacked.  When my parents said goodbye, I took one look at those boxes and groaned.  I was weary of the moving process, so I sought a diversion.

I opened my closet and pulled out my newest companion: a fold-up grocery cart.  I would get groceries, I decided.  After all, if I was going to be successful in living independently, I needed to eat.  I unfolded the cart and started out down the street, pushing it in front of me.  I made it the block-and-a-half to the store without incident and made my way inside.  It was my first time grocery shopping all by myself, but I wasn’t all that nervous.  I knew that I needed some bread, orange juice, and cereal, and I managed to find everything I needed without asking for help.

I made my way up to the counter and began to unload the contents of my cart onto the conveyer belt.

“That’s a handy little cart you have there,” the cashier remarked.  “It’s so great that you can take that with you when you get groceries.”

I nodded without saying anything.  No doubt, she had noticed my white cane extending out to the side of the grocery cart.  I prepared myself for the well-meaning but patronizing comments I knew she would utter next.  It would be something like: “It’s so great you could be out and about today.  Is there someone here to help you?  Can you sign the receipt?”  No doubt, she would conclude with the expected: “You’re such an inspiration!”

But instead, she broke out into a smile (that by the way, I could clearly see) and said, “You’re so confident.  Good for you!  How long have you been living on your own?”

I froze there for a second.  I think I was gripping the receipt she had just printed for me.  I looked at her then with utter seriousness and said softly: “Twenty minutes.”

“What?  Really!?  Well, congratulations!”

And in that moment, I knew she was genuine in her response.  I think I will always remember that encounter in the grocery store as the first milestone in my journey to independence.  Because you see, I hadn’t obtained independence just by moving out on my own.  Independence was a gradual process and constantly ongoing.  In the coming weeks and months, I would learn what it truly meant to be independent.

There was a trip to the bank, paying my first phone bill, changing my first light bulb, vacuuming the living room for the first time, cleaning my own bathroom (including the first time I needed a toilet plunger, which is another story entirely), cooking my first meal, and so much more.  Then came the bigger factors: realizing that I could come and go as I pleased, planning parties and gatherings that I could host, playing and practicing my music to my heart’s content, and staying up late if I felt so inclined.

But the challenges proved to be the greatest asset to my independence.  I received my first burn on my hand from handling hot food.  I learned the hard way about the dangers of Internet and phone scams.  I made difficult phone calls and advocated for my needs.  I worked hard to promote my books and sell my music.  And when long-term allergies set in and my health deteriorated, I knew I was the only one who knew best how to take care of me.

So on December 1, 2010, I made the difficult decision to break my lease and move out of my mold and dust mite-ridden apartment and make a home elsewhere.  The move wasn’t something I had time to prepare for, so I took the first opportunity that came along.  I moved into a retirement community, occupying a far smaller unit than the apartment I had grown to love.  I relinquished some of my furniture and had to cram everything inside, but I was relieved to finally be able to breathe.  Over the next three years, I found peace and began to rebuild my life— health-wise and in my relationship with God.  He and I had come through quite the rough patch; through it all, I had rededicated myself to giving Him everything.  My voice was not mine but His alone.  My success was not due to my own efforts but His provision for my life.  My independence was not a result of anything I had accomplished on my own; it was because He was with me.

Then in June, 2014, the biggest change occurred.  I was able to leave the retirement community to take hold of an opportunity I was eager to embrace.  Sharing a home and renting from the owners has given me the greatest boost in my journey to independence.  My current living situation is about as stable as it can get.  I am grateful to those who made it possible.  For almost two years now, I have marveled at the freedom that comes from not being limited by income guidelines.  There are less prying eyes and nosy questions.  I have a place to park my bike and a kitchen where I can entertain and gather with friends.  I have a bedroom that is just a bedroom, not an office/bedroom or studio/bedroom.  It is a sanctuary; it is home.

I know my current living situation doesn’t define my independence, but it serves to remind me that I have come a long way over the past nine years.  I am blessed to have journeyed thus far.  Here’s to the next nine years of independence.


I was making dinner when it all unraveled.  I had just lifted a bag of frozen potatoes from the freezer shelf when “CLUNK!”  The shelf shifted, titled and finally slid toward me.  I made a quick grab for the wire rack and something clattered to the base of the freezer unit.

“Not again!” I grumbled as I began to gather up the frozen food and ice packs that had been tumbled all over the place.  This had happened once before, and I had had to resort to asking someone for help.  But no one else was there that night, and I was on my own.  I wasn’t about to call anyone since I was bound and determined to set things to rights as soon as I could.

I set everything on the floor beside me and made quick work of trying to put the wire shelf back in place.  But it was a frustrating ordeal.  You see, my visual impairment posed two factors that hindered an easy solution.  First, a piece of the shelving was missing— the small connector that fit into the side of the rack and anchored it to the wall of the freezer.  The little piece was white— the same color as the freezer unit.  I fished my hand around each level, even taking food out of the bottom basket to see if it had fallen there.

Finally, I found the connector as I shifted forward on my hands and knees and encountered it just inches from my outstretched fingers.  Finally!  But now, how was I going to fit this little piece where it needed to go?  Here I was presented with my second vision-related dilemma— not having an equilibrium.  No matter how many times I shifted the wire rack and tried to get it latched into the appropriate groove, the other side would pop out and the whole thing would come crashing down again.

Finally, I took all of the food out of the top shelf so I could feel around the edges in order to understand how the thing was anchored in place.  Once I felt I had memorized the position of how the pieces fit together, I moved back to tackling the disjointed middle shelf.  In a matter of moments, I had it figured out.  It took a few tries, but knowing which way the connector had to face made all the difference for me.  I waited a few moments once the shelf was in place to make sure that it didn’t fall.  Then with a sigh of relief, I ever so gently placed the food back on the shelf and closed the door.

Back to making dinner… finally!

If you think that sounds like quite the ordeal, then you would certainly be correct.  It was just a freezer shelf, but with my limited vision, it was quite the challenge.  Yes, I could have asked for help, but I was embarrassed.  To ask for help would mean that I would have to admit that I couldn’t do something as simple as realign a wire rack.  How dumb could I be, seriously?

So I suffered through it in stubborn pride, in many ways mirroring my response in other areas of my life.  Our pastor just last week asked us to examine what was in our heart, and it pained me to come to the realization that there is a great deal of stubborn pride looming inside.  I have always wanted to be self-sufficient, never needing anyone else.  I don’t want to be a burden to others, so I seek to do all I can to complete a task before I ask for help.

As a result, this stubborn pride has kept others at a distance.  I have no problem sharing my heart— communicating my hopes and dreams to dear friends— but when it comes to unburdening my heart in regards to a physical weakness, I often shut down.  I don’t want to talk about needing a ride somewhere, asking for help because I can’t see the broken shards of glass from the mug I just shattered, or calling someone because the oven door hasn’t opened normally for a month all because there was a loose screw.  I don’t want to admit my limitations, even though I can’t change the fact that they exist.  I shouldn’t be embarrassed when I struggle with a task due to my visual impairment, but the truth is, a wall is immediately erected to barricade everything in place.

I don’t like to be vulnerable in my weaknesses in front of others, and interestingly, the same is true in my relationship with God.  In the past few weeks and months, in particular, I have encountered a great deal of quiet time— quiet time that I could be investing in prayer and communication with my Savoir.  But sometimes, the quiet was too unbearable.  I was accustomed to hurried deadlines and rushing around, so I didn’t know what to do with the quiet.  In many ways, I rebelled against those quiet moments.  They were far too uncomfortable, and I didn’t need the isolation.

I could feel the Lord working in my heart, calling me back to a more balanced existence in relationship with Him.  He was drawing me out of my harried and disorganized prayer life into more focused time in His presence, but I held back.  I knew He knew my heart and there was no way I could hide from Him, but this renewed call to intimacy was difficult to embrace.  I was reluctant to let Him into my mess; somehow I felt I had to have it all in order before I could let the intimacy be rekindled.

After all, there wasn’t a whole lot of order anywhere in my life.  There were challenges in worship leading, strained relationships, and a nagging fear that I would never find that “thing” to replace Camp in my life.  I was restless and desperate for hope, but I was terrified to dig deep to find it.  As a result, I was unbalanced in many ways.

Much like the freezer rack, I wasn’t doing a very good job of holding anything up in place.  The weight of my circumstances had caused my relationships with others and God to bend and finally come undone.  There wasn’t anything to connect me to the source, and I had begun to flounder on my own.

As I had worked to fix the shelf, my freezer door had stood open, allowing the warm air to rush in.  As a result, an icy glaze began to form over the food inside.  It was kind of like the condition of my heart— hardened with a thick exterior in place.  I needed to allow God to chisel that icy film away so I could find what truly mattered most— a deeper connection with Him.

It was time for me to wake up to the reality.  I needed to open my heart to the workings of His Spirit so I could one day be able to open up to those around me.  Only then would proper balance return.  Just like the freezer needed to function properly in order to freeze the food, I needed to restore order to my prayer life to embrace closeness with Him.  If I didn’t do something soon, I would have quite the stinky odor on my hands— thawing meat and a rotten attitude were not welcome in my kitchen.

So with the shelf in place and my heart crying out to God, I brushed off my jeans and got to my feet.  My knees and feet were aching from their contact with the hard, tile floor, but I didn’t care.  I knew that drawing close to God wasn’t going to be an easy process.  He was going to chip away at my heart until I was open to receiving His love, and it wasn’t going to be a painless endeavor.  My aching knees were a constant Freezerreminder of the heart-work that was yet to come.  I was ready.


March 25, I have come to realize, is the last update here at “Cassie Contemplates.”  It’s unreal to think that over a month has passed since I last put my fingers to the keys and sought to put words to all that is in my heart.  Some might say that I shouldn’t feel pressured to communicate.  You could attribute my hiatus to the loss of a dear one, my weeks spent in an intensive class online, changes taking place at work, etc.  All of these things are true, but I can’t use such factors as an excuse not to write.

But yet, my writing took a back seat to everything else, and in some ways, I think I just stopped.  My routine halted, my priorities shifted, and as the Spring days grew longer in warmth and beauty, I simply took it all in.  I poured over each book of the New Testament as a requirement for my class.  I contemplated the life of Jesus and His apostles’ ministry, even as I considered my own ministry role.  I went for long walks and enjoyed biking to work.  I watched a few thought-provoking movies.  I took a journey into my past existence and paged through two of my published books, marveling at aspects in my writing that I had almost forgotten.

I made music with OneVoice, and savored each harmony and dynamic shift.  I lingered with family and friends on Sunday afternoons, and quietly recounted memories of our dear one.  Easter Sunday was particularly memorable— not because there was an elaborate brunch and musically dominated church service— but because there was a simple lunch for two at a local diner.  That’s what memories are made of, I came to realize.  It’s the little things that make the biggest impact.

In many ways, this Spring has followed the path of the past few months.  My recent departure from Camp has allowed me to take a step back and evaluate my next steps.  It is May now, and if I was still directing the camp, I would be entrenched in meetings, conference calls, paperwork, and daily trips to the post office.  The phone would be ringing off the hook, and I wouldn’t be getting much sleep.

Sure, there are sleepless nights now and then, when I toss and turn for seemingly no reason, but those nights are few and far between.  I may have said good-bye to a loved one recently, but the worry and stress are far less prominent.  And even though there are changes on the horizon for my church body, I have been more inclined to respond with anticipation instead of nervous dread.

I am calmer now… reflective… not depressed, but just quiet.  Change will often bring more than just a shift in the physical activity level.  Change also carries an emotional response, and this is where I am today.  In fact, I was walking this road long before March 25, for we knew that my loved one’s days were numbered.  There is something about waiting for the end that also changes a person.  One will never be the same again.  My pattern… my routine… the typical was interrupted.

I find it fitting that my church is even now heading into a similar season.  Our pastor is taking a three-month sabbatical, and as a result, we will be without our typical pastoral leadership in place.  We will have a pastor with us for ten of those weeks, so there will be some consistency, but in many ways we will be on our own as a body of believers.  Worship and music will be affected.  Sunday school will be affected.  Church board meetings will be affected.  Relationships will be affected.  Nothing will be typical in the next three months.

Three months ago, if you would have asked me about my thoughts regarding the sabbatical, I probably would have turned to you with an exasperated sigh.  “I don’t know…” I would have said to you.  “I just don’t know…”  But now that I have endured significant change on a personal level, I now know one thing with certainty.  Sometimes change is necessary whether we like it or not.  Oftentimes, there is something waiting on the other side of that change that we never would have experienced if we hadn’t walked that road.

Sometimes, it’s good to get interrupted.