It’s just Good

“You did a really job today,” he assured me as he left the room that day, and it gave me pause.

The words of praise came from Joe, the man who trained me to assume leadership of the camp I helped lead for almost six years.  The road wasn’t always easy, and I often looked to him for guidance when things got messy.  Years later, the words of praise also came from my pastor, lay preachers, my parents, friends, and co-workers.  I knew the words were spoken in sincerity, but often, I wanted more.  It gave me the sense that I had just done okay; it was “good” and nothing more.  Sometimes I felt I deserved more recognition.  After all, I had worked hard; shouldn’t my efforts have resulted in amazingness, excellence, and awesomeness?  At times, I even craved those heightened words of praise.

I told myself that I wasn’t being selfish or desiring favorable platitudes.  I only wanted to know that I had done better than okay— better than simple goodness.  I found that leading worship within the church slowly brought my focus back to where it belonged— on the goodness of God— but I still felt a nagging pressure to find that something better than “good.”  I strove for excellence in worship— and still do.  Of course, I want the worship team to play well without glaring mistakes or obvious flaws.  It’s not always for my purposes though; I truly do desire for the honor and glory to be given to God above all else, and our best efforts are our best praises on His behalf.

And sometimes, our time of worship and leading God’s people into His presence is simply “good.”  It is a satisfactory offering to Him that accomplishes a greater purpose.  There are no fireworks or glittering displays of light.  Very few hands are raised and emotion is regulated by a steady and constant Presence.  Our offering is pleasing to Him, we pray, but it isn’t explosive or incredible in nature.  It is simply “good.”

I’ve been reflecting on this more and more lately as our summer sabbatical continues in our congregation.  For ten weeks, a pastor will be guiding us through the exploration of ten small words that make a big difference.  One week, he spoke of the word “good.”  In fact, he dug deeper and introduced us to the Hebrew form of this word, which is “tov.”  In fact, it has caused such an impact in our office, that nothing is “good” anymore.  If something is “good,” we refer to is as “tov.”  If someone responds to our email readily, it is “tov.”  If lunch has a good flavor and satisfies us, it is “tov.”  At the announcement that a co-worker had welcomed a healthy granddaughter into her family, we all celebrated that it was “tov.”  Tov— goodness— has colored our communication with one another.

But as the pastor asked in worship, when did “good” stop being good enough?  Why, in today’s society, do we try to exceed good in reference to activities around us?  All one needs to do is turn on the TV to hear the words that try to go beyond goodness.  In one episode of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” on the Food Network, I heard the following: to-die-for, out-of-bounds, remarkable, unbelievable, amazing.  I’m sure there were more, but every time I put pen to paper, Guy Fieri would have some other word to top his exclamations of praise.

No wonder “good” is no longer good enough.  No wonder we practically fish for compliments and words of praise.  When we are told that we have done a good job, the words feel empty somehow because we feel we have been cheated out of something far better in response to our job-well-done.

I witnessed this first-hand when I stepped into Joe’s shoes to direct the camp.  I faltered and failed on quite a few occasions, but most of the time I just got by with doing a good job.  I didn’t often receive over-the-top compliments, and I think that kept me level-headed and single-minded in purpose.  There was something about working with students with disabilities that also helped keep things in perspective.  I experienced first-hand the pressure placed on teenagers day after day.  I had lived through something similar after all, and there was nothing more challenging than facing the teen years with disability as a part of the equation.  There is this struggle for the student to rise above the challenges— to not only progress at the same level as the average student, but to excel above and beyond as well.  And when goals are reached, one can so often hear the ostentatious words of praise: “Oh, wow!  That is so amazing!  You are such an inspiration!  You do that so well… uh… despite your disability.”

No wonder those of us with disabilities want to be more than just good— more than just okay.  We desire to prove to the world that not only can we do it— whatever it might be— but that we can tear down the walls of misunderstanding and limitation.  It’s not about the words of praise though, lest one might think that is our motive.  No, it’s to rise above our limitation so one sees accomplishment instead of the disability.  This race to be above goodness makes my heart hurt, and yet, still we— I— keep striving.

Why can’t it just be good?  After all, God created the world, and even human beings, and said they were good.  Why can’t we just be good students, good worship leaders, good directors, and good followers of Christ?  Yes, we should always strive to do our best, but why must we seek this elusive perfection that only exists in Christ?

Today, let’s just strive for one thing: to be “good” or “tov.”  Everything else will follow in time if we let His words truly seep into our lives and hearts.  We are good.  He is good.  We are good in Him.  Amen.


Dear Friend

The following is an open letter, written with someone particular in mind.  But with that said, after my years of work with fellow individuals with disabilities, I think this conveys my heart toward those who feel disconnected and cut off from a relationship with God.  This is my heart for the hurting and broken— words that I would speak out loud and in person if given the chance.

Dear Friend,

I hope you are well.  I don’t just write that to say it; I truly mean it.  We may not speak anymore, but you come to mind on occasion and I can’t help but wonder.  After all, even though it probably wasn’t your intent, you played a role in shaping my perspective on faith.

You didn’t believe, you told me, when we talked.  That made me sad.  It made me cry to know that you had so vehemently denied the existence of my Savior and God the Father.  But your denial also made me angry— so angry, in fact, I cried about that too.  I cried because I didn’t want to care about you.  To be honest, I didn’t even like you at that time.  I wondered why I was wasting my tears on you when your rejection of the Greatest Love of All was so blatantly unwavering.

Now I know why I cried.  My tears came from a deeper place, beyond myself.  Somehow, I found that I loved you.  I truly cared about where you would spend eternity.  My heart beat with compassion for the emptiness that I was sure existed in your heart.  I witnessed your outward display of anger and antagonism, and I wondered about the deep pain that must be just under the surface of your facade of intimidation and thorny bristle.

What had driven you to reject the One who had created you?  Was it the presence of disability, grief and loss, broken relationships, a home life without spoken or physical expressions of love?  Why the obvious hate, the anger, the sarcastic and caustic remarks, the walls in place to keep others and God out?

I could ask “why?” all day long, but it doesn’t fix anything.  It only matters “what” I do in response.  You may never read this letter, but simply writing it out helps me focus on the reasons beyond the “why.”

Above everything else, I would tell you, if you were willing to listen, that I still carry that love in my heart for you.  It is a love that doesn’t make sense.  It is not a love I chose to embrace on my own.  It came from the example of my best friend, Jesus Christ.  When He walked on this earth, He didn’t just seek out the perfect, whole bodies, free of deformity and disability.  True, He interacted with everyone, but I also know He specifically reached out to the broken, lame, blind, and unclean.  He healed them and forgave them of their sins.

And He still does this today.  I don’t know if you blame Him for your physical limitations.  I also don’t know if this is at the core of your anger and denial.  But if there is any doubt of His existence, presence, and care in your life, please consider this:

Your disability, your unique purpose, and position in this world— none of it was an accident.  All of it has meaning, and He created you in the midst of this broken, yet, beautiful world because He has something great in store for you.  He is waiting to welcome you in so He can walk beside you in this life.  Yes, I said WALK!  He may not physically heal you in your lifetime, but He can heal your heart.  He understands everything at the root of who you are, and you don’t need to explain a thing because He created you.  No one is perfect.  Only God is perfect in His plan and purpose.  Serving Him is not, and will never be, a ticket to an easy existence.  Problems and challenges will still exist but that isn’t because God hates you or is excluding you from His will.  He desires to show you that above all else, He works everything for good if we love him (Romans 8:28).

Loving God and cultivating a deep relationship with Him is an ongoing process, but it is so worth the work and the effort to embrace Him.  Reach out to Him when you are ready to give Him your all.  You won’t regret it, for He will give you ALL of Himself and so much more than you could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

In the love of my All-encompassing God,

Your friend,


I want to Ride my Tricycle

Did you see what I did there?  It’s a bit of a take on the song by Queen.

Anyway, I digress.

Two years ago, I was awarded a new form of independence: an adult tricycle.  Due to my visual impairment and lack of equilibrium, a regular two-wheel bicycle is not really an option for me.  I think the last time I was on a bike was sometime early in my high school days.  I can recall taking a few nasty spills off of that bike, all because I lost my balance.  After each fall, it would take awhile for me to gather up the courage to try again.  If only I had considered a tricycle at that time; maybe then I wouldn’t have lost my courage so quickly.

But in time, I was able to explore the merits of the tricycle.  I found I could get to work in 11 minutes instead of the tedious 25-minute walk I had been enduring.  I could get groceries and put my purchases in the basket in the back.  Even though I didn’t ride in the dark, I had a headlight and taillight in case I needed the extra illumination.  I was able to ride with the flow of traffic, and as a result, I felt much more secure on the road and much more visible to drivers.  I loved my tricycle!

But one morning late last summer, I found myself on the side of the road with a bit of a problem.  One of the chains had come undone, and my pedals jammed in place.  As a result, I couldn’t pedal forward or backward.  The wheels could still spin, however, so I began to push the bike home.  I was only half-way there, and let me tell you, there is nothing easy about pushing a three-wheel contraption.  With one hand on the back of the seat and the other hand trying to control the handlebars, I quickly discovered that steering was nearly impossible.  I was two blocks away from home when I pulled into a parking lot and called a good friend and neighbor.  With frustration and laughter warring for dominance, I uttered three of the most unlikely words to come out of my mouth: “I broke down.”

I guess you don’t have to drive a car to experience that side-of-the-road awkwardness.

By the time I had pushed my bike to my driveway, my friend was there to meet me.  He was gracious enough to take the bike home with him for a few days so he could fix it up.  Two days later, I had a working unit again… but not for long.

A similar thing happened just two weeks later, and my neighbor and I were back to square one.  My friend took a little extra time to examine the bike to make sure he could understand what was going on, and then he took the necessary steps to make sure the bike wouldn’t break down on me again.  Apparently, he rode around the cul-de-sac at quite a good clip to test the strength of the chain and gears.  Then he returned the tricycle to my garage.

Even though my friend assured me that the bike was fixed, I was still nervous when I was out and about.  I tried not to go more than a mile away from home, because I didn’t want to have to push the bike from behind if it happened again.  I even came up with excuses not to ride the tricycle, even if it was less than a mile from home.  It might rain.  I might be there after dark and then I would need to leave the bike in order to get a ride home.  I had to go to Main Street and I didn’t want to deal with the parking situation.  As Fall approached, I decided it was just too cold…

So the bike sat in my garage, perfectly functional but I refused to ride it.  It was kind of like my attitude in general as the summer came to an end.  After resigning from camp, I was tired and near burn out.  I was reluctant to invest in anything or anyone.  When I met someone new, I was instantly skeptical of their motives, seeking to find a reason why they shouldn’t be trusted.  I was a bundle of fear and nerves, so I refused to exercise certain parts of my heart.  I didn’t want to get too close because I might be hurt in the process.

When Spring came, it was a mix of fear and excitement that met me when I ventured into the garage.  There was my tricycle— bright, shiny, and recently tuned-up for the coming season.  I was eager to get on the road— to feel the wind in my hair and the strain that comes from pedaling up a hill.  But at the same time, I was afraid.  The possibility of breaking down no longer came to mind, but the fear went deeper.  Thanks to a recent sermon from my pastor, I now knew what I was doing.  My real-life fears— the possible failure of striking out, letting others in, responding to constructive criticism, feeling the sting of rejection, and feeling misunderstood—  had kept me from moving forward.  Just as my bike had sat in the garage all winter, unused and gathering dust, I had let my fears keep me from embracing life.

It was time to go for that bike ride.  I might not have had it all figured out, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t at least put forward an effort and try.  Sure, I might break down at some point and encounter some roadblocks in life.  But if I didn’t pedal forward, I might miss out on the good that was in store for me, and that realization was all it took for me to make that first press of my feet against the pedals.  I would set off into the unknown with confidence, because I knew I wasn’t alone.  God was at my side, and He wouldn’t let me down.

Oh, yeah— and should I need help, the neighbor guy— he would be there too. J

“Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?”: Part 2

“Should I Stay or Should I Go Now” Part 1 was published on March 7, 2016.  This continues the story.

My pastor called.  At first, I was surprised to hear from him.  We had been working together for almost two years at that point.  I was a volunteer in the church music department and singing with one of the praise teams.  I was also helping him choose congregational hymns for Sunday morning services.  I was involved but not that involved.  I couldn’t imagine why he would want to talk to me about anything too significant.  But when he asked to meet me for coffee, I knew something was up.

Of course, my first indication was that I had done something wrong at the church.  The pastor was no doubt responding to some complaint against me, but I couldn’t think of what I had done wrong.  Well, needless to say, I was the one who ended up being wrong in the end.  When Pastor and I sat down for coffee, I learned that he had an idea.  He wondered how I would feel about expanding my role at the church.  He proposed more involvement in the worship ministry in possibly taking on the job title of Worship and Music Director.

I was shocked, intimidated, honored, and thrilled all at the same time.  He told me to pray about the opportunity, and was quick to consider that I would need to work some things out before or if I would assume the occupation.  Of course, the creation of the position would need to be okayed with our church board, but he was almost certain we would be granted approval.

I wanted to say yes right away.  I knew I needed to pray about it, but I could feel confirmation bubbling up inside of me and it was all I could do to keep it from bursting out of me.  Was this the answer to my prayers?  Had God given me a reason to stay?  I never could have dreamed up such a scenario, for the reality was so far out of my sphere of possibility.

There were some things I needed to iron out before I could officially take the job.  The board approved the position, and then the church personnel began to prepare the space for my future office.  I would move into my office on November 14, 2011, and I could hardly wait!

My work at the church was fulfilling and gratifying, but as time moved forward, my role as a worship leader was not the only position I maintained.  It seemed that even as I opened up my heart to the possibility of serving at my local church, God opened another door to the unexpected.  Each summer since 2008, I had been involved with a camp for high school students with disabilities.  The camp had entered into a time of transition, and in 2010, I found myself doing more than just serving on staff; I was training to potentially direct the program one day.  I wasn’t sure where it all would lead, but in the summer of 2012, I found myself on my own.  I was now the director of the camp in addition to serving as Worship and Music Director at the church.

The camp host college was about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from my home town, but fortunately, I didn’t need to travel too often.  But in the times when I needed to hit the road, I faced a great deal of adversity.  I loved directing the camp, interacting with the students, and leading the staff, but the physical logistics of the position were slowly wearing me down.  Those of you who have read my recent posts know that 2015 proved to be a defining year for me.  The planning period throughout the spring of 2015 was very taxing, and I found myself losing perspective quite frequently.  Directing camp was never easy; in fact, it was always a challenge.  But the spring of 2015 was the most challenging yet, and I wondered what it all could mean.

Was this just a bump in the road— a time for me to press onward and work through the challenges?  Or was this the beginning of the end for me?  Had I reached the end of my abilities?  Had I carried the camp as far as I could?  Was it time to let go?

Even as I traveled to our host college and directed the program onsite, the questions kept nagging at me.  Somewhere in the back of my mind and heart, I had a feeling this would be my last summer in leadership.  I had no idea how to process that realization.  I had given so much of my time and energy to the activities of the camp that I didn’t know how to define myself without it.

I only told a few individuals of my realization.  I didn’t want to say anything too prematurely and then have to back-track.  I needed to weigh all of my options, and most importantly, pray about it.  Then came the defining moment— the final straw, so to speak.  I received the contract from our host college with the request for my signature.  Decision time had come; was I going to proceed as director into 2016?

When it came to our camp, there was never really a good time to move on.  Although it is primarily a summer program, some of the planning and fundraising goes on all year.  I knew if I was going to let go, I couldn’t sign that contract.  But if I did sign, I would be committed for another year.  I could do it for another year; I knew that with certainty.  I loved the staff and students, and I loved what the program provided.  Love told me to stay, but fatigue told me to go.  I asked myself: Was love enough?  Would it keep me going for one more year?

I was about to sign my name to the all-important paperwork.  I had decided that love was enough.  If I stayed one more year, I could better prepare those who would carry on without me.  If I left without equipping those future leaders, I would never forgive myself.

My pen hovered over the page.  Why couldn’t I sign?

It was then that it all became crystal clear.  I had been holding on out of guilt.  True, love was the motivator, but guilt was the instigator.  I had been prepared to sacrifice one more year in the name of guilt just to ease my mind and heart.  If that was the case, would I ever let go?

A quote by author Susie Larson’s pastor summarized my reality just then: “You’re not free to go until you’re free to stay.”  It was just like my commitment to stay with the church except it had the opposite outcome.  I loved the church and I loved the camp, but in one case I was free to stay and with the other I was free to go.  When it came to the church, my deep-rooted love for my home congregation proved to be my mainstay, but when it came to the camp, there was a missing link.  The decision was clear to me; I had been willing to leave the church when I was certain something greater was ahead of me.  That something greater just happened to be staying in place.  But when it came to the camp, my willingness to stay would have been detrimental to all.  I might have wanted to stay, but it was my deep-rooted love for the organization that sent me out the door.  They deserved better, and I was not the better option for the future.

As I let go of camp, I was free to concentrate on my first love: my passion for God and worship ministry.  As I have posted recently, I am hoping and praying there might be more to the days ahead— that maybe I can go beyond the church walls once more to continue to use my gifts and talents.  But until my next steps are made known, I will stay where I am planted; for where once I was free to go, I am now free to remain.