I was hot and tired.  It had been a long day at the office: fighting with the computer, formulating set lists, organizing my desk, and leading rehearsal.  Then it was off to dinner with my grandmother.  Now, don’t get me wrong; these were all good things.  But I was still tired.  I smiled when I thought of the iced tea waiting for me in the refrigerator and the latest episode of one of my favorite shows on TV.

But then I remembered.  We had just had new landscaping worked into our backyard, and I had promised my father that I would water the new plants once each day.  I’ll be honest, some days I forgot to do my chores.  For a moment, I considered purposely forgetting on that hot, July evening.  But I knew I couldn’t do that.  It was hot and dry, and the plants needed the life-giving, nourishing water.

So with protesting muscles and sweat trickling down my face, I retrieved the two-gallon watering can from where it had been sitting on the rocks and filled it with water from the outdoor spigot.  Then, filling the can twice more, I watered each of the nine plants.  By the way, do you know that one gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds?  Multiplied by six, that’s over fifty pounds of water!  I was tired!  True, it was only two gallons at a time, but I’m short and carrying a few extra pounds on my person as well.  I had to heft that watering can with both hands or I would tip off balance.

To be honest, the watering can was heavy and sometimes watering each day was a burden.  But it was nothing compared to the weighted burden I carried back when the summer began.  For those of you who have kept up with “Cassie Contemplates” over the summer, you are already aware that my church walked through a three-month congregational sabbatical.  When the summer began, I was far from thrilled.  I was concerned that communication would suffer and that our services would lack connectedness and engagement.  I knew that in some ways, I would have to step up in order to make things happen.  I’m a hard worker by nature, so in many ways, I was prepared to jump in with both feet in order to fix whatever issues might materialize.

I was so focused on my own strength and ability that I didn’t stop to consider that perhaps God had a greater plan for this summer.  I was lugging that heavy burden of fear and uncertainty as I walked into the sanctuary on our first sabbatical Sunday.  I knew it would take a great deal for me to let go and simply learn and grow through the process.  Little by little, God began to work in my heart, beginning with the very first message that was spoken from the stage.  I knew some heart-work needed to take place, and although it terrified me, I was ready to make the investment.

Much like the watering can as it was lifted over the very last plant, I began to feel my burden lifting.  The release that came from the out-pouring was so freeing!  God used the administrative assistant in the office to facilitate strong communication and words of encouragement.  He blessed our church, and me personally, with a pastor who shepherded our congregation through the majority of the summer.  With his engagement in our ministry, I began to explore the strengths that existed at the core of my being.  I sought to embrace the power of the Holy Spirit in relation to my song choices in creating set lists.  I invested in relationships: walking with one of my worship team members through a spouse’s medical diagnosis, bringing comfort to an elderly woman in her final days, simply doing “life” with one of my best friends, and reconnecting with family.

At every turn, I could feel God’s presence.  He was the life-giving water I so desperately needed.  He overwhelmed me with His grace and mercy even when I felt I was least deserving.  He spoke through me as I led worship.  He spoke to me through each sermon and Scripture passage on Sunday mornings and in the context of adult Sunday school.  He worked within me as I embarked on a journey— pastoral care in the context of a life passing from this earth.

Near the end of the summer, it was that journey of pastoral care that suddenly resurrected the burden of fear and doubt once more.  Outside of my family, I had never been responsible for walking with a family as they said good-bye to a loved one.  I was privileged to know their loved one for a few months, therefore laying a foundation when it came to relating to the loved one and her family.  But it was still uncharted waters for me, and I was thirsty— desperate for some sort of easy roadmap.  I was not afraid to admit my lack of experience in this field, and the family was kind to me as I fumbled my way through our interactions.

When the loved one passed, I was presented with the honor of officiating this woman’s memorial service.  Although I recognized this upcoming task as the honor it was, I still felt very much inadequate.  What if I wasn’t enough for the family in their grief?  What should I say?  What should I do?  Again, my thirst for answers overwhelmed me, and I was parched.

I prayed constantly from the day the loved one became unresponsive to just minutes before the memorial service.  I was physically thirsty and spiritually desperate for the Holy Spirit to enter in and give me an out-pouring of His strength and peace.  I felt an incredible responsibility to communicate the Gospel message to this grieving family— a picture of God’s goodness even in the midst of loss.  But I knew I couldn’t do it on my own.  I needed Him to speak through me, to strengthen my voice and heart for the challenge ahead.

“Could I trouble you for a bottle of water?” I asked the funeral director two minutes before the service.  I found it difficult to swallow, my anxiety was so great.  My throat was so dry, it felt as though I had swallowed chalk.  With the promise that the bottle of water had been placed on the podium, I knew I would have to make due until the start of the service.  So I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  God was with me.  I could feel it, and He was sustaining me.  My fingers trembled as I gripped the railing alongside the stairwell.  I gathered the family around me, and we began to pray in the moments leading up to the service.

And then as we uttered the “Amen,” I was overwhelmed with complete and utter peace.  It was almost as if I had been drenched with it.  It was instantly calming and refreshing.  I wasn’t drowning in it, but it was just enough sustenance— just what I needed to see me through.  My mouth was still dry and my limbs trembling with nerves, but inside, I was at peace.

It made me think of the watering can as I filled it from the spigot.  Sometimes, the water cascaded into the can too quickly, and as a result, there would be some spill-over as the can overflowed.  In that moment, I felt as if God had blessed me with that spill-over— the overflow of His presence— in just the right amount to sustain me.

This summer has been a beautiful maze of heart-growth, relational depth, challenge and reward, and an out-pouring of His love and mercy.  It only seems fitting to conclude with a song that has been a theme of sorts as I have journeyed through these past few months.  When, or if, the time comes and I can play and sing it myself, I will.  But for now, consider downloading this beautiful rendering from Lex Buckley and allow Him to overflow in your life.


Who are you Listening to?

Hundreds of voices swirl around me, the sound echoing— bouncing here and there, so that it’s practically impossible to decipher one conversation from another.  But I am listening intently— seeking one voice in the midst of the crowd.  I need to find my grandma, because we got separated in the crowd and she is my ride home.  I concentrate on trying to recognize the unique tone of her voice.  I know her so well that it doesn’t take long for me to tune into the conversation she has joined on the other side of the room.  I estimate that she is standing over to my right, and I made my way toward her, still tuning in when I hear her speak.  Moments later, I reach her side, and I am successful in my mission.  I have sought out a trusted voice and utilized it to navigate to a particular destination.

Maybe you have experienced this to some degree, but maybe not along the lines that I have described.  If you are not visually impaired, you can simply glance around a room and seek out the person you want to connect with.  But if you are visually impaired like me, you have to rely on listening if you want to find someone who is not at your side.  As I described above, it takes concentration, zeroing in on what you want to hear, and then not deviating from who you seek.  Any little distraction in the form of a louder voice or some other sound can draw you off course.  Even the shape and size of a room can be a distraction.  The acoustics, ceiling height, carpeting or lack thereof, can all change how sound is taken in and perceived.  Echoes can bounce back and trick the listener’s perception of the actual positioning of a person or object.

Sometimes, listening is hard, especially if you would rather not hear what is being said.  Such a scenario was in play for me a few months ago when I engaged in conversation with someone I lived.  I had thought this person loved me in return, and I truly believe that love is present now, but the words that were spoken were not words I wanted to hear.  It didn’t sound like this person loved me, because my ears perceived criticism, a lack of support, and a general misunderstanding of everything that made up my core sense of self.  I felt misjudged, and anger built inside of me as this person proceeded to insinuate that I should approach a particular mindset in a certain way— their way!  I wanted none of it!  Didn’t this person know me at all?

This conversation left me questioning everything— my life goals, my level of contentment in my circumstances, my connections with others, the motivation and intentions of those closest to me…  This conversation essentially rocked my world— and not in a good way.  Instead of listening to what was said to me with an open heart, I chose to close myself off and take offense.  I heard what was said, but I filtered it into my consciousness in a negative way.

It was then that I had to make a decision.  I may have heard what this person said to me, but did I truly need to listen to or heed those words?  After a much-needed conversation with one of my best friends, I decided, no— I didn’t need to listen.  Although this person claimed to have my best interest in mind, it didn’t mean that I was required to do what they wanted me to do.  I needed to discern if what they said was going to be beneficial to me.  Even more importantly, I had to consider God’s will in all of this.  What did He want me to do?  What would He say if I truly gave Him the chance to speak to my heart?

After all, He is always speaking.  I just needed to make a concentrated effort to listen.  But the question then surfaced: how do I hear from Him?  In my crazy-busy, messed up, but yet, well-ordered world, I found that I had crowded out His voice.  There was so much noisy chatter all around me— the television blaring bad news, the radio playing positive music (but still creating sound), the voices of friends and family and their many (sometimes too many) opinions, and the seemingly endless list of tasks that needed to be completed.  I discovered that first of all, I needed to quiet myself.  I needed to set aside the world’s demands and lean into His words.  That meant I had to wait, perceive, discern— sometimes without having a ready answer in sight.

It required that I not only read Scripture, but absorb it, internalize it, and truly believe it.  After all, Scripture is God’s inspired Word— a living and breathing source of hope and directional guidance.  If I paid attention to the words on the page, the phrases that gleamed back at me from my smart phone— then I had the opportunity to embrace His words.  If I took it one step further— focusing on a particular verse or phrase and meditating on it— I could fixate on a specific need.  If I needed strength: Philippians 4:13; if I needed patience: Psalm 40:1; if I was fearful: Isaiah 41:10; if I needed courage: Joshua 1:9… and the list could go on and on.

These are the words we need to heed.  Friends, family, co-workers, even acquaintances all have the opportunity to speak into our lives.  Most people mean well and their advice is sound.  But in the end, only God can be fully trusted.  His words should be and are the only authority.  We should seek to listen to His voice above the noise of the crowd.  His words are eternal life for those who truly seek Him (John 6:68).

I think Acts 13:48 says it best: “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”  May we be followers of Christ who not only hear, but find gladness in listening to His words— honoring Him with a response of belief.

Who are you listening to today?  Who are you choosing to believe?  May it be His words, and His alone, that guide our way.