No More Pretending

The day had finally come to record violin in the studio. This had been on the calendar for months, and I was excited to hear my songs come to life with the incredible string arrangements that had been pieced together and sent to me one by one over the internet. I quickly learned that nothing compared to the real deal. Unpolished rough mixes were just a bench-mark for the studio-recorded melodies. I sat and observed in awe as the violinist recorded line after line of music, gradually building a full-sounding ensemble— as close to an orchestra as we were going to get.

At one point, she stopped recording and began to tune her viola. She explained that the viola needed a lower, deeper sound for the next lines she would record— something that would sound more like a cello. In order to accomplish this, her viola would need to be tuned so the pitches sounded lower in tone, almost like what it would be like for an electronic piano to be transposed. I was excited when she told me this. I had always loved the sound of cello and piano together, and it looked like I was moments away from hearing this transposed viola provide that element to the song.

When she was done recording that section, I jokingly asked: “What do you call this viola-that-sounds-like-a-cello? A vi-cello? A faux-cello? Maybe we should just credit you with playing the cello in the CD liner notes and no one would know it was actually a viola.”

“Yeah, but there’s just one problem with that,” she said. “My friends from the orchestra know I don’t play the cello. They would know right away that it wasn’t true.”

In the end, we decided to just call the instrument what it was— a viola. Whether it was pitched lower or not didn’t matter; it was still a viola through and through.

Later, as we wrapped up cables and got ready to depart the studio, we started talking about truth and honesty. Somehow, our conversation worked its way into talking about the MTV show “Catfish.” I explained to the producer and violinist the goal of the show: to help an individual discover the true identity of someone they had been talking to on the internet. Quite often, the show reveals that just because someone says they are 25 years old, athletic, work as a model, or have been through cancer or disease does not mean any of it is true. Quite often, it is discovered that the person being portrayed online is quite the opposite in real-life. Instead of the good-looking model, meeting in person reveals someone who is socially awkward, hiding behind the computer screen in their insecurity.

“Why would you lie about who you really are?” the violinist asked. “Especially if you say you have cancer and then it turns out to be just a story.”

“Yeah,” the producer agreed. “What happens one day when you actually do have cancer and no one believes you because of what you led everyone to believe on “Catfish”?

Cancer is too serious of a factor to lie about or fabricate. In fact, of the three of us in the room at that moment, cancer had been a factor for at least one of us. It was no joking matter. Why would you tell someone you had cancer or any other disease if it wasn’t true? Was it for the purposes of gaining attention or sympathy?

“Are you trying to tell us something, Cassie?” the producer asked without a hint of humor, but yet, I knew he was joking. “I always knew you were making it up… telling all of us you’re blind, needing rides, getting assistance from the state of Wisconsin. I knew it! You’ve been playing us all along.”

“Yup, that’s me,” I said with a hint of a smile, although, again there was no humor. “You caught me. I’m just your average catfish.”

We may have been joking with one another, but I couldn’t shake the deep truth behind the day’s events: the recording of the violin-turned-cello, the realization that people may not be who they say they are, the attention-seekers looking for sympathy… none of it was genuine. It made me question myself and my motives. How did others see me? Was I being genuine in my words and behavior? Was I being authentic?

It wasn’t long before I had some answers. It was just over twenty-four hours after leaving the studio, and I was in bed, but I was far from comfortable. Just before going to bed that night, I had heard an alarming sound coming from my furnace room. It sounded suspiciously like a smoke detector, and I was nervous. It was now 12:30 a.m., and I heard the sound again. It was strange because the other alarms in my house didn’t trigger, so I was left to wonder what was behind the furnace room door.

When I finally garnered enough courage, I wrenched open that door and looked inside: no fire, no smoke, nothing. So why the alarm? I was on edge all night, so much so that I called my father and also a good friend to tell them what was happening. Both assured me that everything should be fine, my father elaborating that it was probably the smoke detector he had recently disconnected making the racket. Although it was no longer mounted on the ceiling, it still had a battery inside, and was making its presence known from a shelf in the furnace room.

But even though I was being reassured of my safety, I was still nervous. I have never liked the thought of fire, especially in the middle of the night, and with very little effort, I could almost conjure up the piercing tone of the smoke detector as it went into alarm mode. To be honest, I was nervous, sleep-deprived, and feeling pretty embarrassed for so readily displaying my weakness to family and friends.

In the days that followed, I found it refreshing to witness the authenticity of my friends. I told some of them about my fear-filled night, but even the ones I didn’t confide in began to tell me of their own fears, the things they worried about, or what caused them to lose sleep at night. I was vulnerable in admitting my fears, but my friends were equally vulnerable as they came alongside of me and consoled me with the knowledge that I was not alone. Our fears are different, but the raw emotion is the same.

As that week bled into the next, I prepared to lead worship at church. During that service, the pastor asked us to take a few moments and talk to someone near us in the sanctuary. The goal was to share our heart with another congregation member and perhaps pray for him or her. It was a wonderful idea, one that I was very open to based on how my week had transpired. I was fully prepared to open my heard to someone, but I quickly realized that I was alone on the platform. Sometimes, it’s easier for me to just stay on the stage throughout the course of a service instead of having to navigate the steps numerous times. So alone I sat on the stage. I bowed my head and started to pray silently, and that’s when I felt a presence behind me.

It was one of my worship team girls. She had come up to the stage, specifically seeking me out so we could share heart with one another. We sat on the steps of the stage and began to talk with great depth and honesty. We quickly learned, that in many ways, God was leading us down similar paths. We were learning some of the same lessons and seeking to discern where God was leading us next. Our conversation was raw, authentic, and genuine. Although it was hard to talk about the tough stuff, the result of our interaction was refreshing and encouraging. I felt supported, motivated, and loved, and I pray she walked away feeling just as valued.

Sometimes, talking about our fears and sharing from our hearts can be intimidating. We might wonder how we will be perceived. How will being real affect the trajectory of a relationship? Will there be a cost for speaking in honesty? Sometimes, it might seem easier just to hide behind our self-erected facade because it’s safe, much like a catfish behind the computer, hiding his or her true identify. To be real and authentic means that a risk is often involved. We’re not pretending anymore when we set aside the mask, tell the truth, and give of ourselves to better community. To be vulnerable with another is scary, but what if, on the other side of a heartfelt interaction, you find that there is camaraderie and the knowledge that you are not alone. There is depth in truth and honesty.

It brings me back to the viola and the work it took for Jenny to make it sound like a cello. Was she impersonating the sound of the cello with her viola? Maybe, but I tend to look at it as means to obtain more depth in sound. It took a lot of fine-tuning and playing just right to get the correct tone, but eventually, this deep, resonate quality filled the room. Once recorded and mixed with the other strings, I could hear the dark tones of the viola provide stability to the ensemble, and I realized that the song would be incomplete without that cello-like tone. Jenny was able to take something that some people would see as fake and make it into something authentically beautiful. We can do the same with our interactions. It might take some time and intentionality, but when we are real with one another, that’s when true community begins.

Holding it Together

From the moment I opened my eyes one morning last week, I knew it would be an uphill battle. A headache pounded behind my eyes, and when I sat up in bed, I felt the nausea set in. Not wanting the headache to develop into a migraine, I shuffled my way into the bathroom and fumbled for the aspirin. In the process of retrieving my pill organizer from the drawer, the pills spilled out and clattered onto the counter and floor below. On my hands and knees, I fumbled to clean up the mess, grumbling the whole time about my klutziness.

I set about completing my morning routine: taking glaucoma meds, cleaning my prosthetic lens and then inserting it, brushing my teeth, and then finally reaching for my allergy pills. It was then that I realized that there was only one pill remaining in the bottle and that I would need to call the pharmacy for a refill. When I reached for the phone, it slipped from my grasp and clattered against the porcelain tile. The battery compartment snapped off and went flying across the room. I couldn’t see where the piece had landed, so once again, I was on my hands and knees on the floor, searching for the elusive thing. At last, I found it wedged in the far corner, but not before some more grumbling to myself.

“Why can’t you just get it together?” I remember asking myself out loud. This was not a good start to the day. The headache, the spilled medication, the broken phone… all of it didn’t offer high expectation for success, and that really made me nervous. You see, I had big plans for my studio time that day. Oh, have I mentioned that I am recording an album? If I have failed to share that, I am sorry, but it’s true. I am in the studio this summer, recording a project that will hopefully be releasing before year’s end.Reocrding Waiting Here Vocals

But anyway… back to my big day ahead in the studio…

I had been under a lot of pressure lately. I had nine songs that were gelling and coming together fairly well, but I wanted one more piece to round everything out; a ten-song album just seemed like it would be a better fit— more complete and final. But we didn’t have a plan for a tenth song; I had tossed aside a song months ago, disappointed with its lack of promise and started moving on to other alternatives. For several weeks, I toyed with a few options, consulting with the producer and violinist. I needed a guitarist for one of the options I was considering, and the reality was that we only had about two weeks for a musician to learn that material. So that option quickly fell through, leaving me feeling stressed and on edge. Would I have to settle for a nine-song album? I had an idea for a hidden track; could that be my tenth song?

Then while I was practicing for an upcoming live performance, I played a song that I hadn’t performed in years. The lyrics went straight to my heart, and tears streamed down my face. It wasn’t an extraordinary song; in fact, the message was quite simple. But there was something special about the song and it struck me then that perhaps this could be the missing link. I sent a rough recording to the violinist and producer, and within the hour, I had my answer. We would record the tenth song in just two days.

I was confident in my decision, but I hadn’t played the song in so long that I was rusty. Would I remember what chords I would need to play? Would I recall the lyrics with ease even after all these years? How would I arrange the song in such a way to leave space for the violinist to add in her melodies? The two-day deadline was daunting, and when the morning of my studio day dawned with the headache and mishaps, I was immediately frazzled.

I took to my Facebook page, and asked my friends to pray for me. This isn’t something I do very often, even though I value Christian community. I have no problem asking for prayer, but I felt so vulnerable admitting that I was worried and stressed. My mind was buzzing with so much, that every time I tried to open my heart to God, I would quickly divert to something else that needed my attention.

So I left my studio time to the prayers of my Facebook friends, and above all, to God, and when I sat down at the piano to record, I felt instant peace. The studio session wasn’t easy, but the creativity was flowing, and the arrangement came together bit by bit— piano, scratch vocals, back-up vocals, and even some sound effects. I left the studio that day feeling good about our progress and so relieved.

In the end, I didn’t need to hold things together in my own strength. The stress and worry were real, but they were wasted effort. When I couldn’t seem to pray, my Facebook friends had it covered, and even more significant than that, God had it covered. He was at the center of everything, and He knew the end result. Sometimes I have this mistaken belief that I have to hold it all together: be the brave and independent disability advocate, set a good example as older sister and auntie, set achievable standards for the worship teams, and somehow manage to make my album come together with incredible musicality. I can’t do it all in my own strength, but somehow, I think I can if I just try. It’s so easy for me to divert to my independence driven mindset; I don’t need help and if I just work hard enough, it will be okay.

But entering into the studio that day, I was not okay, and it took me awhile to realize that I had been chasing after success through my own ability when I should have been relying on the strength of my Savior. Colossians 1:17 reminds us that He holds all creation together, and since I know that is true, I can say with confidence that He is holding me together as well.

He is holding my album together and growing it into something beautiful… and He is holding me together even as I fumble and grumble along the way. I am so grateful for His patience and kindness toward His stubborn child. He holds the mess of my life together and He’s guiding me in the midst of the journey.

As for the songs that are making the cut for the album, you’ll have to stay tuned!