Beauty from Pain: “It is Well with my Soul” Song Story

“I’m making Christmas gifts,” one of my sisters told me a few years ago. “I just need to know your favorite hymn or worship song.”

“How can you even ask that of me?” I remember saying. “I’m a worship leader! I like too many songs to count!”

But if I was honest with myself, there was one song that had always resonated with me. It had been a favorite because of its rich harmonies and equally rich lyrics. In fact, I can remember raving about its depth while having lunch with a co-worker one day.

“I love “It is Well,” I said when asked about the hymn. “I mean the poetry of the lyrics: ‘When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll…’ Nobody writes like that anymore…”

My co-worker agreed. There was just something about the beauty of the lyrics and melody that melded into a song that had touched both of our hearts. And once I learned of the circumstances that inspired its writing, I was even more drawn to its message of hope.

I included “It is Well with my Soul” on The Dawn because I couldn’t imagine the project without it. Since the song is Public Domain, I knew I could record it without worrying about copyright infringement, and I would be free to put my own spin on this classic favorite. When Jenny agreed to play violin for the project, I knew this song had to be arranged to showcase her skill. There is something about piano and violin that grips at my emotions, and it was a combination that lent itself well to the track.

Most of the songs on The Dawn detail my journey to finding hope in the midst of sorrow. Although I didn’t write “It is Well,” I take ownership of the lyrics because I feel as if I have lived them and believe them beyond a shadow of a doubt. I may not have walked through the trials that Horatio Spafford experienced prior to writing “It is Well,” but I have found that I can identify with his sentiments. Yes, life can be filled with suffering and unimaginable grief, but no matter what, God is good, and we can say with full confidence that it is well.

Let me share with you the story of “It is Well with my Soul” and its writer, Horatio Gates Spafford.

Horatio Spafford and his wife Anna lived in the Chicago area in the 1860s. Spafford was a successful lawyer, prosperous businessman, and an investor in real-estate along Lake Michigan. He and his wife were blessed with five children, and he was a devout Christian.

In 1871, Spafford’s investments and business dealings were ruined as a result of the great Chicago fire. In light of these significant losses, Spafford and his wife agreed to travel to Europe. But just as the family was about to depart, Spafford was delayed by some business transactions. He sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him, promising to meet them in England later.
While onboard the SS Ville du Havre, Spafford’s wife and daughters encountered great tragedy. The ship was struck by another vessel and quickly sank, resulting in the worst naval disaster to take place until the sinking of the Titanic almost forty years later. Spafford received a telegram from his wife Anna, conveying these simple words: “Saved alone.”

Soon after, Spafford boarded a ship to Europe in order that he might be with his grieving wife. It was as the ship passed over the place where the SS Ville du Havre had gone down that Spafford was inspired to pen the lyrics to “It is Well with my Soul.”

The Spafford family was later blessed with three more children, although they were not free from sorrow. Their only son contracted scarlet fever and later died. Life was certainly not perfect for Horatio Spafford and his family. In fact, one could easily say that they faced their fair share of unimaginable grief and pain. But from deep sorrow came a beautiful song that would later resonate with generation after generation. I am grateful for this timeless reminder that “Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”

A Work of the Heart: “Letting Go” Song Story

There is a constant struggle in my life as a worship leader— a persistent drive to do all and be all to everyone and everything. When I formally became a worship leader in 2011, a co-worker made an observation: “You didn’t realize when you accepted this job that you would be doing more than just playing music. You are going to have to work with others, collaborate, and embrace different personalities.” This same person later approached me to impart some tough-love advice. “Sometimes you may have to sacrifice perfectionism for compassion.”
In my early days as a worship leader, I quickly learned that I was indeed a perfectionist. I was blessed with like-minded female vocalists to make up my first worship team, and we called ourselves OneVoice because we truly sounded like one voice— a pleasant-sounding unison that blended seamlessly. Singing with OneVoice was easy and low on the stress scale.
But then less-than-perfect dynamics began to bump into my music-making. I struggled to collaborate with one of the other worship teams. I fumbled through the summer of 2014 when all of our teams were mixed up and in chaos. We began to welcome new members into our teams who changed the easy and once in sync sound we had established. Instead of simple unison, we branched into harmony. New songs were being introduced frequently. I was creating new arrangements and trying to keep up with piano accompaniment. All of it was rewarding, but it was hard too.
Then one day, I was too critical of a fellow musician, and not-so-gentle words were exchanged. I felt lower than low and as far from being Christ-like as I could possibly be portrayed. I doubted my role as a worship leader who was prominently visible on Sunday mornings. In many ways, I felt like a fraud because of the conflict that sprang up in our department. Another team member pulled me aside and wanted me to explain how worship team members were selected. Were there standards that needed to be upheld in order to participate in ministry? I felt crushed that someone would even question those standards. Again, I felt like a fraud because obviously something was wrong with me and my leadership of our teams. I began to wonder if we were even effective. Were we fulfilling our mission to lead others in worship and bring our congregation into His presence? When others saw me on the stage did they see Christ reflected in me? Or did they see someone who was failing miserably?
I thought back to when I had just graduated from college. I performed anywhere I had an invitation as long as someone was willing to drive me there. I was confident in my abilities. I had a voice and I knew I was talented. When I was asked to provide special music for a Sunday morning service, I usually chose a song that was flattering to my voice and would showcase my skills well. I was pretty egotistical, and leading worship was definitely not on my radar.
Then to my absolute horror, my pride and joy (my voice), was taken from me. I battled through nearly eighteen months of debilitating sickness and weakened breathing. I coughed and wheezed to such a degree that I no longer had the breath support to sing, and my voice was raspy and fatigued.
I cried out to God, devastated that the one thing I loved so dearly— singing— was clearly not going to be a part of my future. I questioned my gifts and talent, my calling, and purpose. I spiraled down into deep depression. My world was shaken, and my once intimate relationship with my Savior was now strained.
I was a mess, but little by little, God began to love me back to life. Those dark days between 2009 and 2011 taught me that I was never too far gone to be deserving of His compassion and mercy. My voice gradually returned to full strength, although I still relied on medications to keep my breathing clear and calm. As my physical healing took place, God also worked in my heart. Spiritual healing did not materialize overnight; instead, it has continued to be an ongoing process, as I witnessed in my interactions with my worship teams. As the dynamics changed, I had to make room for the new and unknown. I couldn’t be afraid of the questions and potential conflict. In the end, I wasn’t leading worship for my own glory or notoriety. I was leading worship to do just what my title implies: lead worship. With leadership would come struggle and challenging circumstances, but it didn’t mean I was a failure. I needed to realize that the most important factor in all of this was that I simply needed to let the Lord into my life. I had to embrace imperfect progress and move forward. I had to let go of all of my intentions and let Him work through me.
“I’m letting go to let You in.”

It Almost Didn’t Make the Cut: “Jesus is your Friend” Song Story

The arranging and recording process is not for the faint of heart. I learned that rather early on as we made progress on The Dawn. Although I enjoyed hearing my songs come together, there were just some pieces that weren’t evolving in the way I had imagined. As the end of June, 2018 approached, I realized we were at a realistic point in the production process where I could see the end in sight. The only problem was that I only had nine songs that were coming together, and I had anticipated an album with ten tracks. Something was missing but I wasn’t quite sure what that could be.
It wasn’t until I was rehearsing for an upcoming performance that I found clarity. I went back into the archives, so to speak, and stumbled upon one of the first songs I had ever written. I had put pen to paper at age seventeen, composing the music in my living room during a quiet afternoon when I was finally alone. When you grow up in a household with parents and three younger siblings, it is rarely quiet, so I was taking full advantage of the solitude when I wrote “Jesus is Your Friend.”
The song was inspired by a difficult sophomore year in high school. I didn’t have many friends, and I was lonely. I observed as many of my classmates learned to drive, started dating, and planned to go to the prom. I witnessed break-ups and catty drama; it seemed like relationships changed in an instant during my high school days.
“Jesus is your Friend” was probably the easiest song I have ever written. It flowed from my heart in probably twenty minutes, but I wasn’t keeping track of the time. Once I finished the song, I was proud of it, but I was reluctant to play it for an audience because I was so emotionally attached to it. But once I played it for my mother, I found that maybe performing it live wasn’t going to be so difficult after all.
Over the next few years, I performed “Jesus is Your Friend” at our family concerts. The Lokker family was occasionally invited to share music and testimony at area churches, and although my parents took lead on most of our songs, they encouraged me to do a few songs on my own, and that served to boost my confidence.
In the Summer before my senior year, I was commissioned to write a song for a local Relay for Life team in support of the American Cancer Society. I was unable to attend the Relay and perform the song live, so I made contact with someone who offered to record me in their home studio. “Beam of Hope” turned out so well that I ended up adding three other songs to create a four-song demo. “Jesus is Your Friend” was the first track.
In 2008, I had the opportunity to record again, and this time, I self-produced a full album at a local studio. The album opened up with “Jesus is your Friend,” which I felt was one of my strongest songs at the time. So when it came to recording again ten years later, it only seemed fitting to include the song that had been on my other two projects. It isn’t the first track on the album this time around, but its there and its reimagined. From the rain and thunder to the countermelodies from Jenny’s violin, the song has taken on new perspective.
I’m no longer that lonely seventeen-year-old, but I still resonate with the lyrics, because loneliness comes in adulthood too. On those dark days when nothing makes sense and I’m feeling unloved, I only have to remind myself of the simple but incredible truth; even though others may let me down, there is Someone who will always be my friend. In fact, I have often referred to Jesus as my best friend, and its His friendship that I cling to when I need an anchor.
I already know the impact this song has had on my audience. I have heard stories that have detailed depression, anxiety, and despair, but I have reveled in the hope that this simple message has conveyed. The love of Jesus and His presence doesn’t solve the world’s problems. In fact, it was Jesus who told us in His Word, that we would have trouble in this world. But He also told us to take heart, because He had overcome the world! To have Jesus as your close and personal friend is a pretty powerful reality, and He’s one friend you want to have in your corner. Even when life gives the impression that its not okay, we can know that we are okay because He is holding the world in His hands. A true friend cares for those he loves, and as the Scriptures say, if He cares for the sparrows He can certainly care for you and me.
“Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Jesus is your friend.”

Just a Stepping Stone: “Adore” Song Story

I’ve written about it already— about the fact that 2009 was a difficult season for me and many of my friends. In the fall of that year, our church family learned that a dear friend had received the diagnosis of terminal cancer. It was heartbreaking to watch this vibrant and fun-loving man be forced to comprehend the realities of impending pain and eventual death. Just days after his diagnosis, he seemed to come to terms with what awaited him on the horizon. I asked him if he was okay. He told me that he had lived his life with one goal— to glorify God and to share His story— and he felt he had done that to the best of his ability. It didn’t seem fair that his days were now limited, but it didn’t change his purpose and perspective. He had his eyes on eternity and nothing else.
I was so inspired by his hope for eternity, that I felt the first stirrings of a new song. I was running errands with a friend a few days later, and I could no longer ignore the lyrics spinning around in my head. The radio was cranked up as we drove along, and I asked my friend to turn it down. I fumbled in my purse for something I could write on, and the lyrics spilled out so quickly it was difficult getting it all down on paper before they slipped away.
“This world is not my own.
It’s just a stepping stone to Your glory.
I lift my hands and pray that I can live each day
Just to tell Your story…”
There was no melody— just the lyrics. But I didn’t despair at the unfinished song. I knew the music would follow soon. I just needed to sit with the lyric for awhile until it came together.
That evening, I couldn’t concentrate. I had grad school homework due the next day, but the crisp breeze and fall colors drew me outside. I went for a long walk, repeating the lyrics in my head over and over again. With each step on the pavement, I found a tempo. A melody began to weave its way into my heart, but it wasn’t anything like I expected. I was saddened at the impending loss of my good friend, so I had in mind something more introspective with a depth that would reflect the nature of the circumstances. But what emerged was something upbeat, almost bouncy— an almost happy anthem about love, life, and eternity.
It was so different from my typical writing style that I set it aside for awhile— not because I didn’t like it but because I didn’t know how to bring it all together into a cohesive whole. Little by little, “Adore” found its sound. It started on the piano with my sister Becca lending her harmony. Then we took it to the studio as I prepared for the trip to Nashville. I did my best to create a full sound with synthesized drum tracks, guitar, and strings. It turned out all right, but it didn’t resonate as anything special. Perhaps I was just too close to the project.
When I was considering the songs I wanted to include on “The Dawn” album, I knew “Adore” had to be a part of it. But I was stuck. I needed new vision for the song, so I turned it over to the producer to work his magic. The track began to take shape with electronic drums, a rhythmic bass line, and of course, the piano. The vocals layered over the top with some added effects and reverb. It certainly wasn’t something I would have come up with on my own, and in the end, I liked the vibe. As I cranked it up in my kitchen one day, I recalled the afternoon I had written the lyrics while cruising down the interstate in my friend’s car. It wasn’t hard to imagine “Adore” blaring over the speakers with the windows down and the wind blowing in our hair. I don’t know what you think, but when I hear “Adore,” I picture a sunny Summer day on the highway, and this song blasting through the speakers on repeat.
“And to all who hear, I will proclaim the saving power of Your glorious name.”

A New Day… A New Direction: “The Dawn” Song Story

“The Dawn” came crashing in without apology. It was one of those songs that refused to follow a conventional format. It drove me crazy, the lyrics and melody coming to me in a frenzied mess. I wrote it in less than an hour, but I fought with it for weeks afterward. There was no chorus— only four verses that when written out on paper looked like a poem. I was convinced it was going to be one of those never-completed songs that would clutter my composition book and constantly remind me of everything it could have been if I would have given it the chance.
It kept coming back to me though and refused to let me go. I had written it with a good friend in mind. For me and many of my close friends, the years between 2009 and 2011 were riddled with grief and heartache. One friend lost her mother unexpectedly to medical complications. Another came home after a failed relationship to start over again. I battled through adult-onset allergies that debilitated me so greatly that I struggled to breathe. It was a dark time for all of us, and it seemed like we couldn’t catch a break. They say bad things happen in threes; well, I was convinced we were up to six, seven, or maybe even ten. My prolonged illness was draining, and even though I was in grad school and working toward my passion for church ministry, I often couldn’t find the energy to get up in the morning. I cried a lot. I felt like I couldn’t keep my head above water. Stress and anxiety were constants in my life during that season.
In talking with one of my dear friends who had been walking through her own struggles during that time, we spoke of our quest for hope. I compared our time of darkness to a never-ending night. It’s often been said that it’s darkest before the dawn, and at that time, it made a lot of sense. We were in the inky blackness of midnight; there was no light at the end of the tunnel, no shaft of light from the lighthouse on the raging sea, no glimpse of light on the horizon from the coming sunrise. We just needed to find the dawn!
To lighten our perspective during those dark days, we would often text or call each other when we happened to be outside at the time of sunrise or if we glimpsed something that reminded us of dawn. “I found the dawn!” we might say at such times, and for a moment, it made us smile.
Midway through 2010, I began to catch a glimmer of hope on my horizon. I prepared to travel to Nashville, Tennessee to compete in something called “Immerse,” and my song “The Dawn” was still not letting me go. I finally stopped fighting and forced myself to record a rough demo of it in the studio. I wanted to take some of my recorded tracks to Nashville in case I had the opportunity to workshop with other songwriters. I wanted feedback on my unconventional format. Although the song refused to comply with a typical structure, I still loved it. I thought of it as my diamond in the rough that just needed a beautiful unveiling.
I got good feedback about the song in Nashville, but the time for “The Dawn” and its unveiling didn’t come about until August, 2017. I spent a few hours in the studio at Bailey Park simply as a means to work my way back into recording. I hadn’t recorded anything since 2011, so I was a little out of my element. I was considering recording an album, but nothing was ironed out yet. During that two-hour session I laid down piano and vocal for two tracks: “The Dawn” and “Waiting here.”
As I got ready to leave the studio that night, I asked the producer: “Do you hear any other elements that we could add to the songs?”
He thought for a moment and then said without hesitation: “On “The Dawn” maybe some violin.”
Instantly, I knew he was right! I had always loved the interplay between violin and piano, and I got so excited that I could hardly sleep that night. Even though I was technically on vacation starting the next day, I sent off a message to the only violinist I knew would have the potential to add something special to my diamond in the rough: Jennifer Kittleson.
When I sent that message, I had no concept of the reply that awaited me a mere twenty minutes later. Jennifer immediately expressed her interest in helping me with my project, but her eager response was tempered with deep pain. She proceeded to tell me that her fourteen-year-old brother had recently suffered cardiac arrest and was no longer conscious. She didn’t know if he would make it, and their family was reeling. She told me that she wanted to collaborate with me, but that she needed time.
I felt the sting of Jennifer’s pain, for it was only six months earlier that I had experienced my own unexpected loss, also as a result of cardiac arrest. John was only 39 when he passed away suddenly, and I was still processing the void his loss had created in my world. I told her there was no timetable for my project and that we would move forward when she was ready.
On September 2, 2017, Jennifer and her family said goodbye to Chris as he peacefully passed into eternity. The loss was significant for their family, but even in the midst of all-consuming grief, Jennifer’s mother had this to say on their CaringBridge site: “It is up to the rest of us to live life to the fullest in order to fill the void that we will all feel because we knew and loved Chris.”
“Live life to the fullest”— that line struck me profoundly. It spoke of the will to go on even when the pain of loss was still so sharp there was no comprehending its release. Jennifer embraced this will to move forward by going back to work and returning to the music she loved. By the middle of October, we sat dawn to talk, and I relayed my vision for “The Dawn,” not only the song but the album I had begun to piece together with the songs I had written over the past ten years.
“The Dawn” album found its beginning in the darkness of despair, when grief, physical pain, and suffering were all-consuming. Sometimes life and its trials don’t make sense; but even when answers don’t come easy, hope is never out of reach. It may be the darkest before the dawn, but when morning breaks, there is no denying the beauty of color and light as it paints the sky. “The Dawn’ celebrates God’s faithfulness and His promise of life everlasting.
“Yesterday has come and gone. You’ll wake to see the light of dawn.”

Right here…: “Waiting here” Song Story

In 2013, I was spread thin, rushing around, and beyond tired. I was leading worship at FRC, mentoring fellow individuals with disabilities through the local Center for Independent Living, coaching a young musician, serving on staff for a teen center, and directing a camp for high school students three-and-a-half hours from home. I was busy and felt extremely fulfilled, but there were days I nearly crumbled.
My work at FRC was fairly routine and relatively easy. I was grateful for the fact that I could live out my faith without apology. My co-workers were believers and so were my team members. At every turn, I felt love and support.
But my other job roles were more challenging. I had spent a great deal of my life in the sheltered Christian bubble. I became a member of my church at 15, went to a Christian school from 6th-8th grade, attended church youth group and led in-school Bible studies, attended two Christian colleges… It wasn’t often that I encountered people outside of my typical frame of life.
But the more I began to serve outside of the walls of the church, the more people I encountered from different lifestyles and backgrounds. It brought about some significant conversations about life, faith, and perspective, and sometimes, it didn’t go well. Right away, I’m thinking of a night at Camp. I had just finished leading a staff meeting, and I took my Bible over to the CCTV so I could spend some time reading God’s Word. That’s when the first verbal attack came from one of my staff:
“What’s that— a Bible? You’re going to read that?” He said “that” like it was something offensive.
“Yes,” I answered.
“But why?” he pressed. “You know it’s just a bunch of made-up stories, right?”
And that was just the beginning of a discussion that spanned more than an hour. I answered the best I could, but at every turn, I felt like my faith was under attack. He had a response for everything! I would hardly get a word in before he debated yet another aspect of my faith. I held it together until it was well after midnight, silently pleading with God, begging Him to give me the words in response to this man’s incessant rebuttal.
“It sounds like you’re living for the moment you die! How ridiculous! What if you’re wrong, and there really is no God? All of this is a waste of your time,” he taunted.
“I don’t look at it that way,” I said. “Wouldn’t you rather live your life with the hope of spending eternity in heaven than have no hope at all?”
And on and on it went… until finally, mercifully, he excused himself for the night and went to his room. On shaking legs, I walked to my suite and let myself in. I couldn’t hold back the pent-up tears much longer, and my roommate heard me. She came out of her room to greet me, and the whole thing spilled out.
“Why am I crying over him?” I remember choking out between my tears. “I don’t even like him.”
“But deep down, you love him,” my roommate said, breaking through my tear-filled haze. “I know it doesn’t make sense, but God has given you this love.”
Deep down, I knew she was right. I cared deeply about each one of my staff. Many of them are still close friends today. It didn’t take them long to learn of my convictions. I wasn’t as if I stood up in the front of the auditorium and declared my testimony during large group session, but moment by moment I was able to share my faith story. Some received it well; others respectfully shared their thoughts:
“Cassie, it’s good that you have this faith, but it’s not for me. I’ve spent my whole life trying to be independent and self-sufficient. I don’t need anyone or anything to save me or make me whole. Believing in God is for weak people, and I’m certainly not weak.”
“God would never want anything to do with me. I’ve made too many mistakes, screwed up too many times. He couldn’t possibly love me.”
“I don’t understand why God would create me like this… broken, with a deformity, a disability. How could he possibly use me if I can’t do the things others can do so easily? Does he even love me?
It was these last words that struck me most profoundly. I have lived my entire life with a disability, and I have never once questioned God’s love. Of course, I have felt the sting of rejection— the feeling like I can’t measure up to my able-bodied peers. I know what it’s like to ask for help when all I want to do is complete something on my own. I don’t like to need people, and it’s in times of need and rejection that I question God’s plan. I know God has created me this way, and he has a purpose for me, even in the presence of my disability. But the questions come when life just doesn’t seem fair. I can’t change the fact that I have a disability, but somehow, I wish I could will away the challenges that come with it. If only I could drive, then I could help more around the community. I get frustrated because I hire someone to clean my house, all because I’m insecure about the messes that I can’t see with limited vision. Heaven forbid there would be something on the floor that my guests would see and they would be so appalled that they would never come to my house again! I sometimes dread going shopping for clothes because I know I won’t be able to get a good sense of whether or not something looks good on me unless I rely on someone else’s opinion.
I have written about this concept before, referring to it as the “Compensation Game.” It relates to this idea of finding ways to compensate for the fact that I have a disability. If I just try harder, excel at everything, and exceed expectations, maybe then everyone will forget that I am limited.
I imagine it’s similar to what my peers with disabilities felt like when they were introduced to a God who offers unconditional love. If a person has spent all of their life trying to fit into society, wouldn’t it be much the same in relationship with God?
All of the above and so much more inspired my song “Waiting here.” I actually started writing it on the way to the grocery store one day. I was feeling a bit lighter since it was early Spring and the deadlines for Camp weren’t looming on the horizon yet. I was contemplative too, and before long, my thoughts drifted to the many people I had encountered over the course of the past year… so many people broken, without hope, striving for something they couldn’t find on their own. If only they would reach out to their Creator, embrace a relationship with Him, bask in the incredible reality of His unconditional love. But I knew it wasn’t that easy. I couldn’t just snap my fingers and all of my co-workers and friends would suddenly embrace faith. I could pray, however, and my prayers became focused on restoration, a release of doubt and fear, and that these friends would know that His love was waiting for them at any turn; they only needed to reach out and take hold of it.
I wish I could say that all of my prayers have been answered. I still long for the salvation of many of these friends and co-workers. More than anything, my tears still flow for the antagonistic staff member who saw my Bible and launched into an all-out debate. I haven’t seen him for many years now, but the pain from that night is still so sharp, it’s as if it happened yesterday. “Waiting here” is a song of hope for those who are on the fringes, who are so close but yet so far away from embracing the Gospel.
“His love is waiting here… right here.”

A Call to Worship: “We will Sing” Song Story

When I formally became a worship leader almost seven years ago, I had no idea what to expect. I had been performing and writing songs since I was a teenager, but I knew right away that leading worship would be different. For the first time, I realized I had to consider the congregation, those sitting in the pews or standing to sing when the music began. It definitely wasn’t about me and whether or not I could put on a good performance. I was a leader now, and the songs I chose had to be approachable for those gathered in the sanctuary— in a vocal range that would suit the average singer and lyrically rooted in Biblical theology. I couldn’t choose a song simply because I liked it; I had to consider what words I was putting in the mouth of my congregation. What was I asking everyone to say to the Lord through the songs we sang? It was a great weight, but also a great honor and privilege as I began on this journey. It quickly became more than just a job but a calling. How had I lived so long, fumbling through songwriting and occasional performing without experiencing this incredible reality? I felt like I had found a piece of myself that I never knew was missing. I found the heart of worship— the way in which I connected most intimately with my Savior. I get choked up now just thinking about it.
I have been blessed to lead worship in an extremely accommodating congregation. My visual impairment has never been a barrier to ministry. I have many gifted musicians willing to lend their voices and instruments to our Sunday morning services. I have grown as a musician, being stretched to learn new music that I never thought I would have the ability to play without the aid of written music. On the surface, it would be easy to say that things were going extremely well as I transitioned into formal ministry, and for the most part, this is still true today.
But in 2014, the road got a bit rocky. When I look back at that year, two things come to mind: abounding creativity and absolute chaos. It all started early in the Spring when I walked through a time of personal examination. I found that I had erected walls around my heart when it came to some of my relationships, and I knew this was a result of a recent rift in a friendship. I had my guard up from then on and moving forward. I didn’t let just anyone into my life… or my heart. I threw myself into my work and that’s when things got crazy.
Our pastor came up with an idea for a summer experiment. He wanted our worship teams to consider unity and connectedness, so he orchestrated a major schedule change. He took team members from each rotation and mixed them up. Every team that was accustomed to playing and singing together was no more. Leaders fumbled for a plan. What would the blend of voices be like? How would we go about scheduling practices? Who would carry the responsibility of accompanying these newly formed teams?
It was a great experiment in theory—forcing us to branch out and work with others we may not have considered earlier. It worked well for me in the long-run. The worship leader from the Praise Team eventually became an asset to my OneVoice team, and I never would have considered working with her if I had not discovered that we could collaborate that Summer. But in the midst of the crazy, we were a mess. The hoped-for unity and connectedness was slow to materialize. But we certainly learned a lot on the journey, and it inspired my song “We will Sing (Let the Walls Fall Down.)”
I was reading Joshua 6 one day, and I was struck with a realization. I read about the Israelites as they prepared to conquer the city of Jericho. For six days, the Israelites marched around the walled city of Jericho one time each day, blasting the trumpets. Then, on the seventh day, at Joshua’s command, they raised up a shout. It was the shouts and the blast of the trumpet that caused the walls of the city to come crashing down. Can you imagine the sound that must have created— a sound so powerful that it demolished the walls just like that?
Why such a grand and glorious conquering of the city? “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city! The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD” (Joshua 6:16). It got me thinking: what if we at FRC worshipped so intently and so loudly that the walls we had erected came crashing down?
Now, lest you think that I’m comparing worship to a militaristic exercise, hear me out. Just like the walls erected around Jericho to protect the city from invasion, many of us have walls around our hearts to protect us from painful circumstances. I certainly had my walls up in the summer of 2014. Instead of being open to growth and change, I closed myself off from others as a means to stay in my own safe little bubble. I knew that the text in Joshua 6 was trying to tell me something about my personal faith journey and the current state of our worship teams.
It would take time and intentionality, seeking unity within the messy chaos. But when the summer ended, we had come to a few conclusions. First, we would return to working with our typical teams with a new sense of purpose. We no longer took our leaders and accompanists for granted. We expressed gratitude for those people and things we had overlooked in the past. Second, we celebrated what we had learned when we were split up and given new roles. We explored new avenues for collaboration. Third, we welcomed the arrival of some new participants in our department, something I truly believe would not have happened so easily if we had not walked through the struggle.
In the end, I realized worship leading was a bit like a battle, just like the one that took place at the walls of Jericho. Again, I wondered: what if we at FRC worshipped so intently and so loudly that the walls we had erected came crashing down? What if we sang with such passion and unity that the people in the neighboring homes came running outside because they were curious about all of the noise? What if people in the surrounding communities began to hear about our worship and marveled about our devotion to the Lord? Do you remember Joshua 6:16? “…The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD.” What would it look like if FRC and the literal walls of the building were devoted to the Lord! Wow, talk about a revival in our hearts and minds! Maybe the brick structure wouldn’t actually come tumbling down, but maybe our preconceived ideas about worship would become altered. Maybe we would start to care less and less about what we could get out of church and begin to care more and more about what we could bring Him in worship. Perhaps we could move past our worries about what other people think and simply immerse ourselves in worship: raising our hands, shouting out loud, dancing in the aisles… For a traditional congregation, it seems like a crazy idea, doesn’t it? Dancing in the aisles— really?
But our members don’t have to dance in the aisles for the walls to come down. It begins simply with a willingness to open our hearts up to the One who deserves our highest praise. It will happen one step at a time as we let go of everything that is holding us back. Then we will find a way to come together, and with one voice bring those walls to the ground.
Four years later, we are still on this journey, and to my knowledge there hasn’t been any dancing in the aisles, but I have witnessed the hope that exists for barrier-free worship.
“Let the walls fall down. Let ‘em fall. Let ‘em fall.”