Thankful for Twenty-Three Years | 30 Days of Gratitude, day 13

Obviously, like many of my writing projects lately, my “30 Days of Gratitude” got extended far beyond the 30 days of November, but I still want to complete 30 days, so I’m persevering in spite of my failings.

It was my birthday recently, and I was tempted to feel a little sad.  Twenty-three feels so different than any other birthday before.  I don’t think I ever thought much beyond 22, because that was the age I was to graduate college, and who knew what would come after that.  Well, here we are, and I’m feeling the same way.  Who knows what comes after this?

I don’t.  That’s for sure… so in one way, twenty-three makes me feel a little aimless, a little lost, and a lot inadequate (and yes I know that’s grammatically incorrect).  I think part of me felt like I didn’t need to think beyond 22, because by the time twenty-three came around I would have things figured out.  I’d have a job, and be paying all of my own bills with my own, earned money.  I’d be successful.

I’m not though, which must mean I’m a failure.

Al right.  SO I’ll work harder.  I’ll change my tactics.  I’ll find a way to achieve this thing I’m supposed to be at twenty-three, and my first step can be choosing to be thankful for these three and twenty years of life, successes and failures, joys and sorrows, easy days and difficult ones.

This is two and a third decades now that I have had the amazing opportunity to know oxygen, and smiles, and family, and delicious food, and cool summer evenings and crisp autumn mornings, and rainy February days and glorious April dawns.  Twenty-three years that I’ve gotten to spend writing, singing, petting dogs and hugging horses, playing ivory keys and steal strings, and dancing and running and leaping.  And how the Lord has been faithful.  How he has brought me to him, and taught me to pray, and seek first His kingdom, and call him my sovereign.  Oh there are too many joys to count!

Have I a great deal to learn?  Oh yes.  Have I a deep longing to be different than the girl I am now?  For sure.  But wow I’m glad to be alive.  Oh God, use every second of it for your glory!

Thankful for a Voice | A Blind Girl Speaks Out!

I don’t really know what happened.  I wasn’t that sick, but suddenly my voice just sort of left me, and a painful cough took its place.  For the last four days, I’ve been on strict vocal rest, which is difficult for a singer and a socializer.  I didn’t think about how it would impact my interactions with the public, however.

“I’m outside Panera.” I whispered into the phone, because that’s all I could manage.

“You’re where?  I can’t really hear you.”

“Outside the doors of the Panera!” I tried again, “I have a guide dog and I’m wearing a black coat.”

“Oh, I think I see you.  You have a dog?”

“Yes!” I replied, relieved that even if he hadn’t heard me he found me and I didn’t have to wait much longer in the 15 degree weather.

I got in the Lyft and got home, thank God, but my vocal issues had made it incredibly difficult to communicate with my driver to tell him where I was.

A similar thing happened a day later.  A gracious friend of mine volunteered to drive me to the pet store to pick up some emergency dog food for Prim.  We entered the pet store, and I was immediately struck by my hindered ability to scold my guide dog for trying to chase the cat she saw upon entry.  Turns out whispered commands to your dog to “leave it” when there is a cat right in front of their nose is really not that effective.

The kicker, though, was when we stopped at CVS on the way back to collect some soup and cough drops and other such necessary items.  Prim followed my friend into and throughout the store like a champ, and we found the things we needed without too much trouble.  When we arrived at the counter, I set my items down and waited as the cashier scanned them.

“Do you live with her?” The lady asked my friend.

“No, just a friend.” She replied.

“She agreed to drive me around tonight.” I added with a smile, though I felt my smile falter a little when I realized what had come out of my mouth was barely recognizable as spoken word.

“Who takes care of her then?”

“I take care of me.” I answered, patiently, still in a whisper.

“She said she takes care of herself.” The cashier observed in shock to my friend, and then to one of her coworkers as we left.

Yes, madam, that is what I said.  I take care of myself.  She clearly found that hard to believe, since I am blind.

I desired desperately to educate her.  I wanted to tell her that, not only do I care for myself, but I care for my guide dog, and sometimes, when necessary, my sighted friends too.  I wanted to say that blind people can live quite independently, with the right training and techniques.  I wanted to tell her that I’d been living on my own 12 hours drive from my family for almost 5 years now, since I moved to Tennessee at 18.  I wanted to tell her I’ve traveled internationally by myself three times, and within the U.S. hundreds of times… that I’d been white-water rafting, and rock climbing, and hiking, and horseback riding, and kayaking and jet skiing, and spelunking, and I’d sung, danced, and acted in operas and plays and musicals, had a bachelor’s degree, and was planning on moving internationally for a master’s.

But I couldn’t say any of that because I couldn’t talk.

I’ve been blind for 16 years now.  I’m pretty used to comments like the ones I heard at CVS last night.  I’ve learned to say something, but once that’s done, it’s all I can do.  Eventually, I just have to let it go and allow my life to be the proof, but I felt robbed of that power yesterday, of my ability to advocate through speech.  It upset me, but mostly it made me thankful that, on the regular day-to-day, I do have a voice.  I can speak up to defend my own freedom of independence and the freedom of other blind people to live the lives they want.  I can share my experiences and challenge a sighted world to raise their expectations for the blind.

Not only do I have a voice on an individual, physical level, but also on a macro, socio-political-economic level.  As an American citizen with first amendment rights to free speech, I can write articles like these to spread the word throughout this entire vast country that blind people ARE capable.  I can vote for policy and policy makers that I think will advance the rights and privileges of blind Americans.  I can show employers that there is a valuable workforce of competent, passionate people that are currently being largely ignored because of their blindness.  I can tell our nation that blind people are a people without physical sight, but not a people without vision, or drive, or ingenuity, or skill, or, as I’m pointing out here, a voice.

Today is January 4th, a day many in the blind community know as Louis Braille’s birthday.  Braille should have been as life changing to the blind as the invention of the printing press was for the sighted a few hundred years earlier.  I say “should have been”, because while Braille’s invention did a great deal to change the state of blind people, and loose them from the chains of poverty and dependency, it hasn’t done enough.  According to a study from Cornell University, only 42% of visually impaired Americans ages 21-64 were employed in 2015, and that is a high estimate given that the associated unemployment rate did not account for those blind Americans who were not actively participating in the workforce (Erickson).  The National Federation of the Blind reports that 29% of the same population in the same year were living under the poverty line (Statistical Facts About Blindness in the United States), as compared to 13.5% in the general population (United States Census Bureau).  Those statistics start to paint a picture of the devastating impact that negative perceptions of blindness have on our success and thriving as a segment of society.

I’m tired of being told I can’t, and I’m thankful that I have a voice to reply, “I can, I do, and I will!”

 

Works Cited:

Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. “Disability Statistics.” The American Community Survey (ACS), Cornell University Yang-Tan Institute, 2017, Ithaca, NY, http://www.disabilitystatistics.org/reports/acs.cfm?statistic=2

“Statistical Facts About Blindness in the United States.” NFB, National Federation of the Blind, 12/2017, nfb.org/blindness-statistics

United States Census Bureau. “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2016.” Report Number: P60-259, Jessica L. Semega, Kayla R. Fontenot, and Melissa A. Kollar, U.S. Census Bureau, Sept. 12, 2017, http://www.census.gov/library/publications/2017/demo/p60-259.html

 

Thankful for the Opportunity to Be Thankful | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 1

I have been looking for a job for over six weeks now.  As many likely can attest, six weeks of job searching is equivalent to six weeks of anxiety, repeated rejection, self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, impatience, frustration, and a whole host of other things I could list.  I thought it was about time I started focussing on the positives a bit more habitually.  It’s easy to get caught up in thoughts like,

“What happens next?”

“Why isn’t this working?”

“I’m not good enough.”

“How can I improve?”

“Am I ever going to be successful?”

But every time I voice those thoughts, I am met with the same response.

“You’ve just gotta keep plugging away.”

Yes, that’s all there is to do, and in the meantime, I could probably boost my productivity in that endeavor with a more positive, more God-centered outlook.

To that end, I intend to use this November, as many do, as an opportunity for me to reflect on the things for which I am thankful, or, as Paul puts it:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8, NIV)

Tonight, I’m thinking about how thankful I am for the opportunity to be thankful.  No matter how dark the day, I always have the opportunity to turn my thoughts to these things, these noble, lovely things, illuminated in the shadows by the light of Christ.  There could be any number of anxieties, terrors, tragedies, and yet Jesus remains, and every good and perfect gift is from his hand, and meant to turn me to him.

Praise Jesus that even when there are storms, there is the rush of rain to lull me to sleep, and the flash of lightening to dazzle my eyes.  Praise him that even in the midst of fire, there is the brilliant color and the exhilarating dance of flames.  Praise him that when I am jobless, I have the time to be with my guide dog, brother, and roomies, work on creative projects, explore my city, try new hobbies, study God’s word, and be grateful for it all.

And so here begins a journey of gratitude in a time of trial.  Wherever you are in life, I hope it will prove encouraging for both of us.

Adventures in Fund Raising: THe Concert

Among many other things, missions work is teaching me how to be a bit more organized.  I am not naturally so, especially when it comes to planning, especially especially when I am planning something that has no real deadline and no grade.  If life had a syllabus, I’d be set.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t, at least, not one that contains a list of specific goals, required readings, and scheduled due dates, so I took on this particular fund raising effort with no idea what I was doing, no clue where I was going, and very little in between.  Nonetheless, my half-thought out, mid-midterm brain child came to fruition last Saturday, in the form of a (very casual) afternoon of music in our back yard.  It was a concert, of sorts, one with only a week’s preparation music-wise, little time to advertise, and two extremely allergy-affected singers, but it happened, and it went much better, all things considered, than I imagined it would.  I was expecting about 3 audience members, but we had at least 17, and our donations, all totaled, amounted to over 350 dollars.

Wow!!!  I cannot express how grateful I am for your attendance and gracious gifts!!!  Y’all are amazing!  Thank you!

Yet another opportunity that God has used to exceed my expectations in every possible way.  Thank you Lord for that, and thank you that my lack of organization skills doesn’t keep you from accomplishing your will!

The WordPress App and a Comment on Comments

Hello Friends!

I am very excited to report that I have just acquired the WordPres app for my phone.  I will be able to take blogging wherever I go!  The more exciting thing is that it gives much easier access to notifications, like your comments!!!  I had no idea y’all had posted so many comments!  Thank you!!!  I’m sorry I never responded to them, only I never really figured out how to get to the comments from the website, but it is super easy from the app… so prepare for responses to your comments from an entire year ago!!!

A Second Journey

Well, here we are again… it’s the end of the semester, in the middle of countless assignments, projects, research papers, concerts, seminar performances, juries, finals, and not enough hours to study for them, and in spite of all that, what am I doing now?  Writing a blog post.  Why?  Because it’s about time I let you know that Oleta and I will, God willing, return to Scotland this summer to serve as missions workers!!!

I am thrilled to be able to take this opportunity a second time and cannot wait to discover what new experiences await us in Scotland this year.  We covet your prayers in this venture, especially concerning Oleta’s paperwork, and my charity workers visa, that I will be granted one and it will arrive in time for my departure.  Please pray for our team, that God would prepare all of our hearts to serve together in Scotland in the best way we can.  Please also pray that I would trust him in all these things, especially with our financial needs.

As with last year, the cost of the trip is over 2000 dollars, and we have a great deal of fund raising left to do.  If you would like to donate, please go to this link:

http://rpmissions.org/donate

Don’t forget to check the “Responding to a specific need” checkbox, and write my name, “Shea” and my trip location “Airdrie, Scotland” in the text field.

We would greatly appreciate any assistance you can provide financially and even more so prayerfully.  We are so thankful that we have you as a support system and look forward to sharing this second journey with you.

Scotland Trip: The Adventure That is Leaflet Distributing… Blind

I owe you a sincere apology, my readers, for being so lax in updating, but fear not, you will hear the details of the trip yet. Travel with me back, to the last day in May, 2014.
Imagine you are in a strange city, with a group of strange people, whom you have either just met, or known for only a week’s time. You have a mission; it is to navigate the ancient and complex streets of this city, gain entrance into it’s residential buildings, and deliver papers, 6000 in all, that may prove to have eternal significance for some, or all, of the recipients. That, in itself, is a weighty task. Now, imagine that you are blindfolded.
This was the task set before me on my second weekend in Scotland, and I had no idea how to approach it. I had never done leaflet distribution before, and Beth and Andrew (Airdrie’s marvelous minister) had voiced their concerns that I may not be able to participate in the actual distribution, since I obviously don’t know the area and may have a difficult time locating houses and things. I was having my own doubts, but as usual, figured I would decide how I could be most useful when the day came and the situation presented itself. Beth, who is much more of a planner than I am, brought it up something crazy like three days ahead of time, and suggested that I might stay behind with a member of the congregation that was pregnant and also would not be able to participate. I had no objections to spending time with a member of the congregation of course, but was disgruntled to think that may be most useful for me. I didn’t want to be useless, but I also didn’t want to resign myself to doing less than I knew I could. Maybe it’s a flaw in my character, but it hurts my pride to know that something as simple as passing out bits of paper might be beyond my capabilities. I prayed about it, and tried to accept that maybe staying behind was part of God’s plan.
We (several of us from the Airdrie church) headed out in a convoy of cars around 9:00 Am Saturday morning to meet our fellow leafleters from the Edinburgh congregation. We spent a few minutes at the school where we had gathered discussing instructions and, in my and Patrick’s case, meeting a few of the Edinburgh church members, including Mairi, who is quite possibly the loveliest lass one will ever meet… ever. Two notable absentees from our pamphletting party were the Edinburgh pastor, Peter, and his wife, Emma, though we had been assured that they were busy with another important mission of their own. I mention these three in particular because they will be important later on. Now you know.
After our route planning and group selecting was complete, the school room began to empty, and I wondered what exactly I was meant to do. One of the Edinburgh congregation, who was leading the distributing in Peter’s stead, offered to take me in his car to the house of the expecting mother where I was supposed to somehow be useful… but to my surprise he wondered if I would like to try distributing first just to see if it was a possibility. We drove around for a bit, trying to find a section of housing that we knew had not been covered yet. Eventually, we came to a neighborhood of flats, and exited the car. We went to the first building, and entered with no problem, as the lock on the front door was broken. The same was true for nearly all of the buildings on that street. These were not high class dwellings. They were, I believe, what is known there as council houses, which are government-sponsored housing projects, something like section 8 housing. As such, they are rather old, and not very well-maintained. Good for us though, as that meant we could get into all of them. We explored the first building and he described the layout to me, then went off to the neighboring building, with the promise that he would return to meet me once he was finished distributing there. I, with cane, dog, leaflets, and purse in hand, climbed three sets of stairs to the top of the building, and worked my way down, pushing leaflets through the letterboxes on each door as I went. Britain does not really have mail boxes, separate from the person’s dwelling place like America usually does. Most of their mail comes through slits in the front doors with flaps over them. It seems like it would be a simple task, just to lift the flap and shove the paper through the door, but it can actually be rather difficult sometimes, as there are usually bristles under the flap, and a second flap on the inside of the door… there are also sometimes dogs on the other side, yipping and growling and threatening to nip at your fingers if you put your hand too far in. Eventually though, I got the hang of it, and began paying more attention to the things around me, rather than the task alone. It was definitely a ratchet area. I could identify which flats were the sketchiest by the following contributing factors:
1. The current state of the front door to the building itself.
If it was hanging off the hinges, you knew it was one of the worse cases.
2. The current state of the front door of each individual flat.
See the above comment.
3. The sounds emanating from inside the flat.
Sweeping, barking dogs, people yelling angrily at their barking dogs, television, hoovers (vacuums), crying children, people yelling angrily at their crying children, etc.
4. The amount and type of stuff piled around the door.
I tripped over numerous objects as I approached many of the doors. From bicycles to rugs to random articles of clothing, the walkway in front of many of the flats was clearly considered fair game as a storage area.
5. The current state of the letterbox.
Taped to the door = ratchet letterbox. Enough said.
Needless to say, I felt nothing less than epic. For me, blind, blonde, innocent college girl that I am, this was the equivalent of sprinting through the planes of Africa, with a starving child in need of medical care in my arms, or trekking through the dunes of the middle east with a bible in hand, bringing the light of Christ to the darkness of the Arabian deserts. Dramatic? Not at all. This was real, live missions work, thrilling and life threatening.
Okay, so I’m kind of joking about that, but it was exciting to be doing something so practical to serve God. We had no way of knowing when, or how many people might be impacted by what they read in the leaflets. Even just glancing over a few words of the text might cause them to think more seriously about their relationship with God, or inspire them to begin attending church, or reading their Bible. That thought was enough to keep me going through any number of sketchy neighborhoods, steep staircases, and object-strewn hallways.
In one of these staircases, I encountered a lady taking out her trash.
“Hello.” I smiled, “Would you like a leaflet? It is an invitation to a church meeting coming up this week.”
She took one, and I continued up the stairs to the top floor, and slipped the leaflets in the doors, bumping into a trash can and tripping on a pair of shoes on the way. I smiled at the lady again as I descended the stairs, as though she had not just seen me crash into a bunch of things, and found my way back out to the front door.
She was one of my only personal encounters, but I was excited nonetheless to have been able to talk to her a bit, and invite her personally to the mission nights.
We continued with our leafletting into the afternoon, and four of us piled into the car afterward to take a trip to the beech at the Firth of Forth. It was a lovely time with wonderful friends, and a nice few hours to unwind from the day’s work. I and another friend actually got into the water, stripping off our shoes and socks and rolling up our jeans. By the time we left, she, Oleta, and I were all three covered in water and sand. It was glorious, and Beth’s car got very dirty. 🙂
So, is leafletting feasible for blind people? Absolutely, and so are a lot of other things we think may be beyond our capabilities, when done through Christ’s power.
Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
God, in his grace, gives us the ability, as well as the motivation, to overcome any of our human limitations in order to accomplish his will.
Ah, the things we learn from passing out bits of paper. Until next time then…