Thankful for Birdsong | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 14

I’m a musician, and melody is a constant presence in my life.  My roommates can attest to that.  They often comment, or tease, about my humming, and singing, and piano improvising at all times of the day, and occasionally the night.  I think maybe that’s what makes me appreciate birdsong so much.  They are participating in the same music-making that fuels my energy from hour to hour, and it’s life-giving, enchanting, even.

It reminds me of all the Disney princesses that make friends with birds.  Cinderella, Snow White, Mary Poppins (although she’s not exactly a princess), either way they all have this magically musical relationship with winged whistlers of various varieties, and in a way it’s quite representative of the reality.  There is something magical about it, an animal that can produce music at will, and does so as a regular part of their routine.  There aren’t many other animals like that.  May it serve as a reminder to make magic with our own music in our own routines.

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 Safety | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 12

At church this morning, we were introduced to an off duty police officer who will be on guard during services.  It was a project, according to our pastor, that has been in progress for several months now, and not something that was motivated by recent events, though recent events certainly make me consider the change in a different light than I would have before.

The knowledge that an armed officer will be standing at the entrance of our sanctuary both leaves me thankful, and a little sad.  Thankful because I don’t see any reason why we should leave ourselves and our church family open to attack.  Perhaps the recent shootings in Texas, Nashville, and South Carolina could have been avoided had their been an armed guard already on sight at the time of the event.  Indeed, the attacks in Texas and Nashville very likely resulted in fewer casualties due to the nearby presence of a courageous, armed citizen.  Thus, I am thankful that our church family, at least, is no longer as vulnerable.

Still, my heart aches a little at the realization that we have to take such measures.  It aches for the lives already lost in the church families that have seen bloodshed.  It aches for the knowledge that we are so much deeper in our sin than we know, or perhaps than we can even comprehend.  It aches a little too, in a nostalgic sort of way, for the sleepy little village churches of American antiquity, doors open and lights on, ready to welcome any sin-weary wanderer to be received, forgiven, and renewed by the transforming power of Jesus.  Somehow, a church sanctuary with an armed guard at post outside of it doesn’t give me the same welcoming vibe, but then, perhaps those sleepy little churches of American antiquity are figments of my imagination anyway.

Either way, I’m not willing to sacrifice members of our church family merely for the sake of a potentially more “welcoming vibe”, so I’m back to being thankful.  We don’t live in a culture now where it is prudent to go unprotected, certainly not in a city of 700 thousand, and I trust Jesus when he said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Protecting one another is part of loving one another, so even in a day an age when we must set armed guards outside of our sanctuaries to protect our church family from attack, I am convinced that Jesus’ love will shine through, and for that, I am also thankful.

Thankful for Imperfect Art | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 11

Art is an earthly representation of the creative power of God, dim and weak in comparison, but undoubtedly so.  We are made in his image, and being made in his image we display, like him, the ability to create and to breath life into our creations.  As an artist, I often find that my creations die too early, or, at least, do not reach full maturity because I forsake them, citing their imperfections as my excuse.

And then it struck me.  What if God had done that with his imperfect art?

All things were good when he made them—perfectly good—but they did not stay that way.  God gave his creatures a will, a will which could choose to follow him or turn from him.  In turning from him, we turned from perfection, and thus into imperfection.

Still, God did not do as I would have done.  He did not forsake his art.  Rather, he pursued it, even became a part of it when he saw fit to take the form of a babe, born amongst peasants, suffer the lowly, hungry life of a working man, and was denied and crucified by the very imperfect creations he had come to pursue and perfect.

How many songs have I left unsung?  How many stories and poems and articles have I left undeveloped and unfinished due to my petty frustration over their iniquities?  Undoubtedly hundreds, but I am thankful that God shows me a different way.  Even now I am tempted to leave this bit of writing undone.  I am tempted to quit the document and never look back at it, too unsatisfied with this sentence, or that word, or the whole concept in general… but I, too, am an imperfect creation, and my creator did not abandon me to non-existence due to my defects.  As an artist, I have a responsibility to my art to develop it, to give it at least a chance at life, even considering its deficiencies.

Thus, as an expression of my thanks in this regard, I hope to be a more responsible creator in the coming year.  In my quest to become more like Jesus, I hope that I will pursue my art, like he did, and gift it existence even when I feel it doesn’t deserve it. Here begins my fight against perfectionism, which has long been the, often victorious, enemy of my work.  It will be a long-fought battle, of that I am certain, but if it was worth it to God, it is worth it to me.

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 Apple Cider | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 9

Y’all, I had no idea apple cider was not a thing in the UK, and as someone considering to go to grad school somewhere in Europe, this very much concerns me!

I am speaking of the non-alcoholic, spiced apple-juice, often served hot during the fall and early winter months, available in powdered mixes to be added to water, or Keurig cups, or sometimes the good fresh kind you get straight from the apple orchard. You’re telling me Britain doesn’t even have the powdered packets??? How can you even enjoy fall!

I’m just saying, I feel really passionate about this, and if and when I travel to Ireland for grad school, I am bringing apple cider with me.  Fear not Europe.  Ye shall know apple cider yet!

Thankful for Dissatisfaction | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 8

Generally in the job search process, I have tried to remain positive, but it’s very difficult.  There is so little I can control, and what I can control is unrewarding.  My days are a monotonous cycle of work with little return.  Sure, I get the occasional interview, but what good is an interview if I don’t get the job?

I find that I am remarkably unsatisfied… my work feels meaningless… there are thousands of hurting people out there I could be helping right now… and instead I’m sitting in my living room, filling out application after application with no results, just to feed myself and pay for an apartment?  Chores and meals feel like a waste of time too.  I know I need to eat, and do laundry, and clean my bathroom, but that’s an hour or two or five I could have devoted to the search, and maybe those hours could have been what I needed to be employed now.  Keeping in touch with family and friends is easier than it used to be as a crazy busy college student, but I also feel like I can’t be the sister, daughter, friend I want to be because I’m strapped for money, worried about becoming a burden, and slowly losing every bit of confidence I used to have in myself and my talents because I’ve tried my best, and it hasn’t gotten me anywhere.

And then I turn to my Bible, and remember everything IS meaningless…

without God.

“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity”, observes Solomon in Ecclesiastes.  “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?”

Solomon goes on to examine all of the things that might give a man satisfaction… riches, fame, eating and drinking, hard work, but decides that “all is vanity and a striving after wind”.  So, turns out even if I had a job, it would still be meaningless.

His final conclusion, though, is not the bleak reality one would expect.  Rather, he says, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, ESV).

All is vanity and a striving after wind, until we acknowledge that we were designed to live as servants of the Lord on high, our creator and life-giver.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17).

I’m so unsatisfied with my earthly life right now… I hate job searching, and I hate feeling useless, but I am thankful for the way God is using my dissatisfaction here to find my satisfaction in Christ and Christ alone.

“Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup.  You make my lot secure.” (Psalm 16:5)

“For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” (Psalm 107:9)