Reflections on the First Few Days — Our Newest Adventure, Part 2

This is part of a series of posts about my move from the States to Ireland.  If you would like to read about my arrival, you can click here, or if you are curious about why I moved to Ireland in the first place, check out this post.

 

September 2 

I am so overcome by the kindness I have been shown recently. Between the hospitality I received at a dear friend’s over the summer, and the incredible welcome here in Ireland, I’ve no idea how to respond except to praise God joyfully for the many blessings he has bestowed through these creations of his. Your plan is perfect, oh Lord, and I thank you.  You are so, so good to your children, and oh God I deserve nothing from your hand! It is only by your grace. Cause me to have a servant’s heart like these people, to be generous like they are.

Such generosity came in the form of a lift from the airport, time to rest at the home of my pastor and his family for a little while, tea and chocolate with some friends of my pastor’s, dinner with the family, a pillow, comforter, bed sheet, mug, container of yogurt, and some hangers from the same family, a rugby match on Saturday with my pastor, his son, and a few friends, and lifts to and from church both in the morning and the evening on Sunday.  Such abundance!  My cup overflows!

I honestly don’t know what to do about this joy!  It is just so clear that God intended for me to be here, an odd realization given that, even though living in Ireland was always a dream of mine, I NEVER imagined it would actually happen, and certainly not in this way.  If I had had my way, if God had answered my prayers of the autumn of 2017, I would be in Nashville working right now.  It was so painful at the time not to have the answers I wanted, but looking back, I am unbelievably grateful that God had something else in mind.

Some other, more concrete observations from my first few days here.

The fresh Irish air — oh it’s so wonderful!  I was made for this climate!

The Chocolate — I forgot how good the chocolate is here!

The grass — so lush and verdant.  I really do think it’s nicer than American grass.

Rugby is intense — I loved going to a game with my new friends, and receiving a play by play from my pastor and his son.  I had no idea rugby was quite as… brutal as it is.  Definitely a cool experience.

It gets hot here? — The sun was so hot during part of the rugby match I thought I was going to melt.  Granted, I wasn’t wearing the sort of clothes I would wear in American summers, but I was pretty shocked that I was actually hot to the point of being uncomfortable.

I tried to drive — the passenger’s side is on the opposite side of the car, of course, since they drive on the opposite side the road.  Naturally, I remember this well from Scotland, but when I am tired or not thinking I do have a tendency to head to the driver’s side by accident… I’m sure this will become second nature in a week or two, but, I mean, I don’t mind driving.  Hahaha.

Church family — love them all.  I certainly couldn’t tell you most of the names I learned today, but I’m looking forward to getting to know them over the weeks, months, wait, years? to come.  The thing that struck me most today about the church was the worship.  People were singing, and singing with joy to GOd.  It was committed, truth-filled, congregational, and thus, beautiful.

Jet lag — TBH, pretty bad.  I’m tired, but know the Lord will sustain me as we head toward orientation week and the beginning of classes, and soon our biological clocks will be back to normal.  We’ve just got to keep trucking.

First Exciting Announcement — Opportunity Unleashed is Joining Youtube!

I’m glad to welcome y’all to my youtube channel!  I have been wanting to start this channel for YEARS, and never felt confident enough to do it, but now is the time!  Watch my welcome video

HERE!

Thank you all, for supporting me here at Opportunity Unleashed.  I am so thrilled to be expanding into this new area of the world wide web, and I’m looking forward to hearing your feedback!  If you have ideas for future videos, questions about blindness, guide dogs, or music-related requests, please comment or shoot me a message.  If you have been a reader here at OpportunityUnleashed.com, please become a viewer, too, and

subscribe!

If you haven’t already, you can also like our 

facebook page

to ensure you don’t miss a post or video.

Thanks, and see you again soon!

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

 

A Second Journey: Congressmen, Consulates, and Changing Plans

Alert: This is quite a long post.  Also, Please forgive my rather scattered writing style… especially near the end.  I can’t seem to properly communicate exactly what I would like to, but hopefully my feeble words will do some justice to the concept of what I’m trying to say, if not every detail.

No, unfortunately I am not writing to tell you that I have arrived safely in the land of the Scots.  Despite the email I received Tuesday morning informing me that my visa would be sent out within 24 hours (which would mean that I should have received it Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday at the very latest), it never showed up, and I spent all of Friday afternoon trying to figure out where on Earth it was and how I could get it.  Thanks to the advice of my clever aunt, I was able to get in contact with the consulate through my congressman, or rather through my congressman’s case manager that deals with this sort of situation.  (I know, isn’t my aunt awesome?  How did she even know that was a thing?)

So, we chatted, I explained the circumstances, he sent me a form to sign, I replied with the signed document and further explanation, and he passed it along to the consulate.  Their first response, which he forwarded to me, was extremely disheartening.  My visa had not yet even been dispatched, and they could not be certain when it might be—probably sometime in the next week.  Alarmed, I sent two more emails of a rather more urgent nature.  By this time, it was getting quite late and we had been forced to call US Airways and reschedule my flight.  Unsure when my visa would come, we chose the latest departure date possible within the confines of Oleta’s valid paperwork, Wednesday the 27th.  With two day priority shipping, my visa would need to be sent out THAT FRIDAY to arrive on time, since Monday was memorial day.  I couldn’t help imagining a repeat of the last three days, checking the mail over and over only to discover Wednesday that it hadn’t arrived, and be forced to cancel the trip all together.

To my great relief though, shortly before 7 Pm that night, my congressman’s case manager replied saying my visa had now been placed in the mail, and Saturday, I got a text from my Dad saying we’d received it already!  Praise God!

Needless to say, Friday was a bit emotionally taxing.  I spent most of it worrying, and the rest of it praying.  I was frustrated with myself—if only I had done something different, surely I could have avoided this situation.  For much of the day, I was utterly uncertain what to do, and it made absolutely no sense to me that not getting my visa and missing my flight could possibly be part of God’s plan.  I knew that I should have faith, but suddenly I wasn’t so sure I knew what that meant.  I don’t mean faith in Christ’s salvation, or in the person of God, but small scale faith, the every day sort of faith.

Was having faith being positive of a certain desirable outcome based on belief in God, or was it trusting that any outcome was under God’s control, whether seemingly desirable or not?  I searched for an answer in God’s word, and found these verses.

Romans 10:17 – So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Okay, I thought, so I’m doing the right thing by reading the Bible at least.

Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

If it was impossible to please God without faith, that must mean He desires his  servants to have faith in Him in all situations, no matter what the outcome.

Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

And the outcome isn’t always what I might expect.  If I am not to “lean on my own understanding”, then my idea of an ideal situation won’t always match with God’s.  If I am to acknowledge Him in all my ways, trust, not resignation, is what is required for every happenstance, whether apparently positive or negative.  No matter what the outcome, He will make straight my path, which means that I must have faith that He has a plan, and that His plan is good.

It sounds trivial and ridiculous now.  Of course I knew these things, and yet, in that moment, I didn’t, and that’s all that seemed to matter.  I realize now that however many times I have come into contact with the meaning of everyday faith, however many times God has revealed to me His faithfulness, it has often been after the fact.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t been a Christian a very long time, but I was so used to looking at situations in retrospect.  Of course, God had a plan for my blindness, for every family drama, for every one of my sins and mess ups.  With years or months or weeks to separate me from any such event, it’s easy to see his hand at work.  It’s harder to recognize in the midst of it all.  I’ve always known that, but now I think I’m starting to truly understand.

so of course, He has a plan  now, and maybe part of it is teaching me to rely more on Him.  Whatever it is, I’m thankful.  I will be leaving for Scotland tomorrow, and can’t wait to discover what other things He has in store for me to learn there.