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 Accessible Technology | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 6

Sometimes, it’s fun to envision what life would have been like a hundred or more years ago.  Imagine a life without digital media, for example, or consider how different transportation was when cars had only just been invented.  What interests me, though, is how life must have been different for the blind.

Some blind people did live independently, had children, and held jobs, like the famous hymn writer Fanny Crosby.  But what was it like?

On the one hand, I’m a bit jealous.  Any society before the invention of cars must have been a great deal more pedestrian friendly, and therefore, blind-friendly, even in the absence of modern infrastructure.  On the other hand, I wonder how blind people managed without ways to independently access printed materials around them, or easily produce them on their own.

I’ve written a few songs in my time—it’s hard to avoid when you live in music city—but Fanny Crosby had over 8000 hymns published!  Then, she would have had to memorize all of her texts and music, written it down in braille and had it transcribed, dictated it to a sighted person to pen them, or penned them herself.  Of course, the only way she could have accessed them again would be through her memory, braille, or a sighted reader.  Evidently, her memory was impeccable.  According to the website I referenced earlier, she memorized five chapters of the Bible a week.

I definitely do not exercise my memory quite that often or to that extent, so perhaps that’s another advantage that antiquity has over modernity for blind folk.  Otherwise, I’m thankful that now a days, accessible technology means that I can easily record music (even as I write it) on my phone, type the lyrics into my computer, review what I have written, and share them with sighted friends, all independently and with very little extra effort on my part.

I am especially thankful for the way assistive tech has made the bible available to the blind in a way it never has been before.  I don’t have to carry volumes and volumes of braille bibles around with me to have constant access to the word of God, nor do I have to have it read to me and memorize five chapters a week, though there’s no doubt that would be a profitable exercise.  But no.  All I have to do is have a charged iPhone with a wifi connection, safari or a bible app, and voila.  The whole word of God is at my fingertips…

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18)

He has made his word known to us, and not only known, but accessible for study, teaching, comfort, evangelism, truth.  Accessible technology means I, along with other blind people, get to behold the wondrous things of his law by myself, on my own time, in essentially whatever format I choose, and whichever book or verse I prefer to study.  I do not think there is any more valuable gift.

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16)

Jesus Restored My Sight

I was about seven the first time I remember it happening.  We were at the mall, shopping for sandals, when an unfamiliar woman approached my mother.

“Your daughter is so sweet.  How old is she?”

“How old are you Shea?” my mom asked me.  Painfully shy at the time, I held up seven fingers, hoping she wouldn’t ask me any more questions.  Of course, she did…

“Shea, would you mind if I prayed for you??”

I looked to my mom, bewildered, then rather hesitantly shook my head.  I guess I didn’t mind.

“Um, that’s fine.” My mom agreed too, in response to the woman’s questioning glance.

She took my hands, and began to pray.  We quickly discovered that what she meant to ask was whether she could pray to restore my sight.

It happened several times after that, especially in the years before I entered high school.  I had hands laid on me in restaurants and tongues spoken in the street.  I grew to expect it from time to time, and since I didn’t know what else to do, I just shrugged, smiled, and let them pray.  I wouldn’t get my sight back, and I didn’t particularly care.  Blindness was my normal.  I was satisfied with my life as it was.  The last thing I needed was another year out of my life for the sake of surgery, or doctor’s appointments, or transition.  Hard as it may be for others to comprehend, I didn’t want my vision… I craved stability, a thriving social life, success, not sight… but I let them pray, because I knew the prayers were empty anyway.

I was wrong.  God did hear their prayers, and answered them.  I was fifteen years old, studying at

Csehy summer school of Music,

when I finally received my sight.  I received my first guide dog almost exactly a year later.

No, it wasn’t physical sight.  I am still working with my first guide dog, get green and blue confused, and can hardly see my hand in front of my face in a brightly lit room, but I saw more clearly that summer’s day than I had ever before in my life.

It was sometime during those two weeks at camp that I understood.  I saw myself, not the pretty little, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl I saw in the mirror as a five year old, but me, The girl who thought she could find fulfillment in family, or academics, or morality, or popularity, or romance.  The fifteen-year-old, bitter, rebellious me.  Me, in all my faults and imperfections.  The girl I saw in the mirror now was lost, broken, and hurting.  I couldn’t see it at five, but I saw it now.

These wounds required something more than a temporal cure.  Family, friends, school, even romance had all failed me, and left me emptier than before.  I needed an eternal remedy.

Only Christ could be my cure.  My brokenness had separated me from GOd.  I was in need of his grace, and God was offering that grace, freely, through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ.

I don’t let people pray for my sight anymore, because those prayers have already been fulfilled.  Whether I will ever receive my physical sight in this lifetime is God’s prerogative.  I am blessed beyond measure to know my Savior, and to know that, if I am physically blind for the rest of my life, the first person I will see when I do see again will be him.

A Second Journey: The Perfect Friday

Our third presentation of the week was at Buchanan High School, which caters to students with special needs.  Our presentation consisted of five psalms that we sung together, as well as our dramatized version of the parable of the Good Samaritan.  True to form, I play a villainous robber, along with one of my lovely teammates (or rather, fellow violent criminals).  Sometime in the near future I will see if I can post a video or recording of our wee drama on the blog.

We closed with an explanation of the drama, what exactly it was meant to represent and what lesson there was to be learned.  The pupils seemed quite engaged, especially considering how diverse the population is with so many different needs and ability levels in the classroom.  The questions asked afterward is always a good indication of interest, and their’s were fabulous.

1. When was this story first told?

Our answer: About two thousand years ago, originally told by Jesus, and recounted by His disciples in the New Testament.  The cool thing about it is that although it is quite an ancient story, it is still relevant in the present day.

2. Why did Samaritans and Jews hate each other?

Our answer (courtesy of our pocket theologian/team leader Joseph): It was basically a family dispute.  One group broke off from the other and they have loathed one another ever since. (Loathing. Unadulterated loathing.)

3. Why did Jesus choose the Samaritan to represent himself in the parable?

Our answer: One of Jesus’ goals in this parable was to explain the meaning, nature, and origin of goodness.  In order to do that, He had to break down His listener’s prior expectations surrounding goodness.  The two people whom you would have expected to do the right thing and help the Jew did not, and the one person you would have expected to completely ignore him ends up helping the Jew.  SO, I think it is a testament to true goodness, which can only come from God, and can span any distance.  Jesus is making it clear that our neighbor is not only those we already love (our friends and family), but those that are difficult to love (our enemies).

After the presentation was finished, we spent some time getting to know a few of the first years (11 and 12 year olds) a bit more personally, and then had tea and biscuits with the head teacher.

The afternoon was a battle field reformation tour.  SO much interesting history that I could not possibly recount accurately here, but I might find a link for a website that you could explore for yourself.  We got to go into a museum that is not yet open to the public, and that does not yet have all of their artifacts behind glass cases!  Guess what that means?  I got to hold several old swords, and one quite ancient one, probably about a thousand years old!  Coolest! Thing! Ever!

The museum is on the property of a working farm, so there were also sheep, and boarder collies that I could pet!  Yep, teaching kids about God, touching ancient artifacts, and petting puppies = basically the perfect day.

When we got home, we helped with kids club then closed out the evening with CY (youth group).  I got to play with yet another puppy and hang out with some great friends, though I will say I was pretty sleepy by then.

A Second Journey: Answers on the Street: Last Thursday Afternoon

Thursday afternoon, we had a table set up in a park a few blocks away from the Glasgow church, covered in Gospel literature of all varieties — different sources, challenges, and entire Bibles as well. One of the team stayed behind at the table to engage anyone that stopped by, and the rest of us dispersed about the area to talk to passers by. My partner and I grabbed a stack of tracts and remaining invitations to the Q and A that night.
We took a busy stretch of sidewalk across from the park and our main table. Sadly, we didn’t get many people interested in discussion. It was mostly, “Hello, would you like one?” and handing them an invitation before they could say no. There were a few “I’m not religious”, “I’m an atheist.”, plus several mocking comments, but nothing substantial. The most interesting part came later, just before the Q and A session began.
It was 30 minutes before the scheduled starting time, and our Glasgow leadership sent us out after dinner for a quick second round of community outreach and handing out invitations. We handed one man a leaflet and he looked down at it, reading over the content.
“Is this about the Bible?” He asked.
We answered that yes, it would be an open Q and A where you could ask any questions about the Bible, God, or Christianity in general. He nodded.
“I have questions.” He muttered, almost to himself, but then he continued. He told us about his best friend, who died young years ago. The pain of the loss caused him to question quite a few things, namely the purpose of human suffering and of life in general. It seemed our conversation was stiring up some of those questions again. Disturbed by their reemergence, he moved to leave, but I called after him, pointing out that the Q and A would be a wonderful place to start looking for answers to these old quandaries, and said we would be happy to walk with him there now if he liked.
We asked whether he had ever found solutions. He responded that no, he hadn’t. He just accepted that that’s the way life was… tragedy happens, and the best thing one can do is to live life to the fullest, be good and work hard.
“So you think this life is it?” My partner wondered, “THere’s nothing else after?”
“Yeah,” He said, sadly, “I think this is pretty much all there is.”
It didn’t sound convincing to me, and I don’t think he was convincing himself either. We encouraged him to come to the meeting a third time, but he refused. He couldn’t think about it, he said, the questions. They were too painful, and our probing had brought up all the grief from his loss all over again. He did stay to get our names, and we asked whether he would mind if we prayed for him. He seemed touched at this, and requested that we please do.
It was another apparently empty, but strangely encouraging conversation. Knowing the questions he did have, and hearing the pain in his voice, I was heart broken that he still would not come along to the meeting… Even so, I knew that it was a fruitful exchange in that he has, at least, started asking those questions again, and maybe if he continues, he can find some true answers this time.

A Second Journey: THe Awesome and the Unexpected, Part 2

Wednesday was more Glasgow leaflet distribution in the morning, followed immediately by a school presentation at Saint Margaret’s, a catholic secondary school in Airdrie. The team split up into three groups, and we were each assigned two combined classes to speak for 45 minutes. Having really only prepared for five minute presentations, we were a bit worried that we would have difficulty filling the time. My partner and I did run a bit early, but only by about 5 minutes. Our class was quite quiet and not too interested in conversation. I was blanking on questions to stimulate conversation, so I talked a little bit more about who we were and mentioned that I was a vocal performance major. Of course, the request for a song soon followed. I chose the same song, Amazing Grace, I sang in my presentations last year, and gave an explanation for my choice before hand. My partner joined me in harmony, it seemed appreciated by class and teacher alike. Perhaps the music spoke to our audience in a way that our stumbling words could not.
A few minutes after we said goodbye to the class and went downstairs to find our fellow teammates, the bell went off, and let me just say… this was not the kind electronic tone you heard at my high school. It was an ear-splitting, old-fashioned fire alarm style bell, and it was terrifying! As much as I tried to maintain my composure, I think I jumped about three feet each time it happened.
Our team mates, it seemed, got much chattier classes, and had some really interesting conversations about salvation, sin, and several other topics.
By Wednesday night, two of our team mates, including our fearless leader, were deathly ill, so we took Thursday morning off so that they could get some rest. Two of us wandered about Airdrie for a couple of hours, going to the library to work for a bit and browsing through charity shops. As we were walking down one street, we passed a lady outside of the Chunky Monkey cafe with a very happy puppy. Obsessed as I am about dogs at the moment, we stopped to say hi. In asking questions about her dog, the lady heard our American accents and asked what we were doing so far from home. We answered that we were on a mission team at the Airdrie Reformed Presbyterian church, fully expecting her to then further inquire as to what exactly a mission team does, and were we Christians, etc. Instead, she smiled and put out her hand.
“ Well,” She said, “Nice to meet you girls. That’s my church.”
“ What?” My friend and I gasped, completely taken aback.
“Aye.” She affirmed. “I have been going there for several months now.”
She continued, telling us that her husband, who had previously been quite indifferent to the Gospel had also started coming with her to the services. She said that she and her husband had recently begun having conversations about faith on a much deeper level than they ever had before. We shared in her excitement at this, and chatted for a while longer, getting to know her a bit. They were on holiday the Sundays we attended the services in Airdrie, which is why she didn’t recognize us. Hopefully though, she and her husband will be at church on the 28th, and I, at least, will be able to see her again.
So strange! Of all the random people we could encounter on the street, it’s one of the Airdrie congregation that we haven’t yet had the pleasure to meet! I mean, what are the chances? The Airdrie congregation is relatively small, and we only stopped to talk to her because of her dog, as awful as that sounds… I’m so glad we did though! God sure does have a way with the unexpected!
To be continued tomorrow though, as I am unexpectedly exhausted.

A Second Journey: Last Sunday-Tuesday, The Awesome and the Unexpected

We spent Sunday with the Edinburgh congregation. It was fabulous fellowship, and I was so pleased to spend some more time with many of the people I had met in Edinburgh last year. I especially treasured the conversation/crash catch up session I was abled to have with Emma L after our evening service.
We went to bed as early as we could that night, as the next morning we were due to wake at 5 Am. We needed to be on our way to the train station by 7 Am so that we could arrive in Glasgow and start leaflet distributing by 8. I’m not sure if the giggling started that night or the next, but for about three nights in a row this week we in the girls room have been helpless with laughter. That may have had something to do with our new wake up time, but it’s an indicator, too, of how close we five have grown over the last couple of weeks. I am delighted to call them my sisters in Christ, and I am glad we can laugh so easily together.
It was a busy week, but a good one, with quite a few lessons to be learned. Monday, we distributed leaflets for the upcoming Q and A session at the Glasgow church Thursday night. Idid have one direct encounter with a man called Joseph, who seemed rather antagonistic toward Christianity. There were a few suggested questions on the leaflet — “What is the Bible?” “Who is Jesus?” — and he went down the list of questions, putting them to my team mate and I in a rather mocking tone. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so much a conversation as a monologue on his part, as he interrupted our explanations with his own apparent wisdom on the matter.
We walked away from that exchange feeling rather discouraged. Although the conversation remained perfectly cordial, it was clear the man had some issues and had not heard a word we had said. Before continuing our distribution, we stopped to pray together, asking God to use our conversation for change in Joseph’s life, and for guidance in future similar situations.
On our way back to Airdrie around lunch time, we stopped at the Glasgow Cathedral for a few minutes. My friend and I found some fun things in the gift shop, then we re-boarded the train and soon arrived back in Airdrie. We devoted that afternoon to studying our team book, “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life”, and blog post writing for me.
Tuesday began with the usual private and team devotion time, followed by transportation to Caldervale Secondary School. Unlike our other school visits, we were neither giving testimonies nor performing a skit or psalm singing. We took part in three different religious education classes, sitting amongst the pupils and participating in the discussions they had.
The first class was focussed on Buddhism. The seven of us each joined different tables and assisted the students with their work, while also discussing the topics at hand. In my group, we explored the subject of salvation, whether it is something that can be attained through one’s own efforts, or something that must come from an external source, and the positives and negatives of each viewpoint. We also broached the subjects of the true meaning of self-acceptance and the human spirit. In all of these things, I attempted to include the Christian perspective. It was difficult, because the students were meant to be working on a specific task for the class, so we on the team had to find creative ways to bring Christianity into the conversation, without straying too much from the parameters of the assignment.
I think we all found the exercise pretty disheartening. It wasn’t exactly the kind of ministry opportunity we had been expecting. All attempts to discuss Christianity in a way that might actually have some spiritual value just deteriorated into academic comparisons between religions in general. Not that Christianity cannot be discussed academically (a faith with a book as long as the Bible and a longer history lends itself to academia), but I felt rather like I was trivializing it by lumping it together with a bunch of other man-made belief systems. Christianity and Buddhism are worlds apart when it comes to their teachings and world view, but God willing, the exchange got them thinking at least.
The second two classes, we discussed euthanasia. Here, it was slightly easier to include our faith in the conversation, and we were able to speak to the sanctity of life and God’s sovereignty, even in situations of great pain and suffering. When we got home, we reenergized with ice-cream and a delicious meal, and returned to Glasgow for an evening fellowship. It was a lovely time of food (pizza!) and catching up with friends.
We will finish up with the last few days (Wednesday-Saturday) in the next post.