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 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 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)

Thankful for Today | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 5

Last night, my roommate and I awoke several times to security alerts from Vanderbilt University, informing us that there were two active shooters in the area, and updating us on the status of the incidents.  Fortunately only one person was injured, but I still felt rather like I was taking my life into my hands when I stepped out my door to head to church.

That feeling was only amplified when my normally bubbly, confident guide dog started showing sudden and severe signs of anxiety on the walk to and into our church building.  She had never behaved that way before, so after trying and failing to get her settled for the morning service, I decided to forego church and take my dog home to make sure she was all right.  She was utterly normal on the walk home and in other outings throughout the day, so I’m not sure what triggered the episode, but upon hearing the news of the church shooting in Texas, I couldn’t help wondering whether Prim was sensing something I couldn’t.  I admit, such an idea wanders a bit too far into the field of superstition for my taste, but the important thing about it was it, combined with the news of the last 24 hours left me feeling rather restless.  People always site statistics, but statistics didn’t help the victims in Orlando, or Las Vegas, or Sutherland Springs.  Thus, I was very thankful when my roomies arrived safely home from church, and remained safe as we went about our daily business.

None of our days are promised.  As Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”

What if I were a member of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs?  What if I had gone to church, expecting like I usually do that I would go home afterward, laugh with my roommates, play with my dog, cook for the week, make calls to my loved ones… expecting that every one of my church family would return a week later to worship like always.  But, we can’t expect that.  We cannot boast about tomorrow… so we might as well be thankful for today, and do our utmost to serve the God who gave it to us.

To that end, here is a link to the Facebook page of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.  There is a donate button there and a link to their official website.  If you feel called, I’m sure your gift would be welcomed.

Thankful for Tools | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 2

In my kitchen, we have a table with four chairs.  It’s quite an ordinary table… not especially fancy, not especially ratchet (surprising for an apartment full of jobless graduates and students), but there is one ratchet chair amongst the four which I always avoid.  Every time I sit on it, it tilts, and I look down to find one leg at an alarmingly awkward angle.

The first time I noticed this, I alerted my roommates, and rushed to my zebra-print tool kit, which randomly appeared in my closet a few months ago, to search for a wrench, but was unsuccessful.  Thus, the chair has remained lame for weeks upon weeks, and somehow, by the grace of God, neither me nor any of my three roommates have gone tumbling to the laminate with the sudden collapse of the untended limb.

Finally, though, I decided enough was enough.  I was sure I had pliers, and reasoned that a pair of pliers would be more adept than my fingers at re-screwing the wanton bolts into place.  Of course, the moment I overturned the chair and began the operation, my blind roommate appeared in the doorway, in search of her coffee and bagel on the table.  As the way was currently blocked, I hurriedly called out a warning to stop, before my patient was injured further and I would need something more than pliers to repair the damage to both furniture and roommate.  I handed her the  sought food items, then returned to my work.  A brief examination revealed that, actually, two of the legs had loose bolts, so I attended to both, and after a good deal of growling and difficulty, the task was complete.

My ratchet chair now stands unevenly, but with all four legs firmly in place, and I am very thankful that my toolkit had pliers, and that they can serve, at lease semi-successfully, as a makeshift wrench.  Three cheers for tools, and three cheers for chairs that won’t give way at any moment.