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 Burnt Rolls | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 4

I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to host a big celebration, like Thanks Giving or Christmas.  It sounds like so much work, and I couldn’t imagine how I could ever prepare for that many people with that much food to make and that many dishes to clean up afterward… and yet, it seems like it would be fulfilling… to know how much you contributed to the success of an event that brought loved ones together when they might not have otherwise been together, and formed memories that might not otherwise have been formed.

My suite mates and I got a small taste of what that might be like this weekend.  We hosted “Friends Giving”, my roommates tradition with a couple college friends.  Here’s what I learned from the whole experience.

1. Very little goes as planned.

A: Turns out most grocery stores don’t have thanks giving turkeys until a bit closer to thanks giving, so we settled on mixed rotisserie turkey and chicken.

B: I made one batch of rolls that turned out wonderfully, then put the next batch in only to come back 10 minutes later with them burnt to a crisp.  My buds didn’t realize that if you turn the oven knob one way, it turns on the oven, and if you turn it the other way, it turns on the broiler.  Whoops.

C. We planned to eat at 6:00 Pm.  I think we sat down around 7:30.  Hahaha.

2. Decorations are Worth it!

One of our friends brought pumpkins, gourds, and pretty fall leaves to brighten our dinner table.  I grew up in a family that wasn’t too fussed about getting out decorations of any kind, except for the tree and lights at Christmas and the occasional wreath, so it’s kind of a novel idea to me to decorate for Thanks Giving, but I love it and have decided to adopt the tradition.

3. It’s fun to cook with other people.

If I were doing all the cooking on my own, there’s no doubt prepping a holiday feast would be enormously overwhelming, but having the opportunity to prepare a meal as a group effort was so wholesome and satisfying.  Sure, it was crowded, loud, hot, and all of us were tripping over dogs who had appointed themselves cleanup crew for the kitchen floor, but we were also talking, laughing, singing along to country music, helping each other when we needed an extra hand or spice or tool that someone else had been using, and every bit of that added to the flavor of the food we sat down to hours later.  I think, in a very dim and modern way, it reflected the way the pilgrims and Indians must have felt in feasting together after so much hard work at that New England meal hundreds of years ago.

So, today, I am thankful for burnt rolls, and crowded kitchens, and a delicious meal with friends and food aplenty.

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.

Guiding Eyes Training (September 2017), Day 3 Part 1|Meeting Oleta’s Young Padawan

I have split day 3 into two posts, because there was just too much to say.  Find part two here.

Dog day!!!

Juno obedience Wednesday morning went well.  After breakfast, I had a deep philosophical conversation about life in the lobby with one of my classmates.  It was very enjoyable and passed the time quickly.  Before I knew it, it was 9:00 and I was rushing to puppy proof my room before the big reveal at 9:15. We gathered in alumni hall and listened as the list was read.  I was the first on the list.  I must disappoint you in reporting that I cannot publicize any identifying information about my new guide just yet, not until the match is a bit more certain, and not until the puppy raisers have been notified that their puppy has been matched with a person and is in class.  Our puppy raisers work so hard and give so much of themselves to these dogs, and we want to ensure that they find out about their puppy’s placement through the proper channels, and not through a third party like social media.

That said, they announced my dog’s name, breed, and sex.  For now, I will refer to her as Padawan, as in Oleta’s Young Padawan.

I spent a few minutes in the coffee room with a snack, chatting with my classmates, then went back to my room to wait.  It wasn’t too long before I heard the knock on my door.

“Coming!” I called out, then hurriedly gathered my treat pouch and leash from my bed.  My trainer came in with our instructor assistant and “somebody else”, as she announced as I opened the door.  “Somebody else” came excitedly in, sniffing out the entire area.  My instructor walked me through giving her five high value food rewards, which she very much enjoyed for the approximately 15 seconds that it took her to eat them, gave me a few last bits of information, then left us to snuggle.  We did not do much snuggling, though not for lack of trying on my part haha.  First we explored every inch of the room, then she spent the time getting up, laying down, staring at the door, and whining for the trainers.  This is perfectly normal.  She has spent the last six months training every day with them, and she doesn’t understand yet that I am going to be her person now… so she cried, and cried, and I fruitlessly attempted to distract her with petting, talking, her bone, and singing, which eventually did help her some.  As I sang, she finally laid down for more than a minute next to me.  At one particular song, she got excited and rolled over on her back, wriggling back and forth and batting me with her paws.  It was so cute, and I thought I had her well-occupied, but she was soon back at the door whining.

Eventually we were escorted up to lunch by a trainer.  Padawan was very excited and we only walked a few steps at a time before I had to ask for a sit to remind her not to pull on the leash.  Lunch was hectic, as I expected after spending two hours trying to get her to stay still long enough to pet at all hahaha.  She was up and down the entire time, but I did get to eat bites of my sandwich in between commands to “sit” and “down” and “stay”.  The other students at my table had to do so a couple of times.  It seemed their dogs were much more interested in chilling out.  Personally, I’m glad I have my ball of energy. 🙂 ❤

Seven Things I Have Missed About Having a Guide Dog

I have been a guide dog user for six years now, and it’s become a way of life.  My guide dog is a mobility aid, and so affects the way I travel, but she also affects my schedule, personal interactions, thought processes, financial decisions, clothing choices, etc.  For the last while, a lot of those things have been absent from my life.  These are some of the things I’ve missed most since retiring my first guide.

1. That Glidey, Free Feeling of Working a Guide Dog

If you have never worked a guide dog, you may not understand what I mean here.  When you pick up the harness handle and tell your dog forward, your dog leans into the harness, you lean back, and you take off.  It’s a smooth, exhilarating sensation that I can only describe as a sort of flight.  Having worked with a guide that has not really pulled into the harness for years, I have not experienced this feeling properly in a good long while, and I cannot wait to experience it again.

2. Excessorizing My Guide Dog

Oleta’s drawer in my apartment is full of brightly colored flowers, bows, ribbons, bandanas, and collars that coordinated with my outfits.  My guide dog is, in a way, an extension of my body, and therefore, also fashion, and right now, I’m missing my canine fashion extender!

3. Interacting Regularly with a Dog

I love the nitty gritty mechanics of the guide dog team.  I am a dog person, and I love being near them.  Learning to communicate with my dog, improving obedience and work-related skills, and watching my dog put those skills into action are all things that give me joy, and that I miss having as part of my everyday life.

4. Interacting with the Public

When you take a dog everwhere with you, you get noticed.  Suddenly everyone wants to shower you with compliments, pester you with questions, and tell you long detailed stories about their childhood labrador Rex who was their best friend, could open doors, slept with them every night, saved their sister’s pet rabbit from a fire, etc etc.  Sometimes it can become overwhelming, but in general I enjoy those conversations.  I love sharing about my guide dog, the amazing work that she does, and the organization that bred, raised, and trained her.  More even than that, I love how the presence of a dog seems to normalize my interactions with others.  Instead of viewing me as “that blind girl”, they think of me as “that girl with the dog”, which honestly I prefer.

5. Going Out Early Every Morning

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually kind of like being awoken at the crack of dawn to park and feed my starving canine.  I am an early riser anyway, but there’s no staying in bed with a hungry labrador in need of a potty break bouncing all over you.  I love having that motivation to roll out of bed, no matter how groggy, and go out to greet the new day, whether that be freezing wind and rain or sunshine and birdsong.

6. Always Having a Good Excuse to Talk to Myself

Sometimes verbalizing my thoughts helps me process things, okay?  With Oleta, people assume I am talking to her… which I may very well be.  Right now, with no dog, I just appear unstable.

7. Spacing Out On The Walk Home Because My Dog Knows Exactly Where Home Is

Guide dogs are not GPSs.  I  can’t just say, “Juno, take me to Walmart.” and then find myself magically at Walmart 20 minutes later.  Still, after directing my guide dog home over and over again, day after day, my guide dog starts to understand that when I say, “Let’s go home.”, I am about to tell her forward, left, to the curb, forward, right, etc.”  Basically, she becomes a bit of a GPS.  Of course I can’t totally space out.  I still need to keep track of where I am, and make safe traffic decisions, but I can, for example, work on memorizing music for my voice lesson the next morning the whole walk and still do it completely safely (I can do that with my cane too but I usually miss more turns).

What I’m trying to say is my dog knows where dinner is.  My cane, on the other hand, doesn’t care.

Today marks one day before Dog Day, and one day before I get to reclaim these and other elements of the guide dog lifestyle, and I can’t wait!

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.

Celebrating Five Years

With the cool evening air wafting in through the screen door, along with golden birdsong and the smoke of summer fires, I am swept into years past, happy childhood years, filled with summer evenings of s’mores and sparklers. Today has been a day of reflecting on memories. That’s because today marks 15 states, 4 countries, 5 languages, five years, and countless memories since Oleta, my beautiful guide dog, and I became a team.
Contrary to many people’s assumptions, I don’t NEED a guide dog to travel independently. I can (and do upon occasion) use a white cane to travel just as effectively. I don’t NEED a guide dog to pursue my professional goals. I know lots of blind professionals who are strictly white cane users. I chose to work with a guide dog because I loved dogs, I imagined working a guide dog to be infinitely more pleasurable than using a cane, and it was, after all, my dream to have a guide dog from the age of eight.
Those reasons still stand. Working a guide dog is, in my opinion, infinitely more pleasurable than using a cane. A guide dog allows one to walk much more fluidly and quickly without having to stop every 20 feet to unstick one’s stubborn cane from the side walk, or the grass, or some unidentifiable metal thing in the middle of the path, or, heaven forbid, someone’s legs, or to recover from getting one’s cane stuck in one of these various and sundry obstacles, not stopping fast enough, and promptly being rewarded with a sharp jab to the stomach. Yep, don’t miss those days. Having a guide dog also means that I didn’t get hit by that one insane bus driver who suddenly decided to drive on the side walk right where I was standing, it’s a heck of a lot easier to find doors, stairs, curbs, escalators (Oleta LOVES escalators), benches, etc, and sometimes even one of my best friends. Yes, these, among others, are all awesome benefits of having a guide dog, but now a days, the reason I work a guide dog is because of Oleta.
Oleta, who loves unconditionally as easily as she licks, who takes work breaks to wriggle on her back in the grass and the snow and the sand just for the pure joy of it, who actually whines when she sees children on playgrounds because she wants to play with them, who lives out the meaning of her name “Little one with wings” every time we find ourselves flying alone along some sidewalk or other.
Dear Oleta, I love how you love life, and I love living life with you. Happy five years of memories made! I look forward to many more together.