Staying Still for Colin

It’s my little brother’s birthday today.  I cannot believe how old and tall he is!  Isn’t it a funny moment when your cute little brother suddenly becomes your very hansom, tall brother?  Seriously, he’s like a foot taller than me now… maybe more.

Anyway, these are my reflections on memories from 20 years ago when my baby brother was born.  I miss and love you lots, Colin!  Happy birthday!

I’m wearing my favorite dress… well, one of them.  It’s the button up, with the pockets and the wide collar that looks like a slice of watermelon.  I am glad I’m dressed up, because I’m a big sister now.  I’m going to see my little brother.  Being a big sister is an important job, and I want to look the part… especially because I want Mom to let me hold him.  Only big, responsible girls get to hold baby brothers.

Grandmother says that we’re almost there.  I see huge buildings and a parking lot filled with cars.  There’s an apple on the seat next to me… the one my big brother refused to eat.  He doesn’t like apples.  I wonder if my little brother will like apples… he probably won’t be able to eat them until he’s three like me though.

We walk down a long hallway.  It’s white tile and bright lights, and there are windows to our right.  I see babies through the windows, in little boxes.  Is he in there?  I peer through the windows as we pass.  There’s a dark-skinned baby… Is that him?  I see a baby that looks a lot more like me, blonde and white-skinned, but then we’re turning into a room, and there’s my brother.

He’s curled in my Mom’s arms, wrapped in blankets.  All I can see is his little pink face.  Mom smiles at us.  My big brother and I run to her bedside.  Mom takes my hand and lets me touch his head, urging me to “be gentle.’

I am… I can’t imagine being anything else.  My fingers brush over feathery baby fuzz, and I can’t believe he’s real.  He’s just like my baby doll, Elizabeth, only warm, and breathing, and a boy.

I’m jumping up and down and asking if I can hold him.  I can’t help it.  I’ve been waiting for this moment forever!  Mom says if I sit on the bed next to her and stay very still, I can hold him.  I clamber on the bed and sit very still on top of the blankets.  He’s in my arms, warm and heavy and full of sleep.

I’m a big sister, and I can’t stop smiling.

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.

Take Off and Arrival — Our Newest Adventure, Part 1

The first several posts detailing my experiences in Ireland will actually be things I wrote originally in my personal journal, and adapted for the blog.  They will be very in the moment, sort of stream of consciousness, so possibly something a little different than what you are used to seeing here, but a very real snapshot of what’s going through my head as we make this transition.  Please enjoy.

We are on the plane to Ireland! I can’t believe this is a thing! I’m excited, but also not nearly as nervous as my first independent international flight.  I’m wearing a paw print necklace for Oleta, the Celtic ring that Dad gave me, and Mom’s high school ring, which was an accident, actually, yeah, Mom I have your class ring right now.  Anyway, I didn’t plan it, but I’m glad I have a piece of all of them. I wish I had something from my brothers.

This is one of those moments that I am so full of gratitude.  I am floored at the way God has provided over the last several months so that we could do this, and humbled beyond belief.  God, Thank you for bringing us to this place. Thank you for providing for everything that had to happen to make this possible before this. Thank you for leading me in your way, not my own.  Please God, let your will be done. Whatever I do in Ireland, let it be for your glory. 

Prim is doing so great so far. Just chilling on the plane. We are in the air. I’m sitting next to an Irish girl.  She said Limerick is a lovely place. I’m looking forward to being there.  We have an incredible amount of exploring to do.

7:05 Am Irish time 

We are here, and by God’s provision we are both through  customs. We are just waiting for the pastor of our church, who kindly offered to give us a lift from the airport.  I am so looking forward to making our first friends here.

Everyone is so hospitable! The agriculture man was so sweet, came and found Prim and I while we were waiting for my paperwork to get looked at, and got us started with that in order to take less time. One of the stewardesses from the airplane found my guitar and brought it to me because we had gate checked it and I completely forgot about it, bless her. The immigration officer was so nice too, and gave me directions to the money exchange place. Haha, and just now I heard someone, I’m assuming someone who works here, singing, “La di da…” to himself as he went. What a cheerful soul.

I am so grateful that God has brought me here and very excited to see what he has planned. I cannot wait for church on Sunday. I feel as if I’m coming to meet family I previously didn’t know I had, which I guess is exactly what is happening. Wow!  I also feel so odd for some reason that everyone back home is asleep right now. I’m like, why aren’t you responding to my text messages… oh, right, they are fast asleep lol.  My first run-in with the problem of time differences.

And so it begins.  Our newest adventure.  Let’s do this.

My Girls’ Canine Family!

Recently, I got to chat with someone from Guiding Eyes who shared the family information for both of my guide dogs.

Oleta was born on October 23, 2009 to parents Loren and Mark.  Her siblings in birth order are:

Orchard (released)

Osa (released, but became a different sort of service dog)

Bailey (released)

Oak (retired guide dog)

Oleta (retired guide dog)

Opera (released)

Ogden (retired guide dog)

Octavian (released)

Prim was born on October 21, 2015 to parents Peter and Daphne.  Her siblings are:

Peyton (in training)

Promise (released)

Posh (released)

Peace (working guide dog)

Parker (released)

Pongo (detection dog)

Pearl (working guide dog)

Prim (working guide dog)

Pumkin (working guide dog)

It’s great to know where my sweet girls came from.  I’m hoping we can meet some of Prim’s siblings!  We already know her sister Pumpkin, who was in training when we were in class in September.  It was pretty clear they knew that they are sisters, judging by how much they wanted to play together every time they saw each other. ❤

So thankful to Guiding Eyes for breeding, raising, and training so many fantastic dogs.

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 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!