Friday, March 19, 2010

Words define and guide us

“I, personally, prefer to use the word "sight" rather than "vision" because one can possess much vision with no sight; while the converse results in sighted people who are by no stretch of the imagination, visionaries. Blindness, to whatever degree, is simply the absence of sight; vision is quite another matter.”

- Chet Smalley, Blindness and mobility specialist, Erie, PA.

A few days ago, I was asked to participate in a survey of a doctoral student at Louisiana Tech University because my mobility specialist thought that I could “contribute positively” to this research. I was reminded of how far I had come from that covert, secretly-out-of-my-element, ha-ha, sorry-so-clumsy-today young woman. Few knew then that I struggled with Retitinitis Pigmentosa, a progressive eye disease robbing me of my sight. Today - one year later to the day - I use a cane, smile a lot and can speak openly about my RP.

However, my ever-vigilant mobility instructor alerts me to language in my speech that he believes holds me back from becoming the best that he knows I can be. The other day, he pinpointed something in my correspondence to him that made me realize he had my best interest at heart. He said, "You, for example, Amy, still think of your blindness as a "condition" rather than one of your many characteristics." I had said that I wanted to befriend a young woman I knew of who had RP. I felt she was avoiding the meeting and concluded that it was probably "a little frightening [for her] to think of meeting another person with vision problems."

He was quick to respond, "Look at the language you are using: the words "vision" and "problem." "Problem" is the use, in my view, of deficit language. "Blind" can also be construed as a "deficit" word until one becomes acquainted with blind people who are productive, happy and well-adjusted to their blindness. Blind people by the thousands are demonstrating that the world need not be interacted with just by way of sight."

Chet went on to say that "blindness when perceived as a characteristic, instead of a "disability" can become just one component of an otherwise fulfilled person." I realized when I read his words that although I had made progress on this continuum of accepting myself as blind, I still had a journey before I would be comfortable thinking of blindness as simply another characteristic of myself. I wonder how one gets to that point?

Chet believes it is through immersion cane training and exposure to positive role models that enables one to truly adjust. He points out that "adjusting to blindness means living that to which one is hoping to adjust; and "living" can only be accomplished, well, by "living!" That makes sense, in theory. If using my cane becomes so second nature that I do see my blindness simply as another characteristic and not the defining characteristic of myself, will I have arrived at the understanding he envisions for me?

It is this question I grapple with now. If I intend to positively impact the lives of the blind students I envision myself teaching, then I must be certain that I have the best understanding of who I am with my unique capabilities and characteristics. This identity Chet describes has to come from within myself. It's not something I can put on or take off at random.

The question returns: how do I reduce a "condition" to simply one of many characteristics that makes me up? As always, God provides me with the answer.

In the book of Colossians, Paul exhorts his Christian brethren, "We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding." (Col 1:9) This tells me that we have brothers and sisters who pray for this very thing in our lives. We have been told to ask God for wisdom, and assured that He will provide it for whatever need we have in our lives. Whether our application comes from an extended training session and advice through knowledgeable people, it is God that unveils the source and opportunities to us.

God has made me for many purposes, and if I choose to walk by my defining characteristic, my love for Him, then He will make everything clear in His perfect timing. As I grow and adjust to this continuum of blindness God has allowed me to go through, He will place markers along the way to guide me. I believe Chet’s attention to my “deficit” language is such a marker.

Paul goes on to say, "And we pray this [wisdom and understanding] in order that you might live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God..."(Col 1:10). Has he chosen for me to bear fruit in a new capacity now? I am so excited!

Lord, I lift you up! When I first became a teacher, I didn't believe I had the characteristics to be successful, and yet You have carried me through all my doubts. You have never given up on me. You have brought me to many peaks in my life, and shouldered my fears. As a result, I have moved ahead in my language teaching with foreign students. This has put me in a pivotal position to share your love in over thirty-three countries!

I know that every experience we go through prepares us to serve in bigger capacities. If it’s Your plan to change my teaching population and goals, bring everything I need to know to light so that I might bear fruit in my life, and bring You glory.

Thank you, Lord that even as my "sight" diminishes, You will continue to magnify my “vision.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Change your baby's diaper, please!"

This story, though told in my words, is not mine. It comes from Faithful, an African missionary woman, who shared it with many groups that she spoke with last week. Though all the description is mine, parts of the dialogue are taken from her testimony.


The aisle, once made up of smooth, symmetrical terra cotta tiles, now consisted of mere fragments. Its color had long ago faded from too many bodies, and too many feet having crossed its surface. Like every major hospital in the country, it bulged with people. Weary-eyed, drawn-lipped, leather-skinned people. Some, patients. Others, visitors. Toddlers dressed only in simple clothing or wearing thin cotton gowns dodged between the legs of elders. For their misplaced energy, they caught a half-hearted smack or scolding, or were left to run the length of the aisle if no one noticed them. Long-sleeved shirts and thin, colorful blankets covered arms and hung at the wrists of many.Some torn and other ill-fitting pants cropped displayed ankles. Women wore layered, colorful dresses. Feet shuffled in flip-flops or nothing at all. People lay, sat, stood—all waiting--for or in various stages of care. Family members helped comfort and care for the sick. A light antiseptic smell wafted through the wing from time to time. It mingled with the sweat of so many bodies in such little space. Once in awhile, a brisk nurse would sweep through the ward, and call someone’s name or shout to a patient inside an open door.

The woman stood alone, as if an island to herself, though she, too, made up the crowd inside the hall. She had been in this environment many times, and as such, was accustomed to the long waits. Thin and able-bodied, her kind eyes focused on the bundle she held in her arms. She rocked it and murmured in her dialect, willing the sickly baby to breathe. “Come on, baby, come on...” She waited, and rocked, and waited some more. Looking down, she noticed the skin that surrounded the tiny lips of her precious charge had whitened. This cannot be something good. This baby cannot die! She began to pace, and pray. Her voice grew more agitated as she willed life into this limp form. I cannot lose another one. No! Not one more of my orphans!

She reached out to the ward-weary pediatrician who appeared in the hallway, “Doctor, you must look to this baby!” As she explained about the baby's condition, the doctor peered into the infant’s tiny face. From the doctor’s shuttered eyelids and the set of his lips, she understood what the doctor now knew. Am I going to cry? I am going to cry! And then what am I going to say? As Faithful was processing her thoughts the doctor reached for the baby, “Give her to me. It's too late. She is dead.”

“No! I will not give her to you! I have lost seventeen babies this year. I am not going to lose the eighteenth!”

She began to pray as she paced back and forth the length of the hall. She begged God. She poured herself into this petition for one precious life.”

I don’t know how much time passed. At a certain point, the doctor again instructed her to hand the baby over to him.

“No,” Faithful buried her face in the blanket, “I will go with you but I will not give this baby up!” Her voice brooked no refute; she stubbornly refused to give up her charge. The doctor sighed and began to write the time of death on the certificate. Faithful continued her petition, “You are life itself, Abba Father. I praise you for the love you have for me -- and for this baby. You are my Jehova Jairah! I cannot endure to lose even one more baby. Please give this child life again..”

The doctor took the baby from her. He held the baby in one arm and the death certificate in the other. His startled voice cut through to her weeping, “Change your baby’s diaper, please.”

Slowly she raised her tear-stained face, as understanding flooded through to her anxious mind. Only live babies diapers needed to be changed! This baby was alive! She felt the infant's diaper and found it wet! This baby is a miracle given back to me by my Father who has heard my cry.

The young woman took the orphan into her arms and pressed her face against the one in the blanket. She carried the baby out of the doctor’s office, and called out to the crowd still waiting in long corridor, “This baby’s diaper needs to be changed!” Faithful then went on to proclaim the miracle her heavenly father granted her as she prayed..

Not one doubted God’s miracle of the baby whose diaper suddenly needed changing in that hospital last summer – neither doctor nor nurse, patient nor guest. The once-weary multitude all bore witness to this miracle.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Building a People of Faith

All eyes riveted to the speaker as she shared story after story of miracles that she had witnessed and intertwined them with people of faith in the Bible. How her words resonated in the sanctuary! She went by one name: "Faithful." This young, slender, very poised African woman knew the God she was speaking about personally. Faithful's God was not a character that lived within the pages of a book: someone good to have on your side. He wasn't a remote hero. No, Faithful's God was a responsive father who walked down a gut-wrenching dirt road with you, who breathed life out of death in hospital rooms that had seen too much sorrow, who provided food when it should have been gone long ago. This was a father who comforted at the deepest level, a father who wrapped you in his arms and shared your pain. This Father (notice the capital F?) was a lifeline. "Hold onto him. No matter what. Hold on. Doesn't matter what happens. Hold on. Hold on." She spoke with authority and we believed.

"I have seen miracles. Let me tell you a story. I'm going to make a very long story short here. There was a woman in her fifth month of pregnancy. The woman went to the doctor. The baby did not have a heart beat. It didn't move. He sadly advised her to terminate it. This mother refused to believe him and wouldn't let him take her baby. She went back home. She continued to pray and visited the doctor a few times. There was still no heart beat or movement but her body responded as if she were pregnant. The doctor said it was psychosomatic. At nine months she went back to the doctor. But the doctor had washed his hands of her. 'I will have to deliver this dead baby and take all of your womb out. You will not be able to have any more children. You should have let me do this when it happened.' So, the woman went to another doctor and he delivered her baby. This baby came out smiling. It had a heart beat. It was alive! This baby is me. I am a miracle. God knew that one day I would grow up and become a missionary in my country. "

She paused for the words to sink in, and then went on. "People tell me I don't have to share every example that I know, that it might upset people if it doesn't happen that way for them. But every miracle that happens should be shared because it happened for a purpose."

She talked about a camp they set up every year in December. (It was not clear who "they" were but it must have been members of her ministry). "There were about five hundred people this year. People worried there would not be nearly enough food." They were serving soup. "I told them, 'Just keep dipping the ladle in. As long as it comes out full, dip it in again. Just dip it. Dip it again.' And you know what, it only ran out after people had come for seconds. This is the God I know."

But Faithful did not come to simply share testimonies. She came to share a few words from God himself. "Do you have your Bibles with you? Let me see you open them." She waited, and spoke about herself in the third person, "Do you know what Faithful says when you don't have your Bible? You have come without clothes. Some of you have come naked today." She pressed her point amid the laughter. She spoke about the woman who touched the hem of Jesus's robe. "She had purposed in her heart to believe. No matter what. She had purposed."

Faithful also asked us something very real, "Do you have people who steal your hope away?" As she spoke of yet another example, I was amazed at how she could bring such words from the Bible to life, how she could contextualize them for us. Sometimes she was so eager to share a scripture, she tripped on the words, and laughed at herself. "You know what I mean. Look it up for yourself."She never lost her composure.

And so Faithful continued with her stories. Her humor carried us through some sad ones and in others her unshakable faith brought us to our knees in spirit. Faithful came to raise money but I do not believe she arrived with that singular objective. She purposed to uplift us; though her ministry may have been "in want," her soul was not. She seemed to be the "giver."I envisioned her as one tree in the midst of a growing forest. As she spoke, it seemed she was selecting some trees, both saplings and the more mature, carved with God's loving initials. She then offered them to us to build faith in our hearts.

In my next posting I will relay a story that Faithful shared, another that touched my heart so much. A heart that, at times, still mourns for three babies that I wasn't ready to give up. Believe me, it will be worth your time to read it! Please join me.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Plans to Prosper You...

Rereading yesterday's blog, I was thinking how God really does have specific plans for us throughout our lives. Tonight I reflect on a few of the countries that I have visited, and how the land has mirrored my outward response at that time in my life. I want to break that verse down and show how God had plans to "prosper" me during these years.

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you..."


It is not by chance that I have seen the world. It is by God’s wondrous plan for my life. He filled me with a strong love for languages, other cultures and an unquenchable thirst to know the kinds of people He has created so that I might learn and in turn, share His stories. I give all the glory to Him.

As I wandered over various terrains, God has used them to mirror events in my life. Some lands have been nurturing, with rolling green hills and coffee plantations like Colombia. My life seemed easy then. I climbed up the hills and dipped into the valleys, both literally and figuratively, each day as I took on the new task of educating children. Likewise, as I tried to master the language, Spanish words came toward me at dizzying speeds. I grabbed onto them, as if by clutching I could still their forward motion. But I couldn’t. As my vocabulary grew, the words slowed down, and took their proper place. My steps slowed. The slopes no longer frightened me. In fact, the more Spanish I learned, the better-equipped I felt to trek across the actual land and embrace God’s people.

The humble mountainous villages of Guatemala formed around lush rivers and included beautiful palm trees, rubber, tea and beetle nut plants, as well as verdant coconut groves. The land teemed with life; the breeze carried with it the fragrance of ripened fruit. During those visits God filled my life with richness of character and a sweetness of friendships. The Wycliffe Bible translators who I stayed with called the land they purposed to work in “God’s own Guatemala.” I could feel Him moving among the stoop-shouldered Indian tribes, the strong need for Him etched in the drawn lines of the burdened faces I encountered.

God prospered me during these years, not by filling my pocket with lots of money. That wasn't my intention. I made enough to live on and travel. Instead, He filled my senses - the smells of ripe pineapple, strong coffee, arepas con queso. My eyes took in people, and the countryside, the plazas, dirt roads, riverbanks, buses - all the cultural phenomena that leaves unforgettable memories in one's mind. I remember the soft feel of leather, the rough weaving of straw baskets, dirt roads under my feet, and rough woolen ponchos thrown over my shoulders in colder environments, and hands reaching out -- always hands of friendship. When I close my eyes, I can hear the beautiful melodious Spanish, the spoken word, music blaring, bus drivers calling out...oh the dialects! How I loved the tastes of platano, arroz con carne, caldos and so many exotic juices. How I valued my friendships! God gave me such an abundance of people who cared about me! He surely prospered me those years!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Exciting Future Ahead!

11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

When the course I was set to teach at a local college was canceled this term, I felt frustrated. This was the third time this year that had happened. Last fall, it had been the Writing course. Someone had been chosen from within. But as far as I understood it, the course had been mine to teach. Then, this spring, I was ready to teach an Asian Studies course as well as a Western Classics course. I found out early enough that the Asian Studies was not required and as thus, the administration would not be offering it. So, I didn't prepare. But I did a lot of preparation for the Lit course. None of that time would be reimbursed. Once I got past the surprise, I kind of felt relieved - except for the loss in pay, of course.

That left me without any of the money I'd counted on bringing in and no money in reserve. All year I had been dipping into my retirement funds, and paying my bills with my small teacher's salary at the Christian academy where I teach Spanish.

So, God, what is it that you want to do with me now? Why did you close that door?

A quick inquiry into the public school system showed me that I had no leg to stand on without a teaching certificate. God, do you want me to get that? But how? With what money? What funding? And how shall I get there? What transportation? All of these questions swam around in my mind.

But somehow I don't feel daunted. God is in charge of my life. God has a plan. A plan to prosper me and not to harm me. I'll let Him work out the details. I'm even beginning to get over feeling miffed that I have to go back and get that Teacher's Certification. I am sure that the education courses will help me in my future job. It can't hurt me. I'm starting to feel excited!

Yes, I am. I always love studying when I put my heart into it. I'm a lifelong learner. I don't think that you should ever stop learning, whether it's from the teacher's or the student's perspective. The lines always blur, don't they?

The college that I'm interested in is about forty-five minutes away from where I live so God will have to provide me with transport. But there's a Office Student Disabilities Department. That's a positive first step. I'll speak with them.

As many of my readers know, I have a visual and hearing disability. The visual disability restricts me from driving, and from seeing quite a bit, especially once darkness falls. The hearing loss will affect my progress in the classroom - unless I trust that I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me. If I can teach, I can learn. It's as simple as that. God will enable me.

And I'm really excited about perhaps substituting the required special education courses with a course entitled "Mild to Moderate Disabilities." This will give me a better focus on my ultimate goal, which is to work with the blind. I think even for my student teaching I can put myself in a classroom in which I deal with blind students. Is this what God has in mind for me?

Lord, I have to trust you. I don't have the money I was making overseas. But I know from past experiences that you will provide everything I need to succeed in my studies. You will also help me to help my family financially before I take that on. Thank you God, for what you are about to do in my life. You are so beautiful!! I'm thrilled to be in the center of Your will and open to what You have in store for me.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Thanksgiving of My Soul (Short Story)

If you have just picked up my blog, this post continues from yesterday when I started a story. Please click on the yesterday's link for the story beginning (Whetting the creative juices)

That night I called my husband. Waiting for him to answer, I rehearsed what I'd say. Please, God! Please! How would he respond? We hadn't yet sorted out our problems but how could we do that long distance? Maybe we needed to do that in person.

"Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Ya know, I was thinking for coming home soon after." Counting on my fingers all the reasons we should be together, I waited. Say something! "How soon? How can you be well-rested? It's only been a few months?" My heart sank. He didn't want me back.

Why did he insist on saying I was "recovering?" We. Were. Separated.

"It's been six months and I'm ready to go work on things."


I wanted to shake him. It's not my fault that we lost the twins! I did the best I could to carry them. That was six weeks of my life, too. My family couldn't even come to visit me. I missed their strength. You always seemed so tired and aloof. I needed you. I needed them. So. Much.

That evening I found my mother sorting clothes in the basement. "Mom, I need to go back to my husband."

Mom dropped a soiled shirt into the basket. She pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes, and sat down on the step. "Is that what you want?"

"Yeah, I do."

"We'll miss you, Lou, but I do think you're right."

Suddenly I doubted myself and how things would go. "Mom, He didn't seem anxious for me to come."

She looked over at me before getting up to work on the laundry again, "Of all my children, you adapt the best to whatever life throws at you." Mom picked up a pair of my father's worn blue jeans and smoothed them between her hands, "Your dad and I never spent much time apart. Just talk. Honey, you'll be fine."

Somehow her faith in me gave me the confidence I needed to visualize our life together again.

The next morning I found an email from my husband, You're so right, sweetheart. Come quickly. I can't wait to be together again. I DO need you. I stood like a lovesick schoolgirl gazing out the window without seeing a single snowflake in its path.

Then doubts assailed me. Could I give up the peace I'd found at home? The quiet talks my mother and I shared while cleaning up, or taking walks in the neighborhood each evening had poured strength in me. Hanging out with my brothers and sisters and their families renewed my passion for life. Emotionally, I'd recovered. Physically, I'd recovered from losing the twins, too. Mom's good cooking and finding time to slow down had healed me. Being with my family changed both my outlook and my health. But was it enough to send me back to heal my marriage?

As we prepared Thanksgiving dinner that snowy day, it felt like old times. Our voices mingled together. We laughed. We sang. My father made funny faces and pretended he couldn't wait to eat. He sampled a tiny bit of everything. A deep sense of gratefulness stole over me. The holiday had become more than traditional trappings. Like the snow outside, it blanketed me in folds of familiar warmth.

Lifting the top off the roasting pan, my mother smiled. "How does my turkey smell?"


"Move over! Candied yams coming through!" My sister, Brenda, pushed me to the side. "Grab a hot pad!"

My niece popped into the steamy kitchen. She tapped me on the shoulder. "Aunty Lou, What is your specialty meal?"

"Nothing as delicious as what we have right here on the table."

In the short lull before dinner, God filled me with words. "Be back soon!" I dashed to my childhood bedroom and sat down at the desk. I began to type as fast as I could. An extraordinary love letter and poem emerged that Thanksgiving Day. Our dining room served as an impromptu stage, "My dear family..." As I poured my gratitude out to them, they listened with uncharacteristic seriousness. Though my voice trembled, my heart never wavered.

"Oh sweetheart," Mom dabbed her eyes. Dad cleared his throat. "Come here!" Brenda wrapped me in a bear hug. Everyone else just smiled. Real big. The party broke up soon after. "Here, hold this. Be careful! Don't bend the poem," my sister-in-law grumbled to my little brother as she zipped up a boot.

I believe God chose that snow-covered window in my bedroom to draw me to Him as he replayed a beautiful video clip of seasons passing in my mind. It was a replay of my beautiful life at home. Later, in a steamy kitchen, He revealed how solid and comfortable we'd grown around each other. Because of them, I could face the future with confidence.

To this day, I see the poetry I wrote among the cherished possessions found within their homes. When Peter and I come to visit, we invariably all share a meal together. I'm so glad that I followed my mother's wisdom and didn't give up.

When I look back on that Thanksgiving celebration, I can see God's hand in it. He swept me past the surface traditions and penetrated my heart with gratitude. Somehow I felt Through His perfect timing, God wove an unforgettable family memory I shall always remember as "the Thanksgiving of my soul."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Whetting the Creative Juices

Just got an idea for a story, just the lead in...

Thick snowflakes tumbled from the sky, creating a lacy curtain that hugged the window pane. Riveted, I couldn't look away from the white world swirling just out of my reach, as if the snow were a new phenomenon. As my gaze lingered, I sat on the edge of the bed thinking how much my window served as a time line in my life. I'd felt the sun rays seep through, watched pounding raindrops and falling leaves, and now snow. I wondered if the time had come to return to my husband.

My journey home that previous June came under veiled pretenses. I didn't need to "heal" from losing twins. I needed my husband to make his way back to me. My grief swelled because of the distance that had cropped up in our marriage as much as our physical loss. He insisted I needed my family. I swore I needed him. This time apart would confirm one of our claims.