Thursday, April 22, 2010

Millions of Blessings

Millions of Blessings

Somewhere around 6 am, I began to wake up. In that murky state between dreams and reality, I couldn’t quite get my bearings . As I looked around, I saw a cockeyed bulb hung loosely from a wire in the b1athroom and a filthy ceiling fan dangled motionless above me. Slowly, it filtered through my sleep-muddled brain. Kenya! My second day in a small village in the landlocked Eastern province of Mwingi. I woke up for real then, anxious to get moving.
“Thank you God for this new day and everything it will bring me. Lord, let me always be ready to see the many blessings You provide each day, but I know this beautiful Kenyan day, above all, will be special. Let me remember every detail I experience.”
Brrrr! The Kenyan winter air felt chilly on my bare feet. I fished my socks from the sheets where they’d come off during the night and put them back on. Yawning, I slipped a foot out of bed and onto the floor. Just as quickly, I jerked it back up. Even in the poor lighting, I could see my white sock had instantly turned black.
What on earth had I stepped in? Ashes? Dirt? My scrutiny turned to shock when the color began to fan out. Tiny black moving dots. Something ALIVE. There could be no mistake…
I began beating at my foot, of course sending the ants flying all over my sheets, and in my hair and on my hands and arms. Rolling around and flailing, I brushed everywhere at once, then slapped at the sheets to knock them off and out of my sight!
Did you ever notice how ants cling to human skin? I didn’t know what was making them stick to me — static electricity, something in the air, their species … did they have some super-duper appendages with magnetic properties... Whatever the reason, we tussled for the upper hand. My whacking beat their clinging.

When it seemed the ants had retreated and the immediate danger had passed, I observed my surroundings once more, my breath still coming in rasps. My poor eyes can’t usually see great detail, but that particular morning, they focused on quantity — hundreds, thousands, dare I guess even millions — of ants? Pull yourself together!
Trails of ants headed in every which direction — on the floor, on the walls forming a line to the ceiling, and those closer up, meandering drunkenly inside the creases of my sheets. Tiny black ants.
I let loose another scream as they began to attack me once more — an arm, my legs, a shoulder, a hands quivered as I beat them off and they scrambled for safety.
Get away, ants! Shoo!
I calculated every move I made, as if I were shipwrecked in the middle of an ocean, but instead of water, the ship was leaking ants. I didn’t want to fall out into the ants or have the ants drown me, so I clutched onto my sheet with one hand and kept the water – ahem, ants – at bay with the other.
Someone rapped on my door.
“Madame, I heard you making a small sound. Is everything okay?”
Who is that? What does she mean ‘a small sound’? People in the next village over should be able to hear that scream! I want them to! A ‘small sound!’ Is that her way of being polite?
Millions of ants have invaded my room and she asks me if I’m ‘all right?’ Of course I’m not! These better not be killer ants. Is there even such a thing?
“Can you open the door? Madame, are you awake? You are not having a nightmare?”
Yes, I most definitely AM. Like a feature film, my nightmare is showing “Attack of the Ants!”
As I tried to form the words, the footsteps receded and I found myself alone once more. Gradually my breathing slowed down and I cleared a manageable space around me, carefully got dressed, and then jammed my feet in close-toed shoes. By this time, the ants had receded to a circumference I could deal with.
As I sat on my bed thinking about the past few minutes (as that’s all it really lasted), some lyrics came to mind. “Count your blessings. Name them one by one...Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.” Many blessings? One by one? What? Whoa!
It occurred to me that we have so many blessings, we can’t even begin to realize how many — just like those ants! Each ant is an intricate and complete perfect specimen designed by God. Every single one is a reminder of what He has brought into our lives. I remembered my prayer earlier this morning. I certainly will recall every vivid detail of this experience. God had swiftly answered my prayer!
And with what humor! When I remember the flapping, flailing, spontaneous antics I went through, spurred on by the adventure of so many unsolicited ants invading my area, it makes me laugh instead. The ants never harmed me or put me in any real danger. I’m okay. I survived. They endured. Or many of them did. I can’t vouch for the whole lot of ‘em but they sure seemed like a hardy bunch.
At first I couldn’t believe what had happened but when I reflected on it afterward, I saw God’s immense humor come through. Can’t you just see an impish God chuckling as He spied down on me that morning? God wanted to give me unforgettable memories. He answers prayers, folks! Let’s always be ready for the surprise encounters God brings us; how rich and unexpected are His gifts!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In Search for Jaruwan Khattiya

When I get an idea in my mind, my mother says that I am obstinate. This was certainly the case when my ex-husband and I arrived in Thailand a few years back. I wanted to visit a child that I sponsored through Christian Children's Fund, (CCF) an international aid organization. This is the story of my attempt to do so.
Ihab and I arrived in Chen-Mai, a lovely mountainous area in the north of Thailand. I was determined to find a young child named Jaruwan Khattiya, whom I sponsored through CCF. She lived in Payao Province, about four more hours to the north of where we were staying. I didn't understand at the time that the trip should have been arranged before arriving in- country. I had been so busy grading exams, I never had time to notify the organization in advance.

But surely I could visit this four-year-old girl I sponsored. Surely they would help me since I was already in the country, wouldn't they? I was my dream to meet her. I also had to convince my husband that the eight-hour drive up and back to Payao was worth it. Our schedule was very tight. But I was certain that it could be done. How could we come so close and not make the extra effort to touch base?

First, I had to find the phone number to CCF in Payao. Calling was more difficult than I ever imagined! None of the operators seemed to speak English. After several minutes of trying to somehow locate the number, I turned to our hotel manager. "Please help me, " I begged, "I can't understand a word!"

Here God intervened!

Our hotel clerk had been sponsored through CCF for the first eighteen years of his life! Nine years later--though he came from Chen Mai and not Payao--Prasan still seemed to have connections with CCF.

The hotel clerk eagerly dialed the number of the school where he had attended during his sponsorship. After a few minutes, he handed me the phone. I tried to explain what I wanted, but a hoarse female voice kept shouting, "What? Speak up, child! What are you saying?" I later learned that this was a ninety-two-year-old nun from Holland speaking to me! Once more, overwhelmed, I hastily handed the phone back to Prasan. "Ask her for information!" I urged.

After speaking for a few minutes in Thai, he turned to me, "It's a nun. This school isn't part of CCF anymore. I guess the agency stopped sponsoring them some years ago." I sighed.

He continued to speak to the party on the other end in Thai. "Talk to this woman," he advised, "Maybe she can help you."

A second woman's voice came on the line. English, though accented, was a start. "So sorry. This is no longer a number to CCF. But I am in charge of fifty poor girls from various hill tribes in the north. Do you wish to visit us?"

I hesitated. I really had wanted to visit Jaruwan Khattiya and see Payao. I had envisioned an ambitious trek up the curvy mountain passes in an old contraption of a bus -- what a loss! Yet, this kind nun was willing to share her charges with us. How could we turn that experience down?! I eagerly accepted it on behalf of Ihab and me.

I couldn't wait to begin!

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Pile of Rocks

One day in the United Arab Emirates, my colleague Sally picked me up (since we carpooled to work at the college where we taught). Sally's husband is Palestinian. As she filled me in on her weekend, this story about her nephew, Mohamed, cropped up. He had recently moved to Abu Dhabi.We had a little laugh over his seemingly silly behavior, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how similar we are all to young Mohamed. We are shaped by our environment and what happens to us...


A Pile of Rocks

“Do not repay
anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12: 17-18 (NIV).

Six-year-old Mohamed peeked around the corner. Seeing no one, he inched the garage door open and slipped inside. He tiptoed to the corner and unrolled his T-shirt from his thin belly and let the stones tumble onto the pile he’d started a few days earlier. “God willing, I’ll be ready,” he whispered.

He watched his ama drive into the garage. As she slammed the door shut on the SUV, she stepped close to his stockpile. Mohamed gasped, hoping she wouldn’t see his stash. “I have to be very careful,” he warned himself, “our safety depends on it.”

Mami, what is our cousin Mohamed doing?” Fatima asked one day, “Look at that pile of rocks. It's getting bigger!”

Ama Sally stared at the mound. Finally, she said, “Fatima, remember Mohamed just came from Palestine and that’s a scary place to live. Maybe he’s still feeling afraid here in the UAE.”

“But Mami, that’s silly! There’s no danger here.”

“That’s right, honey. Baba moved us out of harm’s way. But it’ll take time for Mohamed to understand that he’s safe.”

“Yeah, and he doesn’t need to throw any more rocks.” Fatima agreed, nodding solemnly.

Mohamed’s fears reminded me how easy it is to respond by wanting to throw rocks at others when we feel threatened. Some days I hold tightly to each wrong done to me and I gather my rocks and take aim.

“That’s for my supervisor who doesn’t appreciate my hard work!” “That’s for the driver who cut me off!” “No way I’m going to let that guy walk all over me! Watch out!”

I hug these weapons of destruction tightly to my chest. When will I learn to let go? If I’m always clutching onto them, how can I free my hand to reach out to others and stop the cycle?

Lord, please help me disband my pile of rocks. Exchange my rocks for one sturdy rock — You! Become my strength and help me to overlook hurts and rest safely in Your promises.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's The Same World

"It's The Same World" just came out in the Spring 2010 edition of Dialogue Magazine, a magazine geared to the low-to-no vision segment of the population, and is designed to encourage. It comes under the "Living With Low Vision" column and addresses transition between vision and coping with vision loss. Thank you God for the opportunity to share life lessons.


Reality Bites

“You have Retinitis Pigmentosa, a progressive vision disorder. The first symptom is night blindness and the last, usually blindness. This could happen in a year, five years, or somewhere down the line. It’s different with everyone.”

"What?! I just came in for a stronger prescription!"

I thought my life would instantly change that day, but my vision loss was gradual. Still, I wondered how I would adapt to a blind world down the line and when exactly that would occur.

Now, twenty-two years later, “down the line” is here.

My eyesight played constant tricks on me. Objects popped up into my path—cardboard boxes, a baby stroller, the dog, a trash can, a steel pole. Objects in plain view would vanish—my keys, change, a book, or my cell phone. Lately, words on a page would break up, disappear and maybe fall into place a minute later.

Anything higher than my elbow and lower than my thigh became vulnerable to injury. I regularly got bumps, scrapes, and bruises. Occasionally, there were stitches. I gave in and sought help before I broke a limb.

My eye doctor referred me to the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. They teamed me up with Bob, a blind mobility specialist, to help me survive getting around in my daily life. I will never forget my first cane experience.

Bob fitted me with sleep shades to simulate total blindness. Then he handed me a long slender cane that I would tap to sense my environment.

Our route consisted of walking a quarter mile from my house to a wooden footbridge I knew from childhood—then home again.

The instructor put me in the lead and called out suggestions to guide me along:

“Stay on the sidewalk. Sweep your cane back and forth to find the hard surface. Feel that?” … “If your cane touches something soft, you’ve wandered onto someone’s lawn.”... “Nice smooth, sweeping strokes.”… “You’re doing great!”

Or I was. Until my first loud, up close scare. I listened. Didn’t move. Couldn’t.

“You aren’t in any danger, Amy. Keep going.”

That sounds like … a big vehicle! What if the driver doesn’t see me? What if I walk into its path? What if the driver backs over me?

I heard screeches, scrapes, mumbling, and bangs. Then, the sounds faded.

“You were fine,” Bob reassured, “The garbage truck stopped next to you, not in your pathway. Keep going. That’s it. Take your cane out further. Nice smooth sweeps.”

A train whistle startled me. “The train tracks must be ahead, just under the bridge we will be walking on.”

In five minutes, I tapped my cane on the wooden slats. “BINGO! We’ve made it to the footbridge,”

“Keep going.”

We had just crossed the other side of the bridge when a succession of powerful rumbles and shhhhhs filled my ears. I strained to distinguish the sounds. What IS that?

“Oh! That must be the school buses leaving to pick up the kids. There’s a school up the road.”

I hope we don’t get caught up in the traffic. We’d better head home. I changed direction and surged forward.

“Amy. Whoa! Come back.”

Where am I? I froze at the sound of a vehicle very close by.

“You’ve wandered across the road. Come back.”

Where is ‘back’?

“Stop. Do you hear more traffic?”

“Ye-ees, uh -- to the right. So, where am I?”

“The opposite side of the road. Listen to my voice. Can you hear me? Come on back.”

I walked and tapped until I found myself on the sidewalk again.

“See? You made it.”

Safe again! “We should be nearing my house by now. Can I peek?”

“Yes, you can take off your sleep shades now.”

“Can you believe it? My house is the next one over. Bob, we did it!”

“Of course we did.”

Though I had known this street my whole life, this exercise showed me how unsafe even the area I knew could be without sight. My companion was blind. Yet I had asked him questions as if he could see the layout of every street and obstacle. He had existed in my world and me, in his.

We had reversed roles. When I expressed all this to him, he frowned.

“Amy, listen to me. Our worlds are the same. I interact with everything around me non-visually while up to this point, you’ve always relied on your vision. Now you’re coming to understand that this world can be perceived and experienced both with sight and without sight. Without your sleep shades, you know where you are by paying attention to all of the visual clues. But when we cover up your eyes, you have to learn to be more aware of all of the nonvisual clues—and that’s what I do all day every day. The strategies that one of us uses are no less legitimate than the strategies that the other uses, and they are no less safe.”

In the coming days, I thought about Bob’s words. How could someone who had been sighted all her life function in a strange new place where everything would be unfamiliar…and potentially dangerous? Maybe this was why I had feared going blind.

But Bob was right. It is the same world, and not two separate ones. The difference is only in how we perceive the environment around us. Although our frame of reference might be different, we interact with the same variables. I am still coming to terms with thinking of my cane as an extension of myself, something that I need to help me perceive and move throughout the world around me.

I no longer consider that my impending blindness will thrust me into a strange new world. On our walk, Bob proved to me that everything is right where it’s always been. He simply reminded me that I have to get used to finding it in a different way.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Why do we allow discouragement?

I don't know what's been keeping me from writing! I get excited about something that has happened and I want to share that part of my life with you, but what happens from when the idea enters my head and gets on paper is something else! Then I anyone actually reading this? After I dwell on this for awhile, I begin to believe that perhaps it doesn't really matter if I post something today or not. Consequently, I end up not doing it. Discouragement sets in, which is what Satan desires. He wants me to give up and say, "I have nothing unique to share." But I do...! I have a voice and God is working in my life and in your life. It is there that we will find common ground. When we want something, we have to follow it up ~ consistently. I have to set aside time (the same time) each day and just determine to write.