“‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus”…

NOTE: I penned the greater part of this piece last night between 1:00 and 2:30 AM. I had no Internet access at the time, but intended to post this when I did. That moment has come. What you are about to read is more a letter to the Lord, an outpouring of thanks for what He has done and provided and taught, the growth and fruit that He is producing. No, I have not lost interest in my multi-part series; I still have much to say on the Lord’s restoration, and I hope to continue when I can.

Several months ago, I was taking that glorious day of rest that every Christian should have—one of those days just for refreshment in the Lord. My day of rest happens to be Sunday, and that Sunday I was meandering my way through family memories and listening to worship music. This, from Robin Mark, was among the auditory treasures I unearthed:

When the rain falls, and it some days will,
Then the pavement under my feet
Sparkles silver and gold in reflected light
That I otherwise wouldn’t have seen.
And when the storm comes and the strong wind blows,
I will bow my head to push through,
And every step that I take, I will watch and pray
And be sure my foothold is true.

Now, I could say “amen” to all of that! I had been through my share of difficult times and had even discovered treasures in some of that darkness. But it was the song’s refrain that began to trip me up:

Jesus, don’t You keep me from that storm;
I want to walk that sacred ground,
For You are Master of it all
And I am but a lost-and-found.

Now, I wasn’t questioning Robin Mark’s theology—I knew that his words were Biblically sound. But on the other hand, I didn’t feel I could ever come to a point of praying such a thing. “Don’t keep me from the storm”? “Don’t keep me from it, if You can use it in my life”? Well, God’s will be done, but how could I ever actually pray, ask for, petition God for, treasure, cherish, appreciate, or value difficult times? It wasn’t humanly possible, I concluded, to say in effect, “The sand of this place scorches my feet, the nearest oasis is miles away, and I am parched—but, oh, thank You for all the manna!”

Nearly four months hqave passed since I heard that song and admired Robin Mark’s bravery from a distance. Now, I know exactly what he meant.

It all began on 13 June. I awoke that morning, read Matthew and immersed myself in worship, and then deecided that I would update the content on my iPod. Simple enough, and not much to be learned, you say. Ah, but the device wouldn’t synchronize with my computer. Instead, it kept going into recovery mode, then wouldn’t even try to sync… Three, four, and five times we tried—first Naomi, then Hannah. We tried with different iPods; we tried uninstalling iTunes and downloading it anew; we tried manual syncing. Each time, we encountered fresh challenges. Now, don’t misunderstand—this did not leave me without a few silly songs and a movie or two. It left me without ten thousand songs’ worth of worship music and hundreds of sermons but, much worse, I was also without my eleven audio Bibles. If I wanted the Word, it was going to have to be a Braille edition—nothing wrong with that, but not as effective for quick, efficient study. Besides, I like to listen to the Scriptures as I’m drifting off to sleep, and I was now being denied this delightful pursuit. But do you know, my beloved reader, what came of it all? In the twelve-hour gap between the problem and the tenuous resolution I reached that night, the Lord put a song in my heart and a precious knowledge of His presence deep within my spirit. My refrain all that day was, “Lord, I will read Your Word in whatever format I can find. If that’s just one version, it is enough. Your presence, O Lord, Your Holy Spirit alone is more than enough.” And there was such a sense of His holiness in that day!—such a knowledge that He was with me? Would I ever relish having my iPod malfunction? No, not in the flesh—but the Lord did use this experience to teach me something about Himself and to reinforce to my heart that He is my everything.

“If that is what you call a desert,” you say, “then you really haven’t lived life. What you believe to be a storm was a gentle sprinkle of a rain-shower…”

Fast forward to last Monday. In the past ten days, I have been displaced from my apartment due to an exploding hot water that resulted in a destructive flood that ruined my carpet; we have temporarily lost our internet; two members of our extended family are seriously ill; anger, sorrow, and anxiety have filled my interpersonal communications with many of my brothers and sisters in Christ; I have faced challenges on both employment and guide-dog fronts; Naomi has suffered health difficulties; feelings of worthless and failure have threatened to sweep me away; and I have felt highly unforgiven by God, separated from Him and no longer permitted to come into His presence. My “church community”, y brothers and sisters in Christ, and I have been attacked in so many areas, and even now it has been difficult to wrap my heart around solutions. If you’re covered with bruises and you only have so many ice packs, which injuries do you tend to first?

First for me, and first for anyone who may be reading wthis with a similar list of heartaches stretching before them, is to address any outlying spiritual concerns. I tend to conntct every event, be it pleasant or unpleasant, with my walk with the Lord, so I was really in a bit of a bind. When the hot water heater burst, we all became stressed; when we were stressed, we got impatient with each other; when we became impatient, things were said that we might later regret; when something critical but unspiritual was said to me, I decided that it was a reflection of how I was living before God and, what’s more, a reflection of His heart toward me. My beloved readers, don’t travel down that slippery slope—it’s one I know all too well, and it invariably ends in quicksand.

What got me out of my spiritual valley was a little book by Jennifer Rees-Larcombe entitled WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, GOD? In it, the author reiterated some truths about God’s love that my heart really needed to hear. Then, too, the fact of these difficult moments in our spiritual lives was treated seriously and sensitively, which I can’t say for very many writers/pastors/theologians/books/treatises/dissertations… You get the idea. So, that book was helpful, but as we all know, things like this are only a tool in the Lord’s hands. It was really my prayers for forgiveness, an acceptance of His love and grace, a few tearful pleas to “start anew”, and, above all, the ever-present love, compassion, and mercy of the Trinity that set me free from the spiritual part of this valley. Am I still tempted to proclaim myself outside of His care, especially in these last few days and especially when some carnal concern makes me feel like a failure? Yes, I am—but now I can take those thoughts captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ, know that He will free me from them, and move forward in His joy and peace.

So, thus much of spiritual trials. Did my human suffering fade when I repented of last week’s sins and began to move forward in the Lord? Not quite. We’re still dealing with illness and anguish, pain in our hearts and aches in our bodies. But—don’t you know?—all of this is drawing me ever nearer to God, making me rely on Him more and more for every ounce of strength I possess.

At the moment, all of my furniture is outside my apartment, with boxes stacked against the dressers and headboard and tables. I am living in a small, unfurnished room that I have made comfortable and as home-like as possible just because it is my nature to do so. True, my “bed” is an air mattress on the floor, topped with a pillow-topper that I salvaged from the flood that threatened all of my apartment’s carefully-chosen accoutrements. The Faith Box, a large chest in which I keep anointing oil, Bibles, Communion wafers, and spiritual mementos, is now serving as a table. The rest of the room is filled to capacity with bags and boxes of things I did not wish to lose track of during this transition from old carpet to new.

What is my point in all of this? That the room in which I’m now staying, and the bits and pieces I’ve put into it, are almost symbolic. I have always named living spaces—Bethesda, Bethel, The Chapel, The Sanctuary. Accordingly, these new quarters are The Oasis. The Oasis, despite the unique circumstances. The Oasis because, though not a place of safety itself, it has come to represent a place of security. The Oasis, because it is here that I come when burdens are unbearable. The Oasis, because here almost more than ever, I seek and I find the presence of the Lord. His Shekinah glory is here. His light fills this place, even when my life and thoughts and day have seemed so dark. His comfort is constant—both in this physical room and in my day-to-day life, as I navigate our current trials. Here, I have seen and experienced and known with all my heart the holiness of God. Holy ground, even when my mouth is parched. Joyous ground, with plenty of manna. Awesome ground, even when the heat of circumstance presses in. Everything He provides here is all the more precious as I learn to trust Him more.

Am I enjoying all of this, every iota and each tiny detail? No, humanly speaking, I find it hard most of the time. But now, now more than ever, I’m being taught how to rely on the Lord, and on the Lord alone, to meet all of my needs. Minute by minute and day by day, I’m being given strength, wisdom, grace, mercy, peace, love, and even profound and inexpressible joy that surpasses all the fiery darts that the enemy could possibly hurl at me or my loved-ones.

Now, I understand Robin Mark’s prayer-song, “Jesus, don’t You keep me from that storm.” Now, too, I know what is meant by a few lines in that beautiful worship ballad “Just Let Me Say”:

Let me find You in the desert
Till this sand is holy ground,
And I am found completely surrendered
To You, my Lord and friend.

I will trust Him in the deserts of life, whether they be carnal and temporal wilderneses like our saga of the ruined carpet or more serious matters such as a wounded heart and a crushed spirit. Trust, surrender, relinquishment—”peace, wonderful peace”.

Books: A Words Sketch… And a Pages, Bindings, and Fonts Sketch!

My beloved readers, please excuse the redundancy if you’ve seen this post before. I wrote it for Epinions.com, but it is no longer on that site, and I thought it might be suitable for the blog. As you can see, I had a propensity for creating extremely long articles, even in pre-blog days… And, if you’ve never seen this before, enjoy!

The book is compact–one historical event, one life, one little memoir. It has a glossy cover and a smooth, unbroken binding. All of that is about to change…

Really, it is a disgrace to treat a book as you are about to treat this one. You wish you didn’t have to… but there isn’t any other choice. Taking a deep breath, you open the publication to the exact center, pull the pages apart as far as they will go, and press down. The book creaks in protest, then breaks. Farewell, unblemished binding.

But now, you have the facts. Through a break in binding and a few moments with the scanner, you know that this is, indeed, a special book–one worthy of both your bookshelf collection and Bookshare.org, the online library for those with print disabilities. Now, the reading can begin.

First, a dilemma: Your scanner does not announce page orientation, and pages are adjusted automatically. If you’re going to scan, read, and save this book in an electronic format, you will need to know with absolute certainty which cover is the front and which the back. Both covers are glossy. There is nothing particularly distinguishing in size, shape, or dog-eared corner… There! You have it! Almost imperceptibly, the outlines of a little wrinkle. Can it be? What your fingers have encountered is, of all things, a set of tooth marks on the front cover of this children’s book. Now, where could those possibly have come from? Did some mischievous cat saunter across the table one day and decide to see whether the book tasted of salmon? Ah, well… let bygones be bygones. The tooth marks may now serve as clues for the task at hand. You can’t mar this publication with a Braille label, so the tooth marks will have to stay. Other books you’ve scanned have possessed different attributes–a folded corner on the front, a library jacket fitting the entire publication like a child’s bulky mitten, a sticker on the back cover… every book has something unique to celebrate. And, if not? Well, you can always notch one of the covers gently with a pair of scissors. It’s your book, isn’t it? And the binding is broken, anyway.

And so, you begin scanning. Open a file, save it using the title of your book, making sure the document is saved in RTF format… and you’re off! First the title page. It will be produced with or without fancy, curling, calligraphic font; with or without “Praise For” stamped all over it; with or without a list of books by the same author; sometimes, with or without any discernable text at all. You will experience page numbers–or not. There will be Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, a little flourish that could be anything with some stretch of the imagination… the possibilities are endless! Your favorite, you think as you regard the book with satisfaction, are those pages with lower- rather than uppercase Roman numerals–for the sheer improbability of it all.

Now for the copyright. This must be in place for every book; otherwise, the venture is an infringement of copyright law and highly illegal. And so, you scan the copyright page. Pay attention: Is the ISBN in place? Some older books don’t come with ISBNs, but do look closely. Check and double-check, if necessary. Are the copyright dates, copyright renewal dates, permissions holders, etc. all properly acknowledged? Or, is the copyright page not even in the front of the book? Will you find it somewhere near the back–perhaps even on the back cover? So many choices…

Legalities aside, a story is coming your way. There’s no need to walk you through the careful process of scanning each page–of checking for errors, making sure page numbers and chapter headings correspond with text, etc. So, instead, you let your mind wander back to a time when books were in large, cumbersome Braille volumes. A time when recorded material was easier, but more limiting. A time when, in sad truth, you led a relatively bookless existence.

Oh yes, there were books. Your mother’s Bible, for one. From earliest childhood, you’ve always loved holding Bibles–but this one was special, magnificent, simply awesome. It was first put into your hands when you were seven. This was the Old Testament, and this the New. See how much smaller the New Testament is than the Old Testament? See what lessons can be learned from both, if you’ll only hide this Book in your heart? See these thin, perfect pages that must be turned with all possible reverence? And those index markers to help you find your place–so necessary, because this Bible has so much to teach? Feel the weight of that exquisite message–those pure, beautiful, wonderful, joyous words?

You do. And as the years pass, you begin to see other glorious things in your mother’s Bible. Even though you now have a Bible of your own and read it regularly, absorbing that holy message for yourself, there’s still something about another person’s copy of the Scriptures. One afternoon, you find that Bible lying open on a table. One wondrous page–the left-hand one– is smooth and unmarked. The right-hand page bears tiny grooves–small lines and other marks from careful underlining. You turn a few pages. More underlining, and a few places where entire sections have been heavily highlighted. Those smooth pages must be in… let’s see… Ecclesiastes, which your mother has admitted to not understanding. Carefully-highlighted ones, further back, must mean you’re close to Psalms. Oh, the joy of experiencing a book this way! Including, and especially, the Bible.

Your own Bible is much different. Not the Braille one that comes in twenty volumes and takes up an entire bookcase, but the print one you received several years ago. Others read it aloud, write your comments in the margins, and highlight where you direct. Oh, the things you could say of others’ serving hands! But, for now, our topic is books—not hands–so you’ll refrain. Your Bible is smaller–a unique size in that it isn’t quite fit for pocket or purse, but certainly smaller than your friends’ Bibles. The leather binding is worn and falling apart. It’s been glued in several places, but still comes loose. One of these days, someone is going to encourage you to get it rebound–but then, you wouldn’t be able to cling to that old adage, “The evidence of a well-fed soul is a well-read Bible.” And those awe-inspiring, holy words! You know the Scriptures well enough to imagine what that print must be saying–“Beautiful words, / Wonderful words, / Wonderful words of life.” One evening, you sat with this Bible on your lap, a recorder in your hand. Without commenting, you carefully turned a few pages–one by one, paragraphs of love and grace. The thirty-second recording is still on your iPod.

As the scanner hums in the background, you turn your attention to other books–literary and didactic, polished and somewhat flawed. The sudden acquisition of a scanner has broadened your world, and yours is no longer a bookless existence. No more must you content yourself with Braille textbooks and audio devotionals alone. Now, you can read almost anything. And, while you’re waiting to investigate the latest biography or work of poetry, you can study what the sighted world has known for years. You continue turning pages, pressing them onto the glass surface of the flatbed scanner, and waiting for your software to convert the image into readable text. As you do, you make some observations.

Cover: With or without a jacket? If with, can the jacket be removed? Is the book or jacket engraved with a tactile, raised-print title? Is the book hard-back, or paperback? [Hint: Paperbacks are easier to scan.]

Distinguishing Features: Did you know that stains can be beautiful–especially if they’re rather sticky? A spilled remnant of last summer’s sweetened iced tea can provide insight as to which cover is the front. Scrape off some of that stain, but leave a bit intact. The same principle applies to wrinkles, stickers, creases, dog-ears, and even those infamous tooth marks. Aside from directing you in the scanning process, these features are sentimental—plain and simple.

Binding: Leather, or thoroughly ordinary? Oh, yes, you shall judge a book by its cover! Are there pre-existing breaks? Where? Is this a well-loved book, or did it collect dust? Trace the book with your finger. Any remnants of ribbons or torn, fragmented bookmarks? Does it smell of a library, a musty attic, or a lavender sachet? Hint: The very best books smell something akin to all of the above. They are British; smell of bath salts, furniture polish, fresh air, antiques, and cedar; and cost a mere cent on Amazon, even though the seller must ship the book all the way from somewhere in Brighton… That book was by one Jennifer Reese-Larcomb, was entitled WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, GOD?, and was th only Christian-living book you’ve ever encountered that could make a spiritual valley seem almost inviting. Yes, judge a book by its cover, but most especially by its scent.

Size and Shape: Ah, now this says something about the book’s character! Is it more efficient to design a smaller but thicker book, or is it more literary to produce a larger yet thinner book? Why are picture books produced the way they are? Why is a particularly edifying devotional just slightly too large to fit on the scanner? Why, you almost feel as if you’re chopping and cutting that book from its binding to no purpose! And if a book can’t be unbound, how will you handle a cumbersome size? In these cases, you have little choice; you must scan one side of a page, then another. This doubles your time, but it’s worth the effort. Lesson: If you love your books, you’re even willing to unbind them.

Inner Flaps: Why, we have a pocket for a library card on our hands! But you purchased this book used from Amazon. Oh, the stories the previous owners could have told…

Front Matter: How do other people do it? Sometimes, front matter is quite illegible. It’s all you can do to coax it from the scanner. Titles in brazen, screaming fonts. Authors whose names, even typed, insist on announcing their presence with a curving flourish. Copyright dates and ISBNs that are so small or faded that they come trembling onto the page as a series of whimpering, jumbled letters and numbers that may or may not make sense. Inscriptions in the previous owner’s sloppy handwriting—nuances that the scanner can never pick up, but which you know must be present on a given page because they have a tendency to interfere with the rest of the typed content. Even so, you love them all–every flawed, beautiful I that should be the number 1. Every symbol that announces itself as a “black square” or some other strange bullet—every asterisk and other squiggle that the scanner seems to derive from front matter. Why find these details so striking despite the challenges they pose to the process at hand? Because those inscriptions indicate that someone loved my book. The publisher cared enough to make the title font dance across the page, or someone’s dearest friend cared enough to write “to my sister in Christ with agape, shalom, and hesed” on the dedication page, or a devoted Bible student cherished this theological text enough to scrawl a note in the margins. Case in point: LORD, I WANT TO BE WHOLE by Stormie Omartian. Your grandmother wrote so many notes in the body of the book, and underlined so extensively, that the scanner never could have done anything with the text. So, instead, your mother made an exception to the “fewer audiobooks, more personal reading” maxim you’ve been embracing and read the book on tape, complete with the book’s handwritten notes as well as her own commentary. It’s like a spiritual button box, that book. What does it matter that you had to order a crisp, clean, like-new copy when you found you still wanted Omartian’s excellent work on Bookshare?

Main Content: Sharp and brilliant. Hyphens where you don’t expect them. Intriguing line breaks. Poetic license taken with capitalization and commas. Authorial and publishing decisions regarding fine points of Christian grammar–to capitalize pronouns relating to God, or not? You’re always so glad when they do. You’re always tempted to correct lowercase pronouns, including “who” and “whom”, when they don’t, but this would be a serious infringement of copyright law and the rights of the author and publisher, so you grit your teeth and imagine every pronoun properly capitalized, glad, for once, that you don’t own one of those fancy Braille displays that would be constantly putting the publisher’s pronoun faux pas at your fingertips. Page numbers–in which corner of the page? And, you never knew that so many headers and footers could exist in one place!

Stationery: So many varieties! Fleming H. Revell, the Christian publisher of such materials as Brother Andrew’s God’s Smuggler and Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, prints many of their books on sturdy pages with slightly jagged edges. Could this be symbolic of the doctrine of grace? Just as we are, with all of our jagged sins, we come to the Lord to be used for His service… The Prison Letters of Corrie ten Boom is printed on thick, straight-edged paper. Could the durability of the pages represent the ten Booms’ courage amidst trying times? Likewise, Mommy Whispers, a picture book patterned after the classic Love You Forever, is printed on pages that are both large and heavy–the vastness of a parent’s love, coupled with the gradual passage of time and the strength of a family bond. By contrast, a profound mid-grade book is printed on small, fragile pages that make a quiet yet persistent rustling sound when turned. Like the crunch of autumn leaves, or the soft voice of a child who has experienced much in her thirteen years–a memoir whose pages carry a message in and of themselves…

Pages: Check for splotches, tears, etc. Not only do these lend the book character, but they must be fixed. Get up-close and personal with each piece of paper. [Hint: Camille Beckman’s Glycerin Hand Therapy cream works well for this; it absorbs quickly, does not interfere with scanning, and preserves your hands against the inevitable dryness caused by this sort of minute examination.]

Your scan is nearly finished. In the time it has taken you to ruminate on these matters, you have produced over a hundred pages. Your ultimate conclusion is a startling one: Books appear much different if you aren’t merely reading them. If every word must be personally handled, if every page and paragraph must be examined from the front and then placed face-down on a scanner, you learn to appreciate your literary companion a bit more. Suddenly, you have to ask yourself whether that cookbook is really worth the trouble, or if there’s a more exigent bit of information to be shared.

As you submit the completed scan to Bookshare for consideration, you’re almost loath to let it go. The hard copy has been turned this way and that, broken, battered, lovingly arranged when legible, hurled across the room when not… Now, an electronic copy is being placed in a holding cell until a volunteer proofreader rescues it out of the kindness of his or her heart. From there, it will be checked for errors–and how tragic ‘twill be if any are found!–and submitted for final approval. In a few weeks, other visually-impaired readers will have yet another book from which to choose. What can you say to the volunteer who will hold your hard work in their proverbial hands? “This book took me three days to scan; please keep this in mind when proofreading”? Or, more kindly, “The hard copy is wrinkled–well-read and well-loved. The pages are fragile and wispy. There is a tiny rip on Page 53. Someone read and reread Page 134, obviously incorporating some sort of touch as well, , for the ink has faded and the scanner had a difficult time processing it. I wish you could have absorbed the fragrance of this book; it smelled like a joyful home in which God had restored a marriage, my beloved proofreader—that’s what it smelled like!”? Instead, you take the sedate route and write in the comment box: “Line breaks on Page 141 did not come out well. Dialogue on Page 86 is authentic and spelled correctly, to the best of my knowledge—the author simply has a unique style. The ISBN is not located in the text of the book, but the copyright page is present.”

Then, not willing to let the experience go unnoticed, you open a new document–not RTF this time, and not with a scanner close at hand. First, you describe the experience of scanning. Then, hoping your words will penetrate a heart grown used to ignoring small luxuries, you write an appeal:

To My Friends in the Sighted Community:

I have but one request for you. Please, dear friends, beloved readers, notice life. Buy a set of chimes and notice their complexity. If you do it right, you should have found some chimes that seem at once to play both high and low notes–so very intricate… Or, go to a gift shop and find the chimes that resemble a cross from one side and a dove from the other. Trust me, they exist. If you can’t afford them, record their complexity. Oh, yes, there are signs everywhere forbidding customers to photograph merchandise, but no one ever said anything about recording goods for sale!

Buy a turntable and plenty of old records. 54 is a good number–or, if you prefer, LIV. Examine them individually, noting their condition and any interesting attributes of album covers. Then, gather them in your arms and inhale their fragrance–like that of a library. When you actually listen to the albums, take in the crackling sound that some make–irritating to some, but comforting in its own right.

Wash your hands–not because they’re dirty, but for the sheer joy of the water itself. Let that hot, peace-evoking water, scented as it is with myrrh-containing soap, swirl about you. Change positions often for the full effect. Reduce the temperature to something cooler–the sudden, surprising rush of joy. Turn water to a trickle, then off completely. Now, wasn’t that lovely? Of course, you do have to obtain myrrh-scented soap… Look at an organic grocery store.

Drink some tea. Don’t just throw it together; choose everything carefully. Pretend this is a book. Select your tea, combining flavours such as Earl Grey and peppermint if necessary and deliberately seeking out nothing but loose-leaf; heat your water to the perfect temperature; choose a cup and justify your decision through an elaborate thought process using ninety percent of your sentimental cortex and as little actual logic as possible; add preservative-free clover honey and full, rich, authentic cream as if this will be your last drop of hot comfort for the rest of the year; and decide on some music to accompany your treat. Ah, the majesty of Integrity Music’s early releases–velvet congregational voices and the harp!

Or, you could just read a book. But, beloved reader, I implore you–don’t just “pick up a book”. Take several moments to examine it. It will cease to be just a few printed words. Truly, dearest friends, take time to touch the pages.

“Steady My Heart”

Back in 2012, I decided that I desperately needed a guide-dog to further my independence and enrich my travel experience. In August of that year, I was introduced to Natasha—and she has been a joy and delight to me. However, the actual training experience was difficult. I faced challenges with cherished friends, persecution from instructors and students, condescension at the church I attended during that time, severe sleep deprivation, and a constant fear of failure, all of which led to a period of extended melancholy once I returned home.

But I have written about this. Both on Epinions and on this blog, I have exhausted myself and my readers by dissecting everything that ever went wrong at The Training Center. I have wept and whined and whimpered over institutional food, accommodations, and treatment for so long that I had nearly forgotten the many blessings that the T.C. era held. Now, I believe that the Lord has laid it on my heart to elaborate upon all the blessings of that time. This will be the next step in my healing from traumatic memories—from the spiritual crisis of 2006 as well as from the anxiety and depression of 2012. Following, then, is the post I should have written years ago—all that the Lord did, both in great ways and smaller, to fill my heart with love for Him and for His servants during that month at the Training Center. Quite obviously, the blessing of my guide-dog was a great one—everything from learning the fundamentals of guide-work and of situation-specific commands to the laughter she brought during play, bonding, etc. So, all of that goes without saying. I’m actually here to discuss what the Lord did in a purely spiritual sense through and in the midst of the trials—the rainbows following every storm, His peace and promises illuminating my darkest night.

The day before I was to leave, I had dinner at an Italian restaurant. At the time, I could never have guessed that this cuisine would form a motif of sorts while I was in training, coming to represent comfort and consolation. At that evening’s meal, Naomi, Jedidiah, and Hannah busied themselves for a few minutes in taking some last-minute pictures, so I found some worship music to listen to. Actually, “worship music” is an understatement. What I found on my iPod was a seven-minute song in a foreign language—though, shamefully, I do not know exactly which one. I have music in Dutch, German, Afrikaans, Swahili… and without a good reference point, I’m really not sure what I was listening to. I do know that the song was congregational in nature and highly anointed, and that I have never been able to find it since. When you have over ten thousand songs on your iPod and ten thousand more media files besides (sermons, audio Bibles, etc.), some of your content tends to get lost in the SHUFFLE!—pun intended… The Lord will help me to find that song in His plan, His will, and His timing. Meanwhile, I will treasure it as a blessing for that season.

When I arrived at Center headquarters, I was met by a few things that filled my heart with joy. One, and perhaps the simplest, was an enormous, blue, velvet husband pillow with a small pocket for things like a voice recorder—or a remote control, if creativity has forsaken you. Immediately, I saw the potential of this pillow—to hug during homesick times, to use as an enveloper when in times of worship, and as a sound barrier against other students’ chatter and electronics. Just prop it up correctly so you have a wall and a nightstand on one side and a huge chair-back of a pillow on the other and—voila!—sweet, silent dreams. The pillow seemed to have been made for me, so much so that I tracked one down as soon as I got back home and have cherished it ever since. Then, there were the other touches of home. Dove soap in the bathroom, much like the very kind I had brought, baked zitti al forno for dinner that first night, iced tea available on demand… All of these small gestures allowed me to feel at ease and almost served as confirmation that I was at the correct training school.

My dorm room was two doors down from that of one of the instructors. Across from my room was the laundry facility, and many evenings I was treated to the tranquil hum of the dryer as students did their weekly washing. Just a few paces down the hall was the door leading outside–a quick escape during visiting and off-campus hours!, and a less tedious way for Naomi and Hannah to make their way into the building. One afternoon, the school’s director explained that she had actually assigned rooms with much careful thought–one student needed a room with amplification equipment attached to the telephone, another had had several guide-dogs and didn’t need to be so close to an instructor… What no one could have anticipated is that the school’s two wings came to take on more personal characteristics–there was the Quiet Wing and the Social Wing, which often had loud music blaring from one of its rooms. I was at the most silent end of the Quiet Wing. And, no, I do not believe that the arrangements were solely a director’s doing. The director may have known that this would be a good placement for me based on external factors, but only the Lord could have known how much I would come to cherish the silence that that particular placement afforded.
That first evening, we were all presented with our leashes. These are not ordinary leather leashes—you can’t buy them in a pet store. Later, we were given dog booties, feeding bowls and measuring cups, grooming supplies, treat pouches and, of course, our dogs’ individually-constructed harnesses. With each piece of equipment, I felt more and more like a potential graduate, a guide-dog handler, an independent woman, a non-cane traveler. It was like taking so many steps up a steep yet scenic mountain.

Although I did not have extensive opportunities to use the Center’s amenities, my month-long place of residence did feature a computer room, a library of Braille and audio books—including a teaching series on the New Testament!—a music room, a silence-filled living room that was seldom occupied and featured the most comfortable of sofas, and a coffee machine whose beverages, though not very tasty, warmed my heart on emotionally-chilly mornings. Moments spent in these places felt so much like home away from home and even afforded occasional opportunities for worship.

Neither did I get the chance to spend two, three, and four hours in Bible study and worship as I do now. Nevertheless, I clung to my heavenly Father in every way possible. Part of our daily training took place in a small town forty-five minutes away from the Center’s headquarters. What better way to use an hour and a half than to hold in my heart “In Your Presence, O God” or songs about Communion, or to read Luke and I Corinthians and Revelation? Then, too, there was a lot of waiting involved while other students worked with their dogs—more reading! Many of the students became curious, and few things during that time gave me greater delight than to explain exactly what I was reading—to demonstrate tangibly that these words of Scripture are breath and life to me. Now, most of the instructors were less than thrilled with my reading choice—they indicated to me that they thought my carrying a two-pound book bordered on a waste of that right arm of mine and implied in their conduct toward me that they would have liked it if I had spent those round-trips chatting or listening to their music. But…

Then, there was Student Intern. She was a treasure, a gem, a jewel. In Matthew 10, Jesus said, “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward, and he who receives a rightous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is My disciple, assuredly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” Well, part of this intern’s service did include furnishing all of us students with water, coffee, etc., following our work sessions—it was just was just something she and some of the instructors did. But Student Intern was far more than an instructor-in-training. I’ll never forget the days she saw my distress and talked with me about church, about having a gentle heart and being a fruitful tree, about how well Natasha and I were doing—especially on the days I feared we might not graduate, much less that we were actually doing well. Difficult though it may be to imagine, we had no Christian radio stations at this institution—I know this because Student Intern spent a tireless half-hour carefully tuning the radio in my room and listening to everything she found in hopes of presenting me with some glimpse of CCM. In a season in which most of my instructors referred disdainfully to my Bible as “that BOOK!”, Student Intern sometimes retrieved it from my room if I forgot it, usually with a sort of sad compassion in her voice as she said, “Here’s your Bible—I’ll just put it over here…” On days when she saw me frantically typing on one of the Center’s computers, she must have deduced that I was doing something urgent (indeed, I was usually writing E-mails begging for prayer), and on these occasions she would be uncommonly compassionate about pulling me away. “Lunch in five minutes… Are you coming?” Since I knew that this was not really an optional meal, but a training experience and sometimes a time for a mini-lesson, I would accompany her, only to find that she deliberately placed me at a table with other Christians. Cold, refreshing water.

So long as I am writing about servants of God, I cannot exempt the housekeeping staff from my pen-and-paper portrait of life at the Center. I met the woman who cleaned most of our rooms once and she was beyond kind. Later, I found that it was she who had placed the husband pillows in our rooms. Every evening, I tend to spread spiritual things out all around me, topping the whole bed with reminders and symbols of His glory. On any typical evening, I might cover myself with some great piece of cloth representing His covering, hold a print Bible in a worn case, keep a Braille Bible lying next to me, and have two or three prayer cloths pinned to various pillows. I carried on that tradition at the Center—the pillows, of course, being housed in my own cases, cases that were more than able to withstand my safety-pinning efforts. No, I never once damaged Center property for the sake of my spiritual reminders. In the early days of training, I used to make an effort to keep everything as tidy as possible—both so the housekeeping staff wouldn’t have to, and so that I could keep personal things in the Lord between myself and Him. One day, though, I ran out of time to perfect my surroundings and just left everything as it was. When I returned that afternoon, I not only found everything put in order, but my Bible and the other things I treasured had been handled with such careful deliberation, yet with such evident joy and artistry, that I almost wondered whether the woman who had been in to clean had known what everything was and felt spiritually about it the way I did. I can’t explain what she did—it was just tiny, almost-imperceptible nuances. For example, I believe in placing Bibles on top of other objects rather than covering them up—no journals on top of a stack of Bibles! This kind woman had stacked everything together, with my Bible on top, just the way I would have done it. Her folding mirrored mine, as did some of her other arrangements. Pillows with prayer cloths affixed to them were placed up-front and center, propped against pillows without handkerchiefs and safety-pins decorating their surfaces—things like that. “She saw this kind of thing,” you will insist. “She saw what you did and she replicated it.” How do you explain, then, the fact that I had never arranged anything like that while I was at the Center, but had kept everything hidden away where she wouldn’t have found it unless she was very, very unethical? And, even if she had found it, how do you explain those specific arrangements, folds, placements? From that point on, I stopped being quite so maniacal about keeping everything in perfect order, taking the housekeeping staff’s services as a blessing from God and something that, really, I had no time to do myself unless I was willing to get up even earlier than I already did—and for what? To prove myself? And every day that I left things in slight disarray, I returned to my room to see the same beautiful arrangements of everything that was precious to me. That child of God knew—she knew.

There was a little Italian restaurant nearby. Its name is irrelevant, but its asparagus-stuffed raviolis, complete with smoked mozarella, are not. Again, we harken back to the Italian food of the evening before I departed. These raviolis came to symbolize everything being right in the world of Ready-Writer. You see, part and parcel of my experience at the Center were the profound feelings of displacement and disorientation. I do not exaggerate when I write that I felt like a person who had been rendered suddenly unconscious, only to wake up in a foreign country—though which one would not become apparent for days. All I knew was that, all around me, a foreign language was being spoken, unusual cuisine—emotional, spiritual, and, if I’m being honest about the institution’s cooking, tangible—had been set before me, alien customs surrounded me, and I had no idea what to do in such an unfamiliar culture. Actually, if I had found myself deported to Germany or Thailand or Kuwait, I might have felt more at home more quickly. Everything at the Center, from the concrete floors to the isolation to the new ways of governing my life with Natasha to the mistreatment of other students that I saw daily was entirely estranged from the way of life I had always known. And so, I did things to center myself and to remind myself of who I still was in Christ Jesus—again, if I’m being honest with myself, I was afraid I would lose that passion for the Gospel. And so, I journaled. I described the bracelet that held spiritual value, talked about the other students and how God could use them, discussed my love for our Lord, filled entire ten-minute recorded journaling sessions with my interpretations of Scripture… And then, there were the minor earthly blessings. I kept hummus in my room, used frankincense-and-myrrh soap, and wore a waist pack with a little cross-shaped keychain dangling from it. I listened, day by day, to the recordings of family members—both those that they sent while I was at the Center and those from much earlier times. When Naomi and Hannah came to do infusions—the Center’s nurse wasn’t licensed to infuse that specific medication!—they always brought along a chai, which I held in my heart and sipped with all possible deliberation just before bed on those precious nights. When I took my meals with the other students, I usually made sure to bring at least one thing from my own supply—I would eat the rubbery spaghetti, but I brought a frapuccino to go with it, or occasionally I simply brought my own full meal. All of this somehow became encompassed in asparagus-and-smoked-mozarella-stuffed raviolis. That dish came to represent all possible gentleness, peace, tranquility, and calm, for I only ordered it when I knew that, somehow, I would survive my travels “abroad”—even if I never really assimilated into the culture.

Earthly blessings, those, but provided by God nevertheless. Another string of joys lay in that ubiquitous recorder of mine. I remember wandering the halls one day and hearing the dryer in the laundry room. Immediately, I ran to my own dorm room, retrieved the digital voice recorder from the pocket of that exquisite husband pillow, and made my way as quickly as possible back to the laundry facility, only to find an instructor there. Of course, I then had to explain that to record the dryer was to record themes of purity and wholesomeness… In so doing, a profound connection was established—if only for a time. Then, there were those chimes. They hung near the door of one of the Center’s other training facilities, reminding me of the dancing, singing chimes at home which I had always referred to as the Northern Lights for their beauty. Oh, I saw to it that Student Intern recorded the campus chimes! And when Hannah and Naomi came, as medical necessity dictated, they always had a digital voice recorder with them—Bible passages, songs, prayers, old books… But the recorder wasn’t always merely for recordings. Once, my recorder’s alarm went off while I was in the van and, while I fiddled with the machine in an attempt to silence it, the entire backseat was treated to a minute and a half of Paul Wilbur’s nine-minute rendering of “In Your Presence, O God”. Yes, that recorder was a blessing.

So was the instructor’s radio. Not always—certainly not! I never did develop a passion for the popular and hard-rock music that seemed to run rampant during that time. But there was one day when, while browsing through stations, the instructor accidentally stopped on Christian music. She didn’t keep it there long, but I had heard thirty seconds of Kari Jobe’s “Steady My Heart”, and that was enough. I had not heard Christian music on any radio in weeks; that briefest of intervals helped me to see that I was not alone, not forsaken in a place in which even my church attendance was an anomaly. Then, on 17 August, the day I had received the Holy Spirit ten years earlier, Instructor of Mine decided to listen to country music. When a Christian-oriented song, entitled “I Saw God Today”, played, she made no move to change it. I think it must have been the Holy Spirit keeping her hands on the steering wheel, because her silence and failure to change the station were out-of-character for her. And so, I sat back and let references to the things of the Lord wash over me, filling some of the emptiness I felt and lighting up the darkness around me.

But do you know what might just have been greater than the radio and the recorder? The rain! I was the only student who relished walking in it, who cherished every raindrop and every clap of thunder. One day, when the others decided to seek refuge from the rain, I requested special permission to go out and work with Natasha in the downpour. Instructor of Mine brought an umbrella, under whose shelter I was a very reluctant participant. Personally, I think that getting soaked—not sprinkled upon, but so drenched that you need to change your clothes and wring out your wet outfit—is one of life’s greatest pleasures and never worth missing out on for the sake of convention. As it was, I did need a towel when I arrived back at the Center. You know why this was so special? Because I experience in the rain and snow what most of you experience when you see a rainbow, or a fabulous sunset, or a towering tree, or the moon and stars—I witness God’s majestic creation. So, that rain-walk was a heart-saturating moment for me. As was the time I tripped and fell, believe it or not. I was not paying attention during one of Natasha’s supervised work sessions, and sleep-deprivation caused me to stumble over my own feet. I wasn’t hurt—a tad bit scraped up, perhaps, but not seriously injured. And do you know what I thought even as my shoes-on-asphault contact gave way to knees-on-graveled-dirt? “Oh, yes, kneeling before Him—always the place to be. And this soil, now running through my fingers and down my shins, is yet one more moment of His creation. What a wholesome fall this is!”

From tangibles to God’s creation… what comes next? Do you know, my beloved readers? The things of the Lord!—they are what spring from this journal of joy. You see, He was so close to me during that time. Since I didn’t have hours to read and study His Word, the moments I did have became more precious, and I found myself studying each verse in more minute detail. In a month in which church attendance and especially Communion were rare and elusive, I came to delight in both in a new way. Actually, I take private Communion every evening—then, now, and as long as the Lord convicts me to do so—but grape juice was scarce. Having real Communion elements—grape juice rather than water or sugary grape drink—took on new meaning and significance, as did songs about remaining strong in Jesus, staying true to who He had made me, and even a few worship anthems about Communion itself. John 1:43-50 wrapped itself around my heart then and I have never lost sight of it, even to this day. Like opportunities to take Communion, fellowship with other believers was rare, so I delighted in it all the more when it did happen—all someone had to do was mention that his church had a special outreach ministry, and my heart filled with joy at having found a brother in Christ.

Oh, the joy! When I couldn’t read the Word due to time constraints, I read memoirs like DANCING WITH MAX, an excellent book about grace in which the author describes the joys and blessings of raising a son on the autism spectrum—more a Christian devotional about patience and love, though, than a typical disability/parenting memoir. Or that book called CELEBRATE JESUS, relating the stories behind many common praise and worship choruses. Not for one moment, not for one millisecond, did the Lord ever forsake me—I always knew His presence, His nearness. And in it all, even during the worst of trials, there was joy, joy, joy! Joy so great and extensive that people always asked me why I was in such an unrestrainedly enthusiastic mood. Joy that elevated simple pleasures to lofty heights. Joy that caused me to cry out, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” at every turn. “Hosanna” in both senses of the word—”hallelujah, praise Him”, yes, but also, “O, save!” Keep me safe, for You are able…

Then, there were His gifts. You know, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are always given according to God’s will, and often distributed according to need. There may be more need for the gift of healing in a place of illness, for example, than for a person to only pray in the Spirit—but there may be more need for the gift of tongues than healing in, say, a country that has never heard the Gospel, if some of the inhabitants are to hear God’s Word proclaimed in a language that they can understand (see Acts II). The same thing applies to the gift of discernment—or, as I Corinthians XII calls it, “the discerning of spirits”. All I know is that, halfway through most meals, I often sensed that there was something spiritually amiss in my surroundings, and particularly as it pertained to a specific faculty member. There was a profound sense of oppression, and it was often at these times that I felt I needed to pray more fervently or to leave the premises. Later, I learned a bit more about some of the circumstances surrounding this faculty member and, sure enough, it included condescention and emotional mistreatment of another student, as well as some spiritual confusion. God had been protecting me and showing me how to pray. Discernment in action!—and I was so very grateful for it. But, you know, that gift isn’t given only to protect us from spiritually-compromising situations—it can sometimes be used to help us see our brothers and sisters in Christ, or to simply see things a little more clearly through His eyes. During the third week of training, all of us traveled to the state’s largest and most populated city. While strolling sidewalks and making my way under the overhangs of various shops, I inhaled the fragrance of spices and leather goods, exotic foods and beautifully unique knickknacks and suddenly began to imagine the people behind all those doors. I prayed for many of them, rejoiced at the thought of those who knew of our wonderful Lord, and really prayed for the Lord to sustain and fill those whom I thought might be feeling empty or despondent. Time and again, I found myself thinking, “Oh, you behind that metal-and-glass frame, whoever you are, Jesus loves you so much!” It was a glorious experience, and one I am actually hard-pressed to describe adequately. More of His grace.

And His holiness! I remember one day being given exquisite, glorious news from Hannah and Naomi. Then, due to a very minor injury that nevertheless precluded Natasha and I working together, I was given the day off. Off, to rest and sleep more deeply than I had in weeks. Off, to allow worship music to float through my heart. Off, to take a meal in semi-solitude. And especially, as all of this was going on, to find that Isaiah ch. Vi, was penetrating all those barriers I had established and melting my heart—every word about the seraphim and their cries of “Holy!” That time of having Isaiah’s awesome vision impressed upon my heart stayed with me, even until I arrived home, and during those first few days of re-orienting myself to home life, I found worship music that bespoke His holiness. Without it, you know, I could never have survived…

What am I saying? I’m saying that God has the power, and the love, mercy, compassion, and faithfulness, to truly work all things together for good for those who love Him. I’m saying that, despite the anguish that prevailed during and after my time at the Center, God never did abandon me—and He will never abandon you either, no matter what you may be going through. “Even when it hurts,/ Even when it’s hard, / Even when it all just falls apart…” Then we all must run to Him, the Binder of our wounds and “healer of [our] scars”, trusting in His protection and provision even when we neither see His face nor hear His voice nor feel His presence. His love endures forever—after many long years of wondering why my time at the Center had to culminate in so prolonged a period of heartache, I know that He was, is, and always will be my Rock, my Deliverer, my place of refuge, my strength, my song, and my salvation. “And that my soul knows very well…”

Addendum: Although I have been creating a whirlwind of worship music that must resemble a mixed metaphor to some of you, the title for this piece is taken from that thirty-second clip of a song with which the Lord so richly blessed me. Find Kari Jobe’s “Steady My Heart” on the album THE ACOUSTIC SESSIONS.

Restoration and Holiness, Part V: “Take My Life and Let It Be”…

Back in 2004, I was researching Christian music when I came upon a little review on epinions.com. The reviewer, a delightfully humble woman, was describing music that her children had found enjoyable–an album that I had had when I was very young, but which had been destroyed through repeated run-ins with uncooperative FisherPrice tape players. Well, I enjoyed the review so much that I decided to buy the music–for old time’s sake, don’t you know?–and, I must say, I found the reviewer herself so beautiful in the Lord that I began checking Epinions daily for anything new she might have posted. I was going through some difficult external circumstances and seeing other Christians loving Jesus was a rare thing at that time, so I thought that reading this wonan’s writings was one of the most enriching experiences I could possibly hope to have. CindyJean, if you ever stumble upon this blog through some inexplicable series of circumstances, know that although I never got to know you personally, the Holy Spirit used you for two-and-a-half years to salve the lonely, aching heart of at least one person.

Well, following that exposure to Epinions, I began to wonder whether that community had other like-minded individuals, or brilliant writers on other subjects, or both. I did some digging and found countless reviews, essays, poems, recipes, and other snatches of joyful life. That community was home in 2004, when I first began investigating it–it was filled with heart and warmth and sincerity, all characteristics that I felt were lacking in my own life. I wanted to be a part of that community–I did!–but I tend to take life rather seriously, so I didn’t join until 2007. By then, I knew the site’s policies, culture, prominent members, and most popular or discussed reviews inside out. I had come up with a user ID months before even considering joining, and when it actually came time to set down my personal information, I was practically considering myself a member of the community.

One of the first things I had to do, of course, was to befriend all of those whose lovely writing I had come to know. In order to do this, I had to write some smashing pieces of my own. I loved books–the printed ones that fill a house with frgrance, but also the Books category–and I admired many of the more prolific reviewers in that category. The best way to hobnob with the elite was to read much of what they were reading. And so, I began to devour books I might never have read before. I developed a high awareness of invisible disabilities through various memoirs, devoured autobiographical sketches of adventurers who had experienced everything from deliberate homelessness to a horrible avalanch, and even tried my hand at reviewing a few best-sellers (at least at that time) like Lisa Genova’s STILL ALICE. I read about Laura Bridgman and Charles Dickens, studied the lives of great philosophers and thinkers, and contemplated the merits of nearly anything I could find on Project Gutenberg from THE ADVENTURES OF MAYA THE BEE to an obscure and much-outdated book of housekeeping hints. Then, too, because many of the reviewers whose acquaintance I wished to make were either teachers or well-read parents, there wasthe whole realm of children’s books to delve into. And did I ever! Schneider Family Book Awards, Newberry Awards, Young Readers’ Choice Awards–I read them all, as well as anything I could find that was entirely unrecognized but showed promise. Some of it I reviewed, the rest I just stored somewhere in my memory banks. Enrichment reading, I called it–not Christ-centered, per se, but certainly capable of expanding the mind.

Then, gradually, Epinions began to fade from my life. First, I ceased reviewingfor a bit; then, when I saw that circumstances would be more condusive to my blogging than to continued activity on Epinions, I wrote a message to my precious community explaining that I would be taking my writing elsewhere. And shortly after that, Epinions.com itself disabled all community activities. Yet, even after my review site had vanished, and with it the need to compose reviews, I continued in reading enrichment works. Oh, some of them disturbed me very much. Was it really necessary for the author of a memoir about exceptional memory strengths to use such invective? Could not the woman who wrote about children’s school lunches have been a bit more… reverent? or was it relevant to her work to insert entire paragraphs that mocked and denegrated the Christian faith? I didn’t see the correlation… And the books for young people, these days! Perhaps that makes me sound old-fashioned, but I could never quite conceive of how children were being taught from third grade on up some of the ideals that authors everywhere seemed to be instilling. It’s all right to lie if you don’t get caught? Keep your problems from parents and teachers? Tolerance may be embraced but true kindness is for whimps? The whole thing made me feel grieved, but I kept on–out of habbit, I suppose, and because lingering brokenness in my own heart kept me from seeing what I was doing. Day-by-day “enrichment” was something to do when I felt too terrified to face the Lord in prayer, or to sit in silence and contemplate His beauty–or when I simply felt too depressed and traumatizzed to do anything save retreat into myself.

Why this long, drawn-out introduction? Because a destination is always sweeter if you have to drive quite awhile to reach it. In other words, there is a point to this ramble, but we’re taking the scenic route today. As we travel along, may I take this opportunity to state most emphatically that the experiences I relate here are not intended to instruct or advise any of my readers, and that whatever you do is probably very rewarding in your own life–don’t stop. However, I have always been very sensitive to life and I have a specific calling, so what applies to me may not necessarily apply to you. Some are called to expand their minds in certain areas in order to relate to a specific group of people; if that is you, then please take everything I sy with a grain of salt.

Now then, back to the multi-part series I began several weeks ago and which I had temporarily abandoned. I left off with 8 May. The Lord had just promised to fill my heart with joy and restore to me all the joy, peace, and servant-hearted obedience I had lost during my eight-year struggle with a small but painful shard of spiritual anguish. I had accepted thse promises joyfully, but had stumbled almost immediately and had nearly decided to give up, feeling that NOW the Lord might never restore me. He had different plans…

The next day, Friday, 9 May, I put my plans to hide and return to a life of unhappiness into action–untentionally, ’tis true, but that is in essence what I did. A trip to the online library, some audiobook downloads, and my plan was well underway. I tore through recording after recording, and in-between those moments, I occupied myself with electronic literature. Many children’s books, a few memoirs, innumerable of bitter and angry words cascading down upon my cracked and weary heart, then swirling about me in a tumultuous whirlwind. It was like deliberately breaking a fast by eating a whole box of those little goldfish crackers.

Much later in the day, when scrap of half-read books lay around my mind in crumpled heaps, the Lord so very gently showed me what I had been doing. Book by book, I realized what I had been filling my mind with all day. And then, there was the most joyful conviction, the most necessary and tender and loving chastening from the Holy Spirit. Why, I had been wasting my time, when I could have been spending it in the Lord. I was running and hiding from Him, and that was not right. Then, too, He had created my memory to be extremely strong–did I not realize that this kind of reading had the potential to stay in my heart and affect me, not for a day or two, but for years to come? In those moments, I remembered a book I had read when I was eight–not evil, exactly, but very morbid–and how, eighteen years later, I had dreamed that I was one of the protagonists and had, in those few hours of sleep, remembered the full text of the 250-page book nearly from start to finish. What if I gave up enrichment reading for a prescribed amount of time–say, one month and ten days–and devoted that time to Him?

My heart fell to its knees in that moment, and I resolved to begin such a time the very net morning. Really, I wasnot expecting much–I knew only that I was to begin a time without enrichment reading and, by extension, without selfishness, anger, bitterness, or despair, inasmuch was humanly possible for me at that time, on 10 May. I would end said timeframe on the evening of 18 June. Such a wonderful groundwork laid, and then those glorious blessings began pouring in–as early as 11 May, to be exact. But that is a story for Part VI… Really, I don’t mean to be dragging this out, but there is so much to say, and it must be told with all the detail it deserves. Parts VI and VII are particularly special, though, so if you’ve been reading this entire series through, be on the lookout for them.

Addendum: From the hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be”. I’ve always been blessed by the version on Christ for the Nation’s album OVERTAKEN.

“And All I Have in You Is More Than Enough”…

My beloved readers, I will return to the series I began–I will. In His will and timing, I hope to continue where I left off. However, I feel it very important to take another detour, back to the day before the Lord began setting me free. 6 May was actually very difficult, but from it sprang a great, enduring, and truly holy lesson. Oh, how great is the ministry of the Holy Spirit!

In these next few remarks, I mean no bitterness–not anymore. I write what I do only to illustrate a point and because there may be people who are going through what I did.

For many years, I had been filled with anguish over the ways in which the Body of Christ was treating me. From church to church, I could not seem to find acceptance or love. Instead, most of the people who greeted me each week were inordinately fascinated by the fact that my Bible happens to be in Braille. How many volumes did it come in? Was it difficult for me to learn to read? Oh, how cute was my little puppy-doggy! And, really, I was just plain “adorable” myself, me and my fascinating Braille. What an inspiration I was! And did I know sign language? Could I sing like a lark, since all people who happen to be blind have exquisite voices–don’t they? Week after week after week. Whenever I asked for prayer during this season, people either told me that I couldn’t possibly have any needs, or focused only on the externals of my life without petitioning God concerning my heart and life in Him. Time and again, those who were closest to me told me to give congregations time, that they would come to see me for who I was eventually. But months, and then years, went by without any change in the questioning. Oh, how I longed to tell them–to explain that, while I do not have an operatic voice, I do love to sing unto the Lord and that my favorite moments of worship involve “Beautiful” and “Arise, My Soul, Arise”. To tell them that, no, I don’t have “so much more insight” because I cannot see, but because I specifically asked God for wisdom in studying His Word–and, oh, by the way, would they like to study Revelation or Ezekiel or even Leviticus with me? I could, in the Lord’s strength, show them passages in those books that would make them fall to their knees and cry out, “Holy is the Lord!” How I yearned for the day when a Braille Bible would be no more appropriate fodder for discussion than, say, a Chinese Christian coming into church with a Chinese Bible. I mean, how many questions about traditional vs. simplified script would said Chinese believer have to answer? I tried going to a pastor, but he, too, said that I should give it more time and that perhaps this question-answering was a sort of ministry. With all due respect, and even in hindsight, I fear I must disagree. It would have been a ministry had I eventually been given the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel, but as it stood, I was merely satisfying curiosity. Besides, there are people who actively involve themselves in disability-rights movements and merge them with ministry far better than I. Joni Eareckson-Tada is among them, and I love what she does, but focusing on my sight to the extent that some of these people were doing had the effect of almost making me feel that they were denying God’s power to heal. Very sad.

Oh, I was bitter–bitter and heart-broken, because all of this was affecting my spiritual life. As I wrote to a group of prayer warrior friends, “If all people see is blindness–if, in fact, that is all that Spirit-filled Christians see, rather than the Holy Spirit, does that mean that He is not dwelling in me as strongly? Am I quenching the Spirit of the Lord?” It was terrible. There were days when I cried out from morning until evening for peace at least between myself and God, days when I bluntly told other Christians that I NEEDED!!!!! prayer, or that their assumptions about my life were misconceptions at best. Nights when I went to bed in tears. Even Sundays when I came to dread church attendance. Where once I had loved my Calvary Chapel, had fought to go there even when transportation was unavailable, had said that I must support this precious church even at a time when they were struggling–now, dragging myself into a congregation that thought I was paradoxically an inspiration and, so I felt, a nuisance, filled me with pain.

My beloved reader, what about you? Do you have a unique set of circumstances that has made you feel abandoned by the churches in your area? Do you suffer from depression or profound anxiety? Are you single in a church filled mostly with well-established families? Are you a caregiver who can’t always make it to church, or who has a hard time keeping commitments with other brothers and sisters in Christ because of your own heavy burdens? Do you feel unwanted or boxed-in? I have a thought for you…

I admit, I was not very gracious. I reached a point of such anger that only our Lord could have softened my heart–but, oh!–He did. He, and only He.

On Tuesday, 6 May, I wrote an anguished letter to the few whom I knew would pray. I selected people from a variety of denominations, mature Christians and younger ones, so I could gain a variety of insights. Then, I poured out my heart in less-than-flattering terms. Over the next week, I received many responses. Some reiterated that I needed to “give it time”. Bible Student, who is also blind, suggested a complex solution that involved gathering all the leaders in the church from the pastor and assistant pastor to ushers, Sunday school teachers, and the leaders of men’s and women’s Bible studies, tell them what I wanted the rest of the church to know, and have them pass it on. Sincere Sister said that she honestly did not know what to make of this–perhaps I was being chastened or taught? This was worded much more kindly, and I had certainly considered the possibility. Sunday School Teacher had a similar view, but added that she knew that God had not forsaken me. It was all so complicated…

But amid all the counsel I received, the Lord Himself showed me all that I needed to know–all that I have ever needed, and what should have been my answer all along. That day as I studied Genesis, I came upon God’s words to Abraham: “Do not be afraid… I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” In that moment, the Lord ministered to my heart that these words were for me, too. I must not be afraid of what others said or did, or how they reacted to me. I must not be ashamed or anguished, for He was and is and always will be my shield, my exceedingly great reward.

What did Abraham do when the Lord spoke these words to him? The next verse states, “But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless?”” Note the word “BUT”. God had just told Abraham that He everything Abraham would ever need, BUT Abraham wanted more. How many of us feel the same way? I know I did. In the next moment after God gave me that verse, my life became one great BUT. BUT Lord, what will You give me, since my church doesn’t want me to belong to this congregation? Now, God did give Abraham a son, but as I questioned Him–even after He had told me to trust Him and that He was enough–I did not receive anything more. No promise that I would suddenly be embraced with open arms, no assurance that I was aglow enough with the love of God that people would soon cease their blindness-related probings, nothing save a gentle knowledge of His love.

And, really, wasn’t that what I had sought all along? Had I not said during those nights of tear-drenched prayer that I would be content with the way I was treated at church if only I could see and know and remember that the Lord still loved me? And here was my answer.

I didn’t accept it for several days. That promise of Scripture lingered somewhere in the back of my mind, and from time to time I would retrieve it and gaze upon that beauty, my Shield, my exceedingly great reward, my everything. Then one day, I surrendered. I saw that there is nothing, no one, who can compare. That realization was holy beyond words, precious beyond measure.

Do you know what happened yesterday in church? Well, my guide-dog, Natasha, was told that she was such a good BOY, and called a “blind dog”–ignorant responses that would hitherto have made me feel highly denigrated as a person. The man who made these remarks addressed me as a small child, as is his wont. At another time, I would have corrected him on all counts, vainly attempting to keep the frustration out of my voice, and then allowed the encounter to consume my thoughts and erode my peace for the rest of the day. Yesterday, I could say with confidence, “I know who I am in Christ Jesus, and He is all I need. I will not allow the enemy to rob me of my rest, and I will not allow this man’s ignorance to overwhelm me.” What an absolutely glorious place to be in!

My beloved readers, I believe Genesis 15:1 says the same words to each of us. He is your shield, too, everything you will ever need. When you accept that, surrender to Him, and hold fast to Him as your only resting-place and the only One Who can satisfy your every need, then burdens become lighter and the overwhelming cares of this world begin to fall away or, if not, to become much more manageable–even joyful. Where once it mattered so much that I be accepted in my church, it now matters more just to serve God in whatever capacity He desires to use me in. Whereas I was once so troubled by people’s comments about one insignificant external, I’m now more likely to respond to remarks about me being “BLIND!” by singing, “Was blind, but now I see…” Perhaps I can get my interrogator to sing with me, perhaps not–but either way, I will have approached the situation gently and spiritually, resting in who and what He has made me to be without becoming wrapped up in man’s opinions and reactions. Yes, Lord, You are more than enough!

Addendum: I delight in a worship song simply entitled “Enough” “All of You is more than enough / For all of me / For every thirst and every need / You satisfy me with Your love / And all I have in You is more than enough”… This post is based on the rendering by Keynote Communications, on the album ASK FOR THE NATIONS. The only element that that version lacks is the bridge, which my church–together, united, without bitterness!–used to sing: “More than all I want, more than all I need / You are more than enough for me / More than all I know, more than all I can say / You are more than enough”!

For Hannah: Serving High Tea to a LADY!

Precious readers, this will be a bit of a deviation from what I generally post on this blog. However, I tend not to compartmentalize my life, and so this blog—and not three or four blogs scattered about the Interwebs—must suffice for anything I choose to put on it. Besides, I attempt to glorify God in all I do, so I don’t believe that this post will be straying from the principle of the blog itself. Hannah, this piece is dedicated to you… And to a lady, a laydee, a lay-dee, a person who brings her five poodles everywhere with her on purple velvet leashes, and who herself wears purple. At least, that’s our stereotype of a laydee, and it seems that you met one a few weeks ago. Don’t you love it when real incidents merge with a touch of boredom and a hearty dose of imagination? So, I think I’ll write about her… Enjoy, Hannah, and anyone else who may happen upon this post.

Dear Lady Velma,

Yes, I see you. Standing behind the counter of a local coffee shop with Hannah, who served you last time, I see you and your purple outfits floating into our fine establishment. Ordinarily, I don’t work here, but Hannah thought I might be able to help you better than she did last time. I’m sure you recall the day a few weeks ago when you came into this café and requested high tea, but Hannah says that she had nothing to give you. Never fear—I’m here today.

First, some thoughts on semantics. Hannah might well have been able to serve you HIGH tea, for high tea is the evening meal that English farm hands enjoyed during the 1940s and 1950s. Hannah couldn’t have produced a Cornish pastie, but our café does serve sandwiches and crisps that might have sufficed. I believe that what you’re looking for, though, is afternoon. In that case, and for this hour only, you have come to the right place.

Sure enough, you approach the counter, yards and yards of fabric flowing. I wish I had that sort of freedom, Lady Velma—for I’m learning that this is your name. Velma, you say as you introduce yourself. Velma, the wife of a vivacious vicar—oh, how I love that alliteration! And you are a lady, with elegant speech and the most delightful way of again requesting high tea. It’s true that this quick-serve restaurant doesn’t usually serve high tea, but for you, for you, Lady Velma, we can make an exception.

Take a seat—yes, there in the corner where nothing will disturb this elegant moment in your life, this time that you so obviously and desperately need—why? To make sense of something? To enjoy the day? To remember a past time of sentiment? Only you understand the reasons for your request, and it is mine to start some water boiling, not to demand an explanation. You, Lady Velma, just relax and try to ignore the elevator music that is so clearly un-harplike and that therefore probably blends miserably with your concept of ambiance.

And while the water is boiling, I see that you are alone. Perhaps you would prefer to be left with your thoughts, but I cannot know that. So here are some illustrated coffee-table books about English gardens, and here is a delightful book I found on the joys and ideocyncracies of our lovely English language. Oh, and I included a book or two on God’s love and plans because, after all, you are a vicar’s wife and this might be of interest to you, and also because I see a joyful and tender heart beneath the unconventionality you espouse. Perhaps I see it, Lady Velma, because I, too, have my share of quirks and whimsical moments. Oh, one final touch—we couldn’t find a plant or put together a flower arrangement on such short notice, so I think I’ll just prop this picture of a tall, shady, protective-looking tree somewhere in the corner here. I found it in the bookstore section of this, our fine café, and I thought you might enjoy gazing upon it if the books don’t arouse your interest or if you’d prefer to be alone with your own thoughts.

And now for your tea. In a proper home or English tea shoppe, you don’t necessarily get asked what kind of tea you’d like, and you merely specified high tea. Accordingly, I’m bringing out Earl Grey and camomile, so that you might have at least some choice. Pardon the mismatched kiraffes; they are all we could find. But, since I tend to do some things a little unusually myself, I thought I would carry a few pairs of craft scissors with me in that huge purse you may have noticed peeking out from behind the counter. We don’t have any glass cups, so I hope the tiny, intricate, ridged flower shape into which I cut a regular paper coffee cup will suffice. A nice dainty cup for this experience. And I’m hoping that the taller, but likewise flower-cut cups that hold cream, milk, honey, and sugar, with little designs drawn on said cups for good measure, will perfedct the set, for now at least.

Ah, tea. Now for the first course. We don’t have finger sandwiches—no cheese and pickle or watercress or tuna salad or cream-cheese-and-cucumber on pumpernickel, but perhaps our tomato-and-mozarella panini, cut into smaller pieces and arranged ceremoniously on a glass plate, one of the few real dishes we have, will be sufficient. Yes, a panini and some grapes, taken from the fruit cups we keep in a back refrigerator.

And now for a scone. We have many, but you strike me as the type who would enjoy either blueberry or cinnamon. Blueberry—yes, I think that best fits this moment. I do hope you enjoy it, despite our sad and sudden lack of clotted cream. And would you like us to bring out some more tea while we are preparing dessert?

Now, let us see. A tiny square of lemon pound cake, with the slightest drizzle of frosting. And—what else?—some plain cheesecake, a dainty bite or two in keeping with this repast. A chocolate brownie, because every tea event needs a little of that. And a little bit of cinnamon crumb cake. Voila—four culinary delights, a little like the arrangement of petit fours. Please pardon our profiterole shortage—I’m rather fond of those myself and would certainly have served them if I had the faintest idea of how to make them here.

Well, Lady Velma, I hope you enjoyed afternoon tea as much as we enjoyed serving it. Oh, I like your wallet—wherever did you manage to find a plush one with an enormous cotton flower stitched onto it?—but you won’t need it. It was such a joy serving you and, besides, we didn’t have everything that you were necessarily trying to order. No, this one is on Hannah and I…

* * *

And now, my beloved readers, don’t you wish that customer service was still that elaborate? Don’t you wish that somewhere, some Mom-and-Pop shop would cater to people that way? If only we could do it all for people, including those eccentric types, who darken our doors! Hannah, you did the right thing, but I felt I had to get this “afternoon-tea” service out of my system. And, if any barristas happen to be reading this, perhaps you’ll feel better about shrugging your shoulders and complying with the next person who orders a grande, decaf, non-fat salted-caramel mocha with two extra pumps of vanilla, a pump-and-a-half of peppermint, a sprinkling of nutmeg atop the inevitable whipped cream, and a drizzle of chocolate.

Restoration and Holiness, Part IV: “Jumping Up and Down, Shout Hosanna!”

Oh, how I have longed to pen this fourth part of the wondrous things the Lord has begun, and will continue, in me!—and what a delight it is to do so now. I began Part I on 21 May, though I did not publish it then. This means that, from at least the time of my beginning this series until now—a glorious three weeks and two days!—the Lord has kept aflame all that He is doing. It is beyond comprehension, the things that the Lord can do. However, I am beginning to see something that I had not anticipated. There is no possible way to expound upon God’s glory in one tidy “final” part, so I will be continuing this series indefinitely, for as long as it takes. In GOD’S SMUGGLER, THE CROSS AND THE SWITCHBLADE, THE HIDING PLACE, THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE ON EARTH, etc., John and Elizabeth Sherrill taught me that the best Christian testimonies/memoirs/autobiographical sketches are comprised of detail upon detail. If faith, hope, and love are the multi-colored threads that must be woven into a tapestry in order to create something beautiful, details are the cloth that upholds that embroidery.

But I am getting very much ahead of myself. Let us begin with 7 May. In most ways, that Wednesday was like any other. True, I had received worship music in the mail, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. I’m always buying worship music; sometimes, I listen to it right away, and other times, I let it sit on my iPod for three years before plunging into a sea of new, beautiful, congregational adoration. That day’s music actually consisted of two DVDs, which I promptly sat down to convert to MP3 files using Audacity. Hey, they’re my DVDs, and I don’t plan to sell the audio material I extracted—you wouldn’t want it anyway. This is unique music. Unique or not, though, you must know that it was what I listened to exclusively from 2002-2003. We didn’t have much in the way of worship music, so I took what we had and ran with it. What we happened to have were two obscure, independently-produced VHS tapes of Christian children’s music. My beloved readers, if you were stranded on a deserted island with only the International Children’s Bible, I can guarantee that you would be studying it before long! And so, this was worship. Every sung and exclaimed “hosanna” and “hallelujah”, every account of His cleansing, every mention of the name of Jesus, every celebration of His goodness. And why did I buy these DVDs anew? Because, if nothing else, I wished to catalogue an era—to scrapbook it, as it were, and to make an audio picture of where I had been spiritually in the months after receiving the Holy Spirit. Very mature, intellectually-sound aims, don’t you think?

Now, a project like this actually requires me to stay with the computer and make sure that everything is running smoothly. JAWS, Audacity, and Windows Media Player don’t always play nicely in the sandbox. So, there I was, sitting in my sanctuary—though I could never have known then what a great moment of worship would unfold—and wrapped up in blankets and heating pads, for the evening was chilly. For two hours, I listened to that music. For two hours, I found myself remembering every nuance and every note of joy in the singers’ voices. And for one-and-a-half of those hours, I found myself singing the name of Jesus, and the word “hosanna”, and the concept of His cleansing, with all my might, just as I did during that 2002 era of innocence and of “no worship music”. But how could I have said that? Whether it’s a five-year-old singing or a seasoned sixty-five-year-old raising reverent anthems to our Lord, are they not both worshiping Him?

Mature, intellectual aims quickly faded into the background, and as they did, the Lord began reminding me of things I had long chosen to forget. How I would awaken during those early days of seeking—and finding!—with a song already on my lips. How I would bring the Bible to the small high-school I attended and read between classes, during lunch, and anytime a visual movie was being shown and I somehow couldn’t participate. How I would come home from school, do homework and read the Bible with my beloved baby sister, enjoy a cup of very cheap hot chocolate as though it were an imported delicacy because of my gratitude to our Savior, bask in the joyful knowledge that I had somehow managed to complete most of my own homework earlier in the day so I could worship, and then proceed to do just that. Late, late at night, when I was certain that everyone else was asleep, I sneaked out into the living room, turned on the television, hope that the loud buzzing would not wake anyone else, insert one of those two precious videos into the VCR, turn the volume down as low as humanly possible while still being able to catch every third or fourth phrase, and sing deep inside with no words, but with all my heart. That was the best and only use I ever found for the family television! When my heart had been satisfied, I quietly put away the video and the remote control and tiptoed back to bed. I wasn’t afraid of getting in trouble for being up so late on school nights—I was one of those teenagers who was given a little more freedom just because my mind worked differently; I was also permitted to get up at the crack of dawn to do my homework rather than completing it all at night, and I often did just that. No, I wasn’t afraid of being found out, but of being interrupted. This was my most precious worship time—never mind that it happened to be taking place in a highly-centralized location.

As I listened to this precious music and contemplated the ways in which I used to go about enjoying it twelve years earlier, the Lord began to minister something truly wonderful to me. Gradually, He showed me that He could restore all of that joy and innocence, all of that purity and peace, to my heart. Once again, I could be filled with a freedom in worship that would override the need to explain to my readers why I might happen to have children’s music in my possession—less excusing my “unintellectual” actions, more exuberance in Him. Deep in my heart, I knew that He was promising to heal emotional and spiritual traumas that had broken me for over eight years, wounds that had been mine since 2006. Soon, they would all be gone, and only His glory would remain. If I would only accept His work in my life, He would return all my wasted years, those myriad moments I had spent in loneliness and self-pity rather than in His Shekinah glory.

In my last post, I wrote that the Lord had called me to repent, but that I had resisted for three days. I didn’t want to repeat that mistake. I wanted all He was going to provide, and, much more importantly, I wanted to please Him and to live in His presence. As soon as I realized what the Lord was beginning to do, I said, “Yes, Lord.” Just that. Right there in my worship sanctuary/prayer closet, with that lovely music still playing, I ran and leapt and danced in the freedom I knew I was being given. In many ways, my reaction was like that of Simon Peter—jumping into the sea and swimming toward Jesus rather than waiting for his boat to be rowed ashore, or asking Jesus to wash not only his feet but also his head and his hands. Joyous and trusting to a great extent, but somewhat impetuous. Oh, I should absolutely have surrendered to God and accepted gladly all that He was doing, but—well, you’ll see what happened.

In that moment, I believed God’s restoration had all been given to me at once, and that I was prepared to go out the very next day and conquer the world. Does this remind you again of Peter, walking on the sea toward Jesus but sinking at the sight of the waves? That was me—praising God for what He had done, not what He was doing or what He would do, and then falling flat on my face the next day.

That Thursday, 8 May, was the date of Naomi’s monthly infusion. I always go along, simply because the infusion seems symbolic of how far the Lord has brought us. On this day, something happened with one of Naomi’s nurses that made me profoundly uncomfortable. I made the mistake of over-inflating my distress and sharing it with anyone who would listen, much to the heartache of all involved. Oh, I begged for forgiveness—from God, and from others. But even then, even after Hannah and I had gone for a long walk in the cool breeze, even after I had sat in one of my favorite outdoor places to worship and listened to Don Moen’s “I Want to Know You More”, even as Hannah and I walked home and picked lilacs along the way, I felt defeated. I did not know what had happened to the promises of the previous evening, but I was quite sure that I had not been set free after all, and might not be… Indefinitely. I cried out to the Lord without any real expectation and resolved to go back to whatever shrinking, unemboldened ways I had attempted to forsake. I was unchanged, and there seemed to be nothing I could do about it. True, actually, I could do nothing more, but His power is far greater than mine—how much pain I could have been spared had I chosen to remember that! . But—oh! How great is His mercy!—for the Lord did not allow me to languish in my miserable failure for long, but stretched out His hand and lifted me from the waves, asking in the process, “Where is your faith?”…

Addendum: All right, I’m going to go out on a shaky, intimidating limb and use as my worship title one of the songs that so blessed me on 7 May, a little worship anthem by Rob Evans and something ostensibly for children. Are we not all children of God? And therefore, does not the song “Jumping Up and Down, Shout Hosanna”, from the DVD/video ON TOUR, more than qualify as legitimate praise? “Shout Hosanna” it is! As performed live, the song features exuberant clapping and the waving of palm branches, a discussion of the Triumphal Entry and of following the Great Commission, and so many moments of pure praise. Its freedom reflects what I had on that wonderful evening and what I was very soon to have again, though I did not know it at the time.