“Everything I See”; or, The Central Island: A Words Sketch

The Tour. It has become a daily tradition–most often during dinner preparation. I’m not sure whether anyone knows I do it–it tends to take place when several other things are happening simultaneously. Maybe one of these days, I will bring them with me–my readers, my loved-ones, my friends, anyone who needs a bit more zest in life…

It starts over by the kitchen table. The table is home to a few placemats, a candle holder whose metal structure spirals out into the shape of a flower, and a plethora of medical supplies. We usually sit at that table to perform my every-other-day Protein C infusion, so it’s not uncommon to see boxes of gloves (useful for handling raw meat or other distasteful substances), Tegaderm (IV tape, also known as the best lint-remover ever invented), thin pads for ensuring a sterile work surface (which, when no longer sterile, become Jacks of all trades), packages of rubbing alcohol (for cleaning iPods, cell phones, and the occasional landline), and small rolls of cloth medical tape over there. That’s just the way it is, and it’s a testament to how wonderfully the Lord has worked in our lives. Many years ago, my prognosis was not thought to be so good; the Lord answered prayer. Years ago, even when I was stable, we did not have Protein C, which meant that I had to be treated with plasma during week-long in-patient hospital stays, often treating also the severe allergic reactions that went along with plasma treatments. Our table being home to a box of supplies is a silent cry of praise, thanking the Lord for so much–that my port is working, that we have the Protein C, that I have experienced no clotting or bleeding episodes since 2007, that He has a plan and a calling and a purpose for me, that I am able to serve Him. Without opening an alcohol swab, I know that it holds the fragrance of relief, of great things done in my life, and of “Come Bless the Lord”.

But the table is only the beginning of the Tour. Facing sideways, between the table and our central island, is the chair in which I sit for the infusions. Most days, a medical mask hangs from one of the posts that make up the frame of the chair back. More memories, more thanksgiving.

The Tour proper begins on the breakfast bar. It is beauty, this countertop, and it bears much careful explanation.

First, the vaporizer. I check to see that it is plugged in, lingering momentarily on the cord’s location and contemplating the implications of it being plugged into the right vs. the left outlet. Then, I just stand there–wrapping my arms all the way around the square box of a vaporizer until my fingertips meet at the farthest end, bending over slightly until the warmth melts my heart and toasts my face, inhaling deep and exhilarating quantities of steam. This is where I ground myself for the rest of the Tour, where I come when life is stressful or when I want to remember the blessings in our lives or when I simply want to be enveloped for a few minutes. Steam. Warmth. Radiance.

Without taking my left hand off the vaporizer, I reach with my right until I encounter the first of three candles. This is always the way the Tour continues. Other facets of the Tour aren’t as structured depending on what there is to see, but the beginning is always the same. Three candles, all in glass jars, one with a wooden lid and the other two with sturdy glass lids like those produced by Yankee Candle. The lids are invariably askew; no one really cares about them except me, and they really can’t be affixed more firmly because Naomi and Hannah both have pain in their hands. I remove the top of the candle with the wooden lid. I don’t know why I do this–I always regret it. That candle smells like men’s cologne when it is unlit. The others smell of a time many years ago when we were living great, expansive, exuberant lives. All three candles feature wax remnants on the insides of the containers; these are always fun to examine. The candles tell stories, don’t you know–moments when we have wanted to eliminate the pungent reminders of eggs, broccoli, and frying taco meat from our kitchen and living room. I always place the candles very carefully and deliberately exactly where I found them. Again, no one else particularly cares whether the candles go between the Nesquick and the coffee, or whether I find a clear space to ceremoniously set them down in a joyous row–but I care. This is a landscape, an exquisite work of art, and I do not want to mar it with my meddling. That would defeat the purpose of the Tour.

If I were to take my left hand off the vaporizer, I might encounter either a rice steamer or a vegetable steamer, or both. Those are even more beautiful than the vaporizer. I have made a point of observing both steamers through their entire cycles–vegetable steamer on the right, rice steamer on the left–simply because it afforded an opportunity to rest in the moment. The art of steaming asparagus or green beans is a bath for the senses. Another story, another precious series of recollections.

Today, however, there are no steamers on the breakfast bar. Instead, there is an enormous box of what used to be minute rice. I shake the box in order to ascertain how much deliciosity we have before we will need to open a new box of equal proportions. There is about 3/8 of a serving, by my estimation. Oh, and the memories that rice pours forth! Salmon with rice and asparagus, turkey sausage with rice and broccoli, stuffed peppers without the pepper (I call this stuffified) with rice and onion rings, teriyaki chicken with rice and green beans, rice with rice and more rice… It has been transformed from a staple and now borders on a lifestyle, this unassuming food–not even Calrose or brown rice, but classic white minute rice. It has been a comfort when we were sick in body or at heart, a moment of umph when things were going well. So much in a family-sized box of rice!

Jedidiah’s candy dish… Where do I start? Well, it is a wide, shallow, glass dish whose sides slope up much like the contours of a Communion tray I own. The tray has Scriptures etched onto it and the serving dish is merely painted with a tactilely nondescript pattern, but Jedidiah’s dish reminds me of that tray—not the content or the context, but my mind enjoys carving associations where few exist, and those associations seldom deviate from connecting nonspiritual things with spiritual. Inside the dish I find one of my coconut LaraBars–How did that get there? Jedidiah? Are you now eating organically? Evidently not, for that LaraBar is nestled among a few cast-off candy bars (Snickers and Pay Days do not carry the thrill of Almond Joys and Peppermint Patty delights), some black-licorice gum drops, a packet of hot cocoa, and an inexplicable bunch of healthy but non-organic bananas. It’s like living in a diverse community and learning to appreciate and celebrate differences rather than trying to conform all people to a certain mold…

The Tour continues with an extravagant pile of general miscellany. Today, a roll of Scotch tape rests atop the whey protein that sometimes constitutes Jedidiah’s harried breakfasts. A travel coffee mug, newly scrubbed, awaits placement in the cupboard next to a stack of mail. A spiral notebook rests atop a big box of presumed knickknacks–it’s not my box, so I don’t know whether it actually contains pens, opals, or little Willow Tree carvings. We just went shopping, so several bags line part of the countertop. Drifting just outside the bags are two bottles of vanilla syrup and a jar of hot sauce. Further along is the Tabasco’s companion–a partially-full box of taco shells. I have placed a tube of arnica atop a jar of lotion in anticipation of Hannah’s hand massage, a time of worship and prayer that blesses us both. A bottle of glue does a merry dance near an unopened carbonated-beverage can. I unearth a napkin and a fork beneath a bag of egg noodles. Poor, defenseless fork–it should really have been propped up against the Nesquick for all to see, since it is one of our favorite pieces of flatware. The package that Martha recently sent tempts me to peek beneath its half-open flaps, but that box has been designated for Christmas. Gatorades for Naomi and Hannah and, for that matter, for anyone who is fasting and needs to replenish certain body systems, or for those with generalized malaise. Garlic-and-parsley salt atop a tub of butter, the better for applying both to a Bordeaux roll. I love discovering associations like these! An empty iPod case and an inexpensive iPod station should be united–they’re fraternal twins, are they not?–but my purpose is to look and listen, not to alter. Often, there’s a bag of dried cherries on the counter; when there is, I first admire the intricate fastener on the zip-lock and compare it with most of the other bags we own, then eat a handful of cherries and process every nuance of their paradoxically sweet and tart flavors. Pen cap, sugar container, bottle of vitamins, a single woolen winter glove, honey, a purse, a zip-lock bag holding the corn muffins we had with our bean soup the other night, mail, magazines, two flashlights, the cloth bag in which I keep Natasha’s dog treats. Am I overanalyzing, or did that list resemble something from 14,000 THINGS TO BE HAPPY ABOUT?

My Tour ends, at least in heart, with the Blessing Jar. This is a tallish plastic jar, empty as yet, with two grooves for easy gripping. In print, it is inscribed with the words “Blessings, 2015”; in Braille, with the title “Our Offering of Worship”. Naomi keeps encouraging us to wait until January to begin writing the things for which we’re grateful on tiny slips of paper and adding them to the jar. Now, my beloved readers, I have been known to read two months’ worth of ostensibly daily devotionals within the first thirty minutes of receiving such a book. Do you suppose the “begin-on-1-January-and-go-from-there” notion works for me? My plan: To write the blessings from this month also, cut them to size, and slip the “renegades” in as the jar begins to fill over these next few months.

Now, my beloved readers, the rest of you have what you would call an advantage over me. If you were taking the Tour, you would see all of these items at a glance. Your big-picture brains would see a collection at best and a conglomeration at worst. Perhaps you would reserve labels for such an experience. Even those nearest and dearest don’t always enjoy the situation. They use “messy”, “disorganized”, and “chaotic” to describe my special Tour.

Why?

Truly, I believe I have the advantage. I do not see these objects–hence, the Braille on the Blessing Jar. Instead, I smell the candles, listen to the rattling rice, taste the cherries, and wrap my hands around everything else. And it’s all exquisitely, unequivocally splendid–not because I don’t take it in at a glance, but because I am passionate about each detail and see pieces, patterns, and associations (sometimes, I admit, to the exclusion of the big picture). The central island may not always remain pristine, but it does illustrate quintessential home life. It’s the difference between a perfectly-decorated but highly-formal house and a lived-in, comfortable, informal home filled with the sort of love that isn’t present in a perfectly-put-together mansion. That breakfast bar is a panorama of our lives; it tells the stories of so many meals, so much reading that we’ve found noteworthy or conversely wanted to discard, so many precious times with Martha, so much laughter involving Natasha, so many snowy strolls (remember the glove!?), ideas that called for an instant writing utensil, gifts that needed to be wrapped and taped… Times of joy, laughter, contentment, consternation, boredom, and even some heartache. Glory, peace, worship, blessings, miracles, and awe. It is the indoor multi-sensory equivalent of a walk by the ocean on a rocky beach with cliffs and ledges jutting out over the water. Now, how can I possibly label that using any adjective other than “treasured”?

We view our lives as stressful, chaotic, disorganized, busy, frustrating, and overwhelming. Perhaps if we applied the Tour to our hearts, examining and resting in each wonderful detail that the Lord provides, we would gain a different perspective. Perhaps then our lives would appear to us as intricate, unique, set-apart in the Lord, individualized, special, beautiful, glorious, profound, intense, elated, worthwhile, peaceful, and restful. Perhaps we all need Tours—not of the central island, but of who we are, what we do, and the words and activities that form the juncture between the two. Our own walks along the ocean, complete with majestic waves and the kind of spray that tinges the air and the moment with ambiance.

Addendum: This song connection is a bit different. “Everything I See” is from the children’s Agapeland album GOD LOVES FUN by the Bridgestone Music Group. The singer, a child with pure joy shining through her voice, sings of beholding God’s love in everything she sees—birds, butterflies, a blue sky and the sunlight… Remember my rocky beach? Well, everything I witness in life does remind me of God’s love or another aspect of Who He is. The song is full of jubilation, and I believe it should be part of a Christian library regardless to whether my readers have children. I do believe the album, which is anointed, is newly available from the iTunes Store.

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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.

“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”!

“Open My Eyes, That I May See”, and Let Me Know “Your Voice”

Recently, I made the acquaintance of a man whom I shall call Philosopher. He is a quiet gentleman with an understanding laugh and years of experience softened by a great compassion. Best of all, he knows the art of the well-asked question–which, as many of you may know, is often far better than the most exhaustive answer.

Now, some of those well-asked questions concern my life. Philosopher is the only one who can get away with many of them–questions about how I handle criticism and whether I might be a more contented, less anxious person if I took life less seriously and found a way to distract myself in the face of difficulty. Questions, in fact, about whether I am happy in general. Few people would ask these questions, and fewer still could get away with it if they did, but Philosopher always does. In fact, I’ve come to welcome the self-examination these sorts of questions provoke.

Until Monday. After positing his usual series of queries, Philosopher remarked, “I’d like you to really consider this for a few days… To what extent does not having sight affect your personality and the way you perceive society and your place in it?”

In hindsight, I am so very, very glad he asked me to think this over for a few days–though I was not grateful for that opportunity at first. When he asked this, I wanted to immediately give him my classic I’m-not-Joni-Eareckson, are-you-defined-by-your-shoelaces, personality-is-never-sensory-dependent, pursue-this-no-further rant. Those of you who know me well understand exactly what I’m talking about. As the hours in which to practice delivering that speech have ticked by, however, I’ve been reminded of a better way. For one thing, a rant is not terribly intellectual–and it’s boring. For another, is not a positive reply much more edifying, loving, and glorifying to God than a negative one? Perhaps this is a time to demonstrate, to clarify through analogies and illustrations.

A few rules, and a bit of background: For this exercise, I will attempt to keep negation to a minimum–more “will” and “would” than “isn’t” and “am not”. Any negative phrasing was intentional in accenting my point. Also, you should probably know where I’m coming from as I write this. I believe in the active, continuing power and gifts of the Holy Spirit, including healing. That said, I believe for a healing of both blindness and the Protein C deficiency that caused it, in His timing. I’ve waited for many years, and I’m willing to wait for many more. How long did Abraham wait before begetting Isaac? How long did Simeon wait before the promises of the Holy Spirit came to pass in his life? So, I will be patient and wait on the Lord’s timing, will, and ways. Unless the Lord convicts me to do so, though, I will not tell Philosopher of this. As I write this, I will focus on what I “will do” when I “am healed”. If this makes you uncomfortable–and I understand that continuationist teaching is controversial–or if you wish to imagine what I will actually be telling Philosopher, envision all verbs in the conditional tense–what I “would” do if I “could” suddenly see.

Here, then, is my answer to Philosopher. I will revise it for spoken communication, but writing the ideas may help define them in my own mind–and, I trust, may be an intriguing journey for my readers to embark upon.

At present, blueberry tastes like promise–like rising early in the morning for a moment of mountaintop praise, like rarified glory and purest joy.

Then, when the Lord heals me, I’m quite sure the principle will apply to the color blue. To all colors, in fact. If corduroy presently calls to mind “Father, I Adore You” and velvet sounds like many voices in unison, imagine what colors will do for my heart! Will I forever associate the color of a certain church pew’s seat cushion with “King of Love”?

At present, I listen to a live worship song until I hear one man, woman, or child obscured by other congregational voices. That individual is often so anointed that s/he causes the rest of the worshipers to fade into the background as I listen to the song, that new and beautiful song sung only and ever unto the Lord.

Then, I will watch old live worship DVDs and videos. As cameras zoom in on dancing worshipers, hands raised before the Lord, I will catch glimpses of those hands. They won’t be full-on analyses by any means, but they will be enough–strong, sturdy men’s hands, not fully raised but enough to let you know he wishes he were a little bolder in worship, hands that support a family of four, hands that belong to a man who is always contemplating other hands, nail-pierced ones. hands of women, some frail and pleading, others with long, perfectly-manicured, brightly-colored fingernails that suggest a life very different from the worship service they are attending–but with a softening of fingers that make one believe that there is a softening of heart as well. Hands of teenagers surreptitiously tucking cell phones into pockets, hands of children reaching out to trust. Hands of old and young, grasping for answers and surrendering questions, strong and weak, but all of these hands reaching for the hand of our Heavenly Father. I will not see all of these hands captured on film, not like I can now listen to a single worshiper in a congregation of thousands–but I will see some hands, some eyes, some faces and clothes and postures, and will piece together stories of these servants of God and their lives.

At present, I feel that there is much more value in a small, shabby travel blanket we purchased two years ago than in the $85 genuine Toyo blanket I purchased in 2009, plush and rose-adorned though the latter blanket is.

Then, I will see a woman wearing expensive gemstones and say that her apparel is gaudy, but will attach deepest sentimental value to costume jewelry.

At present, I see comma splices in others’ writing, resolve that I will never commit said grammatical faux pas, and continue with my day.

Then, I will be exposed to glaring slogans on everything from coffee mugs to toy Frisbees, billboards to words at the bottoms of television screens. I will resolve not to use the colloquialisms I see… and then I will move on with my day in the firm knowledge that Ready Writer, Bethesda Lily, the Grammatic Fanatic, will be swayed by neither the sight nor the sound nor the printed nor the Brailled syntactical misdemeanor.

At present, musical accompaniment in audiobooks is too reminiscent of narrative interpretation and does not allow readers to think for themselves. I avoid said music, as well as multi-voicing, at all costs.

Then, I will see onscreen garments and old chalets and cups of hot chocolate, gestures and facial expressions and posture, good acting and good set design in movies or plays, as the visual equivalent. ‘Twill be back to a leather-bound classic for me!

At present, I read the Bible voraciously–be it Braille versions, audio renderings, or the copy of the Scriptures that has been engraved upon my heart for the past eleven-and-a-half years. I compare Scripture with Scripture, linking pearls as it were (see Lois Tverberg, SITTING AT THE FEET OF RABBI JESUS). It may take time to cross-reference, but I love this Bread of Life far too much to allow myself to go hungry. When the Lord uses a passage to speak to my heart, I either write about it or place it in the audio journal.

Then, I will not only cross-reference using what I know, but use the references provided in print Bibles that are never present in other editions. I will underline and highlight voraciously. I will still love the Bread of Life too much to allow myself to go hungry–pant like a deer for the waters too much to spurn the rivers of living water provided in those pages. When the Lord uses a passage to speak to my heart, I will take notes in my beautiful Revised Standard Version.

At present, I use a digital voice recorder to make extensive journal entries. These may range from thirty seconds to an hour and a half in length, and every one of them currently finds a place on my iPod.

“Then,” you say, “then, you will write in a journal–a beautifully-bound journal to match your ornate thoughts.” Ah, but you would be mistaken, Dearest Reader, Kind Philosopher, or whoever you may be who are reading this. The purpose for the audio journal is that I can’t keep a regular journal without obsessing over every metaphor, every possible redundancy, each and every semicolon or colon or comma. That is no way to pour out your heart before the Lord! I will practice writing–beautiful, calligraphic cursive of the sort most people no longer know how to write–in a delicate, beautifully-bound journal, but I will not douse pages with a seeking, searching blend of ink and tears.

At present, I use that same recorder to catalogue every detail of daily life. I have been known to record chapters of the Word, excerpts from Christian books, magazine articles, a story about Hannah’s day at work, off-key songs, a pastor’s sermon that came out so poorly that it can scarcely be heard, an entire church breaking Communion wafers together as they prepared to partake, the coffee machine at a guide-dog training center, set upon set of chimes, the creaking of the porch swing, the rice cooker, tea kettle, and coffee maker, memos about when to see my doctor for the sole purpose of capturing an “audio image” of my doctor’s voice, the sound of typing, the loudspeaker at the grocery store, conversations during a medical infusion, a musical Christmas carousel decoration, Hannah’s computer-game skills, the unceremonious unearthing and unpacking of boxes… Are you breathless and exhausted yet? My one regret: I did not know enough in high-school to record the ringing of the bell announcing the beginning of classes.

Then, I will keep all of those recordings–but I will branch out. My new “toy”, the camcorder, will zoom in on our lives with the same minute detail. One of these days, I will devote an entire filming session to all the clocks in the house. Another will display every Christian banner, placard, or picture we have ever hung. Slow, careful pictures of the kitchen, of the less-than-perfect garden, of our vehicles, of a rickety fence, and even of not-so-pleasant things like peeling paint. Why? Not to capitalize on something depressing, but because healing will be such a precious gift that even things that aren’t particularly beautiful will seem so. I will capture Naomi cooking, Naomi sewing, Naomi with hands clasped around the laptop she uses to reach out to people in need of spiritual encouragement. Jedidiah on a ladder, Jedidiah reading his Bible–though not posed!–Jedidiah with a look of consternation on his face when he discovers that someone ate his last piece of German chocolate cake. Hannah at work, serving others, Hannah with her face alight with laughter, Hannah sitting on the sofa with a look of utter repose on her face after a long day. The rest of you just scrapbook; my means are audio scrapbooking and will ultimately become video scrapbooking.

At present, I use Bookshare, the Talking Book Library, and my trusty flatbed scanner to read memoirs–and nothing but memoirs! I take life so seriously that I can’t really find any lasting distractions. For me, the term “vedge out” is both grammatically skewed and foreign to my way of life.

Then, I will use my newly, joyously-restored retinas to read memoirs–and probably nothing but memoirs! When I am healed, “vedge out” will mean “to take vegetables from the refrigerator and make oneself a nutritious, sentimentally-oriented, God-glorifying sandwich”. The seriousness that characterized the previous sentence will remain intact–and I won’t have it any other way.

At present, I listen to others’ voices until I feel I have them quite figured out. Naomi sounds like Rita Baloche as the latter sings “Jesus, You Are”, but also like Joy Chan narrating WITH CHRIST IN THE SCHOOL OF PRAYER for Librivox. Infusion Nurse, who happens to be a very quiet Christian, has a voice that fairly sings with the joy she is trying to contain. Good Samaritan lives her life by books and rules, and her calm, steady, confident voice shows it. Holy Hands sounds exactly like what Elizabeth (Luke 1) would have sounded like had she lived in our time and spoken English–such praise in both of them! Some people, though, reveal secret brokenness with their tones, accents, semantics, pich, speed, and timbre. I know a sister in Christ who structured her face so that everyone believed she was happy, but there was such weariness in her heart that I kept hearing her voice crack–not breaking, as in tears, but groaning with the weight of the pain she bore. I have heard a brother in Christ enumerate the things he was doing in life, stacking detail upon encouraging detail, but I have wondered whether he might be feeling the weight of “too much”.

Then, I will have one more venue for this sort of analysis–one more means of seeing the love, joy, and peace, and conversely, the sorrow, fear, and weariness, in others’ hearts. I will use this to pray for the people whose facial expressions will not be hidden by muscle contractions that look to others like big smiles. A smile will be a smile, and it will be beautiful, but something that tries so hard to be a smile when it isn’t will register as such, and I will pray accordingly. On the same note:

At present, I pay no attention to the television because I find most programming either unintellectual or unedifying. So many sounds, telling so many unrealistic stories. When I do hear characters’ dialogue, I drive Naomi and Company crazy with comments like, “That woman’s inflections don’t match the situation. The man she is speaking with has perfect inflections, but–oh, my!–he is hurting so much. What’s that actor’s name? Let’s pray for him…”

Then, I will pay little attention to the television–see above. I will probably look away from it whenever possible, find something else to engage my mind, fill my vision with red letters on onion-skin paper. When I do look at the television, I will not see the story–no backdrop, no cluttered desk as part of an elaborate set, no action, no gestures. I will probably look beneath costumes, makeup, hairstyles, and props and continue driving Jedidiah and Company crazy by saying, “I wonder if all that makeup is covering up a very, very hard life for that poor woman. And is she supposed to be that thin? What is her name? Let us pray for her…”

At present, I hold out my heart to people as I tell them about Jesus.

Then, I will look into their eyes as I do it!

At present, I tend to be woefully lacking in the departments of diplomacy and political correctness. If asked a question, I answer it as honestly as I know how. It has been a difficult process, but I have learned because I feel it’s right. Besides, it allows for a freedom in the Lord that I would never willingly relinquish.

Then, I will use gestures as well as words to convey my points–lofty, sometimes whimsical, not-always-diplomatic, honest, spontaneous gestures!

At present, I ask nurses, lab technicians, and other professionals to enumerate every step of a procedure as they are doing it. “Most people don’t look, even though they can see the procedure–even if they do have a choice.” But…

Then, I will look! Very likely, with the barrier of Protein C deficiency being removed, I won’t have so many medical procedures to contend with, but for any routine test, I know myself–I will watch the professionals. I’ll need to know what’s going on, won’t I?

At present, I use Roman numerals when Arabic numerals are considered more acceptable, insist on British dates, and use an uppercase E when writing the word “E-mail”. Oh, and there’s that little matter of punctuation marks going outside of quotation marks rather than burrowing down inside.

Then, I will add unconventional fonts, footnotes, elaborate colour schemes, intriguing caesuras, and spacing eccentricities to my list of writing quirks.

At present, I feel that wearing dresses, maintaining long hair, and refraining from dyes and makeup are Biblical practices. My opinion only–I don’t necessarily expect anyone to agree with it.

Then… Well, those principles, and the verses on which I base them, won’t have changed, will they?

At present, I believe that all material that proclaims the Gospel should somehow be distributed for free. Naive? Perhaps. Biblical? I think so…

Then, I will have the pen and ink, the printers and skills, and the transportation, to leave Christian writings–for free!–in coffee shops. Unconventional? Perhaps. Thought-provoking? Maybe so…

At present, I deal with overstimulating circumstances by grasping onto one thought and using one sense to temporarily narrow my world for the five seconds it takes to calm any feelings of being overwhelmed. Think on peppermint resembling hyssop, and clutch the steaming cup of tea, allowing myself to focus only on the heated pressure of that cup and the intricate weave of the cozy that envelops it–oh, yes, and also on hyssop.

Even then, it may still be necessary to fight anxiety–unless the Lord, in His infinite power and grace, heals that along with the rest of me. He is able! But, should there ever come a moment after that glorious healing when I need to narrow my world, I’ll have one more sense with which to do it. Hold in my gaze the painting of rugged mountains, marvel at God’s majesty even as expressed through artwork, and contemplate the life of the artist in the five seconds it takes…

At present, one of my favorite hymns I “Open My Eyes That I May See”, especially the third and fourth lines in each verse.

Then, I have no idea what hymns and worship songs will speak to my heart–how can we know the future? Perhaps, though… PERHAPS, a favorite will be “Your Voice”, from the Vineyard album YOU ARE IN CONTROL. I know I love it now, and I will likely love it then. “Open My Eyes”, in heart and spirit, AT PRESENT; “Your Voice” is my joy and delight, THEN and always.

At present, and then, I have and will be serious, unconventional, quirky, a lover of music and of beauty, and wholeheartedly devoted to my Savior.

At present, I love Jesus.

Then, I will love Jesus.

“I’m So Wonderfully Made”, Part I: The Gift

I am an exceptional person.

Now, my beloved readers, before you begin chastising me for being prideful, for claiming perfection where none exists, or for failing to recognize that I have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, please note what I’m actually saying–not what modern man has determined my words mean. I am an exceptional person, meaning that I have so many exceptions in my life that it drives those around me crazy. Not a perfect person by any means, just an idiosyncratic one.

When I was a toddler young enough to have perhaps a fifty-word vocabulary, I remember begging my mother to find “The M&M Song”. Yes, I do actually remember this–just one more quirk of mine. And the memory isn’t one I must struggle through muddy mental waters to retrieve–it’s right up there with the article I read ten minutes ago, or the chocolate croissant I had for breakfast yesterday morning. But that is beside the point–back to The M&M Song. I did not then, nor have I ever since, owned a song about junk food. I was actually referring to a Christian children’s song that joyfully described the attributes of a life lived in Jesus. Why, then, the odd song title? Not out of irreverence–not by any means. It’s just that one of the instruments with which the song opened sounded, to my not-quite-developed ears, the way peanut M&Ms do when shaken in a small bag with just enough air in it to give it that little umph. But I didn’t have the words to explain all of this, so I requested The M&M Song, and my mother searched for it in vain for half an hour.

It was around that time that I discovered that no one would ever understand the M&M Songs that my mind happened to conjure up–the books in which I ignored the conflict but could focus for long durations upon that little crease at the top of page XVI, the need for Roman numerals, my ability to actually taste normal saline during the midst of medical procedures, my utter disregard for peer gossip in the eighth grade in favor of Jane Eyre, my Anglophilism that reached such heights that I began converting any dollar amount into pounds before contemplating the monetary value, my propensity to turn all dates since 17 August 2002 into anniversaries and remember those dates like precious jewels, my love as a new Christian for Leviticus and Revelation while others read Psalm XXIII and I Corinthians XIII. My nineteen-thousand-file audio collection has been organized using a systematic set of codes rather than according to song title–the better for actually finding those songs: Integrity Music with Integrity Music, Vineyard with Vineyard, sermons with sermons, etc. I’m the sort of person who moans and whimpers when she develops a migraine and who loathes all auditory, olfactory, and gustatory stimuli during said episode, but who still puts mind over matter enough to enjoy the glories of worship music and Communion and the fragrance of anointing oil even despite the throbbing headache. In Braille, Biblical references are contained at the bottom of each page of Scripture; sometimes, when reading mainstream Braille books, I catch myself looking at the bottom of the pages in hopes of finding “Ch. I, narrative section-Ch. II, description”. I flatly refuse to listen to any Christian songs that employ grammatical errors, since said miswordings affect the theology–be it ever so unintentional. If I hear someone make a reference to “rivalry”, I almost expect them to say “revival” and am disappointed when they don’t. And did you know that some people just about sing with joy–even if they’re speaking in a normal, conversational voice? A friend of mine once asked an intense question in the Lord, ending her query with a single-syllable adverb; now, any sentence that uses that structure reminds me of Sincere Sister’s question. Those of you who are familiar with French will understand when I say that I live my life in the passe simple and would almost certainly use it exclusively if I had grown up in a French-speaking country, passe compose being much too mundane for the beauty of the life God has given us. Last Sunday, I was in a new church when the person who had invited me apologized for interrupting a work session with my guide-dog, Natasha. All the situation required was a simple “that’s all right”. Was that my reaction? Never! Instead, I tried to grab hold of her heart, to make her understand: “Oh, you have no idea… I hadn’t had Christian contact in two months, don’t you know!? I don’t care how important that work session was–it can and did wait, because my prayers were answered and I finally found the companionship of someone who loved the Lord, if only for a few minutes. Thank you so much for so-called interrupting! …”

It all began, I believe, somewhere in infancy. I was born with a severe medical condition that shaped my life rather dramatically. While other young children had nice little checkups (read THE BERENSTAIN BEARS VISIT THE DOCTOR, take height and weight and temperature, all done!), I sustained countless blood draws, often involving multiple venapuncture sites since my veins were so difficult to find. Of course, other children just got a sticker, while my family and I always went out afterword to the local restaurant/gift shop/series of rides/hands-on museum. A wonderful, comprehensive place was that one eatery! Other kids complained about eating their vegetables; I couldn’t get enough of the broccoli I was served once in a blue moon. Others got colds, ate some chicken noodle soup, and got themselves sent right back to school in a day or two. I had many clotting episodes, which only plasma could fix and which chicken soup might have hindered if that soup had any parsley in it, and was sent back to school with much homework to catch up on in a week or two.

Note that I have not used the word “suffer” in the preceding paragraph. That’s because, truly, that’s not how I see things. I’m not “trying to be inspirational”–it’s just that, despite the horror of some of those medical crises, I saw the hand of God move so mightily that I could never question Him or my circumstances. Case in point: If I had been leading the typical teenage life rather than holding it all together in a hospital bed on Christmas Eve one year, I would never have met the lovely Christian nurse’s aide whose husband pastored a Pentecostal church in, of all places, Las Vegas. Or had the opportunity to pray for a young girl and her parents as that girl was taken to be with Jesus. Or been able to rejoice in good health when I finally had it restored to me. Or played Don Moen’s album THANK YOU, LORD during one of many MRIs. Or listened in rapt attention as one prayer warrior after another read the Scriptures on healing.

But medical conundrums were not the only exception in my life. There was that little difference of me being a Braille reader. And, for that matter, a cane user, a carrier of textbooks the thickness of your arm, a devotee of audio materials, and a loather of all things film-related. In short, blind. And by the time I was in first grade, I knew that this would simply be part of life–something that set me apart from my cartoon-loving, ball-playing classmates, who worked merrily away at cursive writing while I tried to master twenty, then thirty and forty words per minute using PCTyper–way off in a little corner with my own official-looking computer and office chair, you understand, and in an era in which not everyone owned a personal computer. Exceptions aplenty. Opportunities aplenty, too. For example, I was once asked what I was reading and, when I explained that I was reading the Bible, the questioner remarked condescendingly that my choice of reading material was “so cute”! What better opportunity, so long as she was letting me tell her about my “cute little life”, to proclaim the Gospel!?

Then, there was the other exception–the best, but least tangible or explainable difference between my life and that of the Joneses. In crowded public schools that often taught from an impersonal perspective, or expected us to learn evolutionary principles, or enforced reading material that I was not comfortable with, I was a five-year-old Christian with a pastor’s desire to delineate between right and wrong. Gently helped along by my parents, who had been influential in instilling this sense in me, I did not participate in the reading of any books involving magic, in certain art projects, etc. Now, before you tell me that I led a sheltered life with no fun and ask just what denomination I belonged to anyway, may I just say that this was the best parenting decision my mother or father ever made? As to your denominational question, I’m everything from Methodist to Church of God to Calvary Chapel to Charismatic–wherever people love Jesus, there I try to go to worship. Now, many of my teachers found this frustrating over the years, and several students wanted to know just what I was doing in lieu of some day’s uncomfortable story hour. Then, too, I would often be asked to do math review or other distasteful assignments if I didn’t participate in certain class activities. My reaction to this? “Holy is the Lord!” No matter what, and no matter how anyone around me felt about it, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was doing this for Him, not conforming to the things of the world, and that this assertion made everything all right. It was the least obvious exception, but the most wondrous, by far.

What is my point in telling you all of this? Simply that I have never given up the M&M songs of life. The exceptions that shaped my life as a child continue to influence how I see and experience things today–from dates and Roman numerals to grammatical errors in worship songs to the passe simple.

And–don’t you know? It’s all been such a gift. For me, the fact that wind chimes are inextricably linked with songs of praise is so special that I wouldn’t choose to see life “conventionally” for a day, even if granted that opportunity. In many ways, being so literal yet so poetic, so detail-oriented with a theological bent, simply enables me to see God’s glory more clearly. If I were a little more conventional, I would push aside my disinterest in sports long enough to enjoy a televised game or two with friends or family–but would I then have the time that I do now for listening repeatedly to eight-minute British worship songs? If I saw the larger picture rather than focusing on details, I might be more successful as far as social and business principles are concerned, but would I enjoy the richness that comes from having compared each offering made in Leviticus and examining what they meant in the scope of repentance, love for God, etc.?

Then, too, being very different has kept me in mind of the things of God from day to day. A typical morning’s thought processes go as follows: “13 December. On this day in 2004, Naomi and I sang “Holy, Holy, Holy”. He is holy! I must get up and feed Natasha. Think on His commands when I lie down and when I rise up. Evening and morning and at noon… “Natasha! Come in!” She’s been outside for the morning long enough–but the Lord has given us dominion over the creatures He has made, that we might love and care for them… Now for her food. Metal bowl–light and flimsy, like some of us if we don’t focus on more intellectual pursuits. One cup of food. How many ephahs would that have been in Biblical times?” And so it goes. That sort of mindset, trying to stay constantly in the love and knowledge of God, changes my outlook on life. It’s rewarding, joyful, enriching.

How about you? Do you have a personality trait that lingers just outside of convention? What about one that is conventional, but thus far unuseful to you–like extreme assertiveness? Whichever camp you fall into, try to find something about the way the Lord has created you to use for His glory. In my case, it’s using a series of little quirks to associate more of my day with the things of Him. In yours, it might be redirecting the assertiveness that has given you such success in your career, and using it for evangelism. Or using all the gentleness inherent in an introverted heart to demonstrate true longsuffering patience to everyone you see. Don’t misunderstand–there are things in all of us that aren’t personality traits, but temptations that we give into and that can become sinful. Those are not gifts. But what you were born with, what sets you apart from other people–use it! Use it, because He gave it to you, and because you are fearfully and wonderfully made! Use it to glorify Him. Be different. Be set apart. “Be holy, for I AM holy” (Leviticus 20:26, I Peter 1:16).

Addenda: In keeping with the sorts of unique things I tend to remember and even cherish, I’m entitling this two-part series “Wonderfully Made” after a children’s song that seems to have first appeared on a 1986 Maranatha! Kids recording. Not the M&M Song, for the record. If I’m being truly authentic, that’s the M and M Song; ampersands should not exist in our language. Also, this is only one perspective on the traits that make me the person I am today. True, I perceive who God has made me to be a gift, but that doesn’t stop certain of these same traits from being a thorn in the flesh at times. Perhaps some of my readers can relate. If the Lord wills, that will be the subject for the second part of this series.

“I Am Free”

You know you’ve had a cleansing, freeing breakthrough of an experience when…

For longer than I’d like to admit, work with my guide-dog has been a sore subject. Actually, work of any kind has been a bit touchy. Post-traumatic stress has been a thorn in my flesh for a number of years, and a true fear of over stimulating or challenging work has been with me since 2010. My mother was diagnosed with MS during my final semester at university; I had been taking seven classes and working part-time at the university’s writing center. Somehow, I came to associate multiple sclerosis and medical crises in general with hard work…

So, that was my reasoning behind fear of work. But why with my precious guide-dog, Natasha? Because the school from which I obtained her was likewise very difficult for me. The work was strenuous, and the environment so extroverted that my spiritual life felt profoundly threatened from day to day. And–this may come as a surprise to most people–most visually-impaired people, even those with a guide-dog, do not always find orientation and mobility easy. Guide-dog work requires full, intense concentration. You must be aware of your surroundings at all times, remember your foot position in conjunction with your dog’s paws, attempt to figure out when to correct distracted behavior and when to simply continue on your walk, and especially judge traffic. Your guide-dog won’t do that for you, though s/he has been trained to get you out of danger should you misjudge. But, really, it’s up to you to listen for traffic and give the “forward” command accordingly.

Ever since I got Natasha, I had been working with her on a consistent basis, but had always found it laborious. There was no listening to the crunching of leaves underfoot or taking in the numerous sets of chimes hung in neighbors’ yards. So when it came time to take her for her usual walk this afternoon, I was less than enthusiastic. Actually, that’s the best use of hyperbole I’ve ever encountered–I had been dreading guide-dog work all day. We all have to do what we have to do, though, so I began to rig the two of us up: a two-pound leather harness for Natasha, and a treat pouch for me. The biscuits inside would be dispensed if Natasha did something particularly reward-worthy.

And then, we set off. The first part of our walk around the neighborhood was unremarkable. We listened for traffic, we maneuvered our way through commands, we crossed intersections, we traversed our way around mailboxes and lawn mowers. It was challenging as always, but somehow exhilarating, too.

Then, it happened. It was such a small moment that it almost slipped by me, unnoticed. I had been letting my mind wander just a bit. I was thinking of words that my sister and I had coined, of intriguing prepositions, and of the juncture between life and linguistics. Yes, I know I’m eccentric… Anyway, just at that moment, Natasha took me to the curb of our sixth intersection. She stopped, just as she had been trained to do, and awaited my next command. A breeze ruffled my skirt and blew my hair into my face. And all at once, I realized that I was having fun. That, for the first time since I had acquired Natasha, I was overjoyed to be working with my guide-dog, my companion. All afternoon, we had been working in perfect rhythm, and I had been loving every moment of it.

“Natasha, forward!” I don’t think I’ve ever spoken such beautiful words, in the physical realm, in many months.

The rest of that walk was unpolished. Natasha became a little distracted by a rabbit, and I had to correct her and keep her from becoming too distracted. But–oh!–it was one of the most perfect walks we’ve ever experienced together. If only there were some way to express to Natasha what I had been experiencing! Because, you see, it must have affected her, too. Dogs can tell when you aren’t enjoying something, even if you do put on a pleasant demeanor when interacting with them. But perhaps she felt it–from my end of the harness handle right through to the straps that went around her chest and belly. Dogs can also tell when you’re relaxed, and when there’s almost nothing you would rather be doing than interacting with them.

When we got home, I could contain myself no longer. Sitting down on the porch–embroidered skirt and all–I began loving on my dog for all she was worth. Rub, rub, tail-wag, tail-wag. “Oh, good girl! Good, good girl, Tashi. OOOOOOOOH, praise the Lord! Thank You, thank You, Jesus.” In that moment and given the context, both sentiments were absolutely appropriate.

I can’t explain it, but the Lord has set me free in all work-related areas. No longer do I equate challenging activities with arduous chores or labor. Not my vocation, not work with Natasha–NOTHING! Just one more step in continuing the healing the Lord has wrought in my life.