23 August 2016

Another sunset

A friend of mine lost his father today.

I didn't know the father at all, but for whatever reason, this death is really wreaking havoc with my emotions. I'm feeling the NF in my INFP personality, and it's hurting my heart. The truth is that this gentleman was elderly and in poor health, and his death was not at all unexpected. And in many ways, his death may be a relief for his family--the end of suffering for him and long days of worry for them.

But I barely made it to my car before I started crying.

I've always been awkward about grief. I don't express it well myself except privately. I'm not good at physical touch so feel awkward putting my arm around someone who's crying, or giving hugs. I never know what to say or how to act in the face of others' grief. I can remember even when I was in ninth grade and a fellow missionary kid was killed in a car accident, my friends gathered around me on a blanket spread under a tree, and while they cried, I just felt awkward. My tears came later, and even though I didn't know her well at all, I felt her death deeply. I think of her often. But I never knew what to say, how to act.

And while my amazing mentor Jay died nearly two years, and I have been meaning, wanting, and planning to write to his wife, I haven't done so. What's the use of words?

I'd never bought flowers in sympathy before today. I had no idea what to get, even had to ask the florist. I have no idea what to say in a sympathy card. How can I possibly express in words how deeply my heart hurts? Not possible.

But I'm at home now, alone, and in the absence of others, I don't feel awkward. My heart aches. Maybe this death is just the release I needed to spend some time grieving the loss of a few amazing men in my life whom I haven't really taken time to grieve yet. I have been so busy surviving that perhaps I shoved those deaths down and didn't give them proper time. I not only grieve their deaths but that I didn't get to say a proper goodbye to any but one (a moment I will treasure in my heart always).

I remember when a fellow missionary died several years ago, a friend I barely knew brought me a huge bouquet and a card. And the flowers lasted for three or four weeks in my basement studio apartment. I had been feeling so alone, but she touched my life so briefly but so deeply, just by noticing and acknowledging the hurt.

Maybe my words are meaningless, empty. May God grant me the grace to notice and acknowledge the hurt so that some day in the future, my friend may look back and recognize that he was not alone.

16 June 2016

Not just another post about the Proverbs 31 woman

I recently engaged in a Facebook debate about the role of the woman in a Christian home.

Can I just say, "Wow"?

I admit I had to disengage pretty quickly, as I don't actually enjoy arguing with people I consider friends, and I could tell there would be no resolution. Our worldviews are just so completely different that resolution is impossible. This frustrates me, but I said what I felt I needed to say, and I can't change people's minds for them.

But it opened my eyes to other viewpoints and perspectives.

Basically, the article posted said that mothers are the first and most important defense against totalitarianism, and that as we see more and more mothers work outside the home, we will see an increase in Big Brother and government oppression. It further stated that this phenomenon tending toward totalitarianism is planned and implemented by "social engineers."

In other words, people are out there, plotting the totalitarian takeover of America by telling women they don't have to stay home with their kids and can instead work outside the home.

Wow. Just wow.

I don't go in for conspiracy theories generally, and this one is a whopper. I just... wow.

Okay, so the comments on the post were that dual-income families and single parents are contributing to the societal deterioration because we are not raising our children. Further comments quote Titus 2 and tell me God wants me to stay home with my kids and take care of my household. Another choice comment is that feminism is to blame, and that offering a paid maternity leave is bad because it encourages women to work outside the home.

Again, just wow.

I am not a biblical literalist. (Shocker.) But I tend to think that if you take Titus 2 to mean women should not ever work outside the home, you should also never wear jewelry, never braid your hair, and never speak in church. I know women who do follow all these guidelines, and I respect that. If you're going to take any passage in the New Testament as law, you really have to take them all, don't you? I've been accused of "picking and choosing" bits of the Bible to follow and believe, but isn't that exactly what's done by believers like the person who posted the article? If we're going to take the Bible as literal law, we have to do it in its entirety.

The article and posted comments imply three very important statements with which I contend:
  1. A mother working outside the home is never God's plan or ideal, 
  2. Working moms can't raise virtuous Christian kids, and
  3. Feminism is the root of all kinds of evil.
First, let's be clear here: I do not believe that a working mom should ever neglect her children. But that word "neglect" means different things to different people. As a single mom, I see my first priority as feeding my children and providing them safe shelter. Next probably comes sufficient clothing, and then education. Thus "neglect" means not meeting one of those four primary needs. Someone from a different point of view thinks that I neglect my children because I have them in after-school care. A third person might say I neglect my children in sending them to public school. We've all got differing ideas of what's important. But we can probably all agree that--using our differing views of "neglect"--we don't think a working mom should neglect her children.

That being said, I can't possibly imagine a God who would say every woman needs to stay home with her children, or that managing a household means not working outside the home. Having grown up in West Africa, among people who farm and/or herd cattle for a living, I'm inclined to think I have an inkling what the culture of the Old Testament may have been like. Women do not stay inside with their children. They work out in the fields, and so do their kids. Women carry small children on their backs. Girls as young as six or seven are put in charge of the babies and smaller children while the mama hoes and digs and plows. And on market day, that mama goes into town to sell her wares. A good African mama is not one who sits at home with the kids and waits for her husband to bring home money for food. She gets out there and makes her own money. This, to me, sounds like the Proverbs 31 woman. She is a do-er. She not only teaches her children at home, but she teacher her children in her actions outside the home. She is hard-working and productive and earns a living to prosper her family.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not knocking women who do stay home with their kids. My mom was home with me, and I am grateful to have had that privilege. Stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) can be just as productive and hard-working. But can they earn a living wage? Probably not. Some, of course, get involved in Mary Kay or Tupperware or Thirty-One or whatever and can earn money from home. That is awesome. But we can't all do that (or want to do that).

I don't believe there is anything in the Bible to suggest God doesn't want mothers to work outside the home. I don't see any verses, in reading my Bible, that say being a SAHM is the only virtuous option for a Christian mom. I see that the important things are to meet the needs of the family and teach your kids biblical values: kindness, purity, diligence, respect, self-control, and a host of others.

As a single mom, I have to work. I do not believe in begging for food or for money when I have a good mind and body and the ability to work a paying job. I'm grateful for compassionate charity I've been given, but I am perfectly capable of working to meet my kids' needs. In my own situation, I would feel irresponsible if I stayed home with the kids and let other people meet all our financial needs. I lived with my parents for nearly a year, and that really was too long. Some single moms can work from home or have enough financial stability from family to stay home with and/or home-school their kids. I don't. And so I work.

For me, it's not a choice. But for so many women out there, working is a choice, and they continue to work outside the home. Why? Because they enjoy it. Because they need to pursue a calling in life. Because they crave adult conversation. Because they want to use their intelligence to build up not only their kids but others as well. Because they have a dream. Because they like having extra spending money. Because they want to share their gifts. All sorts of reasons. Women have dreams just as much as men do and should be equally free to pursue them. If saying that makes me a feminist, I'm gladly accept the label. People are different. Are all women called to get married and have a few babies? No.

Whoa. Okay, so this is not the view of the very conservative Christians out there, but it is my firm belief. I know several amazing women who have either never married or married but never had kids (whether by choice or not). Do these women sometimes feel unfulfilled? Yes. Do they feel unblessed by God, or that they have somehow missed God's plan for their lives? No. Some of my greatest Christian heroes in history are unmarried women.

So, to the second point. Can working women really not raise virtuous kids? Hmm. I'm not sure where this thought really stems from, but I'm pretty sure of a few things.

First, quality of time is more important than quantity. Period. A working mom who spends a little bit of quality time nurturing her kids is probably giving her kids just as much love and attention (and "virtue" lessons) as a SAHM who spends much of the day cooking, cleaning, and otherwise taking care of the home. Truth.

Second, while we as parents are definitely responsible for our kids, so is the village. This has kind of gotten shoved to the side in American society generally, but in much of the world, it's still a true thing. I believe it should be true here as well, but particularly in the Church. I give my kids love, attention, and life lessons, but I'm not the only one who can do that. I rely on my children's teachers, Sunday school teachers, and other community mentors to pitch in as well. And at certain ages, kids learn better from people who aren't their parents. While I may be the best person--in many ways--to raise my children in a positive Christian manner, I am not the only one who can or should do so.

And third, the way in which a child is raised does not guarantee anything--positive or negative. While I do have influence over my children and their choices, they are still free agents. And at some point, I have to let go of at least some of the responsibility. Some of the kindest, most compassionate people come from broken homes. And some of the sadists and sociopaths come from whole ones. I will do what I can to teach my children good qualities, to show them hard work, to model respect for all people. And I'll let God do the rest. But I believe in my heart that my children will be strong, kind, and resilient because of all we have gone through together and all they have gone through individually. Going to school and being in day care around children of other ethnic groups and socioeconomic backgrounds has already taught them lessons I could never attempt to teach them myself. They are richer for it.

Finally, feminism. As a college student straight from a conservative high school, I hated feminism. I insisted I was a complementarian, arguing that women and men have equal worth but not equal roles in society, especially in the family. As I've grown up and now have to wear the pants for our little family, I've definitely left that way of thinking behind. I am a feminist. I want equal pay for equal work. I want paid maternity leave to nurse my newborn. I want to be able to choose to bottle-feed if I want to, gosh darn it! I want to be treated respectfully as an employee and as a person--not just because I'm a capable wife and mother, but because I'm a unique child of God. Feminism is not intended to destroy the family. It doesn't tell women they shouldn't stay at home with their kids. It simply empowers women to realize that staying home or not is a choice, and the decision to work outside the home is as valid as the decision to remain in the home. (Granted, some women can't work outside the home, and some women can't stay at home, but the principle is still sound.)

So I choose to be the Proverbs 31 woman who works hard (including outside the home) to benefit her family, and I pray that one day, my children will arise and call me blessed.

10 June 2016

Why I'm observing Ramadan - because you asked to know

There are so many things I've wanted to write about on here for the past year. In fact, I started making list of blog posts that never were. But this, this is a response to the question several of you have asked me in the last couple weeks: "Why are you fasting for Ramadan?"

Ramadan is a month-long daytime fast observed by Muslims around the world. Because of the lunar calendar, the timing varies from year to year. This year it happens to fall in the summer, when daytime hours are rather long. One can eat and drink in the morning before it gets light and again after it gets dark, but during daylight, one must not eat or drink anything. I'm told it is a time of spiritual journey, of deepening faith, of prayer.

To clarify, I am not a Muslim. I am a follower of Christ and Christ alone.

And I am doing a modified fast. I am drinking water during the day (only water) and celebrating a feast day on Sunday.

The simplest explanation, which I gave a friend earlier today, is that this is an exercise in self-discipline, prayer, and empathy.

So what does that mean?

Self-discipline: I have never been good at fasting. Many Christians believe that God commanded us to fast regularly in Matthew 6:16: "When you fast..." The idea is that since Jesus says when and not if, it is not only expected but also a command. Whether or not one interprets the Bible this way, I agree that fasting can be very beneficial if you let it. For me, personally, fasting is very, very challenging. I love to eat. If you know me at all, you know I love to eat. Food is yummy. And I'm not a water-drinker. I have to force myself to drink water. Tea? Yes! Coffee? Absolutely! Soda? Duh! Crystal Light? Yay! Lemonade? Sure! Water? Um, not so much. So fasting from food and drinks other than water has been a real challenge for me. I'm on day four (should be five, but Ramadan began on Sunday), and while today has been easier than the first few days, it's still a challenge. I see the donuts someone brought to work and want one. I smell the coffeecake that someone else brought and want some. I want the bagels another person is sharing. And when I get asked, "What did you bring for lunch?" I have to cleverly respond without answering the question, as I haven't advertised at work that I'm fasting. Oh my gosh, you guys, it is hard to fast for 16 hours! But I'm going to do this! I need to learn self-discipline, and this is as good a lesson as any.

Prayer: I have never been a prayer warrior. I've always wanted to be, but I've never made a real effort to become fervent in prayer. Over this month, I'm making an effort at least to pray during my meals (as I usually eat them alone) and when I feel hunger during the day. Mostly this week I've prayed for my Muslim friends and others observing the fast, that they would find strength and sustenance in God. But I do also pray for specific needs of which I'm aware. The grumbling stomach is just a reminder to pray.

Empathy: Perhaps the most important reason for my fast is to develop empathy. While I grew up just streets away from the Muslim community of my hometown in Nigeria, I never tried to put myself in their shoes. I didn't wonder what their lives were like. I want to change that. I'm not a sociologist or a cultural anthropologist, and I'm no missionary in the traditional sense. But I want to have some idea what this fast is like. After all, it's a full lunar month every single year of an adult Muslim's life, and it's one of the Five Pillars of Faith. In other words, it's a Big Deal. A few months ago I was given the chance to wear a hijab for an afternoon. While I didn't observe a difference in the way people responded to me, I observed a difference in the way I felt: conspicuous but proud. It was very similar to the feeling I used to have when I wore my Nigerian clothes in college: "I know I’m different, but I'm not ashamed of it." Or maybe even, "I dare you to think I’m weird or treat me differently because of what I'm wearing." All that to say I want to know what it's like. I'm so far not brave enough to actually ask my Muslim friend if I can come over and join her for any of her Ramadan traditions, but I have told her I’m fasting, so maybe in a week or two I'll gather courage. Or maybe not. We'll see. But I love the Muslim people I know, and I want to connect on some level. Without knowing a good way to do so, maybe this will be a springboard. If nothing else, it might someday be a conversation starter.

Call me crazy. I don't mind. I think God has things to teach me, and I'm going to listen.

27 May 2015

Atlanta 2015

This is long and mostly for my family, so feel free to peruse or not as your heart desires. (My cousin took the photos, so I only have two or three, which I haven't uploaded yet.)

Day 1

My birthday present from my parents and cousin Alyssa this year was a set of Atlanta City Passes for Alyssa, my kids, and me. They had all arranged ahead of time to send us on a getaway to the Big City, and the trip was set for Memorial Day weekend. Alyssa drew up an itinerary, and we were super excited for a chaotic but fun three-day weekend!

When we arrived on Saturday morning, we went straight to the Georgia Aquarium. Timothy went there on a field trip with his class a month ago, so he agreed to be our tour guide. Unfortunately, one of the highlights of his trip was the dolphin show, and we were told at the desk that because of the crowd, we should be in line for the show at least 45 minutes early. Ugh. We find it a challenge spending any amount of time in line, and we had another activity planned for after the aquarium, so I made the executive decision to skip the dolphin show. Timothy wouldn’t let me forget it and complained on and off the whole rest of the time we were there. But we still managed to have fun! We touched the sea anemone and sea stars. We watched the otters play—and this is when I got injured. Anna was standing under me, and she jumped up, banging into my chin. I bit my tongue and two small sores on the edges of my bottom lip, which then became huge sores. After the initial shock—with Anna crying and crying because she felt so bad that she’d hurt me—I rinsed out my mouth, and we kept going. Eating, smiling, and even talking still hurt, but it’s much better than it was.

From there we went to the penguins, where the kids got to climb through a tunnel into the middle of the penguin habitat, where they could stand in a clear plastic bubble observatory and see the animals close-up. That was Anna’s favorite thing about the aquarium. We were disappointed to not be able to see the beluga whales, as the female had just delivered a baby beluga on Mother’s Day (yes, for real), so the curtains were all closed. (I only saw about a dozen episodes of Full House when I was little because I wasn’t technically allowed to watch it, but “Baby Beluga” is one thing I actually do remember from the show.) We met a Nigerian gentleman working by the curtained beluga enclosure and chatted a bit. After lunch we saw the Deepo 4D movie about a man who becomes a fish and learns how humans impact sea life. (It was another of Timothy’s highlights from his field trip.) Both kids loved that, especially the bubbles and getting splashed. Next we visited the river area, where the kids got to go into another observation bubble to see the piranhas up close and personal. (Piranhas always make me think of Tarzan: “Sweetheart, there are no piranhas in Africa.” – “Shh. Don’t tell the kid that. Of course there are piranhas in Africa.” – “No, she’s right. They’re native to South America.” Lol) Japanese spider crabs are huge, by the way. From there we moved on to the ocean exhibit, which was my personal favorite. We got to see whale sharks, sawsharks, sting rays, devil rays (Anna called them “double rays”), giant manta rays, and lots of things we didn’t identify. The walkway is a tunnel through the middle of the tank, so you can see the sea life all around you. So cool! Lastly we visited the coral reef exhibit, where Anna was delighted to identify several unicorn fish, which she had seen in a photo at the Columbia, SC zoo where we’re members. J All in all, except for Timothy’s meltdown about missing the dolphin show, the bad mood from which persisted for a half hour after we left the aquarium, we had a delightful time!

Next we walked to the CNN center, but their tours were sold out, so we enjoyed ice cream, and the kids explored the outside of a military Humvee stationed in the lobby before we decided to enjoy the playground by the aquarium for a while. This significantly improved Timothy’s mood, and the weather was perfect in the shade. We even got to see Dora and Elmo walk by, delighting Anna. While Timothy enjoyed the monkey bars, Anna spent time “making ant holes” in the dirt. Ha.
We had dinner at The Varsity, apparently the largest drive-thru in the world. (We didn’t drive through, though!) Yum! When we got to the hotel at last, the kids and Alyssa enjoyed some swim time (it wasn’t warm enough for me!), and we tried out the whirlpool before heading to bed for an early night.

Day 2

Sunday morning we drove to Passion City Church. We were 40 minutes early, but that seemed to be totally normal, as there were already parking attendants and a state trooper directing traffic. Whoa. Anna refused—as usual—to go to kids’ church, so we signed Timothy in and waited ten minutes ‘til the kids’ area opened. When we finally went in, we saw it was a large room full of tents—as in, tent camping, not like carnival tents—each of which had a sign for grade and boys or girls. Interesting. Timothy was with the 1st grade boys and had a blast. We went to the auditorium and waited for worship. Anna loved the lights, which are set up as for a concert. In fact, the music was very concert-style, with David Crowder and Kristian Stanfill leading worship. Great music (though, as you’d expect, very loud), and even Anna was delighted that she knew a couple of the songs from having heard them on our local Christian radio station. The sermon was interesting. It was geared toward those who are dating and interested in dating, which apparently is most of the church’s composition. (Yeah, I wouldn’t really fit in there long-term.) The pastor—who wasn’t actually there but who had recorded his lesson earlier in the week—encouraged people to focus on why they want to date instead of whom they want to date, to look inside and work on improving themselves before dating, and to only be willing to date someone who has the same mission: ultimately to worship God through service. (Basically.) He had some great points, and I gleaned what I could, but I’m disappointed that it wasn’t more relevant to me—and to the people there who didn’t fall into that specific demographic. Still, I’m glad we got to go to the church, and Timothy—as I said—had a good time in kids’ church.

We’d originally planned to save the zoo for Monday, but because of the chance of rain on Monday, we decided to head to the zoo on Sunday and save the indoor activities for the next day. After a quick lunch, we found our way to the zoo and discovered that our entrance included unlimited activities as well—the carousel, climbing wall, mesh climbing jungle, train, etc. We stepped inside to look at the flamingos while I oriented myself with the map, and wham! Anna fell headlong onto a curb. She started screaming and holding her face, and my first fear was that she had hurt her eyes. (I hadn’t seen it happen, as I’d been reading the map.) We finally deduced that she had hit the bridge of her nose, and Alyssa comforted her while I stepped away to get ice at the nearest snack shop. I was all choked up and could barely even talk at that point, so I’m glad Alyssa was there to care for Anna! (That happened when Anna fell on the playground and knocked her teeth back, too; I could hardly talk for fear of crying myself!) We iced Anna’s nose on and off for the next 20 minutes or so—while we rode the carousel and while Timothy climbed the mesh jungle and then went partway up the rock wall (before a kid fell on top of him!). At that point we realized she had also hit her forehead between her eyebrows and was developing a lump, so we tried to ice that before the ice melted. In the meantime, Anna perked up at the carousel and especially a few minutes later at the petting zoo, where she made it her goal to pet every goat in the pen. (There were no other animals in there, just goats.) Both kids enjoyed the fans blowing mist in the pen. J We stopped to medicate Anna—she wanted Powerade, of all things, to wash down the medicine—and then headed to see the pandas! Grandma (my mom) had reminded us several times that there had been twin baby pandas born there in the past couple of years, so we had to snap a photo for Grandma. I think the two bears we saw were the twins. There was quite a crowd—not regulated like at the San Diego Zoo—but we managed to watch for a few minutes. I wondered aloud why we find pandas to be so lovable. (Because they’re non-threatening? Cute & cuddly but not scary like grizzlies? Because they’re herbivores?)

Both kids enjoyed the naked mole rats, but they were intent on going to the splash pad, so they whined through all of the other animal enclosures. Alyssa and Anna saw the gorillas while I sat with a morose Timothy. They did both like the living tree house, where we got to walk among the birds. In the reptile/amphibian house, Timothy mostly wanted to play with the touch-screen activities rather than see the actual animals. (He’d fallen and scraped his knee just before we went into the reptile house.) We whizzed past the giraffes, looked for the rhino but couldn’t find him, sped past the meerkats, elephants, and warthogs, and finally got back around to the play area. The kids got into their swimsuits, and Alyssa took Anna to the splash pad while I took Timothy on the little train ride. (His words were, “Doing something with you is more important than playing in the water.” Too sweet!) Then we joined the others and splashed for about 40 minutes until they asked us to leave because the zoo was closing.  

We went on a wild goose chase for a non-burger place to eat and settled on Cook Out. Haha. So we had to get non-burger items, and the kids’ moods were significantly improved by milkshakes and a few games (Anna’s choice: “I Spy” and Timothy’s choice: the alphabet game with compound words). We didn’t get back to the hotel until well after 8, so we decided to skip swimming (since the kids had splashed anyway) and spend 15 minutes in the whirlpool instead. Everyone was finally in bed by about 9:30, and both kids fell right to sleep!

Day 3

The next morning was cool and cloudy. After breakfast, we packed up, wrote some postcards to leave with the hotel clerk, and drove to the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. We got there just as it opened and discovered our entrance included an IMAX film. We got our tickets for the later show and then went to explore! They have a wonderful kids’ educational play area, and we spent the first hour there, seeing bugs up close with a microscope; discovering gravity through balls coming down chutes; watching time-progression of fruit decay, season change, plants growing, a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis; finding fish and other sea creatures in a computer simulation; trying to reconstruct a clay jar from an archaeology dig using magnetic potsherds; and several other activities. We had to practically drag the kids away from the play area in order to see the rest of the museum! 

We spent about a half hour in the hands-on science activity area (not just for kids!), making huge bubbles, doing visual experiments, having a conversation from far across the room using cavernous circular seats, pretending to be weather-reporters, watching a manufactured cyclone, seeing electricity zap the edge of the glass ball where we placed our hands... So fun! I kept wishing that my dad were there—but then we could have spent the whole rest of the day in just that area!

With our last 25 minutes before the IMAX film, we went through the Natural History of Georgia exhibit (although Anna and I zipped through it because of a potty emergency, so I can't really say much about it, except that it winds hither and yon in the building, and it took a lot longer to get out than I expected!). At noon we headed to the IMAX and watched a film called "Mysteries of the Unseen World," which was pretty incredible. It covered things that are too fast, too slow, and too small to be seen by the naked eye, and things that are invisible. Wow!

After the film we drove back toward the skyscrapers, had lunch in the CNN Center, where my aunt and uncle joined us, and then visited the World of Coca-Cola. The kids had been looking forward to this all weekend, especially the taste-testing. I had told them about that part, and others had mentioned it as well. I specifically remembered the drink Beverly from when I visited as a 15-year-old. But that was at the end of our self-guided tour. First we walked through the history of Coca-Cola exhibit, saw bottles being filled, got a photo with the Coke bear (or, as I called it, “the Coca-Colar pear”), and watched a short 4-D video (during which Anna cried, poor kid). The taste-testing was the jewel of the experience, I guess. Timothy and I sampled every single international flavor they had (very, very small sips!) and several of the North American ones, which I’d not tried. (I may have tried them when I was 15; I only remember Beverly!) My personal favorite was something apple-y from the Asia section. Timothy and I were both brave enough to try Beverly (again for me), and it wasn’t quite as bad as I remembered. (Chloroquine is a lot worse.) We finally left the place full of bubbles and very happy. J

We drove back to Augusta, had dinner at my aunt & uncle’s home, and then finally got home about 9:30pm Monday night. The kids were giddy with exhaustion and went right to sleep! We were all exhausted but full of happy memories! I’m so thankful to my parents and to Alyssa for this super birthday present!!

14 April 2015

Seeing things

My mom said something last week that made me really think. She said that sometimes she wished she'd chosen to study something more practical for her poor eyesight.

My mom, my brother, and I (along with several others on my maternal side of the family) have a disease that causes optic nerve degeneration. There is no treatment or cure, it's genetic, and it is progressive. My mom is legally blind, and I will likely be so someday, too. She has never been able to drive, but as she's gotten older, she's also lost her ability to read--including her ability to read music. My mom is a gifted musician with a college education in music. She once played numerous instruments, but what I remember is the piano. She has not been able to read piano music since I was little. She can read choral music if she holds it right up to her face...but then even I have to do that.

Being visually impaired is hard. My vision is correctable at this point to 20/40 so that I can drive, but driving at night or in the rain makes me anxious. I've never been able to read the blackboard or white board at school, for as long as I can remember, without getting up and going to stand right in front of it. Overhead projectors were the worst. In college I sat front and center in every class so I could focus and take notes from listening rather than from the board. I can't see the words projected on the screens in churches more often than not. I just have to fake the words or ask for a printout. I have a lot of trouble reading street signs; the GPS is my God-send. When I get lost, I get really, really lost. I set my computer screen on large fonts and use CTRL+ to make my browser fonts larger. I have Timothy read the aisle signs in the grocery store for me.

I can see so much more than my mom, and I am thankful for my corrected vision. But I have to admit that my vision is failing a little bit every year. I have lost some of my peripheral vision in the last four years, and I have developed mild color blindness on top of my optic nerve atrophy. As a single mom in particular, I am terrified that I will lose my vision before my kids are old enough to take care of themselves, that I won't be able to drive them to school, to appointments. How can I take care of my kids by myself when I can't see? Will my vision last that long?

This is always at the back of my mind, this anxiety about my ability to take care of my children if I can no longer see clearly. But my mom's comment made me think more about my work and education more directly. I love medical things, and I wish I could have had a career in some medical field. I would have loved to have been a nurse or a doctor, or maybe a PA. But the truth is that I can't see well enough for those occupations, and even if I could see well enough now, there would soon come a day when I couldn't perform my duties. That is the hard, bare truth.

So what shall I do with my next few years? I can't say. For now I will keep doing administrative work, or editing work if I can find it. In the long term? I don't know. What sorts of careers are open to the visually impaired? It's time I face up to the truth and actually think about that.

My name is Saralynn, and I am visually impaired.

This is my reality.

22 March 2015

Who Cares?

Our pastor's in the middle of a sermon series on reaching the unreached. This is a very common theme in his sermons, as I know he has a heart for those who don't yet know Jesus' love. The sermons have all been good, moving, convicting, and I wholeheartedly agree I need to do more to be neighborly.

That being said, he focused today a lot on "the broken and needy," implying that that is exclusively people who are unchurched. This bothers me a great deal, as I feel it assumes that people in the Church aren't broken and don't have needs. He talked about the widows and the orphans, again implying these are people outside of the Church who need the help and love of the Church. But I couldn't help thinking, "What about the widows and orphans inside the Church? Are we neglecting the legitimate physical, emotional, and relational needs of our church members simply because they are 'saved'?"

We discussed William Booth's vision as portrayed below (more info here).
And while I get it--I get the vision and the immediacy of the need for salvation--I also wonder this:

Do we sometimes reach into the water to pull people out and then just assume they make their way to safety and security, turning away to "rescue" someone else without realizing they are slipping back into the frigid water? Are we so focused--with tunnel vision, perhaps--on the people struggling in the water to see the people tottering on the edge of the platform, or already slipping off, hanging on for dear life to the slippery edge?

I want to have a heart for the lost, as Jesus had a heart for the lost. Absolutely I want that.

But I don't think--in my understanding of Jesus--that he would have us neglect the needs of those who are already "saved" and in the Church. I'm not saying we need to have more potlucks or family activities or Sunday school classes or whatever. Those things are fine, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about people in the Church who are hurting and broken and needy. Doesn't the Church have a responsibility to minister to them as well? Where is the balance?

I speak as one who is broken and hurting. How can I reach out to grab someone from the water when I myself am barely hanging on for dear life? And I know I'm not alone. I speak for the thousands upon thousands of churchgoers out there who are grieving, hurting, broken. As a Church, in your haste to rescue the lost--who I know need rescuing--please take some time to pull us back to safety so we are better prepared, in due course, to reach out to others.

09 February 2015

Burning bridges

I'm a Star Trek fan.

Hmm, let me clarify. I have not seen more than a dozen episodes of the original series but generally think that Captain Kirk is a womanizing renegade whose "cowboy diplomacy" is equally impressive and disgusting.

I like Voyager and The Next Generation most. There's a great Voyager episode, "Day of Honor," in which B'Elanna admits that she just pushes people away when they get too close. She finally realizes how unhealthy it is and agrees to let Tom in, to stop pushing him away.

I find myself starting to identify with B'Elanna. A lot. I'm an introvert and like my personal time and space. And I've got very poor social skills (mostly because--like Mr. Darcy--I don't take the time to practice them and have no interest in bettering them. I'm not good with people. I've never been good with people. Since college I've had very few actual friends (as opposed to friendly people who are really just acquaintances).

As an army wife, I made three really good friends at different times. We hung out a lot, babysat each other's kids, went on outings together. And then things started falling apart--with one friend after another. Out of anger and pain--some of which I still feel when I think about it--I lashed out and ended the first friendship. Out of anger and pain, I made a snarky comment that ended the second friendship. And the third ended basically because she was tired of giving me rides places. (This is why I will never again believe anyone who says s/he doesn't mind giving me a ride more than once.) 

And by the time we moved away from that duty station, I was so ready to move on. I had let three people into my life, and all three of them had rejected me. I was bitter and hurt and angry and alone.

Since then I have avoided making real friends. I've gotten to know people, tried to be friendly at church, made an effort to put on a happy face and not let on that I'm antisocial. The real me inside has ached and begged for friendship, but I have shut it out.

But after being here for almost two years, a couple people are actually asking to be friends, to know about me, and my instinct is to push them away. After being so badly burned the last time I tried, how can I ever open up to anyone else again? I know these people love me, but they don't even know me. And the real me is savage, brutal, raw, so terribly messed up. The real me says No wonder your husband left you. You deserved it. The real me is reaching out and pushing others away. I can feel it coming--the "OK, it's time to move on" inside me. I see myself--as from a distance--starting to burn bridges, leaving them in smoldering ruin. There is new hurt here, new anger and bitterness, and I am watching helpless as things go up in flames.

The pain is real. You'll never fit in. You'll never belong. You're not good enough for us. My joyful voice in worship of my Maker has been silenced. I'm not good enough.

I cough and splutter on the acrid fumes and turn away from the flames. There will not be a next time. The future will see my plastic smile and a shallow heart full of cheer. 

There will be no more need to burn bridges if no bridges are ever built.

12 January 2015

The Dance

written January 1999

The warm night air is filled with excitement and joy. Three boys beat out a steady African rhythm on the drums as the rest of the children sing and dance in ecstasy. In the darkness, I can barely make out the faces of my peers, joy radiating from their faces. I feel myself pulled along by the current. The rhythm flows through me, and I am suddenly part of a different world.

Bodies press tightly around me, moving me with them, and I am sucked into the whirlwind of activity. Resistance is futile. My feet beat out the rhythm below me, causing me to look down at them in surprise. They begin to carry me away in a dance. Then my hands are taken in, and I cannot resist the impulse to clap in syncopation. Before I know it, my voice is also getting carried away. Music and words I do not know escape my lips. The whirlwind tugs on my heart, pulling gently but firmly. As it pulls, the cold fingers of common sense lose their grip on my heart, and it slips away to join the flurry of activity.

The joy of the moment overwhelms me. We move together as one, lift our voices as one, keep rhythm as one. We are God's people, and in praising Him, we are one.

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I wrote this piece 16 years ago in response to an evening worship service in Kagoro, Nigeria. A group of us missionary kids had gone there to spend a weekend at the Bible college. I don't honestly remember much of the trip or even when it was. I remember Ben Rinaudo tried to explain to us "stone" when we visited a missionary who kept an ancient British weighing scale. And I remember laughing when an Australian short-term missionary pronounced "compost" differently. (I still say it her way.) I remember Patrick leading our group in a Shabbat service with candles and everything.

But mostly I remember that time of worship with the local children. It was dark; there was no electricity that night. I remember Stephen Foute preaching in Hausa--or maybe translating for someone else--and finding joy simply in hearing one of our own MKs speaking the local language. And then there was music and dancing, singing in English, singing in Hausa. Everyone joined in. There were no language barriers, no lines drawn between nationalities. I'll never forget that night.

And listening to the Voices of Zambia this past Friday night took me straight back to that night in Kagoro. Sweet memory.