Learning to Be a Mother

I’m a mother!

Pregnancy test. Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.comPregnancy test.

That might not be a shocking statement to anyone who doesn’t know me, but it’s still a surprise to me. I’ve had lots of defining moments in my life—graduations, baptism, international travel, engagement, wedding. They have all been profound times, but all of them somewhat different from that morning I waited, with bated breath and shaking hands, for my husband to read the result shown on the tiny digital screen of the pregnancy test.

“Yep, we’re pregnant.” my husband had said from the bathroom.

Pregnant… I thought in utter joy and disbelief. A new person existed now that hadn’t before, and God had chosen to make their first home within me?!

How can anything be the same after such a realization? My mind raced with all the implications… job, diet, health, money, the skills we would have to learn, the things we would have to purchase, everything, it seemed, had to be reconsidered in light of this new, precious life that had been entrusted to us.

I think this must be true for any parent, but especially for parents who don’t fit into what you might call the “typical mold”. As a blind mom, the world won’t look at me as normal. Often,, as already happens in other situations, they will probably see me as less capable, but with the right tools and techniques, I can be a perfectly successful mama. This may not be obvious to the ignorant bystander, but it is to me, particularly when I observe my blind friends who are parents. They breastfeed, bottle-feed, and change diapers, they get their kids to and from practices and events, they help with homework or even homeschool, they play games, they administer medication, they keep their children safe when out on the road. So, not your normal parent? Only in the sense that they do all of it without looking.

Still, just like any other new mom, I do have a lot to learn. I hope that by sharing the information I gather here, it can be an opportunity for others to learn as well, both about the capabilities of blind people in general, and about specific techniques that might help you or someone you know in their parenting journey.

So, if you’d like to learn along with me, click here for any future articles in this series, or find the “Parenting” category in the navigation bar.

On the Temptation to Be Idol

It’s a pale, grey light that filters weakly through my curtains. I feel drowsy, and no wonder, when the world seems to be saying, “Slumber.” 

But my thoughts cannot settle into sleep, punctuated as they are by the constant clang of that convicting proverb… 

“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”

And so I blink and type and try to stave off rest another while, and use this gifted time for noble things. Still, I would be lying if I said that I wouldn’t rather be in my dreams.

But as the puritans knew very well, nice as momentary pleasures may be, it is a far greater joy to do my duty for Christ, than to live this life for me.

My best defense against that dreaded thief of time is to pray the Lord will keep that blessed proverb clanging, that I will hear and obey every given day, and serve even in my yawning.

If I Could Name All the Guide Dog Puppies | A List of Names Beginning with “A”

I don’t know about you, but I find names incredibly interesting. The way humans assign sounds to things, and meanings to those sounds fascinates me. One particular area of interest for me is in naming guide and service dogs. Naming a service dog is quite important. It is the word you will use to refer to the animal that helps you on a daily basis. It should therefore be something not only that you like, but that is functional. That is to say, it needs to be a name that you can spit out quickly when your dog does something bold. At the same time, it needs to be respectable, as this dog will have to be honored as a professional in public places where dogs are not usually permitted. For that reason I tend to steer clear of names that are a bit too cutesy, like “Precious” or “Fluffy” or “Bubbles”.

Most of the time, service dog users don’t get to pick their dog’s names, so I haven’t gotten to do anything with my many name ideas. I thought I’d post them here as a resource for anyone who needs some inspiration.

Guide dog schools frequently name their puppies using one letter per litter, so I will follow that pattern here by posting lists alphabetically. Here’s twenty options for A names that I love for a litter of new service pups.

Aaida (feminine): the one who is helpful (French). A fitting name for a dog that will be helping you on a daily basis.

Artemis (feminine): the Greek hunter goddess. I think it’s a nice sounding name, and it can be shortened to Artie as a sweet nickname.

Ace (masculine): excellent, expert. 

Acorn (neutral): you’ll find in these lists that I have a soft spot for nature names. The drawback with this one is that the only nickname I can think of is “Corny”, which might not appeal to you.

Alaska (neutral): as in the state. Connotations may include mountains, sled dogs, polar bears, rifles, etc.

Arrow (masculine): as in, fly arrow, straight and true. Just sounds cool to me.

Archer (masculine): there is the arrow, and then there is the one who aims and shoots the arrow. 

Arwin (masculine, though neutral really I would think): friend of the people. If your dog is a lab, the only more accurate name would be friend of the food.

Aquila (neutral): Latin origins meaning eagle. Also Biblical, husband of Pricilla as recorded in the book of Acts.

Apphia (feminine): darling (Phrygian). Our service dogs always become our darlings.

Arbor (masculine): a shady garden alcove. Time with our dogs can be a haven of peace, and I think this name communicates that well.

Abbot (Masculine): the head of a monastery. A sweet A name for a young dog with an old soul.

Avonlea (feminine): the home of Anne, from Anne of Green Gables, set in Prince Edward Island. I have a friend with a dog by this name, and I always thought it was a bit of a mouthful for a working dog, but if you think you could handle it, it strikes me as a beautiful one.

Aladdin (Masculine): as in the character from the Disney movie. Originally middle-eastern meaning noble of faith. I don’t particularly like the character Aladdin but I do think the name is cute for a dog and has a bit of gravitas given the meaning.

Arielle (female): continuing with the Disney theme.

Aerwyna (Feminine): meaning friend of the sea. Perfect for a dog who loves water. Could go with Wynnie for short.

Aslan (Masculine): the lion from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. Quite a strong name.

Annabell (Feminine): favored grace. Guide dogs in particular help their people move gracefully throughout the world, and every service dog is a gracious gift from God. A lovely name and a fitting meaning.

Azure (neutral): a bright shade of blue. Almost sounds like “Asher” when spoken quickly, but is a slightly more unique choice.

Apollo (Masculine): the Greek god associated with music, poetry, archery, and medicine. Brother of Artemis. Are you sensing a theme or two here?

What do you think? Could you see yourself using any of these names? What would your A list be?

See you next time for the B litter!

“As the Lord Forgave You” | Reflections on God’s Justice and Our Call to forgive

“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)

I took a moment this morning to consider this verse. I thought about what it meant to forgive. I thought about the people I had had difficulty forgiving. Exhibit A. my speech teacher in college, whom we will refer to as Dr. X. I went out of my way that semester, a semester that I began with an emergency surgery and three day stay in the hospital, I went above and beyond in her class, and I received an “A/B” on all of my speeches. A/B? I had never received such a mark in my life. What did it even mean?

Person holding a red pen.
Photo by Roman Koval on Pexels.com

I requested clarification from her and she replied that she “hadn’t decided yet”. Keep in mind this was on assignments I had turned in over the course of weeks and weeks of classes. She hadn’t decided whether my assignments were worthy of an A or a B marking after that long? Why? And how could I improve without a clear understanding of where I stood grade wise?

In the end, she never gave me a proper answer, despite my repeated queries, and eventually gave me a B in the class.

The injustice of it all made me furious for years, and I had to take some time every time I thought about forgiveness to forgive her. She was just doing her best to grade her students fairly, I told myself… trying to quench my anger, Only to realize I didn’t believe that. I believed she was biased, I believe she graded me unfairly because she didn’t like the views I had expressed in speeches and didn’t like the fact that I missed three of her classes and still did well. I had plenty of evidence supporting those claims, and I stand by them. I don’t have to abandon them in order to forgive her. Our culture often seems to define forgiveness as finding a reason that someone’s behavior might be excusable, and then excusing it on that basis. But is that really forgiveness? Is that the pardon that Paul is referring to when he talks about forgiving others as Christ forgave us?

When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, he didn’t die for a bunch of things we did without knowing any better. We have the law. We knew what was right and wrong and we did The wrong thing over and over again anyway, and he forgave that.

I must conclude, then, that merely excusing behavior as somehow acceptable when it was not is not what is meant when we are told to forgive others. God, even in his magnificent grace, does not abandon justice in his response to wrongdoing. He does not explain away our deceit or adultery or covetousness as “understandable in our situation”. No. He is the righteous judge, who demands a price to be payed for all evil.

Wooden cross.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For the believer, this price is paid in full by the blood of Christ. We are declared innocent not because we are, but because Christ took on the sentence we deserved. This means that any evil committed against me by a fellow Christian has not gone unanswered. Like my own sin, their’s has been paid for by Jesus. A sobering thought. Can I really remain unforgiving when I realize that the same blood shed for my own evil was shed also for their’s? Equally sobering is acknowledging God’s answer to the non-believer’s sin, that is, hell. 

God’s response to evil is wholly sufficient, whether through the cross or through his eternal judgement. Thus, I need not fear recognizing my neighbor’s offense as truly wrong. As angry as I may be, reflecting on God’s provisions for perfect justice must lead me to forgiveness and even tenderness, not because what they did was okay, but because what they did has been, or will be, rightly dealt with. I cannot, and need not, add anything to God’s justice through my own retribution. Furthermore, if the offender was a non-believer, I should, at least at some level, be moved to compassion knowing that this person is facing eternal damnation. This is someone who, like me, needs the Gospel and if I, a Gospel believer, respond to them with hate and vitriol, I venture to say that they will be no more likely to turn to the one I claim as savior. 

Forgiving a professor for an unjust grade may be a small thing, and indeed it is, but God’s answer is the same for little injustices as for immeasurably grievous ones. The Lord does not ask us to excuse evil. He commands us to forgive, knowing that he will handle every evil great and small with righteous judgement. I think that is a much more satisfying model of mercy than anything our culture could offer.

Reconciling the Good and the Hard, Part 2

This is the continuation of Reconciling the Good and the Hard, Part 1. For full context, I recommend giving that a read first.

My husband and I on our wedding day with black lab Prim. I am wearing a fifties style white, cap-sleeve dress with sweetheart neckline and puffy skirt. My husband is in his navy suit. Prim is wearing a burlap vest trimmed with blue ribbon, strings of pearls, and pink flowers.

I know we weren’t the only 2020 couple that got our wedding plans totally derailed by Covid restrictions. Fortunately, our August date fell at a time when we were allowed to have 20 some people in person at the ceremony. We had to let go of our hotel wedding with over a hundred guests, including all of my family and friends from America. I wouldn’t be able to wear my grandmother and mother’s wedding dress, as I had hoped. My mom wouldn’t be there to help me get ready. My brothers would not be groomsmen. My best friends from the States wouldn’t be standing with me. My Dad wouldn’t be walking me down the aisle, and the toasts and dancing I had imagined for our reception wouldn’t happen either.

But praise God we could still get married! I ordered my 27 euro white dress on Amazon. I set to making wedding vests for our flower girl and ring bearer, that is, Prim and my nephew puppy. Several of my sweet friends from church helped me put together decorations and set up the church hall for ceremony and reception. My dear friend’s mother-in-law gathered beautiful arrangements of wild flowers and greenery for the tables and window sills. Our family gifted us the money for our reception meal, and friends offered us white table cloths and silverware to dress up the dinner. 

Here again was the good and the hard. I didn’t forget everyone and everything I was missing that day. My heart ached for the presence of my loved ones far away, and for the traditions we wouldn’t get to take part in because of the lockdowns. All of that is true, and yet also true was the anticipation I felt as I waited, dressed and ready in my friend’s car, with my flowers and Grandmother’s Bible clutched in my arms. Prim was excited too, sweet in her burlap vest covered in pink hyacinths and pearls. I was breathless as my maid of honor helped me into the church and hovered with me at the door of the sanctuary. My stomach lurched at hearing the harp begin to play. It was almost time!

“Are you nervous?” my friend asked in a whisper.

“I’m so excited!” I whispered back, feeling like I might actually choke with the thrill of it all.

It took seconds for my friend and I to walk down the aisle, and then I was beside him, and all there was was joy. His hand found mine, and I held on. We smiled and laughed and sang our way through the ceremony, and walked out into the August sunshine, officially husband and wife.

God seems to have made the human heart with the capacity to enjoy blessing and endure trial at the same time, to live through hard things, and know that they can still be good, or at least, that good still exists because the God of goodness remains. I don’t understand how our wedding day could be as blessed and sweet as it was with all the hard that was attached to it, but by God’s grace it was, and I smile every time I think of the day I became my husband’s bride. 

God makes the same commitment to his church as my love and I made to one another on that August afternoon. 

“I take thee”, Jesus says to his bride, “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…”, though our Lord, in his sovereign kindness need not finish, “until death do us part”. Instead, he can truly say, “And death shall never part us.” because of what Christ did at Calvary.

As my friend pointed out, the Gospel is our greatest example of the good and the simultaneous hard. Jesus, though blameless, lived a life of difficulty, “A man of sorrows acquainted with grief”. Though innocent, he died the death of the worst criminal, and suffered the wrath of his father. And yet, he rose again on the third day, and it is because of all of these things that the Christian can be declared righteous before God. The “Good News” of the Gospel is wrapped up in the most difficult experience a human has ever endured. While there may be times where blessing and trial come in tandem, as it did on our wedding day, it is ultimately this good news that gives us hope even when it seems blessing is altogether absent, so that even then we can say, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

Reconciling the Good and the Hard, Part 1

When a loved one of mine got married, they shared with me a lot about the struggles they were experiencing in the transition. Most of them were normal growing pains that I had either gone through myself in my own transition to marriage, or heard others mention concerning their own, but some struggles were challenges unique to them and their situation. Many of them were difficult, even exceptionally so, but a month after their wedding day my friend said something that has stuck with me ever since. 

“Our marriage is really hard,” she said, “but bad and hard are not the same thing. Our marriage is hard, but it is also good, and that’s okay.”

Her statement pretty much sums up how I feel about 2020. It was hard. Like many others, I experienced far greater loneliness and isolation than ever before in my life. During our first three months of pandemic lockdown, I finally understood what King David meant when he said, “darkness is my closest friend”. Weeping became a regular part of my daily ritual. All of the melodies I found singing or playing instruments seemed to be sad ones. It was all I could do to eat the same things, walk the same routes, and write, as I was finishing a master’s degree at the time. Anything else felt far too monumental even to attempt.

Even so, oh, the Lord was so kind to me all that time. He drew me to prayer, brought me to much-needed truth in his word, and after several weeks, even brought my heart to rejoicing in the very midst of the trial. It’s not that the sadness went away, but the Lord, ever so gently, opened my eyes to the fact that it was my own selfish anger and bitterness about my situation that had driven me to the greatest depths of my despair. That April evening, he called me to repentance during a phone conversation with my, at the time, fiancé. I nearly felt betrayed by the words coming out of my mouth when the Lord finally caused me to submit to the sovereign plan he had decreed for that period in my life. 

The relief that flooded me immediately after was utterly unexpected. All the weeks before I had been fighting for all I was worth, stubbornly insisting that life MUST be different than it was, believing that I could somehow change my circumstances by pure will power, but I couldn’t. As I failed day in and day out to alter the things that felt SO UNFAIR, I grew more and more despondent. It wasn’t until that moment of submission that anything changed. I felt like I was giving in. I felt like I was losing some battle I had been determined to win, but the peace that washed over me those seconds after I spoke was not the feeling of a defeated warrior. It was the feeling of a rebellious child who had finally come back to her loving father in obedience. Those weeks were hard, some of the hardest I have ever experienced, but in some ways, they were good, if for no other reason than the one who carried me through them was the good shepherd himself.

Those weeks were characterized by several other traumas that I will not detail here, but I am grateful to say they did not last much longer past spring. After a change in housing, I spent a truly blissful summer in the Irish countryside, graced daily by food, family, work, and constant music. There was not one, but two pianos in the house where I stayed those six wonderful weeks. It was there that I began to heal from the physical and mental traumas of the springtime, and, I’m happy to say, started prepping in earnest for my upcoming wedding. 

To be continued in part II.

Searching for Inspiration? Stop it!

A grassy field with mountains in background. Photo by Lachlan Ross on Pexels.com.

I waste a lot of my life searching for inspiration, or maybe using the excuse that that’s what I’m doing, when really what I’m doing is scrolling mindlessly through facebook, getting trapped in the youtube wormhole, or sorting through old files on my computer. I’ve always been a good procrastinator. Probably it comes naturally at some level, but the pro-procrastinator quickly realizes that she has to come up with excellent reasons for her procrastination. One of mine is that I just haven’t “felt that spark” to start writing yet, so I need to wait a little longer until it comes. More often than I would like, the process continues until the spark of desperation, rather than inspiration, arrives, and I realize I have a quickly approaching deadline and have to get to it.

While this strategy is effective in situations where there is a firm external deadline, it is utterly useless in situations, like my own independent projects, where the only deadline is set, and can easily be adjusted, by me. This leads me to believe that my “search for inspiration” method leaves a lot to be desired, and is probably seriously stunting my productivity, especially because I’m not sure I’ve ever actually been struck by inspiration while on these absent wanderings through the virtual environment.

People have different opinions about the way creativity works. I’ve heard some say that “forcing” creativity is not even possible, but I don’t see how that jibes with the centuries of commissioned music and art that we consider among the most magnificent human works in history. As far as I can tell, if you don’t dig the well, you’ll never get the water. I’m not saying digging wells is necessarily the most fun… it’s a sweaty task, and you could be exposing yourself to some poisonous gases on the way, but it’s worth it when you finally have a source of fresh, clean water at your disposal. Keep in mind, too, that the more you dig wells, the better you will be at doing it. It will always be work, but you will grow in strength, technique, and efficiency as you go.

I feel like if I applied my “search for inspiration” method to digging a well, it would be like wandering around a field waiting for a shovel to fall out of the sky and start hacking at the ground of its own volition while I busy myself examining daisies and cloud formations. A toddler could tell me that ain’t gonna get me water, but for some reason I’m convinced it’ll one day bring me art. 

Alls I’m saying is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is the definition of insanity… and I’m tired of being creatively insane.

Changing with Life’s Changes

Hello followers.

You may have noticed that this blog has been going through some alterations over the last several months. I began the transition to remove old blog posts and revamp the website to become my online base as a professional. I was only part of the way through that process when life changed… in a big way, and my career trajectory changed with it.

I cannot share the news publicly, yet, but suffice it to say that the Lord had much better plans than I did. I’m delighted to be following his lead, even as it required me to let go of my own ideas of what the near future might hold.

Still, even when it’s good news, change can be a challenge to navigate. I’ve struggled to know what to do with this website after putting a fair amount of work into developing relevant material for my professional presence online. I didn’t want to throw it all away, but at the same time, I was presented with the reality that my new career path might not necessarily require a dedicated website. Meanwhile, I found myself writing blog post after blog post that had nowhere to go.

So, it was either return Opportunity Unleashed to its original intended purpose, or start a new blog. After much thought and prayer, I decided to continue blogging here, and move any detailed information about my therapy work to other platforms. I think this is the most ethical decision for various reasons. I’m also very relieved to have a personal blog again!

Thanks for continuing to follow along here! I look forward to sharing more updates as we head into 2021! Praying that you have a blessed Christmas season and lovely New Year!

Best wishes,

Shea and Prim 

How Can Music Therapy Help Those Who Are Blind and Visually Impaired?

It was always interesting to participate in discussions about music therapy for adults with disabilities in my master’s program, because even as I thought about how I could be of assistance to that population, I had to recognize that I could actually be considered a part of that population. What could music therapy do, or have done, for me as a blind person? 

 

Early intervention 

 

For children who are born blind, or lose their sight at an early age, music therapy can be a powerful tool for teaching valuable skills and redirecting negative behaviors before they become ingrained.

Common “blindisms”, such as eye-pressing or rocking, may be reduced. Social skills, such as directing one’s gaze, learning to hear body language, and developing one’s own gestural communication can be improved. It may also aid blind or visually impaired children in developing motor skills, learning to identify and discriminate between sounds, and learning to use auditory cues for orientation and navigation. 

 

Social Engagement 

 

Blindness can often be associated with isolation and social exclusion. In addition to teaching essential social cues, music therapy provides an opportunity for quality social interaction. This is true regardless of age or ability level.

 

Confidence building 

 

Whether working with a child at 7, or an adult of 50, confidence in one’s skills as a blind person is hugely important, and could be the difference between a fulfilling, independent life, and an empty existence trapped at home. Participation in music therapy has been shown to develop confidence in other populations, and could certainly be applied in this context as well.

 

Creativity and adaptability 

 

Disability in general always brings challenges, but it’s the way that one responds to those challenges that makes all the difference. An ability to problem solve, find new ways to do old things is an invaluable skill. Musical improvisation and collaboration may be one way to improve in this.

 

Coping with grief, depression, and anxiety as the result of vision loss 

 

Losing one’s sight is traumatic in and of itself, and depending on the cause of vision loss, can also be associated with other traumas that need to be addressed. Music therapy offers an opportunity for creative self-expression and a healthy option for working through difficult emotions in a safe space.

 

Looking back, I know I could have benefited greatly from music therapy in the ways I’ve mentioned. Indeed, I think I have benefited in some of those ways even just from participating in music therapy as a student and practitioner.

 

If you or your child are blind or visually impaired and would like to explore music therapy further, feel free to get in touch by emailing:

Contact.OpportunityUnleashed@gmail.com

Visiting our facebook page, or contacting another music therapist in your area.

Also check out:

Why We Love Music Therapy for Our Blind Son

How Can Music Therapy Help Those with PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychological condition that results from long-lasting symptoms associated with a traumatic event. These symptoms may include anxiety, irritability, flashbacks, intrusive and unwanted thoughts, paranoia, night terrors or other problems with sleep, physical pain, nausea, shaking, or sweating, emotional numbing, and avoidance of possible triggers. Untreated PTSD can make daily functioning difficult or impossible for those affected by it. While medication may be helpful, it can be associated with negative side-effects. Music therapy is one treatment option that may be beneficial in addition to or in stead of chemical interventions.

 

The modern music therapy profession was born in the early to mid-1900’s as musicians began serving veterans suffering from the lingering trauma of war. Music therapists continue to serve in that capacity, catering not only to the needs of veterans, but also to victims of abuse, violent crimes, accidents, natural disasters, or any other event that has resulted in chronic mental distress. Here are a few ways music therapy may help those with PTSD.

 

Expressing Emotion 

 

As with other therapies, a music therapy session is a safe place for clients to express whatever thoughts or feelings that they need to. Music therapy is unique to some other types of treatment, however, in that the client can express these things both verbally, through speech or song, and non-verbally, through instrumental improvisation or music listening. Sometimes words are hard to find, and in music therapy, that’s A-okay.

 

Developing Coping Methods

 

A music therapy session will likely only be once or twice a week, so it may be important for the client and therapist to identify and work on some strategies to ease symptoms and improve functioning during the rest of the week. This may include breathing techniques, selecting music to sing or listen to at difficult moments, music-lead meditation, or prompts for music making or song writing at home.

 

Promoting Community 

 

Some studies demonstrate that people with PTSD can benefit from being part of a music therapy group. This may involve musical improvisations, singing, group story-telling or song writing that focusses on sharing and working through the experiences of group members. Since PTSD can involve social withdrawal or feelings of isolation, group music therapy may be an effective and unthreatening way to connect with others.

 

If you think you or someone you know could benefit from music therapy, feel free to get in touch by emailing:

Contact.OpportunityUnleashed@gmail.com 

or sending a message through our facebook page..Learn more about PTSD here, or find out more about how music therapy can help those with PTSD here.