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.

The Symbiosis of the Guide Dog Team

I am often asked questions about the nature of my relationship with my guide dog.  A topic we frequently touch on is the interdependence of it.  I like to point this out to people, because no one is surprised that I depend on my guide dog.  After all, she is my eyes, in a sense… but they usually don’t think  about the fact that my dog depends on me, too.

My guide dog does have a lot of responsibility, especially for a dog.  Prim protects me.  She keeps me from walking into traffic, or stepping off the edge of a platform or stage.  She navigates me smoothly around things in our path, and shows me when there is an obstacle like a parked car or construction barrier obstructing our way entirely.  Prim provides for me.  She helps me find landmarks like doors, steps, trashcans, and chairs, and is a source of ever-present laughter and comfort besides.

But like with any other dog, I have a great deal of responsibility as Prim’s partner and handler.  I protect Prim.  I make intelligent decisions about when to cross the street, and think about Prim’s physical and emotional safety in any given environment.  There are some places I simply do not take my guide dog due to risk of injury or discomfort.  Crowded bars and loud concerts are just two examples of places where paws could be too easily trampled and ears too easily overwhelmed.  There have also been situations where I had to physically protect my guide dog when she was in danger of being attacked by another canine.  I provide for Prim.  I feed her, groom her, take her outside, take her to the vet for medical care, and of course have the enormous pleasure of being her primary playmate and cuddle buddy.

It’s a relationship of giving, not 50/50, but 100/100.  Of course, we both fail, but the beauty is that not only do we both provide and protect, but we also persevere.  There are days I am convinced I have a two-year-old child on a leash, and there are days that Prim is convinced she will starve to death because we get home late and I forgot to throw her dinner in my backpack, but I keep loving her even after she throws tantrums about not being able to eat the cat, and she keeps loving me after I feed her an hour or two later than our schedule dictates.  In that way, it is undoubtedly a symbiosis of sorts, but not a symbiosis of chance, rather one of choice.  Primie, I’m so glad I get to choose you.

Staying Still for Colin

It’s my little brother’s birthday today.  I cannot believe how old and tall he is!  Isn’t it a funny moment when your cute little brother suddenly becomes your very hansom, tall brother?  Seriously, he’s like a foot taller than me now… maybe more.

Anyway, these are my reflections on memories from 20 years ago when my baby brother was born.  I miss and love you lots, Colin!  Happy birthday!

I’m wearing my favorite dress… well, one of them.  It’s the button up, with the pockets and the wide collar that looks like a slice of watermelon.  I am glad I’m dressed up, because I’m a big sister now.  I’m going to see my little brother.  Being a big sister is an important job, and I want to look the part… especially because I want Mom to let me hold him.  Only big, responsible girls get to hold baby brothers.

Grandmother says that we’re almost there.  I see huge buildings and a parking lot filled with cars.  There’s an apple on the seat next to me… the one my big brother refused to eat.  He doesn’t like apples.  I wonder if my little brother will like apples… he probably won’t be able to eat them until he’s three like me though.

We walk down a long hallway.  It’s white tile and bright lights, and there are windows to our right.  I see babies through the windows, in little boxes.  Is he in there?  I peer through the windows as we pass.  There’s a dark-skinned baby… Is that him?  I see a baby that looks a lot more like me, blonde and white-skinned, but then we’re turning into a room, and there’s my brother.

He’s curled in my Mom’s arms, wrapped in blankets.  All I can see is his little pink face.  Mom smiles at us.  My big brother and I run to her bedside.  Mom takes my hand and lets me touch his head, urging me to “be gentle.’

I am… I can’t imagine being anything else.  My fingers brush over feathery baby fuzz, and I can’t believe he’s real.  He’s just like my baby doll, Elizabeth, only warm, and breathing, and a boy.

I’m jumping up and down and asking if I can hold him.  I can’t help it.  I’ve been waiting for this moment forever!  Mom says if I sit on the bed next to her and stay very still, I can hold him.  I clamber on the bed and sit very still on top of the blankets.  He’s in my arms, warm and heavy and full of sleep.

I’m a big sister, and I can’t stop smiling.

Thankful for a Compelling Savior

One thing our culture hates about God is that he is uncompromising.  He demands certain behaviors of us, and condemns others, and there are consequences if we do not respond.  We see that here.  The master of the house invites several people to come in and be a part of his banquet, but each refuses, citing some excuse.  Thus, the master says that none of those who were invited and denied his invitation will taste anything of the feast he has prepared.  So uncompromising? Yes.

But he is also a God who compels.

“16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.

17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.”

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.

24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” (Luke 14:16-24)

Though some refused him, he sends out someone to compel others to attend the feast.  Someone, like Jesus himself.  Yes, God has standards, the highest ones imaginable, but God knows that we are broken, and in his great love for us he does not abandon us to our brokenness.  We are poor.  We have nothing to offer the God of the universe, and yet he does not simply leave us to suffer in our poverty.  We are blind, but we are not condemned to darkness.  We are lame, but we are not resigned to a life of immobility.  Jesus moves us through his sacrifice, which demonstrated his love for us and atoned for our sin.  He compels us through the Holy Spirit, who moves in our hearts that we might be able to hear and respond to the master’s call.

“If today you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts.”  If we feel convicted over our sin, we should not be angry that the righteous creator God has called us out.  Instead, we should recognize that such conviction is a mercy.  It’s a call to come in and enjoy the feast of grace that God has prepared for all who are willing to partake.

My Girls’ Canine Family!

Recently, I got to chat with someone from Guiding Eyes who shared the family information for both of my guide dogs.

Oleta was born on October 23, 2009 to parents Loren and Mark.  Her siblings in birth order are:

Orchard (released)

Osa (released, but became a different sort of service dog)

Bailey (released)

Oak (retired guide dog)

Oleta (retired guide dog)

Opera (released)

Ogden (retired guide dog)

Octavian (released)

Prim was born on October 21, 2015 to parents Peter and Daphne.  Her siblings are:

Peyton (in training)

Promise (released)

Posh (released)

Peace (working guide dog)

Parker (released)

Pongo (detection dog)

Pearl (working guide dog)

Prim (working guide dog)

Pumkin (working guide dog)

It’s great to know where my sweet girls came from.  I’m hoping we can meet some of Prim’s siblings!  We already know her sister Pumpkin, who was in training when we were in class in September.  It was pretty clear they knew that they are sisters, judging by how much they wanted to play together every time they saw each other. ❤

So thankful to Guiding Eyes for breeding, raising, and training so many fantastic dogs.

Thankful for Birdsong

I’m a musician, and melody is a constant presence in my life.  My roommates can attest to that.  They often comment, or tease, about my humming, and singing, and piano improvising at all times of the day, and occasionally the night.  I think maybe that’s what makes me appreciate birdsong so much.  They are participating in the same music-making that fuels my energy from hour to hour, and it’s life-giving, enchanting, even.

It reminds me of all the Disney princesses that make friends with birds.  Cinderella, Snow White, Mary Poppins (although she’s not exactly a princess), either way they all have this magically musical relationship with winged whistlers of various varieties, and in a way it’s quite representative of the reality.  There is something magical about it, an animal that can produce music at will, and does so as a regular part of their routine.  There aren’t many other animals like that.  May it serve as a reminder to make magic with our own music in our own routines.

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When Weighty Cares Beset Your Soul — A Prayer for 2018

This is just a small bit of verse that came to me as I prayed that the Lord would use this year as he pleases.  Undoubtedly amateur in terms of poetry, but I’d thought I’d share anyway, since the sentiment is sincere, if nothing else.

 

 

When weighty cares beset your soul

Rejoice, oh heart, the Lord extol,

For in his hands each trial finds rest,

To ease the anxious, grief-burned breast.

 

And when the swords of men draw near,

Remember then his side, the spear.

He took for you the shame for sin,

And granted you new life in him.

 

And if one day the tempest rage,

Should cast you out into the waves,

Look up to see your sleeping Lord,

And know his peace means you restored.

 

For never did he like Jonah stray,

Or from his father turn away,

The righteous life we could not live,

He by grace through faith will give.

 

“Your faith,” he’ll say, “has made you well.”

So we need never taste of hell,

For though we only death deserved,

Jesus came to heal our hurt.

 

Oh let me never forget thy grace,

That cleanses me from every trace,

Of sin and every evil thing,

Which kept  me from my God and king.

 

Oh that. thy Word and thine alone

Might be for me foundation stone

And when the mighty waters come

I shall say, “Thy will be done.”

Thankful for Accessible Technology

Sometimes, it’s fun to envision what life would have been like a hundred or more years ago.  Imagine a life without digital media, for example, or consider how different transportation was when cars had only just been invented.  What interests me, though, is how life must have been different for the blind.

Some blind people did live independently, had children, and held jobs, like the famous hymn writer Fanny Crosby.  But what was it like?

On the one hand, I’m a bit jealous.  Any society before the invention of cars must have been a great deal more pedestrian friendly, and therefore, blind-friendly, even in the absence of modern infrastructure.  On the other hand, I wonder how blind people managed without ways to independently access printed materials around them, or easily produce them on their own.

I’ve written a few songs in my time—it’s hard to avoid when you live in music city—but Fanny Crosby had over 8000 hymns published!  Then, she would have had to memorize all of her texts and music, written it down in braille and had it transcribed, dictated it to a sighted person to pen them, or penned them herself.  Of course, the only way she could have accessed them again would be through her memory, braille, or a sighted reader.  Evidently, her memory was impeccable.  According to the website I referenced earlier, she memorized five chapters of the Bible a week.

I definitely do not exercise my memory quite that often or to that extent, so perhaps that’s another advantage that antiquity has over modernity for blind folk.  Otherwise, I’m thankful that now a days, accessible technology means that I can easily record music (even as I write it) on my phone, type the lyrics into my computer, review what I have written, and share them with sighted friends, all independently and with very little extra effort on my part.

I am especially thankful for the way assistive tech has made the bible available to the blind in a way it never has been before.  I don’t have to carry volumes and volumes of braille bibles around with me to have constant access to the word of God, nor do I have to have it read to me and memorize five chapters a week, though there’s no doubt that would be a profitable exercise.  But no.  All I have to do is have a charged iPhone with a wifi connection, safari or a bible app, and voila.  The whole word of God is at my fingertips…

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18)

He has made his word known to us, and not only known, but accessible for study, teaching, comfort, evangelism, truth.  Accessible technology means I, along with other blind people, get to behold the wondrous things of his law by myself, on my own time, in essentially whatever format I choose, and whichever book or verse I prefer to study.  I do not think there is any more valuable gift.

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16)

Guiding Eyes Training (September 2017), Day 8|A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White Plains Building

There are days I just have to step back and marvel at the incredible phenomenon that is the guide dog team.  Dogs don’t naturally walk in straight lines.  They don’t naturally refuse to chase other animals or deny themselves food lying on the ground.  Most dogs don’t want to spend their days forging a path through pedestrians on crowded sidewalks, locating curbs, and playing in traffic… and yet these dogs do.  They love their job, and most, if not all guide dogs, seem to realize at one point or another that they aren’t just doing this for the food reward.  These are the sort of dogs that Guiding Eyes breeds, raises, and trains, and I feel so blessed to be able to experience life with now two of them.

Prim had a number of things thrown at her today.  It is only our sixth day together and we had two major traffic checks, plus a skateboard check (yep, skateboard. You read that correctly), escalators, crowded, narrow sidewalks, indoor work, and major distractions in the dog food isle at CVS.  That “major distraction” took the form of my class supervisor (who is also Oleta’s trainer and my instructor from 2011) tempting Prim with all sorts of very appealing squeaky toys while we did puppy push ups (sit, down, sit, down, sit, down, sit).  It was pretty hard not to look, and she definitely did struggle to listen to a couple of my commands, but we got through it well enough.  Honestly… can you imagine trying to concentrate while people danced around you with Chic-Fil-A and gift cards for pedicures and the latest technology gizmos, or whatever tempting treat might strike your fancy, and be expected to keep working at the same high performance without ever lunging for one of those waffle fries or gift cards or iPhones?  Mm… Chic-Fil-A… I discovered today that Chic-Fil-A doesn’t exist in this area, bless their hearts.  Anyway, what was I talking about?

Prim handled it all very well.  I was impressed with the way she dealt with the traffic checks.  One was on the left side of the street with a legal right turner.  She saw it coming ahead of time and stopped about ten feet away from the car.  The second was a car turning very illegally on the wrong side of the road.  That was slightly more startling to me as it was completely unexpected, but Prim just came to an abrupt halt, let the car pass, and continued to the curb.  It didn’t seem to throw her at all.  She got a cookie and lots of praise upon reaching the sidewalk.  She did her job very well.

Prim loves escalators.  I am sure that her trainers used a great deal of positive reenforcement with them, as they can be scary for some dogs at first, but I think Prim also just likes the ride.  She did very well pulling me to the edge of the metal plate and showing me exactly where the escalator started.  She is brilliant with targets.  When she hears the name of a familiar target (like the steps in this case) and recognizes it, she is there and fast, and she doesn’t stop pulling until we are all the way on top of it.  Since I have practically no vision, this is extremely helpful for me, because she makes it very clear where whatever I am looking for is, whether it be the curb, the escalator, the door, etc.

We are still working on slowing down a tad in certain situations.  For example, when we entered the CVS in the afternoon, we were moving so quickly the automatic doors didn’t quite have a chance to open all the way, so I got clipped by the still slightly closed sliding door.  We also had to slow in the isles so as not to knock any displays or innocent bystanders to the floor.  On our way back from CVS, we had a slight sniffing distraction with some trash cans (which, in her defense, did smell very strongly!), but as my instructor observed, Prim seems very responsive to my voice and a “Prim, leave it” was all she needed to get going again.

Shortly after that we crossed a street, made a right, and then I felt Prim angle over to the left a bit toward a building.  She approached the wall of the building, then made a quick right and continued along the block.  I wasn’t sure what had happened, until my instructor came up from behind to inform me that Prim had seen herself in a glass wall.  Apparently, Prim got all puffy and upset like, “who’s that over there?!”, until she realized it was her own reflection, got embarrassed, and quick changed her direction like, that didn’t just happen.  We laughed all the way back to the White Plains building.  There are days you have to marvel at the incredible phenomenon that is the guide dog team, and then there are days you just have to laugh… and with Prim, that’s every day.  This dog cracks me up.