A Second “Second Journey” – Training with my Second Guide Dog

And so it begins. Just as there was a second journey recorded on this blog in Scotland absent of Oleta, my darling first guide dog, here commences yet another second journey in her absence, that is, my second experience at guide dog school, and a new partnership with another wonderful Guiding Eyes dog. I plan to keep a careful account of my training and related musings in the pages of this blog. My hope is that it will prove useful both for me as an opportunity to reflect on the things I am learning and feeling throughout the process, and for others who want to discover more about guide dogs and guide dog training. When I was a teenager preparing for my first guide dog at 16, I scoured every website I could possibly find related to guide dogs. Training blogs like this were one of my favorite ways to learn more about guide dogs in general, as well as specifics about the varied training philosophies and programs in existence.  If this account is as interesting to someone else as similar blogs were to me as a first time applicant to guide dog school, I would be humbled (and also impressed that your attention span is that long because seriously I am a wordy writer.  Haha. Prepare yourself!)

See you in New York!

A Second Journey: Sunrise Christian School

It was an early start yesterday as we left at 8:00 Am for Sunrise Christian School, where we would be working most of the day.  I say working, but it wasn’t really work at all.  I have immensely enjoyed every day that I have spent in Scotland, but I think Sunrise has been one of my absolute favorites so far, at least with regards to the actual work we were doing.

For the first hour, the team retreated to a separate room to do team and personal worship, and allow the students to get their morning lessons finished.  The school is very small.  There were five girls there yesterday, and there are only a few more students in the school that are not there on Wednesdays.

We met the girls during their first break time at about 9:30 Am.  They were very chatty and full of energy.  After a few minutes getting to know them a bit, the students took their seats again and we started our presentations.  Similar to our  Buchanan presentation last Friday, we started with psalm singing, then performed our Good Samaritan skit.  We sang a bit more after the skit, and I got the opportunity to teach the girls a new psalm!

My team leader asked if I could give my testimony, so I told my story and the way God had used my blindness to bring me near to Him.  The teacher (who is our friend and a member of the Airdrie congregation) had also requested that I talk a bit about Oleta, despite her absence.  Sunrise is sponsoring a guide dog puppy for her traininG!  I know, how perfect!  She is a yellow lab called Angel!  I explained a bit about what exactly a guide dog does and showed the girls two videos of Oleta, one with her booties on working in the snow, and the other of her playing hide and seek in one of our music buildings at university.  They loved her, which only warmed my heart further.

After our bit, we sat down in the girl’s chairs, they stood up at the front, and showed us some of the things they had learned over the year.  First they sang a version of psalm 25, “Unto You Oh Lord”, then recited at least 20 questions of the Presbyterian catechism by memory.  They were so earnest, and I was absolutely enchanted.  I know it took work to get there.  I know teaching is a difficult job, especially when you are not only teacher but administrator, secretary, disciplinarian, finance manager, and occasionally transportation, but after seeing some of the things they have accomplished, after witnessing first hand the way a teacher might guide their pupils along a path of faith, I want to be a teacher myself.  I never thought teaching would be the life for me, but my heart longs for nothing more than to be back with those little girls, guiding and instructing them to develop their talents, and live a life full to bursting with prayer, fellowship, song, and the Joy of Christ.  I suppose I may experience something similar as a mother, but who knows… primary school teaching may be in my future as a profession.

We spent lunch with them, which was wonderful, and then went to a park for a sponsored walk to raise money for the school.  We played in the park for a bit before the walk.  I got to be a train conductor and save several of the girls from certain destruction, ride a zip line, and be a pirate in the crow’s nest of a flying ship.  We were going to Las Vegas, so the ship had to be flying otherwise we would have a really long walk to get there.  Our ship was actually a rope pyramid, that one of the girls and I climbed to the top of and wove our story as we swayed in the breeze.  I also built a sand castle with another of the children in the park’s giant sand pit.  Seriously, I am 20 years old and this park was epic even for me, and playing pretend with these precious girls was just amazing.

For the walk, I linked arms with one of my team.  A student walked on either side of us, one to my right and another to my team member’s left.  We sang psalms, marched to the Ant’s Go Marching, picked flowers, commented on the geese and dogs and ducks we saw, and when it started raining near the end of the walk, dreamed of tea and a hot meal when we got home.  It was cold, but I’d be hard pressed to think of a more enjoyable afternoon.  At the end, we hugged the sweet girls farewell.  I gave one of them the flowers others had picked for me along the way, and we climbed into the car to a chorus of goodbyes, well wishes, and hopes that I would say hello to Oleta for them.  How my heart swelled to hear them, and to hear them speak of Oleta, whom they haven’t even met.  That’s it, I decided, I have to bring her back to see them next year.

I don’t know if a third trip to Scotland is in God’s plan for me next year, but I am praying about it, and hope to make a decision much earlier this time.  Already I long to return, and I’m sure that will not change.  Still, it is not a decision I wish to make lightly.

A Second Journey: The Perfect Friday

Our third presentation of the week was at Buchanan High School, which caters to students with special needs.  Our presentation consisted of five psalms that we sung together, as well as our dramatized version of the parable of the Good Samaritan.  True to form, I play a villainous robber, along with one of my lovely teammates (or rather, fellow violent criminals).  Sometime in the near future I will see if I can post a video or recording of our wee drama on the blog.

We closed with an explanation of the drama, what exactly it was meant to represent and what lesson there was to be learned.  The pupils seemed quite engaged, especially considering how diverse the population is with so many different needs and ability levels in the classroom.  The questions asked afterward is always a good indication of interest, and their’s were fabulous.

1. When was this story first told?

Our answer: About two thousand years ago, originally told by Jesus, and recounted by His disciples in the New Testament.  The cool thing about it is that although it is quite an ancient story, it is still relevant in the present day.

2. Why did Samaritans and Jews hate each other?

Our answer (courtesy of our pocket theologian/team leader Joseph): It was basically a family dispute.  One group broke off from the other and they have loathed one another ever since. (Loathing. Unadulterated loathing.)

3. Why did Jesus choose the Samaritan to represent himself in the parable?

Our answer: One of Jesus’ goals in this parable was to explain the meaning, nature, and origin of goodness.  In order to do that, He had to break down His listener’s prior expectations surrounding goodness.  The two people whom you would have expected to do the right thing and help the Jew did not, and the one person you would have expected to completely ignore him ends up helping the Jew.  SO, I think it is a testament to true goodness, which can only come from God, and can span any distance.  Jesus is making it clear that our neighbor is not only those we already love (our friends and family), but those that are difficult to love (our enemies).

After the presentation was finished, we spent some time getting to know a few of the first years (11 and 12 year olds) a bit more personally, and then had tea and biscuits with the head teacher.

The afternoon was a battle field reformation tour.  SO much interesting history that I could not possibly recount accurately here, but I might find a link for a website that you could explore for yourself.  We got to go into a museum that is not yet open to the public, and that does not yet have all of their artifacts behind glass cases!  Guess what that means?  I got to hold several old swords, and one quite ancient one, probably about a thousand years old!  Coolest! Thing! Ever!

The museum is on the property of a working farm, so there were also sheep, and boarder collies that I could pet!  Yep, teaching kids about God, touching ancient artifacts, and petting puppies = basically the perfect day.

When we got home, we helped with kids club then closed out the evening with CY (youth group).  I got to play with yet another puppy and hang out with some great friends, though I will say I was pretty sleepy by then.

A Second Journey: THe Awesome and the Unexpected, Part 2

Wednesday was more Glasgow leaflet distribution in the morning, followed immediately by a school presentation at Saint Margaret’s, a catholic secondary school in Airdrie. The team split up into three groups, and we were each assigned two combined classes to speak for 45 minutes. Having really only prepared for five minute presentations, we were a bit worried that we would have difficulty filling the time. My partner and I did run a bit early, but only by about 5 minutes. Our class was quite quiet and not too interested in conversation. I was blanking on questions to stimulate conversation, so I talked a little bit more about who we were and mentioned that I was a vocal performance major. Of course, the request for a song soon followed. I chose the same song, Amazing Grace, I sang in my presentations last year, and gave an explanation for my choice before hand. My partner joined me in harmony, it seemed appreciated by class and teacher alike. Perhaps the music spoke to our audience in a way that our stumbling words could not.
A few minutes after we said goodbye to the class and went downstairs to find our fellow teammates, the bell went off, and let me just say… this was not the kind electronic tone you heard at my high school. It was an ear-splitting, old-fashioned fire alarm style bell, and it was terrifying! As much as I tried to maintain my composure, I think I jumped about three feet each time it happened.
Our team mates, it seemed, got much chattier classes, and had some really interesting conversations about salvation, sin, and several other topics.
By Wednesday night, two of our team mates, including our fearless leader, were deathly ill, so we took Thursday morning off so that they could get some rest. Two of us wandered about Airdrie for a couple of hours, going to the library to work for a bit and browsing through charity shops. As we were walking down one street, we passed a lady outside of the Chunky Monkey cafe with a very happy puppy. Obsessed as I am about dogs at the moment, we stopped to say hi. In asking questions about her dog, the lady heard our American accents and asked what we were doing so far from home. We answered that we were on a mission team at the Airdrie Reformed Presbyterian church, fully expecting her to then further inquire as to what exactly a mission team does, and were we Christians, etc. Instead, she smiled and put out her hand.
“ Well,” She said, “Nice to meet you girls. That’s my church.”
“ What?” My friend and I gasped, completely taken aback.
“Aye.” She affirmed. “I have been going there for several months now.”
She continued, telling us that her husband, who had previously been quite indifferent to the Gospel had also started coming with her to the services. She said that she and her husband had recently begun having conversations about faith on a much deeper level than they ever had before. We shared in her excitement at this, and chatted for a while longer, getting to know her a bit. They were on holiday the Sundays we attended the services in Airdrie, which is why she didn’t recognize us. Hopefully though, she and her husband will be at church on the 28th, and I, at least, will be able to see her again.
So strange! Of all the random people we could encounter on the street, it’s one of the Airdrie congregation that we haven’t yet had the pleasure to meet! I mean, what are the chances? The Airdrie congregation is relatively small, and we only stopped to talk to her because of her dog, as awful as that sounds… I’m so glad we did though! God sure does have a way with the unexpected!
To be continued tomorrow though, as I am unexpectedly exhausted.

A Second Journey: Last Sunday-Tuesday, The Awesome and the Unexpected

We spent Sunday with the Edinburgh congregation. It was fabulous fellowship, and I was so pleased to spend some more time with many of the people I had met in Edinburgh last year. I especially treasured the conversation/crash catch up session I was abled to have with Emma L after our evening service.
We went to bed as early as we could that night, as the next morning we were due to wake at 5 Am. We needed to be on our way to the train station by 7 Am so that we could arrive in Glasgow and start leaflet distributing by 8. I’m not sure if the giggling started that night or the next, but for about three nights in a row this week we in the girls room have been helpless with laughter. That may have had something to do with our new wake up time, but it’s an indicator, too, of how close we five have grown over the last couple of weeks. I am delighted to call them my sisters in Christ, and I am glad we can laugh so easily together.
It was a busy week, but a good one, with quite a few lessons to be learned. Monday, we distributed leaflets for the upcoming Q and A session at the Glasgow church Thursday night. Idid have one direct encounter with a man called Joseph, who seemed rather antagonistic toward Christianity. There were a few suggested questions on the leaflet — “What is the Bible?” “Who is Jesus?” — and he went down the list of questions, putting them to my team mate and I in a rather mocking tone. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so much a conversation as a monologue on his part, as he interrupted our explanations with his own apparent wisdom on the matter.
We walked away from that exchange feeling rather discouraged. Although the conversation remained perfectly cordial, it was clear the man had some issues and had not heard a word we had said. Before continuing our distribution, we stopped to pray together, asking God to use our conversation for change in Joseph’s life, and for guidance in future similar situations.
On our way back to Airdrie around lunch time, we stopped at the Glasgow Cathedral for a few minutes. My friend and I found some fun things in the gift shop, then we re-boarded the train and soon arrived back in Airdrie. We devoted that afternoon to studying our team book, “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life”, and blog post writing for me.
Tuesday began with the usual private and team devotion time, followed by transportation to Caldervale Secondary School. Unlike our other school visits, we were neither giving testimonies nor performing a skit or psalm singing. We took part in three different religious education classes, sitting amongst the pupils and participating in the discussions they had.
The first class was focussed on Buddhism. The seven of us each joined different tables and assisted the students with their work, while also discussing the topics at hand. In my group, we explored the subject of salvation, whether it is something that can be attained through one’s own efforts, or something that must come from an external source, and the positives and negatives of each viewpoint. We also broached the subjects of the true meaning of self-acceptance and the human spirit. In all of these things, I attempted to include the Christian perspective. It was difficult, because the students were meant to be working on a specific task for the class, so we on the team had to find creative ways to bring Christianity into the conversation, without straying too much from the parameters of the assignment.
I think we all found the exercise pretty disheartening. It wasn’t exactly the kind of ministry opportunity we had been expecting. All attempts to discuss Christianity in a way that might actually have some spiritual value just deteriorated into academic comparisons between religions in general. Not that Christianity cannot be discussed academically (a faith with a book as long as the Bible and a longer history lends itself to academia), but I felt rather like I was trivializing it by lumping it together with a bunch of other man-made belief systems. Christianity and Buddhism are worlds apart when it comes to their teachings and world view, but God willing, the exchange got them thinking at least.
The second two classes, we discussed euthanasia. Here, it was slightly easier to include our faith in the conversation, and we were able to speak to the sanctity of life and God’s sovereignty, even in situations of great pain and suffering. When we got home, we reenergized with ice-cream and a delicious meal, and returned to Glasgow for an evening fellowship. It was a lovely time of food (pizza!) and catching up with friends.
We will finish up with the last few days (Wednesday-Saturday) in the next post.

A Second Journey: Edinburgh Distribution

Later this week, the Edinburgh church will be holding three evening services that very simply discuss some of the basic teachings of the Bible.  Last year, the services focussed on identity.  This year, they will center around the story of the Prodigal Son.

Today, we continued distributing leaflets to spread the word about these meetings in the area surrounding the school where the church gathers.  Peter, the wonderful pastor of the Edinburgh church, picked the team up at about 9:30 this morning, and we were out on the streets, leaflets in hand an hour or so later.

It has been a quite chilly late May and June so far, even for Scotland, and there was a buffeting wind all day that legitimately nearly knocked me over a couple of times.  Still, I did eventually have to take off my outer jacket, hot from walking and climbing sets of stairs in flats.  We did manage to get through quite a few leaflets, and it was a blessing to speak to several people personally who seemed to be interested in the meetings, and even said they may attend!  I know, exciting, and surprising, considering one of them I had just frightened half to death when she opened her door to find me stooping to slip a flier through it.  I had also been rather frightened when she opened the door, and we laughed for about a minute as we both recovered from the shock.  Funny moment… I hope to see her again at one of the meetings!

At 1:00 Pm, we took a lunch break, then continued our distribution until about 6:00 Pm.  We were pretty exhausted by then, and had a lovely dinner at an Edinburgh buffet.  Four different types of meat to choose from and unlimited sides.  Pretty tasty!

I fell asleep in the van on the way home, lulled by the food, conversation, and sunshine through the window.  I am beyond tired now and we have another day of distribution tomorrow, so I’d best get some rest.  Cheers!

A Second Journey: The Last Several Days

To bring you up to speed, this is a brief recap of the last several days.

Thursday:

1. Traveled independently through Glasgow airport, found Beth, caught up on the drive to Airdrie.  So surreal, probably partly due to jet lag, partly to Oleta’s absence, and partly just the joy of seeing Beth again, and the knowledge that I was really back in Scotland!

2. Walked into the church during my team’s worship session in the morning. Put down my things and joined in their discussion of Hebrews.

3. Discussed our drama for primary schools and testimonies for secondary school presentations.

4. Getting to know the team, personalities, voices, things to tease each of them about, etc.

5. Went to bed with my four lovely roommates and strangely had trouble sleeping.  If you can’t sleep with severe jet lag when can you sleep?

Friday:

1. Traveled to Edinburgh for leaflet distribution. I got to pet two fluffy puppies and it was almost more than I could handle! Also, there was thunder, which is super weird in Scotland! It’s happened multiple times over the last couple of days too, and is currently thundering outside now.  What even?!

2. Had dinner at a local Airdrie restaurant. They ran out of fish so we forgot fish and chips and went for the ribs. Delicious.

3. Spent that evening relaxing and staying up much too late.

Saturday (a day off):

1. Went to Stirling for a visit to Stirling castle and a walk through the town.

2. Lots of stone steps, echoey hallways, tapestries, and cobble stone.  Really beautiful and full of rich history.

3. Pasties and sausage rolls for lunch. Fantastic and only like a pound to eat! So cheap!

4. Trampoline park in the evening with the youth group. Super fun!

Sunday:

1. Sunday school, prayer meeting, and morning and evening service in Airdrie.  So wonderful to see so many people again and talk with them.

2. Incredible meal at Beth’s with the rest of the mission team and another visitor from London.

Today:

1. Gave testimonies in Edinburgh at secondary school (ages 11-18). Went quite well.  Lots of good questions.  Hoping to see them at the church meetings later this week.

2. Continued leaflet distribution in Edinburgh to spread the word about said meetings.

3. Awesome drive home from Edinburgh with one of their congregation, singing Irish tunes and listening to celtic music.

4. The most enjoyable evening yet spent at Beth’s laughing and teasing up a storm, plus ice cream, raspberries, and The Princess Bride.

We’ll be more detailed next time, but there you are for now.  So many blessings to be thankful for!