Learning Fast

My daughter doesn’t fit the mold, and maybe that is because she is growing up with me.

IMG_6955

Usually, children have no idea what to do around me. They look at me and see normal eyes. They do not understand that my eyes might look normal and even track with them, but in reality I do not see anything.

Often it takes until children are around 6-7 years old until they can get the abstract concept of blindness for me. They think, hey, if his eyes are open like mine, he can see what I can see. And they do things like throwing a ball at my head assuming that I will catch it.

The thing is my optic nerve died do to LHON. Like the cable between the video camera and the TV, my optic nerve should carry the picture to my brain. Well that cable doesn’t work any longer, and all I see is a dense fog, no colors, no distinction, no shapes, only light and dark and vague forms nearby.

With that in mind, I am always blown away with how easily my daughter handles my blindness. She knows how to take me by the hand to bring me where she wants me to go. Mind you, she is only two-and-a-half.  She knows that I don’t catch her facial reactions. She knows how to get my attention. And it doesn’t bother her in the slightest. I am her Daddy.

The other day, she stood out to me. Maybe her feat of greatness went unnoticed by others, but she simply amazed me. I would say I was left speechless, but that is a bit harder to do.

We were travelling back from Montana and spending a three-hour layover in the Denver airport. As we waited to begin her 50th flight (that’s right, she grew up as a missionary kid), we played and ate food. At one point, I needed to take her for a diaper change. We had the privilege of using the special bathroom for her changing. We had plenty of space to ourselves in the handicapped bathroom, and changing table bathroom.

When everything was finished, and my little princess was ready to go, I swung her into my arms. I grabbed my cane with one hand, and the sopping wet diaper in the other. I spun in one direction looking for the trash spot. I know they are usually near the door or in the corner near the sink.

I looked to one corner, and Ellie said no.

I looked to another corner.

And Ellie said no, other way.

I turned to a third corner.

And Ellie said yeah! Right there. Her excitement that I found the right direction neared my enthusiasm when Jay Cutler finds an open receiver for a first down. It was like she was playing the game Hot-and-Cold.

Then I leaned towards where I estimated the trash to be. I estimated too low and heard a quick reproof from my daughter.

She said, no. Up, dada.

I went up a bit.

And again she said, up.

I went up more.

Again she kindly said, up.

Finally, I dropped the diaper in the trash receptacle, and she shouted with glee, Yeah!! As if Kobe Bryant hit a game winner in game 7.

I wanted to shout from the mountain tops how incredibly intelligent my daughter was. I wanted the whole world to know how quickly my daughter has adapted to me. She has entered my world with the ease of an expert, and she is a toddler. She has already become a huge help. I can’t wait to see how much more she helps. As we grow together.

One of the keys in helping someone with any need, be it blindness, a learning disability, a new language, financial management, tutoring, or whatever, is finding a way to enter their world with ease. My daughter constantly teaches me how easy it can be. And she does it without making me feel special for her going out of her way to help me.

What other traits are important in helping people with special needs?

Fearless Worship: Worship As Mission 3

When I lost my eyesight, I did a lot of things differently, including worship. That is until I learned a bit more how to live as a blind person.

 

One time, I was visiting a friend and his youth group when I really stood out in the worship service. Maybe you could say I left an impression. The story got told at our wedding when this friend (the youth pastor) performed the ceremony.

 

The day went down in infamy, because I had fearless worship. During this painful season in my life, I simply wanted to connect with God as passionately as I could. I had yet to learn mobility and orientation, so I often made mistakes as I aimed forward with all my heart.

In this case, I couldn’t orient myself by sound to the front of the room, so I kept slowly turning and turning until I began facing backwards. With my arms raised and singing (if you could call what I do singing) loud enough for heaven to hear, I gave praise to the Lord.

 

The image left a comic and indelible mark.  But that is okay. It reminds me that too many people are looking at what we are doing as we keep the corner of our eye peeled to see who is watching during worship. We like to have worship safely in the walls of the church building or worship center. Beyond that, we barely want to get out of step or even backwards from what everyone else is doing. Is that how worship was conducted Biblically?

 

This brings me to my next case study in worship as mission. In this story, I look at Abraham to draw out the understanding of worship and its missiological implications

 

In Genesis 12, as Abraham follows God’s call to set up a new people, he modeled something that Isaac, and Jacob followed in setting up altars in the places he settled and the places where God spoke to him. The altar became a marker for God’s people to indicate remembrance and thanksgiving from his people. As God’s people developed around the way of God, YHWH gave detailed instructions to the use of the altar by his people. Even still Joshua set up altars in the way Moses instructed. After Joshua led the people to a victory over the city of Ai on their second try, he set up an altar for worship and remembrance in the sight of all Israel and those foreigners sojourning with them (Josh 8:30-35). The altar as a place or center for worship stood erect at all times in plain view of anyone. The altar was hardly invisible much less private as God’s people presented their worship in authentic yet public forums.

Now let us unpack this precedent the father of the faith started through setting up altars to worship God. Abraham entered into a covenant relationship with God when he was called by God to move from his home in Ur to a land he did not know (Gen. 12:1-3). In his senior years (75), Abraham gathered his belongings and took some of his family with him and set out on a new journey with God. He entered a geographic region, the land God would promise to his descendants. On his southward journey, Abraham arrived in Heron moving towards the Negev when God stopped him to declare this land one day will belong to his offspring. I can only imagine the faith Abraham had at this time as he pondered the idea of his offspring. Nonetheless, Abraham pauses at this place when God says he will give the land to his descendants. At this place, Abraham erects an altar before God (Gen 12:7. But this is not the last time that this faithful wanderer still struggling with working out his call, stopped to establish a place of worship.

 

The altars continued. As he journeys toward the Negev, Abraham builds another altar between Bethel and Ai. Again he set up an altar before God. Without getting into every place and purpose that Abraham built an altar, I again observe the open air nature of these altars. I cannot help but wonder if people like Abimelech who marvel at Abraham’s life with its remarkable blessings flows out of him observing an ongoing worship relationship between Abraham and God (Gen 21:22-23). When we sanitize our worship to allow others a comfortable approach to God, maybe we miss out on allowing them to see the genuine article of a worshipper caught up in real worship with God. I wonder if there is something missing in our worship that someone from ancient times like Abraham can offer us. We don’t merely offer a message or a deed to people but we reflect our God to them in all aspects of our life, including worship.

 

I bet we’ll have a hard time getting to the fearless place of worship that Abraham exhibited if we can’t stop worrying about how the people around us worship, or how they view our own worship. We must get less inhibited while still not distracting others as we press into worship.

 

What can Abraham teach us about worship in the 21st Century?

 

Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In

Last week I shared the story of my mom’s perseverance that shaped my world as my mom dealt with the circumstances of life. Life knocked her down plenty, but she kept getting up and marching forward.  Even as she battled severe depression, she never gave in as she always wanted all of God’s best for her and her family.

I wanted to come back to how my mom’s life shaped my story of getting up again. I wanted to flesh out more of what I touched on in the last post when I broke the news to my mom about my eyesight beginning to fail.

I caught her one morning and matter of factly told her what was happening to my eyes when she burst out in tears, tears of compassion and heartache.

Compassion for her son, but heartache to God, almost asking God please no more for my family. My two older sisters had passed away at an early age, and one of my older brothers, George already went through the same genetic condition that I was now facing with Leber’s Optic Neuropathy.  Of seven children, four came down with severe physical maladies, I was the last.

Perhaps at the moment when my mom cried out in front of me, I was in denial of what was going to happen, or perhaps I watched a family model toughness in the face of difficulty. My mom’s dogged perseverance to never give in when life knocked her down, helped me mentally prepare for what laid ahead. The matter of fact way in which I told her what was happening probably belied a bit of denial mixed in with my assuredness that nothing was too difficult for our family. God would help us make a way.

Now with 15 years of hindsight in the rear view mirror, I know the denial existed, but the lessons learned from watching my mom handle adversity also prepared me to overcome any of the obstacles that would come ahead.

  • I went through rehabilitation school to learn independent living skills in three months, when usually two terms were the minimum necessary.
  • I entered the school within a year of losing my sight, when all of my classmates had dealt with their struggles for years before facing the reality that they needed to learn skills to survive. Not one other classmate had lost their sight as recent as four years.
  • I went back to school, attending Life Pacific College http://www.lifepacific.edu and graduating in four years.
  • Now, I am serving as a missionary in Bangkok, Thailand. Bangkok is not known for their handicapped accessible sidewalks and public transportation.

But before any of this, I remember my mom advocating for me. She went to people unsolicited by me to let them know I could do anything. She did not want me to be left out just because I could not see. I was given an opportunity to be a youth camp intern that first summer of blindness. The camp director did not know what to expect from me, but took my mom’s advice to heart. He did not hold back from asking me to participate in all the duties of an intern. Maybe I couldn’t do the cool stuff like drive the riding lawnmower, but I cut back weeds in the woods, cleaned bathrooms, washed dishes, prayed for students, led Bible studies, and fully participated with everything, even as each week of camp, my eyes went from bad to worse.

I learned a spirit of overcoming from my mom. I knew my problem was tough, but my mom had been through a bunch more already. The life she lived illustrated the humanity in all of us with a yearning to never accept our circumstances. How did she overcome? She kept a clear view of who God was in her life. She knew the goodness of God always came present to us in our pain. My mom taught me a lot, but she really taught me most of all how to climb over those barriers that life throws at you.

Who helped prepare you to overcome life’s difficulties? How did they do that?

What I Learned From My Mom

It is Mother’s Day in Thailand today. As I prepared for the special sermon for today, I got to thinking about how special my mom was, and what I learned from her.

First and foremost, the perseverance of my mom jumps to mind. I learned how to overcome obstacles and barriers in life from watching my mom’s dogged determination. I can remember hearing her say to friends, “some call it stubborn, but I like to think of it as determined.” She just wouldn’t give up or give in when life knocked her down. And she got knocked down plenty.

A single mother for a few years, she found a second chance with my dad. Well, years before he was my dad. Their love story is well worth another blog series. But as young people serving in ministry, their marriage got rocked, not once, not twice, but many times. Their tragic circumstances started when their first daughter, Angela came down with severe brain damage as a baby. Around eight month-old, Angela no longer could do anything for herself. She lived in this state until she was six when mercifully, God took her to heaven. I still hold faint memories of playing with her when I was around Ellie’s age, 1-2 years-old.

While their world was still upside-down, my parents were graced with their second daughter, Melinda. But, the celebration lasted only a short time as she was born with a heart defect. The doctors did what they could with the medicine of the day, but she only lived about 40 days. Who would blame this family for crying out and cursing God? They were serving in ministry, and this is what reward they get. It just is not right. But they did none of that. They clung to God through it all. Rather than running from God, they rallied their faith and pressed closer to him. Sometimes numb to the world, they knew the only place they needed to be was in the church with God’s people. Here they were touched as they worshipped. The clung to each other as they held onto God with all them had. One memory pops out to me from when I was a teenager running the sound board at the church we attended. The other guy up there with me looked down at my mom and dad, arm-in-arm with their opposite arms raised high in worship, and told me how fortunate I was to have parents that loved Jesus like that. My mom knew how to love God, because he met her through so much.

So much that seemingly never let up. Now a few years after Angela passed away, George, her second son, came down with Leber’s Optic Neuropathy which led to him losing his sight at the age of 17. How much calamity can one family take? It makes me think of John Wesley’s mother who had 19 children, but only 9 who reached adulthood. Yet my mom kept loving her family and giving each of these circumstances to God.

When I went to my mom at 19 years-old to tell her that my eyesight was going the same as George’s did, she burst out in tears. Tears of love and compassion. I still contend to this day that my mom took it harder than I did. She loved so much and cared so deeply.

She always wanted the best for her family, and never gave up on that. She kept putting her obstacles before God. I learned from my mom to persevere and push on.

A Special Bond Between Father and Daughter

My wife blogged about the connection my daughter, Ellie, has with me, her Daddy. Here is the story:

Ellie knows that Daddy responds differently to her than other people. When she smiles, he doesn’t immediately smile back. He doesn’t know she is smiling because he can’t see her. But if Ellie giggles or laughs, he responds. When she calls Daddy over with a quick hand gesture, he doesn’t know what she wants. This might sound discouraging to you, but to Ellie it just is. It doesn’t bother her. Instead, she is continually learning new ways to communicate with her daddy.

Let me illustrate this with a short story of their interaction. To continue reading, click here.

Blind Vs. Deaf

Some things just do not mix, water and oil, cats and dogs, and the list goes on…but I have a brand new example for this list.

A deaf taxi driver with a blind passenger.

The other day, in the midst of heavy rains and potential flooding, I entered a taxi heading to the church building for an evening meeting. The driver agreed to take me where I wanted to go, and that was the end of our ability to communicate.

I knew something was wrong when I tried to give clear directions as to the way I wanted to travel. He started responding to my Thai with English, broken English. Uh oh…I thought. Something was not right. My first thought was that my driver came from another country and couldn’t understand English or Thai. I just hoped that I would still get to the place I wanted. My hope began to wane when I felt the car taking unexpected turns. Uggg, now what?…I cannot confirm where I am, much less where I am going…

What could I do? If he didn’t understand me, how could he understand my Thai friends any better?

With the pouring rain beating down on the car, I had no inclination to get out and attempt to grab another taxi. When it rains, the taxis fill up fast, leaving me with a slim to slimmest chance of getting another taxi. In addition to this, I had been suffering all day the foul affects of eating something wrong the night before. All I could stomach eating was 2 pieces of toast, for the entire day. I felt weak and trapped in a taxi with a driver I could not communicate with. He kept telling me to write the road and street number down, and I kept trying to tell him that I cannot write…that is I cannot see to write what you want me to write.

At that point, I called one of my Thai friends at the meeting to let them know I was coming but slowly with the rain, traffic and a confused driver. I tried to get him to talk with my friend, but he handed me his phone instead. My friend called back, and this time the driver answered on the speaker phone. I hid the shock on my face as well as I could when I heard him speaking Thai to my friend. He didn’t listen for a response but just kept blasting out what he wanted from my friend along with his difficulty of having a blind foreigner in his taxi. He wanted my friend to send him an SMS with what I wanted. Click, the light bulb went on in my head as I realized he couldn’t hear anything, no matter how loud and clear I spoke. Well, I think he could hear a little, little itsy bit, but he didn’t expect for me to speak in Thai, so he didn’t try to listen to me.

Now he knew where to go, but the rain and confusion sent him a long way around to my destination made for an expensive taxi ride, but a hilarious story I will never forget.

What do you do when something ordinary seems to be going completely wrong?

My Mom

As I process grief, I wanted to share some thoughts that I had regarding my mom who passed away recently. A stroke destroyed much of her brain giving her little chance for survival 2 weeks ago Tuesday. From that point to now, my life has felt like a blur and as though I was stuck in time all at once. My thoughts have swirled as I have had tough times eating, sleeping and even thinking…

My mom meeting my daughter

I want the next few posts to share some ideas of hope, celebration and honor to the legacy my mom left to me. Let me start with retelling some of what I briefly shared at the memorial service this week.

I remember when my parents came to visit me at Bible College my freshmen year. After introducing my parents, one of my professors replied that my life was a great commentary on their parenting. I thought wow, but how much can he know me as it was only my freshman year.

In that I see how every life has a story to tell, and every story gets told through the lives of those around that person.

For me one life motto that sticks in my heart from my mom is, “get back on the horse”. My mom exemplified this characteristic and showed me how to literally get back up on the horse after getting thrown off of her horse when I was a young teenager. She also demonstrated for me the ability to get up after life knocks you down. My mom had more than her fair share of life knocking her down. We often don’t understand the Biblical idea of suffering and view it as punishment. My mom suffered and kept going throughout her entire life.

I came into the picture smack dab in the middle of much suffering as I was the fifth child of seven. My older sister died as an infant with a heart defect while my other older sister, Angela, came down with severe brain damage as an infant and lived to be six. She couldn’t do anything on her own, so when I was born my parents rejoiced over everything I did. They imprinted on me how amazing every move I made was. It didn’t matter what…even if I peed on the ceiling as a baby during diaper changing; my mom thought it was the most wonderful thing in the world. I was a great baby in their eyes.

I learned to love life, and at the age of two, as the story goes, I would wake up in the little camper as we I joined my parents on a retreat. I woke up early in the morning (I guess I used to do that back in those days). I would wake up with a big dose of optimism for the day, open the curtains near my bed, look outside to the world before me and enthusiastically say, “Hello, world!”

I loved life and saw my mom bounce back from devastation after devastation over her lifetime. Things seemingly rarely went according to plan, but she always kept pressing forward in her faith and in her life.

So when I was a teenager and began losing my sight, I already learned that obstacles get overcome. Life’s problems don’t keep us down, but we get up and keep riding that horse. My brother who went through similar trials in losing his sight gave me a practical example for this obstacle, but my mom imprinted on my life the attitude to overcome anything.

My mom was an incredibly Godly woman who will be greatly missed.