Learning Fast

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

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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?

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Waiting for Others

“Let’s go, Ellie. We are ready to go to the next attraction now. You wanted to go before, but now you don’t?” That’s what we were saying to our daughter as we wandered around the Littleton Historical Museum (best part, it’s free).

We thought she was losing focus, but really she hadn’t at all. Our little girl knew exactly what she was doing. We soon realized that Ellie had seen another little girl a few months older than her and her family. She wanted to wait while they finished looking at the school house before going with them to the next site. We traveled around with the family for the next 15 minutes, all the while they didn’t know why we kept so close to them. In Thailand, where Ellie was born and spent her first two plus years, she learned life in a collective culture. In a collective culture, people wait for each other and travel together. The collective works on shaping the individual, while in America, we are quite the opposite. The individual works on shaping the collective. Secondly, time is totally different in Asia. They have no problem waiting for the group. While we are wrestling through issues of reentry, but Ellie is learning to live in a new culture.

In America waiting goes against our nature, right. We go when we want to go, and wait when we want to wait, but our individualistic society rarely has us waiting for others. We just thought Ellie was being a burgeoning individual.

But in fact, she was being the collectivist she was brought up as in Thailand. She learned we do things in groups. We share memories together. We live life together. When she spied out a new friend and family to join on our fun day out, she took them on as her own.

At one point, the family even told her that she didn’t have to wait for them. Ellie would have none of that. She went ahead only when they caught up to her. Sometimes she lagged behind as she got distracted with history, but she ran to keep up with the group.

Processing culture happens for us all at a different pace. It is fun watching how our little girl processes life at her young and impressionable age.

How do you do in waiting for others? What is hard or easy about it?

Traditions in Family

If we are not intentional, as family grows us, we all go our separate way. Family needs to work intentionally for those spaces when we can just kick back and have fun together. Sometimes that means they need to invent excuses to get together. These excuses can grow into traditions.

My wife’s  family did just that as Christina and her sister were getting married. They wanted to insure the family had an excuse in the summer to come together no matter where in the world they lived. Therefore, they created Halfway to Christmas. They pull out a tree with Christmas lights and Santa on the beach. We listen to Caribbean Christmas music, and give out gifts. The gifts consist of practical items that we all need for the summer. I remember the first time I joined in with the annual party. I got a nice big beach towel and a fold up beach chair. I was set for beaching it with my fiancé. What started about 10 years ago in order to get the kids together has grown to include son-in-law’s and now two granddaughters. This year we celebrated on Friday, when all the kids have a day off.


What family traditions do you have to get the extended family together?

Reflections from Father’s Day

This was my fifth Father’s Day. But wait, Ellie is only two. How can that be? I got the added benefit of celebrating in December for Thai Father’s Day.

But this was the best. This year, my daughter had enough maturity to come and express her love. Mommy got her all prepped in the morning to come give Daddy three things first thing in the morning. 1. A big hug, 2. A kiss and 3. Say, I love you, Dada.

Well, she came out of the room a little fussy. Our slow wakerupper doesn’t always go fast in the morning. Top that off with a little first-child syndrome of I don’t like to do what I don’t like to do. Also known as not liking to perform for others. But she didn’t want to forgo giving dada a hug, so she sheepishly slinked over to her father’s loving arms for a hug.

All was good in my (Dada’s) world. That is until a little hyper dog bounded up and stole my Eliana’s attention. Pandy (Nana’s dog) bounced onto the couch next to us causing a big smile to form across Ellie’s face. She laughed and now was ready for her day to begin. I asked her once again if she would say what Mommy was trying hard to get her to say.

This time, she squeaked out, “I…love…youuuu…doggy.”

“What!?” I said. “Ellie, who do you love? I love you, Dada, right?” “No,” she replied, “I love you doggy.”

Well, I did get hugs didn’t I even if she didn’t know what made this day so much more special than the last day. I even got sweet kisses throughout the morning. Two out of three ain’t bad, right.

Note: She still thinks it is hilarious to say, I love you, doggy. I guess, she does have a mind of her own, doesn’t she.

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.