A GIFT FROM MY DISABILITY — THE SIXTH LOVE LANGUAGE

Christmas is now less than two weeks away, and I’m as excited as anyone. But as the chaos of the holiday descends, I’m struck by the odd sense that we are doing it wrong.

“All I Want for Christmas is You” is blaring on shopping mall speakers, advertisements for the latest gadgets are on screens everywhere we turn, and the world is inundated with unabashed consumerism. And with our collective obsession of finding the “perfect gift” for that special someone, have we ever stopped to ask what kind of gift they would appreciate most?

There are five primary love languages: quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch and receiving gifts. I am a words of affirmation gal myself, but I’ve come to recognize that my blindness has paved the way for a sixth–braille.

On my refrigerator, there is a photo that takes center stage. It’s of my best friend’s baby girl, taken in the NICU where they stayed for five months. On the bottom of the photo, there is an inscription that reads: “Hand made by God” with her name, weight and date of birth beneath. But what touches me most about this picture is that the inscription is written in braille. Now, when I trail my fingers across those words–the ones my best friend took the time to write in braille and by hand so that I could read it–I am overcome with gratitude.

My love affair with braille began when I became totally blind at the age of six, and it has only deepened. These six dots don’t merely represent a system through which I can communicate by touch. It’s a way of life, of thinking, learning and being.

I never realized how central braille is to my world until I began verbalizing my innermost thoughts to my husband. What I thought was “normal” and “commonplace,” he gravitates to with such fascination that it’s almost unnerving. When I describe the braille word games I play in my mind as I fall asleep, or how letters and numbers are associated with different colours, [called synesthesia], or that I design braille art which I hope to one day bring to life on the page, I’m reminded of how braille is not just a method of reading and writing. For me, it’s part of who I am. It’s my independence, my freedom, my creativity. And if you don’t think there’s creativity in six little dots, check out these instructions for making braille drawings and think again!

In the act of Christmas shopping and trying to find the perfect gift or the best deal, we’ve forgotten that there are other ways of giving and receiving love. And they may not be on the top five. I doubt that braille is on your list of love languages, but to me, it’s the one that touches my heart in a way none other can. Because through a braille greeting card or note, book or letter, I feel seen. I feel understood. Through taking the time to write in braille, you are telling me that I am worth it, that my disability is a valued part of who I am, and that you value all of me enough to show me love in the way that I will never forget.

This Christmas season, take a moment to ask your family and friends how they like to be shown love. You might be surprised by the answer! But what matters most is that you took the time to learn about the people you care about most. It’s time well-spent!

What’s your love language? Do you have one that isn’t one of the five? Let me know in the comments.

WHEN CHRISTMAS WAS SIGHTED — SIX HOLIDAY MEMORIES FROM THE TIME BEFORE I WAS BLIND

As Christmas approaches and the world descends into a frenzy of holiday activity, I take a walk down memory lane, and reflect on the six Christmasses with my family before I became blind. I don’t remember many of them as I was so young, but there are bits and pieces that I recall which form the fondest of memories and the warmest of feelings. And I want to share them with you.

Here are six special childhood memories that I will always hold close to my heart and take with me as I celebrate this and many more Christmas seasons to come.

I. Frosty in Footprints

One winter while my grandparents were visiting, Grandpa and I were playing in the backyard, when Grandpa said “follow me.” He began walking in odd patterns, shuffling his feet in the snow. I followed where he put his feet, and was entirely confused. After he was finished, we went inside and he lead me to the kitchen window which overlooked the backyard. There, in the snow, was the word “Frosty” which had been written out by our footprints.

II. The Snow Mountain

Every year, our side yard became home to the snow mountain. When the handyman came around with his bobcat, he shoveled the snow into a hill and carved out small steps in the side. And every year, my siblings and I spent hours running up the snow mountain and sliding down just as fast as we could!

III. Home from the Hospital… Just in Time

I was fortunate that, for the first year I was battling my cancer, I was able to spend Christmas at home with my family. But it was a close call. I was released on Christmas Eve, and when I walked in the front door, my entire family was waiting for me–my grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins on my mom’s side were there! It was so sweet, being surrounded by family for the holidays. I remember some, but I’m sure not all, of the mischief me and my cousins got into, and as the youngest cousin, I’m sure I got out of all the trouble, too.

IV. The Christmas Eve Tradition

For most people I know, Christmas morning is the pinnacle of the holidays. It’s when stockings are opened along with the presents piled up beneath the tree. For me, it’s opposite: Christmas Eve was the night I awaited with such excitement, and continues to since I’ve brought its tradition into my adulthood.

My family attended the Christmas Eve service at church where we would sing carols, read the story of Jesus’ birth and light candles. Once home, we’d change into pajamas and open every present… almost. Except for our stockings and the gift from Mom and Dad, every other present was torn open and squealed over. Then came the movie, which as tradition dictated, was the classic, Miracle on 34th Street. To this day, I have most of that movie memorized!

V. Into the Wilderness!

The first Saturday of December was the most exciting day–it’s when we got bundled up and headed out into the woods to cut down a Christmas tree! My memories are made up of trudging through the snow, picking out the perfect tree, Dad cutting it down with a saw and dragging it back to the car, and me, exhausted from the day’s events, insisting on being pulled home on the sled. On Sunday after church, we’d decorate it, and my favourite ornaments to hang were always the musical instruments.

VI. The Reindeer

Dad was a forester for 30 years, and as a gift from a coworker one year, he received a uniquely “foresty” gift–a reindeer made of tree trunks and branches! It has survived many a move and still stands proud, albeit a bit wobbly, in my parents’ living room.

Christmas, both when I was sighted and now that I am blind, holds a special place in my heart. There are parts of the season I wish I could see still, but I’ve gained a new appreciation for the holiday as a blind woman. After all, it’s still a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and that is something I can celebrate with or without sight.

What do you remember about Christmas and the holiday season when you were a child? Let me know in the comments.