2021 REFLECTIONS

I have never been, and never will be, a party girl. In high school and college, while tolerating the celebrations echoing across the city, I sat outside on the porch swing, basking in the cool, fresh breeze of the new year and the glimpses of silence caught between fire crackers.

It’s my favourite moment of the year. Not because I’m a keen celebrator of New Year’s—in fact, the holiday is one I don’t much appreciate and could quite happily do without—but because for a moment, I can be quiet and reflect on the blessings and trials of another year.

The Island Calls

On a walk around the pond last December, while temporarily moved into my parents’ house, I announced to my dad that I wanted to move to a new city in the new year. I budgeted, I wrote lists, and one month later, with my parents’ love, support and packing expertise, I moved into my first above-ground suite and basked in the winter sunlight streaming in through the living room windows.

I learned my routes to the beach, the coffee shop and thoroughly enjoyed the abundance of thrift shops at my fingertips. My dream had come true, and it felt amazing, particularly when I breathed in the scent of salty ocean air. I was home.

cricket’s Chapter

But a few months after settling into my new environs, I came face-to-face with a reality I hoped wouldn’t come for many more years. I wrote the story in a post for my friend, Anneliese’s blog, and please feel free to read it to get the whole story. But on April 23, 2021, I made the decision to retire my first guide dog, Cricket. He was only three years old and many a trainer and fellow guide dog handler said he wasn’t ready to retire. But after several weeks of Cricket refusing his guidework commands and thus, placing me in dangerous situations (i.e. in the middle of crosswalks), I had no choice.

I reverted back to using a white cane, though not very successfully. Two years of working with a guide dog left me longing for the harness and the confidence that Cricket had provided when out and about in the community. So I applied to three guide dog schools and waited to be matched with my second guide dog.

Cricket stayed with me as a retired guide until August when I was able to travel to Michigan to deliver him home to his puppy raiser turned mom. It was bittersweet, watching him recognize the house, his doggy sister, Willow, and bond with his raiser. I felt sad for myself, but happy for him, and so I left Cricket in his new home with a floppy ear drenched in my tears and came home to Canada. Now, with the friendship I’ve developed with his mom, I couldn’t be happier or more thankful for the way God arranged everything.

Meeting The Mr., Soon To Be The Mrs.

On June 16, I met a man. On June 17, I kissed that man. And four months later, when that man asked me to marry him, I said yes!

Since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be three things: a writer, a wife, and a mom. And I don’t think anyone, me least of all, saw that second one coming this year, or this quickly.

But I couldn’t be more excited or more thankful. My fiancé is a man of God, loves to hug, is devoutly loyal to his family and loves me unconditionally. We’ve set a wedding date for spring 2022 and are over the moon to begin a married life together. It’s a blessing beyond what I could have hoped for.

And don’t you worry—you’ll get wedding updates!

The Saint and I

With Cricket retiring in May, I didn’t know how long it would be until I would snuggle my new guide dog. But I tried to reconcile the very real fact that it could be close to a year.

But the call came sooner than I expected and I was overwhelmed in the absolute best way. I was chatting with the ladies at the jewelry counter about my wedding ring at the tail end of October when I got the call. They had a dog for me and wanted me in Oregon at Guide Dogs for the Blind to train in THREE WEEKS!

And when Saint came wiggling into my world, I was immediately in love. He was everything I wanted—a boy, a yellow lab and a whirlwind of energy. We trained for two weeks and then came home to begin our new life together. And I couldn’t be more happy, and I don’t think Saint could wag his tail any harder!

The Sad Stuff

As a self-proclaimed pessimist (or realist, if you prefer), I can’t go on without addressing the challenges that the year has brought.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought many challenges, and a very personal one I’ve experienced is the struggle of friends who disagree on the vaccine. In the summer, I ended a friendship with someone I was extremely close to because of our differing views; it was very clear that our priorities were pulling us in opposite directions.

And in the fall, another friendship that had been touch-and-go for almost two years, ended yet again. While I will not share details for her privacy and mine, I will say that neither of us are innocent, neither of us are to blame completely and both of us have more growing to do and I believe it’s healthier to do it separately. All I hope, in the silence that’s replaced our friendship, is that we can forgive each other and not hold onto the anger. That isn’t the person I want to be, and it isn’t the person I want her to remember, even though that may very well be the case.

Ending friendships hurts. That’s the hard and simple truth. And it’ll take a long time to be okay and look back on those relationships with fondness and not bitterness and anger. Because… I am angry. So angry. And I’ll only get there with the help of Jesus.

Blog Or Not, Here I Come!

But 2021 is also the year that I fulfilled one of my deepest dreams.

I became a blogger.

Not Your Blind Writer started out of a love of writing and a desire to use my voice to normalize disability by sharing my life as a blind woman and writer. Whether that has been accomplished is up to you, my readers, but all I know is that whether anyone continues to read my words or not, I will always continue to write. I feel the call to be a writer in my soul, and nothing will change that.


A fiancé, a guide dog and a blog… oh my!

It hasn’t been the easiest of years, and there will never be a year that is free of struggle. But in the midst of mine, I know I am incredibly blessed. My year began with a move to where my heart has wanted to be for a long time, and it’s ending with Saint guiding me, my fiancé holding my hand, my family and friends surrounding me, and my God clearing the path ahead. And that’s more than enough for me.

So if you’re celebrating with fire crackers, then HAPPY NEW YEAR and go crazy (but safely, please)! And if you’re like me and just like taking a quiet minute to think and reflect on the year that’s ending and the one that’s beginning, take one of those minutes to say thank you. Thank your people for being there for you and that you’ve lived to see another year of adventures.

Happy 2022!

GUEST POST — CHRISTIAN MOMS WANTED: BLIND NEED NOT APPLY

Having guest bloggers honour me by allowing me to post their brilliance on my blog is a dream I had as a novice blogger. And now, while I still feel entirely new at this blogging gig, I’m over the moon to welcome my first guest blogger.

I met Anneliese several months ago and found instant connection. Through our shared experiences of blindness, service dog use, and our faith in God, I’ve found a treasured friend and fellow writer. She is an artful communicator and her words have left me both awed, understood, and breathless, you know, that feeling when something punches you in the stomach because it’s so good! Yes, that’s Anneliese.

I invite you to read this post, follow her blog, Look On The Dark Side, and welcome her as she shares something intimate and rarely talked about in the disability community—the question of whether disabled women want to, or should, become mothers.

And after you’ve read her post–and ONLY after–check out the post I wrote for Anneliese’s blog where I tell the story of my first guide dog, Cricket’s retirement, From First Pet to Last Snuggle.


Greta, a chestnut-toned German shepherd, sprawls across Anneliese's lap. She and Greta grin as Anneliese appears to whisper something in Greta's fuzzy ear.

Before I get into today’s topic I’d like to thank my hostess for lending me her platform. We’re doing a blog swap, so if you really miss her you can find her work posted on my blog at Look On The Dark Side.

I have some pretty thick mental armor. I’m pretty hard to offend, I rarely respond when insulted or patronized because of my disability because I have better things to do with my time. And for a while I thought the first time I’d experienced discrimination was a store manager yelling at me because of my service dog back in college.

Another version of this biography is that I’m naïve and didn’t realize until halfway through college that people in almost every church I’d attended or visited had been discriminating against me since I hit puberty.

I’d like to share with you my story of subtle exclusion on the basis of disability, how it affected me, and how I deal with it.

I recently read Beth Allison Barr’s controversial new book The Making of Biblical Womanhood; How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth so I can now tell you that it was the transition from medieval maidenhood to Protestant family values that produced the phenomenon of every church lady you’ve ever known asking “so what about kids? How many do you want? Have you thought about how you’re going to balance work and kids/ What kind of schooling options have you thought about?”

These questions started for most of my friends in early middle school, presented as jokes, but began to show up in earnest as we began to talk about careers and college, nearing the end of our high school years. Aunts, grandmothers, Sunday school teachers and youth leaders all had their own personal versions of the interrogation. Several of my friends complained about it a lot, but I never really understood why.

“Just tell them you’re focused on your career, or you’re not planning to have kids, or whatever,” I told them. “They’ll listen. It’s the 21st century, and our church is pretty up-to-date. It’s not like we’re in the sticks somewhere.”

They didn’t seem to grasp how easy it was to defuse the pestering, I thought.

In college I spent a lot of Sundays visiting different friends’ churches. I went with whoever would give me a ride, whoever was going “regularly” that semester, trying to find a church home. I visited SBC, UMC, PCA, PCUSA, non-denominational, Episcopalian, and a handful of others, even something called Reformed Baptist.

It was at that last church where my roommate drew my attention to something. She was angry at a woman who had spent a few minutes talking to us after the service. The woman had been talking to my roommate because they knew each other. I just hung onto the edge of the conversation, not really listening. But my roommate was angry on my behalf.

“Can you believe her?” she asked. “Does that happen to you a lot?”

“Does what happen?” I asked blankly.

“People just assuming you won’t have kids because you’re blind.”

What?

I didn’t remember any mention of my blindness coming up in my roommate’s conversation. Just like people find they can hear their names or interests in a conversation they’re not listening to, I know when people are talking about my disability even if I’m mostly ignoring them. What was she talking about?

“The way she kept asking me about boyfriends and marriage and kids and stuff, and she completely ignored you,” my roommate explained. “She wasn’t acting like you weren’t there, she said hi to you and all the niceties, invited both of us to the small group on Wednesday, and then shut you out of the kids conversation. It’s bad enough we get harassed about it the minute we start wearing bras, but it’s even worse that they just assume you won’t have them just because you’re blind!”

I’ll be honest, my first thought was “you mean people were patronizing me instead of admiring and respecting my forthright and confident attitude about my future career?” I felt like a failure because people had treated me differently, whereas previously I thought I’d won them over to my way of thinking by simply being clear about my goals in life.

But she was right; I couldn’t think of a single time anyone had asked me, except my mom. When I told Mom I had other plans for my future she said she hoped I’d change her mind, but that it was perfectly fine if I didn’t and she’d be super proud of me regardless. Thanks for that, Mom. I wish everyone had been as understanding and supportive as you. I thought they had been.

My then-future mother-in-law asked me, too. She had the same response as my mother. God bless those women!

But both those conversations stand out as the only times people asked me about having kids – well, except other women I know with disabilities. They ask, because to them it’s normal, not shocking that a disabled woman would have kids.

I’m married with no kids. My husband and I don’t plan to have them. SO why is this such a big deal? Shouldn’t I just be grateful that nobody’s judging me a feminine failure for choosing not to grand my husband an heir?

Yes, but no, not really.

I’m happy not to have to deal with it because I have plenty of other obstacles to deal with, like trying to order off menu boards, use photos I can’t see in my blog, read labels on canned food, or see arrival boards at airports. Having a disability is a lot of work.

But disrespect makes that work harder, and whether or not they meant to – I choose to believe they didn’t mean to – these women in my past who assumed I couldn’t, shouldn’t, or wouldn’t have kids because I’m blind sent out the message “you’re incapable of succeeding at biblical womanhood as we understand it.”

With the child-free movement gaining support and more egalitarian concepts of Godly womanhood seeping into the Church from all directions a man or a mother might argue that it’s not as bad as it used to be for childless women in the church. They’d be wrong. Even those who spout less Victorian beliefs about Christian femininity still instinctively behave in ways that signal a woman’s value to society is her skill at parenting.

Without this badge of honor women my age at churches avoid me. Older women attempt to mentor me as a daughter in ways they don’t other young women because if I’m not a parent I must still be a child.

To some degree this is amusing. I have a master’s, I’m a licensed counselor, a home-owner, a martial artist, and more. It feels a little like a kindly old sheepdog trying to warn the top mouser that there are rodents in the barn. But if I had a shortage of confidence in my relationship with God, it could be devastating.

I could write a book on why this concept, that disabled women are not equal in Christ because they can’t have children, is wrong and harmful, where it came from, and how to stop it. Maybe someday I will. But for now I leave you with this thought.

It is sinful – and pointless and harmful – to place limits on how we think God can use any given person.

LOOK UP! — FINDING GOD WHEN I FEEL BLIND

Starlight Serenade

Sing, oh ye stars above!
Sing upon this earth with love.
Sing thy song with beauty inlaid
Sing your starlight serenade.

Sing to those who lie awake
Sing for the brokenhearted’s sake.
Sing a lullaby for those afraid
Sing your starlight serenade.

Sing to shine thy Father’s light
Sing to give His strength and might.
You’re fearfully and wonderfully made
So sing your starlight serenade.

© Rhianna McGregor

It was a seventeen-year-old Rhianna that wrote Starlight Serenade, sitting in the window of the spare bedroom at midnight. The cul-de-sac was silent except for the lone cricket singing his own serenade into the night. A neighbour’s fountain was trickling and if I settled my thoughts and stilled my heart, I could almost believe that I could hear the ocean. But what I heard above all this was the night itself speaking to me.

It was my escape and my safe place. In high school, when my life was shaken up like a snow globe and didn’t know how to settle, I turned to the night as a means to cope. The spare bedroom beside mine, which once belonged to my brother before he left for college, offered me a window ledge wherein I would sit, wrapped in a blanket with the window open all the way and only a screen separating me from the outside world. The breeze was gentle, constant, and I always wondered what the wind had seen; had it come from the sea, or had it visited someone else who was up late, crying over a broken heart? No matter what I was going through, the night was always there.

Most nights found me in the window, praying, crying, writing poetry, or a mix of all three. It was here that, all at once, I felt whole and distinctly broken, lost but safe at home, abandoned yet I was wanted.

It was where I met God.

But there was a catch. As with all things beautiful, they are never without heartache.

Here, my heart ached because in the silent beauty of night, I was acutely aware that I couldn’t see it. Here, I was blind and there was no escaping the truth. I couldn’t lift my eyes to the sky and get lost in the sea of stars, too numerous to count. I couldn’t make friends with the man in the moon, nor wish upon a shooting star like I had as a child.

I was blind. And my body knew it. This article discusses phantom eye syndrome, a condition classified by the presence of phantom vision, phantom pain or phantom sensations that individuals who have had one or both eyes enucleated can experience. In the years since my eyes were removed, I have often felt like I fit into the category of phantom sensations. But whether I am clinically accepted as experiencing phantom eye syndrome or not, I do not know, but what I do know is how it feels to want to see and not be able to.

I describe this sense of “feeling blind” to my friends and family as reaching for something but you come up short every time. Your fingers graze the edge, you strain and stretch to grasp the thing you so desperately want, but you can’t. It’s just a little too far, and no matter what you do, you won’t be able to reach it.
This is how my eyes feel. They want to see, and it’s almost as if they believe that in trying hard enough, they will. But they can’t. No matter how much they strain to encompass the visual world, they can’t.

But don’t think that I move through every moment of my life feeling this yearning to see that will never be satisfied. There are a handful of circumstances that I’m aware trigger these phantom feelings. And when they arise, I get myself into wide, open spaces. These phantom feelings aren’t dissimilar to claustrophobia in that I feel trapped in small spaces, so fields, beaches, even empty streets can help to alleviate the anxiety.

Here is a brief list of those circumstances:

  • The night sky
  • The sea
  • Looking through photo albums

Feeling blind doesn’t stop me from going stargazing or reminiscing over old photos. But I do keep mindful of its weight which at times, can be very heavy.
It reminds me that I am different
It reminds me that I am missing out on an entire sense and world of experiences that many people take for granted.
It reminds me that the visual memories I rely on to build new ones are quickly fading with time, and I’m working with limited resources that cannot be replenished.

But it reminds me too, that it won’t always be like this. CS Lewis said that “if I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Being outdoors in the middle of the night is when I always feel closest to God. And I often wonder if that something that I’m reaching for but cannot grasp yet is God himself. I am a fallible human, incapable of grasping the truth of who God is and what His plans are for my life. I cannot grasp the ways of God or understand His thoughts in the midst of my humanity. Isaiah 55:8-9 says that “for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. / For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

And when I look up into an endless sea of stars, I am reminded that the world is so much bigger than I am. And so is my God.


Is feeling blind frustrating? Absolutely, it can be. I believe that it is a physiological response to the trauma my little body endured at five years old. But can it point me to the one who is bigger than my blindness, more powerful than my problems, and in control of whatever happens in my life?

Yes. And that’s what I try to remember when the blindness overwhelms me and I cannot reach what I’m so desperately searching for. I take a breath, tell myself that it’s okay to feel it, and channel the overwhelm into my heart’s yearning for eternity with God. There, I will see Him and that’s the truth that keeps me going for my time here on Earth.

I HAVEN’T WRITTEN IN TEN WEEKS, AND THIS IS WHY

For better or worse—and mark my words, it’s most often for worse—I am an all-or-nothing, idealistic pessimist. Just ask my therapist: I’m either a success or an utter failure. I either eat healthy, or one cookie deems me a lost cause. I either write consistently, or I am not worthy of the title.

When I started this blog, I had dreams of writing posts twice a week, growing a community of readers and allies, and bringing awareness to the realities of life with a disability. I still have those dreams. But sometimes, life wakes you up with a freaking loud alarm, and those dreams are put on pause.

So many times in the last ten weeks, I have sat down to write a post and nothing has come. I stare at a blank page, then wait for the tears. I slam the laptop shut, debate throwing it out the window, decide against it, and go take a burning hot shower and wonder why I thought I could do this. How could I call myself a blogger if I let my darling sit untouched for ten weeks? It deserves better, and so do those that honour me by reading it.

But in the past two and a half months, words have eluded me. I’ve cried, and when there are no more tears, I’ve just sat in the silence, wondering what I’m supposed to do now. It reminds me of the book of Job, when, after he lost his children, livestock, his home and his health, his friends “sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights, but no one spoke a word to him because they saw how intense his suffering was. Sure, I haven’t endured loss on that scale and I’m thankful for that. But I also want to acknowledge the grief that I am experiencing.

The Goodbye

On May 17, my guide dog, Cricket officially retired from his life as my working Leader Dog. In reality, he had not guided me for weeks and in my heart, I knew it was over. But now it was official and I couldn’t deny it any longer.

I put myself full throttle into “get it done” mode so that I wouldn’t stay in “cry all the time” mode. I applied to CNIB Guide Dogs, Guide Dogs for the Blind, and re-applied to Leader Dogs for the Blind for a successor guide.

And knowing that I didn’t have the physical space or the financial capability to care for Cricket in retirement as well as a new, working guide dog, I had to make the decision of where Cricket would live. I decided, together with Cricket’s puppy raiser, that giving him back to her was the best thing for him. God had affirmed that in both our hearts, but this decision brought its own challenges, namely how to get Cricket back home to Michigan.

Due to Covid-19 and the travel restrictions that both the United States and Canada set in place, getting Cricket to his new home proved much more challenging than expected:

  • His puppy raiser could travel to Canada to pick him up as she was fully vaccinated, but she could not take him back on the plane as she was not his handler.
  • I could not travel to Michigan as I was not fully vaccinated and could not go through a two-week quarantine upon return.
  • We didn’t feel comfortable putting Cricket in cargo, as he needs to be medicated on flights to mitigate anxiety, so sending him alone was not an option.
  • We applied with Puppies in Flight, a program through American Airlines to transport service dogs with an employee, but nothing came of it.
  • We tried to get permission for his raiser to become his temporary handler for the duration of the flights, but that was not possible.
  • We asked if a LDB trainer could transport Cricket, but again, due to restrictions, that was not feasible.

Once I knew that I would be fully vaccinated and able to travel without the need to quarantine by August 8, the plan was for me and Cricket to fly to Michigan, get him acclimated to his new home and come home… alone.

It was frustrating practically, but it was even harder emotionally. I had come to terms with Cricket retiring as my guide, but I was not able to grieve the loss of his companionship until he was gone, and not knowing when that would happen became almost unbearable. By July, I was having trouble sleeping. The feelings of guilt over leaving him home for hours at a time since I couldn’t legally bring him into shops, restaurants or on public transit made me feel like a failure as a handler. I wasn’t giving him the life that he deserved.

I returned home from Michigan on August 13. Cricket is now in his new home and I am able to grieve. But dear Lord… it breaks my heart.

The Other Goodbyes

Out of respect for the privacy of those that I am referring to, I will not go into detail here. But as I’m sure others have experienced throughout the last year and a half, differing views on the Covid-19 pandemic have caused significant conflict in relationships. The decision to get vaccinated or not, to wear masks and physically distance, among others, have divided families, friends, partners and communities.

And now, it’s happening to me in some of my close friendships. I still love and care for these people, but when our opposing views propel our lives in different directions, it is hard to know how to maintain a respectful, mutual, loving relationship. When the conflict is something as significant as the pandemic, how do you go forward when those closest to you do not agree?

I don’t have the answers. All I know is how it feels to be in the middle of it. I’m questioning how easily I trust others, if I have even been a friend if I can consider ending it, what it looks like to love like Jesus, and whether it is “christian” to let these differences influence the relationship. I cry myself to sleep because I feel, once again, that I can’t do friendships the right way.

The pandemic has caused so much grief in countless ways in our world. Is it a test from God? Am I loving those around me with His love? Am I doing enough?

Am I failing the test?

I’ve Had Enough of Saying Goodbye

We were walking to the lake yesterday afternoon when I stopped, threw my arms around my boyfriend and with tears in my eyes, said, “it’s starting again.”

“It” is my depression. As I’ve struggled with my mental health for years now, I’m very aware of my personal indicators of a depressive episode—I’m not enjoying activities that I love in the same capacity that I was even a few weeks ago, I’m not initiating get-togethers with friends, I’m sleeping late.

I’ve had enough of saying goodbye. To Cricket, to close friends.. what’s next? I’m exhausted. My brain is exhausted.

Is it starting again? Can I work to stave it off, even just a little bit? Maybe my medication will help this time, seeing as I wasn’t taking it the last time an episode came. I will have to work hard to eat. I will have to drag myself out of bed in the mornings and tell myself out loud that yes, there is a reason to get up today even though I don’t have to take Cricket out to pee or go for a walk.

And I will also have to give myself grace. And that will be harder than any of the others. But with the love of my family, my partner, Jesus and my medication, I will make it through.

But I am scared.

So, What Now?

Things feel very fragile right now. I feel like I’m about to break, and it must be by God’s grace, that I’m holding on. He’s here, and He’s blessed me with a support system and people who love me and hold me up when I can’t do it by myself. But as I’ve been learning to do in therapy, I’ve been trying to hold all of my opposite emotions. I imagine that in my left hand, I’m holding the love, the support and the faith that gets me through the tough times. And in my right hand are the tears, the grief, the pain and the sadness.

I want to write, and I’m hoping that this post will help break through the wall that’s built up over the past ten weeks. This blog, and you, my readers, are too important to me to let you go again. But there’s no telling if life’s alarm clock will sound again. But be assured that even if I am silent, I’m still here, and I’m doing my best.

That’s all anyone can do.

I’M STILL BLIND WHEN THE LIGHTS ARE ON

According to medical professionals, I’m blind. My optic nerve has been removed, my hazel eyes have been hand painted and my faithful sidekick is a cuddly, golden lab guide dog. I would say I qualify as a blind girl.

I also struggle with depression and anxiety. Now, I have not been given any medical diagnoses for these. At times, this has been frustrating because there are those people who require a diagnosis before they believe it’s real. At times, it is liberating because it gives me hope that I don’t have to live within the label that so many ascribe to those who have official diagnoses.

And there is one more thing I should mention before we go any further. I am a devoted believer in Jesus Christ, and my faith has made all the difference.
But when you take my faith, blindness, depression and anxiety into one and try to reconcile them with each other, that’s where many people run into roadblocks. Especially those people in the church.

The church has been my home for my entire life and I have found much love, encouragement and compassion there. However, I know there are sadly, those within it that do not embody the deep love, encouragement and compassion that I was shown. And they, among others, are who I hope will read this.

No one would deny that I’m blind. We’ve covered this. My prostheses are enough evidence of that. But because I cannot offer physical evidence of my depression and anxiety, some would see this as evidence itself of its invalidity. And to those who doubt, I will say only one thing:
I’m still blind when the lights are on.

Within the church, I’ve encountered varying views on mental health struggles, and unfortunately, many are negative. Here are some:

  • “You must not pray hard enough.”
  • “God is a god of joy. Depression is the opposite of joy. Are you truly following God?”
  • “He can take away your anxiety. Just ask Him.”
  • “The Bible says not to worry. Having anxiety is a sin.”

To those who hold these views, I offer you this scenario:

I walk into a room and am searching for a chair I’ve been told is there. I know to look on the left side of the room, but I don’t know where along the length of the wall it will be. A stranger comes into the room behind me and seeing me slowly searching the space, exclaims: “Oh dear! You’re blind! Here, I’ll turn on the light. There, that’s better. Now you can see where the chair is.”

How silly! Turning on the light wouldn’t change a thing. My optic nerve still doesn’t connect my brain to my eye. Turning on the light doesn’t change my blindness.

But people seem to think it should change my mental health.

If one could just turn on God’s light, then their depression would disappear. If they would just pray, they wouldn’t have panic attacks.
But that is not the case. Of course there is power in prayer and it’s not wrong to pray for healing or help to cope. But prayer isn’t a machine that vomits the right answer if you pray the right prayer. It’s a way to draw closer to God and listen to what He wants to tell you.

So, maybe He won’t take away my anxiety or depression. Maybe He won’t miraculously transform my acrylic eyes into real ones. But somehow, this doesn’t come across very clear to some people in the church. Because these illnesses are of the mind, their legitimacy is often questioned. And because they can be questioned, it’s easy to point fingers and accuse those dealing with them of weak faith.

“If you could just pray more, you wouldn’t be depressed.”
“If you would just trust more, you wouldn’t have anxiety.”

But if you turn on the lights, a blind girl is still blind.
If you have faith, you can still struggle with mental health.

Even if we believe in God’s power to transform our hearts and perform miracles in our lives, it doesn’t equate to a life without hardship. I believe in Him and I’m still blind. I believe in Him and I still struggle with anxiety. Our faith in Jesus shouldn’t change because of our circumstances. But what I pray does change is the view that our circumstances should.
Though to be quite honest, I don’t care if people’s circumstances change or not. As long as their hearts do.

THE CASE OF THE DISABLED CHRISTIAN, PART TWO: “ALL TO THE GLORY OF GOD.”

NOTE: Read THE CASE OF THE DISABLED CHRISTIAN, PART ONE: SHOULD WE PRAY FOR HEALING?” here.

Do I Want to Be Healed?

THE CASE OF THE DISABLED CHRISTIAN, PART ONE: SHOULD WE PRAY FOR HEALING? In part one, I promised you an easy answer to this question, so here it is:

Do I want to be healed?

No.

I do not want to be healed. Nor do I believe that I need to be healed. For the quality of life crowd, let me assure you that while I have my struggles like everyone, I have a wonderful life, blindness and all. I live within walking distance of a gorgeous beach. I have a family that loves me unconditionally, a supportive and inclusive church community, friends that uplift and encourage me, and I have my independence. I see nothing missing from this beautiful picture.
While sitting at the beach last week with a friend, looking out at the waves, I said, “I couldn’t enjoy this any more if I were sighted.” And I meant it.

But what of my relationship with God? It hasn’t always been this way. When I first became blind, I prayed for healing. My family prayed for healing. And that wasn’t wrong. When I prayed for physical healing last, I was eighteen and sitting on the window ledge of my second-story college dorm room. I had a nudge in my heart and I listened. Maybe there’ll come a time that I’ll ask again in the future, but only if the Lord leads me to it. I choose to believe, and be content with where God has placed me in this world. And that brings me to my final thought, and the most important lesson I’ve learned.

It’s About God, Not Me

In my last post, I said that we don’t know how to hold both a loving God and a disability together.

This is how:

By realizing that having a disability changes our lives, but it doesn’t change God.

The question of whether I’m blind for the rest of my life or if God restores my sight is irrelevant to the bigger picture.
It’s about God, not me. He is still who He has always been and always will be—a God of love, grace, justice and the savior of my soul. I am here on this earth to serve and glorify God, not the other way around. By no means has this been easy, and I struggle with this truth every moment of my life; my sinful nature persuades me that I’m the center of the world and even God is subject to my wishes. I get upset when He doesn’t answer prayers the way that I think is best, and my faith wavers when I don’t feel His presence the way that I hear worship leaders and christian authors describe. But the truth doesn’t change.

God doesn’t change.

The question of healing has been one that I’ve had to grapple with for as long as I’ve been blind. People are always curious about my answer, and even more so when they hear that my answer is no. I’ve given my reasons to family, to friends and to total strangers. But it took many years, lots of tears and constant wrestling with God to come to the conclusion that I have.

If it is God’s will to heal me, then may I be healed. But it will have to come from Him, not me. My healing must be part of His plan to bring glory to Him in my life. But for now, as I write this looking out the window at the beautiful ocean, I believe strongly in my spirit that I am firmly in the center of God’s will. I can see the blessings and the growth and the beauty that my blindness has brought. And if God is using this to his glory, who am I to rob God of a way that He’s chosen to work in my life and the lives of those around me?

God is so much bigger than I can imagine, and my healing is in His hands. I Corinthians 10:31 says it well: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

“So Rhianna, can I pray for you to be healed?”

“Thanks for the thought. But no. There are other things going on right now that I’m struggling with, though. Could we pray for those? And if there’s anything that you need, I’d be happy to pray with you, too.”

THE CASE OF THE DISABLED CHRISTIAN, PART ONE: SHOULD WE PRAY FOR HEALING?

Let’s hit the ground running with this blog! And I’m excited to attack the most asked, and rather controversial question for most disabled people.

Do You Want to Be Healed?

While I have an easy answer to this question which I shout from the rooftops with more conviction than most people expect, I’m not going to answer it yet. I want to break down all the facets of this question first so we can understand fully what we’re asking. I think it’s much deeper than we realize. As you read, please be mindful that everything I say here is my own personal conviction and though I know many others who share my views, these are my words and not meant to represent every disabled person’s experience.

It’s Just Physical, Right?

When someone prays for my healing, they are asking for my physical disability to be restored to health. They’re asking that my blindness be taken away and that I be given sight. That seems fairly obvious, right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

In praying for any need, there is always something underlying, something which propels the prayer into action. When the Israelites asked Moses for water in the desert in Exodus 17, Moses petitioned the Lord and He provided water through the rock at Horeb. They were thirsty so they asked for water. Similarly, when the 19th-century preacher, Charles Finney prayed for rain, he prayed with expectation and with the knowledge that without it, the crops of Oberlin Ohio would die and they couldn’t care for their cattle. Their need for rain prompted a prayer, and God answered their prayer. Though prayer is first and foremost a way to be in conversation with God, to know Him, to listen, and to grow closer to Him, it’s perfectly okay to ask for what we need. Matthew 21:22 says “And whatever you ask for in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

But I always wonder what drives people to pray for my healing. The most common answer I hear to this question is that they want me, the disabled person, to have a better quality of life. But stay with me here, because I want to break this down even further.

What constitutes a “good” quality of life? For some, I can imagine that it’s being financially stable. For others, having a family, or perhaps, it’s having the freedom to travel. Everyone is different—some love to be up and moving and others are perfectly content at home.

But you know what? I can do all those things, too. People who are blind can travel, raise families and be financially stable. There’s no one-size-fits-all standard for quality of life. So before presuming that a disabled person’s quality of life is somehow lessened by their disability, try something different… ask them. They may just be perfectly happy. I know I am.

There’s one more comment I’d like to make before I leave this quality-of-life discussion. In hearing this question, I can’t help but hear some underlying ableism — ableism being discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities. Now, let me ask this:

What makes an able-bodied person feel that they know what’s best for a disabled person?

Please, take a minute and think that over. I don’t pretend to have an answer, and it will vary depending on who you ask. But I encourage you to spend time with that question, and if you can’t find a reason other than “I’m able-bodied and they have a disability,” then I implore you as nicely as I can: STOP!

Maybe people think our quality of life would be improved by healing since we wouldn’t be bound by hospital visits or adaptive equipment or prescription medications. We wouldn’t be limited and would be free to live as we wish. But, everyone, able-bodied or disabled, has limits. Hate to break it to you. Mine happen to be physical, and for some, they’re mental or emotional. Limits don’t inhibit freedom—they enhance it.

But Doesn’t God Want Them to Be Healed?

In the Bible, there are countless stories where Jesus heals people. The healing of the blind man in John 9, the bleeding woman in Mark 5:21-43, and even after Jesus ascended, his disciples, Peter and John healing the lame man in Acts 3. These accounts are incredible and miraculous, clearly the hand of God at work in people’s lives.

But in being told and retold these miraculous accounts of healing, I’ve grown up a little fearful of what this teaches us about people with disabilities. Our presence in the Bible is often as the recipient of the amazing grace that Jesus offers in being healed of our afflictions. If this is how we are teaching about disabled individuals in the world and particularly in church, it’s little wonder that healing is our go-to response when presented with someone like me.

“But Jesus healed the blind man,” they say. “He healed the lame, the mute, the demon-possessed. Jesus was all about healing.”

Yes! He was, and still is! You’ll never see me arguing with that. But is that the only type of healing that Jesus wants for us?

I believe Jesus came to heal us spiritually, to draw us into relationship with him. Paying for our sins by dying on the cross in our place wasn’t so that I might be physically healed, but so that I could come to him, even as a sinful person, and find healing for my soul. Does that mean that Jesus has lost interest in physical healing? Absolutely not! But I don’t believe it’s his priority, and when he chooses to heal, it’s for a purpose.

Here’s where I am going to take a gamble, and this isn’t meant to put words in anyone’s mouth. But in my heart, I do believe this is a very real part of the driving force, whether the asker knows it or not.

It creates a crisis of faith for the able-bodied believer. Jesus healed the sick and disabled. He can heal today, right now, if we pray. But when he doesn’t, or the disabled person doesn’t want to be healed… what do we do with that? How do we as believers reconcile an ever-loving God with a disability? Because, if he were truly loving and wanting the best for us, wouldn’t He heal us?

We don’t know how to hold both, our God of love who made us fearfully and wonderfully and with a purpose, and disability.

But there is a way.

Continue reading: THE CASE OF THE DISABLED CHRISTIAN, PART TWO: “ALL TO THE GLORY OF GOD.”

IN THE BEGINNING

“In The Beginning Was The Bird and the Bird Was Blind.”

Every story begins somewhere, and the story of my blindness begins with a bird.

To this day, I do not know what kind of bird it was, but I remember with vivid detail its crooked feet, its red-flecked breast and its eyes… oh those eyes. I remember specks of colour—maybe red or black?—but what I remember the most is how wrong they looked. Something was wrong with this bird.

Something was definitely wrong.

This bird was dead, having died after flying into our back kitchen window. I’d found him in our side yard and being filled with compassion for this hurt bird and no cares for the safety or cleanliness of such an act, I picked him up and cuddled him in my little hands. My four year old heart broke.

And when I was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma—cancer of the eyes—within weeks, the connection was clear. This, in all truth and sincerity, is what I believed about how and why I became blind:

The bird had cancer and was blind, and because he couldn’t see our window, he flew into it and subsequently died. I touched the bird, caught his cancer and that’s why I became blind.

Of course, now as a woman in my mid-twenties, I understand the childlike ignorance that bore this theory into being; cancer is not contagious, neither is blindness and blindness is not always the result of a retinoblastoma diagnosis. But as a child, I carried this theory as fact with me throughout my childhood and adolescence, and even while I knew the truth of my medical history, a small part of me always clung to the bird. I wanted it to be real, to have an answer for why this happened to me. Follow up genetic testing would prove inconclusive, and with no family history of RB, my cancer effectively came out of nowhere. This bird gave me a reason and a tangible reality to hold onto while grappling with questions and emotions that were too big for a little girl to carry. To believe that the bird gave me cancer was easier than the truth.

How It Really Happened: The True Origin Story

My diagnosis of bilateral retinoblastoma came on April 19, 2001. It was just shy of six weeks before my fifth birthday. Everything I know of this time comes secondhand from my parents—the greenish-whitish thing my mother saw floating in my eye, the appointment with the optometrist, the consult with the ophthalmologist that same afternoon and the diagnosis of retinoblastoma at BC Children’s Hospital a week later.

The year 2001 saw me through several rounds of cryotherapy and chemotherapy, and in November, an enucleation of my right eye. In terms that I understand? My right eye was surgically removed, thus, I became legally half-blind. In 2002, I underwent further treatments and a trip to Disneyland which was generously provided to my family by The Children’s Wish Foundation. That trip holds many memories and smiles in my heart and I hope to share those with you in a future post. But 2002 came and went and I found myself in a back room of the surgical unit, holding hands with my family and ophthalmologist, praying to Jesus for what was about to happen. Then Daddy picked me up and carried me into the operating room. I breathed deep the scent of watermelon and when I woke up, my life had changed completely.

It was January 27, 2003, known in my family as Classy Glassy Day in honour of my first prosthetic eye. As of this writing, I have been completely blind and cancer-free for eighteen years. And while I continue to be followed by a team of medical professionals, I thank God that I have not been given a second diagnosis.

In The Middle… Is The Rest

But now, with the initial cancer treatments in my past and a life lived in total blindness stretching ahead, I live in a feeling of the middle.

I live in the middle of sight and blindness. I have memories of having vision, of knowing my colours and seeing the faces of my family. When someone describes a sunset to me or says that the dog in the park is a golden retriever, I can imagine it because I’ve seen it. And yet, I live in the middle of those memories, clutching them close to my heart yet I watch them fade with every passing day. The longer I live, the more my sighted life becomes a smaller and smaller piece, like an island that appears to be shrinking but it’s merely the ocean growing bigger around me.

I live in the middle of what society expects of a disabled woman and how I try to live outside that box. This is a Pandora’s box that I’m hesitant to open, but simultaneously, I feel is important to explore. I will go into depth in future posts, but sufficed to say that living as a woman with a visible disability brings with it a disturbing disparity that clings to me like a shadow. From society, I often feel an expectation to be an overachieving inspiration for the mere act of living, or a person of whom nothing is expected because I have a disability. I have to fight for accessibility, to be treated as equal, and yet all I want is the same things as you—equality, respect, dignity and a place in our world.

And I live in the middle of a life that is messy and broken, full of joy and lots of green tea. My faith in Jesus Christ guides everything I do yet I find myself struggling against Him because I can’t reconcile the world I live in with the love that He gives to us. I suffer from disordered eating habits where I hyper-focus on healthy ingredients to the point where I go without food for hours or days to avoid eating what I’ve deemed “unhealthy.” My mental health is steadied by medication and I go to therapy every two weeks. I cry during the radio drama production of Little Women EVERY. SINGLE. TIME! I’m an intense personality with deep, strong emotions that I’m learning to embrace. And I’m complex, quirky and valuable, and I have a story that matters–just like every human being.

This is my life. And I’m happy to have you apart of it. While this blog is centered around my experiences as a blind woman, I hope you will take from it much more than that. I hope that through my words, you will find me a person much like you, someone stumbling through life’s challenges and joys and just looking to do it with God and with those I love.