This is an updated reprint from my old blog that I thought worth saying again.
Most people in the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving Day next week. For an excellent brief history of Thanksgiving, check out this article in The Patriot Post. Though it has lost its true purpose for many of us and though some would like to take it off the calendar entirely, it is a wonderful thing that we still live in a country where a day of thanksgiving to the one true God can be celebrated. We have much to be thankful for.
What is gratitude? Is it simply a verbal expression of thanks? That would be a good start. In our culture of entitlement we tend to think we have a right to anything we need or want. We don’t feel the need to give thanks for that which we consider our due. True gratitude is more than words. Here’s an example to explain what I mean. If you know me or have browsed around my site, you know that I don’t see well enough to drive. Public transportation sometimes doesn’t provide a way to get me where I need to go when I need to get there. Suppose you respond to my request for help and give me a ride. The least you will expect is verbal thanks. Let’s suppose again that some time later you needed a little extra money to pay for gas. You know that I most likely can spare the cash, but I turn you down. How much was my gratitude really worth? Even if you gave me your time and expense with no expectation of return, you’re probably going to be a bit less inclined to do so in the future. True gratitude affects our actions. We have been given many gifts, but the greatest gift by far is the life of the Son of God. Jesus gave more than we can ever imagine to come as one of us to die for all of us. True gratitude requires no less than our lives given freely to Him. Learning what that means starts with a decision to do so and continues as long as we live.
Thanks to the folks that invited me to join as a friend on Facebook. I have to tell you though that it is a frustrating site for someone who uses a screen reader. I’m not sure I could have used it at all were it not for the little vision I have. As you’re signing up, it has drop-down lists that update as you go. You’re supposed to click one of the choices, but if you’re using a screen reader you don’t even know they are there. I don’t know if it is essential to click one of the choices, but it appeared that there was hidden info for each choice that you couldn’t enter if you couldn’t’ see the list. For example, I can type in Texas Tech, or Oak Park High School. In the first case it might have been an exact match and picked up Texas Tech in Lubbock, but what if I had typed Texas Tech University instead? Oak Park is listed simply as Oak Park High, not Oak Park High School, and there are several of them. Chances are my entry would not be matched appropriately at all unless I could see to click the list item that showed Kansas City as the location. Admittedly that wouldn’t matter a lot to me. It was a big place and I didn’t know how to make friends. A lot of people knew who I was because I could be seen in the halls with a cart full of the extra things I needed to help with class work, and a few were unfortunately run over by it. I didn’t know many people. I think I might remember one or two names. Then there’s the visual confirmation. I understand why they do that. In fact, I use it on the church’s site out of the same necessity. It keeps malicious people from running scripts that sign up multiple accounts and spamming everyone they can find. I have an audio confirmation link so that someone who is blind can get past the confirmation, and to their credit so do they, but I couldn’t understand it either. It too must be garbled to keep someone from employing voice recognition and getting through. On the second one I encountered I finally gave up after several misses on different phrases. To get around dealing with that, you can have your account confirmed with a text message sent to your cell phone. That’s great if you can see or can afford to shell out several hundred dollars for a phone that can talk. To top it all off, they don’t give you a confirmation password box, so if you mistype your password as I apparently did you will not know until the site refuses to let you back in. Maybe it was there and I missed it, but if so why did it let me in the first time? The reset screen has the confirmation, but the page’s underlying code is not designed in a screen reader friendly fashion, so again I resorted to magnification.
I went through with it though. Our church needs to get in touch with younger people. This is one of the ways people communicate now, so I’ll eventually get around to setting up a Myspace profile too. This just highlights the need for what we’re doing. This post is a bit plaintive, but the truth is the world doesn’t conform to our needs, and should not be required to. Though I am thankful for the help I get and know I couldn’t’ do without it, I am ultimately responsible for my life. That is true for all of us. Though I have indulged in a little complaining about a less than accessible web site, it’s up to me to deal with the world as it is. I can ask for changes, but I have no right to demand them.
What I can do is make the world a little better for someone else, and that’s what we’re trying to do. I’ve always been against creating enclaves of people with disabilities. We need to be out in the “real world” doing what we were meant to do. However, I see the need for a system of outreach and support that brings people to that place. There are numerous organizations that will meet physical needs, and that’s important. I expect we’ll do that and our church certainly does. Sadly lacking are churches seeking to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of people affected by disability. That has a physical component, in that we must go to them. Many cannot come to us. I have the same problem. I’ve been known to pick churches simply because I could get there. We have in mind a network of small churches in geographically convenient locations that can meet the needs of people like us. We must give out of what we have been given. We are blessed to be a blessing.
My wife says to me, “you’re getting more distinguished every day.” I’m still not able to see the gray specs unless I enlarge one of the pictures we recently had taken, but my hair isn’t the only thing turning gray. I’m only thirty-eight. Physically I’m probably a little older, since I never did much to maintain my health, but what I notice most can’t be seen with the eye. I’m turning gray inside. I don’t think it’s an age thing. I don’t feel old. I feel gray. I’ve never been a highly driven person, but I used to think I knew what was right and what I wanted from life. That was a long time ago, and I destroyed those dreams with my own hands. I grew new ones, and I clung to faded memories of a voice that gave me purpose; “you’re going to be a preacher.” Recently I considered that old memory once more. It wasn’t a command. It was a prophecy. Well then, I guess I don’t have to worry so much about trying to make it happen, but if I heard anything at all beyond the imaginations of a boy wanting to be like his daddy, does it not require something of me? I claim to know very little anymore. My internal vision is as dim as my eyes. I do what is in front of me and resist anything that disrupts my daily life any more than necessary. I am turning gray, and most of the time that’s ok.
Recently my wife and I went to breakfast on a Sunday morning. As we sat waiting for our table listening for our name to be called I heard, “Lee, party of one.” Maybe it was Leigh. I didn’t see who responded. I just remember thinking, “I used to do that.” At first I even enjoyed it. It was part of the adventure of being on my own and doing what I wanted to do. The fun didn’t last. As the lonely years went by I stopped going out just to go out. You can’t have a party with only one. It set me wondering about the circumstances that brought this person to wait and eat alone in a crowded restaurant on a bright Sunday morning. In our disconnected society that devalues relationship, was she always alone? Is he sitting at the table sending text messages while facing the empty seat on the other side? Is this a temporary or permanent situation?
We were never meant to be alone. God made that plain from the beginning (Gen 2:18.) We were made to love and be loved. I believe that God gave us all forms of relationship to teach us how He loves us, though in our fallen world these relationships are often corrupted and do not serve their intended purpose. As children we know the need of our father’s love. As parents we get a glimpse of God’s love for His children. As spouses we see a shadow of the intimacy we are meant to have with God. Relationships are precious things to be nurtured and treasured. I know what it’s like to be alone, and though the difficulties of forging a successful marriage have at times made me think I was better off, I thank God that I may never have to hear, “Larry, party of one.” For fifteen years I lay in the painful shards of a broken relationship and crushed dreams, until God rescued me. My trust in Him continues to grow as the seemingly impossible becomes reality. This is my encouragement to those still waiting. Put your trust in Jesus and you will never be alone (Rom 8:38-39.) Wait on Him, and you will find love.
When I leave work at night, I expect to meet at least one person looking for money. Most of us are. In a majority of cases we wouldn’t turn down free money, but we except that we will probably have to earn it. I’m not making a blanket statement here. There are some folks who really need help, and therein is my dilemma, especially considering that my Lord told me “give to him who asks of you.” (Matt 5:42) Instead, I do what I did last night. I don’t even know for sure that is what he wanted. Maybe he was genuinely concerned that I needed some help, but when he spoke to me, I brushed him off and kept moving. There was a train conveniently sitting at the station and I hurried to get into it. No matter that it was the wrong train. It got me out of there. I know all the excuses. I have already hinted at one. It is true that many of the people on the street are there because they will not do what it takes to get out. We have programs and shelters all over the area. We shouldn’t be enablers, right? We shouldn’t make the problem worse for everyone, not to mention encouraging them to break the city’s panhandling law. Yet, there are people truly in need, and what of the sanctioned methods for helping them out. There’s usually someone on the corner selling a newspaper written by the homeless. Why don’t I buy the paper, even though I can’t read it and probably wouldn’t want to if I could. Shouldn’t I encourage the work ethic implied? “Give to him who asks of you.” Who am I to judge? Maybe I should just do what Jesus said.
I wrote this on the way to work a few days ago.
You Drive Me to Distraction
You drive me to distraction. There are many ways to get there, and I seem to know them all. I run there to hide from you. There are many places to hide, and any will do. I cannot bear to face you and all that you have to tell me. Monsters from past and present lurk around every corner, but if I ignore them, maybe they will go away. You know them all by name. You and your acquaintances mock me. No one who takes exception to your words is to be taken seriously. The dark and terrible truth must be known. Sometimes you corner me. For the moment I can find no place to hide. Your accusations fly like poisoned arrows, and I can only hide my face in shame. I crawl away, a little closer to the end I long for, finding my way to distraction again. I cannot stand to look at you; you who are nothing more than me.
I face a small dilemma almost every time I board the crowded train for my morning commute to work. Should I take the seat that someone just got out of so I can sit down, or do I literally stand on principle? Given that people have a tendency to form lasting opinions based on a first impression, I have long felt that I have a responsibility to leave the right impression on behalf of all people who are blind. I’ve also got to deal with plain ugly old pride. If someone asks me I will often say, politely I hope, “that’s ok. My legs still work.” I’m not as adamant as I used to be. I confess that if someone actually gets out of their seat, these days I sit in it. Partly this is because my legs don’t work quite like they used to; my knees hurt a little. Partly I’ve just decided it’s not worth making a scene. Finally I probably should admit that plain ugly old selfishness is getting stronger than pride. Sometimes an elderly gentleman rides with me who demands we get seats. He actually needs one. I always feel a little embarrassed. “These seats are reserved for us by law,” he says. That may be true, but now I can’t get on the train without thinking someone is going to get up out of guilt or a sense of obligation. Some would say that’s good. I don’t agree. In the long run it’s counterproductive. These people have been made to feel more uncomfortable around people with handicaps. That is the opposite of what we need. Should they get up for us? Certainly they should be under no obligation to get up for me. My eyes don’t have anything to do with whether or not I can stand.
Yesterday, Friday, January 5, 2007, my grandfather went home. We are saddened because we miss him. Death always surprises us even when we know it’s coming. We are happy because an extended period of suffering is now over. A man who had lost the ability to keep track of time can now spend all of his time rejoicing in the presence of God. A man who could barely walk on a good day can now dance for joy. A man who knew constant pain now has the unending pleasure of Heaven. We will weep for the loss of his company, but we will rejoice in his new found freedom. We love you Granddaddy. We’ll see you when we get home.