What’s the Formula?

I’ve been thinking tonight about some of the healings that took place in the Bible, and here’s what I’ve noticed:

Sometimes, they require action. In one of my favourite healing miracles, Jesus told a blind man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam – a word that means ‘Sent’. The man washed, and came home seeing (John 9:7). An action on his part resulted in the healing on Jesus’ part.

Sometimes, they follow an answer. In Luke 18:35-43, again before healing a blind man, Jesus asks: “What do you want Me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” is the response.

Sometimes, Jesus takes the person aside and works quietly. Another of my favourite healings is in Mark 7:31-37. Some people bring a deaf man to Jesus, wanting to have him cured. Jesus starts by leading the man away from the crowd, by himself – what a lovely, thoughtful thing to do. If you were deaf and you got your hearing back, wouldn’t it overwhelm you to be in a crowd of people and suddenly assaulted by all their voices? Jesus tells us He’s gentle and He really shows it here, taking the man to a quiet place to heal him.

If you’re wondering what the formula is that ties these healings together, well … that’s the whole point: They’re all very different. Interestingly, in Luke 18, Jesus doesn’t say: “I made you well because you answered the question I asked you”; He says: “You are healed because you believed.” In Mark 7, Jesus commanded the people not to tell anyone about the deaf man’s healing, but the more He commanded them, the more they told about it! In John 9, the blind man confessed his faith after he was healed and not before.

Can we learn anything from this? Are we, perhaps, too quick to try to find a formula when Jesus might just want to treat each person differently?

Independence

This is a big one for me. As a blind person, independence is something you strive for. As a Christian, independence tends to be viewed as prideful because ‘We all need each other’. As a Christian blind person? Help! How do we get a balance?

I wrote about this subject before, and then I came across a quote in the handbook I use to support people recently diagnosed with sight loss. Torch Trust is a Christian organisation that works with blind and partially-sighted people. I think their aim is exactly right: Independence in activity and interdependence in relationships.

When someone’s said to me in the past: “You’re very independent”, I’ve replied that I’m God-dependent because I know there’s so much I wouldn’t have done without Him. Before I was a Christian, I wasn’t comfortable using my cane. At nineteen, when I left the house, I would always be with someone. Now I’ve lived in two flats on my own; I’ve taken myself as far south as London and as far north as Scotland on the train … Some might say I would have done that anyway as I matured, but even if I had overcome the self-consciousness, I probably wouldn’t have done it quite the same way. I would have regularly got angry or impatient when I couldn’t control outcomes; I might have treated staff who met me at stations as people there to serve me, rather than as people I could relate to. God has an amazing way of taking our focus off our own needs and putting it onto the people we’re with.

If you want to be competent, choosing to rely on God shouldn’t take that away from you. I read about a little boy trying to type. His mum had the power to tell him where the keys were, but she didn’t because she knew he had to learn. I believe God’s like that too. He wants us to learn how to navigate life, but don’t just take my word for it. Look at Jesus and His disciples. Jesus was asleep and they woke Him in a panic. He said: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” then He calmed the storm (Matthew 8:26). Later, there was another storm. This time, they were in the boat without Jesus. He came walking towards them on the water, and the Bible says: “He was about to pass by them” (Mark 6:48). I believe His desire was that they would have learnt from Him, and stilled the storm themselves. Independence in activity; interdependence in relationships.

For the rest of this series click here, or you can find other blogs on the Write31Days site

Louis

A curious boy – his name is Louis,
Born 1809, just east of Paris;
His father a tanner, Simon-René,
Whose workshop becomes a place to play:
Off Louis toddles as soon as he’s walking,
To the place where his father makes tack for the horses.

Quick as a flash in his three-year-old fervour,
He picks up the awl to puncture the leather;
Drives it down hard – his gaze intent,
And yelps with a sudden stab of pain:
The tool he’d played with so many times
Had struck him a blow; he was blind in one eye.

A child leaving home – his name is Louis,
His parents have far outdone their duty;
His father the tanner made canes for a change,
Walked round the village and taught him the way:
But to further expand his ten-year-old mind,
A school in Paris – the first of its kind.

Every pupil with aspirations –
All of them blind, they craved education;
The school’s founder, who saw the need,
Had a system in place to teach them to read:
He gave it his name and called it Haüy;
It talked to the fingers in the language of the eye.

Raised print on wet paper, pressed against wire –
Though helped by the books, you’d quickly tire;
What they contained was scant at best,
And how could a blind person write for themselves?
Surely a better system was plausible,
And Louis determined to make it workable.

A youth with a purpose – his name is Louis;
From his own words, we can tell he’s displeased:
“We don’t want to be patronised by condescending sighted people,
We don’t want to be reminded we’re vulnerable”;
He yearned for the blind to be treated equally
And in his mind, communication was the key.

Through the news or in person we can’t be sure,
But Louis learned of an officer
Whose ranks of soldiers, there on the ground,
Could talk to each other without light or sound:
Just dots and dashes indented on paper,
That’s all it took to share information.

From that time on, the idea was sparked;
Now he had something to make a start:
Twelve dots became six, and he worked on the shapes –
Ten different ones, from A to J;
Add an extra dot for the following set,
And another to end the alphabet.

A Catholic by profession – his name is Louis;
I see the Bible there in his story:
All works for good to those who love their God;
The same tool that blinded him was used to make those dots:
In 1824, at just fifteen,
His very first prototype came on the scene.

A Frenchman with a legacy – his name was Louis …
Louis Braille.

Something New from Something Old

Have you ever done something because you thought it was the right thing to do, but soon discovered it wasn’t workable?

I love the Bible, and as a young Christian, I thought the best thing to do with that love of God’s Word was to go to Bible-college. As a blind person, I was relatively slow on the technology front; I hadn’t even graduated to Email or the Internet. There were no eBooks, and no accessible devices enabling blind people to read them. I needed my books in Braille or audio. My Disabled Students Allowance got me a laptop, and a Braille embosser (a large machine that converts text from the PC into Braille) for the college to keep.

The college had never enrolled a student who was visually-impaired, so they misunderstood what Braille was. Braille comprises 6 dots. Different combinations of those dots make up the letters of the alphabet. Brailing a book requires someone to type or scan text into a computer, and send it to the Braille embosser (like you would send a document to a printer). However many times I tried to explain, staff saw Braille as akin to another language. They weren’t happy with non-Christians brailing any part of a textbook, in case something got lost in translation. This meant no one from outside of the college could come in and do the work, so it would fall to staff or students.

While we waited for the Braille embosser, some students spent a couple of hours a week reading textbooks onto cassette. Mum did some reading too, back at home, and sent tapes through the post. In my first lectures, we were told how to write an essay. I would have to cite the page-number for every quotation I wanted to use. There were none on the cassettes which had already been made, and from that point on, whomever read aloud would have to remember to say the number every time they turned the page! I had to listen to everything and couldn’t scan-read as a sighted person would, so the college agreed to a more specific reading-list for each essay, but lecturers would promise said list and never actually come up with the goods. I realise lecturers have their own commitments aside from Bible-college, but that doesn’t help the student. After a couple of months, the logistical nightmare proved too much. It wasn’t just doing the course; it was getting the support I needed in order to do it. Some people are far better at banging the table to get what they want than I am!

More recently, I thought about going to a different Bible-college nearer home and trying again. Because of my previous experience, I had a far better idea of what I needed. The college were very gracious and said it was possible to do the first year of a degree course online, but in order to do the entire degree, I would need access to books that were only available in print. Having that information first time around would have saved a lot of heartache. It’s only thanks to God that I can say I don’t have any regrets.

While I was at that Bible-college far away from home, representatives from the charity CSW came to talk to us about the persecuted church. Their words about North Korea stayed with me. A year later I wrote this song, which ended up on my first album. God never wastes anything. I was a mess; everything seemed to have crumbled, but out of that came such a special song – one that made me think: “I want this to be heard. I want to raise awareness of what these people are going through.” If it wasn’t for “North Korea”, I wouldn’t have made one album, let alone two and one-on-the-way. Aren’t you glad God can take something old and unusable, to bring out of it something new and worthwhile?

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Compassion’s partnership with CardFunder inspired this post. Click here to see how they can use the leftover money from your old gift cards to meet the needs of children in poverty.

When you Have to Give Up

On Sunday, we had a family service – one of those where the talk is shorter, and small children stay in church for the majority of the meeting. My pastor’s wife talked about Nick Vujicic – a man born with a rare genetic disorder that left him without arms and legs, and all the things he’d done with his life. Her message to us was “Never give up” and make use of the gifts and talents you’ve got, because you matter.

She said he had a hard time in childhood and was badly bullied, but his parents kept telling him, “Never give up” and when he was seventeen, he was inspired at his prayer group. In that sentence there, you can see two things he had that some people don’t: A supportive family, and a faith. Apparently he’s learnt to surf, and to drive. He’s graduated from university with a degree in financial planning. Of course I respect him for all this, but I also know of someone who went to university as the first-ever visually-impaired person to do a degree in mathematics. Her school almost stopped her doing the A level. She only managed it because her father agreed to learn mathematical Braille and come into her lessons, at no charge to the school, to give her the support she needed. If you have people who are willing to re-educate themselves and put their own lives on-hold to give you an extremely high level of support, of course you’ll have a higher chance of achieving. I may be wrong, but I don’t think this blind lady I mentioned could finish her degree. How demoralising that must have been to be beaten after all her hard work.

Apparently Nick Vujicic is now married, with two children. It doesn’t take too many brains to work out that in order to marry, the person you have feelings for needs to return those feelings. What I’m really saying is that in my experience, for the sake of your own sanity, there are certain things you have to give up on. Perhaps it’s more challenging sometimes to surrender those things, and yet still find contentment in the life you’ve been given. Nick Vujicic has founded a ministry he’s called “Life Without Limits”, but there are limits. Even in creation, God set a boundary for the waves of the sea (Job 38:11). My message to you reading this blog would be that even if you do reach a point where you have to give up, even if you can’t use your gifts and talents in the ways you’d like to use them, you still matter, and God’s plan for you is good. Don’t look at anyone else, or what they’ve achieved with their resources. Look at yourself; look at God, and make it your aim to be content with the life you’re living in Him.

More Dignity

If it’s true that you should write what you’re passionate about, then I’ll write about this quote someone shared on Facebook. “God designed my disability to make me not independent, but interdependent.” This seems to me just plain wrong.

Can you imagine Jesus Himself visiting someone who’s paralysed from the neck down? They ask why they’ve got their disability and He says: “Aha! Well! You see, it was to make you interdependent. Now you need this person to clean you up when you’ve been to the toilet; to hold a glass of water to your lips; to feed you … I designed it specially so you’d have a need for other people.” What a cruel, horrible thing to say. If that were true, I wouldn’t want anything to do with a God like that; I really wouldn’t.

Happily, I can’t find that callous God anywhere in the Bible. I’ll just use a few examples; I could be here a long time otherwise. First, in Mark 9, a father brings his son to Jesus, saying: “He has an evil spirit in him that stops him from talking” (V17). Jesus’ response? “He ordered the evil spirit, saying, ‘You spirit that makes people unable to hear or speak, I command you to come out of this boy and never enter him again’” (V25). Was it God who made the boy unable to speak? No! It was a spirit that Jesus made sure to cast out of him.

In John 9, Jesus’ disciples wonder why a man was born blind. He tells them: “This man was born blind so that God’s power could be shown in him” (V3). If anyone asked me why I was blind (which no one ever has), that would be my reason: So that God’s power can be shown in me. In the case of the man in John 9, Jesus healed him. I realise that doesn’t always happen this side of heaven, and it hasn’t yet happened to me, but Jesus did teach His disciples to pray to God: “Your kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven”.

I’ve told someone before that I’m not independent; I’m God-dependent, but that’s as true for me as it is for anyone, whether they have what you might call a disability or not. If you believe Paul’s words that “In Him we live and move and have our being”, then you’ll agree that we couldn’t move one limb without God’s help; we wouldn’t even exist.

I don’t think God designed disabilities to force us to rely on others. I believe that in every area of our life, God wants us to acknowledge Him. I know it’s not healthy to completely cut ourselves off from others, but I don’t think doing what we can independently should be frowned upon; I think it should be encouraged. I wrote a post last year about some of the ways I could give as well as receive. Perhaps it seemed to some like I was boasting, but I genuinely wrote it with a grateful heart to God for the things I was able to do. What kind of a country would we be if people constantly relied on others, never making important decisions or learning to do anything for themselves? I’m glad the Britain I live in gives me more dignity than that.

The Blind Pleading the Blind: Organisations

One thing I learnt in the sight loss awareness training that prompted this series is, every blind or partially-sighted person is entitled to an assessment of their care needs. During that assessment, social services will categorise their needs as Critical, Substantial, Moderate or Low. Shockingly, many fall into the Low category, for which no funding is available. Now, I don’t think I’m someone who likes to play the sympathy card, especially when it comes to being assessed. Organisations will advise you to paint the blackest possible picture, but I think it’s really important to be honest about what I can do, so I don’t currently have any help from social services, but I do have a volunteer from a local organisation come to read my post once a week. This is very beneficial, but you do have to be organised, E.G. what if your volunteer’s been on Wednesday, but it’s someone’s birthday on Monday and you’ve forgotten to ask her to write their card? Thankfully I have friends/family nearby and a lovely, small, family-run card shop. They’ve addressed a last-minute card for me before now, but if your local card shop is a chain and staff are constantly busy, they may not be able to do this.

To help someone with sight loss, I’d really recommend seeing what’s available locally. (Non-UK readers, please bear with me for a minute.) You used to be able to look for your local Association for the Blind. They now have more abstract names like Sight Concern or Vision Link, but I’m sure if you contacted your County Council, they’d point you in the right direction. Though RNIB is a very high-profile charity, I really don’t understand why. Admittedly they do have a great selection of products to help with everyday life, but blind and partially-sighted people still have to pay for these. Now they’ve merged with National Library and Action for Blind People, there are the books and holidays as well, but I think local organisations are far better when it comes to meeting your needs as a blind person. There are more benefits to RNIB when you’re a member, E.G. getting books transcribed into Braille free of charge.

What was that about holidays? Yes, there are holidays that cater specifically for visually-impaired people. Action for Blind People run hotels in Devon, Somerset and the Lake District. A friend has been on several of these holidays and loves them, but because I’m wary of dogs, she’s cautioned they wouldn’t be for me. (In hotels like these, a high proportion of the guests will be guide-dog owners.) If you’re a Christian, you might enjoy a Torch holiday, or if you’re more adventurous, Traveleyes take blind and sighted travellers to all sorts of destinations – Cape Town, Canada, Jersey, York … Can you tell this is the one I’m leaning towards? Sighted travellers receive a discount in exchange for guiding a blind person, so blind people have to pay more in order to subsidise their guides. Fair enough, but it is very expensive. One day when I’ve got the money, I’d love to go to Cape Town, or on the holiday they call Rhythms of the Deep South.

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If you’re supporting someone with sight loss, my recommendation would be to get as much advice as you can, from as many different organisations as you can. I hope this series has given you a starting-point to be able to do that.

The Blind Pleading the Blind: Inclusivity

Some have the idea that blind people will always be the recipients, rather than the givers. One thing I appreciate about where I live is how inclusive people are. Using my church as an example, when someone goes into church, the bulletin for that week is on a piece of paper on their chair. However, it’s also offered by Email. The Email is sent a couple of days prior so that when I go into the service, I’m as informed as everyone else. There is a little bit of room for improvement here because if a blind person went in who wasn’t a member, and they didn’t have their Email address, they couldn’t then access the bulletin. Perhaps one of the people on the door could sit with them before the meeting and read it to them.

When the meeting starts, there’s a time of singing, which is fine if you know the songs, but if an unfamiliar song is up on a screen and you can’t see it, you’re stuck. Worship for All helps churches provide material in large print or Braille, but if you’re in a church where it’s very spontaneous, the worship-leader might not know what the next song is themselves until it comes into their head and they start playing it. As a blind person myself, I wouldn’t want to take away from the flow of a service, I.E. “We must have this song next because it’s the one Sarah’s got in Braille.” I’d hate that, so how to get around this problem? I have had people offer to read the words. While I appreciate this, I’ve always felt it takes away from their worship-experience. If you’re reading a line out-loud, then trying to sing it, what time have you got left to focus on God and how He might be speaking to your heart? What I found really helped when I first started going to a church was, they gave me the songs on a computer-disc (we still had floppy discs back then), but churches could also do this by Email. I could learn the songs at my own pace and, as I got to know them, participate in worship the same as everyone else. Having been on the worship-team at church, when we’ve had new songs to learn, my pastor has Emailed us the lyrics beforehand with a YouTube link to the song. Fantastic idea! And if there’s a blind person in your congregation who’s not on the worship-team, you might want to include them in those Emails too.

Sometimes, people will show a DVD/YouTube video during a sermon. Very often, these videos will be music with pictures on the screen to illustrate a point. I appreciate it more than words can say when someone plonks themselves in the chair next to mine and whispers to me what’s going on. It can be hard to hear them sometimes over the music, but it makes me feel like part of a church-family. If a blind person is new to the church, it might be helpful for the preacher to approach them beforehand, say they’re showing a video, and give them some idea what it’s going to be about. If you’ve got a TV in your house, some programmes will be audio-described. Why not put the audio-description on for a programme or two, to get a flavour of the sorts of things blind people might miss out on?

It’s definitely possible, both at church on Sundays and during the week, for me to give as well as receive. Thanks to the speech software on my computer, I can type. With Voiceover and the Kindle app on my phone, I can review books. Thanks to my Braille Bible, I participate at Bible-studies. Thanks to RNIB’s transcription service, I can go into school assemblies with a Braille copy of the story we’re acting out. I think this needs applauding.

The Blind Pleading the Blind: Reading (Part 2)

Nowadays, with the increase in technology, there are so many more options for blind and partially-sighted people. You can purchase speech and magnification software for your PC, and some mobile phones (like Androids or the iPhone) have it built in. I love the Kindle app for my iPhone. There are so many books available and I can read them as soon as they come on the shelves, but websites are also extremely helpful. Did you know supermarket-websites sometimes have cooking instructions on them? With Tesco, if I go to the link for a product (let’s say chicken Tikka Masala), within that link it’ll have the ingredients, nutritional information, how best to store the product and how to cook it. As you can imagine, this is very useful if you live alone and can’t read the packaging. When my shopping’s delivered, if there are 2 ready meals that feel similar, I have an app on the phone called TapTapSee that reads the packets, telling me which one’s which. This also helps with identification of clothes. I don’t have many that feel the same; just a few items, but the app can tell me whether it’s white or grey textile. It doesn’t always get the colours exactly right, but close enough. RNIB sells something called the pen-friend audio-labeller. I haven’t got one, but it sounds wonderful. You record a label and put it on your jar, then when you hold the pen over that label, it reads what you’ve recorded. If you know Mayonnaise lasts 6 weeks from the time you open it, you could record a message saying you opened it on June 10th. Then 5 weeks later when you’re wondering: “When did I open that Mayo? Is it still all right?” you can hold the pen over the label and find out!

Braille books take up significantly more room than print ones, so reading online is a great space-saver. Using the Bible as an example, I have a New International Version (NIV) in Braille. It’s 38 volumes and takes up 2 shelves of a bookcase. Here’s a passage in the NIV:
“In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:11-12).

Now here it is in the New Living Translation:
“Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for He chose us in advance, and He makes everything work out according to His plan. God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God.”

Which did you like best? I liked the second one. It’s far easier for me to understand, but you can’t get that translation in Braille. You can, however, get it on a website called Bible Gateway. This is a fantastic site where you can search for any passage of the Bible in whichever version you choose. You can even search for a phrase or topic. It’s useful to blind and sighted people alike. Years ago, my pastor told me he had 21 Bibles. 21 Braille Bibles would fill my whole house!

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It must be sad for someone losing their site to find they can’t access material the same way, but it’s good that these resources are there if they’re willing to learn and adapt.

The Blind Pleading the Blind: Reading (Part 1)

One of my hobbies is reading. It has been from childhood, so let’s think about reading without your eyesight. Some people can read large print. They might use magnifying glasses, or CCTVs (close circuit televisions) where the page of printed text is placed under a contraption and magnified on its screen, but if you can only see light and dark (like me), large print is no use to you.

I was at primary school in the nineteen eighties when if you couldn’t read print, you learnt Braille. Considering eighty percent of people lose their sight later in life, should they learn Braille or shouldn’t they? If you’ve been a bricklayer or even a guitarist all your working life, you may not have the sensitivity in your fingers to be able to learn it by touch, but many people can – and do. There is an alternative to Braille called Moon, invented in the nineteenth century by the Englishman Dr. William Moon, who lost his vision due to scarlet fever. (I’ve been told Moon is just raised-up print letters, but an H in Moon is nothing like the print letter H!)

Braille was invented by a Frenchman, Louis Braille, which explains why the letter W is out of sequence (there’s no W in the French alphabet). There are 2 types of Braille – grade 1 (where the words are written letter by letter), and grade 2 (where certain letters are joined together – er, ar, ing or ed, for example). If you want to read Braille quickly and proficiently, grade 2 would be your best option, but as RNIB points out, even learning uncontracted Braille opens the door to things like playing cards. I’ve played lots of games with my family; my Braille Scrabble is still a favourite. You can take courses in grades 1 and 2 Braille whether you’re blind or sighted. A sighted person might use it to support someone who’s blind or to proofread Braille books.

If you’re a musician, did you know Braille music is vastly different to the music a sighted person would read? For instance, a C quaver is the Braille letter D. (Why it couldn’t be C, I have no idea!) You add a dot 6 to make it a crotchet, or a dot 3 for a minim. I’d call Braille music incredibly difficult. Also, I read Braille with my left hand. I discovered this when I tried to read with my right and play with my left. I remember how surprised I was that I couldn’t do it!

When I was a child, I joined what was then the National Library for the Blind. They sent a catalogue every so often (when I was smaller, they’d send a print one for my parents) and we’d choose my books. It’s now merged with RNIB and you can find the catalogue of books on their website. You can also find various Christian titles in Braille, large print and audio at Torch Trust.

There’s much more to say about reading. Will you join me for part 2?