As an elementary student, I began losing my vision. What started as a problem seeing the chalkboard ultimately yielded a diagnosis that meant large print and public school, large print and a blind school three hours from home, braille, use of a white cane, then near total blindness, over the course of sixteen years. Each stage of visual decline brought grief. I mourned being just another kid. I mourned taking gymnastics classes. I mourned a certainty that I could do something of meaning in this world.
The retinal deterioration introduced me to depression, anorexia, and, most daunting of all, hopelessness. Every decline made me feel emptier, and while I tried to fill that emptiness with overachieving, I could never win enough to find any real value in myself.
In ninth grade, after proudly making it through an anorexic weekend only eating a half an orange, I found myself in the living room of a pastor to whom my parents delivered me for a day of hard-hitting, straight-talking, faith-driven counsel. That pastor planted a seed: my value was not in “doing” at all. He showed me that each of us has innate value in being a child of God. We can’t do anything to increase that value, like winning or achieving or even seeing. I began to realize that we are each gifted with something no one else has, a combination of who we were created to be and what we’ve experienced in our journeys.
My life is full and rich these days: teaching sighted high school students, meeting with superintendents from all over the nation, chatting with other Teachers of the Year about our shared faith, speaking in front of enormous audiences, advocating for job opportunities for those with vision impairment. I am also reading my Bible on an audio device, following church happenings on Facebook with the help of a screen reader, learning braille piano music to play at Christmas Eve service, and falling deeply into worship through the beautiful songs sung by the praise team. Additionally, I am a substitute for sermon delivery, sharing with congregations I cannot see about what I can see daily in my life: God’s guiding presence. There is something compelling for listeners about words of faith coming from a person whose every step literally requires faith. I am glad to be used by God in that way.
For me, my disability intersects with my faith in that I am grateful, truly grateful, to be blind, for it is through that darkness that I revel in the Light.
You can read more articles on the same theme of disability and spiritual practice in Winter 2017 issue of Breaking Barriers from which this article is taken.