Archive for April, 2018

A Better Government is Coming

I will never forget Tuesday November 8, 2016. I was in the thick of my job anxiety and was burnt out and depressed most days. But that morning, I felt energized because after work, my mom and I were going to vote, and then we were going to come home, put a gluten free pizza in the oven, and watch the election returns on television where Hillary Clinton would crush Donald Trump. I was so certain that this would be the outcome. I did not idolize Hillary Clinton. Things I have heard her say in the past indicate that sometimes she chooses political pandering over sincerity, and she definitely used poor judgement regarding the private e-mail server. But her intelligence far surpassed Donald Trump’s in the debates, and I got the sense that while she is human and has made mistakes, she would have been a steady leader, a leader who truly wanted to serve and do good for the country, unlike Donald Trump, a narcissist who knew nothing about serious foreign and domestic policy who was simply on an ego trip and turned what had always been an honorable, dignified position into a reality circus. I was well aware of Donald Trump’s rabid supporters, but surely when it came time to actually vote, people would stop and think. As one by one, state after state fell to Donald Trump, including shamefully, Wisconsin, my mom felt sick to her stomach and it was a long time before we could eat that kind of pizza again. I was just in shock and disbelief. Maybe this was just a bad dream I was having. Maybe when I woke up Wednesday morning, we would find out the votes had been miscounted and this result was a mistake.

Over Sunday morning breakfast last week as we were watching Meet the Press, which was talking about fired FBI director James Comey’s soon-to-be-released book, and how angry Trump was about the special counsel’s investigation, my parents and I wondered out loud for what seemed like the millionth time what our fellow Americans were thinking when they elected Donald Trump. In this conversation, my dad made an interesting and sobering point, which is that even though we never even considered voting for him, we were all a tiny bit complicit in his success because we were entertained by him. He had a point because although I was horrified by his behavior, there was definitely some train wreck psychology at play because I looked forward to getting home from work to see what stupid thing Trump said today. But like I said, I never considered voting for him, and I felt compelled to make this known to people in our very Republican community, so in May of 2016, I bought a T-shirt on Amazon that said “Stop hate, dump Trump” and although I wasn’t allowed to wear such a shirt to work, I made sure to wear it on Saturdays. The first Saturday I wore it to the Farmers Market, my parents wanted to put some of our purchases in the car before going back to buy more things because it was getting difficult to carry everything. Usually when they do this, they find a spot for me to stand and wait, but that week, they wanted me to go with them. I found out later they didn’t want to leave me by myself with that shirt for fear I would get beat up by a Trump supporter. I was annoyed when I found this out, but their fears weren’t entirely unfounded. Never in my lifetime had I heard a candidate for President of the United States encourage people to punch protestors in the face at his rallies and offer to pay their legal fees, and my parents had never seen this kind of behavior either.

I always watch televised presidential debates, even during the primary season, but most election years, I have a hard time following who stands for what during the primaries because there are just so many voices onstage to keep track of. After the debate, I will sometimes say, “I really liked the candidate that said X,” and Mom or Dad will say “that was Joe Biden” or whoever. In this way, I start to get a little bit of an idea who I like, but I have a much easier time when the field is narrowed down to two or three candidates. But in this last election cycle, while I lost track of the voices of the other sixteen or so Republicans onstage, Trump’s voice was unmistakable. My mom and I noticed right away a striking difference between the Democratic and Republican primary debates this past election. While the Democratic debates definitely got heated sometimes with disagreements between the candidates, the Democratic debates really felt like a civilized debate between grown-ups. By contrast, the Republican debates felt like watching a bad reality show, all because of Donald Trump. When high school and college civics teachers everywhere used to encourage students to watch these debates, I bet they never imagined a debate would degrade to the level of implying things by the size of Trump’s hands, if you know what I mean. Trump never had anything intelligent or substantive to contribute to these debates. His contributions were either personal attacks that one by one, caught the other candidates off guard so that they did not perform well and were voted out, or overly simplistic statements like “we don’t win anymore,” “I alone can fix it,” or “we’re going to bomb the s**t out of Isis.”

But his remarks off the debate stage were even worse. When Trump said that Mexico wasn’t sending us their best and brightest, but was sending rapists, murders, and “a few, I suppose are good people,” I remember thinking It’s over for him. Sure, a few crazy racists will like that kind of talk, but the vast majority of Americans are enlightened and will be so horrified by such a statement that he’s done. When he made that remark on that radio show about Megan Kelley and blood coming out of her… I remember thinking There goes the vote of any self-respecting woman, or any decent man who respects the women in his life for that matter. He cannot win without the support of women and decent men, so he’s done. After the release of the Access Hollywood tapes in October 2016, I thought the same thing. But somehow, despite these shocking remarks, his popularity kept growing, and on Election Day, while he technically did not win the popular vote, enough men and women in key states voted for him that he became our president!

On Wednesday November 9, as Mom and I ate breakfast before work and watched the morning news, all we could think was Evil has won. What is going to become of our country. I was so sad to come home from work that evening and read articles about how latino children were bullied in schools that day, and teachers almost became grief counselors for children whose parents were undocumented who feared their families would be torn apart. And I will never forget watching Saturday Night Live that week, when the actress who played Hillary Clinton on the show opened by singing Leonard Cohen’s Halleluia, and then with a crack in her voice as if she was speaking at a funeral said “I’m not giving up, and neither should you.” It really did feel like the America we knew had died in a sense. Although America has a dark history, and although I knew we were far from perfect in terms of achieving the ideals our founding fathers envisioned, before Donald Trump became president I thought we were becoming more and more enlightened with each passing generation. While I knew that hateful groups like the Kuklux Klan still existed, until Donald Trump emboldened them, they were hidden under their rocks, and the vast majority of society seemed to have moved on from such ridiculous attitudes. But with the election of Donald Trump, I don’t think I was alone in feeling as though our country had taken a major step backwards.

In the fifteen months that Donald Trump has been president, his behavior has not changed and in many ways has gotten worse. My mom and I were talking the other day about how with all of our past presidents, we could trust that they had the best interests of the country, not personal grudges or their ego at the forefront of their minds even if we didn’t always agree with them on some policies, and thus we could just vote and then go about our lives. But with Donald Trump as president, each week brings a new scandal, or a new shocking remark, and we have felt as though we need to stay tuned to the news constantly to keep tabs on him. On Tuesdays and Thursdays when Dad is working—he complains that we watch too much news–Mom and I have gotten in the habit of listening to CNN while we eat lunch, and we also enjoy podcasts like The Daily, released by the New York Times, and Embedded from NPR which has done in-depth investigations on Donald Trump and others in his circle. When Donald Trump is no longer president, we might not know how to fill our time anymore, but that will be a nice problem to have.

But I have not lost hope. In the earthly sense, I have not lost hope because a few Republicans are starting to speak out about Trump’s behavior and are working to remind Americans that this is not normal. I also saw a story a couple days ago where Republicans said that if Donald Trump ran for a second term in 2020, they would not endorse him. They should stop endorsing him now, but saying they won’t endorse him in 2020 is a good start and a sign we may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I also think the 2016 election woke up a lot of people, especially young people, who chose not to vote, so I bet there won’t be the apathy in 2020 that we saw in 2016. But I have also found peace in a higher hope.

The Friday evening after Election day, I went to my Jehovah’s Witness friend’s house for bible study because she had something going on the next day, so we thought rather than missing a week, we would have our bible study on Friday. Months earlier in one of our lessons, I learned that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not vote. They also abstain from patriotic celebrations, military service or political office, and teach their children not to say the pledge of allegiance in school. The idea is that they are campaigning for a higher government, the righteous world-wide government that Christ will establish when He returns, and their campaign would be ineffective if they were loyal to any earthly government because all governments in this current system are influenced by Satan. The Bible teaches that we need to respect laws put in place by the earthly government we live under to maintain order while living in the current system, unless of course those laws conflict with God’s commandments. If Jehovah’s Witnesses are forced to do something that conflicts with God’s commandments like saying the pledge of allegiance which they believe worships country above God, they will go to court and fight these situations, but other than that, they just take what comes as far as things like taxes or healthcare, knowing that a better government is coming. Nondenominational Christians believe this as well, but few put this belief into practice the way Jehovah’s Witnesses do. At this point in my life, I cannot bring myself to take this belief as far as not voting, which I will talk about more in the next post, but that Friday, over dinner before our lesson, this friend, her husband and I had a wonderful conversation about the hope that we can have knowing a better government is coming that has been a tremendous source of peace during these crazy fifteen months. If Christ does not return before 2020, I hope that good will prevail to the extent that is possible in this earthly system, meaning that we can elect leaders who will be far from perfect, but will serve their country rather than their own ego or personal business interests, demonstrate integrity and humility, and seek to unite rather than divide us, so that maybe we can start to heal our country from the wounds left by Donald Trump. But no matter what happens now or in 2020, rather than being discouraged by another scandal, or another story that makes the prospect of positive change seem hopeless, I try to remember that eventually, good WILL prevail.

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Incense Woman

There are several more light-hearted posts (said facetiously) about religion and politics lined up in my head that I look forward to writing, but today I thought I would give you readers a break and write about the wonderfulness of wax melts which I bought with a couple Amazon gift cards I got for Christmas this year and have thoroughly enjoyed this winter.

Sighted people tell me that a fresh coat of paint, or pretty decorations or large windows that let lots of sunshine in really brighten up a room. For me, rooms that smell wonderful make me smile. My favorite work day is Wednesday because on Mondays and Fridays, I work until 4:30, so Mom usually cooks dinner after we get home. But on Wednesdays, I work until 6:00 in the evening, so on Wednesdays, Mom usually puts a casserole in the oven just before leaving to pick me up from work. (This week, she made a new recipe of pork chops, potatoes, cream of mushroom soup, Dijon mustard, vegetables and spices that she put in the Crock-pot. The smell of dinner cooking is wonderful any day of the week, but there is something about walking into a house that already smells wonderful that makes me smile after a long work day. Once a week, usually on Tuesday or Thursday, I make a bean soup in the crock-pot—which I will tell you more about in a future post—and this soup also makes the house smell wonderful and inviting.

Growing up, I also associated smells with people and memories. My vision teacher always wore a certain kind of perfume, so even before she had said a word, I knew when she had walked into the room. I had a couple of English teachers in school whose classrooms always smelled wonderful, so even though I don’t remember much of what I learned in their classes, I smile when I think back on how inviting their classrooms were. By contrast, in middle school, there was a weight room that had a rubber mat on the floor, and maybe because of the rubber smell, mingled with the smell of sweaty hormonal teenagers, that room smelled nasty to me and I hated having to go in there for gym classes.

But I have always wanted to do something to make my bedroom smell better in the winter. In the summer, I have two windows I can open letting in lots of fresh air, but in the winter, my room starts to get a kind of stale, musty smell. It didn’t help that last Spring after a rash of bad headaches that Mom thought could be allergy-induced from the cat sleeping on my bed all day, we decided to keep my bedroom door closed. My mom lights candles in the dining room and kitchen in the winter, but since I am blind, I didn’t think it would be smart for me to have an open flame in my room. Then in the winter of 2016 after a rash of stinky incidents at work–people cooking sardines for lunch and burning popcorn—the company decided to buy a couple wax burners. I loved it, and in fact, even though I was in the thick of anxiety during that time, walking into an office that smelled so cozy and inviting brightened my mood a tiny bit. My favorite wax melt they bought for the wax burner was lily of the valley, but a lot of my co-workers didn’t like it because they thought it was too strong. But one of the receptionists shared my affection for this fragrance, and we had fun quietly conspiring a couple times to sneak it in and enjoy it until someone complained. Our office does not use the wax melts as much anymore because the fragrances bothered a lot of people, and people have become a little more mindful about what they make for lunch. But it occurred to me in 2016 that this would be the perfect solution for my room.

I didn’t get any Amazon gift cards for Christmas in 2016, and a wax burner just seemed like a frivolous expense I wasn’t sure I should incur at the time. But this year since I got Amazon gift cards, I decided to go for it. I couldn’t find lily of the valley, but I did find lilac, another favorite flower of mine. I love taking walks in May and June and smelling the neighbors’ lilac bushes, and there is a restaurant near our house behind which my dad noticed a beautiful lilac bush. So one Friday in the spring of 2016, my dad and I decided to be crazy and drive to this restaurant after dinner, just to loiter behind the restaurant and sniff the lilac bush. I wonder if anyone noticed us, but in any case, no one reprimanded us or called the police. (smile). My boss’s dad is an excellent gardener and last year, he gave her some lilac flowers in a vase which she brought to work, and my desk is right by hers so I was in heaven! If there is an appropriate opportunity in the next couple weeks as we approach May, I look forward to reminding her of this and will tell her to tell her dad he made one employee very happy and he should feel free to continue the trend this year! We tried to grow a lilac bush ourselves but haven’t had good luck. It seems like they either don’t do well after transplanting, or animals eat them. So I was so excited to find a lilac scented wax melt. Unfortunately, the lilac wax melt I bought didn’t smell as nice as real lilacs to me. Maybe that scent is too potent for small spaces like my bedroom, but to me it smelled more like strong soap than lilac. A boy in my young adult bible study group gave me a lilac wax melt from a different company for my birthday and this one did smell closer to lilac, but still is no substitute for the real thing.

Yankee Candle is the company everyone has heard of, but I went with a different company, Hat Creek Candle Company because I saw they were based in Wisconsin and their scents overall seemed to have better customer reviews. I bought one sampler pack of three cubes to see if I would like it, and loved it so much that a few weeks later, I bought three more packs. (The lilac melt I didn’t like as much came from a different company). I have loved all the scents from this company, as they are very strong, but pleasant to me. My absolute favorite scent so far has been the second cube I burned from my first sampler called Log Cabin. I think I loved it so much because it brought back happy memories of going to Granny and Papaw’s house in Indiana. It was an old house built over 100 years ago. My mom was ten years old when her family moved into that house, and her dad (my papaw) who loved do-it-yourself projects renovated it a lot, but it never lost its certain smell that my mom thought came from all the old wood in it. Papaw passed away in January 2008, and after a car accident in November 2016, my Granny was no longer able to live independently and manage this house, so she sold it to my cousin just last month. My cousin is the type who is embarrassed to have people over to her house, so sadly, I may never set foot in this old house again, but maybe I will order more of the Log Cabin cubes to keep the memory of Granny and Papaw’s house alive.

So far, I have enjoyed the Cabin Retreat sampler and the Holiday Classics sampler. Last weekend, I started on the Deep Thoughts sampler, and by the time I get through Mountain Sensations, hopefully I will be able to open my window and experience the fragrance of real nature again. But having these wax cubes burning has made my room more inviting than ever before, and I honestly think these scents have helped to relax me and make me more contemplative because this winter, I have been inspired to write more than I am most winters. To my delight, I have also come to notice that the scents I burn permeate my clothing, so at work when I raise my arm or move just right, I will get a faint whif of whatever scent is burning in my room which makes me smile. My dad has also noticed the scents on my clothes, and has taken to calling me “incense woman” because he will get a delightful wave of fragrance every time I walk by. I laugh though when I think about how my sister would hate me if she lived here because she is very sensitive to fragrance. Fortunately for her, she is not coming home until summer, by which time I will hopefully be able to have my windows open, so I will no longer be using these wax cubes. But if she comes home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, we may have some conflict. (smile)

In January, my parents, Grandma and I went to the Fireside Theater, an old-fashion dinner theater about an hour from our house and saw Phantom of the Opera. I was at first disappointed because it wasn’t the famous Andrew Lloyd Webber version I was expecting, but the original version, so I couldn’t sing along, but this disappointment quickly faded as it was an excellent show. But there was time after dinner before the show to peruse the gift shop, and this is where my dad found a wood wick patchouli candle. I had never heard of this scent, but my parents were excited because this scent reminded them of the hippy days in the college dorm. I think there is a little hippy in me too because I love music from that era, and natural healthy food. I came to love this scent as well when my mom burned it in the dining room. So I was thrilled to find this scent included in the Deep Thoughts sampler pack. Speaking of which, I have been burning the eucalyptus cube from the Deep Thoughts pack for a few days now and it is starting to lose its scent. So I think it is time to put in the patchouli cube right now. It is going to start smelling groovy around here!

Practical Implications of the Restoration: Part 2

This past Thanksgiving, my sister and her husband offered to host Thanksgiving because they live in the heart of New York City and ever since I was in a choir that was invited to sing at Carnegie Hall in 2005, my parents and I had wanted to experience the Thanksgiving festivities in New York City because the choir came home the day before Thanksgiving. Overall, I had a wonderful time despite how much I have come to hate traveling, especially since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2012. There are tuns of restaurants that offer gluten-free options in New York City. Even so, I always breathe a sigh of relief when we get home from any trip, even New York City, without me getting sick, as Celiac Disease has made me paranoid about the possibility of cross-contamination, or of a mistake or misunderstanding in which something I thought was gluten-free wasn’t. I also just hate being out of my routine and having to depend on others. But I didn’t want to be home alone on Thanksgiving, and I really did want to experience the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that I watch on television every year live, so I sucked it up and went along on the trip.

Like I said, overall I had a wonderful time. The highlight of the trip for me was seeing A Bronx Tale on Broadway. For those of you unfamiliar with this story which was originally a movie, it is a coming-of-age story of an Italian boy living in the Bronx who is enamored by Sonny, the leader of the mob, and this causes conflict with his parents, especially his father who is trying to teach him the value of honesty and hard work. He also falls in love with a girl at school who is black and lives in a different neighborhood. due to racial tension, it was perilous for them to be seen together. The music is similar to Jersey Boys because it is from the same era and general region of the country, and the plot reminded me of West Side Story. I would highly recommend seeing it if you make it to New York City while it is still playing. At the end of the show, the real-life person the story is based on made a surprise appearance, and then as we were leaving the theater, my dad got me in line for a picture with the actor who played the main character. All of our meals were wonderful, especially Thanksgiving dinner which my sister and her husband cooked themselves in their apartment, and the leftovers that followed. My sister also arranged two “touch tours”, one at the Museum of Natural History, and the other at the Metropolitan Museum of art. Both tour guides were wonderful and I had the opportunity to touch things that the general public is not typically allowed to touch which made the museum experience far more enjoyable than it usually is for me. I could never live in New York City as my blood pressure felt elevated there because it is just so noisy, and the impatience of drivers there is incredible. I heard more angry horn blasts in the four days I was in New York City than I would hear in a full year in the quiet suburb where I live. But it is a neat place to visit. Especially in Manhatan, it almost feels more like you are walking through a state fair than down a city sidewalk as there were so many people selling things along the sidewalk, and so many wonderful food smells. On Thanksgiving day, there were even people selling turkey dinners that people could pick up and take back to their apartments.

But the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade wasn’t the exciting experience I had been hoping for. I had known for a long time that the television broadcast comes from Herald Square, and Herald Square is the only location from which the singers and broadway casts perform. To see the parade live from Herald Square, you have to have tickets, and you have to have special connections to get these tickets, so I knew from the outset that I wouldn’t be seeing the full-scale performances like I hear on television. My sister entered my name into a lottery for special seating for disabled people on the parade route, but I did not win this lottery. But a relative of my sister’s husband invited us to watch the parade from a law office where she worked right on the parade route. We graciously accepted this invitation and I was excited because we would stay warm and not have to fight the crowds for a spot, and I thought I would be able to hear the noise on the street and thus experience the ambiance of the parade through the window. But what I had forgotten to consider was that buildings in New York City aren’t like the law firm where I work, a small single-story building where you definitely would be able to hear parade noise through the window. In New York, people work in sky-scrapers, and from the high up floor where this person worked, I couldn’t hear a thing from outside. There was a television so I was just going to pretend I was in my livingroom at home and just listen to it on television, but the volume was set really low, and the television was broken so the volume couldn’t be turned up. This relative also brought bagels for everyone, and under normal circumstances, I have come to have no problem with people outside my immediate family eating wonderful-smelling gluten stuff in front of me, but on that day, this rubbed salt in my wounds. While everyone else was having a grand old time admiring the balloons which Mom said are much larger and more spectacular than what they look like on television, and enjoying bagels, I was getting absolutely nothing. Why didn’t I just stay back at the hotel, or better yet, stay home? When my mom saw me sitting alone at a table pouting, she came up to me and whispered, “you need to just try and put on a happy face. These people were extremely generous to invite us and we need to be gracious.” I understood where she was coming from, and I agreed that it was generous of them to include us, but I just couldn’t muster up a happy face. Experiencing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I felt like I was so close, but so far from it. I begged and pleaded with Mom to take me outside, but she didn’t want to impose on these relatives and was afraid that once we went outside, we wouldn’t be allowed back in. But about halfway through the parade, I think everyone sensed I wasn’t going to be able to hang on much longer before bursting into tears, so my mom, the parents of my sister’s husband and I went outside and found a spot on the sidewalk outside the building. After that, my mood improved dramatically as I got to experience the joyful ambiance of the crowd, and shortly after we got outside, a float came by with a choir singing a Christmas carol. My mom said the choir was comprised of Macy’s employees, and they were arranged in the shape of a Christmas tree. We stayed outside for the remainder of the parade. I didn’t have the opportunity to see the relative that invited us to her law firm again, but I apologized for my behavior to the parents of my sister’s husband. They were extremely kind to me and understood where I was coming from, but if this relative happens to find this blog, I just want to say again that I am very sorry for my childish behavior that day.

What does this trip have to do with the Restoration, you may be asking? Well, this parade experience came back to mind when John Eldredge talked about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he had been dreaming about for years that ended up being a big disappointment, and even though he fully believed in the Restoration, human nature took hold on that trip and he was feeling pouty just like I was. In a culture where most people either aren’t aware that this life isn’t all there is, or don’t believe in the Restoration, arguing that this is just one interpretation of the Bible, or that the Bible isn’t true at all, it is all too easy for even believers to slip up and place their hopes in earthly things like the chance to see a spectacular parade live, so when the experience doesn’t live up to what we had expected, we are devastated. Eldredge sites bible verses that show we were never meant to place such hope and expectation in Earthly things because in this fallen world, these earthly things will often let us down. Our hope and expectation was meant to be focused on the Restoration. Now that I have read this book and thought about the Restoration in an even deeper way than I had with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I wish I could turn back time and see if I could have put on a happy face during that parade experience, not because I was necessarily enjoying the moment, but because I recognize that this is just a silly earthly parade I was never supposed to place such hope and expectation on. I may be bored now, but someday when all is restored, I will get to fully experience things like parades, and they may be even grander than the Macy’s parade. When I was in high school, a family friend came over to our house to watch the Tournament of Roses parade with us on New Year’s Day. A couple weeks later, she invited me to her house because she wanted me to understand what a float was. She had gone to Goodwill and bought odds and ends, including a toy that had moving parts and made music, and we designed our own float. That was one of the most fun Saturday afternoons ever! Sadly due to health issues, this neighbor is no longer able to do things like this, but at the Restoration when her health is restored and my sight is restored, we could be a dream team, designing a real, awesome float for a real parade!

Unfortunately, I cannot turn back time, but I am going to make a stronger effort to remember the Restoration when faced with situations where I find it very difficult to be a good sport. If I have to go to a museum that doesn’t offer touch tours, I hope I can close my eyes, smile and remember that one day, I will be seeing wonders even greater than what they are seeing behind that glass. I am fully in acceptance of my Celiac Disease at work when someone is always ordering pizza or bringing doughnuts or cupcakes, but I should admit I still feel left out and sad when family members buy a loaf of bread or a gluten dessert and rave about how wonderful it is in front of me. But I hope in the future when this happens, I can smile and remember that one day, I will be able to enjoy such wonderful bread and desserts with them again, and they may taste even better then than now because with sin removed from the world, they won’t be baked with genetically modified ingredients that research has shown to be a culprit of the rise in conditions like Celiac Disease, but with real ingredients as God intended. I recognize that adopting this attitude in the heat of a disappointing event may be easier said than done, and if even John Eldredge who has believed in the Restoration for years relapses into earthly thinking, I am sure I will to. But I am going to make an effort to practice this new way of thinking, and I will definitely keep you updated on how it goes in practice.

I hope nobody reading this entry thinks I am a whiner regarding my current life. I am so blessed. I have a family that loves me, live a comfortable affluent life and have a job that I am at peace with even if it is not my calling. But the bible said in this world, we will have trouble, and we will face disappointment because while God gives us moments of joy and while there is beauty and goodness in this world now, we will never be, and were never meant to be fully happy and fulfilled in this life. But fortunately, this life is not all there is. So no matter what your life circumstance now, try not to succumb to discouragement or hopelessness, but close your eyes and think of the Restoration. If we all did this, maybe we would all find it easier to muster up a happy face, which just might make the world a better place even now.

Practical Implications of the Restoration for Life Now: Part 1

One Tuesday morning, in the bible study I go to with my mom, the subject of Christ’s return came up and I had an opportunity to share how I was intrigued by how Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize the return of Christ and the new system way more than mainstream Christian churches do. The leader, a karismatic person I really like made a compelling argument for not focusing too much on the Restoration. She quoted a professor from one of her seminary school classes who said “you don’t want to be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good, or so earthly minded you are no heavenly good.” This is true, and to be honest, I noticed that Jehovah’s Witnesses did not encourage as much earthly good as Elmbrook Church does. Jehovah’s Witnesses will go overseas and minister to people after natural disasters, and like Elmbrook, they have elders that visit a member of their congregation who is sick in the hospital, but they don’t get involved in the community on a day-to-day basis with programs like James Place that assist immigrants, tutor children from low-income neighborhoods or help people with drug addiction or homelessness get back on their feet. Spreading the gospel is important, but so is practical assistance to the poor as Jesus talks about in Matthew chapter 25 when he unequivocally indicates that we will be judged on whether we gave the hungry food, or the thirsty something to drink. Matthew 24:36 also indicates Christ will come at an hour when it is least expected, implying that in the meantime, we should go about our lives thinking about the coming kingdom certainly, but not forgetting that to be granted life in this new kingdom, we must first do our part and do some earthly good. With that being said, what follows are some thoughts I have about how I can strike the right balance of being heavenly minded and doing earthly good in my own life.

I could start by having a more compassionate heart when filing Social Security disability appeals with clients at work. Even though this job is not my calling as I mentioned in the previous post, it constantly provides opportunities to show compassion and provide comfort to people who are poor because they can no longer work, and sick with physical and mental illnesses. Unfortunately, I don’t always take full advantage of these opportunities. I am always polite and professional, but my heart isn’t always in it. When a client cannot remember something like what medications they take, I am guilty of hitting the mute button so I can let out an exasperated sigh instead of showing compassion and remembering that these people often do not have the advantages of education, affluence and family support that I was blessed to have, advantages which make everything easier, even seemingly basic things like knowing the names of your medication. Sometimes while clients are pouring their hearts out to me, my mind just wanders to things like what’s for dinner after work or something fun I plan to do tomorrow. I have heard it is natural for people in professions that handle people in sad circumstances to become numb to them, and when I first started the job and these situations were new to me, my heart was more compassionate. But I want to find my compassionate heart again, truly listen to them and show genuine compassion. I wish I could tell clients about the Restoration, but I don’t think this is allowed and even if it was, I want to be respectful of the fact that many people are uncomfortable talking about religious matters with strangers. I know this because even I get uncomfortable when on a few occasions, really passionate strangers have asked me personal questions about religious matters. Of course, Jesus said his followers would face opposition and sometimes evangelizing requires being uncomfortable, but at this point in my life at least, I still think there is a time and a place to talk about such things. It is acceptable when hanging out with a family member or friend who is not a believer, but maybe not appropriate when doing appeals with clients, many of whom are already anxious and nervous enough without bringing up controversial subjects like religion or politics. Maybe an approach I could start taking is when clients share their struggles with me, I could say a cryptic “I’m so sorry about what you are going through, but I believe things will get better.” Then after the call, I could say a quick silent prayer that someone in their social circles that they are comfortable with will reach them and tell them of the Restoration.

Elmbrook Church is very committed to both local and global mission work, which is about spreading the gospel while at the same time offering practical assistance. The church sponsors people who go overseas to remote areas of Asia and Africa, and once a year, some of these field workers come home to share their experiences at an annual event called Harvest Fest. While I am amazed and inspired by these stories, given my disabilities and medical issues, I sensed God telling me that going overseas to do mission work would not be a smart move. There is a great deal of need at the local level as well, but I haven’t figured out where I fit in in terms of volunteering. This wasn’t a service project, but I still remember how when I was in eighth grade and singing in the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, the director organized a pizza fundraiser to raise money for our upcoming trip to Italy. One Sunday afternoon, we came together to make and package the pizzas for the fundraiser, but given the visual nature of the project, by which I mean sanitation requirements which didn’t allow me to use my hands, and just because the room was so crowded and chaotic, I felt like I was just in the way. When I was a junior in high school preparing for Catholic confirmation, my Sunday School class went to a homeless shelter downtown and served a meal. They found a job for me handing people folded napkins with plastic silverware inside. (I have nothing against this task, but I just hope that this place always has someone hand people their silverware, and that it wasn’t a situation where people usually pick up the silverware themselves as they move through the line, but someone talked to someone and they “made a job” for me.) There was no tactful way to ask, but in any case, it was an eye-opening experience, especially when numerous people would say to me, “God bless you,” when I should have been saying that to them as being blind is way less difficult than being homeless. But even with this job, I was glad my dad came along to help me because people would come up quickly and quietly and without him, I might not have realized when there was a line of people forming in front of me waiting for silverware. For a long-term service commitment, I would want a project where I could just be dropped off and would be able to serve independently. I have thought about tutoring, but don’t know how to handle rambunctious kids, and could potentially make their academic challenges worse if I had to tutor them in Math. I would love to assist immigrants but don’t know a second language and would have a very difficult time with nonverbal communication. But I have sensed that what I can do right now is donate money to these causes to help those who have the natural talent and ability for these ministries to thrive. In fact, there was a sermon about this a couple months ago in which the pastor refered to the field workers called to minister to people, especially those that go overseas, as “the feet of Jesus” but recognized that most of us cannot make this kind of sacrifice. But financial support for these ministries is just as important, and by donating to these ministries, we are “the hands of Jesus.”

In January 2016, I set up an account on the church web site for automated weekly giving, and decided to donate $30 each week, $15 for the church’s home fund, and $15 to support the church’s local and global mission work. I apologize if anyone reads this and thinks I am being boastful as this is not my intention. No donation given with a generous heart is too small, and I recognize that many people are unable to donate this much due to other financial responsibilities. When I set up this account, I was working full-time and this amount was just about 10 percent of my income. Both the old testament and new testament refer to this figure as the amount that should be given back to God. Now that I am working part-time, this is a little more than 10 percent of my income, but I have decided that for now, I don’t feel compelled to decrease my donation. After all, I am blessed to be able to live with my parents so I don’t have the financial responsibilities I would have had living on my own, so why not donate more to the church and its mission work. If I didn’t donate, I would feel as though I was just hoarding money,. I am still careful about what I spend and am saving in case circumstances change or my parents are no longer able to support me for some reason. But the more I ponder how I can do earthly good, the more content I am with donating at this level, and maybe at the Restoration, I will meet people whose lives I indirectly changed for the better, even if I never find a way to be the “feet of Jesus” now.

Finally, I could do more earthly good by embracing my blindness and using this unique perspective to help others. I used to think that blind people who worked for an organization for the blind, or deaf/quadriplegic/autistic people working for their respective causes were selling themselves short. I used to think people with disabilities should break free of this status and prove to the world that they are more than their disability. But with maturity, I realize this thinking was silly. While people shouldn’t feel defined by their disabilities, to shun opportunities to advocate for or mentor other people with your disability is to ignore a unique purpose God may have for you. I started to appreciate this in college when I was invited to speak on several occasions about blindness by a professor who taught a class on diversity in business. I always embraced and enjoyed these opportunities but at first thought I was letting my blindness define me. As I matured, I realized that this wasn’t the intention at all. I was simply invited because it would be pretty dumb to have some sighted teacher or social worker speak to the class on theoretical terms about how blind people can be happy, well-adjusted contributors to society when there is a blind student on campus who can speak about this topic first-hand. I have not been invited back to speak to this class since the year after college graduation. Possibly, the professor lost touch with me after so many years, or maybe there is another blind student on campus now who has taken over this role which is fine. (I have been toying with the idea of looking up this professor in Carroll University’s faculty directory and sending him an e-mail to see how he is doing and if this class is still offered). But if this professor, or anyone, wants me to speak about blindness to a class, I am happy to do it.

I also think people with disabilities can be valuable mentors to each other. While I have written in the past about feeling judged sometimes by other blind people, I have also been encouraged by other blind people, especially when I was a volunteer at ABLE in 2013. But since starting my job in 2015, I have pretty much been isolated from the blind community, and it has occurred to me recently that maybe this is the community I should be doing more to serve. When I was volunteering at ABLE, I heard about a braille mentoring program similar to Big Brothers Big Sisters except that the “Littles” are blind children and the “Bigs” are blind adults who spend time each week with them in their home or school helping them practice reading braille, or just talking to them and being a positive role model. I know I said earlier that I am not good with kids, and while I was a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters in college, I don’t know what I would have done without the assistance of the volunteer coordinator. But maybe I would do better with blind children. I don’t know what the statistic is now, but back in 2009, only 10 percent of legally blind children were being taught braille, and I recently read an article that featured students who found braille cumbersome and preferred computers and audio books. But listening to something being read is no substitute for “seeing” the words for yourself. I would even go so far as to say that blind people who aren’t taught braille are illiterate. I have seen writing from blind people who didn’t learn braille or never got proficient with it, and the spelling and grammar was atrocious which I am sure has stifled their potential. I know that hard-copy braille materials take up a ridiculous amount of shelf space, and for now at least, technology like refreshable braille displays are incredibly expensive, but innovators in the field are working on making this technology more affordable, and given the incredible advancements in technology for the blind that I have witnessed already in my relatively short life-time, I know a more affordable braille display is achievable, so we should be encouraging these innovators and continuing to give blind children the priceless gift of true literacy which I was blessed to have. As you can see, I have a lot of passion for this topic, so although braille literacy isn’t on my church’s radar as an area in need of mission workers, this is where I am starting to hear that small voice telling me this is where I should serve. Blind children may not necessarily be poor, but in this age of school budget cuts, there is a danger they could become marginalized, in that the district may not have the funding to give them the one-on-one instruction and support they need to become proficient with braille.

I was actually toying with this idea in the fall, but decided after the anxiety of working full-time, and an unusually difficult summer after my mom had shoulder surgery, I felt I needed a year of rest and restoration where I didn’t bite off too much so that I could reflect on what really mattered to me. But after reading John Eldredge’s book and thinking about the restoration, my enthusiasm about this opportunity has been renewed. I plan to contact the director of ABLE who also coordinates the braille mentor program over the summer so that hopefully I could be matched with a blind student in the fall. I will need a lot of prayer that I can handle things if the child I am matched with is rambunctious or does not like braille, and that I can bite my tongue if judged by other teachers or blind adults again. But I am uniquely qualified to serve in this way because I remember when I was a little kid mixing up my braille letters and loosing my place on the braille page, so I would understand their struggles better than their teacher or even their parents. Therefore, I think the rewarding opportunity to share my blessings with someone else, to motivate one child to stay the course and practice reading braille so that he or she can live up to his/her fullest Pre-Restoration potential, will overshadow any difficulties that may come my way.

This post is getting long, so I will end it here, but in the next post, I will share some additional thoughts I have had regarding how I could live more purposefully on a personal level until the Restoration.

Dreaming of the Restoration

I am about to embark on what will likely be the most important blog post I ever write. Unlike most of my blog posts which have no higher purpose other than to unravel my thoughts about my own life, I sense that this post could change other people’s lives. And after this blog post, when I go back to rambling about my life, I get the sense that I will be referring back to this post a lot. While most other blog posts were written because I wanted to share them, I felt a strange stirring inside, a sense that I NEEDED to write this blog post. If I neglected to write it, I would be brushing off an order from God. So my prayer is that God will give me the right words to do justice to the incredible insights I have received lately, and that this joy will be contagious and transform other lives.

In June 2015, Dad, Gilbert and I were taking an evening walk when a neighbor who is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses was out walking her dog too. I don’t think I had met this neighbor before this, but we hit it off and became fast friends. She was curious and amazed about how I managed life as a blind person, and asked if she could come over to my house a few days later to chat more, and if I was interested in a bible study. I said yes to this, and was excited about the prospect of learning more about this faith. Even as a small child, something intrigued me about Jehovah’s Witnesses. Maybe it was the genuine compassion and interest they showed in me when I ran to the door out of curiosity, or maybe I was enamored by their passion and dedication to their cause. There must be something special about a religion that inspires people to go door-to-door talking to strangers about it. When I was older and had picked up a few more tidbits about this religion, including the fact that they didn’t celebrate birthdays or holidays like Christmas, I would find myself feeling disheartened when my parents, and one time my grandma would beat me to the door and be very polite and courteous to them, while also making it very clear they were not interested in learning about the faith. I wanted to be more open-minded.

Almost every Saturday for the next two years, this neighbor and another witness would come to my house and we slowly studied the organization’s introductory book “What Does the Bible Really Teach?” I also went to several Tuesday night bible studies at their kingdom hall, and even attended the memorial for the death of Christ in 2016, which is their version of Good Friday, except that they observe it on the first full moon of spring, no matter what day of the week it is. I did not end up converting because there were some theological things I didn’t agree with, which I will talk about in a future post. But one chapter of the book filled me with a deep sense of joy and anticipation that I had never experienced before. This chapter taught that when we die, we will not go to heaven. Instead, we will just be asleep in a sense, but when Christ returns, everyone all through human history will be resurrected and those who follow Him will live forever on a paradise earth, free of all the sin, sickness, trouble and even disabilities that plague this current system. Elmbrook Church is a bible-believing church of course, and they do believe that Christ would return and this troubled world would not be that way forever, but Elmbrook church, like most mainstream Christian churches, focuses on how to live a Christ-centered life in the here and now. When eternity is discussed, it is usually discussed in an abstract, churchy way. To be shown verses I had never paid attention to which showed we would not be spending eternity in some abstract heaven in the sky, but here on a beautifully restored Earth free of sin and trouble was exhilarating.

Years ago I heard an old country song by Red Foley called “Peace in the Valley.” The second verse says, “The bear will be gentle, and the wolf will be tame. And the lion shall lay down by the lamb. And the beast from the wild will be led by a child, and I’ll be changed from this creature that I am.” I always felt compelled to stop what I was doing and drink in this song when it came on the radio, and it was one of the first songs I looked for to download on iTunes when I got an iPad for Christmas in 2011. It turned out that I think God had been trying to speak to me for years through this song because one Saturday in our bible study, I gasped as I realized that the words to this beautiful song were lifted right from Isaiah 11-6:9. I was absolutely giddy, and the witnesses agreed that God had been speaking to me. I played the song for them, and they enjoyed it to. When our bible study for that day had ended and the witnesses left, my parents and I decided to go out for lunch at Chipotle. I don’t usually share what we talked about in bible study because while my parents are open to me being open-minded and studying with them, they were not interested in learning about this faith themselves and I tried to respect that. So when they would ask how bible study was, I would just reply with a cursory, “it was good” or “it was interesting.” But that Saturday, I was so giddy I couldn’t resist launching into an excited tangent in the car on the way to Chipotle about the life to come on a paradise earth. But before I could finish, Dad shut the conversation down with a firm “that’s just one interpretation.” Maybe he was right. I was allowing myself to get a one-sided interpretation of the bible, skipping the critical analysis recommended by all my college professors. But oh how the child in me wanted this interpretation to be true. At the time I was in the thick of my anxiety and feelings of hopelessness, working full-time in a job I had no idea how to do, and this bible study infused me with new hope and joy that I desperately needed at the time. So I decided that I was going to have the heart of a child, something Jesus encourages, and quietly embrace this interpretation. With this decision made, I began to let my imagination go wild and think about what I was most looking forward to on a paradise earth. This decision spawned many amazing and thrilling conversations with the witnesses on Saturdays, but I was careful to keep these thoughts to myself around everyone else. One Tuesday when I went to a kingdom hall bible study last summer, everyone was encouraged to do what I had been doing, and again I came home giddy. My dad noticed this giddiness when I walked in, but I didn’t tell him why this time. I was not going to let myself be deflated again.

In August 2017, I stopped studying with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and had what was for me a very difficult conversation about how I didn’t agree with everything Jehovah’s Witnesses believed, and didn’t want to leave Elmbrook because God has spoken to me there to. But we are still friends, and I still think about the coming paradise earth a lot. Since I love music and sing in choir, I noticed that other songs, especially country songs, would trigger thoughts about the paradise earth. For example, one day, my parents and I were watching a movie and during the closing credits, they played Gene Autry’s rendition of “Don’t Fence me in.” “oh give me land lots of land under starry skies above. Don’t fence me in. Let me ride through the wide open country that I love. Don’t fence me in.” Hearing that it occurred to me that in this current system I sometimes feel fenced in by my blindness. It is not safe for me to leave the house without a dog, cane or person, and even with these things, I don’t feel totally free. In unfamiliar settings, a sighted person is in the driver’s seat, directing me where to go, even when I am using a cane or dog. But through this song it was as if God was telling me that in the new system, I will not be fenced in. With sight restored, I could run out the door all by myself and just wander wide open woodlands, going wherever the spirit leads me. And maybe I could even find a horse to ride to the top of a hill where I could appreciate for the first time what sighted people mean when they talk about having a stunning view.

Then one Sunday this past February, I was in a weekly apologetics class offered at Elmbrook when the instructor recommended that everyone, especially millennials read this piece. This article was very thought-provoking for me, someone who is a millennial, and I will talk more about it in a future post. But after reading the piece, I was just exploring the rest of the website as I sometimes like to do, and found out that the author of that piece had also written some books, one of which caught my attention. The book was called All Things New: Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love. This sounded like it could be a book about the new system, the paradise earth! To my delight, it was available on Bookshare, so I downloaded it, and indeed, it was about the new system to come! John Eldredge called it the Restoration. To hear a mainstream Christian thought leader, embrace and write a whole book on the new system, a topic that I have never really heard pastors talk about, was refreshing and thrilling, because I felt like I now had renewed permission to think about and hope for this new system. Eldredge points out in this book that ever since we lost the garden of Eden, we are “like cut flowers.” We appear to be fine, but deep down, we ache for something, and we cannot place what it is. We find fleeting happiness in a new car, or the next adventure or dinner out, but this happiness doesn’t last. When I read this, I think I gasped to myself as a post I wrote back in 2013 came back to me. As a child, I would have these bizarre obsessions about nontraditional people like dogsled racers and pioneers who live off the land. I couldn’t understand why these things fascinated me so much as I wasn’t by any means an outdoorsy person who liked rugged living, unless I just admired them because they bucked the status quo and did something different rather than just being good little soldiers and settling for boring office jobs that didn’t fulfill them. While I didn’t actually want to live like a pioneer or race sled dogs across the wilderness of Alaska, I longed to figure out what a counter-cultural life would look like for me. I wasn’t aware of the Restoration back in third grade, but even then, that was what I was looking for. Eldredge also says in a later chapter, “most humans are profoundly thwarted in their calling here because of wounding, assault, envy, or circumstances that would never let them fly.” Due to a severe recession that was in full swing when I graduated from college, combined with a changing journalism field that was doing more with less and thus no longer felt welcoming to me, I have indeed felt thwarted in my calling by circumstances that would not let me fly. Because of this reality, Eldredge says that for most humans, their jobs range from disappointing to oppressive. While I am blessed to have a job that is not oppressive, it would be a lie to say I haven’t felt disappointed, even now with my part-time schedule. I am content enough in my job. All aspects of the job are accessible for me, and the people I work with are wonderful, but it is definitely not my “calling.” I often ache for, feel as though I was made for, something more. In the thick of my anxiety working full-time, I remember grasping at straws after work. I looked at writing classes, graduate schools in public policy, a class I did well in and enjoyed in college, and even whether it would be feasible to start a food truck selling healthy soups or salads. But the writing classes and graduate schools didn’t stir me with enough passion to go through with the rigors of applying for and paying for these programs, and my parents said (rightly) that a food truck would not be feasible with my disabilities. At that time, this lack of clarity, this feeling that my dreams were constantly being thwarted filled me with a sense of hopelessness. Now I realize I was longing for the restoration, when we will all be unencumbered and able to reach our fullest potential.

This post is getting long, so I will discuss practical implications for how these insights could shape my life in the here and now in the next post. But I want to close this post with an exercise Eldredge recommends everyone do, and which I had already been doing with the witnesses. I am going to share the first three things I would love to do at the Restoration. Thinking about the Restoration in this personal, practical way makes this hope more tangible, and as I will elaborate more on in the next post, this tangible hope will make this current life seem less hopeless, even if our circumstances don’t change. I would love to hear about your own dreams in the comments as well.

First, I would love to take a walk with Jesus, the way my dad and I enjoy taking walks on summer nights in this world. Jesus and I are similar in personality in that we both like quiet and solitude, so we may spend long periods just walking in silence, just enjoying the breeze on our faces and the sounds of birds, but we would also have deep conversations about why events in my life unfolded the way they did, what I could have done differently, or when He was intervening and I didn’t even notice. Then, I would love to strike out on the most epic vacation ever, one where I am in the driver’s seat. It would include running or riding on horseback through wide open country, as well as going to Africa to see and even pet lions or elephants which I have heard described as magnificent, but right now I can only listen to someone reading a plaquerd about these animals at the zoo because I cannot see and they are too dangerous to touch. The trip would also include sitting around a fire or table with people freely enjoying bread again because Celiac Disease will be no more. Finally, I would love to be a singer in a huge choir of thousands, maybe even millions of voices, many of whom would be people who would love to sing now but are too busy with the troubles and demands of this world to have time for choir. This choir would not struggle to raise money to stay afloat like so may choirs in this world, and since everyone would be free of health issues and the stresses of unfulfilling day jobs, they would come to rehearsal and not be exhausted or pre-occupied, and thus would sing with a more genuine joy.

I am sure more thoughts will come to mind, and I look forward to sharing them as they take shape in future posts. And as I said, I will discuss practical implications for what these thoughts mean for the here and now in my next post. But in the meantime, if you are feeling discouraged, thwarted in pursuing your dreams, hopeless, or just longing for something more, rather than succumbing to hopelessness, or grasping at straws like I have done, or looking for escape in a silly television show or the next dinner out, I urge you to start dreaming instead of the Restoration.