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The Beginning of My Passion for Singing

This past Saturday, I sang in my final choir concert of the season. It was a wonderful concert with a diverse set of music that included a couple songs in latin, German and French, but the theme of the concert was Girls Night Out because all of the songs were written by female composers. After this concert, it occurred to me that while I have briefly mentioned my love of singing in posts about other topics, considering how passionate I am about this art form, I have not given it the attention it deserves on this blog. So for this post, I want to share how my passion for singing began, and then in the next post, I will talk about the joys and challenges of choir as I got older.

My mom told me that before I could even talk, I was singing. She recalls listening to a Christmas album when I was about a year and a half, and she noticed that when the singer sang “Walkin’ in a winter wonderland,” I was “singing” too. “Webah wabah webah wabah woo!” I sang emphatically. I didn’t understand the words yet, but I knew the melody. That was just the beginning of what would become a lifelong passion. Right from kindergarten, music class was my favorite class. My first concert of sorts was a kindergarten Christmas program. The theme was “Christmas in the Forest.” Unfortunately I don’t remember much about the concert itself because I feel like I was coming down with a bad cold that day. But I remember we were all asked to bring teddie bears that we held for one of the songs, and the rehearsals leading up to the concert were an absolute blast! The one song that has stuck in my memory from that concert that I still laugh about today was “we fish you a hairy chris-moose and a hippo new year.” One of my many favorite Christmas songs today is a song from the country music band Alabama called Thistlehair the Christmas Bear because it reminds me of those kindergarten Christmas songs from a time of magic and innocence.

Outside of music class, I was singing all the time: on the bus to and from school, walking down the hall at school, and around the house. But at that time, my dream was to sing in the school chorus. Unfortunately, while band and orchestra were open to third, fourth and fifth graders, the chorus was only open to fifth graders. That was when I first realized the truth of that adage that life is not fair! Twice a year, once just before Christmas, and again toward the end of May, the whole school would assemble in the gym for a concert. I remember sitting in the bleachers thinking how loud and obnoxious the band pieces were, and during the orchestra pieces, I would get bored and the teacher’s aid who worked with me would have to reprimand me for fidgeting. Since then, I have come to appreciate the fun nature of band pieces, and the beauty of orchestral pieces. But when the chorus came onstage, I was thrilled and mesmerized. To hear so many kids singing and sometimes clapping in unison sounded like heaven on earth, and I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to join this party onstage. Fifth grade seemed like an eternity away, but at last that wonderful year arrived and when the music teacher asked who wanted permission slips to join the chorus, my hand was the first to shoot up. I received this permission slip on a Friday and while most other permission slips would not have been signed until Sunday night, if I even remembered to give them to Mom or Dad then, I remember handing the permission slip to Mom Friday night, and I made sure to turn it in Monday.

In my elementary school, the chorus was considered an extracurricular activity, so rehearsals took place Tuesdays and Thursdays during the second half of lunch in lieu of recess. This was both a blessing and a curse for me. It was a blessing because I was one of those rare kids that hated recess. If I could have spent recess doing a craft or playing a board game with a friend indoors, or even reading in a quiet corner outside, I would have enjoyed recess. But because teachers said I needed exercise, I was forced to go down slides, climb jungle gyms and play stupid running games with shrieking classmates during this supposedly free time. So with chorus, I finally had a valid excuse to get out of recess, and unlike first and second grade when there were two other recess times during the day, and third and fourth grade when there was an afternoon recess, lunch recess was the only one in fifth grade! But it was a curse because I am a slow eater. When I was younger, the classroom teacher and aid made a deal with me that if I could get outside for at least five minutes of the 20 minute lunch recess for a certain number of days—I think it might have been two weeks, I could have an afternoon recess indoors doing a quieter activity with a like-minded friend. But now that chorus, not recess was at stake in fifth grade, I had to learn to eat faster. It was rough at first. I was late to rehearsal the first few times, and a lot of food probably got wasted, but I wasn’t going to let my slow eating stand in the way of my dream of singing in the chorus.

Singing in this chorus was everything I had dreamed it would be. I don’t recall there being any disruptive behavior during chorus rehearsals like there often was during music class, perhaps since recess had to be sacrificed to sing in the chorus, a sacrifice which not every fifth grader was willing to make, only students who really wanted to sing as much as me participated in the chorus and because they wanted to be there, they behaved well. And that first experience singing in front of the whole school and then again for parents later that evening was magical and I still remember smiling ear-to-ear the entire time. That first concert, we sang a song about how children all over the world say hello, My Christmas Tree from the movie Home Alone, and everyone’s favorite, The Everlasting Fruit Cake. For this song, I think there was a special set brought onto the stage and a fake fruit cake. At the end of the song, the principal who loved to be silly and have fun, rang a doorbell and pretended to be a delivery man delivering the fruit cake again, to which we all pretended to groan “not again!” The audience loved this performance, and so did we. A couple weeks later, we got to sing our pieces at a local mall to get shoppers in the Christmas spirit, and the way I anticipated and talked about this trip for weeks, you would have thought I was going to Carnegie Hall. In the spring, we sang a song about Albert Einstein that involved choreography and snapping your fingers, the classic Oldie Doo Wah Diddy Diddy and I had a solo in the song “Colors of the Wind, which is still one of my favorite Disney songs. “The rainstorm and the river are my brothers. The heron and the otter are my friends. And we are all connected to each other, in a circle, in a hoop that never ends.”

The aid that saw me light up when the chorus came onstage worked with me from first grade through fourth grade, but in fifth grade, she was assigned to a younger student. But I got to see her after the concert and she told me she had tears in her eyes when she saw me onstage with the chorus because she remembered how much I longed for that opportunity all those years. The chorus director didn’t spend a lot of one-on-one time with me, but she was a sweet person with a natural passion for working with kids, and she saw my passion too and I will never forget when she said “I hope this chorus is just the beginning for you.”

It was just the beginning for me. I would sing all my years in school and be blessed with many unforgettable opportunities which I will talk about in the next post. I am involved in an adult choir now and hope to sing all my life. Although the music is more challenging now, and sometimes after a long day the last thing I want to do is attend a grueling rehearsal, deep down, I still have the same passion for choir that I had as a child all those years ago, a passion that comes alive again every time I take the stage as I did last Saturday and experience a slice of heaven on earth once again.

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Senior Citizens of the Pet Variety

In the five-year hiatus I took from blogging, I have had so many spiritual, political and career insights that I was itching to write about, and there is still more I would like to write about. But I want to take a break from these posts to reflect on Gilbert who is still my guide dog, and Snickers my kitty who have not gotten the attention they deserve in my blog.

With both Gilbert and Snickers, their senior citizen status snuck up on me, as I bet it does for every loving pet owner. I suppose it is a similar feeling to the feeling parents describe when they will say that it seems as though their children were just babies yesterday as they send them off to college. But with pets, the sad difference is that they are not growing up and embarking on an exciting new journey, but are growing old and soon will no longer be with us, at least not in this life. In the amazing book I read about the Restoration, Eldredge says that perhaps our beloved pets will run to greet us. I have also read things that say animals don’t have souls in the same way humans do because humans were specially created in God’s image, so our departed pets don’t go to heaven. This is an intriguing topic I would love to explore further, but whether God re-unites us with our departed pets or not, we will not be disappointed because we will always have our happy memories of them from this life, and maybe the experiences we get to have with pets in this life are just a small taste, a foreshadowing, of the even more magical memories we will make with animals in the Restoration, when we will form bonds with wolves, bears and lions, animals that were too dangerous to bond with here. But I digress. Gilbert and Snickers are both still alive and well, and seem to be enjoying their golden years. I am enjoying them in their golden years too.

In 2014 when I was getting my paralegal certificate at Milwaukee Area Technical College, I had class with a non-traditional student who worked at a pet store. One day after class, she told me she thought Gilbert had the beginnings of arthritis as he seemed to walk stiffly. At that time, he had just turned eight. She suggested I talk to the vet about putting him on glucosamine supplements. I did notice that Gilbert was moving a little slower and taking a little longer to get up, but he still enjoyed chasing the cat, and had no problem with long walks or jumping in and out of the car. So I decided not to make a special trip to the vet but just wait for his regular annual check-up and bring this up with the vet at that time. Sure enough at his appointment the following July, the vet watched him walk and agreed that he was indeed showing signs of arthritis. The vet suggested giving him TriCox chewable supplements that would help his joints, and also gave me Carprofen that I could give him if he seemed to be in a lot of pain or if he had exerted himself more than usual. With that we carried on with our lives. Just as we had done at Carroll University, Gilbert and I both met the requirements of the Paralegal program, and Gilbert helped me make many friends along the way. In April 2015, we joined the ranks of the employed, but for the first time in his life, Gilbert had to start taking sick days.

One day last winter, about an hour after Mom dropped us off at work, Gilbert shifted on his dog bed under my desk, and then started whimpering in a way I had never heard before. Hearing my buddy who is usually so happy whimper like that sent me into a bit of a panic, and not thinking clearly, I jumped up and tried to rush him outside. Fortunately, my boss who loves dogs and sits near me was there and calmed me down. She said Gilbert didn’t need to go out but looked as though he was in pain, and said he needed to go home. So I called my mom while my boss and I took turns consoling Gilbert for the half an hour or so it took for Mom to come back. When Mom got there, I think my boss helped Mom lift Gilbert into the van, and later that day, the boss asked me to call Mom to see how Gilbert was doing. He had ran through a deep pile of snow that morning while doing his business, something he used to do without a problem but now caused his arthritis to flare up. After a couple days of rest, tri-cox and Carprofen, he returned to work but had another flare-up a couple months later. This time, he had to stay home for several weeks because the vet prescribed a temporary regimen of Prednisone, Gabapentin and Tramadol. Just like with a human employee, we didn’t think it was wise for Gilbert to go to work impaired, and the prednisone caused him to need to pee a lot more often which would have been too much of a disruption. But then, just as Gilbert was feeling better, my mom had surgery which left her unable to drive for 3 months. Dad drove me to work on the way to his work, but because he was using a company car, he didn’t want Gilbert to ride along. So Gilbert did not come back to work with me until July. If my job were in one of those old government buildings with long, twisty-turny hallways, not having Gilbert would have been a huge hardship in terms of orientation and mobility, but fortunately the office where I work is small and extremely cane-friendly with narrow, straight-shot hallways. But I didn’t realize until he wasn’t with me how much I would miss just his presence by my side. My co-workers missed him too. But I think Gilbert missed going to work most of all because when I would come home from work, my mom would inform me of new, naughty habits like sneaking into Dad’s home office and eating paperwork he left on the floor. I have heard from owners of other retired guide dogs that this behavior is common as they are upset about suddenly being left home and separated from their owners all day. Some handlers even have to find new homes for their retired guide dogs for this reason. But when Gilbert exhibited this behavior, I decided that he didn’t need to officially retire. I probably would have had to retire him by now if I worked in a big city with a long route to a large office building. But since I live with my parents who drive me to work, and my office is small, he is still able and eager to go to work with me at eleven and a half years old.

When he did go back to work, I bought him a ramp to climb in and out of the van since the vet recommended that he not do too much jumping at his age. Occasionally he will have flare-ups where I keep him home because he seems like he might be in pain, and in January, he came down with a sudden urinary tract infection. But he goes to work with me most days, tail wagging. I like to imagine that if he were human, he would be that sweet old man who thought he would enjoy retirement after a long successful career, but found that he was bored and missed the routine of going to work, and the social interaction of getting out and being with people. So he took an easy job that allowed him to work at his own pace. He always has a smile when he comes to work, and his positive attitude makes everyone’s day a little brighter.

A couple years ago, my parents and I noticed that Snickers seemed to be meowing more and sleeping a little more, but still found the energy to jump onto the table and counters and make mischief too, so we weren’t overly concerned. Then a few months ago, Mom noticed that she was peeing a lot more and drinking a lot more water, so on March 15, Mom and I took her to the vet. After running some tests, the vet determined that Snickers’ kidney function was deteriorating. Other than a fluid administration procedure which Mom and I thought Snickers wouldn’t want to be put through, there was really nothing that could be done to reverse her condition. The vet was extremely compassionate, and pointed out that although Snickers’ exact date of birth is unknown since she came from the humane society, we adopted her as a kitten in 2000, so she was around eighteen years old, which is about 95 in cat years! The vet basically told us that at this point, we should focus on keeping her comfortable. So with heavy hearts, we brought her home, and the first thing I did when we got home was text the sad prognosis to my sister. The summer I was ten years old and she was sixteen, we forged a special sisterly bond as we talked Mom and Dad into adopting a cat, and spent several summer afternoons at humane societies meeting kittens. She asked if the vet indicated how much longer Snickers might live, and I said Mom and I didn’t want to think about that yet so we didn’t even ask. We would just do what we could to keep her comfortable and cherish every moment with her.

The vet sent us home with samples of a prescription renal friendly cat food diet to see if she would eat it. We were not sure if she would eat it because she has been a very picky eater in the past, but the vet said if she wouldn’t eat it, we could just bring it back for a refund. To our surprise and relief however, when we started feeding her this new food, she gobbled it right up! And after just a few weeks on this food, we could tell she felt a lot better. Her water consumption and urination returned to normal, but most incredibly, she almost acts like a kitten again, causing more trouble than she has in awhile. We must either drink from water bottles or cups with lids, or make sure we don’t leave glasses of water unattended, or she will jump onto the table and help herself to our water despite having a giant bowl of water available to her and Gilbert in the kitchen. She has also taken to licking our plates after we leave the table. Just the other day, Mom was making scrambled eggs for breakfast. She had cracked the eggs into a bowl and whisked them with a fork, and then turned her back for just a second to do something before pouring the eggs into the skillet. In that short time, Snickers had snuck onto the counter and was lapping up the raw egg from the bowl! When this behavior started, we increased her food from one can to two cans a day thinking that with her improved health, her appetite was getting better. Obesity was never a concern for Snickers as she has always been slim. She is a very active cat who can jump from the floor to the top of the refrigerator, or from the counter directly to the table. In the summer, she also enjoys chasing birds and bugs from window to window. But on March 15 when she was weighed at the vet, we were shocked to find out she only weighed 5.3 pounds. But her food mischief didn’t stop when we increased her food, so I like to speculate that either she is that sassy, noncompliant patient who craves what the doctor says she shouldn’t have—in her case, protein—or maybe this mischief is just her way of saying “don’t write me off just yet. I may be 95 years old, but I’ve still got fight left in me.” If she were human, I like to imagine she would be the spry old lady who asks her family to take her skydiving for her 100th birthday, and if some naïve person tried to snatch her purse or something assuming she was an easy target because she was so old, she would punch them in the nose and snatch her purse right back! (On March 15, she hissed at the vet, a sound I hadn’t heard since Mojo used to pick on her.)

About six months after our beloved german shepherd Indy passed away in 2002, my sister and I missed having a dog in the house so much that Mom relented and we went to visit dogs at the humane society. At the time, Mom saw a sweet, 10-year-old beagle that she wanted us to consider, but at the time, I was vehemently opposed to adopting a senior pet. I am still not entirely sure how I feel about adopting a senior pet. What if we brought home a senior pet that would only live a short time, and then we would be right back where we started, grieving and longing for a dog again? If the dog had a lifetime of traumatic experiences, or even if he lived with a loving family for many years but that family could no longer care for him, would he ever really bond with us before he passed away? But I wish I would have been more open-minded and given a senior dog a chance. The puppy we ended up adopting had behavioral issues we were not equipped to handle and we determined it would be best to take him back to the humane society where hopefully, he would find a more suitable home and live a happy life. But also, now that Gilbert and Snickers are seniors, I am finding that I love and appreciate them in a whole new way. I love how their demeanors are more laid-back than when they were young, in that they both sleep more and move a little slower, but they still get into mischief sometimes, as if they are both reminding us that while they may move a little slower, they are still the same creatures they have always been. In addition, because they are only capable of living in the moment, they don’t overthink things like death the way humans often do, and thus they are always cheerful, just living in the moment and not worrying about the future. I know that eventually, the sad reality is that they will no longer be with us, but I am taking a lesson from them and striving not to think about this eventuality, but live in the moment myself because they are still here today. And in forty years or so when I reach senior citizen status myself, I hope I will live my life this way as well.

Campaign for Causes, Vote for Good Character

One morning early in the 2016 primary race when Donald Trump was gaining traction and winning in a few states, my mom and I were eating breakfast and watching some morning news before work and I half-jokingly told my mom, “If Donald Trump gets elected, I’m moving to Canada!” “I’ll come with you,” she said, “but he won’t win.” Well, I didn’t follow through on this statement. In all seriousness, fleeing to another country would present so many legal and logistical hurdles that I would only consider it if faced with war or persecution like those poor people in Syria. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had this idea however. Shortly after the election, I was watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. It is not a show that would appeal to everyone as John Oliver is quite generous with the F-bombs, but if you can look past that, he does make good points. That week, he basically told viewers that while the idea of moving to Canada is very alluring at the moment, we should not do that because we are needed here. We should stay and fight for a return to the values our country was founded on. That reminded me of discussions from my political science classes in college where we talked about how the people are the foundation of any institution or organization, so it is up to them to preserve its values. When Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada was interviewed on 60 Minutes, he sounded so much kinder, more intelligent and more rational than Donald Trump, but when Justin Trudeau’s term ends, who knows who the next prime minister will be. What I mean is that the grass may seem greener in another country right now, but in this fallen world, political situations are ever-changing, so our efforts are better spent fighting to preserve our country’s values, rather than just running away to another country. I love the tagline on the web site of the American Civil Liberties Union which says, “Because freedom can’t protect itself.” And that reminded me of the bible study with my Jehovah’s Witness friends months before the election when I learned that Jehovah’s Witnesses are neutral when it comes to political affairs, meaning they don’t vote or run for political office.

“I know the problems of this world will never be resolved under this current system,” I remember telling them, “but if we had more people of good character like Jehovah’s Witnesses in office, people of integrity, humility and high morals, this world could be a whole lot better.” To this they responded that there are good people in office right now but because Satan influences all worldly governments, these good people are unable to be effective. I tossed this around in my mind a lot in the months that followed and realized they had a point. As hard as good people tried to speak out, warning us about Donald Trump’s low character and trying to stand up for what was right, these civil, rational voices were overpowered by Satan. At the same time however, the bible also says that Christ’s followers should be salt and light to a hurting world, meaning that although there will always be trouble in this world until Christ returns, we are called to try to make the world a little bit better, and to me the Jehovah’s Witness approach of completely separating themselves from this world is the religious equivalent of moving to Canada, or in other words, throwing in the towel. At this point in my life at least, I am seeking to find that happy medium of not separating myself completely from the world, but not worshipping political figures to the point of wearing Obama underwear either. To that end, I have been thinking about two goals for approaching politics in the future. First, I want to campaign for causes, not people. Then on Election Day, I want to vote based on character alone.

I have heard that many of the people who voted for Donald Trump didn’t like his vulgar comments and mean-spirited behavior at all, but voted for him out of desperation. These people were often poor people who couldn’t afford healthcare or who had lost their jobs when the factories moved overseas or the coal mines closed. The forces that cause factories to move overseas, healthcare costs to rise, or coal mines to close are largely beyond the control of any president or even the entire congressional body. But they saw Hillary Clinton, a career politician, as a continuation of the status quo, whereas Donald Trump, an outsider with no political experience, would shake things up. I will go into more detail about the hypocrisy behind this thinking in another post. But the point is, Donald Trump, with his fiery rhetoric, simple solutions and lack of political experience struck a chord with a lot of people who thought he could bring about real change. There are certain situations that require the steady-handed, decisive leadership of one person, most notably the decision whether to launch nuclear weapons. This is where the importance of character comes in, which I will discuss shortly. But when it comes to economic forces and social issues, both of which are too complex for one person or government to solve, and which don’t impose an imminent existential threat, it really doesn’t matter who we elect. Even if a candidate’s platform says for example that he/she is going to bring back factory jobs, it is important to remember he/she is often just making these promises to get voters motivated because when the candidate actually gets into office and realizes how complex the issues are, , he/she may not be able to make good on these promises anyway. And even if a candidate is able to make good on a campaign promise and pass a law to address a cause important to you, passing the law is the easy part. Due to complex factors, many of which are beyond government’s ability to control, implementation of the law is when the real hard work begins, and thus it is not uncommon for laws passed with good intentions to fail upon implementation. So if you are a single-issue voter who votes for someone just because he/she supports one particular cause that is important to you, you will likely be disappointed.

The other reason I think we should campaign for causes rather than people is because at least in my opinion, neither party platform is completely in the right. For example, the Republican platform campaigns for entitlement reform which I think is necessary because the current rate of spending for these programs is unsustainable and if something isn’t done, these benefits may not be available when my generation is eligible for them. But the Republican platform also campaigns for de-regulation to foster a business-friendly climate. While I understand the value of a business-friendly climate, I think some regulation is necessary, like the Dod Frank regulations that were created to hold banks accountable and prevent another recession like the one in 2009, and limits on carbon emissions because I believe climate change is a real concern. This puts people like me in a conundrum. If we had to campaign for a candidate, who should we campaign for? Both causes are important, so if we worked for one candidate’s campaign, it would have to be at the expense of one of our causes. I did buy a Hillary for America t-shirt in 2016, the proceeds of which went to her campaign, but from this point forward, my goal is to never work for a campaign, or donate to a campaign even if it is just buying a button. That way, I am free to support the causes that are important to me even if they are contradictory on a particular party platform.

But by no means am I advocating for abstaining from the voting process because if citizens who want leaders with good character don’t exercise their right to vote, leaders of bad character will seize upon this apathy and rule unchallenged. I believe that if we can get Donald Trump out of office in 2020, he will go down in history as an anomaly, from a time when the people were grappling with complex issues and feeling desperate and just were not thinking straight, and thus I don’t think he will pose a long-term threat to our freedom. But if voter apathy continues, there is no guarantee our country couldn’t go down the path of Russia and North Korea because “freedom can’t protect itself.” And in addition to corruption and economic inequality, guess what else unchallenged rulers of bad character now and all through history have in common? They see religion as a threat, and will thus impose laws that conflict with God’s laws. Sadly, it is too late for Christians in countries like Russia and North Korea to change their situation as their tyrannical rulers are well-established now. But we still have a chance to make things right, and if people who want leaders of good character exercise their right to vote before a leader of bad character takes this right away, we could continue to steer clear of the religious persecution millions around the world face.

When it comes to judging a candidate’s overall character, it is unusual for the differences in character to be so stark, so cut-and-dry as they were in 2016. No additional research was necessary in 2016. It should have been obvious just by listening to the words that came out of Donald Trump’s mouth that Hillary Clinton or any of the other sixteen or so candidates Donald Trump beat in the primaries demonstrated higher character. But under normal circumstances, which I believe we will return to, it can be difficult to judge a candidate’s character. They all have slick commercials, speak well and seem as though they genuinely care about the people they are running to serve, even if their ideas of what the right path for the country looks like are different. I also confess that I have been a lazy voter in the past, voting for someone because I liked how they presented themselves in the debates, or because I was influenced by peers who liked them and just jumped on the bandwagon. But from now on, my goal is to be a super-informed voter who decides who to vote for based on objective character assessment alone. Here are a few ideas I have come up with as to the questions I would ask. If more ideas come to mind, I will post about them and of course, feel free to comment with your own ideas I may not have thought about.

What is the candidate’s level of honesty? When nonpartisan fact-checkers rate the candidate’s statements, what percentage of them are rated true or mostly true, and what percentage are rated mostly false or “pants on fire?” If a candidate is incapable of honesty regarding small statements during the campaign, they will lie to us in office when the stakes are far more serious. Has a candidate accepted large amounts of money from a particular interest group, becoming a puppet of that interest group rather than being an independent voice free to do what is in the best interest of everyone he/she serves? What is a candidate’s past voting record in the house or senate? Is it consistent, no matter which party has the majority, or do they scream about irresponsible government spending when Democrats are the majority, and then vote for huge increases in government spending when Republicans become the majority? Even if I don’t personally agree with a candidate’s views, I have more respect for people who stand by these views than people who are hypocritical. On a similar note, has a candidate held a particular position for many years, or does the candidate’s position on an issue mysteriously change just in time for an election? When a candidate is confronted with a group of protestors, or an unflattering article someone wrote about them, do they attack and belittle the opponent, or do they take the high road? Does the candidate have a track record of bipartisan cooperation, or a track record of jamming through legislation without inviting anyone who disagrees with them to the negotiation table?

I think if we all scrutinized candidates objectively, keeping a file on our computer, or a notebook where we record the answers to these questions, we would automatically eliminate candidate’s of bad character or extremist views, making room for rational, moderate leadership on both sides of the aisle. Is it a perfect system? Of course not. Until Christ returns, there will always be injustice in the world and important causes that will not get the attention they deserve because many of this world’s problems are too complex for earthly governments to solve. But the odds of addressing at least some of the injustices of the world are far better when the government is controlled by people of high character than they would be under a tyrannical regime. But even if a cause important to us is never addressed in this life, if we elect leaders of good character, we can at least continue to preserve the most important cause of them all, our freedom which includes freedom to practice our faith.

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.

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.