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.