Living Life

Jesus, Me, and the Kitchen Table

The Last Day of a Decade and Start of Another!

Today and tomorrow are important days for me.  Saying goodbye to thirties and hello to forties. It wasn’t so hard when it was twenties to thirties. But this one is huge. It’s huge not because of the big 4 0 — no!

It’s all that happened this decade – the many memories. Good ones and not-so-good ones. I lived and nearly died. I gave birth and became a mommy to our beautiful Emmarie and Chloe. They were here for such a short time. But now in Heaven forevermore.  There were a lot of starts. I wanted to say – and stops, too – but part’s not true. In some ways, I’ve started over again.

My career – it was going great! Publications, presentations, and much to do!

Husband and kids – we were a very busy homeschooling family!

Health was great all around – just needed a ‘lil more energy to make all those rounds!

Spiritually – it was definitely on the up and up – but not where it needed to be. Aren’t we always growing?

And then suddenly… everything changed in an instant.

I became a paraplegic. Learning to do so many things differently. Trying to have faith to walk again.

No more busy homeschooling family. Career was on hold. At least I’m working again.

Will I ever regain my health?  I must press on! I must believe!

Spiritually – the Lord has become my True Friend and taken me so far and I’ve truly learned to walk with Him.  And I keep learning more and growing closer to Him each passing day.

So what about the 40’s? What will those years hold? So many questions! Yet one day at a time will tell. Will this be the decade I walk again? Will this be the one when I see our girls again? Will the Lord Jesus Christ return before I turn 50?

Who knows? But excitedly, courageously, I go! I’ll keep pushing into His presence to find all that the future holds!

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Getting Around

It seems that nearly every profession and many causes have a national holiday.  In April we celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week and so far in May we have paid tribute to all those in the nursing field.  But one you may not have heard of for the month of May is National Mobility Awareness.  According to the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association website, in North America over 18 million people live with restricted mobility.  But you don’t have to be in a wheelchair to have restricted mobility. There are numerous health conditions which can limit one’s mobility such as spinal cord injury, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, and more. People with limited mobility may use wheelchairs, walkers, canes, or crutches to move around.

People with mobility restrictions either cannot walk or can only walk very short distances. They may find it hard to move around in small places, negotiate steps, open doors, carry items (while using mobility devices), reaching things on high shelves, or picking up objects dropped on the floor, balancing, standing or standing for prolonged periods. Weather can be a concern as well.  If it is raining how will one hold an umbrella and push a wheelchair?

Another aspect to think bout is parking spots.  There are two basic kinds of parking spaces reserved for those with restrictive mobility. You have the “Reserved Parking” and “Reserved Parking Van Accessible” handicap parking spaces. The first type is for any vehicle properly displaying a handicap placard or handicap license plates.  The “Van Accessible” spots are for, well, VANS! That’s because these spots are accompanied by a wide set of stripes to the left or right of the space. Those stripes allow a van ramp or a lift to be used.  Drivers should never park on the stripes!  Doing so prevents a person who is in a wheelchair accessible van from entering or exiting their vehicle and readers that parking space useless.

During the month of May the National Mobility Equipment Dealers is giving away several vehicles that are accessible.You can go to their website at http://www.nmeda.org and vote for the candidate of your choice to win one of these vehicles.  These vehicles are not cheap.  If you take the cost of an average new minivan, you are looking at $30-40,000. Add on the modifications and you can easily be looking at an additional $20,000.

As you are out and about and enjoying your mobility this month be aware of those around you who can’t move about as easily. Look for ways that you may can lend a helping hand, but be okay if the person declines the offer. Many times people are grateful for your help and other times they may be able to do it themselves. But don’t be afraid to ask!  Don’t be afraid to talk to a person who is in a wheelchair. Remember that just because someone has physical limitations doesn’t mean they aren’t a genius! Most people with disabilities have the same desires as non disabled persons – just to be accepted and live as normal a life as possible. Many people with mobility restrictions have a job, children, interests and abilities similar or different to those of others. Let’s get moving!

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My Testimony Part 2 – Losing Dad

dad and me

In my earlier blog post “My Testimony” I shared how I was adopted when I was 3 weeks old and how I came to the Lord. Now I’d like to share some more of my story. I think I basically left off which my dad passing away my last year in college. He had been having problems breathing or getting short of breath for awhile. The doctor put him on some fluid pills. I don’t know if they ever told him what was wrong or not. If they did, he did not tell me. But he had Congestive heart Failure. I remember the day I got the phone call I had returned back to my dorm room from studying for finals at the library. A message on my answering machine from dad’s ex-wife Shirley said to give her a call. I knew that it was about dad — and I knew it wasn’t going to be good news. Something just told me. So when I called her, the tone of her voice confirmed it. She came over to meet me and told me that he had died of a heart attack while playing his guitar at a birthday party. That was interesting, because one of the way he wanted to go, was playing his guitar.
The next week was crazy. I had nothing to do with planning the funeral. It was all done by his biological daughter. I had not talked to her. By time I arrived in Normangee where dad lived, his place had been cleaned out. Some of the antique speakers with beautiful cloth coverings had been torn. Someone had gone in looking for hidden money. I think the bed mattress was also torn. That was kind of strange, I thought, since had JUST died. Also during that week I had to get moved out of the dorm. I moved to Bryan with dad’s daughter and her family.

The summer turned out to be the summer from Hades. I was taking chemistry at the local junior college and it wasn’t easy, but I made a “B.” Since it is a “freshman flunk out course” at my university, I had put it off until my senior year. I am most assured I would have failed it had I taken it at SFA! But during that summer we had to do the probate of dad’s Will. Dad had always told me that when he died, there was a certificate of deposit in the lock box under the bed that would mature upon his death. At that time, the executor of the estate, Eva, would give me $1,000 a year each year for 10 years. Dad was a man of his word. One thing he could not stand was a liar. So imagine my surprise when we got to the probate and I found out that the money was not there – or supposedly it wasn’t there. And to top that off, the lawyer told me he did not represent me, that he represented the estate. So there i was. Nineteen years old, still in college, fatherless, motherless, and with a feeling that something was very wrong with how the estate was being handled.
I had no idea what to do. I did the only thing I knew… ask advice from the church ladies who were older and with whom I was very close. They advised me to get a lawyer and find out what was happening. So I agreed to go meet with the attorney they had located for me. At that meeting, he told me that he would take the case, but warned me that pursuing it would probably mean I’d be estranged from my family. Keep in mind, I had no other family. I did NOT like that idea, but I did not know what else to do. I really needed the money, although it was not that much at once. I was encouraged to go forth with it because it is what dad would want – and that he would be rolling in his grave if he knew what was happening. So I went forth with it.
I really don’t know what happened as far as what the lawyer did with the lawyer of the estate or Eva. All I know is that one day the lawyer called to tell me that he had won the case and after his fees were taken out, I was going to receive $7,000. By this time, I was back in college in Nacogdoches. I needed a car badly because it was time for me to begin my practicum hours. I needed to be able to drive to the sites to do my observations and teaching. So the settlement came at an opportune time and I was able to get my first car – a teal green Ford Escort. This car was a blessing. Dad had talked about buying me a car when I reached this point in my education. So, in a way, he did!

Within a year or so I decided what I had done was wrong and I wanted to make amends with my family. I’ve always been quick to forgive others for their wrongs. I sent a letter to my sister (dad’s daughter) asking her to forgive me, that I realized I was wrong. I’m sure whatever I said sounded very weak, even though it was most sincere. I can’t tell you in words how badly I wanted to be reunited with my family. People told me things like, “It’s their loss, not yours.” and asked me why I’d even want to be with them after the way they did me, etc. But I had read in the Bible where it was wrong to sue your neighbor. And I was truly repentant. But as my attorney had warned me, so it was I think they read my first letter, but subsequent letters and our wedding invitation were returned to me, unopened.

My sister’s daughter and I had been very close growing up. Even though I am her aunt, we were very close in age. And we were in the drill team together at school and went to church together. We played together on weekends and in the summers. I have very fond memories of playing Marco Polo and diving for pennies at the pool in the summer. However, one day I called to talk and found out that she was angry with me also. She was still going to college and living with her parents, so I thought that she basically had no choice but to see it their way. She told me I was a traitor to the family and she never wanted to speak to me again. Those words cut me to the bone and broke my heart. I guess it was then that I sort of gave up my hope of ever being reunited with them.
It is a long story which I won’t tell – but in recent times, through Facebook, the two of us have reconnected. I did not know it but she had been following my story since the car accident. She sent me pictures she had found of me and dad when I was growing up. I was o glad to have these memories. But I am delighted that she decided to friend me on FB and we can at least keep up with each other’s happenings. God is good! This is an answer to my prayer. I may never get to speak to my sister again, but that is in God’s hands. I’m also glad to be friends with my sister’s son-in-law on FB. I wonder if anyone ever mentions my name at family gatherings? I admit it is strange seeing pictures of their children and not knowing who they are really, having never met them.

The year that followed was rocky at first as I grieved for dad and the estrangement from my family. I will never forget the way that God provided “family” for me during that first year. The holidays are always hardest and i truly had nowhere to go. But my vision teacher from high school, Jeanne, invited me to come stay with them and celebrate Christmas. I took them u pin it and it was wonderful, just different. It was strange because my family was actually in the same town, Bryan. But of course I did not see them.

Things really started locking up at the start of 1998 when I got my first teaching job and met Richard. I’ll talk about the way we met in a future post. Stay turned!

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Joy in the Crazy Journey

Wow! Today is the first day in over week that I have felt really good!  Praise the Lord for HE is good! So even though it is Saturday, I went in to the office for a couple of hours to get caught up.  The ice and snow caused us to be closed a couple of days and the other days I either didn’t go into work because of feeling so bad or only went in for a very short time.

Had a great time at the office – it just felt good to get caught up – like a load off my shoulders. Maybe I can breathe now!  Or more likely, I won’t get in trouble for not having my time accounting and contacts report completed in time. Richard was with me – so that made it even sweeter. He listened to music on his iPod while I worked and listened to the Praise and Worship channel on iTunes Radio.

So then we had to go to Walmart.  Hadn’t been there in a while (yeah!) – not my favorite place to go.But we did find a parking spot – not an official one – but one that worked, thank you Lord! In wen went to discover that there were no little blue hand-held baskets at either entrance.  I asked several associates about them and no one had any idea where they all were.  I find it hard to believe that all 80 baskets were being used. But anyway, there were none! So I went back out to the van and grabbed a reusable shopping bag.  Back into the store.  We went around and grabbed most of the times we needed. Bigger items that don’t fit easily into the bag, we put them between my feet on the foot rests of my chair.  A lady I know approached us and gave me a big hug.  I recognized her as someone who used to work at the meat market in town.  She shocked me because she said, “You are amazing” I told her thank you and that it was the Lord.  She then said, “I am just soaking up energy from you, is that all right?”  I told I supposed it was because if she was getting anything good from me, it must be Him (Jesus(!  She told me she now works at Walmart and to let her know if we needed anything.  A little later we checked out.

The next stop was McDonalds for a hot chocolate!  Then onto KFC for our supper. On the way home I decided to drink a little of the hot chocolate.  I got a couple of sips, but something seemed amiss.  Once in our driveway I noticed the edge of my seat cushion on the wheelchair was wet – really wet.  Then I noticed that the entire font of my shirt was soaked – with …… you guessed it: hot chocolate!  Gee, how did I do that, I wondered.  I discovered later there was a notch missing out of the top of the cup.  W/hen I took those sips, it poured down my shirt!!  Of course, I felt nothing as it was happening.  Joys of paraplegia – no really – it would have been wet and icky feeling!  Fortunately I had on two thick shirts so it wasn’t hot on my skin.

So next we are putting away the groceries and notice the milk we purchased, is all squished in on the sides.  Somehow the cap was not sealed all the way AND there was a leak in the bottom of the jug.  So now there is milk on the table — and probably milk in the van because it was not in a bag.  Lovely, LOL!

But in spite of all these little things I came away laughing.  That my friends, is the joy of the Lord.  I remember a time when those little things would have frustrated me to the point I would have been fit to be tied!  But thanks be to God for a day I felt good and for giving me His joy!

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It’s All About the Stripes

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Once upon a parking lot, there were many cars and trucks,  each one driven by all kinds of people. Each person found a place to park. Well just as there are very unique people driving all kinds of vehicles, there are different kinds of parking spots too. That’s where the stripes come in.

You see, some people have problems walking, others can’t walk at all, others have heart and lung or nerve problems– and much more! But what about the stripes?

Well, all parking spots have stripes. Let’s say you are at a grocery store. You have a handicapped plaquuard because you have back problems.. You pull up into a regular handicapped spot. You’re good! But what is regular? These are the spots with just 2 regular stripes like any other spot, along with the sign that designated it as handicapped parking.

But let’s change it up a bit. Now a person in a wheelchair comes along. Most vans that are wheelchair accessible have a ramp that opens out on the passenger side.that means the only safe and accessible spot is one that has wide stripes out to the side. For these vehicles the stripes need to be on the right of the parking spot. The left side is okay if the spot can be backed into. Sometimes but not always, these spots are designated with a “Van Accessible” sign. If no spot like this is available these people usually have to wait until one is vacated or shop somewhere else. That’s because they can’t even get out of their van and be assured they can get back in.

Yet another kind of spot has narrow stripes to the side. These are for people in walkers. Without these stripes it is hard for these people to get in and out of their car.

Sometimes people use a family member’s parking plaquuard and park in these spots. The other day I was at CVS and came out to leave. A man was using the RedBox DVDS rental kiosk. He had pulled crookedly into a handicapped spot because it was right next to the kiosk. It wasn’t raining or cold. So as I was leaving he got in his car and started backing up. I had to honk to avoid him hitting me.

As a wheelchair user I will even park in a regular parking spot if there is one on the end of a row with stripes to the right.

So once again, parking is about the stripes. And if everyone pays attention and is honest, maybe more people can find just the right spot.

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Living Undefeated

I’ve been thinking about the apostle Paul (also called Saul) of the Bible a lot lately. Here was a man mightily used of God. He wrote more of the New Testament than any of the other apostles. He turned the world upside down preaching Jesus’ message of salvation and how to live. He suffered immensely for his faith. We are talking about a man who endured shipwrecks, beatings, stoning, imprisonment, and other hardships all for the sake of the Gospel. Different groups of people stirred up trouble for him in various places he went. This was the thorn in his flesh – those who stirred up trouble. His story is amazing. When we first meet him in the Bible, his name is Saul. And he wreaked havoc on Christians everywhere he went. He was a major persecutor of Christians. But all that changed one day when God got ahold of him on the road to Damascus. He was struck blind and the Lord asked him why do you persecute Me? This is not the whole story, but it is a great story of how God took a sinful evil man and changed his heart and then used him mightily!

Paul could have gone through the rest of his Christian life and been content to just go to church and be happy he was there. He realized and confessed that he was the chief of sinners because he had persecuted the Church, but he didn’t live a defeated life because of it. He had turned away from that life and had now embraced the Cross, and instead of hindering the move of God, He was advancing the Kingdom of God throughout the known Gentile world at that time.

Our world today may seem a lot different, and is, than the times in which Paul lived. But one thing remains the same. The Bible says we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But it also says that once we accept Christ as our Savior, that we are new creatures, and the old man (the sinful man) passes away. We are new creatures in Christ. We are born again spiritually speaking. Our old sin nature is gone and we are now free to live a Godly life in Christ. How awesome is that! This is how Paul was able to live in victory. And the good news is, that we can too!

I hear a lot of people, good Christian people, telling others something like, “i’m a Christian, and I love Jesus, but I’m not perfect.”
It is true that none of are perfect, that there is only One who was perfect, and that is Jesus Christ. However, when people say this or even write it, I can’t help but pick up on a tone of defeat in their voice – even if the rest of the message was very positive.
So this statement of “I’m not perfect” has started to kind of bother me. It’s not because I think we are supposed to be perfect. But I guess it bothers me because I don’t think that is how we are supposed to look at our Christian life.

Let’s consider why someone might say this… One, they are just saying that they make mistakes. True. We all do. We stub our toe and it hurts, but we learn to avoid that bed post or whatever, or to put on shoes. We might slip up and say a “bad word” once in a while. But as soon as it comes out, we realize it and confess it as sin, and ask the Lord to forgive us, and then we try to not let it happen again. These are mistakes. We learn from them and move on and confess / repent and move on. So in that instance it is okay to think of ourselves as less than perfect – AS LONG AS we don’t let our mistakes defeat us and keep us from going after God.

On the other hand, let’s say the scenario is more intentional. Maybe someone is a “Christian” and they watch movies or listen to music that has ungodly content (sex, profanity, violence, etc.). Perhaps they have a pornography problem, a drinking problem, or anger issues. They know in their heart, if they really listen to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, that this is wrong. But since they “aren’t perfect” they are content to stay like this and go to church on Sundays and Wednesdays. They may even teach Sunday School or have another leadership role. But they are trying to lead when they themselves are defeated. They can’t do as the apostle Paul did. They are telling people, hey I’m not perfect but I’m doing the best I can do.

What if Paul had lived this way? What if when Paul was going around teaching about Jesus he had told the Corinthians, “I’m not perfect, and neither are you. Let’s just try to follow this Jesus as best we can. We probably can’t win many people to the Lord, but we can try?” Well I can be assured that things would not have turned out the way they did… he would not have been successful… he would not have been known as the great apostle Paul. Would he have been in the Bible, much less wrote a large portion of the New Testament? Likely, not.

But let’s look at how he lived and what he said.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1 he says, “Imitate me as I also imitate Christ.” NKJV.
Wow! What a statement from the man who thought himself the chiefest of sinners! That sounds a whole lot different than, “I’m not perfect” doesn’t it?

In another passage we read of Paul when he says,
14 “I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. 15 For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you, imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. (Emphasis added).
– 1 Corinthinas 4: 14-17.

Now that is a leader, friends! He was saying follow me as I follow Christ! I’m showing you how to do it. Look at my life and see how to live, how to handle the people who mock you and make things a mess, how to endure hardships, how to live when there is plenty, and when there is lack, how to be victorious over sin.

So, let’s get rid of that defeat mentality. Let’s live victorious in the Lord, as HE intends for us to be!
As new creatures, sin does not rule over us anymore! We can put that old life behind us and are free to live for Christ.
If there are sin issues, and you really want to be free, the good new is, YOU CAN! The Bible says in Romans 8:37 “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Take it to the Lord. He will never allow His children to be tempted more than what we can bear. And when we are tempted he will always provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Live life undefeated. Pay attention to who you are following. The Bible also tells us that bad company corrupts good morals. Watch what you confess with your mouth. Be zealous for God and for his Glory. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you(James 4:8)! It’s hard to draw near to God if you let sin get in the way. So the first thing we have to do is get the sin out. After that, we can draw as close to God as we want to go – and He will be faithful and draw near to us! And finally, may the Lord bless you my friends and readers!

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My Testimony

For some time now I have felt like I needed to share my testimony with you, my readers.

Without going into all the details, I was raised by my adoptive father, who was single. I’ll call him dad from here on out. His first wife had committed suicide and he divorced his second wife. He was a bar owner and worked there all day everyday and late into the nights. He was 55 years of age. One of his regular customers was my biological mom. She was pregnant with me and already had two children, I think, in the welfare system. And she did not know what she was going to do with me either.

One day after I was born she came into the Jolly Joker lounge, the one dad owned, at 11 in the morning. I was out in the car. Keep in mind this was in Houston, TX in the summer. So dad wanted to go out and see me. When they saw me, I was in the car seat with my hands tucked under my head on one side. Now turn the clock twelve hours to 11 PM that same day. Once again she came into the lounge without me. Once again dad and she went out to the car to check on me. Dad said I was lying in the exact same position as I had been when he saw me that morning. It was late and dad was not prepared, but he asked her if he could take me home that night. So she handed me over. She did send a bottle but there were no diapers, wipes, no diaper bag. Not exactly how you would send your child off to stay with the grandparents or something!

Once at home that night, dad did not have any milk, formula, or diapers. So he did the only thing he knew to do…and that was to fill the bottle with sugar water.  For a diaper he used a handkerchief and pinned it together. It was a great cloth diaper….the best he had at the moment anyway. Howeever, when he went to change my diaper, he noticed that I had horrible diaper rash…. we are talking sores upon sores…. the diaper had not been changed all day. It was then he decided to take me to the doctor the next morning.

The docttor visit didn’t go very well and dad left thinking that I may not live. This same doctor was surprised when I returned for my 2 week follow-up appointment. That was the first miracle. At this point, dad had spoken with an attorney. Mom had decided to sign over her parental rights to him. So at that point I belonged to him, and he became my dad.

Next, dad discovered that I could not see well.  He said I did not react the aame way other babies did to lights.  I diid not notice them or reach out for them. So he took me to an eye doctor who told him that I was completely blind and there was no use in hoping for any improvement. But he did not accept this as a possible outcome for me.  He had read where a mother carried her baby upside down and eventaully the baby started seeing.  Sounds cooky, right? Well, maybe so. But he did begin carrying me in a head-down position for short periods throughout the day, especially as he walked around the pool table in the lounge. One dday, I began reaching for the lights. And lo, and behold, I could see. This was miralcle number two! Wheen I was about three years old, I could point at pictures on an eye chart at the doctor’s office – something they thought I’d never be able to do! My vision is not perfect to this day, and I do have low vision. But I see well enough to drive with telescopic lenses.

Growing up, we nnever really went to church. In the sixth grade, we moved to a small town called Normangee, TX. I began attending church at a small interdenominational chapel. The Sunday school class for my age group was taught by Lillian McReeynolds.   Since the chapel only had morning services, she also attended First Baptist Church in Normangee.  I began going home with her after church in the mornings, stayng with her Sunday afternoons and then riding with her to church on Sunday nights to First Baptist.

I distinctly remember one Sunday nnight service. I was in the 7th grade and like a lot of the youth ws not really paying attention to the sermon. When we stood up to sing the hymn for the altar call, I started feeling really nervous. The feeling is very hard to describe. There was resistance, but at the same time Divine nudging. I knew I had to go to the front. I knew I needed to accept Jesus as my Savior, even though I really didn’t know how to say that… At the altar the Pastor greeted me. I told him what I was feeling and he asked me if I felt like I needed to be saved, to accept Jesus. I said yes, because inside I knew that was it! He explained to me what this decision meant and i was so excited! Words cannot express the pure joy that I felt when Jesus came into my heart and I was “born again.” It’s just like the Scriptures say, the old had been washed away, and behold, the new creature was born. I had been bought with a price, just like you have. The precious blood of Jesus washes all of our sins away. And that is the cleanest feeling you will ever have in your life. It’s the cleanest feeling I’ve ever had in mine. People said I was literally “glowing” that night. I felt like I was glowing! I just wanted to tell everyone what had happened! An evangelist I know, who has gone to be with Lord, used to say, “Every drop of His blood paid for every one of your sins.” – Steve Hill.

Salvation is a gift but it is not free. It cost Jesus His life. And to those who accept Jesus, we need to give Him our all. he is worthy of it ALL!

And even though the road has NOT been easy and I have faced what I feel might be more than my fair share of struggles in this life, I can honestly say, that I could not have gotten through them without Jesus to walk with and even carry me through. Dad passed away my senior year in college from a massive heart attack. He had his wish of dying either while playing the guitar or working in the field. He was at a birthday party singing and playing his guitar. He could quote Scriptures, but he was not assured of his salvation. I’d ask him if he knew where he was going to spend eternity and he would say that there is no way one can know.

I had gone a mission trip to Mexico with the Baptist Student Union and we had shared the Jesus film with the people. Upon returning from the trip, I shared it with Dad and he changed. Through this movie and our talks, I know he accepted Jesus as his Savior. I could tell a huge difference in his life. And I know one day, I will see him in Heaven, with the girls (his granddaughters he never met) and our Lord.

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Voting

Today my husband and I set out to take part in one of the most fundamental duties as a citizen of the USA… we went to vote.  Going to vote for us is not the quick 10 minute thing that it is for most Americans.  But it was still a good experience.  I took the oath so I could read the ballot to Richard (he’s blind) and mark it for him.  Other than some little mix-up with which ballot they gave him…had to do with precincts…it wen smoothly.

Richard and I got seated at the little booths.    A lady was next to us and I could tell she was trying to concentrate.  I felt bad that I was going to have to read out loud to Richard. So I told him I would do mine first and maybe she’d be finished before we got to his.  When I started looking over the ballot, the woman overseeing the voting booths told me they had a machine to help read the ballot if I wanted to use it.  I had forgotten about that!  So we moved to another room and I put my ballot into the machine.  It begins loading the ballot info and then you have to choose “English” or “Spanish.” Once you do that, the screen brings up the first “contest.”  It reads the position and then lists the candidates.  There are buttons on the side to move between candidates and make a selection. You can also see it on the screen and can adjust the print to a quite large size.  If you want to use just the speech, you can turn the screen off for privacy.  I really did not care, so I left the screen on!  And I was wearing headphones, too. When you’re finished it lets you review your selections. If everything looks right, you select the option to mark the ballot, and it marks your choices.  Pretty cool!  All of the buttons on the machine are tactually discernible. So it would be pretty easy for a totally blind user.  I enjoyed having the speech and the large print together.

Richard did not want to fool with trying to use the machine.  He’s not as used to that kind of technology.  But I did put his ballot in and used it to help me read it to him and mark his choices.

As far as getting around in the wheelchair, it was pretty good for the most part.  There was one hallway that was a little snug because there was a water fountain sticking out, and the hall was narrow.  But other than that, no big deal.  Everyone at the polling place was very nice and thanked us for coming to vote.

Happy Voting Everyone!

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My Robot Experience

When I first realized I wasn’t going to be able to attend a required meeting with some of my most favorite colleagues, I was a little bummed to say the least.  So much I would miss out on… seeing all my friends and colleagues in the field of visual impairment across the state, the new facility for Region 11 Education Service Center which is where the meeting was being held, and most importantly – the critical updates and knowledge in our field.

I let the person in charge of the meeting know that I couldn’t attend, but asked if I could possibly join in by conference call or Skype.  I’ve never used Skype so I was a little skeptical about that option.  And calls are okay, but you can’t see what’s going on — and I’m a very visual learner.

Some time went by and then I got some very good news.  The lady in charge has a son who has been fighting cancer for a little while now.  He’s in high school and during his treatments at M.D. Anderson, many miles from his home, he attended his classes with the assistance of a VGO robot.  So yes, you’ve guessed it!  Things were arranged for me to use the same kind of robot to attend this meeting!

Once an administrator set up my account and gave me a username and password, I downloaded the VGO app. It works on a laptop PC or MAC or even on an iPad.  Once logged in I just clicked on my robot’s name, REATA 3, and it connected a video call.  So the VGO was in Fort Worth and I was at my office three hours away.  I could see the room and everyone in it.  I could hear them – all of them.  The main speaker used a microphone, but I could hear everyone talking, even if they didn’t have a mic.  They could also see my face on the screen of the robot and hear my voice.  But that is not all. Using the mouse or the arrow keys I could make REATA 3 roll around. How cool is that?!

In the meeting our first assignment was to find 3 people at the meeting we did not know, then 3 people who work at Region 11 whom we did not know, and then locate 3 other meeting rooms.  This was to give us an opportunity to see the new building and meet new people.  I hooked up with one of the people at my table and off we went.  I followed my partner around the building, going down hallways, to the main reception desk, and finally back to the room. Introducing myself to new people was interesting! But everyone was very receptive.   It was a little challenging to drive REATA 3, but not too bad.  It was actually really fun.  It won’t let you drive it off of a step and it tells you if you are close to running into something.  It will display a message on the screen that says, “rear object” or “tall object”.  If you do bump into something, it will put a callout symbol with the word “BUMP!” in it!  Kind of funny!

During the two days of the meeting, I was able to work in a small group discussing various topics.  I was able to participate in the time when we used chart paper and shared activities we were doing in our part of the state.  Someone wrote my stuff down for me as I told it to them.  Then we took turns reading and explaining the activity on our charts.  I just talked and everyone in the room could hear me.

We took a selfie at the “Selfie Wall”.  I uploaded it below.

This is just so cool.  I had heard about it being used with children who are homebound due to illness or who can’t attend school for other reasons.  But I never thought I’d get to use it myself.  It is really easy to do and you don’t have to be “techy” to understand how to use a VGO.  But if you are “techy” you will love it!

VGo robot, REATA 3, with my picture on its screen.

VGo robot, REATA 3, with my picture on its screen.

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Remembering Jennette

pinkribbonOctober.  Breast cancer awareness month never really meant anything to me until 2004.  Unless someone you are close to has battled or is battling breast cancer, it might just seem like a nice idea to remember and honor those who have it or who beat it and to honor those who have passed away from it.

Jennette and I met in the 1990’s at Stephen F. Austin State University where we were both studying to be teachers of the visually impaired.  And we both had visual impairments.  I can remember many nights of staying up past midnight working on our assignments for braille class.  The rule was that if you made even one mistake while broiling, you had to start over, because points would be deducted.  That’s because if a person who is blind can feel the mistake in the braille, it makes it very hard if not impossible for them to read.  So there were many late nights with lots of pizza and Coca Cola!  I met Jennette’s parents when they would come to visit on the weekends periodically.

After graduation several years went by before our paths crossed again. I had been teaching in Mesquite, Texas when I accepted a consultant position with Region 8 Education Service Center in Mt. Pleasant. As a consultant in visual impairments I get to work with the teachers in the surrounding schools. It just so happened that Jeanette was teaching in one of the Region 8 sichools. She found my number and told me that we would be working together. As it turned out the house we rented was just a few blocks away from hers!

One sunny afternoon not too long after we had moved in, the phone wrong and it was Jennette. She had found a lump on her breast and it was malignant. She requested prayer as she was scheduled for a lumpectomy. Jennette’s parents have been missionaries all their lives. And they were already scheduled for a missions trip the week of her surgery. I’ll never forget how bravely she told them to go ahead with their trip. She had a friend from church who would drive her to Dallas and stay with her. So her parents courageously left her in God’s hands as they went to share Jesus with others.
I kept her in my prayers and really thought this was the end of the battle. After all, she was just 32 years old.

Jennette was no stranger to challenges. She spent several years as a young child on the mission field in Africa. She had to learn to speak Africans. It was hard and she didn’t like it . But learn, she must. Also because of her poor vision she couldn’t drive as an afult. So as an itinerant teacher she had to hire drivers.

At the time of her diagnosis we did not have a cancer center. Jennette’s mom Joyce, drove her to her chemo sessuons in Longview, an hour away. The treatment made her nauseous. And after the second one she lost all her hair. It fell out in huge clumps in the shower.

Jennette loved to sing and had a beautiful voice. She did specials at church and even recorded an album. Jennette could be anywhere and just break out in song. I loved that about her! No matter how bad things got she never lost her faith, nor her song, nor her smile. One of her favorite songs that she sang at church is “My Redeemer Lives” by Nicole C. Mullens.

The timelines are kind of foggy since her battle was son long. But the cancer spread to one of her lungs. She was in the hospital for nine days following surgery to remove the mass. Later it spread to the other lung and she had to have that mass removed as well.

Each year in the spring our professional organization, Texas Association of Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (TAER) holds its annual convention. After these lung surgeries it seemed that Jennette was getting back on her feet again. She was able to go to the conference this particular year and we shared a room. Jennette had brought her MP3 player with her loaded with over a 1,000 songs. As we sat on the side of the bed in the room one night, she played a song for me by Mercy Me called, “Gotta Keep Singing.” I couldn’t hold back the tears as I listened to the lyrics. It described her so perfectly. Being in a hospital room, feeling nothing but pain, wanting out so bad… but “I gotta keep singing, gotta keep praising Your Name”…. I don’t remember anything else about the conference. I learned from my dear friend how to cling to the Lord and let your fait shine even through trials. Hmmm… maybe the Lord was beginning to prepare me for my struggle – not with cancer but with paralysis and living with only the pictures and memories of my girls, knowing I’ll see them AND Jennette again one day.

By this time she had been battling for several years and taking chemo pills and radiation on and off. It was after this convention at some point the doctors discovered a large mass on the occipital lobe of her brain. I took my girls and we sat at the hospital with the family on Good Friday while she had surgery to remove the mass.

It was getting really tough for her to keep working. But she loved her students so much and was so dedicated to them that she kept on going even if it was just a few hours a day. “They need me” she would say. I think she also needed them.

Even though they successfully removed the tumor from her brain, another one appeared – and it was huge. This time they decided to “blast” it with a big dose of radiation. Seemingly, all that did was disburse it into 16 smaller pieces. So chemo, different than all the ones she had had before was administered. It was tough. But the tumors started shrinking…. but it wasn’t enough.

Jennette had to make the decision to take a disability retirement from teaching. It was just getting too hard for her to walk around. I remember going to her classroom where the students would come for their lessons with her and helping her clean it out. I was standing out by the car with Joyce. And for the first time, Joyce let me know that she thought Jennette might not make it. She said they had enjoyed 39 years and were just hoping to see the 40th.

At some point all the chemo just stopped working and there was nothing else the medical community could do for her. So they sent her home and she was placed on Hospice.

I went to see her at home. It was weird seeing my friend in a hospital bed in her house. It was so hard to see her that way. By this time she wasn’t really coherent much of the time. She didn’t want to eat. Her mom had to feed her. Nurses having to change her. She was dependent on others for everything.
But I stayed a long time… probably too long… may have worn her and her mom out. But we had a great time just talking and remembering past times.

On July 1, 20111 the girls and I were getting ready to attend our town’s annual fireworks display when word of Jennette’s passing came. She had won her battle. The fighting was over. That evening as we were attending the festivities a rainbow appeared in the sky just before dark. I’ll always remember it. It was if Heaven was happy to have received another singing angel.

I dreaded the funeral. She was too young to die. In the church the first few rows of pews were crowned one of her hats she had worn. This was so special because she always picked out the cutest hats – she had joy in picking them out. I went up to see her in the casket. She was beautiful and all dressed in purple with a hat on! Purple was her favorite color, and now it’s mine, too!
As the ceremony began, it was nothing like any funeral I’d ever been to before. It was truly a celebration of her life, not a mournful occasion. People told stories or shared things they loved about Jennette. There were lots of tears, of course, but we knew she was at happy and free of pain and earthly cares.

I still have the blankets she crocheted for my girls when they were babies.
And one day our families will be reunited in Heaven with our Lord Jesus. He is our Hope!

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