My acquaintance with J.J. proved to be valuable both in opening doors for me at North and in forcing me to mature in my thinking and actions. Most of this maturing process occurred privately, as maturing sometimes does. It has also taken a number of years--and will continue, as it should.
J.J. was aware both that I was looking for employment and that I enjoyed working with children. In February, 2000, she asked if I would be interested in working at the church. She had a number of questions about how I would perform some of the tasks required, but she was open to hearing my suggestions and giving the arrangement a try. I worked in the nursery and periodically at the church-operated day care center for almost three years.
In early 2000, J.J. was serving as the choir director while the church searched for a new minister of music. She invited me to sing with the choir, and I joined and was pleased to find that I was able to learn the music with the help of demonstration CDs. However, when the new music minister was hired, I was forced to confront a deep wound from my past.
While I was a student at Anderson University, I was asked to sing at a disability awareness event on a Sunday morning at the church I was attending. I experienced mixed feelings about the event. I was hopeful that the event would increase people's sensitivity to the needs of people with disabilities and the desire to be included in relationships and ministry; but my singing was tinged with pain from my own wounds in these areas. Furthermore, I was not asked to sing at any other time. It was a very painful example of the thing that I feared: people with disabilities were relegated to ministries directly related to other people with disabilities. Looking back at the circumstances, I am fully aware that other factors were at work in this situation and that it was not due to my disability; however, the would still existed.
The music minister from that church was hired at North in 2000. I was terrified to continue singing in the choir, afraid that he would not use me for solos or other performance opportunities as J.J. had done and that it would be because of my blindness.
I had several options. I could stop singing altogether. I could confront him directly. Or I could continue singing and see what happened. I chose to continue singing and see what happened. I was pleasantly surprised when he did ask me to sing a solo a few months later--and continued to do so periodically. Eventually, I felt comfortable talking with him about my disability-related needs as well as my feelings about the role of music in my life and ministry.
In the summer of 2000, I presented my concerns about accessibility to Jim Lyon. He was very enthusiastic, but we never had a follow-upmeeting--in a church with 2,000 members, a person has to be persistent in order to make things happen. I was not.
North holds three services every Sunday morning. In the spring of 2001, I was working in the nursery during the third service. Every attempt was made to have two or more workers in the nursery at all times; but there were plenty of days when I worked that service alone. Often I only had one or two babies to care for--most of the families with babies tended to attend the first and second services.
I arrived one morning as the previous worker was packing up to leave. I settled my dog in "her place" and settled myself into a rocking chair. The worker put the one remaining baby in my arms. She was a Black baby, probably just a few months old judging by the fact that she had no head control and interest in sitting up; but she was as big as some of the walking babies. I didn't know who her parents were. All I knew was that her name was Libby and I was to set off her mom's vibrating pager if she cried.
Libby didn't cry. She was perfectly content to be held and rocked. She was the only baby in the nursery that day, so I was just as content as she was.
About halfway through the service, my dad came into the room. My parents attended the earlier services with me, and Dad would wait around and often check in and take me home if we had no babies. When he saw Libby, he asked if I knew whose baby she was. I wasn't sure why he was curious--it wasn't uncommon for him to give attention to a baby while I was working, but he usually didn't care whose babies I was caring for.
He wasn't curious. He knew the answer and told me some very important things. Libby was 16 months old, and she was being adopted by Jim and Jill Rogers. She had been brought to the United States from Haiti for some kind of medical treatment. I found out much later that she had died and was revived and brought here. By the time I moved to Florida in late 2002, Libby had become able to hold her head up and sit up with assistance and was reaching for toys. It seemed that she would have some long-term disabilities, but there was no way to know how severe. In the months between meeting Libby and leaving for Florida, I had also encountered a number of children with disabilities in the nursery and at North Kids. Several had autism, and a Sunday school class had been set up for five elementary school-aged boys with autism. We also had one child who used a walker and one who had had a major organ transplant. The nursery staff got a big surprise when one of the workers discovered something unusual on her stomach and the child informed us that this was her food button. This sparked some lively discussion about things staff *REALLY* need to know. One family gave birth to a premature baby at 26 weeks, and I as a former premature baby was able to provide them some support while she was in the hospital.
In late 2001, plans were laid to launch a network of small groups in the church. I attended a training in the hope of starting a small group that might perhaps focus on disability ministry and do some outreach and community service. My sudden move to Florida put a stop to my plans for the small group.
I did not find a church in Florida where any similar doors were open, although I did eventually become very active in a small church where my roommates (who were also blind) attended with me. I grew a lot spiritually, and I also for the first time experienced something close to the kind of fellowship I had always wanted. The story of my experience in Florida is important because it represents a turning point in my attitude about social barriers and disabilities.