I told Mike this morning that on one of my first visits to North, I resolved never to return because of a very negative experience. God had other plans; and He saw to it that I also had a very positive experience on that same day. I have since then realized that both experiences were necessary on that very day. They were both necessary in order to shape me, and they had to occur together--and in the order in which they occurred. But before I discuss them, I need to tell a bit about the things that shaped the person who came to North on that December day in 1998.
I grew up in the Houston area and attended a mid-sized congregation in a suburb on the southeast side of town. My mother was the church pianist, and my father occasionally filled in when the pastor was out of town. My grandmother was the church secretary when I was very young. Gramps was head of the prison ministry; and he and Granny taught the Sunday school class for senior citizens.
I was very active physically in the church, doing volunteer work in the nursery and children's department and participating in music programs, nursery work, nursing home visitation, and on the state youth council and as a member of the planning panel for the 1989 international youth convention of the Church of God, Anderson Indiana. By all appearances, I was successfully integrated in the church--and in many ways I would agree that I have been included as a member of the body of Christ and enabled to use my gifts in many settings. In this respect, I have been more fortunate than most of the people with disabilities I know--and my positive experiences have encouraged me to remain active in the church and to work to build bridges for other people who have not had the same positive experiences.
There are areas where I have felt that my experiences have been very negative, where I have been cast aside or treated as unacceptable because of my disabilities, even and especially in church settings. These experiences are especially painful because they happen within the body of Christ. If I had not had positive experiences beside them, I would probably have left the church--like many people I know. My efforts at forming friendships with other teens in the youth group went primarily unanswered. I was very lonely, and I often asked adults to pray that God would send me a friend.
The adults helped me to maintain my faith and nurture my gifts and talents. I was strongly interested in becoming a teacher of blind children; but having discovered a gift for songwriting, I was drawn to Anderson University, intrigued by the music business program. I felt that God's calling was for me to perform, compose, and produce music as a ministry.
I encountered obstacles as soon as I stepped on campus, the most important one being that the dean of the music department didn't want me taking courses in his department. "Why don't you go take math?" he said. Ironically,blind people are often thought to be great at music and horrible at math! Some older students advocated for me and began taking me to church with them at East Side Church of God. The advocacy eventually paid off: a prominent songwriter waived the music theory prerequisite for her songwriting class since I couldn't talk anyone into letting me take music theory. After that, I didn't have any more trouble in the music department.
I did have trouble in the education department, anv eventually I changed my major to Christian ministries. While I didn't suppose I would ever be a pastor, I thought that perhaps the Biblical studies courses would help in the ministry aspect of my music career.
I experienced a number of social and emotional difficulties at AU. Most of the students had not had any experience with blindness; and I carried baggage from the pain I had experienced in Houston. None of us were very good at working out interpersonal difficulties. I was often accused of selfishness when the real problem was unavoidable disability-related needs which put a strain on my friendships. Eventually, I found myself toying with the idea of suicide. I battled the problems out for another year but finally transferred to another school. Perhaps a fresh start would be good for me.