Laurel Jean Presents...'

Laurel Jean Presents...'
Music with a Message and a Mission

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Laurel Jean's Blog

Sharing God's Guiding Glimpses into my Life of Music and Ministry

Friday, July 27, 2018

Reaching For That Rainbow ...

It has often been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. For many of us, , some of the greatest works of art are those drawn from the seemingly infinite reservoir of vocabulary. Throughout my forty-plus years, I have invariably found myself standing in front of some visual wonder next to a sighted person who exclaims in a voice awash with tears, "Oh, if only you could see this!"

Many times, I have stifled the urge to offer a snarky remark in return. Trying my best to wrap my irritation in a bundle of enthusiasm, I usually opt for the more appropriate response of, "I can see through your eyes."

My effort to console the grief of another over that which is perceived to be my problem is met with mixed reactions: an awkward chuckle, an uneasy silence; an awkward embrace; a pat on the hand or an exclamatory, "God bless you, honey!" Sometimes, my sighted companion will begin describing visual characteristics to me.

Whether the description is beneficial to me or not, I keep striving to offer encouragement, "There, now we can see it together!"

Reflecting on these kinds of experiences, I thank God for the people in my life (blind and sighted with different abilities and disabilities), who refrain from wasting their words on pity. My mind's eye beholds the memory of a beautiful sunset described spontaneously to me over dinner or frosted glasses of tea. I thank God for the shopping trips with friends who simply take a little more time so that I can also enjoy the day of standing in front of store windows, examining delicate items on glass shelves or flipping through clothes hangers. In the treasure trove of letters written by my friends, I immerse myself in the vivid descriptions of outings, the crisp mountain air, the sounds of ocean waves, the scent of evergreen at Christmastime. Thousands of words enrich my life and I am grateful for each one

Recently, I was asked to speak a word of God's blessing for a very dear couple as they celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary with family and friends. Our outdoor festivities were interrupted when, literally out of the blue, a surprise thunderstorm sent all of us packing into the kitchen, dining room and living room of our gracious hosts. The house filled with laughter as guests of all ages continued to enjoy a truly memorable evening.

The sun was shining again as the party drew to a close. We walked outside and were greeted by a gentle shower of raindrops. Then, the air was filled with delightful surprise as everyone beheld the most beautiful double rainbow that anyone had seen in a long time.

picture of rainbow

Caught up in the excitement, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was among friends.  I handed off my phone to the person standing next to me and asked her to take a picture. No one asked me why I wanted a picture. No one asked me jokingly if I could see the rainbow, and no one bemoaned the fact that I couldn't see it. Descriptive words flowed effortlessly from those around me, and I was as excited as everyone else. I truly felt included and accepted, just as I am!

What is the Kingdom of Heaven like? Well, as I see it, the kingdom of Heaven is like a group of people--blind and sighted, on different walks of life--who gathered one day to celebrate life and love. Together, we reached for a rainbow; and, together we caught it!

The lyrics of the song "Vision Through Your Eyes,"* which I penned over twenty years ago, are just as heartfelt for me now as they were back then.

"When walking down our different roads we meet again,
You can be sure to find me as I've always been ...
Reaching for that rainbow, the everlasting harmony
Of colors around us every day,
And when people ask me what makes life worth living this way,
I will tell them of the vision through your eyes ... "
*"Vision Through Your Eyes," Music and Lyrics ©1997 by Laurel Jean Walden/ASCAP

Stay tuned for more posts like this one. Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart!

©2018 by Laurel Jean Walden

Monday, July 2, 2018

Celebrating Independence and Education

As we here in the United States prepare to celebrate yet another Independence Day, I thank God for all of the brave men and women who over the years have given their lives to protect our country's freedom. I am grateful for every God-given opportunity that I have to exercise and nurture my Christian faith, my literacy and my personal independence. With each new day, we who are blind can give praise to our Creator for touch and taste; for sound and scent; for hearts, minds and souls ready to perceive, grow and share a vision that is as unique to us individually as a thumb print. Our fingers glide with speed and accuracy over computer keyboards, touch screens and Braille displays. We work in mainstream application environments guided by the synthetic speech of screen reading software. We navigate our kitchens, homes, neighborhoods, schools, careers and communities. We stand at lighted street crossings, poised with long white canes or dog guide harnesses in hand, attentive to the ebb and flow of traffic and ready to move forward at a moment's notice.

Still, on any given day, all of us with our different abilities are met with stumbling blocks, barriers and even brick walls. Preconceived notions, myths and stereotypes abound. When asked, the majority of us who are blind or otherwise differently able will readily say that our greatest obstacles often lie in the propagation of these untruths, many times by people who claim to be our greatest advocates, by folks who "really do mean well."

Education is the key to breaking down barriers. Our personal, everyday interactions in our mainstream communities can be changed from negative to positive when we who are blind  pause to answer a question posed, or correct an  erroneous statement made, by a sighted person regarding our blindness. In addition, we can empower and educate each other, as we share our lists of goals and resources with our brothers and sisters who are also blind.

Kimberly and Laurel presenting for the Friends of Bartimaeus

In June, I was called to lead music and ministry for the Friends of Bartimaeus Christian Outreach for the Blind here in Charleston, SC. I was joined by Kimberly, a fellow Dixie Lander and the manager of the "Own Your Life" program at the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Together, we led an informal discussion about resources available to the blindness community.

Kimberly, Laurel and Audrey presenting for Bark Camp

It is always a joy to educate sighted children and youth on blindness-related topics. Here, Kimberly and guide Fonzie, Audrey with guide Jessie, and I spoke to "Pet Partners," one of the summer day camp sessions presented by the Charleston Animal Society. These young people, ranging in age from twelve to fifteen years, had a lot of great questions for all of us. While many asked questions about guide dogs, others simply wanted to know our stories, how we learned to read and how we pick out our clothes.

Audrey with children visiting with Jessie off harness

Of course, before we all said goodbye, the kids got to meet Fonzie and Jessie and spend a little off-harness time with them. Seeing the difference in the dogs' demeanors in and out of harness gave even the adults a better appreciation of the relationship between blind handlers and their guide dogs. These times of meeting and greeting, tail wags and doggie kisses are always absolutely priceless!

In this world, some of us are born blind or become blind later in life. Others among us have sight. These traits shape our lives, sometimes more or less profoundly, but they do not define who we are. There is no "least" or "greatest" and no place for "us and them."

The Bible tells us that the first and greatest commandments are that we (1) love God and (2) love our neighbors as ourselves. I believe that when we learn to love God, we learn to see ourselves as God sees us. Through our personal growth in God's infinite wisdom, we can begin to truly love our neighbors as ourselves. Across the hall or around the globe, let us continue to break down barriers and celebrate as we learn more about each other.

God's Light keeps shining! Stay tuned for more posts like this one. Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart!

© 2018 by Laurel Jean Walden

About Me

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God has blessed me with a Music Ministry that is still ongoing and growing after twenty-plus years. This includes my outreach promoting Braille Literacy in the Christian venue, and my recently-founded Children's Chaplaincy for blind youth. To make things a bit more interesting, I have also been blind since birth. I consider my blindness to be a unique gift from God, an opportunity to serve as an ambassador among blind and sighted folks of all ages, on all walks of life. To learn more about my work, from South Carolina to Central Illinois and beyond, please visit my Web site, and be sure to stay tuned to my Blog!