Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: blindness

Chapter 2 – Alphabet blocks

I found the wooden alphabet block with the letter N and added it to the row that was beginning to spell my name — R O B E R T G O O D N . . . Now I needed one more O. I carefully rotated each of the blocks I had not used, but could not find another O. This was a familiar problem; there are just too many O’s in my name. Now I had to take the blocks I had already used, rotate them one by one to find another O, then find a block with the letter I had taken away. Finally it is done: R O B E R T G O O D N O U G H.

I was four years old and this set of blocks was my favourite toy. With it I could build fences, walls, barns, houses, towers. When night came, I gathered them all into the wooden box with wooden wheels and put them away for another day.

One day, I don’t remember when, my mother began to explain the meaning of the mysterious symbols on the blocks. She showed me how to spell words like M O M, D A D, C A T, D O G and then how to spell my name. Soon I began to sound out words I saw in other places and found that there was no end of things to read. My cousin Julia, 18 years older than me, had once been a teacher. She noted my love for words and began bringing me little books each time she and her husband made a trip to Moose Jaw.

The day that I began school, my mother went with me and informed the teacher, “Robert can read.” The teacher was sceptical; she stuck a newspaper in front of me and said: “Read.” I read it aloud, smoothly, pronouncing the words correctly, though I may not have understood all that the news story was about. Thus I began Grade 1, and was introduced to the mindless Dick and Jane books: “SEE SPOT. SEE SPOT RUN.” Not very interesting to someone who was way beyond that at home. After Christmas, I was in Grade 2.

How did it happen that I was already a fluent reader the day I started school? It never seemed like my mother was trying to teach me to read. Outdoors, I had a trike, a wagon and a whole big yard to explore. Indoors, my set of blocks was my multipurpose toy kit, useful for most anything my fertile imagination could dream up. The incident in the first paragraph is one of my earliest memories and it was oft repeated as I learned the sounds of letters. My mother did just enough to pique my curiosity, then forever after had to answer my questions.

My mother was my first and best teacher. Yet she had known only Plautdietsch until the day she started school. For six years she attended a one-room school run by the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church, spending equal time learning German and English. In 1920 the Saskatchewan government decided that all private schools would be closed. When Mom went to enroll in the public school that fall, they told her she would have to begin the sixth grade again. Her father decided that if that was the case, she didn’t need to go to school anymore. Despite having only six years of formal education, my mother was in many ways better educated than my father, who had considerably more schooling and whose mother tongue was English.

The explanation for my mother’s learning achievements lies in her physical handicap, her father’s disability and the special relationship between them. My grandfather was blind. Glaucoma had robbed him of much of his vision in his youth and he later became almost totally blind. He still ran a farm and raised fourteen healthy children.
My mother was number six and she was born with congenital hip dysplasia. Nowadays, this condition can be corrected in newborns without surgery. A hundred years ago, doctors didn’t know what her problem was. They thought she had a back problem, as that was where she had pain, but had no idea how to treat it. One day, long after I was grown up, she told me that she had never walked without pain. I thought back to the times that she would play ball with me, even run foot races with me and wondered if a mother’s love had eased the pain.

Because of his blindness, my grandfather needed help, and who was more able and ready to help him than this daughter who didn’t get around as easily or as fast as his other children? She read to him, letters, farm papers, books, whatever he needed or whatever interested him. She helped him with managing the business side of the farm, helping with correspondence and learning how to manage money. If her parents went away for a Sunday dinner and she stayed home, as soon as her parents came home her father would want to know what she had been reading. He would ask her to retell the whole story that she had read.

A large, well-used English dictionary was one of her prized possessions. She studied it assiduously, looking up every new word she found, learning its meaning and how to use it. Her brothers and sisters would tell her that she had swallowed the dictionary. She spoke clear, unaccented, grammatically correct English.

My parents’ home contained hundreds of books, the legacy of my father’s parents and of his brother who had abandoned the prairies for British Columbia. With a mother like this, and a house full of old, well-written books, how could I help but become a serious reader and a lover of good books?

Jesus as agent provocateur

Doesn’t it appear that Jesus deliberately did things that he knew would provoke the Pharisees to reveal their lack of compassion?

Jesus healed many people of their blindness; in some cases he touched their eyes, in other cases there was no physical contact, he simply declared them healed and they were. Why then did he make such a production out of healing the blind man in the incident recorded in the ninth chapter of the gospel of John? He spat on the ground, made mud and spread it on the man’s eyes and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. What was the point of that?

Well, it was the Sabbath. The work of making mud and spreading it on the eyes of the blind man was a violation of the Sabbath, at least in the eyes of the Pharisees.

Jesus went on his way and left the man to face the outrage of the Pharisees. It was not slow in coming: “This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day;” “We know this man is a sinner.” When the formerly blind man did not agree with that judgment, they excommunicated him from the synagogue. (“cast him out” verse 34).

Towards the end of the chapter, Jesus returns to talk with the formerly blind man, who now acknowledges him to be the Son of God. By this time he had seen what the Pharisees were really like, no doubt so had many of the bystanders.

“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10).

The Pharisees were exceedingly zealous for the law, but could not get their heads around the idea that love had any place in fulfilling the law. They were sure that they had caught Jesus in flagrant violation of the law. In reality, He had snared them into revealing their lack of love.

In the end the Pharisees were so outraged by Jesus’ continual challenges to their authority that they raised a mob to demand that He be crucified. The crucifixion, rather than being the triumph of the Pharisees and the forces of darkness, was where they were defeated. “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:14-15).

Love is always subversive of the forces of evil.

Back to work

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Early in the fall of 2007, I became aware of distorted vision in my right eye. I went for an eye exam and was referred to Doctor Kevin Colleaux, a specialist in Saskatoon. Within a few days I received the first injection in that eye. Over the next three and one half years I had more than a dozen injections in each eye before the macular degeneration was stopped.

I consider myself fortunate, because the drug used, Lucentis, had only become available a short time before I developed macular degeneration. I did lose the central vision in my right eye, but the left eye still has undistorted vision. I am able to drive, read, work and use a computer. I know someone who developed macular degeneration a few years before I did and he is legally blind, he can do none of those things.

More recently, the vision in my right eye has become quite cloudy. Wednesday, I had cataract surgery in that eye. The procedure involves making a small incision in the eye, inserting a tool to dissolve the lens by ultrasound, sucking out the dissolved material and inserting a new plastic lens. I was given several types of eye drops prior to the surgery, then a gel containing several more drugs was spread over the eye. It took some time for this all to work to dilate the eye and to make it insensitive to pain. The operation itself took five to ten minutes, I was awake during the procedure, felt nothing in my eye, and had no pain afterwards. I still have no central vision in that eye, but the cloudiness is gone. The plastic insert is a prescription lens giving me clear distance vision. In about six weeks I will have my eyes tested and get new glasses.

My wife had to drive me around after the surgery because that eye remained dilated for 24 hours or more, giving me foggy vision. As of today I am back to work and very thankful to Doctor Colleaux, his support staff, and all the researchers who have developed means to help me keep my vision.

Hold Still

Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the LORD with you (2 Chronicles 20:17).

In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength (Isaiah 30:15).

Five and a half years ago I became aware of a deterioration in my vision.  The diagnosis was macular degeneration, the fast-acting wet form.  There was a treatment that had recently become available, but it involved injecting a medication directly into the eyeball.  I did not like the idea, but the alternative was vision loss that would deprive me of the ability to read or drive a car.  Over the next few years I had numerous injections, in both eyes.  The doctor was very good at what he did, smooth and quick.  I knew the medicine would work, but there was that brief instant when he would take a needle and poke it into my eye that I would gladly have avoided.  But that short-lived pain is what it took to get the medicine to the source of the problem.

After a few injections I knew the pain did not last long and the injection site would heal rapidly. One time, I persuaded myself that the injection was no big thing, I could just relax, let the doctor do his thing, and all would be well.  When the needle went in, I gave a little jerk.  No real harm was done, it took the eye maybe an extra day to heal, but I realized that thinking that I could just sleepwalk through the treatment was not a good idea.  Neither would I ever be able to give myself the injection.

I believe it is the same way when we are in need of spiritual healing, whatever the need might be.  We cannot heal ourselves, we must go to the Great Physician.  We know from past experience that God’s fire will bring cleansing and healing, yet we instinctively dread it.  It does not come naturally to hold still.  “Holding still” requires that I be a willing participant, both for the physical and the spiritual healing.

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