Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An Evening on the Island of the Colorblind

Last night I re-watched The Island of the Colorblind. It follows a neurologist and scientist on a trip to Pingelap, a small island in the South Pacific where almost 10% of the population is born with the eye disease Achromatopsia and 1/3 carry the gene for it. Achromatopsia causes total colorblindness, extreme light sensitivity, and visual acuity around 20/200.

Why would I care about visually impaired men, women, and children living on an island thousands of miles away? I felt drawn to the film because I was born with this disease. Outside the isolated community of Pingelap, Achromatopsia only occurs in about 1-in-33,000 people. It’s recessive so it tends to pop out of nowhere in families, and once it does, parents usually have more than one child with low vision. My sister Sherry has this eye problem while my sister Kristy doesn’t.

After growing up with a disorder so rare that I often find myself explaining it to doctors, the idea of a place where I would have neighbors, friends, and even teachers just like me and wouldn’t stand out as odd fascinates me. What struck me even deeper was their attitude toward the disorder. These visually impaired people get by without the sunglasses, magnifiers, and resources that I rely on, but they also grow up without being labeled disabled. The scientists had to be careful to offer things like sunglasses and magnifiers as cool tools that could make their lives easier without implying that anyone had a problem that needed fixing.

Those who had never seen color didn’t seem to miss it or feel deprived. Instead, they emphasized the patterns, tones, shadows, and textures that they did see. They obviously struggled but it didn’t consume them or hold them back. Many of the night fishermen had Achromatopsia because they see so much better after sunset. The visually impaired seemed perfectly happy and those with 20/20 vision accepted them as normal.

Their outlook got me thinking—wouldn’t it be nice if we could embrace life and others this way? Wouldn’t we all feel a lot freer focusing on what we have instead of what we don’t and noticing strengths before weaknesses? What if we decided to see ourselves and everyone we meet as perfectly normal and treat them accordingly? After all, each of us could turn the television on one day and discover that a place exists where what we thought was weird isn’t considered weird at all.

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Let's Be Honest

I was having a great time at the writer’s conference, learning and reconnecting with friends that I only see once a year. God had given me some much-needed direction and I’d received great feedback on a story. So why did I suddenly feel like I would burst into tears any minute?

The truth? Every time I turned around one of my friends had exciting news that far surpassed mine. Life had forced me to set aside writing projects that weren’t bringing in an income and I could no longer deny that I resented it. I felt stuck and had no idea how to get unstuck. The event that sent my fun projects to the back burner had also rattled my confidence and I was in an environment where connections required a lot of that. The fact that I was tired and let the floodgates open by sharing a prayer request that morning only compounded my private emotional storm. The last straw came when my roommate shared some wonderful news of her own as we were walking back to our room. As soon as I got inside I felt the tears burning my eyes and throat.

“Okay, I just need to confess,” I managed to get out. “I am incredibly frustrated right now.”

“Why?” The gentleness in her voice melted the last bit of reserve that repressed my tears.

I spilled out everything, feeling like such a whiney baby. Why couldn’t I be happy for my friends and content with what God had already done for me?

Instead of making less of my feelings, this sweet friend shared them. “You’re right, Jeanette, it isn’t fair. It’s time for it to be your turn.” Instead of stopping there, she helped me come up with a plan. She not only encouraged me to take a fun project off the back burner, but promised to bug me like crazy until I finished it. The longer we talked, the more I felt my frustrations drive me to action. And it all started with being honest with a safe friend and with myself. In the process, I allowed myself to be honest with God.

That night at dinner, God opened a door for me to bounce an idea off a magazine editor. She like it! Other answers came in the next twenty-four hours. As I celebrated them, I recognized God’s hand in how all of this played out. I am convinced that He wanted me to hit the wall of frustration that trigged a flood of honesty. The blessings came after I cried out to Him what He already knew: “God, I’m tired of being stuck.”

When have you seen the benefits of being honest, both with yourself and with the One who knows you best? What do you need to be honest with Him about today?

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