Just a few weeks ago, I celebrated five years of living independently. For many people, living out on one’s own is simply something that happens at the appropriate age after high school or college graduation. When a person is an adult, he or she gets a house or apartment and starts a life for themselves.
But for someone like me who has a visual impairment, living on my own was more than just a right of passage into adulthood; it was a dream and something I wanted to accomplish more than anything else in life. True, I wanted to see my name on the front cover of a book and hear my recorded songs played from stereo speakers, but living on my own topped the list.
But in order to make this happen, I needed to put forward a concentrated effort. As soon as I graduated from college, I moved in with my parents for a few months. During that time, I explored employment options and considered where I might live. Eventually, all roads pointed to my home town where I had been raised. At first, I found it anti-climactic; it didn’t seem exciting to just move back home, especially when the only lodging I had managed to find was the basement apartment in my grandmother’s house.
But I soon found out that living in Grandma’s basement was the first stepping stone to my independence. Three months later, I signed the lease to my first “real apartment.” It was an older building with cheap rent, but I didn’t care; it was my home.
Now, five years later, I have found yet another home; the apartment is smaller in size but newer and brighter. I have great neighbors, and I am in walking distance of work and several businesses that I am able to patronize. I value my independence and everything I am able to do on my own despite the fact that I am visually impaired.
This was made clear to me even more when I visited a young mother and her three-year-old daughter recently. The mother was seeking direction and advice, because you see, her daughter will most likely lose her vision over the course of her young life. This mother was clearly overwhelmed with what is sure to be inevitable; her daughter will become blind eventually, and there is so much to consider when she was probably expecting that her child would be healthy without disabilities.
The mother asked me how my parents handled my visual impairment as a child and what she could do help her daughter along in the years to come. One thing I continued to address was the value of independence. I could tell that this child was not shy about communicating with others and her outgoing personality showed promise in terms of confidence and persistence. I relayed this to the mother, assuring her that even though the child’s attitude might border on abstinence or sudden negativity, her independent spirit was sure to aid her in one day living on her own and going for her dreams.
All of this made me so incredibly thankful for my parents and the way in which they raised me. I was always encouraged to stand for what I believed in and to go for my dreams no matter what might stand in the way. My disability was never seen as an obstacle, and today, I am so glad that I have the opportunity to use my disability for good. Occasionally, someone will ask me if I ever feel anger toward the fact that I face challenges. I have to admit that sometimes I grow frustrated when I realize I am unable to do something effectively due to my disability, but for the most part, I can say with confidence that I am actually grateful for my visual impairment.
This might seem odd to you— this being grateful for a physical challenge— but it goes like this: without my visual impairment I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have today. Each summer, I can encourage and speak truth into the lives of 15-30 teenagers and set them on the path to effective leadership despite disability. I can reach out to people with disabilities in my local community and even share my experiences with a young mother, simply overwhelmed with a new diagnosis. I simply wouldn’t have these opportunities without going through similar experiences first.
It is easy for me?— No! But is it rewarding?— Yes, absolutely! Today, I am thankful beyond words that He is using me and even my weaknesses to bring hope, love, and peace into the lives of others.