Some of my favorite Christmas memories are from the childhood years when my Granny, Beulah Adams, and Big Mama, Georgia Mae Fountain, were both still alive. Christmas Day was my Granny’s birthday, so Christmas was a double celebration. God was first in our lives, or we all tried to make Him first. As young as I was, I wanted so badly to be His child and be good, though I often seemed to fail. Strange as it may sound, my favorite verses for so many years were the familiar favorite, John 3:16 and Romans 3:23. “For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (emphasis mine).” Christmas was a time that was joyful, despite circumstances, simply because we were reminded of what was really important. It was also the guaranteed time that wherever we were, we were going to travel home to Macon to see my Mom’s family, especially my Granny and Big Mama who brightened up any world as far as I was concerned.
Both Granny and Big Mama had tough lives. Granny was born on Christmas Day, 1887. Big Mama was born around 1910. They were never more than “dirt poor” as they called it, and each had seen way too much tragedy for anyone person, but they had joy. I was very close to both of them. I learned a lot from both of them, too, but about being blind, I learned those lessons from Granny long before I would know I would need them. God hid them in my heart. Granny was blind and, by today’s standards, would have been classified as DeafBlind for all the years I knew her. Her brother, my Great Uncle Oscar, was the same. Though neither was diagnosed with Usher or Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), and I think both were said to have glaucoma, the genes I carry for Usher III probably came, on that side at least, through them.
Glaucoma was always called “tunnel vision” which is also what RP is, and many people with RP develop glaucoma. She never called herself blind despite finding her way around with her hands. In fact, Granny repeated often with that little chuckle of hers, “Haha, I can see just fine.” Granny always walked around by trailing with her hands. She looked at things by feeling each all over carefully with her fingers. She would often compliment you on your pretty blue shirt or flowery dress. We don’t know how she did it really, because one eye was glass, and the other eye’s retina was totally “cloudy” and saw no light and she had a cataract most of the time (according to doctors). Regardless, Granny was definitely blind and had some trouble hearing. I often had to talk with her only when she was in a quiet room by herself just so she could understand me. I loved doing that and would often leave my cousins playing to just sit with my Granny and talk to her or listen to her talk to herself (Granny was often put in a den or living room away from everyone else maybe because she got nervous. I don’t really know why because she loved company), telling stories of days long gone and totally different from anything I had ever known. She reminded me often that though we all have sinned, God loves us and will forgive us if we ask because Jesus died for all our sins. Salvation is a gift. We can’t earn it. It is freely given without any condemnation even though in our earthly bodies we will continue to sin. If we ask for the gift, Granny would say, Jesus will forgive us of all of our sins, and put His Holy Spirit in our hearts to teach us how to live day by day until we go home to Him. I loved to listen to her wise words.
During one of those Christmas moments, I actually asked her how she could see when Mama said she was totally blind. Except when she was quietly telling herself stories, Granny said few words, but chuckled often. Let me say that again. She chuckled often like she just couldn’t contain it. It reminded me, or rather Ebenezer Scrooge reminded me, of Granny after the visits by the three ghosts when I saw it the first time. Granny chuckled all the time even when she was alone and talking. Otherwise, though, she tended to answer questions (after asking you to repeat what you said) with a mere sentence or two, but Granny spoke volumes in those few words to those who listened. The answer to my question proved to be one of those times, but I wouldn’t know how much she really said until I was grown and DeafBlind, myself. She merely said, “God’s light helps me see many things.” I quietly thought about that, not really understanding what she meant, as Granny got back to her story-telling. Like all that Granny told me during those quiet times between us, I never shared that with anyone. Well, until now with you. I kept them to myself as something special all of my own, and over the years, I have enjoyed playing those moments over again cherishing each and every one.
I share it now with you because I now know what Granny meant. It took years of experiences to understand it, and in fact, I still didn’t understand it when she lay on her deathbed and spoke to me another secret. I had gone to visit her with my then husband knowing that Granny would be gone from this earth in a few short hours. Granny knew who I was. Even at 93, Granny had never had a problem with her mind. She was just as bright, alert, and aware as always. This moment, though, she was aware and alert and filled with that laughter as always, but her words didn’t seem to make sense. Granny talked to me and my husband, but she was also talking to someone she called Gabriel. She would speak to us and then tell Gabriel something about us that she remembered and chuckle looking to the other side of the bed. All at once, she got quiet a moment, looking that other way, and gasped a little gasp as her face grew serious and pale as if she were listening to someone speak. Then she turned toward me and found my hand with hers and held it tightly looking toward me with those unseeing eyes, but with more seeming vision than anyone. Granny spoke my name quietly and said, “You are going to be blind if you don’t change. Change, or you will lose the light.” I was stunned. I had no words. Then, as quickly as it came, it left. The color came back to her face and the laughter flowed again. Granny was back to herself except for saying Gabriel was with her for the trip home. Granny had said for many years that she loved life, but she was looking forward to going home. We left the room with my heart heavy and burdened with more than just the knowledge that Granny was leaving me. Granny went home almost as soon as we left her side, and she was deliriously happy.
I still miss my Granny, and I have pondered her words often over the years. I knew then that I was living a life that God wasn’t happy with at all. I had been into a wayward teen life that led to an early marriage and baby. As a married woman with a child I adored, I was trying to find my way back. I knew this was part of what she was talking about, so I got my heart back with the Lord. The blindness part puzzled me, though. My heart told me there was more that I wasn’t getting. A few months after my granny died, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I thought I had the answer then. I could lose my sight if I didn’t take better care of my body. I often would go for days without eating trying to keep my body as thin as possible despite not having a thin frame or metabolism for thin. So, I worked on eating healthy and healthy exercise thinking that would keep the prophecy of blindness away. I feared that more than anything, since I was already Deaf. My idea of DeafBlind was only from reading Helen Keller. I admired her greatly, but I didn’t want to be like her. Again, I thought I had it figured out, so I worked hard to take care of myself physically and keep my lifestyle more like Jesus having my daily devotionals and going to church. I was good, right?
Wrong! There was more to it that I wasn’t getting, but I was trying. God didn’t give up, either. Life went along as life will until I was about to turn 40. I noticed that I couldn’t read as well. Ah, it was just the “arms aren’t long enough” syndrome, right? Turned out it wasn’t, but before I knew that God put in my heart a burning, obsessive desire to study His word in ways I have never even thought about. I couldn’t get enough. I read His word often for hours and read Bible Studies by many authors. I learned some Hebrew and Greek in order to get to the better translations. I just can’t say enough that I was obsessed. I knew God had a reason, but I didn’t know what it was. I felt something was about to change, but I had no idea what. This obsession continued for more than two years. It really never went away completely. I still study His word and love it more and more each day, but not as obsessively. However, that something happened that I was expecting, but I didn’t know what it was going to be. I became blind!
I wasn’t totally blind, but legally, and it was going to get worse. I was fearful. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t, but the fear I always thought I would have becoming like Helen Keller never happened. I knew God was with me. Then I saw the light. I remembered Granny’s words that Christmas. “God’s light helps me see many things.” God knew I was going to become DeafBlind. He knew my DNA. He was going to allow it to happen to help me learn many lessons and help others with my experiences, but I wasn’t going to be “blind” because His light would help me to see many things. To find that light, though, I had to know my God and Savior well, and I could only do that by spending a lot of time with Him and in His Word to understand Him and His Light. Well, if you are around me a lot, you often hear me say, “I am not really blind.” Now you know why.
I needed more of His light even if I hadn’t gone blind. Our purpose here is to learn more about Him. God wants us to have a relationship with us, not just servant and master, but a real, deep relationship like close friends or family. To do that, we have to spend time with Him. We have to study His Word, we have to pray, and most importantly, we have to spend time listening to Him in the still, quiet moments. You don’t call a friend’s close friend your close friend when you haven’t met him or only see him occasionally in public places, do you? No, you call them a close friend when you have spent time with them not only in public places but in the quiet places talking and listening to him, right? That is what God wants from us. I think it is pretty amazing actually that the God of the universe wants to be my close friend. I love that He does now that I understand what it really means. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world including my sight. What about you? Do you know God as a true friend? If not, listen to my Granny, and start this Christmas getting to know Him by just reading His word even if you don’t believe in God. What can it hurt to try God? Just ask Him to show Himself to you if he really exists. Then read and pray each day listening to what is around you and stirring in your heart. You may never be the same again.
Father, I introduce to you my friend. Friend, this is God Almighty, maker of Heaven and earth, who loved you so much that He wanted to be your Savior and friend, so He sent His Son to die in your place. Y’all talk, ok?