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Hands

Recently, my grandfather had carpal tunnel surgery. Which, as an aspiring scientist and amateur writer, got me thinking a lot about hands. So, naturally, I did two things– I looked up how the procedure was done, and I began writing this post. Once I figured out how the surgery was done and reassured myself that it was a relatively minor procedure, I began to figure out how to write this. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wasn’t completely sure where I wanted this post to go. I could use my fingers to count a million different words I could write. I could use my hand to draw a map of all the different places this post could go, tracing out each path on the veins and creases on my hand. I needed a direct path from my heart to my fingers. (Fun fact, wedding rings are worn on the left ring finger because it was believed to be the only finger with a vein leading directly to the heart.) So, I fiddled with my ring I wear on my left ring finger that’s definitely not a wedding ring, and tried to find a direct path from my heart to the tips of my fingers. But, that proved more difficult than carpal tunnel surgery. My heart was telling me to write about how this surgery was just another example, this time physical, of my grandparents getting older. I wanted to write about how watching Boppa’s body grow weaker hurts, but watching his mind grow weaker has hurt more. For grandma the nurse, her hands are so important, but for Boppa, the college professor and ordained Free Methodist pastor, with two masters’ degrees and a doctorate, his mind is so important. Both of them served with their hands, one literally and one metaphorically, and I wanted to write about how much it hurts to see both of them becoming weaker. But, I decided that story is, mostly, best saved for another post. Instead, I decided, as I reflected on how important hands are, that I would write something else. Somewhere along the path from my heart to my fingertips, I decided to save the pain of that story for another time and instead write a more beautiful story. So, here it is– a different story, written with my own hands, about my own hands.

My hands have been through a lot in my short 19 year life. Throwback to when I was a baby with tiny hands yet undiscovered by me. I flailed my arms, fists clenched, and paid no attention to what, or who, I might hit. After I discovered them, I grabbed things– other people’s fingers mostly. I put them in my mouth, or other people’s mouths, or whatever was nearby. I touched things, simply because I liked how they felt. I used them to pull the baby gate out of my way, then used them for support as I crawled up the mountain-like stairs I was too afraid to crawl back down. They held my blanket and my doll as I ran my fingers across them because I loved the way it made my hand tingle and the sensation I felt in my fingertips. My hands became part of the reason my parents suspected my visual impairment. I used them to hold objects centimeters away from my face because I couldn’t see them any other way. I reached out and touched things just to see how far away they were or what they felt like because I couldn’t use visual cues to interpret the way they might feel. I’d reach down to feel just how big of a jump it was from my grandparent’s garage to their driveway, because my hands were saying it was a centimeter difference, but my eyes were saying it was a canyon. I used them to navigate a world I couldn’t see. And, later, once I had my (adorable) glasses, when I was learning to walk, I held them out in front of me again as I navigated, trying to feel my way around a world I had never seen so clearly before. Once I got used to my new perspective of the world, I used them to point at things I had never noticed before– just to make sure everyone else saw them too.

As I grew, my hands grew with me. With them, I learned to write, carefully copying each stroke and hand position. They traced the words on pages as I learned to read, my finger precisely following each shape as my mouth sounded out the forms. I held the hands of my parents as I crossed roads and parking lots– thinking that staying safe forever was as simple as never letting go. In them was placed my first Bible– a gift whose impact wouldn’t be realized until years later when those same hands held those same Words as I memorized them. They colored outside the lines, cut themselves in an attempt to cut paper, and glued parts of themselves together. They reached up to grab the monkey bars or to hold my baby cousins. I let them be used by my friends to scrawl phone numbers or flowers on. I held them out to shake hands or give high fives. They learned to tickle both the ivories and my dad’s feet. I used them to wipe my nose, put band-aids on my skinned knees, and wash my body. They held my favorite books as I went on adventures with my best friends, and they supported me when I fell down. Sometimes, they were the reason I fell.

As I grew older, my hands did too. They started writing full sentences and typing full essays, carefully drawing each shape as I saw it in my mind. Instead of tracing the words on pages, I often find them tracing the path my blood takes from the tips of my fingers, through my hand, to my wrist, up through my arm, until they arrive at my heart– feeling each beat and reminding me that I am alive. Somewhere along the road, they let go of my parents’ hands, as I reassured myself I’d be okay on my own. And now, they sometimes long to hold another hand– to be reminded that I’ll be safe as long as I don’t let go. With them, I hold my Bible– reaching out to God– knowing that they’re holding my greatest joy and my entire life. They’re still not one for staying in the lines. And I’ve cut them countless times with knives or paper or pins or scissors. They’ve super-glued themselves together more times than I’d care to admit. They reached out to accept my high school diploma, and they reach out to hold the babies and pet the puppies that cross my path. They’ve been my go to notebook as I used them to jot down that homework assignment or date. They’ve clapped and cheered for my competitors, and greatest friends, as they held in their own hands– hands I had shaken so many times– an award mine had longed for so long to hold. With them, I spread encouragement and congratulations to my friends whose hands held Words as they memorized them. They’ve had an itch to tickle the ivories for far too long, and they’ve been reminded that playing the piano is nothing like riding a bike– it can be forgotten. They’ve wiped tears from my eyes, bandaged my wounds, and washed my face.  They’ve gone to Kenya where they clapped and danced with new friends, held babies, and pet elephants. And, they’ve been longing ever since to reach back out and take the hands of the friends I met there, as they search for the piece of my heart I left behind, all the while knowing they’ll never find it– and not wanting to. They’ve supported me when I fell, and were the things that picked me back up. They pieced my broken heart back together as they fought the urge to fight the thing that broke it. 

And now, I’m sitting here, in a coffee shop, examining my hands. As I flex them and study them, all the while feeling completely crazy, I see all the things they’ve done in my life. I see my senior year AP Bio class, where I dissected eyes, brains, frogs, and worms, and where I used them to taxidermy a rat, all without wearing gloves. Because, I’ve always been fascinated with how things feel, and I can’t get the whole experience if I can’t feel. I see my junior year AP Chem class where I spilled silver nitrate on them, because, again, why wear gloves if you don’t have to. I see the incalculable amount of times I washed them, trying to get it off, but having to finally resign myself to just being patient. I see the way they served in Kenya and how I’m still using them to serve in Kenya and elsewhere. I see that time they held a young rookie as she cried, pouring her heart out, and the time they were linked with others in prayer as we cried for each other. The times they were raised in worship and surrender to the One who made them. I see my fingernails that are dirty and sometimes broken. I see the calluses I have from working. I see all the chemicals I’ve spilled on them and the times my professors forced me to wear gloves, even though I prefer the experience without. I see the way they cramp up when I spend four hours a day deleting phone numbers and emails from records, and how, with 4000 records, I still have more to do the next time. I see how I use them to bake and cook. (Seriously though, my scones and my homemade pizza are truly culinary masterpieces.) They are currently dry and a little red, because, no matter how many times I wash them and put lotion on them, the constant exposure to chemicals, from my job and from my Chemistry training, has left them a little rough around the edges.

So, here’s the thing. Here’s the point of all this talk about my hands. I believe that if eyes are the window to the soul, then hands are the mirror to the heart– reflecting the innermost parts of who you are.

I don’t believe all those people who say you can tell your future by looking at the creases on your palm. But, I do believe you can see your past, and your present, by looking at your hands. Hands say a lot about what has happened to you, and they reflect so much of who you are. They show all the experiences you’ve had and they tell a lot about who you are as a person. When I see my dad’s hands, a little rough and probably permanently stained with grease or newsprint or both, I don’t see just that. I see all the hard work he’s done over the years to support us– his three jobs, his late nights and early mornings, and the things he’d sacrifice, including time with us, to give us all he could. When I looked at the brace on my grandfather’s hands as he was waiting for this surgery, and still waits for his other hand’s, I don’t just see a hand that sometimes goes numb. As a scientist, I see a carpal ligament that needs to be cut to relieve pressure on the underlying nerve. But, as a writer, I see his past and present. I see all the people he’s served– the sermons he’s preached, the hearts he’s touched, the Word he’s spread. I see all the papers he’s graded and the students he’s inspired and encouraged. I see in my grandmother’s hands the patients she’s healed, the families she’s reassured, the friends she’s cooked delicious meals for, and the family she’s held so close. I see my sister’s love of piano playing, word writing, and book holding, and the way she used them to try to give up, but how she uses them now to list all the reasons she shouldn’t. I could go on and on about all the stories I see when I look at my family members hands.

And when I look at my own, I see it all too. I see me as a baby, discovering my hands for the first time. I see me as a child of no more than two, using my hands as a navigator for this new clear world. I see them learning to hold a pen and play the piano. I see how they no longer move the baby gate out of my way, but how they now work to move any obstacle out of my way as I face conquerable mountains I am no longer afraid to fall down. I see the bumps and bruises I’ve gotten along the way and the sores and marks they have now. And, admittedly, right now, my hands are exhausted. They’ve worked hard. This year, this life, and this summer, and they’ll work even harder as I grow up. But, I also see the way they reflect my heart. My heart of service and hard work. The way they reflect my personality based on what they do. I see the way they exemplify Colossians 3:23 without the words being scrawled on them in day old faded ink. So, look at your hands. Because they can’t predict your future, but they can reflect your past and explain your present. And they are the true reflection of who you are.

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My Insecure View

College has begun, and it is a wonderful time. But it’s also a rough time. It’s a tough time of adjustment. It’s a tough time of making new friends. And, for me, making friends, and even interacting with old ones in new ways, brings out a lot of my insecurities. And, I have more insecurities than I hope people notice. But, there is one which overpowers all my other insecurities. One which fuels my others. One that has so often caused my others, and caused me to over compensate for them. One which has for so long determined what I said and  what I did. One that I have always fought and always will fight, even while all my others may come and go. And that is my eyes.

Now, when I say I’m insecure about my eyes, I don’t mean that I wish my eyes were either more blue or more green instead of half of both. Or that they opened wider or shone brighter. Although these have been insecurities I have had, that do, occasionally, more often than I would like to admit, resurface. But, what I really mean is that I am insecure about my eyesight.

For anyone who doesn’t know, I have ocular albinism. To skip all the scientific jargon, and to spare you from having to read about it, it’s basically a genetic eye condition that reduces the pigmentation in my irises and retinas. It also affects the nerves and pathways somewhere between my eyes and brain, essentially making seeing more difficult. Fortunately for me, my vision is approximately 20/60. Which means I have a mild form of the disease. It also means that it doesn’t really affect me, too much. Until it does. I don’t get too insecure about it, until I do.

And I do get insecure about it. I get insecure every time I read a book and hold it really close to my face. I get insecure every time I am on my phone and someone comes up behind me because I think they are reading over my shoulder, which they could, because my font is large enough. I get insecure every time I go into a café or other shop where the menus are placed behind the counter. Because, usually, I can’t read them. Unless I get really close. And sometimes, even then, it’s difficult. So, I order the same thing every time. Or I make whoever is with me read it to me. Or I freak out and order the same thing everyone else ordered- whether I actually want it or not.

I get insecure when I have to ask my friends to see their notes, even though I sit closer to the board than they do, because I missed some things that were just too difficult for me to make out. I get insecure when I pull out my magnifier to read something, or my telescope to see something, because I know that people are looking at me. I get insecure every time I tilt my head to make reading something easier and more clear, because I am aware of how strange I look. I’m insecure every time my friend says hi to me from across the room, and I don’t respond with a name because I don’t know who is talking to me. Because I can hear them, and see them, but I can’t make out their face until they are almost close enough to touch.

I get insecure every time I go to sit in the front of classes. Even now, in college after doing it for 13 years, and even though I know nobody actually cares. Because I would much rather sit in the back and be an active observer, attentive  listener, quiet supporter, mostly invisible sassy commentator, and occasional participant. But, I sit in the front, forced to be less than invisible. And, sometimes, my friends feel the need to sit with me, even though I know they don’t want to. Which makes me feel terrible. And sometimes, they don’t sit with me at all. Which makes me sad, but I understand, because I wish I could sit with them.

I’m insecure because my eyes are hyper sensitive to light. So, my glasses become sunglasses in the sunlight, which helps me to see. But, sometimes, the sun is still too much to handle. So, I wear hats. Which I hate. Because, honestly, I’m not one of the girls that can pull off a baseball cap. I can’t just throw on a baseball cap and have it look cute. It always looks weird. But I wear them anyway because sometimes the sun burns my eyes too much.

Sometimes, my eyes flinch, and my mascara ends up on my eyelid. And, I struggle to see well enough to put on makeup without my glasses. So, my eyeliner or mascara often ends up out of place. But, sometimes I succeed, and my makeup looks great. But, usually, it looks terrible and I end up taking it off before I even leave the house.

Often, I dreaded movie day in school. Because a lot of the time, we would have to take notes. And usually, it was difficult for me to see my paper with all the lights off. So, I was forced to be that one kid who told the teacher it wasn’t okay to turn off all the lights when she asked. And all the other students would groan and complain. And, I would feel worse than I already did.

For the first almost 14 years of my life, I avoided eye contact with everyone, including my family, because I was insecure. I was insecure because my eyes uncontrollably, involuntarily, move back and forth. And I worried that if people noticed it, or saw it, it would make them uncomfortable. Or they would try to tell me that they were doing that. Which makes me uncomfortable.  Because I know they do that, and I can’t control it. I know they do that because I have spent many hours staring at myself in the mirror, willing them to stop. I have spent so long avoiding eye contact because I couldn’t get them to stop and I didn’t want people to notice. And I have spent years working to make it less noticeable. And, it is, if I concentrate really hard. But, typically, it isn’t controlled. And it’s strange, and it can sometimes freak people out.

I got insecure every time I had to sit at a table by myself in elementary school during state tests because I had a larger test than my classmates. Until I was finally allowed to speak for myself and say what I needed and didn’t need. So, I no longer sat in the back alone.

But, kids are mean. And they can come up with some horrible names for the girl who is always forced to sit in the front, or willingly sits there, and whom the teachers are always bothering with questions about whether she is okay, or if her seat is okay, or if she needs anything. And some, actually most, of those names have stuck with me to this day.

Eventually, I got to high school. Where students cared less. Because, when you take mostly AP and Honors classes, everyone wants to sit in the front anyway. So, it didn’t bother me or affect me as much. Until that girl in one of my classes got frustrated with me because I took her seat. Or rather, I sat in the one seat in the room that made seeing the easiest for me, which also happened to be the seat next to her best friend. And I tried explaining to her calmly and lovingly how I needed to sit there. But, she didn’t believe me, and she got frustrated. Until the teacher came to my defense. And I felt terrible. Because she should be able to sit where she wants, but my education shouldn’t have to suffer because of it. And I shouldn’t need a teacher to come to my defense, and to the defense of my education.

I got enlarged AP and SAT scantrons®, because those things are tiny. Which always made the lives of the proctors more difficult. And I hate making people’s lives more difficult. And the AP proctors always made a big deal about it. Even though I took 8 tests. They never could quite figure out what was what, so they always made a big deal. And being the center of attention, especially for something like that, was embarrassing and uncomfortable.

I would always stand on the far end of the basketball court, or soccer field, or whatever in gym class, hoping the ball never came to me. Because almost every time it did, I would miss it. Because I don’t have the best depth perception. Sometimes, my eyes don’t do a good job of communicating with each other and my brain to tell me exactly where objects are located. Like in volleyball. I would think the ball was further away than it actually was. So, I wouldn’t stretch out my arms in time, and it would hit me in the face. Or, it would seem closer than it actually is, so I would see it fall a centimeter away from my open hands.

I get insecure every time I try to explain to people what is wrong. Or what I need. Or what it is. Because it is hard to explain because it’s hard to understand. And, usually, they get bored before I even start. And, although I have done so much research on it, and I have lived with it my entire life,  I don’t always completely understand it. And it’s hard to make someone understand something that they haven’t experienced. Because it’s not like normal visual impairment. I can’t throw on a pair of glasses, or get some super expensive laser surgery and be totally fine. It doesn’t work like that. But, it also doesn’t mean I’m completely blind. Or that I can’t see anything when I take off my glasses. It just means my vision isn’t perfect, even with glasses, and it never will be.

And, for a while, it made me insecure about my future too. I wondered what my life would be like. Because, I can’t drive. At least not yet. I’m working on it. I should be able to- with certain restrictions. But, I’m terrified. Because seeing is difficult for me, and it’s important to be able to see in order to drive. So, I don’t often do a lot of things because I hate having to be dependent on others for rides. I’m an independent person occasionally forced to be incredibly dependent on others, and it makes me feel terrible, and, at times, pathetic. And I’m stubborn and hate asking for help, especially on things that I shouldn’t need help with.

And I often wondered, and still do, how it would affect my future relationships with people. Because I can be difficult to understand since I don’t always understand myself. Which can make me difficult to deal with. And I can be stubborn about it. And sometimes I will be okay and be joking around about it, but some days I can be very insecure and sensitive about it. Which makes me that much more difficult to deal with.

I have missed a lot in my life because of my inability to see well. And, I am used to it because it happens a lot. People try to point things out to me. Cool signs they see as we drive by. Animals we see while walking. Whatever. And, I can’t see them, and  I don’t want to make them wait until I can, or make them try to point them out to me. So, I lie and say I saw it, or I tell them not to worry about it, I’m used to missing things. And, I have gotten good at faking a reaction to convince them I saw it. But, sometimes, that makes them feel bad for me. And I don’t like when people feel bad for me. So, usually I just lie and say I saw it.

So, sometimes, actually a lot of times, I joke about my eyesight. I make jokes about how I’m blind. And maybe it’s because it makes a difficult, complicated thing easier to deal with. Or maybe it’s because I use humor as a defense mechanism, and I have not fully accepted it. But, I am working every day to. And, it’s a daily battle. Thankfully, recently, I have won more than I have lost, and the more I fight, the more I win. And, sometimes the jokes can get annoying, or they are overused, and I apologize. But, it’s how I accept myself. And, I hope one day I won’t need them. But, for now, I do.

And usually, I’m okay if others join in the jokes. In fact, I usually love it and find it hilarious. But, sometimes, on those days when I am feeling terribly insecure or overly sensitive, I can get mad or frustrated or annoyed or even angry  when people try to make jokes. Because I can’t control my eyesight. I can’t fix it, though I have hoped and prayed that I could. So, sometimes, I don’t think people are understanding how much I am actually affected by it, and how sensitive I can actually be about it, so I don’t always appreciate the jokes because sometimes I feel they are being made in ignorance. And, I’m sorry. Because I don’t know when those days are coming, and it’s not fair to others that I act that way because I’m feeling bad about myself. But, thankfully, those days have gotten fewer and farther between.

Thankfully, I have gotten a lot more accepting of myself. If anything, this condition has taught me how to be creative. I know multiple ways to enlarge the screen on both my phone and laptop. I often take pictures of unreadable menus and zoom in. Or look it up online. Thank God for technology!

I also thank God for my sight. Because I could be completely blind. And, there have been days where I wished I was. Days where I have been in tears wishing I was “normal.”  Or that I was completely blind. Because that would be easier to explain. But, thankfully, there are more days when I realize how lucky I am. Lucky that I am able to see. Lucky that, in all reality, I don’t have it that bad. I thank God that the human brain is so miraculous and is able to adapt. Change nerve pathways. Become better. Because, although I still don’t have perfect vision, I see a lot better than I used to.

So, I am insecure about my eyes. Sometimes, I over compensate. Sometimes, actually a lot of times, I feel the need to over shine or cover my insecurity by making my good qualities shine brighter. Sometimes, I feel the need to make sure others know I’m smart, or funny, or whatever because I feel like I’m not good enough because I don’t see enough. And sometimes,  I use it as an excuse and treat myself differently because of it, even though I hate it when others treat me differently. It’s a battle I’m constantly fighting. But, thankfully, I have become better at accepting and surviving. And I am continuing to become better at accepting, without needing to compensate, or make excuses, or joke.

And it’ll always be a fight. It’ll always be difficult. But, I’m learning to live with it and accept God’s plan and purpose and will for my life- even if not being able to see well is a part of it.

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