Monday, June 04, 2012

But Now I See - Austin

I've had a growing conviction that I need to share my thanks about my journey with eyesight issues. I can't make claims of strong faith at any point in this journey. But I can and do claim God's faithfulness and celebrate His goodness.

For those of you familiar with the book, "A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider", the article "Active Surrender" shares an earlier part of this journey.

A poem I wrote in the early stages of healing, while still largely afraid to hope, looks at the world through the eyes of Bartimeous, blind for more than 40 years until healed by Jesus. I became increasingly interested in his story as my own eyesight failed.

Life changed for me. I gave up on most reading, one of my deepest loves. The headaches and exhaustion cost more than the rewards gave back. Visual distortion would often increase. Twice I drove to work with everything distorted. I couldn't tell if the cars I met were one or three, tail-gating each other. Those were both days I was scheduled to work alone. The store would not have opened If I did not get there. But I deserved to lose my license on the spot and I knew it. Headaches became a constant. Anything less than four hours of dull aching made it a good day. I resigned my job at the Bible Book Store. I was guessing too often when I took people's money. It was no longer fair to the store or to their customers. I began trying to teach myself Braille.

My driving became increasingly restricted. I refocused slowly at different distances. I could manage for about five minutes. That let me drive from our home to our daughters in Durham. For eight months I could not make the 15-minute drive to church. I had served on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Mental Health Association, but could no longer drive back and forth for their meetings.

I tried hard to make the best of things. Many people live with blindness and live well. Surely I could learn to do the same. But it's easier to talk about it than to actually prepare yourself emotionally for blindness. At every doctor's appointment -- and it seemed there were many as we searched for answers -- I expected: "This is they day they're going to pull my license."

There's a strange and almost pathetic comfort in a name. The first diagnosis boiled down to too little blood flow to the inner core of the brain. A handy excuse. But like a lot of excuses, this one started to wear thin before long.

I learned to compensate and I bluffed well. Most people would not have guessed I was nearly blind. I could not recognize people half way across the church. I struggled to tell the difference between a nickle and a quarter.

I wasn't secretive, but tried not to dwell on vision loss -- tried to not let it be part of every conversation. Most people did not know I had given up hope of improvement. I had prayed for healing. Others had prayed for my healing. But I lived with progressive loss. My biggest hope was to delay further loss, to maintain enough vision to still recognize my wife, my grandchildren. Even that hope was getting shaky.

I was booked to see a Neurologist. I verbalized the right prayers, but I'd quit believing healing was part of God's plan for me. I'd requested this appointment, but my real expectation was to be told I was wasting my time and his. Blindness was coming. Learn to live with it. I was sure the doctor would be more tactful than to word it that way, but that would be the message. I was also almost fully convinced that was the day I'd finally lose my driver's license.

Have you ever tried to plant a seed in hard-packed, stony ground? I went to that appointment with a stew of emotions. A young man from our church, a close friend of our youngest daughter and her husband -- had just died. A personal friend had just won a publishing contract. Triumph and tragedy had come, practically embracing each other. I still trusted God. But I had quit hoping for healing. I saw no room for that hope any more.

I came away from that appointment still holding a valid driver's license. I came away with a prescription for a drug for Myasthenia Gravis (more specifically Ocular Myasthenia). I thought it was simply a shot in the dark. The doctor warned the drug would be nasty to get used to. He must have slipped a tiny, dry seed-pod of hope in there somewhere. I think it fell into a crack in that hard-packed ground. I wouldn't -- couldn't let myself believe in it.

But life hides in dry seed-pods.

I don't know when the seed germinated. I don't know when the sprout broke through the stony surface. I know the first three weeks on Mestinon took already cruel headaches and made them brutal. I know I spouted off more than once that if someone would just dig the grave, I'd go lie down in it. Then the doctor upped the dose and all the side-effects happened again. But after about four weeks on the higher dose, I began to see details I hadn't seen for years. Distortion was still there. Much of the time I saw three images of the same thing, but just maybe, new glasses could improve that. Hope started to grow in spite of me. The headaches tapered off and have now decreased by more than 90%.

I don't know when, at my wife's suggestion, I asked Pastor Jason to anoint me. It was more an act of respect to my wife than anything else. There were at least six years of prayer for my eyesight behind by this time. I believe in God! I believe in healing! I believe in miracles! There just didn't seem any indication God had that in mind for me. Yet my mind has gone back so many times to that little act. I'm hesitant to even call it an act of obedience, unless it's my wife's obedience to a nudging she received. I find it fascinating that many of the healings recorded in the New Testament depend on third-party faith and obedience more than the faith of the person healed. I've never felt abandoned by God through this journey. But my faith in His healing has been pretty small.

The first time I drove all the way to church -- 15 minutes -- proved a landmark. To do so without scaring myself or my wife? That's something to celebrate.

With vision still distorted, but much more consistent, cataract surgery sounded almost pointless. But a specialized lens gave some possibility of improving an eye nearly blind. I don't buy lottery tickets, but this seemed like a gamble worth trying. Again, I did not let myself hope strongly. I watched the gray fog change to blue fog during the surgery itself, but other than more colour, the biggest difference was my glasses drove me crazy now. Four days later, with glasses off, I found myself reading regular print -- fuzzy but possible.

Just before my surgery, my right eye could make out the top line only (the bill-board size) on the eye chart. My right eye is now my dominant eye. New glasses, tri-focals, are still proving a challenge. But I can see. I can read. I can drive.

My five minute drives had to be in good light, with as few distractions as possible. Even a light rain on the windshield tipped the balance, making me know I was unsafe behind the wheel. Now, though I don't enjoy it, I can drive with confidence at night in heavy rain. Some distortion remains and may continue for the rest of my life. If I allow myself to become overtired I can expect times of pronounced visual distortion. But those times don't last, and they don't come with endless headaches. I can recognize people across our church. I can see the faces of my wife and my granchildren. And once again a good book is a delight.

Do I call it a miracle? I really don't know. Am I thankful for medical professionals? You bet. Do I acknowledge God's involvement and thank Him? Over and over and over again.

Because this post is already rather long, I'll forgive any of you who choose not to read this poem -- but I'll confess that poetry still taps a core of my nature as an author that prose can't reach.


Blindness -- they call it a curse
But they scarcely know the whisper of wind in the treetops.
They hear but half of a bird's song.
They run from the soft kiss of a summer shower.

Ah, there is much in their world I cannot see.
Yet they, with eyes wide open rush blindly through.

Much I've missed. Much they take for granted.
I've never gazed on infant's face,
never seen the blush of a flower.
But can they plumb the depths of an orange blossom's smell?
Can they number the nestlings from the chirps
where that sparrow nests -- just over there?

I hear the whisper of a falling leaf.
I know the footfall of each who makes this village their home.
So much I know that they've never seen.

Blindness -- they call it a curse -- God's judgment.
But is God so petty?
He gave other senses, more alive than any around me.
Were this His curse would He have so blessed in other ways?

Many the ills He's blamed for.
Those who too often tip the bottle or roll the dice
rage at God when hunger torments their little ones.
Are they, who rob the very children God has blessed them with,
less cursed than me?

Blindness -- it leaves a man almost helpless in this world;
begging a crust
that these stumbling feet should find their dark pathway for one more day.

But. . . there is a teacher, a wonder-worker some say.
Impossible, the things He's done.
Lepers clean? Cripples walking?
Dare I believe it so?

Even -- hard to imagine -- Nay! I will not speak it.
What kind of world do we live in, if the dead get up and walk?
What world when cripples dance and deaf men hear?
When the dumb speak?
What kind of world
when the leper is made fresh and clean as a child?
What can even a blind begger depend on
if graves give up their dead?

The priest who "blesses" me each morning with a kick,
bringing "God's righteous judgment,"
has no use for such a world.
He scorns this healer; scorns to share alms with me,
yet willingly shares his hatred.

His world I understand.
His the message of all my years.
But this healer? Who is He?
Dare I hope for His touch?

A crowd approaches.
I hear the noise, smell the dust.
And. . .
I hear the Name.
His Name!

From the shadows I've cried all my years,
begged a few coins while avoiding trampling feet.
But today let me come before Him.
For that I'll dare anything.

What will it mean?
What are the colours of a rainbow?

He calls?
For me?

Knees in the dirt?
For once it feels. . . right.

that I might receive my sight."

Copyright Brian C. Austin


Peter Black said...

Brian, I'm really glad you finally got your wonderful article and poem posted! I rejoice with you in the improvement you've received, and desire for you that it will increase.
Very inspiring. Thank you.

Diana said...

Brian, your testimony of your trust in Jesus, and His grace working in you, is amazing, and it encourages me. I struggle with fibromyalgia; not as difficult, I think, as what you have gone through, but I can empathize a little (fibromyalgia affects my eyesight, especially when I'm tired). Yet, your spirit shines through, and your storytelling in the telling of this is wonderful. I read it all the way to the end even though I'm tired right now and usually that means my attention span is about 30 seconds. Why does God let us struggle with such things? One answer, for me, is that it enabled you to minister in a deep way to me. And I believe you minister that way to others.

Popular Posts