Braille: Where Small Details Matter Very Much

I get a big thrill from making my work as accurate as I can make it.  This means I check my work and then check it again (and again, and again, if necessary).  I lost count of how many times I’ve gone over this blog post.  One endeavor where this thirst for accuracy is an absolute necessity is braille transcribing.  A braille transcriber ensures that a braille book matches the print version as closely as possible so that braille readers can keep up with their print-reading peers. I am currently working toward becoming a certified braille transcriber, and I want to give you a little taste of what I’m learning. The biggest lesson I’ve learned about braille is that small details matter very much.

Braille is a reading and writing system in which embossed dots can be read with the fingertips (although sighted people usually read it with their eyes).  Braille characters are formed within units of space called cells.  A full braille cell consists of six embossed dots arranged in two parallel columns of three dots each, like this:

braille cellNotice that the dots are numbered down each column.  Each letter of the alphabet is a different combination of dots.  The letter a is dot 1, b is dots 1 and 2, c is dots 1 and 4, etc.  Braille in its most basic form is done letter by letter, plus punctuation and indicator symbols.  However, there are only 25 lines on each braille page, and typically 40 cells per line.  With these constraints, braille books always end up being much longer and bulkier than print books.  So, to save space and to make reading easier, contractions were developed.  Braille contractions can represent whole words, groups of letters, or both, and they occupy either one or two braille cells.  The same braille character can be used in multiple braille contractions, so you need to look at what surrounds it to know what it means in a particular instance.  Braille started to feel magical for me when I started learning the contractions.  I’ll show you some examples of how changing one small thing can change what a character means in braille.

Take a look at the picture above.  The braille character for the lowercase letter k is dots 1 and 3.  If you put dot 6 in the preceding cell, it becomes an uppercase k.  If an uppercase or lowercase k is by itself, it represents the whole word “knowledge.”  If there’s a dot 5 immediately before it, it represents the letters “know” (which can be used for a whole word or part of a word).  And, finally, if you have a letter k by itself and you don’t want it to be read as the word “knowledge,” you need to put dots 5 and 6 in the cell before it.  (Side note: I love that the first letter of my first name stands for “knowledge” in braille).

The letter w has a couple more possibilities than the letter k.  Check this out:Standing alone, the letter w is the whole word “will.”  With dots 4 and 5 preceding it, it is the letters “word.”  With dots 4, 5, and 6 before it, it becomes “world,” and with dot 5 it becomes “work.”  If I forget part of a contraction or use the wrong contraction when I’m transcribing, the text will be misread and make less sense.  It would be unusual for someone to say they’re on top of the word, but there are definitely times when we feel like we’re on top of the world.  See how small details truly make a difference?

There are 64 possible combinations of the six dots in a braille cell (63 different braille characters, plus the space with no dots present).  You’ve already seen how the meaning of a braille character can change based on what’s in front of it, but in some cases the meaning changes based on the placement of the character.  For example, dot 2 is the comma, but if dot 2 appears in the middle of a word, it is the letters “ea.”  Similarly, dots 2 and 3 is the semicolon, but if it is standing alone and not next to any punctuation, it is the whole word “be,” and it can also be the letters “be” if those letters are the first syllable of a word, as in “believe.”  Because many braille characters have multiple uses, it is essential to understand the context of what you are transcribing and proofread your work very carefully to see if you have brailled things correctly.  Brailling things incorrectly can result in misspellings and general confusion for the reader.

Another fun thing I’ve discovered about braille is that it is perfectly acceptable to skip letters when brailling certain words.  For example, “gd” is “good,” “qk” is “quick,” “sd” is “said, and “brl” is “braille.”  There are rules about which words can be shortened, how to shorten them, and when to not shorten them.  Like the contractions, the shortforms are a space-saving measure.  It turns out that word-shortening goes back much further in history than instant messaging.  It’s fun for me to see how many letters I get to skip within each word I braille, and it’s slightly disappointing when it’s not possible to shorten a word via contractions and/or shortforms.  Now I can’t imagine going back to brailling anything letter by letter.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the fascinating world of braille.  I have much more to learn, including various formatting rules.  Not only do the words on the page need to be accurate, but the formatting does too.  From what I have shared here, I hope you can see why paying attention to the tiniest of details is so important in braille transcription.  If the contractions and shortforms are applied incorrectly, people will be reading either the wrong words or misspelled words, much to their annoyance and confusion.  The numerous and specific rules to follow in braille transcription are in place to prevent confusion for the braille reader.  Accuracy is so important that if I submit an assignment with five or more errors, I am required to correct them and re-submit the assignment before I can move on in the course.  My instructor has told me that “the course requires accuracy and neatness in preference to speed.”  I love books and I want everyone to have the opportunity to enjoy them.  It’s much harder to enjoy a book that is filled with mistakes.  Paying attention to details is always a nice thing to do, but for braille transcribers, it is an absolute necessity.

Begin Again (Anytime)

I recently bought a new CD by Calee Reed called Believer.  Mom and I saw and heard Calee perform several songs from the CD live at Time Out for Women this year.  The songs are about having faith in yourself and faith in God and, with that faith, reaching for your fullest potential.  In this post, I’ll share three of my favorite songs from the CD and why they touch my heart.

In one segment of her Time Out for Women presentation, Calee talked about what it’s like to feel broken.  She told us about a Japanese art form called kintsugi, showing us this picture and definition:

Calee found out about kintsugi during a difficult time in her life as a divorced single mother.  As she pondered kintsugi and its deep spiritual applications, she ended up writing a song called “Broken and Beautiful.” Kintsugi features prominently in the music video.  I wrote down the song’s title and in parentheses I wrote the word “imperfect.”  People can feel broken in many ways and for many reasons, but right now I feel my brokenness most when I look at all my imperfections and weaknesses and all the ways I don’t have my life “all together.”  Plain and simple, I am imperfect.  But this song says that this brokenness and these imperfections allow more of God’s light into my life if I choose to let Him in.  If we let Him in, He can rebuild us into masterpieces.  A question this song leads me to ask myself is, “How good am I at letting my scars, spaces, and broken pieces reflect God’s light?  Am I handling my brokenness in a healthy way?”  Here is the music video for “Broken and Beautiful,” and a few of my thoughts about it.

I love how the music video starts in a beautiful wilderness.  The wide shots show how small Calee is when surrounded by the vastness of nature.  And yet, this song is about human beings and how precious we each are, especially to our Heavenly Father.  One of my favorite lines of the song is “each break designed with me in mind.”  We each have different experiences and different struggles, but those things can help us develop desirable qualities within ourselves, and with those qualities, we are better able to help others in their struggles.  My brand of struggle and brokenness allows me to help people in certain ways, and I’m sure yours does too.  But we have to choose to use our brokenness that way; it won’t be for our good and the good for others unless we allow it to be.  And we usually can’t deal with our brokenness all by ourselves.  Throughout the music video, Calee is breaking various pots, and then on the bridge of the song, she is kneeling surrounded by all that brokenness.  Then, the kintsugi artist enters the room, Calee looks up at him, he kneels facing her with a loving look in his eyes, and she hands him a piece as if to say, “Please take it, please fix it.”  The artist gets to work, and at the end of the video we see beautiful finished pottery that has all been repaired.  These aren’t the same pots that we started with, but they are still beautiful.  The repairs bring out a different kind of beauty in them.

Another of my favorite songs on Believer is “Giants Fall” (originally sung by Francesca Battistelli).    It’s a song about being brave and it references the story of David and Goliath in the Old Testament.

The chorus says that we shouldn’t be afraid of giants in our way because with God anything is possible.  It urges us to “step into the fight.”  But the lines that really got me thinking were “The stones inside your hand might be small / But watch those giants fall.”  David and Goliath is such a well-known scripture story that it’s easy to remember the miraculous outcome and forget the details.  Inspired by this song, when I reread the story in 1 Samuel 17, I picked up on a couple key verses.  1 Samuel 17:40 says, “And he [David] took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine” (KJV).  Before he ever fought Goliath, David brought what he could bring to the encounter and had thought about what to do.  Verses 49 and 50 tell us, “And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.  So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David” (KJV).  It is miraculous that David was able to slay Goliath, but take note that David was the one to gather the stones, put them in the bag, put the stones in the sling, and fire them at Goliath.  God didn’t do any of that for him.  David did the work to slay Goliath by doing what he could.  All God did was allow such a simple thing to produce the desired result.  This is a different way to think about how God might work in our lives.  We shouldn’t sit back, express faith, and then wait for things to happen.  We need to figuratively find our stones and use them to accomplish the tasks ahead.  So, this song leaves me pondering, “What stones do I need to find and use for my life’s journey?  What stones will help me slay my own Goliaths?”  However small the stones may appear, they are necessary for us to accomplish our goals.  We need help, from a divine source or otherwise, but we have to start with something.  Then we can watch our “something” become amazing.

One of the things I appreciated most about Calee Reed when I heard her speak and sing at Time Out for Women was how down-to-earth she was.  She shared a time when she was listening to another woman talk about how she wasn’t doing her scripture study at all because she could never find the perfect time or situation.  Calee’s first thought was, “Oh, that’s so sad!”  Then, a moment later, she thought, “I am that woman.”  Calee encouraged us to not nag ourselves with thoughts of failure but to choose progress over perfection.  She said that being a little better each day is enough, and that we can recommit every day to improving ourselves.  As the saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”  With these concepts in mind, and as a reminder to herself, Calee wrote the song “Begin Again.”

I like the line in the first verse that asserts “in our weakness, we can find our greatest teacher.”  This goes along with “Broken and Beautiful” and “Giants Fall,” because if we didn’t have weaknesses and shortcomings and brokenness, how would we learn?  If we didn’t have problems, there would be no satisfaction in overcoming them.  She wrote “Begin Again” from a Christian perspective in which Jesus helps us in our quest to improve.  The bridge of the song is, “He is the start / He is the end / Begin again,” repeated four times.  At Time Out for Women, she asked the audience to sing the bridge with her and to keep singing it until the song was over.  It was an amazing moment to have all of these women singing together like reverent angels.  We were united in purpose in that moment and it was incredible and unforgettable.  I thought, “Wow, with Jesus as the start and the end, I can begin again as many times as I need to, because He will always be there!”

These three songs fit together quite nicely.  We are all broken (imperfect) in some ways, but our brokenness can shape us and refine us if we let it.  In the process of recognizing and dealing with our brokenness and imperfections, we will be working on slaying some giants.  Despite how imperfect we are, we can use the abilities that we already have to do that.  God will magnify our abilities and increase our capacity if we seek His help and act on the guidance we receive.  Knowing that God can help us slay our giants, we can gain the courage to begin again.  It is a common thing to make New Year’s Resolutions, but I find it more helpful to make Daily Resolutions, and sometimes I make Hourly Resolutions.  The time to improve is now.  Why wait for the new year?  Each new day gives us a chance to recommit to living a better life.  No one is perfect, and we all struggle, but if we do a little better today than we did yesterday, that is a victory.  And we can always begin again tomorrow.

Always Be Honest and Kind

Honesty and kindness are two qualities that most people agree are worth having.  It saddens me that so much of what we hear about on the news is a result of dishonesty or other forms of meanness.  But, even though the examples of dishonesty and meanness in our world may seem louder or more obvious, examples of honesty and kindness can be quietly powerful.  In seeking to improve our own honesty and kindness, I think it is helpful to think about how other people process the world.  How different could our world be if more of our natural instinct was toward honesty and kindness?  Well, in this post you’ll get a glimpse of some possibilities through the eyes of a fictional TV character, Dr. Shaun Murphy from ABC’s new TV show The Good Doctor.  He is a surgical resident at a hospital who is autistic and also has savant syndrome.  Check out the amazing trailer:

One aspect of Shaun’s autism is that he struggles with social interactions, including giving and receiving social cues.  He is an extremely literal thinker who takes what people say to him at face value.  There are times when people have given him sarcastic compliments and he has understood them as actual compliments.  Shaun asks people a lot of questions as he navigates the challenging world around him.  Many of the things he says and the questions he asks, which reflect his literal way of thinking, give me a lot to ponder.  In fact, that’s why I’m writing a whole blog post about it.  In the scene below, he asks Claire why people use sarcasm.  He gets an answer and then responds with another thought-provoking question.  From this conversation we learn that Shaun is not good at lying.  Not only that, but Shaun has no desire to lie.  He wants to tell the truth and be told the truth in return.  The world would be a happier place if all of us were not good at lying.

Shaun values kindness as well as honesty.  He takes a person’s tone and actions very seriously.  The scene below is his third interaction with Claire.  The first two times they talked were in the middle of a very stressful, time-sensitive, and emotionally-charged situation.  This is the first time they have had a social conversation, but Shaun vividly remembers Claire’s earlier behavior.  Claire knows Shaun is new to the area, so she asks him if he has any questions.  The one question he asks her is, “Which time was it [when they have interacted] that you were pretending?”  What a penetrating question, asked so innocently.  It made me ponder how often I may change my actions or tone because of how much stress I’m under.  Even though behaving in a less-kind way is normal and understandable in certain circumstances, we never know exactly how someone else is going to process our words or actions.  It’s worthwhile to behave kindly at all times.  Pretending is good in some contexts, but it’s never good when it comes to building solid relationships with others.

Another thing I admire about Shaun is his clear and pure motive for doing the work that he does.  Throughout the first episode of The Good Doctor, there is a debate in the hospital board room about whether to hire someone with Shaun’s limitations.  Shaun’s mentor, who was instrumental in getting this opportunity for him, speaks passionately about what Shaun can do and about how hiring him would make the hospital a more inclusive workplace.  Later, however, Shaun himself is asked to tell the board why he wants to become a surgeon.  It is Shaun’s own speech that convinces the board to hire him.  May we all strive to have such clear and pure motives for the work we choose to do, and be ready to articulate them clearly.  WARNING: There is one BIG spoiler in this speech if you have not finished watching the first episode.

Watching Shaun interact with other characters on The Good Doctor has reminded me how important it is to be honest with and kind to others.  We never know exactly what is going through someone else’s mind or how they are processing what we say and do.  The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, an organization run by and for autistic people, defines autism as “a neurological variation that occurs in about one percent of the population.” (This webpage is the most helpful and most concise description of autism that I’ve come across; I highly recommend reading it).  Shaun’s neurological variation profoundly influences his perceptions of the world.  However, it need not and should not take a medically-diagnosed neurological variation for humans to be honest and kind with one another.  No matter what our own life circumstances are, with open hearts and open minds, we can learn from the way Shaun navigates and processes his life.  I’ve shared four scenes in this post, but there are so many more I could add.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse at a person whose natural instinct is to be honest and kind. Let’s each try to be a little better at this, because honesty and kindness begin with us.

Take These Broken Wings and Learn to Fly

blackbird serenityFigure skater Patrick Chan won his ninth Canadian National Title this season.  He was asked afterward, yet again, what motivated him to come back to competition after taking a season off following the 2014 Olympics.  His answer this time was both intriguing and inspiring.  He said, “For me now I think it’s being able to conquer my own kind of fears. Competing is a beast of its own. I, personally, for a long time did not enjoy competing. Yeah, it’s nerve-wracking, so I want to be able to conquer that. I want to end my career knowing that I’m in full control of my body physically, mentally, in every event, so that I can give myself the best chance for the best performance.”  In this post, I’m going to share three programs that Patrick has skated since coming back to competition.  I am so grateful that Patrick did not let his fear of competing win out, because if he had not made a comeback, these three programs would never have happened.  I’ve been a huge fan of Patrick’s skating for nine seasons (ten if you count his season away from competition, when he still skated in shows), and I love all his competitive programs except for one, but these three have an extra special place in my heart.  I’ll share them in the order they happened.

2016 Four Continents Free Skate, skating to selections by Frédéric Chopin (Revolutionary Étude; Prelude, op. 28, no. 4; Scherzo no. 1)

Patrick is a painter, with the ice as his canvas and his blades and his body as his paintbrushes.  In this program, it’s as though he’s playing each note with his body, representing visually what we are hearing from the piano. (A lot of the credit should go to the choreographer, David Wilson, but he was able to choreograph the program so beautifully knowing that Patrick could pull it off).  For instance, watch 2:15-2:20, where Patrick changes positions in his camel spin and slows it down to signify the music change, and 2:26-2:32, where a delicate arm gesture matches the two piano notes perfectly.  A professional pianist commented that Patrick flows on the ice as a pianist’s fingers would flow on the keys.  He does the jumps but afterward flows right back into choreography (my favorite example of this is 3:25-3:30).  I love how he lands his triple salchow right on the chord of the scherzo at 3:41 and how he glides to a stop and lifts his head up right on another clanging chord before running into his combination spin at 4:32-4:37.  And, by the way, all the jumps were flawless in this performance and it was the first time Patrick landed two triple axels in a free skate in several seasons.

2017 Canadian Nationals Free Skate, skating to “A Journey” by Eric Radford

Patrick’s only jumping “mistake” in this program was turning a quad toeloop into a triple, but it was still a nice triple toeloop.  The opening quad combination covered so much ice, the triple axels were huge and strong, and he landed the quad salchow for only the second time in competition.  Technical achievements aside, Patrick lovingly caresses each moment of the music.  I love the meaningful pauses he takes after the quad combination (47:21-47:23) and the first triple axel (47:44) because in life we often pause to breathe after we do big things.  Patrick doesn’t rush and yet he never stops moving completely.  A couple small moments I love are the small steps after the triple loop (49:51-50:00) and the turn with his head up and legs apart after the triple axel combination (49:35-49:52).  I’d also like to mention the sublime sound of Patrick’s blades as he moves on the ice.  I’ve read that if a figure skater is skating on their blades correctly and using them to their full potential, the only thing you are supposed to hear is a faint swish.  Patrick himself says he can close his eyes and feel the blade and that the sound is the aftermath of putting himself exactly where he needs to be for optimum skating.  The faint heavenly swish is literally everywhere in this program, but 48:34, 48:42, 48:52, and 49:04 are some examples.  This program is a contemplative one, but in the last minute of it, Patrick expresses the joy that has resulted from the contemplation (50:27-51:35).  Patrick’s path on the ice goes in all sorts of directions, but I never lose interest for one second.

2017 Worlds Short Program, skating to “Dear Prudence” and “Blackbird” by
The Beatles

This program has a fantastic lightness about it and even a sense of fun.  Patrick was so mindful of the smallest details in this performance.  Although it’s always one of his best elements, in this performance he did his step sequence (1:40-2:20) so thoughtfully, carving the ice slowly at times to match the mood of the music, but always with depth and power.  After the step sequence, the audience clapped as Patrick skated around the corner; they were hanging on his every move.  Another great element is the camel spin (2:35-2:51) because he spins at the speed of the music and the variations are so crisp and lovely.  The other thing I want to point out is the serenity on his face in his final pose.  Look closely at the picture at the top of the post.  In this picture, I see a skater who is calmly in his element and certainly not feeling fearful.  He was so happy waiting for his scores because he knew he’d done what he wanted to do in that program.  It was heartwarming to see him so happy and grateful.

These three programs certainly showcase Patrick’s artistry, but the two free skates are also the most technically difficult he’s ever done.  From January 2011 through February 2014, Patrick did two quad toeloops and one triple axel, plus 4 other triples and a double axel, in his free skates.  That’s the time frame when he was at the very top of men’s figure skating and won three World Titles and an Olympic silver medal.  But now, the top men are doing three or four quads in the free skate.  Halfway through last season, Patrick added a second triple axel to his free skate, and this season he attempted two quad toeloops, one quad salchow, two triple axels, plus 3 other triples.  That’s a substantial increase in technical difficulty for a skater who thought he had reached his technical peak in 2014.  I am so proud of him for making these technical upgrades to try to “keep up.”  Ultimately, though, Patrick is a skater who can do a free skate run-through in practice without any jumps and make me fall in love with the program all over again.

You might be wondering why on earth I’ve shared all this.  Quite simply, I have used my love of Patrick Chan’s skating to show you an example of what can happen when you choose to conquer your fears.  I chose this post’s title not only because “Blackbird” was Patrick’s short program music this season, but also because we all have broken wings and should learn to fly with them.  My own fears can be some of my worst broken wings.  Patrick Chan chose to conquer his fear of competing instead of letting it win out.  “Blackbird” doesn’t say, “Fix these broken wings and learn to fly,” but rather, “Take these broken wings and learn to fly.”  So, take your fears and fly anyway.  You never know how many lives you might touch in the process, just like Patrick Chan touched mine.

Hearts, Circles, and Lines

cover3Several years ago, I started making very simple homemade cards on my own for certain occasions.  I got tired of having to ask my mom to bring me a card from her stash to write in.  Plus, by making them myself, it could be a complete surprise to my parents, who were usually the recipients.  I could get a piece of paper from the printer tray on my own, as well as the colored pencils and a regular pencil.  So what I did, and still do, is fold a piece of printer paper in half and use colored pencils and a regular pencil to design it and write in it.  A pencil is easier for me to control than a pen, crayon, or marker.  Making a card is not easy for me.  In this post, I’ll share why it’s difficult (and also why it’s worth it).

My cerebral palsy affects my arms and hands as well as my legs.  Both of my wrists rest in flexion, meaning they like to be bent all the time.  Normally, your wrist rests in neutral, meaning in a flat position.  My wrists won’t even go into neutral or stay there unless my fingers are fully curled.  Also, when my fingers are straight they are actually hyperextended.  Hyperextended fingers sounds awful, but it actually doesn’t hurt unless I do certain things for too long.  My grip is weak on both hands, although the left is weaker.  When making homemade cards, I use the pencil with my right hand while using my left hand to keep the paper still.  This particular card took me an hour and a half to make.  My left wrist was completely flexed and my fingers were fully hyperextended and pressing down on the paper and the table for an hour and a half, while my right hand was gripping a pencil for most of that time.  By the end, my fingers and hands hurt a lot.  Here’s a picture Mom took later to show you the wrist and hand position I’ve described:


Because of the way my hand muscles are, drawing even the simplest shapes takes a lot of concentration.  The only things I can regularly reproduce comfortably are hearts, circles, and lines (and no two of those look exactly the same when I draw them).  Since these shapes are all I can draw, my homemade cards tend to have a lot of balloons and a lot of hearts.  I usually choose to do wavy lines since my straight lines can’t be fully straight.  I also can’t write in a straight line on non-lined paper.

If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering, “Why do you do it, then, if it’s such a challenge?”  I do it because I love seeing the appreciation on my parents’ faces, especially because they know what it took for me to do it.  I love being able to do something without them being involved at all, which is a big deal when you need help in several unavoidable ways.  I love making the design look as good as it can, even though it is the same shapes over and over.  I love how it feels to work hard and then see the finished product.  It’s something I can do to give of myself in a very personal way.  I don’t mind the pain because it’s for a purpose.

I’ll leave you with this thought: Even if all you can draw are imperfect hearts, circles, and lines, that is okay.  You can still create something meaningful and beautiful.  When I find myself wishing I could do more, I have to remind myself to be thankful that I can do as much as I can.  I am thankful that I can fold a piece of paper in half, hold a pencil, write, and draw hearts, circles, and lines.


A Little Prayer with a Big Reach


I heard something at church last week that I knew immediately I needed to improve on.  I need to courageously share the things that bring me joy, and do it a lot more often.  This blog is a great way for me to do that, so here I am with a brand new post.

I’ve blogged about David Archuleta before and I know I will blog about him multiple times in the future, since he brings me joy for so many different reasons.  Today I want to share his newest single, “My Little Prayer,” which he released on December 8, 2016.

David has been busy writing many songs for a new album, but the birth of “My Little Payer” was unique for him.  Here is the story behind it, as he shared it on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube:

Something I try to do to each day is begin by saying a prayer in the morning, and then end my day with a prayer at night. Sometimes, however, I fall asleep before I say my nightly prayer. One time almost a year ago I had one of these nights where I fell asleep before saying a prayer. Something unusual happened.

That night I had a dream. It was different than anything I had experiences before. In my dream I was praying-having a conversation with God. The conversation was also different. I was singing. I could hear simple chords in my dream that I was laying a simple melody and prayer on top of.

As I was having this conversation in music with God, He told me to get up and write this down. I thought and said, “…but… I’m sleeping. I’m not sure I know how to get up from a dream!” He told me “if you don’t get up now, you’ll forget it in the morning.” I tried everything I could to wake up, and I did! There in the middle of the night I went straight to the piano with the words and melody I had spoken in my dream still clear in my head, and wrote it all down. It was the fastest I had ever written a song because I feel this one was given to me.

I’ve sung this song several times this year now and people kept asking where to find it so I felt it would be good to share it during this Holiday season. I hope you enjoy it and find encouragement to begin your own simple and sincere conversations in prayer! #mylittleprayer #prayer #christmas

I have a few thoughts about the story and the song, but first, please experience it for yourself:

It is a testament to how involved David allows God to be in his daily life that these particular phrases came to him for his prayer in song.  The way he performs the song, it is quite clear that he believes each word of it.  The story also shows the strength of David’s personal relationship with God, in that God told David to do something and he did it.  If David hadn’t followed God’s instructions by getting up in the middle of the night, the song would have probably never been written.  This thought gives me pause to ponder how well I am following what God tells me to do in my life.  Listening to the words and sincerity of this prayer reminds me that my prayers can and should be this meaningful and sincere on a daily basis.

The song itself is profound in its simplicity.  Simple chords, simple melody, and simple words, but oh so meaningful when put all together.  These words express so much faith in God while acknowledging that one’s spiritual journey is always imperfect and ongoing.  The music video was filmed on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, and the scenery is simply gorgeous.  I love David’s expressiveness as he performs the song.  After the bridge, the pleading quality of the opening verses is replaced by declarative confidence.  I love the slight change in tone starting at “There are answers I’m receiving” as the music becomes more full.  It’s as if angels are singing with David from there until the end.  As we receive and act on heavenly answers, I wonder just how many angels are right there with us, seen and unseen.  I am comforted by the knowledge that we are never truly alone.  And while this is not strictly a Christmas song, the beautiful Christmas lights in the video can remind us to have hope despite the darkness.  It is quite fitting for the timing of this release that the last image we see in the video is a white Nativity Scene with Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus because, for Christians everywhere, Jesus is the “reason of the hope that is in [us]” (1 Peter 3:15).

I am grateful to God for giving David this song in a dream.  I am grateful to David for obeying God by writing it down in the middle of the night and then being so willing to share it.  I am grateful for the amazing feeling I get when I hear it and the important things that it helps me to think about.  I feel as though my words are inadequate to express how much I truly appreciate this song, and while I know people can experience the same song very differently, I hope that “My Little Prayer” enriches you in some way.  You can purchase it on iTunes and Amazon.  Merry Christmas, even though it is still a week away!

Wheelchairs: Positive or Negative?

wheelchair get aroundA friend once told me, “We all are in ‘wheelchairs’ of one sort or another.  Everyone has struggles and weaknesses that can hold them back in life.”  It was her way of letting me know that I’m not the only one struggling with challenges and that although some of my challenges are different and more obvious, everyone has them. The visual image of everyone having some wheelchairs in their lives has stayed with me.  However, thinking of wheelchairs only as things that hold us back is somewhat negative.  I will admit that on several occasions, I have been annoyed that my actual wheelchair has held me back.  So, I was intrigued and deeply moved when I read an entirely different take on wheelchairs in our lives.

Meg Johnson is a motivational speaker, author, wife, and mother.  She also happens to be a C-7 quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down and without the use of her legs, back, stomach, or hands.  She uses a manual wheelchair to do all kinds of great stuff (read more about her here).  In the midst of her busy life, Meg writes a monthly inspirational message in which she shares “a true story from my life to help you in yours.”  The December 2015 edition of Meg’s Monthly Message is titled “Wheelchair Blessings.”  The whole thing is wonderful, but here’s the excerpt that gave me the idea to do this blog post (President Uchtdorf is a member of the highest governing body of the LDS Church):

I thought I’d taken a pretty good assessment of my blessings as I continued to listen to President Uchtdorf’s Christmas message until he got to the story about the man who lived in Africa and couldn’t walk and had no wheelchair. This man lived at home with his parents. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t go out without help. When he heard that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was coming with wheelchairs, he asked a friend to help him get there. He took his turn in a wheelchair, spinning, rolling, and feeling the freedom that comes from independent movement – a feeling I keenly understand. After a bit, he rolled back and prepared to give the next person in line a turn using the wheelchair, resolute to go home the way he’d come and return to the limited life he’d known. When the missionary told him that the wheelchair was his, he cried. And with a “whoop” he took off again exclaiming, “I can fly!”

I was deeply touched as I listened to this account. I cried because I was so happy for this man, but also because I was embarrassed because of my own ingratitude. In front of me, between my seat on the couch and the large screen TV, was my own wheelchair. I had to look past it to see the TV, the stand, the books, and the rocking horse. Even though it was right in front of my eyes, I did not count it as one of my many “blessings.”

My disability is very obvious – I can’t walk. I am paralyzed and in a wheelchair – a wheelchair that often defines me and my life to others before they even meet me. But my wheelchair isn’t my disability. Even though my initial reaction is to see it as a hindrance, something that impairs me and restricts my freedom, in reality, my wheelchair is what keeps me mobile and free. Like the man in Africa, I agree that my wheelchair makes me feel as if I can fly…even though I can’t walk. People often use the term “wheelchair bound” to describe someone like me, but my wheelchair is the only thing that helps me past my disability. It carries me through a life that is literally too hard to stand. How different my life would have been if I was like that man in Africa without a wheelchair. I never would have been able to go to the grocery store by myself. Or to the park. Or to travel on my own. Without my wheelchair, I am entirely reliant on others. My wheelchair doesn’t define me, it gives me the freedom to define myself. (Read the entire message here)

Now this is a positive way to look at a wheelchair!  Thinking of it this way, I am doubly blessed because I actually have two wheelchairs, one power and one manual!  The manual wheelchair is easier at home and the power wheelchair is easier in public.  But without either one I would never be able to do anything productive, such as typing this blog post.

When young kids ask me why I’m in a wheelchair, I usually respond, “Because my legs don’t work like yours do.”  Then, if they’re still curious I’ll add, “This is my legs.  It’s how I get around.”  It’s a very simplified explanation of my cerebral palsy, but kids seem to understand it.  My wheelchair helps me get from one place to another, as legs do for walking people.  It allows me to have a level of functionality that my actual legs cannot provide for me.  But, I love the thought of my wheelchair being a set of wings that allows me to fly.  I have legs and wings!  How cool is that?  There’s a claim fit for the figurative bragging rights department!

I began this post with a statement likening wheelchairs to personal weaknesses, struggles, and other things that can hold us back in our lives.  But it’s more accurate to say that wheelchairs, like weaknesses and struggles, can hold us back if we allow them to.  It’s a matter of perspective.  Do we view our “wheelchairs” as things that impair or restrict us, or do we see them as things that can strengthen and even enable us?  I know which attitude I would rather have, and it’s something I need to continually work to maintain (because, trust me, it’s easy to lose your good attitude in the midst of day-to-day frustrations).  The rainbow I’ve found from doing this blog post is that not only do I have two actual wheelchairs to help me get around, but I also have numerous figurative wheelchairs to help me find joy in this life.  My faith in God, uplifting music, and good books are just some of the figurative wheelchairs that I simply could not live without.  I hope that you also have figurative wheelchairs to help you make it through life.  Maybe reading more from Meg Johnson can be a wheelchair blessing for you, as it always is for me.  (Her website/blogFacebook Page, and YouTube Channel are all worth browsing).

To summarize, “negative wheelchairs” are our personal weaknesses and trials, while “positive wheelchairs” are things that help us get around and make it through our lives.  It is by acknowledging and utilizing “positive wheelchairs” that we can, little by little, overcome “negative wheelchairs.”   And, I have a little secret for you: Writing this blog post has been one of my recent “wheelchair blessings.”  I hope to inspire my readers with my blog posts, but I know I always inspire myself in the process of writing them.