Elwood and I had our solo today.

We were second of two so we sat in the van for a time. Elwood jumped into my lap, all cuddly. I’m learning that he is a sneak and a cheat so don’t play poker with him! Licking my face also means an opportunity looking out the side and back windows of the van.

It is a gorgeous day here. The storm came through quickly last night. By the time I got outside for our solo walk, I could open my light winter coat. The sun is out.

We had a very successful trip. Elwood pulled well. I understand he took advantage of me. Remember, Elwood is a cheat and a sneak. I thought we had a tight place by a tree. We didn’t. Elwood just wanted to sniff. He also did some air scenting and slipped under a flag which brushed the top of my hair. I caught him at taking a shortcut through a gravel area with trees and made him do it right. Otherwise, he was great.

He is tired though. He laid down on the van floor after coming in up and over my lap.

Getting out of the van, I slipped and sat down hard.. Elwood bounced out of the van so we had to do it all over again correctly.

He’s been quiet. We don’t have a trip scheduled until Monday morning though we can take a turn arounde the leisure path this afternoon and tomorrow which will be very nice. The leisure path was closed due to snow cover when I was here last so this is a welcome treat.

We also have to do laundry and get some serious writing done.


Difficult Day

A difficult day today. It was rainy in the morning and it was warm. Came back drenched–Elwood, too. I was paired up with one student in the A.M. and paired up with a different student this afternoon. It was so dark and the sidewalks were crowded by 3 p.m.

Elwood worked well avoiding most obstacles and being careful in tight places, however, he wasn’t pulling. I’m working with the instructor and the class supervisor. We’ll see how Elwood does tomorrow at our test and at the beginning of the week with a day and a half of rest. It’s worrisome. Pray for restorative rest and good work habits.


Morning People

I have never been a morning person. I can get up. I can do what is necessary, however, I am not a morning person.

Today I was awakened at 5:30 a.m. with Frank Sanatra singing about coffee in Brazil. A bit jarring. Big band orchestration but not a young Sanatra singing. I stagger out of bed and start looking for clothes. The instructor arrives with food and with instructions.


“Here’s a heart guard pill. Take it from your shoulder down to your dog and tell him ‘Take it.'”

Something new at 5:30 am?

My responses must have been genetic. II sounded just like my mother in the morning. I usually don’t sound like her, but in the morning …

Well, she’ll have to come and search the floor. I dropped the pill while trying to give it to a very excited dog.

Note to self: Be more firm with Elwood. He can obey even before breakfast. We have different mothers.


South Street Route

Today we started a new route. It’s called the South Street Route because it does have four blocks of South Street along the square as one part of it. Morristown is under construction. They are adding lamp posts in the center of the wide sidewalk. Also the department store Epstene’s is being torn down and a new development will go in there. Part of it will be a parking garage where the Seeing Eye vans can park and a new lounge. The lounge has places for the dog to stay and people. I can’t tell you anything about it because I’ve never been there. For one reason or another it has been closed when I have trained.

Along the route today we had a traffic check. I screwed up so we had another one–a car pulling in front of us in a driveway. We also had an unplanned check–a quiet car came out of nowhere in front of us while crossing a street.

We also delt with clearance issues. A barrier of cones had been set up. Elwood had to squeeze around between them and some bushes. Later, he went too close to some bushes so we had to rework that. We also had numerous distractions–some planned and some not. Elwood did OK on some and not so well on others. That goes for me, too.

We’ve added an extra park time for Elwood before our afternoon trip. Relieving is a major topic of conversation here and we spend a great deal of time concentrating on it. Tonight we began touching our dogs.

Elwood’s harness has been temporarily modified so we can get a better feel for one another. This makes a big difference when we walk together. He pulls better and I can do my part of keeping the tention.

This afternoon Elwood thought about escaping from the van. I didn’t have a tight hold on him so I dived across the back of the van to grab him.

Today we worked without any jackets it was so warm. I understand this will change Friday.

My massage this afternoon was very nice. She worked on my calves which have been worked hard. I have a longer appointment Sunday afternoon.

Well 5:30 AM comes around quickly. Not only do I have to get up, I have to feed the dog, get dressed, get harnessed up and get outside which includes a nasty set of stairs.

My spy thriller also awaits.


Harness All the Time

Elwood is sstarting to get used to how life will be. Some lab behaviors are popping out. For example: Elwood has a fondness for bananas. He pops up at the breakfast table when my neighbor gets hers. Today I had one. I had to resettle him several times during breakfast. At lunchtime, which is really dinner, Elwood kept bouncing up because we had fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. Settling a dog down with finger-licking-good hands is a challenge.

A note on the food: It’s good to be back in New Jersey. The hamberger came without mayo. It was jewish style cole slaw at dinner today. The staff is laughing at me. My instructor drives with NJ abandon. It’s good to spend some time back in my old environment.

Right now I am waiting for my instructor to come to oversee our first trip in the house with Elwood in harness. To date, I have been heeling him inside on just a leash. After tonight’s meal, we will go everywhere in harness except to our own lounge area since this is considered being at home.


Elwood is very hesitant in harness in the house. In fact, he semed to be quite shocked that he was expected to work inside as I have been heeling him to the door. Unfortunately, we don’t have the right tention on the harness when he walks slowly–a definite no-no. Dinner was fairly uneventful. I did get a coffee cup with a large nose on it that stuck out which had to make the rounds of the table to show everyone. On our way back, we had some problems. I was focused on the route. The instrucgtor still on hall monitor duty kept reminding me of all Elwood’s infractions and my inattention to them. Hey! I was trying to keep track of how I was holding the handle (which is different than I was holding it before) and keeping the tention, or at least trying to.

After we got back to our room, I took the shopping bag with Elwood’s grooming tools and we went down into the basement where the grooming room is. (We are not allowed to groom the dogs anywhere else.) We had some difficulty finding the room and doing the clearances right so correct and repeat.

The grooming room has a bench running around the outside so the dogs can stand there while you stand on the floor. There are windows to the hallway. I stood on the bench to find the hooks for the harness. They are at the ceiling. Elwood must have thought it was quite peculiar to be told to sit on the floor while I climbed up. Then I called him to me and jumped down. The bag being a nuisance, crinkly sounding and a hindrance to hand signals, I ditched it and put the tools in my pockets for the return journey. And yes, it’s a journey! Each landing is a stop and forward and there are two landings per staircase.

The van is high. There are several steps to get up into it. There are no straps, no arm rests to hang onto. This morning, while I was getting up into the back in preparation for calling Elwood to me, I slipped and ended up sitting on the van’s floor. No carpet either! The other student and I laughed and laughed. I wasn’t hurt. I was coming back down because Elwood wasn’t sitting at rest. Each time he gets up, I have to come back and resettle him.

We worked in pairs this afternoon. This means two students walking the same route at the same time. We meet at the curbs and then the other one takes the lead. We were doing okay. We were waiting for our traffic check. The class supervisor pulled into the driveway ahead of me, bumper scraping the ground. I jumped. Elwood remained calm, stopping. Good dog!


Life Here

We are awakened at 5:30 a.m. over an intercom in our rooms. Then it’s hurry, hurry, hurry. Go to the bathroom. Get some clothes on. In the middle of
this, someone comes with your dog’s food. Add water. Give it to your dog. Elwood dives at the dish and is eating in mid air. My instructor said I should make him sit–he’ll
do that, then wait to be told he can eat when I put down the bowl. I can put down the bowl, but then, charge!

Meanwhile, I am finishing getting dressed enough to go outside and filling his water bowl with 3 cups of water. At this point, his input is regulated.
In the kennels, the dogs relieve whenever they feel the need. They have been housebroken in their puppy families, but may need a review.

Then it’s off to park, often on a dead run. Elwood seems to be getting into a better routine with his body so maybe the initial stress is wearing off.
He was a tad constipated.

Right now we are waiting for people breakfast at 7.

Today we will go on two more trips along a residential street. We’ve been told we will have our first traffic check this afternoon–a staff driven
car will be in a driveway across the sidewalk. There will be more of these later.

Last night we had a presentation of dog fears. Earlier, there was one on correcting your dog. These take about an hour. We also have to groom our dogs
at least once a day. There is down time, but it is in small increments.



Here’s the news you’ve all been waiting for. Elwood is a male yellow Labrador Retriever. He’s not a big dog. At the moment he is laying quietly under the computer desk. He hasn’t decided to like me yet. I’m okay when I bring food. He will be quite affectionate. When he forgets he doesn’t like me, he jumps in my lap and kisses me. Then he remembers he doesn’t like me, gets down and watches the door, hoping our instructor will come.


Everyone’s A Critic

You might think that, being blind, I have no interest in paintings or other forms of visual art. You would be wrong about that. I’m fascinated by art and what other people bring to the pictures.

Last year people at the “Stations of the Windows” Friday Lenten worship services at ST. Luke’s described the stained glass windows. They were so enthusiastic it grew dark before we could finish the window descriptions and the service.

Today’s New York Times has an article about unofficial museum guides. It’s a college art project at Marymount Manhattan College. Even if you’re not at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, you can download the podcasts and look at the paintings online.

I downloaded the podcast on Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, a Discussion by Cheryl Stoever & Professor Jason Rosenfeld. It’s rough. It’s raw. It’s fascinating. It’s listening in on a college professor going one on one with his student, asking her questions, giving additional information about the painting, giving a perspective on what the picture is about. It’s just the sort of thing I want people to tell me about art.


Weekly Message – Working

I shared this message with The Judson Fellowship: An American Baptist Church and member of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists this morning in Jamestown, New York.

Biblical texts for today:
Psalm 66;
John 14:8-14.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Can you believe it? Can you really believe it? Jesus says to us today: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to [God] (John 14:12 NRSV).

Do you believe–do you really believe–that we can do greater things than Jesus? That is what our Scripture says this morning. It says that we will do greater things than Jesus did.

I don’t know which is more fantastic, more astonishing, more preposterous–that we are capable of doing greater things than Jesus or that Jesus is speaking this Word to us today. Look around you. Jesus is saying this little band of believers gathered here this morning will do greater things than Jesus did in his lifetime on earth!

Do you believe this? Can you really say it out loud? Can you?

And more importantly, do you? Do you believe it? Do you act every minute of every day that you will do greater things than Jesus?

Let’s find out. Try this sentence: I ______ (say your own name out loud) will do greater things than Jesus.

How does that sound to you? Fantastic? Astonishing? Preposterous? Irreverent? Blasphemous?

How about scary?

Let’s think for a minute what Jesus did. Give me some examples.

(Here are a few samples:)

* Cured a man of his demons;
* Cured a woman of a twelve-year flow of blood;
* fed the five thousand;
* walked on water;
* Gave Bartimaeus his sight;
* Raised Lazarus from the dead.

And we can do greater things than these?

Thursday night we read an article together from March’s InSpiritor. 54 American Baptist churches and a number of like-minded individuals have declared themselves to be welcoming and affirming to “all persons without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity”. In response, there’s a proposal to “disfellowship” all Welcoming and Affirming churches from their respective associations and refuse to allow these same churches to associate with other churches non-geographically. A consultant to the General Board of ABC-USA has talked about “acceptable losses”. Our General Secretary has called on us to be bridge builders rather than people who put up walls between us; to be Baptists who focus on the work.

“Disfellowship” is not a nice word–much less a real word. I began to ask myself if “fellowship” is a verb. Certainly not in English. In Greek perhaps–the original language of our New Testament? Well, yes, there’s a verb and it means “I share.” “Disfellowship” means, therefore, an unwillingness to share.

Well, The Judson Fellowship knows about sharing. We’ve been dubbed “the sharers”: the people who don’t want to put their resources into real property but want to reach out to other people, to put the money into work. Isn’t that what Welcoming and Affirming is all about–sharing God’s love with all people? Isn’t that the work?

Fellowship is such a hard thing to maintain. It is so much easier to walk away. Isolation seems preferable: no arguments, no wrestling with our consciences, no struggling with what it means to be Jesus’ disciples or how to love each other when we hold opposite views, no change, no growth, no work.

When I first got Caitlin–when we were still at the Seeing Eye–I bought a Nylo bone for her. It was just a toy for her to chew on. I hesitantly held it out to her. Those powerful jaws closed tightly on it. She seemed to be saying, “Mine!” Dogs don’t share. Toddlers don’t share. As adults, we make decisions about with whom we want to share. We have our own bank accounts, own our own homes in which we live with other people or not. Some of us may share clothing–jackets, sweaters, maybe even shirts, but I wonder about items like underwear. Toothbrushes are definitely out. We all have our limits.

Jesus says to us today, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to [God].”

What sort of works is Jesus talking about? Not necessarily miracles: these works are not signs or wonders. It’s work plain and simple–the kind of work that raises a sweat or provides a service. Jesus says our works, our deeds, our toil, our labor, our services, our sweat equity will be greater than any works Jesus did.

The old adage says: If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t. We may be inclined to ask, “What’s the fine print here?” The offer that comes in the mail that says, “Here’s a check for a thousand dollars for you,” also says, “Cash it and you’ve agreed to pay it back at considerable interest.”

When Philip says, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied (NRSV); that will be enough for us (NIV); that is all we need (CEV); something in me says, “Oh yes. Show us! That would be wonderful!” To be caught up in God would be to put all my troubles aside. I would be filled with love and a peace beyond words. That is all I need I tell myself!

Jesus, however, finds fault with Philip. Jesus finds fault with me, too. You and I and The Judson Fellowship are called to “greater works than these,” not blissful contemplation. We are not to shirk the work.

To see Jesus is to see God. Unlike Philip, we are not reclining at table with Jesus in Jerusalem around the year 30. We are here in Jamestown, New York, May 1, 2005. Shortly we will eat a loaf of bread together and share a cup. It is in the words at our table, in the passing of food and drink, in the sharing of this meal, that we will know Jesus is in our midst. We will see Jesus in each other’s face, feel Jesus’ touch as we are handed food and drink and we hand food and drink to another person. Jesus is present in the simple act of sharing. Jesus is present in the work.

Think how different we are. Only a few of us are biologically related. Think how little we have in common. Jesus is the one who binds us together, who enables us to share our lives, our hopes, our dreams, our troubles and our fears with one another.

It’s fantastic. It’s astonishing. You wouldn’t have believed it if you hadn’t seen it with your own eyes, if you hadn’t touched it with your own hands, if you hadn’t experienced it for yourself.

Sharing together is one of the greater things Jesus is talking about today. Bringing very different people to be partners together is what Jesus is talking about today. Inclusion is what Jesus is talking about today. This is the work Jesus is talking about today. That is why I find “disfellowshipping” so offensive.

Relationships are difficult enough with the people we love. Relationships with people we don’t agree with are very hard. I know. I’m experiencing this right now. I would rather just hang out with people who like me, who agree with me, who support me, who approve of me. Jesus’ words call out to me to do something more, something fantastic, something astonishing, something preposterous. Jesus calls me to share with others: people who don’t like me, who don’t agree with me, who don’t support me and who don’t approve of me.

The greater things than all the miracles we named at the beginning is “love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34b-35). It’s sweaty, gut-wrenching work.

There’s no way around it–Christian love is work. There’s a lot of risk involved. Feelings get hurt. Self-esteem and confidence fall through the floor. Minds get changed. Truths we once thought were incontrovertible turn out to be falsehoods.

I have one caution: Risk-taking in relationships does not extend to putting yourself in harm’s way in domestic relationships. Jesus does not intend for us to be in abusive relationships: spiritual, emotional or physical. If you are in one, get out. If you need help, ask. There is no situation that you can’t get out of. You don’t have to stay. Get out.

What I am talking about today is those voluntary associations we respond to because we believe God has called us together to be a community of Christian love and to continue Christ’s ministry of building the Kingdom of God on earth. One way I believe we do that is working so that some day all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender identity will say, “Blessed be God, because [God] has not rejected my prayer or removed his [or her] steadfast love from me” (Psalm 66:20. This is the greater work Jesus calls us to do today.


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