A couple of weeks ago, hub and I were in Tuscumbia for a book signing and visited Ivy Green during a little down time. I'd been there as a child, seen "The Miracle Worker" multiple times, and had a soft spot for Helen Keller. My mom worked with the deaf and blind at our church for many years, and is fluent in sign language. She's interpreted hundreds of church services and several plays for the Shakespeare Theater. Unlike her, I know just enough to be dangerous, so please don't ask me to interpret anything. I'll get it 95% wrong and most likely offend someone unintentionally.
Ivy Green is the birthplace of Helen Keller. It sat on 640 acres and was built by her grandfather. She was born a perfectly healthy baby girl, but an illness at 19 months left her deaf and blind. She developed "home signs" to communicate with her family, but it wasn't the official sign language. Her parents catered to her every whim, and basically spoiled her rotten. This caused her to become wild and unruly, what we would call a brat. But can you blame her? She lived in total darkness and silence for 5 years. I'm sure she was frustrated and angry. I'm sure her parents felt helpless. This little girl was brilliant, but couldn't communicate her thoughts or feelings to anyone. I can't imagine how hard that was for Helen.
Helen's parents hired Anne Sullivan to come educate her, the day Helen later referred to as her "soul's birthday." She called Anne, "Teacher". Teacher changed Helen's life with one word, "water". After numerous tries to connect Helen with proper sign language, feeling cool water from the backyard pump as Teacher signed the word in her hand unveiled the mystery of language. It set Helen free! She learned 30 signs the first day, and went on to change the world.
She learned to use sign language, read braille, touch-lip read, and eventually speak. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from Radcliffe College, and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She became an author, political activist, lecturer, and world wide ambassador for the disabled. She helped found the ACLU in 1920. She inspired the Lions Club International to adopt aid to blind programs. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964, and was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Her friend, Mark Twain, referred to Anne as "the miracle worker", which was later the title of a play and Oscar Award winning movie based on Helen's book, The Story of My Life. She died in her sleep at 87 years old. Can you imagine what the world would be like without Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan?
Her book, Light in My Darkness, describes her faith. Teacher brought in Bishop Brooks to share the gospel with Helen as soon as she was able to communicate. After hearing his words through Teacher's interpreting hands, Helen said, "Mr. Brooks, I always knew He was there, but I didn't know His name." She later wrote him a letter saying she'd felt God's love in her darkness. She described it like this in her book: "God is in me as the sun is in the color and fragrance of the flower, the Light in my darkness, the Voice in my silence." Did you just get goosebumps like I did?
Her story humbled me. What on God's green earth do I have to complain about? I can see, I can hear, I can talk (sometimes too much, I know). How much time do I waste worrying about things that aren't important, or whining about things that I shouldn't? Do I assume the best or the worst in others? Am I grateful for everything I've been given, even the trials that bring strength? I should wake up everyday saying 'thank you', for being able to see the grass that needs cutting, or hear the obnoxious black bird squawking during my quiet time. By golly, life is a gift! It doesn't need to be wasted by unnecessary grumbling. I'm committing to trusting more and worrying less. I want to be an encourager. Let's face it, "Debby Downers" and "Negative Nellys" stink to high heaven. I don't want to be a Debby or a Nelly. (Sidebar: If your name is either one of those, please don't feel bad. They're lovely names. It's unfortunate that they're associated with something crummy. My name means "house", so it's not fantastic or inspiring. Also, one of my favorite encouragers is named Nancy, and that's interchanged with Nelly all the time! She defies the word association. I hope that helps.) I don't want to be a bump on a log that sits around actin' ugly and gettin' my feathers ruffled. Even worse, acting "too big for my britches", as Momma used to say. That kind of behavior benefits no-one, nowhere, not ever.
Let's shine our light and make a difference, no matter how great or small. Changing the world starts with changing our perspective. In the South, we call it an attitude adjustment. My pastor, Jay Wolf, has referred to it as, "getting a check up from the neck up." Let's begin a, "I'm Not Weird, I'm Wonderful" movement that spreads love for self and love for others. Let's mind our manners and resist getting offended from every. little. thing. Flying off the handle generally doesn't solve problems. Let's stop judging each other and bloom where we're planted. My son's kindergarten teacher used to say, "tend to your own garden." That's sweetly Southern for, "mind your own business." Let's stop worrying and complaining and begin uplifting and reassuring each other. I want to be a Helen or an Anne. Don't you? Who's with me? One word can start it. That word is love.