Cynthia (center) with her husband, Jeremy, and children, Tyler and Molly. Photo credit: Christy Woods
Oh, how I wanted that particular thing, not to use in the mix, but to eat! It smelled like chocolate; it looked like chocolate; it even said “chocolate” right on the package! Who in the world wouldn’t want to dive right in?
As a blind woman, I rely heavily on my other senses to identify or become familiar with something. I have had this eye disease known as Stargardt with Cone/Rod Dystrophy since I was born but it didn’t manifest itself until I was nine years old. My sight continued to diminish over the years, and I am now left with only 10 percent sight. When I took hold of that massive candy bar, I still had sight enough to read that it said “chocolate” right on the wrapper.
Fast forward a moment into my adulthood — it’s been a journey of self-discovery, adaptation and exploration. I’ve gone from hiding my sight loss as a kid to trying to be an advocate for the disability community. Oh, and I’d like to rename the disability if I could be so bold . . . I’d like to be known as “other-abled.” I feel this is a better representation of those who have to complete tasks in different way.
My family and I had an opportunity to move from Michigan to Florida a little over a year ago, and we were overjoyed at the prospect of moving to a warmer climate. My husband has a very physically demanding job and this opportunity afforded him the chance to step into a supervisory position. It would be much easier on his body and also offered our children, who were all but grown, opportunities we felt they wouldn’t have in Michigan.
I, however, had my own set of reasons for wanting this change. As someone with an other-ability, it has been difficult to obtain independence. When you have to depend on others for driving and such, independence can be elusive. People who love you want to be helpful and do more than is necessary to help. Not wanting to squash the efforts of my friends and loved ones, I simply allow the help to be given. I felt as though the answer was in front of us when the offer came for a job in Florida so we began the moving process. We had to move at separate times as my husband was needed right away at his new job. The kids and I were to come in a couple months.
I began the painful phone calls to my pastor about stepping down from my leadership positions at church and reflected on my time in Women’s Ministry, as Sabbath School teacher, Prayer Ministry director and Social committee director. I knew I would likely seek out these ministries again once we were settled in a new church, but it was sad nonetheless.
It took me some time to step out of my hidden-away self to lead in any kind of ministry but, once I felt the prompting from God, I knew He would be my ability. So, after delivering the news to my pastor, we began telling everyone our plans and my husband drove the hundreds of miles to begin our new life. I knew it would be an adjustment moving into a new community but also was fraught with anticipation about entering in said new community with no preconceived ideas about what I’m able to do. But some realities were beginning to rear their ugly heads.
Our family being apart was taking its toll on all of us and we were facing the very real probability that our 15-year dream of moving south was about to come to a screeching halt. I grieved this loss like a death. It was a death of so many things for me: A fresh start without having to prove my abilities to those who were too close to me. No more harsh winters. An easier way of life for my husband. More options for my kids. A slower pace. . . All shattered in a month. I had no desire to talk to anyone about this “death” in my life or any desire to enter back into ministry. Frankly, I was confused and questioning why God allowed this. Why didn’t He just say “No” from the beginning? I had been asking Him for years to fulfill this dream for us. Why say “Yes,” only to say “No”?
“Remember that giant candy bar you used to want so desperately?” God seemed to whisper to me while I was on my face sobbing about this situation. “You were certain it was going to be sweet and delicious.” He prompted. I was taken back a few decades in my mind. I vividly recalled sitting on the kitchen floor in front of the pantry, holding that enormous chocolate bar.
I remember seeing one word printed on the package ahead of the word chocolate. I didn’t know what it was supposed to mean but it still sounded good. It read “Baker’s Chocolate” in big letters on the front. Nothing bad ever comes from a baker, right? I slowly unwrapped the gold foil and kept an ear tuned for anyone coming. I wasn’t supposed to eat this chocolate, remember? I broke off a square and slowly, delightfully, brought it to my mouth. Biting into the heavenly aromatic chocolate, I was met with the most bitter flavor I’d ever tasted! Spitting and sputtering, I opened the trash and not so gracefully deposited the disappointing stolen piece of bitterness.
God was conveying to me through this memorable moment in life that sometimes what we see as being wonderful and delightful can have bitterness we didn’t know was there. God, like my mother, had repeatedly said no to something I kept asking for with the idea that it would be wonderful. I couldn’t believe that something “I” wanted so desperately could have anything but positive results. Yet, when we had our “taste” of how life in Florida would have been, we found it bitter and unwanted. Just as I found out that the chocolate in the pantry was bitter and unwanted. But God had to let me. . . let us. . . taste it for myself to believe Him.
Oh taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.
Out of this life-changing experience has come a new desire in ministry. I have stepped back into the position of Prayer Ministry director, occasionally have speaking engagements and am open to how God will use me in ministry. He has laid a new burden on my heart. I am starting a ministry called “God Sees You” in which I want to educate folks on how to appropriately and compassionately interact with those of us in the other-abled community.
We have many activities going on in our churches around the country and I feel it is necessary to be aware of how we can engage with other-abled people in a way that is proper and helpful. This includes asking the right questions and not assuming what a person needs, and approaching someone with kindness and gentleness so as to be Christ-like in our interactions.
Just remember . . . if God seems to be repeatedly saying “No,” there just might be a baker’s chocolate reason why.
Cynthia Woods is a member of the South Flint Church. If anyone is interested in learning more about her ministry, she can be reached at: Aroundthetable365@gmail.com.