I love serving the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute as its second president. Our program for aspiring Messianic Jewish rabbis is challenging, but chock-full of intellectual and spiritual riches for men and women seeking to serve as leaders among Am Yisrael. Our Jewish Studies program is geared for lay people, both Jewish and Christian, and rooted in an emerging theological model which honors both Church and Synagogue in a truly integrated way. What could be more satisfying for those seeking a deeper understanding of God’s ways among us?
I have told you in earlier installments of this series that I have faced some real obstacles along the way to a place of service at MJTI. Growing up, my family was quite poor. Also, my younger brother and I had inherited an extremely rare genetic abnormality that was officially labeled “Legal Blindness.” The condition looks like this: severe near-sightedness (what most people can see at a distance of 200 feet, I see at 20), total color blindness, extreme photophobia (light sensitivity) and astigmatism.
Why did God allow my brother Steve and me to inherit this affliction? Who knows? But I will tell you this: He compensated me powerfully by giving me parents who really understood how to help their boys live normally. Here is some advice for you parents who may have children who face similar challenges. Or perhaps you are single or newly married and hope to have children someday. Likely, their bodies will be perfect. But you never know.
Here is what Lenny and Bea Nichol did and did not do:
They got help early.
I was about five years old when they first schlepped me to the Industrial Home for the Blind in Queens, New York. Amazing! I still remember the street name. The place was on Sutphin Blvd. Dr. Mike, my case worker, was a gentle man with a bushy mustache and kind eyes. He gave me funny eye exercises to do regularly like making my gaze follow a small white spot rotating on a large circular piece of wood. He hoped these would strengthen my eye muscles. Later, there were the (very) thick bifocal glasses. Then, in 1962 when I was ten, Dr. Mike prescribed dark brown, hard plastic contact lenses. I was among the first kids anywhere to sport contact lenses. To date, 57 years later, I have only lost three or four lenses!
The point is this: there was no retreating into denial in our family! Their five year-old son’s condition needed attention and Mom and Dad moved into action decisively. But there was more…
My friends would not want me to play baseball with them. So, on Sunday evenings during baseball season at my Mom’s urging, Dad took me to the local schoolyard with a broomstick handle and a large white ball. I would smack that orb and Dad would cheer me on with generous rounds of, “Atta boy, Richy!”
Looking back, Mom and Dad’s love mixed with wisdom helped me tremendously. Their willingness to face my eyesight problem squarely helped me to accept my limitations fairly easily, with a minimum of unhealthy psychological residue. Growing up, I never really felt afraid to tackle life’s normal challenges. Had Mom and Dad responded differently, who knows how things might have turned out?
Parents and future parents… the lesson is clear. Get involved early should problems arise. Early intervention can make all the difference in the world for your differently-gifted child.
I will continue offering thoughts on overcoming the personal challenges life can throw at us next time. Meanwhile, be well and stay close to Messiah! The most important answers reside in him. And don’t forget to visit the MJTI website (mjti.org). Perhaps an unexpected blessing awaits you there!
This post was written by MJTI President Rabbi Dr. Rich Nichol.