by Svetlana Ehlers
From the Editor: Svetlana is one of our younger members in the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri, but you wouldn’t know it from the presentation she made at the 2021 affiliate convention. It has appeared in the Blind Missourian, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri. Here is what she said:
Have you ever lived on a farm? Living on a farm you can learn so much, like watching a chick hatch. You watch the poor chick struggle and struggle and struggle. Then you see a tiny crack in the shell, so you decide to pull the shell apart because you feel sorry for the chick. Once you pull the shell apart, the chick will eventually die because it must first build its strength by pushing its wings against the shell. It needs that adversity to survive. Adversity can be a blessing as it will grow your confidence, determination, and faith in Jesus Christ.
I was born in Armenia; Armenia is located north of Iran and east of Turkey. I was born at twenty-four weeks; I just didn’t want to waste any more time. Just call me an over-achiever. Poor planning on my part: my eyes didn’t develop right. So my parents could not care for me, and they put me in an orphanage. Over the next nine-year-period, I moved from a hospital to two different orphanages and a blind school. I don’t remember much about my first orphanage, but I remember this one person named Guion who was abusive. She would hit me if I talked or moved. Sometimes I felt she would just hit me for no apparent reason. I also had a friend named Samvel. He was like a brother to me. We were each other’s anchor. I don’t know how I would have survived without him there. He went with me to my second orphanage and to the blind school. I was hoping that when I moved the abuse would stop, and it did for about a week.
After that week the abuse started again. But it was different in this new orphanage. The orphanage staff let the other kids play, but Samvel and I had to just sit and listen to them because we were both blind and couldn’t get around on our own. If I got up from my chair, I would immediately be hit. I think my blindness was considered a burden to the staff. When we went to bed, we had to be asleep as soon as we put our heads on the pillow. Most of the time that was very difficult because it was scary at night. So I just pretended to be asleep and listened to the other kids being hurt by the staff. I started thinking that this was normal, so I figured out ways that I could avoid being abused.
One day a priest named Father Grigor and his wife Anahit came to visit the kids with disabilities. They took Samvel and me and some of the other kids to church every week. They even took us on vacation to a lake for a week. This was the only place where I felt safe and the only time I ever felt loved. This is where Father Grigor introduced me to God. I think this helped me to see that there was something good in life. But then we had to go back to the orphanage. This made me very upset because I had to go back to that place.
That same year Samvel and I went to the blind school. The school was not abusive, but I did not learn much. They brushed my hair and teeth, and they even dressed us. I didn’t even learn how to lift a fork to my mouth. I just put my mouth on the plate and pulled food in. My mom called it my puppy dog eating. If I hadn’t gotten adopted, I would have been finished with school by the age of fourteen. People in Armenia believe that children who are blind don’t need to obtain an education above an eighth grade level.
Then one day the orphanage staff told me that the Americans were coming to steal my organs. I’ve seen kids disappear before. So I was scared when my new mom came and took me away. Once I was adopted, my life changed very quickly. At first I was very immature. My mom said that because I couldn’t touch anything all my life, I made up for lost time and touched everything. Remember I see through my fingers. Imagine me going out to dinner with family and friends. Everyone else looks around to see what each person ordered, but for me, my hands immediately went into everybody’s plates.
My mom taught me how to read Braille, and then my whole world opened up. Everything that I couldn’t see in the orphanage I could now see in books. Since then, I’ve never stopped learning. My goal is to become a lawyer, and I am going to do what it takes to achieve that goal.
Are you wondering what happened to Samvel? Well, he got adopted also. Remember Father Grigor and Anahit, the people that took us to church? I think once I was being adopted they realized they could lose us, so they adopted Samvel. Most people in Armenia don’t care about kids with disabilities, but these folks did. I commend them for going against their culture, because not only did they adopt Samvel, but they also adopted another child from that orphanage who had challenges. Today Samvel is a beautiful opera singer doing concerts all across Eastern Europe. Samvel’s life will be very different from mine. He finished school at the age of fourteen. Because of this, he will not be able to support himself in Armenia. The good thing is that he has a family who can support him. God has a purpose for everything that he does. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jerimiah 29:11.
I wouldn’t wish for anyone to go through what I had to go through in Armenia. It was a horrible experience. No child should ever have to endure that type of abuse. But everyone has adversity in their lives. Some experience adversity more often and to a greater or lesser extent. What matters is how you view your adversity. We can become a victim of our adversity, or we can grow from the challenges that God gives us. I choose to grow from my adversity, and I am going to encourage you to teach your children to grow from theirs as well. Adversity can be a blessing because it will grow your confidence, determination, and faith in Jesus Christ.
First, let’s talk about confidence. If I had not gone through the challenges I did, I would not be the person that I am today. “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’” Eleanor Roosevelt. When you let your kids experience adversity, they will be more self-reliant as an adult. For example, if your child is having a problem with their friend, let them talk to their friend so that they can resolve the issue. Once you let them do that, they will build a sense of self-confidence that will get stronger with time. Dr. Laura Markham says, “Manage your own anxiety so you don't make a habit of rescuing your child. Instead, when she gets into a jam, support her in brainstorming possible solutions. If you lecture, teach, or solve the problem for her, you're teaching her that she can't solve things herself.” (Markham) Also, God commands us to have confidence. Joshua 1:9 states, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Adversity builds determination. This year I wanted to learn how to put wood in our wood stove. I kept telling myself that I couldn’t do it. It was just too hard, and I was afraid that I would touch the flames—ouch! Finally, I decided to use the fireplace tongs to put the log in the fire. I figured out that this wasn’t going to work, so then I tried to put the log in the fire with my gloved hand, and it worked! I had to stop thinking about the negative aspects about putting wood in the fire. You might think that is easy, but again I am totally blind. If I were to touch the flames, that would be very bad. I did melt my dad’s firefighter gloves. You see, they are not designed to actually be in the flames.
He was very surprised, but I haven’t burned my hands. That is okay right! “I really believe in the old expression that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s through adversity that you find the strength you never knew you had.” Christie Brinkley.
Lastly, my faith in God has greatly increased. When I think back to the past, I thank God for what he let me endure. If I did not go through hardships, I would have not reached out to God. So, I encourage you to thank God for your hardships. “… adversity is not the time to abandon the faith that has brought us this far. Instead, we should ask the Lord to use the adversity as a tool to strengthen our trust in Him. Let us pray that God will give us courage, boldness, wisdom, and faith as a result of walking through adversity.” Pastor David Delman (Delman) When you trust in the Lord, he will help you through hard times. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” Philippians 4:13. God is not going to take that hardship away, but he will help you through it.After listening to this speech, what do you think about adversity? Should we wait until the child is a grown adult to experience adversity, or should we let them start experiencing little adversities now? I hope that you start now because it will greatly increase their confidence, determination, and faith in Jesus Christ. Remember to let your little chicks break out of their shells on their own.