“And Jesus answered and said, What would you have me do for you? The blind man said, Lord, that I might receive my sight. And Jesus said to him, Go your way; your faith has made you whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus.”
Have you ever wondered what happened to the people after Jesus cured them? Let me share my story. It is the story of a blind man who had his eyes opened — not the eyes that look out on the world, but the eyes that look inward at my soul.
I will remember that moment forever. It was a Thanksgiving day. I was sharing Thanksgiving with the woman and children who had once been my family. My wife and I were divorcing. I had hurt her and my children in so many different ways. We were at the home of our minister. He had invited the entire flock to join him in Thanksgiving and, though we came in separate cars, from separate houses, I was sharing Thanksgiving with my family for the first time in quite a while. It was during that celebration that I was touched. The Lord reached out and touched me and in a flash I saw my entire life up until that moment – all the hurt I had caused. The people I had led astray. The anger I had let control my life. The many times Jesus had reached out to me and I had turned my back. I saw it all and I felt the Lord’s message that this was the last time. I could open my eyes and see or forever be blind to God’s love.
Like the blind man in the gospel, I received my inner-sight and followed Jesus. I stopped living the life I had been living – a life in the fast lane, with drugs, money and power (mostly it was about power). I made peace with my family. My wife and I divorced, but not in anger and I built a bond with my children. I found a new purpose. A vision of how the I could put the talents God gave me to use so that perhaps, just perhaps, I could help some kid like me, faced with the same choices I was faced with as a blind teenager, banging hard against an establishment that said, “Brother, if you want to be equal, you have to be three times as good.” I could do something so that teenager might be more inclined to make better choices than I made because he didn’t have to be three times as good. He just had to be as good as he or she could be.
When I called my vision, “Freedombox,” I had that moment in mind. Because that was the moment I was suddenly free. God had set me free from a prison of my own making and He had given me the opportunity to set others free.
The vision has two parts. One part, the Freedombox, is a barrier buster. When I was in high school I was at the mercy of other people: counselors, special education people, teachers and administrators to get me the things everyone else had. I mean simple things like books. Books in Braille had to be ordered a full year in advance. When those people failed (and they often failed), I failed. And their message was, “That’s just the way it is. You blind people have to work three times as hard because the world isn’t made for you. It’s made for people with eyes.” The Freedombox removes those kind of barriers in what I believe is the most important communication medium man has yet devised – the Worldwide Web. The Freedombox makes it possible for any person, blind or sighted, dexterous or unable to use his or her hands, genius or learning disabled, to access the Worldwide Web on an equal basis. Where once there was a barrier – a high curb, now there is a “curb cut” with a gentle slope. Freedombox says, “We got you there just as easily as the next guy. Now you make good use of this freedom.”
The technology is not complex. Yet it took God’s touch to let me see the path and the Lord’s guidance to find the people; people like Matt Campbell our “beast in the basement” who set aside any need for immediate financial rewards and dedicated himself to making this vision a reality. That was a lesson too. Where before I carried the ball myself on every play, the Lord gave me the patience and the trust to hand off the ball to people who could do some things better than I could do them. It was humbling yet richly rewarding because Freedombox is not just mine, it is “ours.” And that was a new word for me. But it’s a word I’ve come to love.
The second part of the vision was to look at the why’s of discrimination. Oddly enough, some of my inspiration came from the dark side I lived all those years. There are just a few “cultures” where a blind man is treated as an equal. One is the music culture. Another is the drug culture. In both cultures you are just another supplier or another consumer. You either got it or you don’t. I could function as an equal in the drug culture because I could deliver as good or better than the next punk. I could function as an equal in the music culture because I could deliver an audio product that people wanted. Nobody had to make special allowances for me. And they weren’t likely to. If you were a drag on the party they’d just terminate the relationship, one way or another.
But what I saw there was the simple economic facts of life. If you represent a viable market, people will go out of their way to do business with you. You can see it here in Miami with the Cuban culture. It was not so long ago Cubans were just immigrants, consigned to slums, given only the most menial jobs and largely ignored by politicians, merchants, and government bureaucrats. Today we people of Cuban descent are one of the most powerful political forces in the state. We shape elections. Businesses go out of their way to court our patronage. The barrio is a market.
The second part of my vision was to do for blind people and others with disabilities what the Americans with Disabilities Act can never do. Freedombox is about helping this community to become a powerful economic force by making them “accessible.” Today, if you want to sell something to blind people you are hard pressed to find a way to reach enough of them to support a business. But Freedombox Network brings people together as a community where merchants can reach them and sell them goods and services. And interestingly enough, as we Cubans found out here in Miami, when businesses see you as a viable market they start to treat you with respect. Suddenly you don’t have to work three times as hard to be equal. You start out equal. Then, when you work three times as hard, well perhaps you reap the extra rewards of that extra work.
For me the rewards are already far greater than I could have hoped. They aren’t financial rewards. Those may come someday or they may not. It doesn’t matter that much. But because the Lord saw fit to lift away the scales from my inner eyes and let me see the true depths of my soul, I have the reward of inner peace. I have come to understand forgiveness – a forgiveness so large that Jesus could forgive not just me and my puny arrogance, but those who killed Him. How could I hold anger in my heart against the people who had acted against me, many out of ignorance rather than malice, when Jesus could forgive his assassins? And when you let go of anger and forgive, you discover peace.
I have the reward of a loving family. I have the sure knowledge that the work I am doing is good work. It is work in service of the Lord that will hopefully lead others to the lord.
We blind folks appear any number of times in the Gospels and in the Old Testament as well. One of my favorites is Matthew 15, verse 14.
“And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”
My father, bless him, used to always believe that others led me into evil. But the truth is, I was the leader. As it says in Matthew, I was the “physically” blind leading the “morally” blind and I was truly leading those who followed me not just into a ditch but into the abyss. I like to think that now, with the vision God has given me, I am still leading. But now I am leading people to a place in the light. A place where they can be free to make their own choices. Where they won’t have to work three times as hard to hear the Lord’s message and hopefully find the same gift of inner sight he given me.
And there is this message from the Gospel of John.
“And as he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?
Jesus answered, Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”
John 9:1 -3
I sometimes think blindness, itself is a mission – a gift from God, not a curse. Isn’t that a strange thought? But in my entire life I have never cursed my blindness. Blindness has never made me feel less than equal. Other people have tried hard to make me feel less than equal and there was a time in my life when I raged against them for their ignorance. But the blindness is simply there. It is what I am. And it could be that it frees me from visual distractions and allows me to better focus on the work God has for me. I hope that people will not pray for me to see as they do, but rather pray for me to see as God wants me to see, in the spirit. Pray that the works of God might be revealed in me not by suddenly giving me eyes that work, but by helping me understand, live, and share the vision. The Freedombox vision that both gives people access and makes them accessible.