Walking by Faith

09/15/2017 .
Alexandra Applegate  .  Storytelling Intern

It started as a typical afternoon for Mindy. She had worked another day as a special education teacher at the elementary school her granddaughter attended and they were on their way home. The sun was shining on their drive when Mindy looked up and couldn’t see the signal in front of her. A black spot had appeared in the middle of her vision without warning.

After years of tests and false diagnoses, a doctor finally discovered the truth; Mindy had Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic disorder, and would be profoundly blind in a matter of years. The rods and cones in her eyes would break down and die until Mindy lost most of her sight.

At 42, Mindy realized she couldn’t read, see faces, and had difficulty walking because she couldn’t see more than three feet in front of her. The vibrant world she had known her whole life was vanishing.

Mindy’s new loss of vision brought up many hardships and changes but especially for her faith. Her and her husband, Lance, had attended Saddleback for many years but these obstacles caused them to question if they wanted to become members. “I couldn’t read my Bible anymore. The large print didn’t help at all. I stopped going to church because the lights bothered me and the worship was too loud for my guide dog. I needed someone to take my hand and sit me in a seat. I felt like an outsider,” Mindy said. She didn’t want to abandon her faith because God had always been there for her so she decided to join a small group through Saddleback, even if she was not attending church as much.

When Mindy’s doctor recommended her for a clinical trial to help her regressing eyesight, Mindy jumped at the chance to hold onto some hope. However, her heart sunk when she found out she needed her family medical history because Mindy had never known her biological father. When she turned 18, her mother gave Mindy a letter from him but she never reached out. All she knew of him was from a high school yearbook picture she carried in her wallet everywhere she went. Mindy told herself that was enough- until now.

Hesitantly, Mindy asked Lance to reach out to her father with an email given to them from Mindy’s mother. Her father soon responded with the necessary information but also asked if he could talk to Mindy. Again, Mindy jumped at the hope of knowing her father, despite fearing being rejected.

One night, when Mindy was having dinner with the small group that had come to mean so much to her, her father called. It was the first time she heard his voice. A few weeks later, they finally met at John Wayne Airport. Teary-eyed and joyful, they were finally able to embrace each other. Both of their lives were immediately changed as a beautiful relationship began.

“I didn’t have a family. All I had was my mother who had been sick for a long time. I felt like an orphan,” Mindy said. “All the sudden, here was a man who was a father figure. I never had that love from a father and now that hole in my heart was filled. He and his wife took me in as their daughter. God gave me an overwhelming sense of love and belonging.”

Mindy found it hard to be anything but grateful for all the circumstances that had brought her to this point. She couldn’t be brought down by her struggles. “I wouldn’t trade this for anything because I have my dad,” Mindy said.

Through all the ups and downs, Mindy was also grateful to have the support of her small group who had been there for her through some emotionally exhausting years. However, she still felt there was a need that wasn’t being addressed. When all the women in her small group got a book to read, Mindy had to have the audio version. If they watched a video in group, she sometimes missed what was happening. Even when she attended Saddleback, Mindy loved the church but felt there was not enough support for visually impaired people.

“A lot of people who are blind are angry with God. They have all these struggles already and then they can’t get to church,” Mindy said.

At the summer Pray Love Lead event Mindy attended when a friend invited her, she was discussing some of the needs she experienced with another woman who referred her to the small groups pastor. The pastor heard Mindy’s heart for the blind community in Orange County and encouraged her to start a small group for people with vision impairment.

Mindy recognized how her own small group encouraged and supported her and dreamed of a place for people with vision impairments to receive that same support. “To me, Saddleback is a community- especially the small groups. I love my group because I feel like I can trust them and there was a connection. Any life issue that came on, we were supporting and praying for one another. Those prayers really held me together. I wanted that for other people,” Mindy said.

While it is starting with a small group that meets at her house, Mindy envisions it will become a community. She dreams it will grow into a support group, with professional counselors and psychologists, for people who are struggling with blindness. Despite all the obstacles and challenges Mindy has had in her own life, she chooses to stay faithful to God and hold onto the hope he has given her.

“It’s so easy to give up but it takes faith just to get out the door when you can’t see. If I didn’t have faith, I would just be angry. But I know God is there. Walk by faith, not by sight. Keep going and never give up because there’s no limit with God.”

If you or someone you know is vision impaired and would like help connecting with a small group, contact smallgroups@saddleback.com

Learn more about small groups at saddleback.com/smallgroups.

Related StoriesSee More

By age 30, the drug scene in Newport Beach had completely taken over Wayne’s life.

Being in a small group is impacting us as a married couple and giving us a foundation to build our home on.

Amber wanted to learn more about leadership, but she needed a healthy environment to find healing from the past as well.

After a trauma-filled childhood, Cindy looked for a safe place to share her story and find healing.