The best way I could share my background is to take a couple excerpts from my current memoir (see below). I always go back to the first few months of my life, because this is where God kept me in the palm of His hand. I have no vision in my right eye, and what little I had seemed to be not working right when I was born. Born a premie, the oxygen administered after my birth ruined my retinas; I’m blessed to have a little residual vision. The condition was “retrolental fibroplasia” (RLF), but today is known as “retinopathy of prematurity” (ROP). This means that the fibers in my retinas are crisscrossed due to the oxygen used in the incubator to keep me alive.
In 1967, I started as a freshman at West High School where I attended a special day Class for the visually impaired. We were bused in a mini-van, going to regular classes like everyone else. We had our room, with our large-print Braille books, supplies, one teacher, Mrs. I. (now deceased), and two transcribers. In my junior year Miss W. joined the classroom.
I didn’t let anything get me down. I sang in the choir for my freshman year and was involved in drama, lacking two points of becoming a Thespian. I also tried out for cheerleader which I lost. But it was okay. I just wanted to be loved. Dating proved to be non-existent, due to the proximity of my school. Therefore, I missed some of the social activities that normal kids go through. I remained active at church throughout junior high and high school which kept me on track spiritually. I also attended Camp Bloomfield, sponsored by the Foundation for the Junior Blind. Here I won several awards, like “Best Hiker,” “Songbird,” “Most Self-Reliant,” and others. Those years were the joy of my life.
I graduated in 1971, and in July of that year, I went to the Orientation Center for the Blind in Albany, California, run by the Department of Rehabilitation. Here a blind person could study Braille, cane mobility, and other blindness survival skills for at least six months. I had to use a blindfold, because of my residual vision.
I came home in early 1972, entering Bakersfield College which I finished in three years. While there I became active with Campus Crusade for Christ. We would attend classes and hang out at the College Life House. Staffers Gil and Hope worked with us, leading Bible studies and evangelizing the students. We had “Action Groups” in which we studied Christian basics such as prayer, Bible study, witnessing, and so on. I learned so much during that time. I desired to be a leader, however, due to my blindness, I was not allowed to do so. My, how things have changed. God used those years to formulate my Christian life, and to this day, I’m grateful for what I learned. I learned more during that time than in ten years of Sunday school at my church.
In 1972, I attended Explo ’72, sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU). God specifically showed me during that week that He truly loved me, and He had a plan for me. While at Crusade’s annual Spring Conference in 1973, a friend shared their booklet about the Holy Spirit. I got alone, and asked Him to fill me. I truly feel that this is when I really understood, and I always now say that’s when I was truly saved. All those years in church were just stepping stones.
The following year I began my college career at Cal Baptist, majoring in music, planning to become a teacher for the blind. Requirements for this were a degree in education and a master’s in special education, with an emphasis on the visually impaired. The “mainstreaming” concept was now in full force, and I attended classes just like everyone else. However, the head of the education department did not allow me to pursue this course of study so I changed my major to psychology, receiving my BA in 1977.
I stayed an extra year, attending Riverside City College where— upon rehab’s urging—I took courses in medical transcribing. I hated it, but I grudgingly went along with this course of study, mainly because of my parents’ encouragement. I later worked as a tutor and Braille transcriber from, then decided to get my credentials studying at Cal State Bakersfield, obtaining another BA, in Fine Arts concentrating in vocal music and English (a double major).
In October 1988 I married my husband Jim Ostergaard and moved to Fresno where we’ve been ever since. Our son, James, is now a freshman at UC Irvine, majoring in computer science.
There have been several women who have been instrumental in my Christian life. One was Barbara Spottswood, my Sophomore Sunday School teacher. She taught me a lot about prayer, and opened my eyes to the possibility that God had something special for me.
I had studied the Word through my growing up and early married years and it was during the death of my folks that I learned how to lean on Him. It was hard. I did the same thing when our son was born, I hadn’t prayed so much in my life.
In 2006, I began BSF. I haven’t been the same since. Through this and other Bible studies, God has showed Himself to be faithful and true. He has provided for my every need, including publishing my first book. I am now a member of My Journey of Faith Devotional Writers and I am continually learning how to trust God in every situation, whether big or small.
My life verses are Isaiah 42: 16 and 2 Corinthians 4: 18.
“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” Isaiah 42: 16
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4: 18
He has truly guided me over rough places and will guide me as I’m looking at what’s ahead, even though I can’t see it. I’m going through a rough time right now, but God is helping me one day at a time. I’m getting to really know Jesus more and more. Like the old song says, “Without Him, I can do nothing.”
—Excerpts taken from “Looking at the Unseen: My Guide Dog Journey-How God Led Me Every Step of the Way,” by Olivia Ostergaard