Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Livonia, Mich.
Founder and director of Seedlings Braille Books for Children
I founded Seedlings Braille Books for Children 35 years ago because I heard that braille books for children were scarce and expensive (more than $100 for a Hardy Boys book, for example). This tugged at my heart and started me on the path to making free and low-cost braille books for children. We now produce about 35,000 books per year and make three types: Print-Braille-and-Picture books for toddlers and preschoolers, Print-and-Braille Easy-Readers for beginning readers, and braille books as big as The Hunger Games for teens and young adults. The best part is that, thanks to generous grants and donations, we’ve been able to keep the cost to an average of just $10 per book.
Increasing the availability of books for all kinds of readers is important because if you give children books, you give them wings. Books can take you anywhere and can help you overcome difficulties. Our braille books not only give children who are blind the chance to develop a love of reading but also the literacy skills that will enable them to succeed in school and beyond. Books give the reader knowledge, power and the ability to understand how others live, which fosters empathy and compassion.
People are surprised when I tell them the secondary reason for starting Seedlings: I’ve always felt that our job on earth is to help other people, but I was in a quandary when it came to choosing a vocation because I’m an introvert and was extremely shy. I thought making braille books was the perfect solution because I could make them in my basement and mail them out without having to talk to anyone. Obviously, God had something different in mind. Now I find myself as the director of a nonprofit organization, and I’m often asked to give speeches and interviews (but I still get very nervous when doing so).
To honor my daughter Anna, who died after being hit by a drunk driver, I try to do things that will keep her beautiful, loving spirit alive. There are scholarships in her name at her high school and at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., where she was a student when she died. At Seedlings, we started the Book Angel Program that allows children who are visually impaired and live in the U.S. and Canada to get three free books per year. Since Anna’s passing in 2001, we have sent more than 57,000 free braille books in her name. It helps to know that she is still having a positive impact on people’s lives, just as she did when she was alive.
To me, church is a place where I can gain a better understanding of God’s word and be empowered to go out and serve others. It’s a place where there is a caring community that enables and encourages us to love and support each other.
My favorite church memory is definitely the baptisms of my daughters, Anna and Megan. I love the image of God cradling our tiny babies in his loving arms. I cherish the memory of the congregation beaming when the children were held aloft after being baptized. I took solace in the knowledge that we weren’t raising the children alone because the congregation promised to help us teach them how to pray and learn the Scriptures. I cling to the promises of God’s love, grace and eternal life that were proclaimed on those special days.
To me, grace means that even though we mess up, God loves and forgives us; even though we feel unworthy, God reminds us that Jesus died for our sins and that our place in God’s kingdom is secure.
It’s important to me to serve my community because I believe that is what God calls us to do. We can love and serve others because God first loved us.
I share my faith by doing my best to use my God-given gifts for good in all aspects of my life: in my relationships, in my work, in how I donate my time and resources, by working to consume less and share more, by working to stay healthy, and by working for peace and justice in our world.
I’m a Lutheran because we believe that grace is a gift from our loving God. I grew up working hard to try to earn everyone’s approval but often felt like I fell short. I need to hear every day that God’s love and approval don’t need to be earned because they have been freely given. And because of this great gift, we can, in turn, love and serve others.
An issue I’m passionate about is, of course, literacy. We just launched an exciting new literacy program called Braille for Beginners. Before sighted children enter kindergarten, they see millions of letters and words all around them, but children with vision loss don’t and will be at a tremendous disadvantage when they enter school unless they are surrounded by braille books at home. This new program allows us to supply early intervention specialists with boxes of our Print-Braille-and-Picture books for preschoolers that they can give to families of young children who are blind when they do home visits. These books will truly help give the children a good start on the literacy skills that they will need.
Knowing that Seedlings books are going to children all across the United States and beyond is hard for me to grasp. When I started Seedlings in the basement of my home in Detroit, I had no idea it would get this big. In fact, if someone had told me that we would eventually send out more than 500,000 braille books to children across the U.S. and around the world, I wouldn’t have thought that was possible. I am so thankful that we have been blessed with a tremendous group of people who have contributed their time and talents to help get more braille books into the hands of the children.
I believe that our loving God created us, gave his Son to save us and sends us his Holy Spirit to sustain us. I believe that God conquered death and that his truth will set us free, and I cling to the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.
I pray daily in thanksgiving for all the amazing blessings in my life: family, friends, Seedlings, church and so many other gifts from God. I also pray that God will come to all of us and cast out our sin, heal our brokenness and fill us with the Holy Spirit so that we may perfectly love him, worthily magnify his holy name and be his humble servants here on earth.
My favorite part of the work I do with Seedlings is hearing from the children, their families and their teachers about the impact these books have had on their lives. One mom recently wrote: “We’re a family of readers and having access to quality books in braille is invaluable and strengthens our bond as a family, as my son can also participate in reading, just like his siblings.”
It’s important to me to be a faithful member of my congregation because it helps me keep God and service as my focus. Faithful attendance ensures that I take time each week to hear God’s word through the Scriptures, the sermon, the sacraments and the songs. It enables me to support others, both in our congregation and beyond—and to be supported by them, as well.
Sentence prompts are provided to each person featured. If you’d like to nominate someone for “I’m a Lutheran,” email Megan Brandsrud.