Android

A few months ago I bought an Android phone. I switched from my land line to my bottom-of-the-line cell phone a little over a year ago. I thought having an Android would help me stay better organized. However now I can’t just push a button to hang up the phone but I have to slide a bar to do this. It took me about three weeks until I became adept at answering it without disconnecting someone in the process.

I need directions written down or I don’t remember them and unfortunately, the instruction manual isn’t very specific. I’ve been to the cell phone store so many times to ask questions that all the salespeople know me! I’ve had three different folks write directions down for me in my Android book. My problem now is organizing the book so I can find what I need when I need it.

The store offers hour classes once a month for Android users and I went to one soon after I got the phone. There were enough employees there so each person worked with someone one-on-one. I didn’t know enough about the phone yet to ask the right questions so my session lasted only 20 minutes. Now, I’m keeping a list so when I go again I’ll get the help I need.

I can load an application for just about anything. I don’t even know what applications would be useful for me yet and browsing through them is mind boggling. So I’m starting out slowly. I’m trying to use the calendar for all my appointments but the one that came pre-loaded didn’t have a place where I could write notes. So I searched through the applications trying to find a more complex calendar. The problem was I didn’t need all the other bells and whistles. Someone at the store finally showed me a note app that I think will work. I can use this app for all my notes which I’m constantly writing to myself and then promptly losing. I hope I don’t lose the Android!

I downloaded a timer app since I often use a timer when I’m “resting my brain.” It downloaded easily enough but when I tried it, it crowed like a rooster. I couldn’t figure out how to shut if off so as it crowed my dog began howling. After several minutes of crowing and howling, I managed to get the thing turned off. After fiddling with it for a while, I was able to change the sound to a ring which is much better.

The problem is the ring isn’t very loud. One day, I set the alarm and put my earplugs in. After five minutes, my dog came running into the room jumped on my lap and looked at the phone. This got my attention so I took the ear plugs out and sure enough the alarm was ringing. It vibrates when it rings so next time, I’ll put it in my pocket.

I’m going to try this phone for a while and see if it works for me. This is something I have learned. Some things work and other don’t. I can’t be afraid to give up something that isn’t working.

Have you tried doing something now that’s difficult if not impossible? How does this make you feel? I don’t know about you but I get frustrated and angry when I can’t learn something the first few times. Sometimes keeping with it makes it easier and sometimes I realize it is something I just can’t do. Feel free to comment here or email me directly at tamara@indylink.org

God’s Sovereignty

I led Sunday School again on Sunday and I shared the following quotation from Stan Saunders’ book “Preaching the Gospel of Matthew.”

“Again in these stories we see God’s sovereign control of the events that lead to Jesus’ death and resurrection. The human actors…all play their roles of their own volition, seeking their own ends and fully responsible for the choices they make. And yet God is at work in all these choices and actions…God’s sovereignty does ensure that justice and salvation come, despite and through our actions of betrayal.” (p.281) I understand that Stan was referring to Judas betrayal, Peter’s denial and all the other characters in the crucifixion story but it got me thinking about the sovereignty of God in my own life and in the lives of other brain injury survivors.

God’s sovereignty and my TBI isn’t a new idea for me. I’ve thought about this a lot. Why did God allow my accident to happen? I liked my life before. I spent my days going to meetings, leading worship, planning youth group meetings and all the other things my job required. When I had my accident, I was in the process of searching for a position in the church where I could do more pastoral care, community ministry and preaching. In fact, my husband Michael had to handle phone calls from folks interested in interviewing me while I was still in the hospital learning how to speak and walk again. It was a difficult and horrible time.

I’ve heard many survivor’s say, “God allowed this to happen for a reason. I’m a much better person now.” I respectfully disagree. I can’t serve a God who would allow me to learn how to speak and walk again just because God has some great plan for me. I can’t serve a God who destroyed all my dreams just so God could use me in some way. That isn’t a God who cares about me and loves me. That is a selfish God.

God didn’t allow this to happen so I could learn something. I don’t understand why bad things happen to folks but I do know that God is with me now helping me as I lead my new life. I’ve learned what it is like to talk to my neighbors when I can work out in the garden in the middle of the day. My TBI doesn’t allow be to attend long and boring meetings now so I don’t have to do that. I’ve also learned how it feels to not “fit in” so I can relate to others in the same situation.

God is with me while I’m here in Holland. (see Welcome to Holland 2.9.11 post) I miss Italy but there are some things here that are pretty special. While I’m not grateful for my TBI, I am grateful for what God is teaching me through it.

(see http://lovethatmax.com for a wonderful interview with the woman who wrote the poem “Welcome to Holland.”)

How do you see God’s actions in your brain injury? Do you think God allowed it to happen for a reason or do you view it more as I do? See the top right hand corner for instructions about how to comment here. If you’d rather comment to me directly tamara@indylink.org

Shopping

I hate shopping. Even before my brain injury I hated it but at least I could spend several hours going to the various stores in the mall until I found what I was looking for. I would then continue my day by going to my other appointments. Now this is impossible. The lights and sounds drive me crazy and I can only stay for a short time before I must leave to “rest my brain.” I needed to get a few things and I’ve been putting it off since it’s so much trouble. Finally yesterday I decided to go to JCPenney which had everything I needed.

I like JCPenney because I can park right outside the door and not have to go into the mall. I’ve tried going to malls before but my spatial orientation challenges and sensitivity to light and sound makes this too hard. My first purchase was blue jeans. There was music playing and I almost took out my ear plugs which I always carry with me but I decided I would try and manage. Sometimes this is easier then attempting to ignore the stares when people see me wearing ear plugs! After rooming around trying to find the jeans – I always buy the same kind since they’re the only ones that seem to fit – I discovered they no longer carry them so I had to try on a few others. This meant more time in the bright light and loud sounds.

After settling on a pair, I moved on to the purses. They only had about a million so I began searching through them. At one point, I was mistaken for an employee because I had several purses strewn on the floor around me trying to see if they would carry what I needed. After settling on one purse from the million, I moved on to the belts. I felt a bit overstimulated but I wanted to get everything done. Again, they had blue, red, silver and every other color you could think of. I wanted a brown belt. Not a brown belt with rhinestones or with a decorated buckle – just a simple brown belt. I was almost ready to leave when I found one. I went to pay for my purchases and the only folks in JCPenney on a week day were all at the register paying. So of course, I had to wait in line.

My next challenge was trying to get out of the store. There’s only three floors but I couldn’t remember where I had parked. After describing to an employee what was by the door I entered, she gave me directions back to it. I managed to get to the correct floor but I turned the wrong way and ended up at the wrong door. I get lost a lot so I’m used to ending up in the wrong place. I turned around and walked the other way which took me to the correct door. After 1 1/2 hours, I was exhausted.

I recently read a blog post by Chris Glaser titled, “Do Progressive Christians Pray?” (99brattle.blogspot.com) In it he writes, “The Desert Fathers and Mothers believed prayer was not about changing God’s mind or heart but about their own transformation.” There have been times when I’ve been really lost – not just lost in a store – but lost driving in a city – when I’ve issued a plea to God “Oh please help me find my way home again!” Sometimes I even pray before I go somewhere, “Help me not get lost.”

I have a brain injury which means I have spatial orientation problems and God cannot take this away. But God can transform my own spirit so I can accept these challenges with grace. God can give me wisdom to go shopping at a time when the store isn’t busy. God can also guide me to go only when it is best for me. Of course, this means I have to set limits for myself which can be frustrating.

Not everyone with a brain injury has as much difficulty in stores as I do. Are stores hard for you? What things are difficult for you now? Feel free to comment or email me directly tamara@indylink.org

Public Prayer

Public prayer is difficult for me. It used to just flow but since I don’t think on my feet anymore, it’s difficult for me to pray in front of others. For this reason, I always write my prayers down when I know I’m going to pray before a group. All this came back to my mind again since I led Sunday School this past Sunday. I wrote down an opening prayer and planned to ask someone to offer a closing one. When the time came, I changed my mind. It just seemed like as the leader, I needed to pray. So I gave it a whirl.

It went okay but I had a little difficulty with word finding. Brain injury survivors often have difficulty coming up with a word. When I was in rehab, I did all sorts of activities to help me with this. At first every day conversations were difficult. The word would be in my brain somewhere but I couldn’t find it. I became really paranoid and worried that folks would think I was not smart since I seemed to always forget words. It took a few years, but it got much better. I also learned how to describe the word and usually the other person could figure out what I was trying to say.

I’ve been visiting older people for some time now and I can relate to their frustration at not being able to think of a word since it always makes me mad when I have this difficulty. When we get older it is more difficult for us to remember words. I think for them it is complicated since they are near the end of their lives and have already experienced many losses and this is just one more. I view my difficulty as a gift in these situations since I have a glimpse into how they feel.

I always pray after a pastoral visit. Before it wasn’t a problem because I could sum up the visit and then pray about it. Summarizing something is very difficult now so I’ve learned to pull out one thing from the visit to include in my prayer. I also get tongue tied before a group which is what happened on Sunday. However I’ve learned that many of my challenges won’t get better unless I practice them over and over again. So I’ll keep at it.

Do you have word finding challenges? How have you handled them? What are your thoughts about public prayer? Feel free to comment here or email me directly tamara@indylink.org.

Sunday School

I attend a Sunday School class at Grace Covenant Presbyterian called Knowing and Applying the Bible Every Day. We are studying a book on Matthew by Alyce M. McKenzie and different members of the class take two weeks to lead each chapter. I enjoy discussing the Scripture passage and we have some wonderful thinkers and teachers in the class. As a result, sometimes we spend the whole hour “knowing” and not much time “applying.” For this reason, the facilitator suggested we watch the clock and at 10:15 if we haven’t spent time “applying” we need to shift to this.

Since I’ve been pretty vocal about my concerns I thought I’d lead the class myself in order to model my vision. This sounds good , doesn’t it? The problem is, it is difficult for me to lead a class. Since I have trouble thinking on my feet, facilitating is pretty impossible. Before my brain injury, I used to be a good facilitator but this is another loss I must learn to accept. As a result, I spent quite a bit of time planning and worrying!

The passage I have is a long one – Matthew 26:47-56 which leads up to the crucifixion. I used to love spending hours studying the fine points of scripture. I can no longer do this without experiencing “cognitive overload.” When this happens I can’t think of anything at all.

Since I now have difficulty with organizing my thoughts, trying to organize a study session is a bit of a challenge. I started a few weeks ago. I used to do things for long periods of time until it was finished. I can’t do this now so instead, I began working on it a few weeks ago and worked on it in short spurts. I planned when I would work on it so I wouldn’t worry needlessly.

Then I typed out an outline so I would have something to use. Of course this took time since it is difficult for me to organize anything. After a few rough drafts of my outline I settled on something I thought I could use. I knew I would be nervous since doing any sort of leading, speaking or preaching makes me nervous. I decided to see if I could handle this nervousness without losing any sleep. I prayed and even asked a few folks to pray for me.

Yes, I was stressed a bit. Yes, I lost my place a couple of times. But I learned that God can use me even if I’m not perfect. We didn’t spend too much time “knowing” but spent time “applying” and this was my hope. God was there and did use me to allow God to speak to us. For this I am grateful.

So what did I learn? I need to trust God and stop worrying. I have to do much preparation to do anything but sometimes it is worth it. I knew this would stress me out but it was a choice I made because I thought it was important.

If you have a TBI do you have difficulty organizing your thoughts? Do you stress out more now than before? How do you choose what is important for you to do and what you must give up?

Ash Wednesday

Every year during Lent I use one of Edward Hays’ devotional books. Hays is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Kansas City and his Lenten books are not typical ones. The book I’m using this year is The Ascent of the Mountain of God. He uses the image of scaling a mountain to get to Mount Easter. Today he writes the following reflection:

“On this Ash Wednesday, reflect on an experience from the life of former President Jimmy Carter. He had applied to enter a nuclear submarine program under Admiral Hyman Rickover, who then interviewed him for the position. At the end of the interview Admiral Rickover asked, ‘How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?’ “

“Carter answered, ‘Sir, I stood 59 in a class of 820,’ waiting to be congratulated. Instead he was asked, ‘Did you do your best?’ Carter began to reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but recalled that he could have learned more and so answered, ‘”No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.’ Rickover looked at Carter for a long time in silence and then asked one final question, which Carter said he never forgot nor was he able to answer – ‘Why not?’ “

“Ask yourself if it is your intention today to enter into this Lenten season with a desire to do your best to make this truly an ascent to greatness and holiness. Ask yourself if you seek to be engaged during these forty holy days with such a passionate commitment that it will become the best Lent of your entire life. If that is not your intention, then ask yourself, ‘Why not?’ “

So this Lent, my intention is to scale this mountain. As Hays writes, “This manual for holy mountain climbing provides tools, allies and insights that will turn the challenge into an adventure to enhance the joy of the journey.” I’m ready to begin.

Stressed

I’m stressed out again. I’m reminded of something one of my brain injury therapists has told me. “When you feel anxious, the brain releases chemicals that cause you to have difficulty thinking as clearly. This can make things especially difficult for someone with a brain inury.” Yep. The way I have handled this for the past five years is to not get involved with anything that causes me stress or if I know I’m going to be stressed out, I drop everything else. The problem is, I’ve been bored so I want to be more involved in things.

I hear people say all the time, “My plate is too full so I can’t do it.” I look around me and I see people whose plates are overflowing but they still seem to handle it all. I then feel guilty. However, my plate is smaller now. I can’t handle as much before I have difficultly thinking. This is my new reality and I have a choice. I can worry about everything and be stressed like I am now or I can just stop. My therapist suggested I set aside some time to prepare what I need and then put it away. My tendency is to spend way too much time on something and waste needless time agonizing about it. She also reminded me that this needless agonozing is what causes the suffering. She suggested a technique to use when I find myself getting agitated.

When I beome aware of negative thoughts just stop it. Say out loud “stop!” Then refute the negative thought. For instance, I’m worried about leading a Sunday School class so I called the facilitator and shared my worries. He helped me to see that I do have something to offer and encouraged me not to compare myself to the other teachers. This helps me refute the negative thought. Now I have to continue refuting this thought! I may not be like the other teachers but I do have something to offer. I also asked him to pray for me this week so God can help me stop my agonizing.

My other challenge is I have to have everything working according to plan or I’m thrown. I prepare a newsletter for one of the churches I attend and I wanted to begin working on it today. However, some of the information I needed wasn’t available to me when I needed it. I’m also meeting with a friend tomorrow who is going to help me with this blog. He can’t meet at my preferred times and he is giving his time to me (Thanks Rich!) so I’m trying to meet when he can. Now I can put this off for a few weeks but I don’t want to do that. So there’s more on my plate now then the projects I am working on.

This is when my comtemplative prayer helps. Thomas Keating wrote, “No amount of spiritual ‘yakking’ can take the place of the intention to be with God at the deepest level of our being.” The only way I’m going to get through this stress, since I’ve chosen not to take anything off my plate, is to spend time with God. A few curve balls have been thrown my way so everything may not get done right on time. This doesn’t mean I’m a “bad person.” It just means I can’t control everything and it’s selfish to think I can. Romans 8:9 says, “The Spirit of God has made a home in you.” God’s Spirit is in me. Perhaps those of us with brain injuries, whose plates are smaller now, can help show others how to live.

Do you get stressed out now? How do you handle it. I’ll let you know if I can manage what’s on my plate without having sleepness nights! Feel free to comment here or email me directly at tamara@indylink.org . If you have a google or another account you can select it when the comment section asks you to select an account. Feel free to select annonomous if you’d rather.