"Seeking Imagination"

This past Sunday at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Kristy Farber preached a sermon that really affected me.  Her title was Seeking Imagination and I remembered thinking to myself that morning, “What does Mark 8:27-38 have to do with imagination?”

On top of that, the following quote by Anne Lamott was printed in the bulletin by the picture above. “Can you imagine the hopelessness of trying to live a spiritual life when you’re secretly looking up at the skies not for illumination or direction, but to gauge, miserably, the odds of rain?” This quotation really appealed to me since figuratively speaking, I’m always gauging the odds of rain in my life.

I’ve never been a lectionary preacher but I’m beginning to see how using a lectionary can be good for the life of the church.  I think sometimes there’s a danger in making the text fit what the preacher wants to say to the congregation and I was a bit fearful that Kristy was going to this this.  However, the Spirit moved through her and spoke to my needs and I suspect to others as well.

In it she said, “If we are going to deny ourselves and try to be more like Jesus, we may need to exercise our imaginations.  To do so may be a part of denying ourselves. Attempting to see, not just what we have always seen, not just what we have been taught to see, but the things God may have for us.”

My TBI really messed up my dreams.  I wanted to be a pastor who preached more regularly than what I had been doing at the church I served.  I wanted to be involved in urban ministry and do more pastoral care.  The plan was I would be the breadwinner and my husband Michael would get a PhD in Anthropology or Psychology.  Our accident certainly ended that dream – not right away though.  Awareness is a huge issue when someone has a brain injury.  People just aren’t aware of how the brain injury has affected them.

For some folks, knowledge of one’s abilities can take a long time as it has in my case. For those of us who don’t have a lot of noticeable difficulties, it can be even harder.  I am able to do quite a bit now. However, when I push myself to do too much I’m usually no good for a day or so.I have to deal with the effects of cognitive overload, over stimulation, mental fatigue and others things.  As a result, I make choices.  Is what I want to do worth being out-of-commission for a few days or not? .  Many brain injury survivors do not have this choice which for me is a blessing and a curse.

I often must read again the poem Welcome to Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley. She tells the experience of raising a child with a disability.  For the whole poem go here. http://www.our-kids.org/Archives/Holland.html  In it she writes, ‘The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting place full of pestilence, famine and disease….  It’s just a different place.  It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy.  But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around, and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills, Holland has tulips, Holland even has Rembrandts.” 

The pain of having a TBI is never going to go away but I don’t believe God allowed this to happen to me for a reason. Instead, God uses the things that happen to us so we may have new life.  God is as sad about this justy as I am but as Kristy said in her sermon, “As we seek to follow Christ, to deny ourselves, let us pray for the vision and insight to see this world through the eyes of Jesus, the one who brings life out of death and hope in unexpected places.”

I ask for God to help me imagine something different than my shattered dreams.  It will take a while.  It has already taken a while.  As Kingsley said, “But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.” 

And there ARE some lovely things here!

Music

Michael and I purchased an electric piano last weekend.  It is pictured on the left with the anthem by Ralph Vaughan Williams that the choir at Grace Covenant Presbyterian (GCPC)  is going to sing on Sunday morning.  It’s a wonderful piece and I can’t wait to hear it.  New choir members must wait three weeks before singing in the choir on Sundays so I won’t be able to sing with them yet.

I remember when the choir sung it in the past and I loved it.  I’m sort of glad I’m not singing since my voice is really rough.  My break to head voice tends to crack and I was concerned about this last night.  We had a sectional of the altos where we practiced the Vaughan Williams.  In order to feel better before we sang, I asked folks not to laugh when my voice cracked.  Everyone sort of rolled their eyes when I said this for everyone knows this is why we practice.

As we practiced I realized there are two paid section leaders in the section who have beautiful voices and they helped me with my technique so I could keep from cracking. Everyone else is just like me.  Some of us have had some training but most everyone is in the choir to serve and worship God.  They care about doing a good job but they do it for fun and service – not to show off their great voices!  My old performance anxiety is hitting me.  I really must stop worrying so much about how well I do!   

When I was a student at Columbia Seminary, I wrote a paper called “Should Bad Singers be Allowed in the Choir?”  I worked individually with the preaching/worship professor since I needed some worship credits but I didn’t need to take the basic class.  I hope I can find it upstairs in the attic because I want to look at it again.  I remember the professor thought it was great.  I think I came down on the side of saying “yes” but I do believe the choir director at GCPC would disagree with me.  If I can find it I may give it to him and ask for his comments. 

I struggle with this issue because Grace puts a whole lot of money into the music program.  I love the music and the director is great.  One of the reasons I decided to sing in the choir is because of him.  He’s a wonderful musician and his music for the choir is to serve God and not himself, yet, I’m still uncomfortable with having paid folks in a choir.  I know this is standard practice at large churches but I still don’t feel too good about it especially since we’re not a large church.  I believe everyone leading worship should be there to serve God and not for some performance need.  Yet, ministers are paid and the director is truly a music minister.  That is his title.  I’ll need to think some more about this.  First, I must find that paper I wrote.  Well actually, first I must practice singing so I even out my break!  

"All or Nothing"

The picture at left is of a book by Kathleen O’Connor called Jeremiah: Pain and Promise. I’ve always disliked Jeremiah and I’ve tended to skip it because it is so violent.  The God it depicts is not a God I want to serve so I’ve ignored  it and focused on other parts of Scripture.  In the preface O’Connor writes  “It (this book) is an interpretation of aspects of Jeremiah using insights drawn from contemporary studies of trauma and disaster.”

However, when I discovered this book published in 2011, I wanted to read it.  I’ve only read three chapters but I think it will give me important insights into Jeremiah. (I’ve also disliked Paul and so I contacted folks I know who might be aware of things I can read about him as well.  But my first focus is on Jeremiah.)

Reading books and retaining information is very difficult for brain injury survivors.  When I was cleaning out my files on brain injury, I came upon some old notes I had from rehab about reading and studying a book.  It used to be I could read something and then remember it right away.  I have gotten frustrated with all the things I must do to remember now and the way I’ve dealt with it was to completely stop reading biblical and theological books.

I must say, I do have an “all or nothing” mentality.  I get excited about things I used to be able to do easily  and want to be able to do them as I could before.  I also see folks around me who don’t have a brain injury who can do these things and I often compare myself to them.

When I do a lot of intellectual thinking, I become overstimulated which then makes me tired. As I went through my brain injury rehab files, I came upon a list of things to do for recreation and to “rest the brain.”   The list suggested “listening to music” which reminded me to stop and listen to a recording I have of Yo-Yo Ma playing the cello concerto in b minor.  Again, music touches my being way more than anything else.  So I stopped and listened to it.  I felt so much better.  Perhaps I can lick my “all or nothing” mentality!

Challenges

I know I have fewer neurons in my brain now so it takes much less to wear me out. Perhaps I got too excited these past few days and have tried to do too much.  In any case, it is time for me to regroup. 

I loved the choir rehearsal Wednesday night.  My old “perfectionism” got in the way though.  Why do I always feel like I have to do everything just right?  Shoot, it was my first rehearsal and it doesn’t matter if I hit some clinkers.  Well, I didn’t hit many clinkers but I’m always so self-conscious and get down on myself too easily.  I haven’t sung in a choir in over 20 years so of course I’m going to be rusty!

It’s difficult to see what the picture at left is but it shows my files on disability and brain injury.  I went through my files this week and I’m trying to organize them. In order to get them out of way, I simply put them on a shelf in my bedroom and I’ll deal with them later. I did, however, look through them to find my information from a class called “brain group” that I took in rehab.  I know my graphs and such are really simplistic but I really like having a understanding of what happened to me.

My whole brain bounced around in the accident so the damage isn’t in a particular lobe but rather all of the lobes.  Everyone has different challenges since every brain injury is different.  It seems many of my challenges come from damages to the frontal lobe or what is called “the boss.”  Organizing and planing happens here which are definitely my weaknesses.  

In fact, lately I may be trying to do too much organizing, planning, reasoning and concentrating which all come from that lobe.  I’ve been trying to do some Scriptural study and got interested in finding a progressive way to view Paul.  I emailed folks who might know and ended up getting some good book ideas.  In addition, I want to improve my singing so I’ve been trying to figure out how to practice.

I’ve been doing too much organizing and concentrating which means I must “rest my brain.”  I can do this in several ways but one way is to do something fun and relaxing.  I decided to burn some incense, close my eyes and listen to a recording I have of Poeme mystique, a piece for violin and piano written in 1924 by Ernest Block. 

I love this piece.  I played it for a recital for my Master’s degree in Violin Performance years ago.  I read the liner notes today which said, “The inspiration for the Poeme was an unusual dream that he had after an intense period of crisis and illness.  The dream was emotionally charged, unreal and ecstatic.”  This explains why I have always been able to relate to this piece.  I’m not in crisis now but it is not an easy time.  The liner notes continue, “This is a most ‘uncerebral’ composition.  In our day and time this work has made a comeback – being played more often recently perhaps as an antidote to our disturbed epoch.” 

So I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing but take more breaks when I do.  I may not be able to do this but I want to try.

Living Water

When I selected John 4 (The Woman at the Well)  for a first-person sermon to preach at Circle of Mercy last year, I realized it refers to water.  Whether it is a river, lake, ocean or a pool, it doesn’t matter to me.  I love everything about water.  Perhaps this is why I enjoy swimming so much.

I was able to preach this sermon at Grace Covenant Presbyterian on August 5 and it was so much fun! The picture at left is the one printed in that Sunday’s bulletin.  I edited the sermon some from when I preached it before but I so loved preaching it.  I know that a sermon is not a performance but it did remind me how much my spirit misses performing on my violin and viola. When I used to perform, a part of myself would soar.  I often felt as if my spirit touched God’s Spirit somehow and I could express all my feelings without the bother of using the right words.

Sometimes when I preach, I experience this feeling again.  That’s what happened on Aug. 5.  I so love this feeling!  It used to take me forever to write a sermon and I was in the process of looking for another call where I would be able to write more sermons when my accident happened.  I figured I would learn a system and it wouldn’t take me so long.  My accident certainly put a stop to that! 

One of my neuropsychologists pretty soon after my accident told me that with all my cognitive challenges, writing a sermon would be too difficult. While it is difficult I am still able to do it.  If I could only stop worrying about them so much!  I used to worry all the time about things but I had the cognitive energy to handle these emotions.  Now worrying affects my ability to focus and it wears me out.

I’ve tried to limit my responsibilities because I cannot handle as much now but I have found I get bored. My latest thought is to try to add some responsibilities but still find a balance in my life.  I understand this will be a challenge and perhaps it won’t work but I at least have to try.  When I lived in Atlanta, I erred on the side of trying to do too much.  

One thing I want to try is singing in the choir at Grace Covenant Presbyterian.  The choir director there is an excellent musician and it may be a way I can use the creative part of myself.  Of course this presents another challenge.  Since I don’t drive at night, how will I get to rehearsals?  I figured I would have to catch a 5:30 PM bus for a 7 PM rehearsal.  This seems like a bit of a stretch but perhaps I’ll try it and see how it goes.

At the risk of proof texting, it helps me to keep verses in my mind.  I’m sort of picky about language though and I figure since I’m only using them personally, I can use a combination of various translations.  The verse  I’m trying to focus on now is a  combination of the NRSV and the Inclusive Bible from Proverbs 3:6 &7: “Trust God with all your heart, and don’t rely on your own understanding.  Acknowledge God in everything you do, and God will direct your paths.”  

I definitely need God to direct my paths.  I do believe God has given me living water on this journey just as God gave it to the Samaritan woman. Allowing God to direct my path is not  easy but I have found my life is so much richer when I do this.

Grass Trimmer

<div arial="arial" class=" I had it out with the Grass Trimmer this morning.  I preached yesterday at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church and I have some thoughts about this that I will share later this week.  It always helps me to let things ruminate in my mind first before putting them down on paper.  But first, the grass trimmer.

I needed a new grass trimmer so Michael and I went to get one this weekend.  He has a friend knowledgeable about such things who suggested several different kinds, one being Echo. I’ve gone through two already so it was clear I needed a good one.  I really prefer an electric one since gas really does a number on the environment but this one was gas and after a few minutes thinking about it, I decided to get it.


This is a picture of the instruction manual.  Well it actually had two different manuals both in many different languages.  I figured out this was the one I needed. Now for the hard part: trying to understand them.

I don’t follow written manuals very well when they have anything to do with mechanical things.  I’ve always had trouble using them but since my TBI, it is even worse. It especially is hard when I’m dealing with something I know nothing about, such as a grass trimmer.

It had the normal page with the parts labeled with numbers and then one went to a map to figure out what each part was.  I could never remember what each label meant so I had to keep turning the pages back and forth.  After figuring out how to switch it on, I had to read how to start the darn thing.

My electric one was easy to figure out.  I just pushed a button and it started.  Not so with this one.  It had a start switch, throttle trigger, choke, recoil starter and other things I didn’t even need to start it.  The manual said to turn the switch on, pump bulb, pull throttle trigger, pull the recoil starter, hold the trigger and then it should start. The problem was, I then had to turn the page to find out what the labels meant since I always forgot.  Well, I think that’s what it said.  In any case, it didn’t start.  So I went to the manual again.

Actually I was trying to balance the manual on my lap while I was going through the instructions so I could look back at it.  You see I don’t remember steps too things well.  If someone is around it is easier just to ask them to do it since they can usually remember the steps.  However, I was alone so I decided to ask Michael when he got home later today. I really wanted to do it this morning and I knew the last thing he would want to do when he got home from work was to figure out how to use a grass trimmer. Plus, I don’t like depending on people so I tried to remember what’s helped me in situations like this in the past.

That’s when I thought about writing down the pertinent steps on a card.  (You can see the card in the picture above.)  It took me a while to do this because I had to wade through the directions and I kept forgetting what I had to do next.  But after following the directions on the card, I was able to start it.  I was so happy but it stopped once at the beginning which meant pulling out the card again.  After a couple of tries, I got it chugging.

However, when I was on the side of the house, it ran out of gas so I had to fill it up and start it again.  I could feel myself getting agitated so I took a few minutes break before I tried it again. In fact, due to mental fatigue, all the way through I took a breaks just to rest my brain.  I didn’t bother with ear plugs but played around on Facebook for a few minutes. Just doing something else seems to help my brain rest so it can work better on the project. 

This whole process took me a long time to do. I think it takes folks who have disabilities much longer to do many things.  In our world, this can be problematic because everyone is so busy and wants to get things done quickly.  I think probably too busy, but that’s another story!  This is definitely a place where people who have disabilities can teach those without, how to live a much richer life.