A Journey

This is the picture that was printed in the bulletin at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church last Sunday (Sept 23, 12).  There is always a picture printed longside a quotation of some sort. This Sunday I didn’t see any connection between the picture and the quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  It’s funny, but sometimes I think they connect to the sermon and other times I do not.  It’s okay though because worship is more than simply the sermon. I sing in the choir now and the anthems are the same way. 

The thing is, it doesn’t really matter for worship should touch all the senses.  Even if the sermon doesn’t connect with me, something in the service always does.

I could relate to this picture because I often feel as if I’m in a maze filled with mirrors along with this boy.  I try to do something and I come up against my brain injury challenges which makes me want to just close my eyes and block out all the commotion. Dealing with all these challenges can really drain me.  Occasionally, I do block them all.  I stay home, don’t answer the phone or read my emails. But I always come back.

I also could relate to parts of the sermon by Mark Ramsey.  If you’d like to read it, here is the link: http://storage.cloversites.com/gracecovenantpresbyterianchurch1/documents/sr-23Sept12-alt.pdf  Mark points out that we often “have a propensity to always chase the ‘shiny object,’ thinking it will solve everything.” He expands on this idea with a few examples. “The blueprints to personal riches.  The plan that will make us thin. The coaching that will make us popular The drug that will take away our anxiety.”  He says that we cannot borrow our life from someone else. 

I know there’s been times when I’ve wanted to borrow someone else’s life.  Perhaps I could borrow some one’s eyes since mine have double vision and I dislike having to wear my eye patch.  Perhaps I could borrow some one’s church where I would preach every week giving nuggets of divine wisdom.  Perhaps I could borrow the professional orchestra that so and so plays with and make music that brings people (and myself) to heavenly places.

I appreciate Mark’s comments about temptation.  “Temptation is the lure to chase the tiny object and so tire ourselves out chasing the shallow thing that we don’t know who we are – and doubt descends on us: will we ever be able to hear God’s true voice?  (bold added)

How many times have I asked myself this question?  Where are you, God?  Are you speaking to me or only to those around me?  That brain injury survivor over there is able to do so much more than me! That minister can serve out her ordination vows.  What about me?  Don’t you care what I’m feeling?  Doubt descends.

In his sermon, Mark shared a thought by Anne Lamott.  “Faith is about the willingness or necessity of being wiped out of what you think holds you together, to face a benevolent annihilation without all the stuff that you think defines you….  Because you have to give up some false stuff to get to the true.

My brain injury has forced me to give up some false stuff.  The idea that since I wear a robe and stole on Sunday, I am closer to God than others.  The idea that since I have a seminary degree, I can study scripture and theology better than someone who doesn’t.  The idea that my call to be a minister is “better” than others.

On that last idea, I think the Presbyterian Church (USA) unknowingly leads one to believe this.  When I went from being a member of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta to a member of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina, I had to write a statement of faith and say a few words about my call in front of the Presbytery.  I believe this fosters the idea that the ordained call is “better” or at least a more important call than what other people receive.

I don’t want to be who I’m not anymore.  I write this but I know this isn’t easy at all.  To be oneself is a journey like no other.

Pain and Promise

On August 22, 2012 I wrote a blog post called “All or Nothing.”  In it I mentioned Kathleen O’Connor’s book Jeremiah: Pain and Promise. I had only read three chapters of it at the time but this morning I read chapter 9 “Encoding Catastrophe” about the sermons in Jeremiah.  Pictured at left is O’Connor’s book along with a book by Gerhard von Rad, The Message of the Prophets.

As I wrote earlier, I never liked Jeremiah but O’Connor’s book is giving me a new appreciation for it.  I consulted von Rad’s book because I get sort of confused about all the historical things in Jeremiah.  I hope to study it more carefully later but for now this chapter really affected me.

O’Connor writes, “Because disasters shatter ‘the sense of what life deeply means,’ and because they destroy the symbolic universe that formerly held up the world, new ways of conceiving identity must emerge for a people to survive as a people. (p. 93, bold added) While it is true that sustaining a traumatic brain injury is not the same as the disaster Jeremiah writes about, there are similarities. 

O’Connor shares what trauma experts Robin Fivush and Beth Seelig wrote.  “When experienced events cannot be understood, the human mind returns again and again to the event to try to make sense of it in a repetitive and compulsive way.”  This definitely happens when one sustains a brain injury.  We want to tell our story over and over again in order to make sense of it. O’Connor says that part of the narrative changes in the retelling, “But the more coherent and better organized explanations become, the more they aid survivors.”

This is true in my case.  How many times have I told my story?  My husband Michael and I went out for frozen yogurt and when we were returning home he forgot what gear he was in on our standard transmisiion when he turned left.  As a result, we were hit by an oncoming car.  The police officer even gave him a ticket as I was being taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital and he was experiencing all the confusion one experiences after being in a serious accident.  (He spent a week in the hospital.  I was in an induced coma so I didn’t know anything that was going on.)

I’ve gone over it in my mind millions of times.  How could Michael be so stupid as to not know what gear he was in?  Why did we get frozen yogurt just then?  and Etc. Etc. Etc. However, going over it again in my mind has “turned frightening chaos into a contained and predictable event.”  (Tal, Worlds of Hurt) Like Jeremiah’s sermons, my “sermons” (to myself and to others) have allowed me to accept this tragedy and move on.

This is why brain injury survivors must connect and tell their stories to one another. I’ve shared my anger at Michael for causing the accident and he has shared his regret.  In fact, he won’t buy a standard transmission car now!  While I’m not thankful for the accident, I have learned much from it. In fact, both of us have grown. 

At some point, I plan to study Jeremiah.  O’Connor wrote in her preface, “Viewed from this perspective, Jeremiah is a work of resilience, a book of massive theological reinvention, and a kind of survival manual for a destroyed society.”   Those of us who are brain injury surivors need a “survival manual.”

Ordination Anniversary

I was surprised when I received a congratulations from the Columbia Seminary Alumna office recognizing my ordination on September 12 1993.  I knew it was in September but I didn’t know what date. That was yesterday. Wow!

I’ve struggled with what being ordained means to me now.  I had only been serving a church for three years when I sustained my TBI.  Many others in my graduating class have served churches all this time now and being the pastor of a church is second nature to them. 

I guess when I look back at my life I see that I have not lived a “normal” life whatever that means.  I didn’t get married and have children in my 20’s and 30’s like so many folks I know. I’m not established in a career nor do I have lots of nice stuff.  It sometimes does surprise me when I think about what I do have: A nice house, decent clothing and food, a car and a computer.  So many folks do not have these things and I am grateful for them.

I looked at the vows I took when I was ordained and I think I have kept them although in my situation it would be easy to let them go by the wayside especially the last one. “Will you be a faithful minister, proclaiming the good news in Word and Sacrament, teaching faith, and caring for people?  Will you be active in government and discipline, serving in the governing bodies of the church; and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?”

It is clear to me that many folks who have a TBI would not be able to fulfill these vows and that is okay.  However, in a limited way I can. I believe that folks who have sustained a traumatic brain injury have to try not to compare themselves to the rest of the world.  This is hard for me especially when I look just like everyone else. I remind myself every day that I can only do what I can and this is okay. 



Here is a picture of a rainbow which also gives me hope and strength.  It appears after a storm and I’m reminded that my spirit is intact even after the storms of life.


 

Beach

Michael and I went to Myrtle Beach for a few days this week.  I think this is the best time to go since hotels are cheaper and we can take Sparky.  Pictured at left is Michael and Sparky as they romped on the beach.

I’ve never really understood the need for vacations.  Oh I like going places but traveling is difficult for me.  I do better when things are consistent which is why I like staying home.  I know where things are and I don’t do well with anything unexpected. In fact, new information causes cognitive overload which makes me tired. I seem to have to “rest my brain” a lot which annoys me.  Michael convinced me that it would be good for me to get away from things for a few days so we went to the beach.

He was right. There is something about water that is healing to my spirit.  I enjoyed walking Sparky on the beach and wading in the water.  He’s not a water dog but he likes anything new and different so he had a good time as well. It was fun watching him take a big drink of the ocean and end up with a mouth full of salt water!

However, I did have something on my mind that I just couldn’t seem to get out of my head and as a result I used my Android to communicate with folks back in Asheville. It drove Michael a little bit nuts and at one point he got a little peeved with me.  He brought me back to my senses and I was able to put things aside.

The experience did get me thinking though.  I often get something on my mind and I need to deal with it right then.  I have a hard time putting something aside for later. I think sometimes I get too focused on something and then I suffer from mental fatigue because I’m thinking about it too much!

I had a phone meeting with my cognitive therapist last week and one thing she helped me with was coming up with a list of things I can do that are vital to my well being.  Among her suggestions were the following: “Be clear about my strengths and what I can offer. When I get stressed and stuck, put it down and do something else. Find my creative spirit on a regular basis.”

The beach put me in touch with my creative spirit.  Also when I helped drive home, we listened to the Dvorak Cello concerto as well as some pieces by Ernest Bloch.  Music is a sure fire way to tap into my creative energy as well as the Spirit and  I must say, I do feel better today than before we went to the beach!