Light of the World

This picture is a National Geographic image that was modified to contain all the seasons of the year.  I like it because it contains the moon AND the sun – two images that are important to my faith.  The moon reminds me that even in the darkness, God is there.  The sun reminds me of Jesus words in John 9:5 ” As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  Even though he is no longer in the world, I believe the Spirit who Jesus left with us,  is the light of the world.

I needed both images this morning because it seems everything went wrong.  I had a Presbytery meeting today so I dropped my dog off at the doggie daycare place before heading to the meeting.  Due to my spatial orientation issues, I got confused leaving and ended up driving the wrong way on the highway.  It wasn’t as simple as just driving the wrong way but I got on the wrong highway and then couldn’t figure out how to get back to where I was supposed to go.  I didn’t use my GPS because I had read an article in the New York Times about how these sorts of time savers are causing people to use less neurons in our brains so we’re losing brain power.  I figured since I had been there before and since I had what I thought were good directions, I’d be okay.

When will I ever learn not to take risks when it involves directions to anywhere?  The article was about folks who do not have a brain injury and therefore it didn’t apply to me.  Like it or not, my brain injury changes everything about how I function in the world so I got major lost.  When I finally figured out where I was after about 45 minutes, I was experiencing cognitive overload.  I decided to stop at a gas station, get some gas and calm myself down. 

I’ve learned to make choices based on their costs. The cost of going to the meeting was, I would be exhausted and have no energy tomorrow.  Since  tomorrow I have a dinner meeting where I need to have as many of my mental faculties as possible, I decided I would just go home and skip today’s meeting. My over responsible self began thinking, “I’m a member of Presbytery and I didn’t get an excused absence and it’s close enough for me to attend so I should attend.”   However, my good judgement kicked in and since I had no responsibility at the meeting and going would mean I wouldn’t be cognitively present for my meeting tomorrow, I decided to return home.

Having a brain injury means I can’t do it all or even do all that is expected of me. I think I do expect too much of myself though. It is hard but I suspect it is hard for anyone whether they have a brain injury or not.  In our society expectations run very high.  Having a brain injury is helping me see how our expectations are often too high for everyone.  God doesn’t ask or expect this of any of us.

I’m glad I saw this picture of the moon and sun today for it reminds me not to be so hard on myself.  This is a tall order but it is one I hope with God’s help, I’ll fulfill.  

   

Dayenu – When is it enough?

The picture on the left is of a shelter that the children of Circle of Mercy congregation made a few weeks ago.  Missy Harris preached about Sukkot -the Festival of Booths/Shelters and the children constructed one. She said, “In the Jewish tradition, each year families construct makeshift shelters outside their homes… The shelters are to be built with materials that grow from the earth.  The roof provides enough space to view at least three stars in the night sky and with enough space to feel the shifts in the weather – cool air, rain, and wind.  This tradition recalls the paradox of our faith journey, a journey that holds both joy and sorrow.”

In that service we sang the song “Dayenu” which roughly translated means, “it would have been enough for us.” Some of the verses are, “Had God brought us out of Egypt, But not split the sea before us, Well then dayenu.  Had God given us commandments, But not led us into homeland, Well then dayenu.”  Missy then poses the question, “How often do we really feel like it is enough? “That certainly wasn’t the case at the beginning or even in the middle of the Exodus story.  God brought the people out of Egypt, out of slavery, protected them on their journey, and provided for their daily needs.  But when they got to a place where they could stop and take a breath, Dayenu, was not the refrain that they were singing.”

Sixteen years after sustaining my brain injury, I often feel as it it isn’t enough.  I learned how to walk, eat and speak again but that isn’t enough.  I learned how to preach and write other things but that isn’t enough.  I learned how to manage my new stress level and still, that isn’t enough. I want to be just like I was prior to my brain injury. I’m like the Egyptians when they longed for the comfort and certainty they had known when they were enslaved in Egypt.

I don’t mean to imply that my life before my TBI was like the harsh conditions of the Egyptians.  This isn’t the case at all for I liked my life and my activities.  Yet, I can’t help thinking how much easier it was then when I didn’t have to deal with the effects of my TBI.    

Sometimes I feel a bit out-of-it because I cannot be as”busy” as those in the world around me seem to be without consequences.  However, I also realize that because my schedule isn’t as tense as the rest of the world’s, I can really experience God’s beauty. I won’t forget when I had time back in the spring to stop and watch a nest of little birds as they hatched and grew big enough to leave it.

I don’t believe God calls any of us to be so busy that we have no time to experience the wonder of God’s creation.  I don’t believe God wants us to have no time to relate and care for each other.  I don’t believe God values us more if we preach great sermons or lead important meetings. No, who and what we are, is enough. 

 I am enough.          

 

Memorial Service

Today I helped lead a memorial service for a charter member of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church.  I really don’t have a lot of experience leading them.  I assisted a bit when I served a church in Atlanta but as the newest Associate Pastor at the church, I never had an opportunity to lead one.

It was the same when I served as a volunteer chaplain at the retirement center in Atlanta.  I assisted in many but led only one.  I remember how difficult it was trying to lead a service for someone I didn’t know well.  After that one, I decided I didn’t want to lead any more and as a volunteer chaplain that was my prerogative although after leading that one, I doubt I would have been asked to lead another!

I haven’t worn my ministerial robe much since living in Atlanta seven years ago and I wore it today.  It’s sort of funny because while I thought the stole was a white one, I wasn’t sure so I checked it out with the Associate Pastor prior to the service.  Here I’ve been ordained for twenty years and I had to ask such a basic question!

It’s an example of one of the difficulties of having a brain injury and not being involved in the mainstream of life.  I know I’m not a “dumb” person but many of the things I do might be considered “dumb.”  For example, I haven’t led or been to a whole lot of traditional Presbyterian memorial services.  This afternoon I sat up in front where the worship leaders sit while the organist was playing the prelude.  The other two pastors came in with the family so they could be seated at the front.

It was a huge family so they filed in a long line up the aisle.  I think the “proper” thing to do is to stand while the family enters but I wasn’t sure so I decided to stand if everyone else stood.  Half-way through their entrance I realized that folks were going to follow my lead and since I didn’t stand, neither did they.  I figured it was sort of silly for me to stand half-way through their entrance so I stayed seated.

Afterward, my worrywart personality took over and I kicked myself for my mistake.  “How could I have been so ignorant” I thought.  I then remembered something my cognitive therapist told me.  It takes a lot of  neuron energy to agonize over something so unimportant and it will wear me out if I spend time doing this.  When I begin to do this, she suggested I just tell myself to stop.  So this is what I did.   And it worked.

Afterwards a family member commented on a story I had told about just sitting in silence with the person and how I think our society depends on words too much. With tears in her eyes she described her experience of doing just that. God did touch someone with my words so all my worrying was for naught.

It really was a moving service even if my worrywart personality got in the way.  I worried about what I planned to say.  I worried about how Mark would tie it all together when he lead the Homily.  I worried that I would get overstimulated.  All that worrying wore me out!  The funny thing is, God was there and it went fine.  Today was a gorgeous fall day so when I returned home, I sat outside with my dog Sparky.  This was the rest my brain needed. 

Hopefully, I’ll stop worrying about things so much.  Since I’m trying to be involved in more  now, I have to stop this or it isn’t going to work.  I’ll end up having to sleep for days after activities like I did when I was in Atlanta if I don’t stop wasting so much brain power.    

Church

I have a birthday tomorrow and birthdays always drive me to reflect on my life.  My reflections this year are about all the different churches in which I’ve been a part.  I grew up Methodist, directed a small church choir at a Disciples of Christ Church, and ended up joining a huge Presbyterian Church (Village Presbyterian) in Kansas City. (6000+ members) 

I joined this church because I had played violin there for numerous music programs and I liked the church’s social justice stance on issues.  In fact this is where I became involved in the Peacemaking program and other Presbyterian social justice programs.  I look back on this now with wonder.  How did I ever survive in a church that big?  I even was what is called “under care” there when I studied to be a minister.  This means the church supports and encourages you as you go through the ordination process.

My first call was at a church in Atlanta in an upper middle class, white neighborhood.  I was only there for three years before my automobile accident.  Three years is not very long but I was searching for another call when I sustained my brain injury.  I knew my accident was serious because I had to learn how to eat, walk, use my hands, keep my balance and do cognitive things like read,  all over again.  However it wasn’t even in my realm of possibility that I would never serve a church again.  I figured I just needed more time.

So I first dived into volunteering at the Open Door Community which is a residential Christian community sort of like a Catholic Worker House that served folks who are living homeless as well as those in prison.  That didn’t work so I tried volunteering at a local Hospice.  That didn’t work so I walked into the Chaplains office at a retirement community and asked if they could use a volunteer.  The lead Chaplain had time to give me a tour and said he could use me.  He is a very busy man and I don’t know how I lucked out meeting him that day, but I did. Finally, something that worked! 

This is so often how it is with brain injury survivors.  It’s a “trial and error”  (see post 8/19/11)  sort of thing for we often don’t fit into our prescribed world anymore.  In fact, all people with disabilities don’t fit into this world and it can be a very lonely place.  I am awed by the strenghth and perseverance of folks who have disabilities.  The world is not made for us so we have to carve out a place. 

So while volunteering there, I served on a couple of Presbytery committees as well as a couple of committees at the church I was attending (Oakhurst Presbyterian, a multi racial congregation). I was involved in several projects that came up and led worship, at times even preaching at various places.  Quite frequently my brain would just do what I call “shut down.”  This meant I couldn’t focus or do anything at all but rest.  So I often spent days laying on the sofa with no stimulation around me at all.  I always bounced back and returned to my schedule again.  Back and forth this went.  

It was starting to wear on me and I began to realize that I would never serve a church again as a minister.  About that time, my husband Michael took a job in Asheville, N.C. which meant moving.  For anyone who has sustained a brain injury a change in surroundings is very, very difficult.  We don’t do well with unexpected or unknown environments. I decided the best thing for me to do was to stop all involvement in everything and just become familiar with Asheville

I’d heard about Circle of Mercy congregation when I was in Atlanta so I decided to become part of this progressive church even though it wasn’t Presbyterian.  It meets on Sunday evenings so I could still attend a Presbyterian Church in the morning.  Since I purposely wasn’t going to get involved at either place and planned to just attend church, going to two wasn’t a burden.  Much of my energy went to figuring out my new city, new schedule and finding volunteer work.  Again, I tried volunteering at two different nursing homes and doing some volunteer clowning  but discovered this didn’t work for me so I had to try something else.

After a while I did join a committee at Grace and became more involved there but it was limited.  I also became part of the Pastoral Care Team at Circle of Mercy.  Being involved in both churches peaked my interest in ideas surrounding ordination, sacraments, justice ministry and worship services since the two churches have differing views in all these areas.  It’s pushing me to think about what I believe and not what a church tells me to believe.  However, both churches are very open and I don’t feel pressure from either one to believe a certain way.  For this I am grateful.

Someone with a brain injury needs to do repetitive  and steady things.  I have tried this but I was bored to tears.  My neurologist sympathized with my feelings and supports my idea of trying to be involved in more ministerial type things.   When I use the word “ministerial” I mean using the parts of me that I used when I was a pastor – not trying to actualy be one.  However, I must set limits and this is very hard for me.  This idea isn’t going to work and I’m going to be stressed out like I was in Atlanta if I don’t set these limits.

I’m not a pastor of either church and I don’t want to be. However, I can’t help regretting this greatly.  I liked being a pastor! I must say, it is nice not having all the responsibilities and pressures of one. I don’t have to worry about what I say etc. since I’m not getting paid by anyone.   I’m sort of a “freelance pastor” a little like when I was a freelance violinist/violist all those years ago!

When I look back, I see how far I’ve come.  I still worry about what people think about me but I’m getting to the point where I don’t care.  I know what I’m doing and if someone wants to talk to me about this, they can.  If they don’t, then it is their problem and not mine.  (This is much easier to write than to actualy believe!)