"Overwhelming"

The title for Mark Ramsey’s sermon at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church yesterday morning was “overwhelming.” It definitely got my attention since I have such a problem with being overwhelmed.  This is really an issue for folks who are brain injury survivors. Over stimulation, cognitive overload, and mental fatigue are just a few words which describe our feeling of being overwhelmed.

This picture was printed in the bulletin and I loved the Call to Worship.  I enter the sanctuary from behind the organ to avoid the overwhelming situation when I join the processional with the choir so I usually miss this part of the service.  However, for some reason yesterday I stood back on the stairs where I could hear it.

O God, open us to the powerful winds of your Spirit.
Open our eyes to the wonders of your creation.
Open our senses to the smells of new life.
Open our ears to the words of justice and truth.
Open our mouths to the taste of freedom and love.
Open our arms to the embrace of peace.

I am trying to be open to the winds of God’s Spirit but it is hard. In the past I thought being open to the Spirit meant getting involved in everything that came my way. This didn’t work.  It only stressed me out and I wasn’t good to anyone especially to God!  So when I moved to Asheville, I regrouped and didn’t get involved in much of anything.  What happened?  I got bored.

Now I’m trying to balance things out. I’m beginning to think that folks stay busy because they are afraid to be seized by the Spirit.  It’s easier to say “yes” to everything than it is to discern if something is what God is calling us to do.  I think this saying “yes” allows us to feel important.  But we miss out on so much of God’s world when we do this!

 I’ll never forget the hours I spent watching those baby robins hatch and grow until they were big enough to leave the nest. (see 5/13/12 post) I stopped what I had to do and watched. I opened my arms to God’s embrace.

Mark said something in his sermon yesterday that made sense to me. “If we are going to do anything about the problems that beset us, we have to confront the problems honestly.  During an age of overwhelmedness, however, it is difficult to look at things honestly.”

Sixteen years after sustaining my brain injury, I’m finally looking at things honestly.  I’m no longer pretending I remember someone’s name when I don’t, even after hearing it 125 times!  I’m no longer expecting to know my way when I’m going somewhere for the first time.  In fact,  I don’t even expect to know my way after going there hundreds of times.  It doesn’t mean I’m stupid.  It only means my brain was injured.  It’s who I am now and I can’t be someone I’m not, just to fit in.

I loved the way Mark referred to this past Sunday which was the  “Reign of Christ ” Sunday.  He said, “Here, at the end of the church’s year, we have a Sunday which we call the ‘Reign of Christ.’ Whether we can see it or NOT – we’re supposed to celebrate “the Reign of Christ.'” 

“Yeah right”, I wanted to shout. “Where in the world is Christ now?  People don’t have any where to live and it’s cold outside!  I’m tired of getting lost everywhere I go!  I want to work and earn my keep just like everyone else in this world!  And why are there so many people who have brain injuries who can barely get by on what little Social Security benefits they get?”  I look around and it doesn’t seem like Christ reigns at all.

Mark pointed out that the book of Revelation is a story that arises out of a troubled church.  “You can almost see them there – a little band of Christians, surrounded in the pagan cities.  They seemed so small, so overwhelmed…Where on earth might one find HOPE for the future in such circumstances?” He reminded us that Revelation is known for its “sustained outburst of exuberant joy and praise.  The vision begins, not in despair – but in doxology, in praise, in cadences that scholars believe were derived in great part from some of the hymns of the early church.”

He tells about the Wesley brothers and how they lived in the mid-18th century.  “The gin trade had led to huge problems with alcoholism….Child labor was the scourge of the land.  There was vast social dislocation and chaos.  Things seemed overwhelming.”  Yet in spite of this, they wrote some of our most beloved hymns such as “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”

Mark suggests “if we really want to face our problems squarely, if we really want to stride into this new emerging world with confidence, the best thing we could do…is to sing.  Against all odds, when we join our voices together in some great hymn of praise, then you know – in the very depths of your being – that Jesus Christ reigns, that he shall rule until all things have been put under his feet, that the enemies of God will ultimately be defeated, that good will have the last word over evil, and tht all shall be well.”

Singing and listening to music touches a place deep in my soul.  I really cannot explain it but every time I sing, play or listen to music,  I leave my body and spend time with God.  I’ve been listening to classical music every day for this purpose.  Today I listened to Bloch’s Baal Shem Suite for violin and piano.  The first movement is Vidui (Contrition) which has a meditative quality.  When I hear it (and when I played it all those years ago) it felt like I was approaching God quietly, gently.

The second movement is Nigun (Improvisation) and that is where the music really soars.  Bloch expresses outgoing and uninhibited emotions here. When I listen, my spirit cries out to God “Why is there so much pain everywhere?  Where are You?  Don’t you care?”  Finally comes the third movement, Simchas Torah (Rejoicing). It’s as if God says to my spirit, “It’s okay.  I know it’s difficult some times but I am the center of all being.  Just hang on a little longer and rejoice in my creation!”    When I hear it (and when I played it) I felt God’s joy and my own spirit sang.

John Wesley and the other great hymn writers felt it.  Ernest Bloch felt it.  When I listen, sing or play their music I feel it too.  Mark ends his sermon with these words: “Praise…is how we were created to live, even in the most unlikely times and places.  You cannot know that…unless you live just that way.  And then, you experience an overwhelming, utterly hopeful way to live….even to the end of the world…..Amen”        

Spatial Orientation

I’m finally getting used to having no sense of direction (spatial orientation).  Recently, I had to go to two different new places so I printed out directions on Map Quest as well as used my GPS.  Actually, I thought I could do it without the GPS so I only printed out the directions.  My double vision makes reading street signs difficult and by the time I could read the sign, it was too late to turn!  So I pulled over and put the address in my GPS.

Everything was going fine until the voice said “arriving at destination” and I didn’t see the Grand Bohemian Hotel.  I pulled into a parking lot and asked directions.  It turns out, it was right across the street from me and I didn’t recognize it. I pulled into the valet parking for which I didn’t want to pay but I figured if I tried to find a place to park on the street, I would never find the hotel again. 

The other directions were to a friend’s house.  He was moving and I wanted to see his new apartment.  I thought I wouldn’t need the GPS and could find it only with my map quest directions.  When that didn’t work, I pulled over and put in his address.  It took me to some house that I knew wasn’t right so I got out of my car and called folks I knew who would be there.  No one answered. 

However, when I looked up, I saw another friend who had just left the new apartment.  He said I was almost there and pointed me in the right direction. When he pulled away, another man I knew came. This person is aware of my directional issues so he had me follow him there. So today when I went to visit another man I know who is in a heath care facility in Hendersonville (about 30 minutes from me in Asheville) I printed out the directions and used the GPS.  I had been there before but I really didn’t want to get lost again so I decided to take no risks.

I really don’t like driving places and will do everything I can to avoid it.  Attending to other cars, following the traffic directions and dealing with the weather (in this case, darkness due to impending rain) takes up a whole lot of my cognitive energy (cognitive overload).  I never listen to music when I’m driving because I need to focus only on the road and not be distracted.  However, this time I put in a CD of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. 


I had been to the nursing home before and it was nice to cruise down the highway as I listened to the music.Of course, I made sure I knew how to turn the volume down in case I needed to concentrate on my driving. 

Stereo systems in cars now are so complicated.  I need a button with the word “off” on it so I know how to turn it off. Instead the buttons don’t have words on them and you’re supposed to know what they do by reading the directions once.  Well, my brain doesn’t work that way and I really don’t like to take the time to read the directions every time I want to use something in the car! One trick I use is to write the directions on a 3 X 5 card and keep that in the arm rest.  This is so much easier than trying to find something in the manual!

Overwhelmed again

I found this poster on Facebook and I fell in love with it. This is why I love Isaiah 43:18,19 so much. “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

It seems I always go back to this verse whenever I’m going through change. When I stopped being an Associate Pastor, I thought about these words. Each time I began another volunteer position in Atlanta and in Asheville, this passage came to mind.

The quotation on the poster along with Isaiah’s words touches me now. I’m really trying to do more things but it’s hard because it doesn’t take much for me to become overwhelmed. I spoke with my cognitive therapist on the phone yesterday and when I first began talking to her, I sounded almost manic. I was having difficulty slowing my thoughts down.

She reminded me of something she told me back in March of 2011. Anxiety and stress produces a chemical response in my body that actually can impair my cognition. She said back then that I could counteract this by practicing mindfulness. I shared with her how much listening to classical music seems to calm me down and help me get out of that chemical response. She suggested I do this every day and see how it works for me.

So I do have the power to say this is not how my life is going to end. I’m not going to spend it stressed out and overwhelmed. As I continue to be involved in more things now, I’m going to take time every day to listen to music. Today I listened to violin pieces y Ernest Bloch. Perhaps God is doing a new thing for me. Only time will tell.

Overstimulated? Stressed? Grrrrr

I wish I could keep this quote in my memory!   Especially now.  I’m stressed out, overwhelmed, or something.  I don’t know what the right word is and I guess the truth is, it doesn’t matter.

A few weeks ago, I decided to do more things knowing full well that doing more things means getting overwhelmed pretty easily.  I have got to stop worrying about what people think! 

An example of this is, I really love singing in the choir at Grace Covenant Presbyterian but it is hard to sit in front of the whole church the way we do.  I feel like everyone is looking at my every move!  The choir looks so good wearing robes and carrying black folders for holding the music. We have a processional in and then one as we leave winding back up the side aisles to sing with the congregation. 

I learned pretty quickly that I simply cannot handle the stimulation of standing in the narthex before the processional.  After the noise of being in the choir room as everyone puts on their robes and practicing, it was just too much.  So I don’t process in but enter from the back.  It works really well for me because I can take a few minutes sitting in a room alone “resting my brain.”

It’s difficult for me to hold the black folder because of my arthritic hand.  It’s much less painful for me to hold the anthem without the folder.  However, I can’t help worrying what people will think to see this lone choir member holder her music without the folder.  I decided yesterday that I have to not care what people think and just do what I have to do to survive. 

Yes, this has been a huge issue for me as I try to be involved more.  I can do a whole lot but I have to do things differently.  I know people may wonder why I do something a certain way but it is causing me to use too many of the nerurons I have left in my brain to worry so much. I know what I have to do and if someone wants to ask me about it, they can.  I’m trying so hard not to spend time worrying what people think about me.  It takes too much energy and I don’t have any to spare!

So I did today what I always do when I’m stressed out.  I swam laps at the Y.  At first, I had the whole pool to myself.  It’s actually funny because I always worry about what the lifegaurd thinks of my sroke so I didn’t want to swim in the lane closest to him. 

I made a joke about this and to my shock, he said “Well, I don’t have anything else to do so I always look at people’s strokes!”  I told him that if he had any comments about my stroke, to tell  me because I really wanted to improve.

He then asked, “Are you sure?  I’ve commented to people about their strokes and they have gotten mad at me so I’ve learned not to comment.”  I assured him that I really appreciated his suggestions.  He gave me some wonderful tips on my kick and even showed me how to practice it.  It got me thinking about how much I really want some coaching on my stroke.  I checked at the front desk for some information on lessons.So this is my new project.  I do have a good stroke but I know it could be better.

So in addition to my singing voice, I’m going to work on my swimming.  I really like learning and I haven’t been doing enough of it mainly because I learn differently now and I always worry about what people think!  It’s funny but since I stopped taking the medications I took for migrain headaches, I can think clearer now and I have more evergy.  This allows me to learn new things and to enjoy what is before me. 

Now if I could only stop worrying what people think of me! 

Bad News

I learned some bad news today.  This year, I served on a team of folks who supported Bill whosr in his 50’s  as he went from living homeless to having an apartment.  He is an amazing man and has been through so much.  Things were looking up for him when he began dealing with severe heath issues.  One of the first times he noticed them was when he volunteered at the community garden with me at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church.  He became dizzy and we had to stop working early.

This was the start of many, many doctor visits.  Things were complicated because at first he didn’t have heath insurance.  In the midst of trying to make his food stamps stretch, attending various faith communities and learning how to use a computer, his health deteriorated.  No one knew what was wrong and he kept losing weight, having difficulty speaking and walking. He had to move into a nursing home in Hendersonville since he cannot take care of his own needs now. 

He found out this week that he has Progressive Supranucleanr Palsy (PSP) which is a rare brain disorder.  http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/psp/psp.htm.  It causes “serious and progressive problems with control of gait and balance, along with complex eye movement and thinking problems.”  He really has been an inspiration to me because he dealt with all the hassles of our broken health care system while at the same time maintaining a good attitude. I couldn’t help but be inspired by his strength and acceptance in spite of everything. 

Watching him deal with his struggles this year, helped put my own in perspective and for this I’m grateful.  Sometimes I get mad at God because I can’t do everything I want to do.  I watch others do these things and it seems so unfair to me.  This seems so unfair to me.  I try and remember God never promised life would be fair.  However, God did promise us that we aren’t alone in our struggles.  

In times like these, I try to remember Jesus words in Matthew 11. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

A yoke is a wooden bar with loops or bows at either end, fitted around the necks of a pair of oxen for harnessing them together.  To me this  this verse means I am harnessed to God and I don’t have to carry things alone.  As my friend Bill lays on his bed in the nursing home, he’s not alone either.