Holy Anticipation

Last night I had to be at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church for an alto rehearsal at 6 :15.  Ever since my accident, I don’t see well in the dark.  I don’t know exactly why this is or what happened to injure my eyes but something did.  As a result, I don’t drive at night which is a real pain in the neck.  I couldn’t find anyone to take me so I decided to take the bus.  I only needed to get it about an hour before I needed to be there so I figured it would be okay.

Of course I worried about it.  “What if I get on the wrong bus?  What if I pull the string to signal the driver to stop at the wrong place? What if I look like a jerk because I’m not familiar with the route?”  It’s interesting because Mark Ramsey’s sermon at GCPC this past Sunday was about Mary’s song and it was called “What We Do While We Wait…..We Worry.”  (The picture is “Magnificat!” by Sister Mary Grace Thul and was printed in the bulletin.)


We had an email exchange about parts of it yesterday before my bus trip.  I was especially bothered by one of his statements in the sermon: “…we find that anxiety has, by God’s grace, become holy anticipation and against all appearances, and against all odds —that literally saves our life.” It’s funny but when I reframed my worry this way, I wasn’t so stressed.  By the time I was ready to go, I was okay. I think perhaps God’s Spirit was at work.

I met my friend, Donnie, on the bus.  Donnie was homeless and he recently moved into an apartment.  He knew everyone on the bus which helped folks to begin talking to each other.  I discovered another woman was concerned about getting her connection as well.  When we got to the station, it was just in time for me to catch my bus.  However, I didn’t know which one it was and by the time I figured it out, it had pulled out.  I ran after it screaming, “Wait!  Wait!”  A family with two young children were nearby waiting for their bus and they told me that once the driver closes the door it’s not opened again. 

So I went into the bus station to try and figure out if another bus was going to come.  The guard sitting behind the information booth ignored my questions so I turned around and asked the other riders.  I was told another bus would come in about a half hour and I could wait.  I looked at my watch and saw I had 35 minutes until rehearsal began.  I said, “Shoot, I bet I could walk there faster!”  Another woman nodded and said, “Yep you could.” 

I had no idea how far on Merrimon GCPC was but I figured I’m in good physical condition and it couldn’t be too far so that’s what I decided to do.  My first problem was trying to figure out how to get to Merrimon from the bus station.  Folks pointed me the right way but my spatial orientation issues got me all confused.  I asked several folks how to get there but I didn’t write what they said down and I ended up walking all over downtown.

By the time I finally figured out where Merrimon was it was dark and I had only 15 minutes before the rehearsal began.  I thought about going back to the bus station to catch that bus but I wasn’t sure how to get back to it.  So I trudged on in the dark. I considered stopping at one of the bus stops and waiting for the bus, but I do hate being in darkness outside like that. After a few feet, it is total darkness and it’s a bit scary not knowing what is out there so I decided walking was the better option. 

It always helps me to think of a saying or a Scripture verse when I’m stressed out inside.  I thought back to Mark’s sermon and tried to come up with that phrase that calmed me down before but all I could come up with was “holy *********!  I decided that wasn’t the right phrase and walked on.

When I got to the McDonalds next to the church, the bus passed me.  When I arrived at the rehearsal I was a sweaty mess and was panting too hard to sing a note. Since my brain can handle only so much stimulation and my little journey began at 5 o’clock, by 7:45 I could tell I needed to “rest my brain.”   One of the rest rooms has a couch so I went there, put in my ear plugs and turned out the light for a few minutes.  

I am thankful that God gives me, and others, the strength we need to live in our challenging, wonderful world.  

 

"Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff"

In his column in the Asheville Citizen-Times yesterday, Roger Aiken wrote about a friend of his who was stricken with a brain aneurysm.  He battled infections and the doctors thought he might not survive.  He’s able to work now but the experience profoundly changed him. 

Aiken’s wrote about a manager’s meeting they both recently attended.  It was an intense meeting and everyone was stressed but when Aiken looked over at his friend he saw the most peaceful expression on his face.  He mentioned this calmness to his friend who said. “These aren’t problems, these are small issues.  I’ve seen problems. I can handle this.”

Aiken’s suggests what his friend might say if he had the chance. “Don’t sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff. Something wonderful begins to happen with the simple realization that life, like an automobile, is driven from the inside out, not the other way around.”  I want to remember these words because I do tend to “sweat the small stuff.” 

It is a challenge for me though.  The filters in my brain that monitor my emotions were injured so now I must monitor my emotions differently.  I have learned the best way to handle my feelings is sometimes to simply get out of the situation and leave the feelings behind.  This is easier said then done.  Early after my injury, I would try and swallow my feelings but that didn’t work because they would often come out in other ways.  I vividly remember getting angry when I lived in an apartment in Atlanta.  I threw an apple against the wall.  I did feel better but it wasn’t good for the apple or for the wall!

I also remember once here in Asheville I needed to figure out how to get somewhere the next day.  I hate dealing with directions since my spatial orientation is so out of whack.  I wanted my husband Michael to help me figure them out right then.  He was working on a project and couldn’t stop.  So what did I do?  I slammed the door as I left the house to get the map out of the car.  After rustling around trying to find the map and making a mess of the inside of the car, I slammed the car door and went back into the house.  Just for good measure, I slammed the door again.

I rarely push past my limits now but it is not easy.  I dislike leaving meetings or rehearsals -I had to leave a choir rehearsal on Saturday because my emotions were overtaking my sense of reason.  However if I don’t leave I might throw something against a wall which will only make me look silly and won’t solve anything.  It’s far better for me to take a few minutes and “rest my brain” so that I’m able to function in a responsible manner.

On the left, I posted a picture of the moon because a moon always calms me down inside.  It reminds me not to “sweat the small stuff.” Life really is like an automobile and it must be lived from the inside out.  Seeing a moon reminds me of the deeper more important things of which there are many. Getting lost or throwing an apple against the wall is not one of them!  
 
 
 

Advent: Rohr

I am using Richard Rohr’s Advent meditations this year.  Today he “hit the nail of the head” for me.  Mathew 11:15 says, “Let anyone with ears listen!”  Rohr points out how much Jesus talks about seeing, hearing, listening and about not being blind. He used to think this was just for “hard-hearted” folks but he’s come to understand that the words are for all of us. 

He writes, “Without great love and/or great suffering, human consciousness remains largely at the fight-or-flight, either/or, all-or-nothing level.  This dualistic mind, that we can now prove is the lowest level of brain function, will never be able to access, much less deal with, the really big things that are invariably ‘mysterious.”” He  lists, love, evil, God, nonviolence, forgiveness and grace as some of those things. 

When I first had my injury I mentioned how I had a “startle response.”  I was jumpy whenever I rode in a car because my body was afraid we would be hit again by another car.  At first, I couldn’t even be a passenger in the front seat since this was where I was in 1996.  I would scream at any little car I perceived would hit us. It drove my husband nuts since he was never sure if it was real or not.

In a sense, I had a dualistic mind.  I was either in danger or I wasn’t.  It took years of struggling with this until I rarely have this type of response now.  It still happens some but it’s okay since it is infrequent.  I do have an “all or nothing” sort of mindset, though. (see 8/22/12) While I believe I had this mindset prior to my injury, it is worse now because my ability to hold two conflicting things in my mind is difficult. (cognitive flexibility)  

However, Rohr writes, ” Jesus is talking today to all of us, and not just to those really bad people out there.  We can be very sincere, good willed and even want to be loving, but the big issues will still bring us to the blindness and deafness that Jesus talks about. It is largely great love and great suffering that create spiritual listening and larger seeing.” 

I think being a brain injury survivor has allowed me to see and hear things differently. It doesn’t mean I’m “better” than anyone else but I am starting to see and accept all that I have gained.  Along with my losses I have received many gifts and for these, I am grateful.

Waiting In Darkness

I went back through my blog and noticed how in my last few posts, I sounded rather depressed and frustrated that I have a TBI.  In fact, I didn’t like reading them for this reason.  However, I participated in an action on Saturday about the water issue here in Asheville and it energized me.  I do love actions!  I’ll say more about this later but first I want to comment on today’s devotional by Richard Rohr.

In it Rohr writes, “The darkness will never totally go away.  I’ve worked long enough in ministry to know that darkness isn’t going to disappear, but that, as John’s Gospel says, ‘the light shines on inside of the darkness, and the darkness will not overcomeit’ (1:5). He goes on to say that “the real question is how to receive the light and spread the light.”

Looking back over my posts, I see my darkness.  I often get mad when I can’t remember names or I get overstimulated. I can’t help thinking, “if only I didn’t have these challenges, I could do so much more!”  Sometimes I just lay on the couch and mope.  There’s even been days when I don’t bother getting out of bed because it seems I have no purpose in life.  “It would have been better if I had just died in my car accident all the years ago.  Then I could be with God and I wouldn’t have to deal with all these challenges,” I have thought.

Rohr says there are two ways to release our inner tension.  The first is to stop calling darkness darkness and to pretend it is passable light.  I’ve done this in the past and he is right.  His second suggestion is one that I find helpful just now. “Stand angrily, obsessively against it, but then you become a mirror image of it.  Everyone can usually see this but you!”  I did this on Saturday when I demonstrated against the states takeover of Asheville’s water system.

On the right, is a picture of me demonstrating as many in our legislature were driving to a Christmas dinner at the Grove Park Inn.  Folks lined the streets carrying signs against this take over.  It’s interesting to me that we were in the dark as we demonstrated. Rohr writes, “Our Christian wisdom is to name the darkness as darkness, and the Light as light, and to learn how to live and work in the Light so that darkness does not overcome us.”

We were standing in the darkness, as we often must do, when we work for peace and justice.  It isn’t fair that I have a brain injury just as it isn’t fair that so many folks must live with a disability.  We must “fit in” to a world that isn’t made for us.

One example of this for me is, I really enjoy singing in the choir at GCPC.  However, I can’t handle the stimulation as the choir processes in and out.  As a result, I’ve found a little room behind the Sanctuary where I can sit quietly wearing my ear-plugs so I may “rest my brain.”  This makes my darkness, as Rohr describes, “passable light.” 

At the end of his devotional, he writes “We must wait and work with hope inside of the darkness – while never doubting the light that God always is – and that we are too (Matthew 5:14).  That the narrow birth canal of God into the world –through the darkness and into an ever-greater Light.”

Prison Cell

“A Prison cell, in which one waits, hopes…and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent” – Dietrich Bonhoffer

The bulletin for this past Sunday’s worship service at Grace Covenant Presbyterian (GCPC) had the above rather odd quote on the front. Now that I’m singing in the choir, I often don’t have time to read the bulletin until later and when I read this I thought, “Advent and prison?  What could they possibly have in common?”  However, when I read it later, I understood.

I’ve been in a lot of prisons in my life.  I don’t mean when I visited someone on death row in Georgia which I did in the 90’s.  I mean prisons of my own, and sometimes the world’s, making.  My traumatic brain injury has been my latest prison.  It seems when I look at other people and see all the things they are able to do and I can’t, I’m in prison.  Dammit, I think.  (and yes, I sometimes use this cuss word.) Why am I stuck behind these bars!  I want to be free! 

In the beginning, I waited for freedom.  I tried a couple of different volunteer positions that didn’t work out until I finally began volunteering as a Chaplain at a retirement facility in Atlanta.  I figured it was just until I improved enough to serve a church again.  The prison door opened for a little while.  Years past and the door began to close because I knew I wouldn’t be able to work in a church again.  To make matters even worse, my husband Michael took a job in Asheville, NC so we had to move.

Change is horrible for anyone with a brain injury.  We like things constant and we don’t do well with new things.  This is getting better for me now but back then it really threw me.  I decided to not get involved in anything here until I became more accustomed to the city.   After experiencing the closed prison doors in Atlanta, I came to a new place where I had to learn everything all over again.  I don’t even like to think about how lost I always was when we first moved here (spatial orientation) but the prison doors had opened.

I tried two more volunteer positions here. It seems when one has a brain injury, one must be willing to try different things for often things don’t work the first time.  That is certainly the case with me. Both positions were okay but I felt the prison doors shutting again.  I wanted so much to be like everyone else.  I wanted to work and pay my own way in the world.   I finally began doing some visitation at one of my churches and the prison doors opened again. I do love this and plan to continue but  recently, I have felt the prison doors slowly closing again.

God opened those doors for me  in the past and I believe She will open them again. So this Advent, I am waiting for God’s Spirit to let in some sunlight.  Truth be told, I’m already feeling it.  Come Lord Jesus come.  I’m waiting for you to open the doors again.

Note: At GCPC there is often the following note in the bulletin” “We gather to worship God who is larger than all our imagination!  We encourage all persons to sing the gender nouns and pronouns they prefer in referring to God.” I never use pronouns for God when I’m speaking in public because unlike the biblical writers, I believe God has no gender.  I know that some folks don’t like female pronouns for God but I figure since this is my blog, it is my perogative to use them.

Advent

Michael and I bought a Christmas tree yesterday from a lot close to our house.  After seeing the picture on the left, I realize I need to trim some of its branches.  On second thought, I’ll probably leave it as is to work on my perfectionism a bit!

I’ve always hated the Christmas season.  This year a couple of local stores opened on Thanksgiving night so that folks could begin there Christmas shopping! I hate shopping for anything and Christmas is the worst.  This year I’ve decided to get all the adults presents from an Alternative Gift market at my church.  I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to get yet but I’m going to choose from Homeward Bound of Asheville, Veteran’s Restoration Quarters, Mark Hare, PCUSA Missionary as well as several others.

I have worried about my bare tree as well.  My husband, Michael, is really really swamped at work now so decorating it falls on me.  However as I was doing my Advent devotional this morning, I thought about waiting for a bit and leaving it bear.  After all, Advent is all about waiting. 

The devotional I’m using this year is Preparing for Christmas by Richard Rohr. He writes in his introduction, “Jesus identified his own message with what he called the coming of the ‘reign of God’ or the ‘kingdom of God,’ whereas we had often settled for the sweet coming of a baby who asked little of us in terms of surrender, encounter, mutuality or any studying of the Scriptures or the actual teaching of Jesus.  Sentimentality, defined as trumped-up emotions, can be an avoiding of and substitute for an actual relationship, as we see in our human relationships, too.”

Yesterday when we went to the Christmas tree lot, I saw the shining eyes of two little children as they took in the surprising and wonderful sights around them.  This is what Advent and Christmas is about.  As Mark Ramsey said in his sermon yesterday, “Advent is a yearly reminder that God is able to surprise us.  Perhaps we ought to think of church as training in the skills required for following this living, surprising, interrupting God!”

So with Richard Rohr’s devotional in hand, I look forward to being surprised this Advent season.