“Two Sides of the Sea”

Kristy’s sermon at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church affected me greatly. She began by describing the moment in Exodus 14 when the Israelites crossed the sea and entered into the unknown.

“There is a very still moment in this story. Amidst the chase and the army and the chariots and the people crying out after God has spoken after Moses has raised his arms up to see the wind and the sea move in ways that took his breath away… after running from their lives, after the water crashes down – before the singing and the dancing. There is a very still moment.

“The people of Israel stand on the shore of the water and it feels as if time has slowed and noise has faded. Looking around, they see the shore, littered with chariots and bodies and horses. No signs of movements. No signs of breath. They see the water, blocking the way between their old life and where they currently stand. And they see the desert- miles and miles of empty desert, calling to them.”(read sermon: http://storage.cloversites.com/gracecovenantpresbyterianchurch1/documents/sr%20-17May2015.Exodus14.RedSea.pdf)

She continued by saying that no one goes into the desert unless they have to. The RSV uses the word “wilderness” instead of “desert” but it really was a desert. When I think of the wilderness, I think of a lush place, full of water and vegetation but this word does not accurately describe their wilderness.

Picture of Worship Bulletin.

Picture on Worship Bulletin.

I have always liked the desert. I have fond memories of visiting my grandparents who lived in Arizona when I was a child living in Detroit. They had a desert across the street from their home where I would often go and look at the cacti and the lizards. Of course that was the 1970’s and I could always walk back across the street and get a drink and some cookies from my grandmother. That was not the desert of the Israelites. The Israelites had no food or water and the sun was so hot people wore plenty of clothes to protect themselves from it.

Kristy said the Israelites were fearful and, fear blinds us from seeing God.” Yes it does. I struggle with fear and it seems I walk in the desert often. Walking there shuts me down and I become depressed. In the early years of my TBI, I remember spending days just lying on the sofa and seeing no light at all. I’ve experienced this depression so often that I’ve learned how to deal with it. It’s a little like falling off a cliff. I often feel myself getting closer and closer to the cliff and if I catch it early enough, I don’t fall off.

When I feel it coming on, I do nothing that isn’t absolutely necessary. I missed a recent Presbytery meeting for this reason. I swim and read more. I force myself to work outside in the garden even if I don’t feel like it. I spend time alone just resting. It often feels like I’m never going to get out of the desert but I always do.

Kristy quoted Luke Powery at Duke Chapel who said, “When we lose our imagination, we lose our future.” She continued “without an imagination, we cannot have any hope” and that we are often told “you’re just imagining it” so we learn not to trust our imagination.

It is hard for me to imagine a better future. I often want to go back to the past where I planned to become a great preacher. I wanted to become one of those pastors folks respected and trusted. I wanted to serve a church in an urban area or be a chaplain. Kristy said, “But when we spend all of our time looking back at what we once had or where we once were, we have no capacity to look forward. We have no capacity to imagine. We are not giving God any room to lead.”

So I’m trying to imagine. The support group Michael and I began called “Brainstormers Collective” is going well. We are beginning a Facebook page called “Brainstormers Collective of WNC.” It’s in its infancy but who knows what the future holds? I can only imagine.

If you have a brain injury or other disability, what do you imagine? How is life for you now? (Feel free to reply even if you don’t have a brain injury!)

Of What Are You Certain?

At a GCPC choir rehearsal Wednesday night, it occurred to me that my depression has lessened. When this happens, I feel more energetic and alive. I haven’t been able to connect much on any sermons preached lately but I was especially moved by Mark Ramsey’s sermon this past Sunday. I read the sermon again yesterday. One really needs to listen to a sermon rather than read it and I wish I hadn’t lost the notes I took on Sunday, for reading it didn’t stimulate my spirit as much as hearing it did.

Mark began by saying, “The God we come to know through scripture creates promises, delivers, commands, and leads.”   A few weeks ago, I would have scoffed at these words and said “Yea, right. What do you know about my life? I’m the one living it and I don’t feel God’s Spirit at ALL.” However on Sunday, I had a different feeling. “Okay, he says God delivers and leads. Even though I’m not sure right now, I’ll hope a little longer.”

Interspersed with stories, he asked over and over again, “What are you certain of?” I’m certain that God is calling me (as God calls everyone) to some sort of ministry. I don’t know what that is and when I sink into darkness I have to keep reminding myself that “God makes a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)

Message of PsalmsI thought about Walter Brueggemann’s comments on the Psalms. He wrote in a 1984 commentary that scholars have discussed how the Psalms are organized around three different themes: Psalms of Orientation (see Psalm 145, 104, 8 for examples), Psalms of Disorientation (Psalm 74, 86, 35), and Psalms of New Orientation (Psalm 30,138, 96).  Sometimes the Psalm will go through a couple of different themes as Psalm 13 does below.

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

How long shall my enemy be exacted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, And my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; My foes will rejoice because I am shaken.”

“How long must I live this way”, are my own thoughts. “Why can’t I remember people’s names? Why do I become cognitively overloaded so frequently? Why do I have to ‘rest my brain’ all the time? It’s not FAIR!” This is when I am in the darkness.

However, in the next few verses, the Psalmist has a shift in perspective:

“But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

It isn’t clear what happened. I suspect the Psalmist went through the darkness for a long time. I bet she felt sorry for herself and felt defeated. I suspect she almost gave up but somehow, she trusted in God’s Spirit and things changed. When this happened, she is able to again, sing God’s praises.

When I’m in the dark places, I read these Psalms to remind myself things will get better. That’s what happened this time. I am certain that God creates promises, delivers commands, and leads me through the wilderness. Even in the darkness, I am certain. I have to repeat this to myself over and over and over and over again. But I am certain.

Hymn Fest

Numbers! Numbers! Numbers! I hate numbers. I can’t remember them and I’m tired of having to write them down. I’m tired of trying to find where I’ve written them down! We live in a society that has a code for everything. There are codes to get into most web sites, many building and hallways. When I worked at the retirement community in Atlanta, I had little pieces of paper stuck in my pocket for the door to each hallway.  Now, I keep codes in my Android.

I was poor at numbers and math before my brain injury and it is much worse now. Way back in 7th grade I was in a slow learner’s math class. I remember being embarrassed going into that room because most of my other classes were advanced. Whenever I went to that class, I uttered a little prayer. “Please God. Don’t let anyone see me go in here. They’ll think I’m dumb and I’m not!” Caring what people think has been a life -long challenge of mine and if I’m not careful, I’ll slip back into my 7th grade thinking. The reality is, I’m just fine the way I am, in fact, better than fine.

Lately my challenges have been particularly difficult. On April 26th the choirs at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church of Asheville combined for a Hymn Fest. The choral composer, John Ferguson along with the choral directors of both choirs, worked with us.

Grace Covenant Presbyterian and First Presbyterian churches of Asheville preparing for the Hymn Fest.

Grace Covenant Presbyterian and First Presbyterian churches of Asheville preparing for the Hymn Fest.

While I’m familiar with First Presbyterian where it took place, it still was a new environment for me. I’ve already written about the Wednesday night rehearsal (April 24, post) but the remainder of the Hymn Fest was also difficult. Brain Injury survivors often need to know exactly what is going to happen or it throws us off. I’ve learned how to take deep breaths and “rest my brain” out in the open, when necessary but change is still difficult for me.

I’ve even considered quitting the choir because of the flexibility needed. I’d like to see the worship leader’s faces instead of their backsides which are what we in the choir see! However, I enjoy singing so much that I’ve decided to continue. I’ll do what I need to do to take care of myself while trying not to care what anyone thinks.

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“Be Perfect” not

Anne LaMotte once wrote, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.” I’ve always been a perfectionist which served me well when I was a freelance violinist/violist. If I missed a note, it often meant I wouldn’t be asked to play again so I had to be perfect. Well, that’s what I thought but I took it too far. In addition, when I was a pastor, every time I led worship I let the oppressor take over. Worship wasn’t about me (and isn’t about any worship leader) but rather about God.

booksThis afternoon I studied the biblical concept of perfection by using Stan Saunders’ 2010 commentary Preaching Matthew.* In Matthew 5:48 Jesus is quoted, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” At face value, that certainly is a tall order. However the word really means completeness or even wholeness. Jesus is saying, “Be whole like my Father is whole.” This puts a different slant on the concept of perfection.

poolI’ve been working on my flutter kick when I swim. I took swim lessons at the Y two years ago but since I had hand surgery, I’ve had to be careful not to use my hand too much. Lately I’ve wanted to work on my stroke beginning with the kick. Doing it the correct way is harder in the short run but just like my violin in order to get better at it, I must practice. When I was in the pool this afternoon, I could feel my perfectionism surface which is why I wanted to look at the word again. I knew it meant completeness but reading Stan’s words helped me see my swimming (and gardening etc.) differently.

The oppressor wants me to give up but I’m not going to listen to that voice. I like to swim and I want to get better. I’m trying not to compare myself to others but it is hard. I see someone swimming in another lane that is faster than I am and the voice of the oppressor rings in my ear, “You have to get better after all everyone is watching you and thinking about what you’re doing.” Of course this isn’t true. No one pays any attention to me and it wouldn’t matter if they did for I’m not in any competition. If my swimming improves, I will feel whole. This is what is important.

*I trust Stan but I still needed to check out the words using a Strong’s concordance which translates the words from Greek or Hebrew into English. I took a year of Greek at Central Baptist Seminary and had to pass a Greek exegesis exam for ordination but I am no Greek scholar so I try to read scholars I trust.