Waiting in the Darkness

I don’t want to accept life as it is which is why I’m often stressed and depressed. I’m angry because I can’t be a minister at a church. I’m angry because I haven’t been able to improve my preaching. I’m angry because I can no longer play my violin or my viola. I’m angry because I can’t be in large, chaotic groups for very long. I won’t accept life as it is which makes me even angrier!retraining your mind_n

I don’t know what I believe about death but I do believe this: I need to help bring new life to this world right now. For many people, this is through children and grandchildren. I’m out of luck there so the new life I must leave is different.  Who knows how much time I have? To be honest, I’m not too happy with the amount of new life I have brought thus far but I figure I still have a couple of years so I’m getting to work!

I love John 10:10 where Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” It’s funny because the Sunday after 9/11 in 2001, I was scheduled to preach my first sermon at Oakhurst Presbyterian in Atlanta and I was scared to death. I’ve always gotten nervous when I preached but after the brain injury this increased ten-fold. I’m told I don’t look nervous but I’m always a mess inside.

I had already written the sermon using John 10:10 when the planes crashed into the Trade Center. I remember calling the pastor, Nibs Stroupe, and offering him the pulpit. He said, “No, you do it.” I suspect he didn’t want to preach that Sunday either! I liked the sermon and changed it a little to fit the day but when I got up to preach that Sunday, the place was packed to the rafters.

I don’t know what it is but after I get over my initial nervousness which is always huge, I let go and preach the sermon just fine. I get energy from the congregation which happened that day. It’s a wonderful memory for me and I’m so grateful to Nibs for allowing me to preach that morning. What is really hard for me to fathom right now is, yesterday was Sept. 11 and it’s all coming back.

Anne Lamotte describes wanting to make things right as her sister-in-saw was dying and when her son became a father at a young age. “This is what I did,” she writes. “I surrendered. I lay down my weapons and went over to the winning side. I am a recovering Higher Power.” I love that phrase for I am one too.

These past 18 years, I figured I would work on my preaching and pastoral care skills and help bring new life that way. This is one reason I volunteered as a chaplain at Wesley Wood Retirement Center in Atlanta. I figured it would be a step in the right direction. Even now, deep inside I want this. I know it isn’t possible, but I can’t seem to let it go.

However, like Anne Lamotte, I’m surrendering and going over to the winning side. “I am a recovering Higher Power” and it’s time for me to get real about my life. She writes about something she learned from Veronica, a pastor she had fifteen years ago.   “Veronica said that when she had no clue what direction to take, she imagined standing in a spotlight, as if on stage, and waited, prayerfully, until one more spotlight began to appear nearby. Then she would go stand in that circle of light.”

My friend Laura Collins  took this picture of the recent full moon on her camera phone.

My friend Laura Collins took this picture of the recent full moon on her camera phone.

I don’t have a picture of a spot light, but my friend took a picture of the full moon we had a couple of nights ago. She took it with her camera phone so it isn’t great, but I’m crazy about moons. This one reminds me to wait for the circle of light. New life will come. I only have to wait in the darkness a little while longer.

Do you have any reflections after reading this? What does being “a recovering higher power” mean to you?

Death

I went to two Memorial Services last week. One was for Tom Swift who died from complications of ALS. You can read a commentary I wrote about him here: http://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013302030018 I also attended a service for Dean Bush who lived homeless, was hit by two cars and was caught under a third and dragged several miles.

Then on Monday morning, Aimee Buchanan a 44-year-old Presbyterian minister, died from complications from the flu. Her death has stunned everyone including myself. Here is an article published in the Asheville Citizen-Times about her. http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20130206/NEWS01/302060033 All three deaths have affected me greatly.

I began thinking of all the folks I know who’ve died from brain injuries or who have many more challenges than I do because of them. Why did God save me and not them? I asked myself. Of course these thoughts snowballed and I could feel myself spiraling into depression. In rehab, I learned how my emotions tend to snowball and the best way to handle this is to have a behavioral approach. I have to say to myself loud and clear, “STOP.” If I catch it early enough, it works.

A wise friend wrote me an email reminding me that the question, “Why her and not me?” has no answer. Evil is real and it is random in nature. We don’t know why but the best we can do is to live our lives working for peace and justice which honors God as well as honoring the concerns of our loved ones who have died. I’ve learned I can waste a lot of time when I let myself spiral into depression. This time, I’m not going to let it happen.

In her book, “Help, Thanks, Wow” Anne Lamott writes

“There’s freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won’t be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parents, or your career, relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged…..It’s exhausting, crazy-making.”

Before one reaches this place, however, one must not be afraid to cry out to God. Today I pulled out the Psalms and looked at Psalm 13 which begins, “How long, God? Will you forget us forever? How long will you hide your face from us?” (I changed the “me” to “us” because there are many, many folks struggling right along with me) This is my- our – question exactly. Why did God let this happen? Why did God let me sustain a brain injury? Where in the world is God anyway?

Rev. Steve Goyer, a pastor in Atlanta, dealt with many of these same questions after his wife died from sustaining a TBI in a car accident in 2001. In the first sermon he preached after her death, he shared the following from Peter DeVries book The Blood of the Lamb.

“The main character of the book loses his daughter to leukemia. On the day of her death someone had left him a cream pie which he was carrying when he found himself standing before a crucifix outside the church next to the hospital.”
He looked into the eyes of the crucified Christ hanging on the cross, cursed his name, and flung the pie squarely into the face of Christ. He stood there defiantly thinking, ‘Take that you SOB!’ Christ did. Christ took it, and then giant tears began streaming out of those holy broken eyes of that Christ causing the whipped cream to slide down his face.”

This is the Christ I know. Through the tears of Christ, through my tears, through all of our tears, we can reach out to Jesus and Jesus will help us stand. Although I’m getting close to reaching the place that LaMott calls the “great unknowing where restoration can begin,” I’m not there yet. And that’s okay. Christ is crying with me and with us all until we do get there. And we will get there.