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.

Happy Birthday!

campfireI turned 53 this past Sunday. How did that happen? The last time I checked I was 33. I always become rather introspective around my birthday. Especially now, since 2/3rds of my life is over. Folks are living longer and I might live past 73 but reaching my 50’s has been sobering just the same.

This past weekend, Michael and I camped at the Montreat campground which is only 30 minutes away. It was cold so we bundled up. Well, I didn’t bundle up enough partly because I refused to take out my winter coat yet. We brought Sparky and at one point, we put on the coat he hates and I wrapped him in a blanket as we sat next to the fire. It was a small fire but that’s okay. (see picture above)

Michael cookingHere is a picture of Michael preparing dinner. He’s all bundled up so you can’t even see his face. It’s remarkable how we could be 30 minutes away from the city yet it felt as it we were out in the country.

This Sunday was World Communion Sunday and folks at GCPC were invited to wear garb from other parts of the world. The choir didn’t wear robes but instead wore festive clothes. It sounded like it was a fun service and I’m sorry I wasn’t there -not too sorry though, since I loved camping.

I did read Mark Ramsey’s sermon called “Enough to Save the Day.” He used Luke 6:17-22 and Acts 16:16-40 – the story of Paul and Silas. Mark pointed out the jailer asked one of scripture’s most profound questions, “What must I do to be saved. He suggested this “is a personal question in search of a personalized answer…..What must I do to be saved from what destroys me? What must I do to be saved from my particular bondage, my oppression, my addiction, my emptiness, or my boredom? There are countless ways to lose our way in this world or to be in bondage, just as there are many different threats from which we need to be saved.”

I’m in bondage to the past – the way I used to be – for I often long for things that just aren’t going to happen. Earlier in the sermon, Mark spoke about “climbing the ladder,” one I metaphorically, fell off a long time ago. I’m not going to be a great preacher, chaplain, teacher or many other dreams I’ve had. Falling off this ladder can be lonely because everyone else seems to still be on it.

However, I think the way Mark used this term is broader than how it’s often used.. He said in many of the conversations he’s had with folks, people are “so tired of trying to climb some ladder: the ladder of success, the ladder of first impressions, the ladder of spiritual enlightenment, the ladder of striving, the ladder of pain….the ladder of question after question about the meaning of life.”

In this sense, perhaps I am still on some sort of ladder. It’s the ladder of improving after a brain injury. While it is true that even after 18 years, I’m still improving and will improve until I die, it doesn’t need to be my focus.

So as I begin my 53rd year, I want to focus on being saved from my bondage. I’m so glad I spent my birthday weekend out in the woods – even if it was cold. I want to focus on the beauties of this world and on the creative Spirit within me. There is a Spirit within me, if I’d only listen to Her voice.

 

 

Xanax?

I had an appointment with Dr LeMauviel, my primary care physician, yesterday for a blood test to make sure the thyroid medication I’m taking is the correct strength. The appointment usually takes all of 10 minutes but this time she wanted to talk to me. To my chagrin, I waited for an hour for she was running late. I couldn’t help asking myself, “Who does she think she is, keeping me waiting like this?”

Migraine Medication

Migraine Medication

However, I gave her the benefit of the doubt because I like her immensely. Years ago in Atlanta I had tried many migraine preventatives for my post-traumatic migraines which are common after brain injury. The side effects were unbearable until my neurologist there suggested an unconventional preventative which worked. A couple of years ago, Dr. LeMauviel pointed out that this preventative medication was raising my heart rate and wasn’t good for my body. She suggested I try alternative therapies which I did and they worked.

So at my appointment yesterday, the first thing she said to me was, “I didn’t get your records from your hospitalization in Canada.” “Oops,” I thought. “She remembered.” I had told her about the hospitalization when I had my physical back in the fall and she asked me to have them send her my records. The truth is, there wasn’t anything in the records since it was a brain injury meltdown although folks there didn’t know that. They ran two cat scans and both were normal.

LeMauviel is a good doctor. In spite of being behind schedule, she took the time to listen to me and then suggested I have some medication on hand in case I ever get into another situation like that. I balked at this but she wrote me a prescription for Alprazolam anyway which I planned not to fill.

However, the person checking me out wanted to set up an appointment in one month so LeMauviel could check to see how the medication worked. She told me I could always cancel it which I had every intention of doing. However, this afternoon I took out my husband Michael’s copy of the DR guide to Prescription Drugs to check it out.. It turns out it is generic for Xanax which is a fairly strong tranquilizer used for short term relief of anxiety.

As much as I dislike taking medication and am very aware we live in a pill popping society, I’m going to try it. If I decide to keep some on hand I will use it very sparingly in the hopes I don’t go through my Canadian experience again. One thing I have learned about this world of brain injury is, I have to try many different things for each person is different and nothing works for everyone. It’s a good thing I’m creative and willing to try new things!

 

A Way in the Wilderness

My favorite Scripture is in my head today.  “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 , to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” (Isaiah 43:18-21)

This Scripture has been important to me ever since I sustained my brain injury back in 1996.  After many months or rehab when I began volunteering at a hospice and then at the Open Door Community – which is considered a “Protestant Catholic Worker House” in Atlanta – I thought of these words.  When both things didn’t work out due to my brain injury challenges, I began volunteering as a Chaplain at a retirement community in town.

Working there was quite a journey through the wilderness for me.  First I couldn’t drive so I took the bus.  I wore my tennis shoes to walk to the bus stop and when I arrived at the center, I changed into my dress shoes, putting my tennis shoes into my Lands End bag.   I met some wonderful folks there and was able to participate in some significant ministry.

I struggled with depression then.  In fact, I have  struggled with depression my whole life.  Sometimes I think creative folks experience the darkness of the world to a greater extent than other folks do.  I believe depression is a physical issue and I’m just one of those people who’ve had to learn how to live with it.  I do think I feel things, both good and bad, more deeply than other people but as hard as it is, I do so see it as a gift.

Depression is part of any brain injury.  I don’t really understand the mechanics of it but I do know that many, many brain injury survivors must battle it.  Although it certainly is not fun, I have learned techniques to manage it.  Writting helps me immensely.  I’d be embarrised if folks read some of my journal entries since this is where I let my darkness out but I write none the less.

Music is another outlet for me.  I often will sing at home when I’m alone and this really helps me express my emotions.  Swimming helps as well.  I take a pretty intense water aoerobics class and this past Tuesday I really let the water have it.  I pounded my arms into it and kicked my legs through it.  It wore me out but it felt so good!

So yes, I’m on a journey through the wilderness. God gives me water  and I’m not alone.

Do you experience depression?  If you do, how do you deal with it?  Do folks understand you or do you feel very alone with it?  If you have a brain injury, have you noticed it is worse not than before?  Feel free to comment here – I think commenting on WordPress is much easier than on Blogger.  I will have to figure out how to use WordPress though so it will probably be a while before I figure out how to post pictures!

A New Year

WordPress for Dummies

I finally made the switch to WordPress. It is much easier to comment now so I do hope folks will take advantage of this. One doesn’t need to have a brain injury to comment but I really see this blog as a place where brain injury survivors can share their struggles as well as their joys and get support from each other.  I’m having difficulty figuring out how to add a picture correctly though.  I think this will get better with time.

For this first post on WordPress, I want to share a poem by Jan Richardson from Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas.

In the center of ourselves
You placed the power of choosing.
Forgive us the times
We have given that power away,
When we have sold our birthright
For that which does not
Satisfy our souls.
And so in your wisdom
May our yes be truly yes
And our no be truly no,
That we may touch with dignity
And love with integrity
And know the freedom of our choosing all our days.

When I first read this, I thought about how when I lived in Atlanta, I pushed myself way too hard. I chose to do things because I thought that’s what was expected of me. As a result, I often spent days simply laying on the couch “resting my brain.” I didn’t even need to use ear plugs for this because I was so tired, I simply slept. I always bounced back after resting but I did the same thing over and over again.

When I moved to Asheville, NC I decided to not become involved in anything. What happened when I did this? I got bored. “Why am I even bothering to stay here in this world?” I asked myself. “I’m not doing others or God any good at all so I should just leave and do everyone a favor!” However when I was having my better days, I realized doing this would hurt too many folks. Plus it wouldn’t be a good reflection on God for a minister to just check out of life!

So I made the choice to be as involved in my life as I can while being honest with what I’m able to do. I don’t believe God wants me to spend my days exhausted because I pushed myself too hard and got over stimulated. Nor do I believe God wants me to have to rest all the time due to cognitive overload.

You know what? I’m much happier now than I was before. I’m trying new things like singing in the choir at Grace Covenant Presbyterian and I’m taping into my creative side again. I’m taking an intense water aerobics class and I’m trying to write again. So who knows what this New Year will bring. I must say, it is rather exciting.

What sort of things are you looking forward to this year? If you have a brain injury, write about some of your struggles. Let’s see if the commenting part on this system is easier. It really is true that those of us who have brain injuries and other disabilities, need to share our joys and struggles with each other.

Fifteen Years


On August 26, 1996, I sustained my traumatic brain injury in a car accident. Water and rainbows had always been healing to me but throughout these years on my journey, they’ve been a real comfort. When I was first injured, we lived in an apartment in Atlanta. I couldn’t drive yet but I would often take my little dog, Abu, for a walk to a stream by my apartment to “get away from it all.” Abu played in the water while I sat and relaxed, deep in thought. For me water and rainbows are signs of hope.

Fifteen years ago, Michael and I drove a couple of miles from our apartment to get some frozen yogurt. Michael made a left hand turn onto our street but forgot he was using a standard transmission so he miscalculated. We were hit and both of us were injured, he less so than I. We were taken to two different hospitals where I was put into an induced coma to prevent brain swelling. I don’t even remember the first hospital since after a couple of weeks, I was transferred to another facility which had rehab for brain trauma survivors.

In the beginning, I had planned to go back to full time pastoral ministry. I pronounced endless lists of words until I could learn to speak clearly. I did activities to help my cognitive functions. I even began volunteering at a retirement facility as a chaplain until I was ready to work as a full-time minister again. Slowly but surely, I became aware that I would not be able to work as a full time minister again.

Awareness is part of all survivors’ journeys. Rep. Giffords is on this journey now and it is not an easy one at all. It’s especially difficult because one never knows how much brain function will return. In the beginning, I improved by leaps and bounds and it looked like I’d be able to work again. I began leading devotionals at the center, attending numerous meetings and writing short pieces. The problem was, sometimes my body would completely break down and I’d spend a few days in bed sleeping. I always returned to the same work load which meant more times of rest. Many folks in the brain injury field cautioned me about doing too much but I didn’t understand what they meant.

It became a never ending cycle. I would get depressed when I needed to rest but yet I refused to cut back. It wasn’t until we moved to Asheville, NC in 2004 when I dropped out of everything. I didn’t have any church meetings, no volunteer commitments and no preaching or writing commitments. I spent all my time getting used to a new environment which was enough challenge in itself. After battling my insurance company who thought I could be working, I settled into a calm existence.

Yet I became bored. I needed some challenge, some sort of goal or I would go crazy! Harold Kushner, the author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People helped me here. Genesis says, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. The earth was formless and chaotic, with darkness covering everything.” Kushner continues, “Then God began to work His creative magic on the chaos, sorting things out, imposing order where there had been randomness before. He separated the light from the darkness, the earth from the sky, the dry land from the sea. This is what it means to create: not to make something out of nothing, but to make order out of chaos.” (I added the bold.)

So a little at a time, God is helping me make order out of the chaos of brain injury. I can do a lot but I must be careful about what and how I do it. I can preach, write and do other things but I can’t do them all together as I could before. I’m learning to make choices. I still want to take on too many things so this is a process for me but every year, I get better at it. I’ll never have it completely worked out but that’s okay. One of my favorite passages of scripture is Isaiah 43:19 “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.” God creates order out of chaos which means there is a road through this wilderness of life.

If you are a brain injury survivor, do you see order in your chaos? Or are you in the midst of chaos and wonder how you’re going to survive? Many of us who are survivors have been there so please know you are not alone. See above right for commenting instructions. Due to a glitch I’m not able to comment here but I read every one. Hopefully, this will be fixed soon. If you’d rather contact me directly write puffer61@gmail.com