Publishing Woes

brainAn experience happened to me this week that reminded me of the challenges of having a brain injury. I read an article run in the New York Times years ago this week. I shared it on Facebook with the following doctor’s quote lifted out. “People hold on to hope that just as when they survived the crash and they had this miraculous recovery, that they will overcome these challenges that other people may not in this miraculous way.  That’s not going to happen.”

For me it isn’t so much overcoming my challenges. It’s that I remember what I was able to do before so easily and it’s not easy now. As a result, I often say I’m going to do something without remembering how stressful it is for me to get it done. I might be able to accomplish the task but it means dropping everything else in my life.  After twenty years, I’m realizing few things are pressing enough for me to make this sacrifice.

For example my book memoir with some theological reflection is ready for the publishing stage. I could not have accomplished this without Joyce Hollyday’s help.  Yes I wrote much of it but Joyce added to it and edited it in a way that makes organizational and theological sense.  We discussed the theological pieces but she actually wrote them with a tiny bit of input from me.

Thinking theologically is very difficult for a brain injury survivor. This involves drawing many pieces together in one’s mind to come up with a clear idea, which is considered an “executive function”. Due to my frontal lobe injury, this is now very difficult if not impossible to do.  Theological reflection also is hard due to my mental flexibility, cognitive overload, and cognitive fatigue issues.

In the process of writing the book, Joyce and I did a dance with the theological pieces. I wanted to write them and my old way of being was to do this with no problem. I often told Joyce I would write something but after trying, I couldn’t come up with anything.  I didn’t want to admit that and I think this was hard for Joyce.  It didn’t happen all at once but slowly, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to write those pieces so I asked her to write them.
manuscript The same thing happened with Bill Gaventa’a request for a one page summary of the book. He is attending a conference next week and needed to have something available for folks to read.  My old self wanted to write it but Joyce gently reminded me of the speed of my writing.   It needed to be written quickly so she put it together.

I asked her if my contact information should be with hers on top. She hesitated and explained she knew the publishing process better than I.  Then she told me when Bill asked for a copy of the book so he could write the forward, I sent him an old version so that’s what he read.  Joyce sent him the newer version which he read while on a plane.

In the publishing world, mistakes like that cannot be made. Even after twenty years, it is hard to admit that I cannot do some things on my own. I’m getting much better with that realization but it still is a challenge.

“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.

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?

New Vision

enjoy the journeyIn his sermon at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church on Aug. 24, 2014, Mark Ramsey spoke about the Emmaus journey and how two weary, grieving disciples had bet their lives on the wrong savior. “After three years of imagination-stretched living, they can’t imagine how their time will be filled other than some wish-dream cobbled together by the tyranny of immediate and the already known.”

While my situation is not the same, I can relate all too well. I started out my adult life as a freelance violinist/violist in the Kansas City area with a vision of being in a professional orchestra. After traveling to one audition in a city I can’t even remember, I thought long and hard about whether my dream was realistic. I also thought about what achieving this vision would entail.

During a difficult time of discernment, a pastor suggested I consider the ministry. At first, I was taken aback. Me, a minister? No way! Like the disciples, I had bet my life that God was calling me to be a professional musician. I had imagined I would spend my time serving God by playing in an orchestra, doing freelance work and teaching. All my years of practicing and imagination-stretched living, seemed to have been for nothing.

However, as I thought about it, it made sense. While continuing with my private students and doing some freelance work just to make sure I was on the right path, I took classes part time at Central Baptist Seminary. When I felt called to give up my music contacts in Kansas City, I transferred to Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, GA to finish my degree.

I loved the theological discussions seminary provided. It was a difficult year after graduation before receiving my first call but God did call me to a church in Atlanta. I am thankful for that call because I learned quite a bit about what being a pastor meant. After a few years though, it was time to move in. I was in the process of looking for another position when my car accident happened. A new vision was harder for me this time since lack of awareness is one of the hallmarks of a brain injury. It took me a long time before realizing I wasn’t going to be a pastor of a church again.

Years have passed and depression has always been part of my journey. It’s a hallmark of brain injury and I’m not immune to it at all. It’s appeared over and over again these past 18 years. Recently it’s been a problem and I’ve been dragging for several months now but yesterday, I had a little glimmer of hope. I’ve seen therapists for years and it’s my belief that anyone in a helping profession must see one. While I am no longer in a “helping profession,” I am, and will always be, “a helper.”

I’ve had a difficult time connecting with someone here in Asheville though. It’s important to find the right fit, which finally happened. In my session yesterday, I was able to express some of my feelings and concerns and got in touch with parts of myself often buried. We are often hurt by what is buried without even knowing what is happening. Yesterday, I glimpsed a better future for me. I still grieve for what I’ve lost but now I’m looking forward to what’s in store.

There was a quote in the bulletin on Aug. 24 by Peter Gomes, Minister of Harvard’s Memorial Church, 1970-2011. “When people come to The Memorial Church on Christmas Eve and on Easter Day, I always say, ‘If you have come for an explanation this evening, or this morning, and you want me to explain the virgin birth, you are in the wrong place. Why don’t you leave now? Leave the seat for somebody else, and we will get on with it.”

Resurrection, new life and new visions, are not easy. I have no idea what the future holds for me but I’m going to keep on the journey even though I can’t imagine how it will unfold. I’ve seen too many folks in their 50’s and 60’s who give up because they think it’s too late for them. I don’t believe it’s ever too late for a new vision or a new resurrection. I believe Resurrection happened long ago and it still happens today.

I’m going to enjoy my journey.

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!