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.

On Putting Myself Down

It’s second nature for me to always put myself down. I try not to for I know I have quite a few things to offer the world but I do it anyway. Someone once asked me if I put myself down now more after my brain injury than before. I wanted to answer “yes” because it seems to take so much more time and energy for me to do anything now but I had to be honest. Putting myself down is a life-long habit I want to break. I do get better every year so perhaps by the time I’m 60, I will have stopped.

I thought about this a couple of weeks ago when Kristy Farber preached at Grace Covenant Presbyterian. Her sermon was on Mark 16:1-8 but it especially addressed verse 8 where Mark describes the women fleeing the tomb “in terror and amazement.” It was a good sermon about how we live between these two poles each day.

Kristy’s sermons have improved these past few years. I love that she now tells more stories in them and I enjoy reading her sources. However, when I watch her I sometimes become sad and think, “What if my accident had never happened? Where would I be now?” I imagine myself being a pastor somewhere in an urban setting. After 20 years, my preaching, pastoral and administrative skills would have improved. Who knows what I would be doing?

1796477_10152164945718444_14085413_nAfter indulging in these thoughts for a while though, I always come out it. Yes, it is important for me to grieve for what could have been but I don’t want to get stuck there. If I stay on that pole I’ll miss seeing all I’ve gained from the other one. I do like who I’ve become although I’m never going to stop growing – and I’m NEVER going to believe everything I think!

Grief

Twenty years ago I learned about Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief. At the time, they made sense to me. However, several years ago I couldn’t understand why I seemed to be back in the early stages of grief surrounding my TBI. Shoot, I’d already gone through all the stages so I thought I was free and clear! Kuber-Ross made it sound like once one gets to the final stage, acceptance, the grieving period was over.

My neuropsycologist at the time, told me he thought grief wasn’t so neat and simple. He saw it more like a coil and not stages at all. One continues to go back through the process over and over again. Of course each process of grief gets easier as the years move on but the feelings don’t go away.

I’m reminded of this now as I feel sorry again for all I have lost. I thought I was over it all but I guess I’ll never get completely over it. Recently I was asked to help facilitate a Sunday School class. I do have some thoughts about the class and being in this position would allow me to implement some of my thoughts. The only problem with it was I would have to do a lot of organizing and securing other teachers to lead each session. Due to my TBI, organization is difficult for me since it is part of the activities of the frontal lobe. Since this part of my brain was injured, I try to do organizational things as little as possible. As a result, I turned the position down.

However, I do realize that it is easier for me to relate to others who are going through losses. I thought of this the other day when I was visiting an older person who has lost much. I could really relate to her feelings since my feelings are similar. I see this as one thing I have gained in the midst of my many losses. I can now relate to others who are going through tremendous loss and I think this is difficult for many people.

How do you grieve for your losses? Do you feel stronger now then before your TBI? What are some of your losses? See top right for commenting instructions or contact me directly at puffer61@gmail.com

Welcome to Holland

I was organizing my files on brain injury when I came across a poem I had clipped from the newspaper years ago. I share it at the risk of taking it out of context but Emily Perl Kingsley’s poem called Welcome to Holland resonated with me.

“I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared the unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. Michelangelo’s “David.” The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The flight attendant comes and says, “Welcome to Holland.” Holland?” you say. “What do you mean, Holland? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.” But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place. So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. You must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around, and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills, Holland has tulips, Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they’re bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.” And the pain of that will never, ever, ever go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss. But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.”

I know folks who’ve said, “I’m glad God allowed this brain injury to happen to me. I’m a much better person now.” I respectfully disagree. God doesn’t allow things to happen so we can learn something. It’s the other way around. God uses what happens so we may become closer to God and to the people around us. Besides, I wanted to go to Italy! I had studied and trained to go to Italy and the pain of being here in Holland is not ever going away.

But here I am in Holland. I’ve met some remarkable people that I would never have met in Italy. I’ve had experiences that could only happen here. Every now and then I meet someone who has been to Italy and I grieve again. But if I spend hours brooding and mulling over my losses, I’ll never get to enjoy the extraordinary things that are here in Holland. And Holland has some very extraordinary things.

How is your life different now after your brain injury? What do you miss? Is there anything extraordinary now that wasn’t part of your life before? As always, all comments are appreciated or contact me directly at tamara@indylink.org

Presbytery Meeting

The presbytery meeting vote came out the way I had hoped with a vote of 143-99. I made a short statement which turned out to be a 1 1/2 minute sermon. We voted on this same issue two years ago and I spoke then. I was stressed and vowed I would not speak this year because of this. However, when I attended a meeting of those working for it’s passage, I discovered no one planned to express my thoughts. So I decided to go through the stress again.

Unlike many brain injury survivors, I am able to do most of the things I did before. I have to do things differently and this does frustrate me. For example, I get overstimulated very easily now. Too much light, sound and things I never thought about before, can overwhelm me. I don’t go to malls now except to run into one store that I know how to get to. Spatial orientation (sense of direction) is a huge issue for me and I can’t count how many malls I tried going to when I lived in Atlanta but I got lost and/or overstimulated in every one.

At this point, it’s important for me to say that everyone with a brain injury is different. Some folks must use a wheel chair, others cannot speak and still others have vision difficulties. Some folks can handle a lot of noise and others don’t get lost very often. I remember going to a party for brain injury survivors in Atlanta and others could handle the music. It drove me crazy and I had to keep leaving the room to get out of the noise. It’s best to treat everyone who has a brain injury as the individual people we are. Don’t assume we are all the same because we are very different. This is important to remember for anyone with a disability. For example, all folks with visual impairments are not alike.

I’ve always liked to preach. Even now, I enjoy it. When I was an associate pastor in the church, I didn’t preach often and it took me forever to write a sermon. Sometimes, I would practice and practice so I could say everything just right. Even though a sermon is not a performance, my performance background helped me immensely. So of course, I practiced my sermon relentlessly. Other preachers told me that with experience it gets easier and one gets into a “groove.” I decided to seek another call where I could preach more and have a chance to get into this “groove.” I had applied to several other churches and even had a couple of interviews right before my accident. My husband had to field several phone calls from churches interested in me while I was still in the hospital.

So I will never know what it is like to get into a “groove.” I’ll never know if I was capable of preaching on a regular basis. This is a loss and my little presbytery speech put this to the forefront again. In spite of the stress of my speech, I’m glad I did it. I struggle with what this all means. I think I will speak for certain things, knowing that I’ll have to put everything in place in order to do it. For example, I didn’t attend the full presbytery meeting because I knew I would be overstimulated. Since driving on the highway is still a challenge, I arranged for someone to take me there. I’ve always had trouble asking for help but now in order to function, I must do this.

I’m interested in any thoughts you might have. If you are a brain injury survivor, what things are different about you now? Do you grieve your losses? Do you have difficulty asking for help? Even if you’re not a survivor, feel free to comment.