Getting Organized (again)

I’m getting involved in organizing a couple of things at church right now. Michael and I share an office and a desk at home which for the most part, works. I’m not good at sharing a computer and he really isn’t either – although he’s better at it than I am! It just doesn’t make sense for us to have two separate offices at home though so we make do

DeskThis picture is of our desk. As you can see, it is strewed with various notebooks, papers and sundry items. Most of the mess is mine for Michael simply puts things in little piles in the corner of the desk. He does have a lot of notebooks around the computer, though but for the most part, this works for us. A few months ago, I purchased some office supplies to help me get organized but I never followed through on it.

One of the ways I deal with memory issues is by leaving papers out so that I’m reminded they are there. This doesn’t work well with both of us sharing the desk. The part of my brain responsible for organizing is damaged. I never liked organizing things anyway and the desk in my office at the church I served was always a mess. However, I knew what I needed and remembered where it was. This is no longer the case so having a messy desk is unbearable for me when I need to get things finished.

My plan was to organize my desk this morning but it didn’t work out that way. It seems I can always find something to do so I can put off organizing! However, if I want to be involved in things I HAVE to be organized or I can’t function. It’s hard to explain but with chaotic surroundings, I feel stressed inside. I can’t find anything and then I get upset because I don’t know where things are.  When I am stressed, I don’t think, making it impossible to function.

Years ago, brain injury specialists told me I was doing too many things so when I moved here to Asheville, I dropped out of everything. This worked for a while but then, I got bored so I began adding things in a careful manner. I’m still trying to find the balance between doing too much and not doing enough.

I must say again that everyone who has a brain injury functions differently. I am able to do more things than other brain injury survivors which doesn’t make me a better person. It only presents some unique challenges.

If you have a brain injury, do you find you have to organize your life better than before? When you don’t do this or try to accomplish too many things, do you get tired as I do? Have you found a way to balance this? If so, how?

"Overwhelming"

The title for Mark Ramsey’s sermon at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church yesterday morning was “overwhelming.” It definitely got my attention since I have such a problem with being overwhelmed.  This is really an issue for folks who are brain injury survivors. Over stimulation, cognitive overload, and mental fatigue are just a few words which describe our feeling of being overwhelmed.

This picture was printed in the bulletin and I loved the Call to Worship.  I enter the sanctuary from behind the organ to avoid the overwhelming situation when I join the processional with the choir so I usually miss this part of the service.  However, for some reason yesterday I stood back on the stairs where I could hear it.

O God, open us to the powerful winds of your Spirit.
Open our eyes to the wonders of your creation.
Open our senses to the smells of new life.
Open our ears to the words of justice and truth.
Open our mouths to the taste of freedom and love.
Open our arms to the embrace of peace.

I am trying to be open to the winds of God’s Spirit but it is hard. In the past I thought being open to the Spirit meant getting involved in everything that came my way. This didn’t work.  It only stressed me out and I wasn’t good to anyone especially to God!  So when I moved to Asheville, I regrouped and didn’t get involved in much of anything.  What happened?  I got bored.

Now I’m trying to balance things out. I’m beginning to think that folks stay busy because they are afraid to be seized by the Spirit.  It’s easier to say “yes” to everything than it is to discern if something is what God is calling us to do.  I think this saying “yes” allows us to feel important.  But we miss out on so much of God’s world when we do this!

 I’ll never forget the hours I spent watching those baby robins hatch and grow until they were big enough to leave the nest. (see 5/13/12 post) I stopped what I had to do and watched. I opened my arms to God’s embrace.

Mark said something in his sermon yesterday that made sense to me. “If we are going to do anything about the problems that beset us, we have to confront the problems honestly.  During an age of overwhelmedness, however, it is difficult to look at things honestly.”

Sixteen years after sustaining my brain injury, I’m finally looking at things honestly.  I’m no longer pretending I remember someone’s name when I don’t, even after hearing it 125 times!  I’m no longer expecting to know my way when I’m going somewhere for the first time.  In fact,  I don’t even expect to know my way after going there hundreds of times.  It doesn’t mean I’m stupid.  It only means my brain was injured.  It’s who I am now and I can’t be someone I’m not, just to fit in.

I loved the way Mark referred to this past Sunday which was the  “Reign of Christ ” Sunday.  He said, “Here, at the end of the church’s year, we have a Sunday which we call the ‘Reign of Christ.’ Whether we can see it or NOT – we’re supposed to celebrate “the Reign of Christ.'” 

“Yeah right”, I wanted to shout. “Where in the world is Christ now?  People don’t have any where to live and it’s cold outside!  I’m tired of getting lost everywhere I go!  I want to work and earn my keep just like everyone else in this world!  And why are there so many people who have brain injuries who can barely get by on what little Social Security benefits they get?”  I look around and it doesn’t seem like Christ reigns at all.

Mark pointed out that the book of Revelation is a story that arises out of a troubled church.  “You can almost see them there – a little band of Christians, surrounded in the pagan cities.  They seemed so small, so overwhelmed…Where on earth might one find HOPE for the future in such circumstances?” He reminded us that Revelation is known for its “sustained outburst of exuberant joy and praise.  The vision begins, not in despair – but in doxology, in praise, in cadences that scholars believe were derived in great part from some of the hymns of the early church.”

He tells about the Wesley brothers and how they lived in the mid-18th century.  “The gin trade had led to huge problems with alcoholism….Child labor was the scourge of the land.  There was vast social dislocation and chaos.  Things seemed overwhelming.”  Yet in spite of this, they wrote some of our most beloved hymns such as “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”

Mark suggests “if we really want to face our problems squarely, if we really want to stride into this new emerging world with confidence, the best thing we could do…is to sing.  Against all odds, when we join our voices together in some great hymn of praise, then you know – in the very depths of your being – that Jesus Christ reigns, that he shall rule until all things have been put under his feet, that the enemies of God will ultimately be defeated, that good will have the last word over evil, and tht all shall be well.”

Singing and listening to music touches a place deep in my soul.  I really cannot explain it but every time I sing, play or listen to music,  I leave my body and spend time with God.  I’ve been listening to classical music every day for this purpose.  Today I listened to Bloch’s Baal Shem Suite for violin and piano.  The first movement is Vidui (Contrition) which has a meditative quality.  When I hear it (and when I played it all those years ago) it felt like I was approaching God quietly, gently.

The second movement is Nigun (Improvisation) and that is where the music really soars.  Bloch expresses outgoing and uninhibited emotions here. When I listen, my spirit cries out to God “Why is there so much pain everywhere?  Where are You?  Don’t you care?”  Finally comes the third movement, Simchas Torah (Rejoicing). It’s as if God says to my spirit, “It’s okay.  I know it’s difficult some times but I am the center of all being.  Just hang on a little longer and rejoice in my creation!”    When I hear it (and when I played it) I felt God’s joy and my own spirit sang.

John Wesley and the other great hymn writers felt it.  Ernest Bloch felt it.  When I listen, sing or play their music I feel it too.  Mark ends his sermon with these words: “Praise…is how we were created to live, even in the most unlikely times and places.  You cannot know that…unless you live just that way.  And then, you experience an overwhelming, utterly hopeful way to live….even to the end of the world…..Amen”        

Overwhelmed again

I found this poster on Facebook and I fell in love with it. This is why I love Isaiah 43:18,19 so much. “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.”

It seems I always go back to this verse whenever I’m going through change. When I stopped being an Associate Pastor, I thought about these words. Each time I began another volunteer position in Atlanta and in Asheville, this passage came to mind.

The quotation on the poster along with Isaiah’s words touches me now. I’m really trying to do more things but it’s hard because it doesn’t take much for me to become overwhelmed. I spoke with my cognitive therapist on the phone yesterday and when I first began talking to her, I sounded almost manic. I was having difficulty slowing my thoughts down.

She reminded me of something she told me back in March of 2011. Anxiety and stress produces a chemical response in my body that actually can impair my cognition. She said back then that I could counteract this by practicing mindfulness. I shared with her how much listening to classical music seems to calm me down and help me get out of that chemical response. She suggested I do this every day and see how it works for me.

So I do have the power to say this is not how my life is going to end. I’m not going to spend it stressed out and overwhelmed. As I continue to be involved in more things now, I’m going to take time every day to listen to music. Today I listened to violin pieces y Ernest Bloch. Perhaps God is doing a new thing for me. Only time will tell.

Overwhelmed

Mark Ramsey delivered another thought provoking sermon this past Sunday using Isaiah 43:1-8 and Ephesians 3:14-21.  I say “delivered” because when I read it today, I had a different impression.  Sermons really need to heard and not read.  After I heard it, I felt he was speaking directly to me since I often feel overwhelmed.  However, some of the stories contained a different meaning when I read them later.  I had to wade through my emotions a bit to write this but it was good for me.  Wading through emotions often is.

Being overwhelmed happens to me often. It happens when I don’t pace myself and I try to do too much. It’s often coupled with over stimulation and cognitive overload which is not what Mark was talking about.  I try very hard to avoid this and mostly I’m successful. I also know my limits now are not what they used to be prior to my injury.  I cannot do as much and I try to remember that this is okay. Sometimes though I compare myself to someone else who has a brain injury who is doing better than I am and then I feel bad.  I must remind myself that every brain injury is different and comparisons are impossible.  All I can do is what God is calling ME to do and no one else.

In his sermon, Mark shared a story about something that occurred during a commencement service at Emory University several years ago  Many notable folks spoke to the graduates who were more interested in celebrating the day then listening to the speakers.  Then there was a moment when everyone grew still as a man named Hugh Thompson was given an honorary degree.

He was, by far, the least educated person on the platform.  He had started college, but his family was too poor to be able to put him all the way through.  So he dropped out of college and joined the army and became a helicopter pilot.  In 1968 on a routine patrol he flew over the village of My Lai in Vietnam. He looked down out of his helicopter and saw United States troops, having lost their moral bearing and in a frenzy were massacring people in the village.

Many pilots would simply have kept on flying but he set his helicopter down in the line of fire, between the troops and the villagers.  He got out of the helicopter and confronted Lt. William Calley in the name of decency.  He went over to the ditch where they had thrown the bodies and combed thorough them –seeking anyone who might still be alive.  He found a little boy – who is in his 50’s today – alive because he was pulled out of that ditch by Hugh Thompson.   He then radioed other ‘coptors to come in a rescue the remaining villagers.

When he stood on the platform, he said to the students, ‘I have no wisdom or eloquence to give you today.  I can only tell you what my parents taught me a long time ago  It was the words of Jesus: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ ” And the students, for one breathless moment, were stilled by a vision of faith and humanity that had some size…They were overwhelmed.”

The picture above is the one printed in the bulletin and I like it immensely.  I often stretch my hands or lift up my voice to God asking and hoping, for guidance.  I do hope to be overwhelmed by God’s creativity in my life but sometimes I have on blinders and I’m not able to see.

Earlier Mark said that “Paul in Ephesians says that when we are overwhelmed, to the contrary, God opens up the floodgates and inundates us all the more.   But NOT with the floods of pressures and demands and brokenness and vulnerability- but with the great flood tide of the kindness and mercy and grace and love and generosity and joy and hope of God.”

In addition to overdoing it, being overwhelmed has another meaning for me today.  Now for me it is being overwhelmed by the creativity and the goodness of God.  Thich Nhat Hanh reminds me to “change the channels” and focus on how God is working in me.  I like Mark’s last statement in the sermon. “And you can TRUST that God will OVERWHELM us – in all the ways we most urgently need.” 

This is my hope.

Internet

I wish it didn’t take so little for me to get overwhelmed and stressed. My life now must consist of well made plans and sometimes, it drives me a little nuts. If someone throws me a curve ball, I don’t do well. People with TBI need consistency and a steady schedule. The problem is, I’ve never had a steady schedule. After college, I worked as a freelance violinist/violist and I played all sorts of places: churches, concert halls and every thing in between. I even played violin with an accordionist in a group called “Bellows and Bows.” One of our “gigs” was at a Hyatt Regency where we played for breakfast and for lunch.

After a while, I realized I probably would have difficulty becoming a member of a professional orchestra which had been my dream. I started seminary at an American Baptist seminary n Kansas City because I wasn’t ready to cut my music ties yet. For a couple of years I did both which made for a crazy schedule and late nights trying to learn my biblical Greek. I then transferred to Columbia seminary in Atlanta, GA where I finished and worked as an Associate Pastor in Atlanta.

So I find too consistent a schedule boring! Lately there’s been a couple of unexpected things thrown my way and they’ve stressed me out. I have Charter for Internet and I couldn’t get a signal so I called them this morning. Unfortunately I have found Charter’s customer service to be awful. However, it’s the only company that serves my street so if I want service I have to use them. I had a local provider who was very patient with me when I called for help but for some reason, we no longer can get the signal. I do support local business when I can.

I hate talking to Charter. Plus I’m pretty ignorant about Internet things. We have all these wires and plugs coming out of the computer and I don’t know what is what. Router? Modem? Grrrr. Anyway, I realized I didn’t know what the guy was talking about so I called Michael to help me. Michael is very patient but he does get frustrated with me because he really is a computer whiz. He tried to explain to me there the router cord was and I wasn’t understanding. Finally, he said, “Just figure it out!”

Well that got me mad. “You know I can’t figure it out with this dam TBI!” and on and on I went. He listened and realized that once I get to that point, it’s too late. I can’t be reasoned with. I don’t remember how our argument ended but I did know where the correct wires were so I called Charter back. It’s fixed now but I do feel bad about the whole event. Michael has a lot going on at work and having to stop and deal with me had to have been maddening.

So what have I learned about my tendency to get stressed and overwhelmed from this? I have got to stop myself before this happens. Perhaps I could have taken some deep breaths and meditated some before calling Michael and Charter. I probably should have spent time journaling which always helps me. In fact, I think I’ll spend some time journaling now especially since I have a potentially stressful meeting tonight.

How do you handle your overwhelmed feelings? For me, journaling helps but this isn’t for everyone. See above right for directions on how to comment. (Know that I’m having difficulty commenting myself but I do read every one.) Or if you’d rather, contact me directly at puffer61@gmail.com