Since I can only work on my book in spurts, I’ve been trying to find some way to fill the rest of my time.  I’m working to improve my swimming but that’s not enough so I decided to learn Spanish. I’ve been using Rosetta Stone’s Spanish tapes and other resources.

Yesterday, I was sitting on my sofa, working on Spanish when the phone rang. It was TJ.   Something physically had happened to her and she needed someone to pick up her prescriptions since it was painful for her to drive.   She asked me.  I had already decided to work on a Palm Sunday blog post and my Spanish. I don’t do well with change. My heart sunk.  I didn’t want to turn her down but I knew she really needed help and I could do it.

As we talked something shifted in me and I wanted to help her. My immediate reaction to change is always negative. However, when I give it time, I often come around.  I had to go to her house, pick up the prescriptions, then go to the pharmacy downtown.

TJ’s neighborhood is very confusing. People without spatial orientation issues have trouble finding her house.  Plus for some odd reason the GPS leads to another address.  She did tell me where on the route I could begin using it though and I did.  I brought Sparky since he loves going to new places.  This is a picture of him in the car.

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Sparky makes a squealing, whining sound when he’s excited. I tried listening to the woman’s voice on the GPS as Sparky squealed.  It’s hard to explain what happens to my brain when I go in circles as I did then.  I feel spacy and unstable.  At one point, I noticed I was passing a water tower for the second time.  This GPS doesn’t say “recalculating” when you take a wrong turn. It automatically makes the change.  Sometimes this means circling back and going the same way again instead of back tracking to make the correction

Using my GPS, I found Asheville Discount Pharmacy downtown. TJ said I could park in the “no loading” zone with my flashers on and run in to get the prescription. Into the store with Sparky, I went. He loves new places and he’s a friendly and happy guy so of course everyone wanted to pet him.  When it was time to go back to TJ’s, the GPS took me a different way home.

The trip took me a long time. However, I felt good.  Lately I haven’t been pushing myself and it’s a fine line between pushing too much and not enough.   If I push too hard, I become exhausted.  If I don’t push hard enough, I get bored and depressed.  I felt good then but “rested my brain” a little before going to choir.

Holy Anticipation

Last night I had to be at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church for an alto rehearsal at 6 :15.  Ever since my accident, I don’t see well in the dark.  I don’t know exactly why this is or what happened to injure my eyes but something did.  As a result, I don’t drive at night which is a real pain in the neck.  I couldn’t find anyone to take me so I decided to take the bus.  I only needed to get it about an hour before I needed to be there so I figured it would be okay.

Of course I worried about it.  “What if I get on the wrong bus?  What if I pull the string to signal the driver to stop at the wrong place? What if I look like a jerk because I’m not familiar with the route?”  It’s interesting because Mark Ramsey’s sermon at GCPC this past Sunday was about Mary’s song and it was called “What We Do While We Wait…..We Worry.”  (The picture is “Magnificat!” by Sister Mary Grace Thul and was printed in the bulletin.)


We had an email exchange about parts of it yesterday before my bus trip.  I was especially bothered by one of his statements in the sermon: “…we find that anxiety has, by God’s grace, become holy anticipation and against all appearances, and against all odds —that literally saves our life.” It’s funny but when I reframed my worry this way, I wasn’t so stressed.  By the time I was ready to go, I was okay. I think perhaps God’s Spirit was at work.

I met my friend, Donnie, on the bus.  Donnie was homeless and he recently moved into an apartment.  He knew everyone on the bus which helped folks to begin talking to each other.  I discovered another woman was concerned about getting her connection as well.  When we got to the station, it was just in time for me to catch my bus.  However, I didn’t know which one it was and by the time I figured it out, it had pulled out.  I ran after it screaming, “Wait!  Wait!”  A family with two young children were nearby waiting for their bus and they told me that once the driver closes the door it’s not opened again. 

So I went into the bus station to try and figure out if another bus was going to come.  The guard sitting behind the information booth ignored my questions so I turned around and asked the other riders.  I was told another bus would come in about a half hour and I could wait.  I looked at my watch and saw I had 35 minutes until rehearsal began.  I said, “Shoot, I bet I could walk there faster!”  Another woman nodded and said, “Yep you could.” 

I had no idea how far on Merrimon GCPC was but I figured I’m in good physical condition and it couldn’t be too far so that’s what I decided to do.  My first problem was trying to figure out how to get to Merrimon from the bus station.  Folks pointed me the right way but my spatial orientation issues got me all confused.  I asked several folks how to get there but I didn’t write what they said down and I ended up walking all over downtown.

By the time I finally figured out where Merrimon was it was dark and I had only 15 minutes before the rehearsal began.  I thought about going back to the bus station to catch that bus but I wasn’t sure how to get back to it.  So I trudged on in the dark. I considered stopping at one of the bus stops and waiting for the bus, but I do hate being in darkness outside like that. After a few feet, it is total darkness and it’s a bit scary not knowing what is out there so I decided walking was the better option. 

It always helps me to think of a saying or a Scripture verse when I’m stressed out inside.  I thought back to Mark’s sermon and tried to come up with that phrase that calmed me down before but all I could come up with was “holy *********!  I decided that wasn’t the right phrase and walked on.

When I got to the McDonalds next to the church, the bus passed me.  When I arrived at the rehearsal I was a sweaty mess and was panting too hard to sing a note. Since my brain can handle only so much stimulation and my little journey began at 5 o’clock, by 7:45 I could tell I needed to “rest my brain.”   One of the rest rooms has a couch so I went there, put in my ear plugs and turned out the light for a few minutes.  

I am thankful that God gives me, and others, the strength we need to live in our challenging, wonderful world.  

 

"Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff"

In his column in the Asheville Citizen-Times yesterday, Roger Aiken wrote about a friend of his who was stricken with a brain aneurysm.  He battled infections and the doctors thought he might not survive.  He’s able to work now but the experience profoundly changed him. 

Aiken’s wrote about a manager’s meeting they both recently attended.  It was an intense meeting and everyone was stressed but when Aiken looked over at his friend he saw the most peaceful expression on his face.  He mentioned this calmness to his friend who said. “These aren’t problems, these are small issues.  I’ve seen problems. I can handle this.”

Aiken’s suggests what his friend might say if he had the chance. “Don’t sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff. Something wonderful begins to happen with the simple realization that life, like an automobile, is driven from the inside out, not the other way around.”  I want to remember these words because I do tend to “sweat the small stuff.” 

It is a challenge for me though.  The filters in my brain that monitor my emotions were injured so now I must monitor my emotions differently.  I have learned the best way to handle my feelings is sometimes to simply get out of the situation and leave the feelings behind.  This is easier said then done.  Early after my injury, I would try and swallow my feelings but that didn’t work because they would often come out in other ways.  I vividly remember getting angry when I lived in an apartment in Atlanta.  I threw an apple against the wall.  I did feel better but it wasn’t good for the apple or for the wall!

I also remember once here in Asheville I needed to figure out how to get somewhere the next day.  I hate dealing with directions since my spatial orientation is so out of whack.  I wanted my husband Michael to help me figure them out right then.  He was working on a project and couldn’t stop.  So what did I do?  I slammed the door as I left the house to get the map out of the car.  After rustling around trying to find the map and making a mess of the inside of the car, I slammed the car door and went back into the house.  Just for good measure, I slammed the door again.

I rarely push past my limits now but it is not easy.  I dislike leaving meetings or rehearsals -I had to leave a choir rehearsal on Saturday because my emotions were overtaking my sense of reason.  However if I don’t leave I might throw something against a wall which will only make me look silly and won’t solve anything.  It’s far better for me to take a few minutes and “rest my brain” so that I’m able to function in a responsible manner.

On the left, I posted a picture of the moon because a moon always calms me down inside.  It reminds me not to “sweat the small stuff.” Life really is like an automobile and it must be lived from the inside out.  Seeing a moon reminds me of the deeper more important things of which there are many. Getting lost or throwing an apple against the wall is not one of them!  
 
 
 

Prison Cell

“A Prison cell, in which one waits, hopes…and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent” – Dietrich Bonhoffer

The bulletin for this past Sunday’s worship service at Grace Covenant Presbyterian (GCPC) had the above rather odd quote on the front. Now that I’m singing in the choir, I often don’t have time to read the bulletin until later and when I read this I thought, “Advent and prison?  What could they possibly have in common?”  However, when I read it later, I understood.

I’ve been in a lot of prisons in my life.  I don’t mean when I visited someone on death row in Georgia which I did in the 90’s.  I mean prisons of my own, and sometimes the world’s, making.  My traumatic brain injury has been my latest prison.  It seems when I look at other people and see all the things they are able to do and I can’t, I’m in prison.  Dammit, I think.  (and yes, I sometimes use this cuss word.) Why am I stuck behind these bars!  I want to be free! 

In the beginning, I waited for freedom.  I tried a couple of different volunteer positions that didn’t work out until I finally began volunteering as a Chaplain at a retirement facility in Atlanta.  I figured it was just until I improved enough to serve a church again.  The prison door opened for a little while.  Years past and the door began to close because I knew I wouldn’t be able to work in a church again.  To make matters even worse, my husband Michael took a job in Asheville, NC so we had to move.

Change is horrible for anyone with a brain injury.  We like things constant and we don’t do well with new things.  This is getting better for me now but back then it really threw me.  I decided to not get involved in anything here until I became more accustomed to the city.   After experiencing the closed prison doors in Atlanta, I came to a new place where I had to learn everything all over again.  I don’t even like to think about how lost I always was when we first moved here (spatial orientation) but the prison doors had opened.

I tried two more volunteer positions here. It seems when one has a brain injury, one must be willing to try different things for often things don’t work the first time.  That is certainly the case with me. Both positions were okay but I felt the prison doors shutting again.  I wanted so much to be like everyone else.  I wanted to work and pay my own way in the world.   I finally began doing some visitation at one of my churches and the prison doors opened again. I do love this and plan to continue but  recently, I have felt the prison doors slowly closing again.

God opened those doors for me  in the past and I believe She will open them again. So this Advent, I am waiting for God’s Spirit to let in some sunlight.  Truth be told, I’m already feeling it.  Come Lord Jesus come.  I’m waiting for you to open the doors again.

Note: At GCPC there is often the following note in the bulletin” “We gather to worship God who is larger than all our imagination!  We encourage all persons to sing the gender nouns and pronouns they prefer in referring to God.” I never use pronouns for God when I’m speaking in public because unlike the biblical writers, I believe God has no gender.  I know that some folks don’t like female pronouns for God but I figure since this is my blog, it is my perogative to use them.

"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”        

Spatial Orientation

I’m finally getting used to having no sense of direction (spatial orientation).  Recently, I had to go to two different new places so I printed out directions on Map Quest as well as used my GPS.  Actually, I thought I could do it without the GPS so I only printed out the directions.  My double vision makes reading street signs difficult and by the time I could read the sign, it was too late to turn!  So I pulled over and put the address in my GPS.

Everything was going fine until the voice said “arriving at destination” and I didn’t see the Grand Bohemian Hotel.  I pulled into a parking lot and asked directions.  It turns out, it was right across the street from me and I didn’t recognize it. I pulled into the valet parking for which I didn’t want to pay but I figured if I tried to find a place to park on the street, I would never find the hotel again. 

The other directions were to a friend’s house.  He was moving and I wanted to see his new apartment.  I thought I wouldn’t need the GPS and could find it only with my map quest directions.  When that didn’t work, I pulled over and put in his address.  It took me to some house that I knew wasn’t right so I got out of my car and called folks I knew who would be there.  No one answered. 

However, when I looked up, I saw another friend who had just left the new apartment.  He said I was almost there and pointed me in the right direction. When he pulled away, another man I knew came. This person is aware of my directional issues so he had me follow him there. So today when I went to visit another man I know who is in a heath care facility in Hendersonville (about 30 minutes from me in Asheville) I printed out the directions and used the GPS.  I had been there before but I really didn’t want to get lost again so I decided to take no risks.

I really don’t like driving places and will do everything I can to avoid it.  Attending to other cars, following the traffic directions and dealing with the weather (in this case, darkness due to impending rain) takes up a whole lot of my cognitive energy (cognitive overload).  I never listen to music when I’m driving because I need to focus only on the road and not be distracted.  However, this time I put in a CD of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. 


I had been to the nursing home before and it was nice to cruise down the highway as I listened to the music.Of course, I made sure I knew how to turn the volume down in case I needed to concentrate on my driving. 

Stereo systems in cars now are so complicated.  I need a button with the word “off” on it so I know how to turn it off. Instead the buttons don’t have words on them and you’re supposed to know what they do by reading the directions once.  Well, my brain doesn’t work that way and I really don’t like to take the time to read the directions every time I want to use something in the car! One trick I use is to write the directions on a 3 X 5 card and keep that in the arm rest.  This is so much easier than trying to find something in the manual!

Light of the World

This picture is a National Geographic image that was modified to contain all the seasons of the year.  I like it because it contains the moon AND the sun – two images that are important to my faith.  The moon reminds me that even in the darkness, God is there.  The sun reminds me of Jesus words in John 9:5 ” As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  Even though he is no longer in the world, I believe the Spirit who Jesus left with us,  is the light of the world.

I needed both images this morning because it seems everything went wrong.  I had a Presbytery meeting today so I dropped my dog off at the doggie daycare place before heading to the meeting.  Due to my spatial orientation issues, I got confused leaving and ended up driving the wrong way on the highway.  It wasn’t as simple as just driving the wrong way but I got on the wrong highway and then couldn’t figure out how to get back to where I was supposed to go.  I didn’t use my GPS because I had read an article in the New York Times about how these sorts of time savers are causing people to use less neurons in our brains so we’re losing brain power.  I figured since I had been there before and since I had what I thought were good directions, I’d be okay.

When will I ever learn not to take risks when it involves directions to anywhere?  The article was about folks who do not have a brain injury and therefore it didn’t apply to me.  Like it or not, my brain injury changes everything about how I function in the world so I got major lost.  When I finally figured out where I was after about 45 minutes, I was experiencing cognitive overload.  I decided to stop at a gas station, get some gas and calm myself down. 

I’ve learned to make choices based on their costs. The cost of going to the meeting was, I would be exhausted and have no energy tomorrow.  Since  tomorrow I have a dinner meeting where I need to have as many of my mental faculties as possible, I decided I would just go home and skip today’s meeting. My over responsible self began thinking, “I’m a member of Presbytery and I didn’t get an excused absence and it’s close enough for me to attend so I should attend.”   However, my good judgement kicked in and since I had no responsibility at the meeting and going would mean I wouldn’t be cognitively present for my meeting tomorrow, I decided to return home.

Having a brain injury means I can’t do it all or even do all that is expected of me. I think I do expect too much of myself though. It is hard but I suspect it is hard for anyone whether they have a brain injury or not.  In our society expectations run very high.  Having a brain injury is helping me see how our expectations are often too high for everyone.  God doesn’t ask or expect this of any of us.

I’m glad I saw this picture of the moon and sun today for it reminds me not to be so hard on myself.  This is a tall order but it is one I hope with God’s help, I’ll fulfill.