A Light Spirit part 1

Forgiveness.  We seem to talk about the concept a lot, but still not get how delicious it feels to really live in it.  Both accepting it for ourselves, and then being able to pass it on to others.  I never quite did before, but I certainly felt as if I did.  Maybe I had a few glimmers, I don’t know.  I certainly never felt that I was totally forgiven myself.  Even though I had taught about it for years;  somehow I had never completely taken on the concept of “God remembers your sins no more” for myself.  Surely it couldn’t be that easy….

 

So, this put a little crimp  in my journey toward forgiving the driver that did this thing to me, that totally left my previous life broken and  shattered beyond repair,  Oh, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to!  I wanted to with all my heart.

 

It was neither simple, easy, nor quick.  But then, I’m coming to realize, nothing really worth having is ever easy.  Or simple.  Or without a lot of pain.  And sometimes, it seems to me, an unnecessary amount of pain, but I suppose every toddler thinks that about a loving parent sometimes.

 

 

I  now very rarely think about the other driver, and when I do, it is just to wonder how he is doing.  Weeks go by when I forget why I am like this.  But I wouldn’t have reached this level if I hadn’t forgiven that driver.  Absolutely totally, but not once and for all, unfortunately.  Every time I experience a new setback, I want to pull my forgiveness right back and  harbor my old bitterness.  It feels so good, like a stained and smelly old security blanket.  But every time, I’m getting better at this “forgiveness” thing. As a former musician, I certainly know the value of practicing a skill you want to master.

 

 

This guy T-boned my little, beautiful bright blue Cobalt. He had a stop sign, I didn’t.   I was driving, the police told me, at their best estimates, a couple of miles under the speed limit.  I never saw his big pickup truck.  For him, it’s a blind intersection.  They say he ran his stop sign at around 73 miles per hour.

 

He was taken to the hospital that night, and released a few hours later with mild injuries.

He was 19 years old, unemployed, from a small town west of our city. I spent a year teaching  at a school near there,  and the school he attended was in our conference.  I am very familiar with the type…macho young guys, driving big pickup trucks too fast, not stopping for no wussy stop signs.  This was his second accident in 18 months, and both times he had been at fault.  The first time he had caused the other car to flip, and that driver had been taken by ambulance to the hospital.

 

Kind of a poster boy for bad decisions.

 

 

 

So……those first few days I was in critical condition, people would often ask my husband “what do you know about the other driver?  What do you think is going to happen to him?”

 

 

My husband told me he would reply that he neither knew nor had the mental energy to spare for that right now, that all his thoughts and prayers and love were for me.  He had no energy for hate.  He also shared with me that he spent a lot of time with this saying, which has been attributed to many different places and peoples:  “Bitterness is like drinking poison,  then expecting the other person to die.”

 

My husband is not perfect.  He simply tries hard.  He struggled very hard during those days, weeks, months, and he still struggles sometimes.  But at first, he said, that question simply floored him.  How on earth could those people waste their time thinking about the other driver, when they knew I was hanging between life and death?  He was truly stunned by that.  And how on earth could they think he, or my kids, had any time to speculate about anyone but me in that bed in ICU, broken and battered and unrecognizable?  Every minute, every hour, every day was another crisis, another surgery, more terrible news.

 

No one knew the facts then.  How on earth would anything happening in the life of the other guy change the flurry of events surrounding me?  Or cause this not to have happened?  My high school son had to call his other three siblings and tell them to hurry, that their mom probably wouldn’t be alive when they got there.  He had to do this because his dad had to be available to talk to the surgeons.    At times like this, who on earth is thinking about retribution?

 

Fast forward days, weeks, months:  I did survive.  I even made what most would consider a miraculous recovery.  But there was a long time when my survival, and then how well I would survive, or if I would even wake up, was a huge question mark.

 

 

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know all about On With Life and the miraculous things they do there.    While I was still inpatient there, and I was recovering so quickly, one of our local TV news  stations (they had covered my initial wreck ) came out and filmed a follow-up story with my daughter and me.

 

My speech aphasia was still pretty profound, so my daughter was kind of coaching me through the interview.  I was extremely nervous, because I knew what I wanted to say, and I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to get my planned message out.  So she was sitting on the couch right across from me, smiling at me, giving me courage  And it worked.  At that point, this injury just seemed like a big “blip” in my lovely life.  I still hadn’t grasped nearly the vast or permanent scope of all this. You see, I’m naturally positive, and I was viewing this through a completely malfunctioning  brain.

 

And I was improving at such a quick clip, so unexpectedly, that no one knew where it would start to slow.  So in my badly broken, yet optimistic brain, I was holding on to the wild dream that my school would surely have to hire a long-term sub for the rest of this school year, and probably even next year while I was working on my recovery.  But then I definitely would be BACK!!!  Playing piano, singing, teaching, even at my old school very possibly.   ANYTHING in those crazy days seemed possible.  So, of course, when I looked at the camera and said “I forgive him” and “I love him,” it was a stretch, but not too huge.  That, I knew, was what Jesus called His believers to be.  Light in this hurting world.

 

And I had never grasped the concept that I was totally forgiven myself.  I was trying to do it all by my own will.  I thought I had enough love and forgiveness for all of us, and I  truly believed  it was coming from God.

 

And then, over the next weeks, months, years, my progress slowed.And slowed.  And just kept on slowing.   What had been measured in days started taking weeks, then months, then came the advent of years with only very, very, very small changes.  Reality came crashing in.  Wave after remorseless wave.  Threatening, over and over again, to drown me in pain and memories and crushing disappointments.

 

It seemed like running endlessly up against “never” or “not like this.”  My beautiful dreams started vanishing, and the pain of perpetual disappointment was crushing.  I had been so darned optimistic, which came to seem synonymous with words like stupid to me.

I would never be at my old school district again.  I would never work full-time again.  I would very probably never work anywhere anymore again.  I am still a long, long way from ever driving, and probably will never.    Which I still think sucks.  I still can’t walk, by myself without holding onto someone or something because of my extreme balance problems. I don’t play piano anymore.  I don’t sing anymore, except sometimes a little in church.  I feel dizzy all the time, which makes me pretty nauseous all the time.  It feels like I’m always on stilts.  I can’t eat in public without very careful planning.  I have severe intestinal issues, and thank goodness I stay home most of the time.  I can’t do long car rides without severe repercussions  Much of the time, it seems to me, I’m not good for much anymore.  I can’t even manage to make a single dinner all by myself.  So…..the things I had to forgive him, and God for, were piling up.

 

And, worse of all, I felt like a total idiot.  I felt everyone else had seen me, with my talk of “I’m going to do_____” and known it would never be possible for me in any way, and just been humoring me.  That was by far the worse, and there’s still a lot of that going on in my life.

 

As each of these separate issues came to light, and my supposed “blip” in my happy life became huger and huger, forgiveness became………..more of a challenge.  This was far from temporary.  This was an extreme, total, permanent disability.  Oh, I had not bargained on this!

 

Then, a  few months after we came home, we were in church.  Our head pastor was speaking about Jesus forgiving the soldiers nailing Him to the cross while they were doing it.

 

The other driver in my accident, who I was starting to kind of be comfortable with resenting sometimes, had had no idea what was going to happen to someone as a consequence of his rash decision.  It was nothing at all like the soldiers nailing Jesus to the cross.  Why was I struggling with forgiving him still?

He had just been momentarily stupid, not mean.  I had taught dozens of boys just like him.  Would I want them to have been never forgiven for something they did when they were nineteen?

And then our pastor said these words:  “We forgive not because they deserve it, but because we do.”

 

 

 

I fell apart.  I  realized that I had felt, somehow, that by continuing to forgive this guy, that I was telling the world (and him) that I was all right with what he had done to me.  That all this was OK.  That to be that woman I had been in that previous TV interview again, when I hadn’t realized so much, when I was so much more naive, would somehow let him off the hook for everything that had happened since.  I hadn’t really intended to forgive him for quite this much.

 

 

 

 

But maybe, just maybe, the only one I was actually punishing with all this anger and rage was…..me.  I was angry at God for letting this happen to me.   For not having just taken me up to heaven when He had the chance.   I was angry with that other driver.  I was angry with me for not keeping my loving and forgiving heart.  I was so tired of all this over-thinking and and failure and just everything.

So I started my long, slow, grueling process.  I didn’t want to do this at all, and most of my prayers these months had been angry.  Which, I believe, is OK with God.  That is why we have the book of Psalms.  He understands human anger and confusion.

 

So, at first, every morning I  started with just saying “God, please help me want to talk to you nicely again,  Please help me want to be friends with You again.  And please help me want to forgive him.  Even though I still think he’s a great big creep.”

 

It was quite a few weeks before I could manage to drop the last insult.  But I did.  Off and on, and then all the time.  And it only very rarely slips back.

 

 

And after a few weeks, I started being able to add a few words, and then a few sentences, until within about six months I was able to actively pray that I would be able to forgive him and mean it.

 

And, about a year later, I started praying for God to bless him.  Not in the sense of “Please God, keep him from ever doing this to anyone again” way that I initially just ACHED to,  but just to bless him, and then I had to leave it up to God.  I think this was the most difficult step.

 

 

And I finally had to accept that God had forgiven me.  Forever.  Completely.  Something I had just never taken on board before, so that I had had only a small sense of what “I forgive him” truly meant.

 

That none of this was my fault.  All the trouble and suffering I had caused my family, and was still causing them.    Everything I had ever done in my whole, entire lifetime God had already forgiven me for.  That was the entire purpose of Jesus’s death.  All I had to do was ask, and then accept.  Which, by the way, was by far the hardest part.  And I believe it is for most people.  We are a proud bunch.  That God really saw me for who I was, good and bad, and loved the whole shebang.  Unbelievable.  That I had to be totally busted up to and practically good for nothing, to finally grasp His love.

 

 

end of Part I….

 

 

 

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Shut In

When I was little, our church used to pray for the “shut-ins.”  These were always elderly people, confined to their homes, that most of the world had forgotten about.  Until last month, I was on that list at my dad’s church in my hometown.  One of my sons went to visit down there, and he brought me back a church bulletin.  There was my name on the list:  the list of sick and shut-ins needing prayers.  Every year on my birthday they send me a birthday card since my accident, so I suppose I should have know this.

 

I felt a shock of totally senseless rage wash over me before I came to my senses.  Of course I am a “shut-in” now, in the very classic definition.  It was just, in the way they had always used the word when I was growing up, those were the people to be greatly pitied.  For everyone to feel sorry for.  At Christmastime, we would go to their isolated farmsteads and Christmas carol with a box of groceries and and homemade cookies and pies and a loaf of homemade bread;  they would periodically announce from the pulpit that we were having a “card shower” for the person, and the entire congregation would mail that person a card (because obviously no one ever remembered to write to them any other time, I always assumed).

 

 

The term was associated, in my childish mind, with charity visits by my mother and me, to ill-smelling households, bad food, weird old people, and always, always, always being grateful to be out in the fresh air at the end of the visit and back in our own car.

 

 

And now my name was on that list.  And I knew they had announced a “card shower” for me, because I had just received several cards in the last few days.

 

 

I summoned up my courage, got out a nice religious card with flowers on it, and wrote them a (hopefully) grateful note, thanking them for the years of prayers and thoughts and cards during and after my accident.

 

 

I wrote them that I felt that the time had come for my name to be removed from that “needing prayer” list, because now I was doing much better, and was out and about more.  I ended it by thanking them again.

 

 

I haven’t been back there to check, and I don’t have the courage to check with my family that still attends that church to see if my name is gone now, but I hope it is.  I certainly needed the prayers during and right after my crisis.  And I know I still do.  But I also know that people get weary of  anyone’s name that is on the list for years.  And I cannot think of myself like that, I just can’t.  I have a life to get on with.  Even if it’s not very much of one sometimes.  Even if much of it sucks.  At least it’s mine, better or worse.

 

 

The Chair

The Chair From The Depths Of Hades.

 

It is called the Rotational Chair Test.  Here is the online definition:

The chair test measures dizziness while the subject is being turned slowly in a motorized chair 

                        and….  

The rotary chair test is used to help determine if your symptoms are due to a disorder of your inner ear or a disorder of the brain. Eye movements are recorded with small electrodes similar to those used during the ENG test. Not all individuals need a rotary chair test to assist with diagnosis and many health care facilities do not have access to a computerized rotary chair. The rotary chair test allows measurement of responses to movements of the head that are closer to speeds encountered in daily activities. During this test, the patient sits in a computerized chair that moves. The rotary chair test is very useful in determining if an individual has a problem with both sides of the vestibular system (bilateral vestibular loss.

I feel my  overwrought hysteria about this test perhaps needs a bit more explanation.  Allow me…

First:  Pre-accident my vision was so  exceedingly poor that I was totally dependent on my glasses.  Almost any physical punishment was preferable to my glasses being broken.  I couldn’t even find my glasses without them on my face.I was very near the “legally blind” parameters.  Because of the goggles they have you wear for the test, you can’t wear glasses.  I am lost without my glasses. Totally vulnerable and afraid to move.  Childishly near tears immediately.    My husband had to help me to step up into the “dark room”, which was a very menacing chair placed on a platform (I know my husband will say it was “just a chair” but I’m sticking with my story) inside a totally closed capsule.  God help anyone with the slightest hint of claustrophobia, because there were no warnings of that at anytime before the testing.

I now see double without my glasses because of the brain trauma.  Did I mention that the test was SANS GLASSES?  Oh yeah, I think I did.

Second:  The accident left me with PTSD.  I was on anti-anxiety drugs, anti-depression medication, sleeping medications.  For this test to be successful, they had stipulated that I was to be drug free for 48 hours before the test.  So, basically, I hadn’t slept AT ALL for 2 nights except for brief naps from total exhaustion.  And just wait until you hear what comes next.

Third:  The test was scheduled for Tuesday.  That Saturday morning, our much- beloved family dog, a yellow labrador retriever named Remo, who was over 12 years old, finally was unable to get up off his fleece in the kitchen.  My husband and our son carried him into the yard and helped him stand so he could go to the bathroom, and then carried him back up on our deck and laid him on a blanket.  The entire rest of the weekend he kept slipping in and out of consciousness.  It was unspeakably difficult to watch.  Monday morning my husband called the vet and they made an appointment for a couple of hours later.  Remo had been our family dog with all that entails. The laughter, faithfulness, joy, stories, parties, camping trips, kayaking, singing along with my voice lessons The morning he was being put to sleep was the first morning I was scheduled to be off of all my medications.  We had waited months for this appointment, my husband had scheduled the entire day off already.  We needed some answers.  We were going.  Come hell or high water, and this was pretty darned close.

Back to the capsule.  I hear the woman’s voice coming through a speaker somewhere in the darkness. I try to concentrate on the directions, but I am so extremely afraid I am having real trouble keeping it together.  I am determined not to break down after we’ve come through all this.  I’m finally here!  I finally am just praying one word with tears running down my face.  Please.  Please.  Please.

Fourth:  Immediately after the accident I lost all concept of right or left.  The first part of the test was showing a tiny red laser light on the wall, which of course I couldn’t see at all, and I was supposed to tell if it was moving right or left.  The woman was given NO IDEA at all of what my medical history had been, she was just to administer the test.  My husband was out there trying to explain, and I was inside having a total meltdown.  Finally he opened the capsule, put my anxiety stone in my right hand, closed my fist over it, and had me repeat after him “right.  Right.  Rock right.”  Finally I had it.  He closed the door again.  Back to the dreadful, terrible, awful, stifling darkness.

And somehow we held it together.  I wasn’t alone in that dreadful place.  Someone was there with me.  Jesus was with me in my childish fear and isolation.

We had been waiting in this particular doctor’s office for several hours.  First one waiting room, then an interview with an assistant, then another waiting room, and so on and so on.  Now it was hours later, both of us were starving and I was scared out of my wits and my husband was worried to death for me, and the doctor had just rushed into the r00m, asked if we had had this particular test yet.  When we replied “No,” he had sent us down to this lab.  The sheet from the morning had said “don’t eat the morning of the test.”  Luckily I had eaten a granola bar because now it was after 2:00 with no end in sight.

 

There were several tests.  The chair kept stopping, turning, the voice kept issuing directions that I would desperately try to follow.  My husband said it was maybe 30 minutes.  It seemed to me like an eternity of pain and chaos.  Tears kept streaming down my cheeks.  The lady kept asking if I needed to stop, and sometimes I would for a bit.  Sometimes my husband would open the door for a while and reach in and hold my hand for a while.  They were both so unbelievably kind and gentle.  The lady was simply appalled that they had sent me down without giving her any warning at all about my situation.  I was just so grateful for the knowledge that both of them were keeping watch out there.

By the end I was just a broken, sobbing wreck.  Praying for Jesus to please hold me.  Which He clearly was.  The lady’s sweet voice would ask me a question, I would breathe and ask Jesus to help me, and He would whisper peace to me.  We got through it.

Then back to the doctor’s office to await the results of the test.  Which was definitely the worst thing ever.  Ever.  Ever.  We had been sustaining ourselves throughout this entire ordeal with the hope of finally getting some answers if only I could just hold on and make it through the test.  And finally I had DONE IT!!!!  Triumph!!!

Back to that  last blasted office.  He rushed in again followed by an assistant or two,  And delivered this verdict.  That he wasn’t sure why On With Life had recommended he see me.  That he could only find a small amount of residual vestibule damage.  What he had found (not him, of course.  One of his assistants.) was significant cerebellum damage which accounted for my balance issues. He seemed surprised that none of my doctors had figured out that the cerebellum damage was responsible for my balance problems.  He seemed to think that, because he could find very little evidence of vestibular damage now, that must never have been my problem.

When I inquired about exercises for the remaining vestibular problems, and the cerebellum damage, he stated that he wasn’t aware of any.  When I asked again, trying to pursue possible places that did physical therapy, or exercises for balance that I could do at home, he just shrugged and would not, or did not, comment.  The unspoken message in the room was that I would never get better than I was.  It obviously wasn’t his issue.  He was in the business of diagnosing problems, not solutions. “Hope” was not his MO.  We’ve run into several doctors like him, and I have come to despise this philosophy.  Medical doctors by no means are required to be experts in rehabilitation but they DO NEED TO BELIEVE IT IS POSSIBLE and be willing to point their patients in those directions  We’ve run into these situations over and over and over again. You would think when they  see and hear my story, they would change their tune, but apparently not.  Apparently not.

That trip was a major setback.  I was sick from the test itself, sick from losing our loved pet, sick from being off my meds for so long, severely depressed.  I lay on the couch for days.  Finally our daughter, who was back in New York, got so worried that she called the vestibular specialist at On With Life.  Amy called me back.

She announced what we had heard from that doctor, about my vestibular problems being almost nonexistent now, was great news.  I said “How is it great news?!”  She said, “It means that our initial treatment worked really well, and also that you have been doing a great job at home with your therapy!  This is really great intel!  Now we know that your problem must be combination of anxiety and cerebellum damage, and there are definitely exercises we can do for that!”  The way she said ‘WE” suddenly filled me with hope.  Along with the “get on with it” tone in her voice.  I sat up on the couch, and asked what the first step was.  She explained, and my doctor certified me for another 3 months of out patient therapy at On With Life.  We got me back seeing  a therapist weekly  for my anxiety.   I had mourned, and rested, long enough.  Time to get back work.

Back on track.  Back moving forward.  Back getting On With Life.  They have a magical way of seeing a diagnosis not as a stopping place, but as just ruling something out, so that you can start exploring other possibilities. When the doctor told us he found very little sign of any vestibular damage, Amy knew how severe mine had been.  I had been throwing up constantly every time they moved my head, until Amy had diagnosed it.  I HAD been doing my exercises multiple times a day!  Amy heard success where I had only heard echoing disappointment.

I understand this test is the gold standard of vestibular tests.  We’re definitely fortunate to have a facility in our state that has this test available.  I don’t mean to frighten people away at all.  I know that my circumstances were, hopefully, very, very unique.  I’m just being brutally honest about my perception of this test and its echoing repercussions.  People have this test all the time.  I’m sure the sweet lady was as traumatized as I was.  They should have given her at least some warning.  There’s a an extremely large chasm between me and someone who is experiencing bouts of puzzling dizziness, which was everyone else we seemed to be seeing in the waiting rooms.  The majority of them had driven themselves, or at least were walking by themselves.

Thank goodness the doctor decided not to do the water test, whatever THAT was.  Apparently my results weren’t bad enough for that….we’ve often debated what that would be. I sometimes wonder if it is in anyway connected with how they used to test for witches.  I am just am certain I don’t want to find out, so please don’t tell me if you do know.

 

 

 

Christmas Rises Again

Feeling fashionably cynical about Christmas?  Puttin’ on the snarky tone when you talk about it?  Or (secretly) enjoying running the list down of things to do/places to go/concerts to attend/things to buy?  Not me.  Not this year.

Yes, I admit, I’ve been overwhelmed in the past and secretly thought how amazing it would be to slip onto a plane or a boat or into a car and head off for a private, quiet, non-stressful holiday somewhere like the middle of the ocean or the Snow Lodge at Yellowstone.  Exchange 1 gift with my husband, then take a nap.  Christmas in a hot tub….now that’s the spirit.

I spent years deliriously joyful about it all–baking every cookie and treat possible, giving multiple gifts beautifully wrapped, running church musicals, playing for as many as 5 services Christmas Eve/Christmas Day, and feeling like zombie woman long into January when I finally mustered the energy to take the (really grossly dusty) decorations down.

The next stage was the slightly resentful downsized version–less decorations, less treats, still the same gifts, less concert involvement, more grumbling about the whole thing.  That wasn’t really the optimum way to enter the season.  Still working too hard at it but not enjoying much of it.

So I sat down and thought about it all.  What were the really, really good bits of it?  Sitting around the Advent candles in the dark watching my children’s faces as we talked about the prophecies of the Old Testament; ringing Salvation Army bells outside the mall with loud, insane groups of singing teen-agers banging on various assorted percussion instruments; looking at the tree in the evening with a glass of wine; eating the first piece of fudge (admittedly more shallow than the other things but truly a great moment in the holiday season).  So why not do more of that and less of other things?  Easier said than done, right?

So how to handle it this year?  Trying to put the first things first….scheduling the bell-ringing before other things jump into the schedule.  Buying less gifts (still unfortunately spending the same, though–young-adult children are EXPENSIVE!).  Changing up the decorations and simplifying (you mean you don’t have to put everything out every year?!).  Starting cards early.

Will it work?  I have no idea.  I’m sure I’ll still be rushed and a little resentful by the end.  I just think that if I put the big, good things in first, maybe some of the other little time-wasters will be displaced and just disappear, unregretted, without a trace.  After all, 7 kinds of treats are probably plenty, don’t you think?

Wishing you all a merry Christmas.  Peace and joy to you all.  No matter what your belief, I believe we all could use more of love and hope.  And besides–at the risk of offending you, the Baby was born to bring hope to all mankind.  That’s not a threat or fightin’ words.  That’s just a promise.  Image