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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Guilt.  What a complex dance we are in these days!  Sometimes he leads, sometimes I am clearly in command.  Most of the time it is a back and forth mess, with the dance steps not at all defined and us both stepping on one one another’s toes.  Sometimes he steps on my face and then I am almost drowning in a sea of quicksand, unable to breathe.  Then I force myself to look upwards, and see sparkles of sunlight, dimly, far overhead.  I start swimming up and up, through dark sludge, until finally I reach the surface.  Often I am totally winded by the effort required of me.  I   hang on for a while, panting.  Then I slowly haul myself out, and for a few days, or weeks, or even months, I make sweet progress.  It’s always like being born again.  SO wonderful.  I feel almost blessedly normal for a while.  And then a blasted wave of dizziness assaults me again, for any of 8 different reasons which I try and try to figure out;  a migraine lays me low which is always accompanied by a myriad of other difficulties;  or just good old depression rears its ugly head again.  Brain injury is years of 1 step forward, 2 steps back, 3 steps forward, 2 steps back, 1 more step back, suddenly 4 steps forward, unexplained 2 steps back..  Stop to reassess if you’re making any progress at all. The sentence I just wrote….I was counting on my fingers trying to see if the math worked out at all, and finally just gave up.  I’m brain damaged.  So I can’t do math.  Get over it.

And there is so much riding on my recovery!  The happiness of my husband, my children, my friends, my mother.   I want so desperately to be able to deliver a positive report for ALL of them because I can see how much they love me. And  all my former students. and teaching colleagues…..    it seems like every conversation now somehow circles around “what an inspiration my recovery has been” and “how my positive attitude has been such an encouragement for them personally” or something like that.  I keep accidentally saying things, when we run into people, that cause them to say things like “Wow!  I hadn’t thought of it like that!  You really helped!” or “What a great perspective on that!”  I almost never let myself give into the impulse….but sometimes I’m afraid I do…of saying (in a very annoyingly self-righteous way, I’m afraid) “Well, I guess there’s no substitute for getting totally knocked flat on your back to give you perspective!”  Sadly, people don’t seem to want to hear this.  I can’t imagine why.

I feel as if they are, by virtue of what they see as the  tremendously awful thing that happened to me and my miraculous recovery, turning me into a version of a saint.  Something I clearly am not.  I  have a very naughty sense of humor.  But then again, maybe the best saints did as well.

I realize that this perception may be sadly deluded and misguided.  But I still can’t shake it.  Maybe this is a better example:  it’s if I were a yogi sitting on top of a mountain, waiting there for pilgrims to ascend so that I could dole out little bits of wisdom.

I do not have any little bits of wisdom.  Not at all.  I’m really whiney.  I don’t want to sit on a mountaintop by myself.  I want to be included in the party, and then for us all to climb the mountain together.  That sounds way more fun.  I never wanted to be left out of anything!  And, frankly, I’m really upset that mountain climbing may not be in the picture anymore.  That totally sucks.  Big time. I don’t think a saint would say that.  Maybe  the very best ones would.  But on the other hand, I AM getting pretty wicked  good with my hiking sticks, so maybe?  At last another trip to a national park somedays?  Who knows?

Neck Brace and A Miracle

My neck was came darned near being broken in the car wreck.  I have always struggled with neck pain:  back in high school, I was trying to show off how extremely cutesy and agile I was, and I tried to do a back flip in our gym without a pad.  I had never done one successfully before, even with a pad.  The resulting damage left me in a soft brace for six months, which my mother tried to dress up by covering with attractive fabrics to coordinate with my, of course,deeply  trendy outfits.  Embarrassing epic fail.

 

Anyway, because of that old high school stupidity I have had degenerative arthritis in my neck for years.  Then several years ago, it started hurting so badly that I went to a doctor several times.  After nothing seemed to work,  my doctor ordered a course of physical therapy.  During the PT,  we found that, because of my recent switch to bifocals,   I was holding my head at such a weird angle trying to read the music and look at the students, back and forth, that that was triggering this latest episode. Go figure.

 

So I didn’t start with the greatest neck history.

 

 

 

The impact of a heavy truck, hitting my little car, when he drove through what should have been a stop sign at over 70 miles per hour and hit the side of my car, was….very harmful.   But back to my neck.  Never strong at the best of times, it was slammed back over my headrest so that most of my brain damage was to the back of my brain. My neck condition, was for months, critical.  There was virtually no chance that, if I ever got the brace off, I could avoid an extremely invasive neck “fusion” surgery.  I only vaguely understand this, but as I do comprehend it I would have lost a couple of inches of my neck, and much of the functions the neck performs beyond simply holding up your head and being a conduit for food.  Turning your head, looking around, looking up and down…not so much, apparently.

 

 

 

And one of my vestibular problems, BPPV, was so drastic that I was simply throwing up anytime they would change my position.  Move me. Try to sit me up.  Turn me over.  Roll me over.  Instant spew.  Again, thank God for the coma because I don’t remember any of this, but my family and the nurses certainly do.  To all of you, I’m so sorry.

 

 

Then right when I began awakening from the coma, I was moved to On With Life.  Enter Amy, the vestibular specialist.  She watched my eyes, saw me doing all this spewing business and ventured a preliminary diagnosis of BPPV.  But she couldn’t be sure, and she couldn’t treat it.  The diagnosis AND the treatment both required some pretty fast movements involving my neck, which were clearly impossible with the neck brace on.

 

 

The neck brace came off just before I was released from On With Life in early January.  Until that time, I had been taking motion sickness pills to dampen my vestibular symptoms and make them less noticeable.  The week it came off, I was scheduled for a diagnosis and first treatment.  They put these cool huge goggles on me, brought a trash can over, you know, just in case.  Then you do a whole complicated series of movements, rolls, sitting up, laying down, and all the time people are watching your eyes on a screen to see the fine movements that the nystagmus causes.  I asked Amy one time what exactly they were watching for, and she asked “Do you remember Cookie Monster’s eyes when he would see a cookie?”  “Well, it’s a lot like that.”  Interesting.

 

 

At first without the neck brace there was a LOT of neck pain.  Because of all the trauma to my neck, and because it had been immobilized for months, my neck was simply unable to support my head.  Its ligaments were basically noodles.    By evening it would be aching really, really badly.  I slept in my old neck brace for months.

 

 

All the time I had been in the brace, I had had to sleep flat on my back.  My normal sleeping position had been on my stomach.  After the brace came off, I couldn’t lift my head high enough to get it on a normal pillow.  We found the coolest travel pillow, very bendy, with the center cut out of it.  I slept on that, flat on my back, for another year.  Now I sleep on a low pillow on my side, but I still spend at least half the night on my back.

Thousands of people were praying for me.  Praying, first, for me to awaken from my coma, and to not stay in a “vegetative state.”  And then, when my family realized the extent of my neck injuries, they requested prayers for that.  But first was for me to WAKE UP.  After several days in a coma the odds of you ever waking up, or regaining any real function, drop drastically.  My family, my doctors, and most of all my insurance company were acutely aware of that.

 

And then, I started waking.  And then, within a few days,  a bed became available at On With Life,  I was delivered there by ambulance, and the progress was phenomenal from then on.

 

People were praying for my neck to heal:  Thousands of people, through my Caring Bridge, were praying,  and for this surgery to not be necessary.

Three months after the accident, I went for my first set of neck X-rays.  It was guardedly optimistic.  Much better than expected, certainly, but far too soon to tell if the weight of my skull would still drive my head down into my neck, making the surgery necessary.  Come back on the one year anniversary.

 

We came back at one year.  More X-Rays.  The doctor came into the room.  Very, very good.  Almost less than one millimeter of my head settling down into my neck during the first year, which was the danger point before my ligaments were strong yet.  Still too early to be absolutely sure, but if the two year anniversary was just as good, he said I would never need to come back again and NOT NEED THE SURGERY.

 

Two year appointment.  No fear at all in my heart. In the  last appointment I had asked him for neck strengthening isometric exercises he could show me, and I had been doing them regularly with no pain.  I was turning my head so much farther, looking around me so much more normally.  I felt total peace whatever he said.  I knew God had it.

 

After I had the X-rays taken downstairs, we went up and waited a little for him to read them.  Finally he called me back into his office.  He started out, as my husband said he always did, with a history lesson.  I could wait.  I knew it was going to be all right.  Then he got to the point.  He said “There’s virtually no more settling of your head into your neck.You never have to come back and see me.”  And then he kept looking at them, and looking at me.  “It’s odd.  The only explanation for why you avoided injuring your neck more, and didn’t need the surgery, was your coma.  If it had been even a week shorter, I think we would be looking at a very different set of circumstances with your neck.”

 

Sometimes God says “Yes.”   Sometimes He says “No.”  Sometimes He says “Wait.”

 

My husband says that he still wishes when all those panicked prayers were going up to Him….because every single day and hour that you don’t wake up increases the likelihood THAT YOU NEVER WILL!  He’s the Creator of the Universe.  Would just a text message have been too much?  Just an “I got this one” or something?  And I gotta say, that’s a question we’ll ask when we get there.  But not right away.  We’ll be too busy thanking and praising Him for stuff.   Amen.