Living with a traumatic brain injury and chronic pain is not easy. I often find it soothing to express my feelings in poetry, most of which is not fit for anyone else’s consumption. I like this one. It’s a reminder that the Joy of the Lord is my strength. With Him, I can face any difficulty.
Last week I began writing about my struggle to understand why, if all the promises of God were “Yes” in Jesus, did I not see them manifest in my life, and my feelings of failure because of that lack. There did seem to be a law in place as expressed in Exodus 15: 26: “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you.” Since I was not healed, I had to have missed a step somewhere.
I do not wish to infer I’ve spent the last seventeen years pursuing healing. At that time, my Heavenly Father revealed Himself to me in a way I had never known. At that moment, I realized everything I had ever thought about Him had been mistaken and that I knew nothing at all. Every day since then has been an opportunity to, in the words of Yoda, unlearn what I have learned. I focused on “But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides. (Matthew 6: 33, Amplified) Amen. So be it.
Then, three years ago, I re-discovered a bible teacher I listened to as a child. He spoke of the promises of God, especially healing, and said it was so in Jesus and that I should expect! Expect? Expect what? I was seeking Him with my whole heart, what more did I need to do? I couldn’t argue with the scriptures I heard quoted. It did seem there was an aspect to my life in Jesus I was failing to appropriate. How to do so?
There have been moments of intense frustration as I tried to figure it out. There have been moments when I’ve been so angry I’ve cried out to God; “just tell me what you want! Why is this so hard?” It was a deeply confusing time and it was about to get worse.
With my limitations, I only work part-time which means I don’t have a great deal of extra cash. While I was struggling to figure out why I was not experiencing the fullness of the promises of God, I had a minor procedure that still required my going under anesthesia; a process that proved to be rather expensive. A month later, I was rear-ended driving into work which aggravated all my old injuries of that car accident from years ago. I missed work and pay. A month after that I ended up in the ER as yet another health problem came to a head. Major surgery was scheduled that was going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I had insurance (thank God!) but I still had to pay a portion of the cost. Less than a month before my surgery I was in another car accident (not my fault!) where I ended up in the ER AGAIN. More expense. Then came the surgery and recovery, and then yet again another minor surgical procedure. I didn’t have insurance for this cost and had to dig into my savings account.
In the midst of these health/physical struggles, the parameters of my job changed. I couldn’t drive myself anymore but had to take the train to work. This has always been my one point of refusal when accepting a placement: I don’t go downtown because I can’t take the train. It is too hard on me physically and I get terribly dizzy and sick to my stomach: probably complications from my TBI. Now, I had to take the train and I didn’t see any way out. I had taken some financial hits and would be a fool to quit. Then there was the job itself. There was no one else who knew the job the way I did so I didn’t see how I could quit and leave them hanging. Maybe this was it! I began to pray that finally, when I needed Him the most, my Father would heal me so I could do what I needed to do. Trusting He would be my strength, I began to ride the train.
My days ended with indescribable agony. The pain was so bad I couldn’t breathe. Finally, the pain got so bad I had to say “when” to the job. I had reached another crisis point. It was when I had nothing left that my Father came to me, wrapped His arms around me, and opened my eyes.
I saw that, even though He and I had developed a deep, personal relationship, I was still hallowing another’s name above His. What do I mean by that? I mean that a word had been spoken to me and the word sounded good and right. Fulfilling that word seemed to be honoring God and I stepped out in obedience to that word without ever checking it with God and being sure the voice I was listening to was His. I expected Him to give me the strength to do what I believed I needed to do.
Why am I telling you all this?
All of these things were piling on each other, one after another, and I was clinging to Jesus by my fingernails. Why? When everything seemed to be so opposite of what I believed and it didn’t appear He was with me at all; why didn’t I decide I’d been utterly mistaken, there was no God, and I was on my own to figure out this life as best as I could? The answer is because I know Him. He has revealed Himself to me step by step, situation by situation over the years and I KNOW He lives and He loves me. Still, I didn’t quite understand: I expected an answer to healing and He showed me the importance of hearing and obeying no voice but His.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the car accident that left me differently-abled. I am grateful to be walking and that, once my hair grew back in, I was not left with visible scars but I do live with limitations; both physical and cognitive. Which brings me to what I want to discuss in this series of posts: I say I have a relationship with Jesus…why then am I not healed?
2 Corinthians 1: 20 says, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God”. There are many promises of healing I could quote from both the Old and New Testaments but, for the sake of brevity, I’m going to focus on Exodus 15: 26 which states, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you.” If He is the Lord who heals me and this promise is “yes” in Jesus, then I should be able to expect healing, right?
And, it does seem Exodus lays out the rules for receiving healing. IF I pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, THEN He will heal me. I have attempted to pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees. I attended churches (not forsaking the assembling like Hebrews 10:25 says!) and attempted to do what they told me to do. I read my bible, attended multiple services per week, and devoted time to prayer. Then, I would miss a day of reading or a prayer time. Since I could not do these simple things on a regular basis, how could I expect God to heal me?
I sought healing through biblical methods. I had hands laid on me, was anointed with oil, stood in healing lines, and was prayed over. One traveling evangelist insisted that if he laid hands on me I WOULD be healed so I imagine my disappointment when he did so and I was not. Of course then the fault was mine because “a double-minded person is unstable in all they do” and “such a person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1: 8 and 7) so my still being in pain caused me to doubt which meant I didn’t really trust God and didn’t have any faith so He could not heal me. I had these things said to me.
Then I realized that, if I was following the rule laid down in Exodus, all I had to do was pay attention to His commands and keep His decrees. What simplicity! Jesus only left me with one: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) Well, has anyone else tried this? Have you found it as difficult a command to keep as I have? Failure after failure after failure. No wonder I didn’t have my healing! How could God heal someone who so consistently fell short of His standards of behavior?!
Have any of you been subjected to this? If you have, know I empathize with you. I have been trapped in this never-ending cycle of just not being good enough to please God and finally receive of His promises. I was already tired from the effects of the car accident and all this striving only made me more so. Then, I had a life crisis so devastating I was certain I could not and never had heard from God. I had failed Him so completely I should just curl up and die so He could send me to hell and get it over with. It was in this place that I met God! The living God. The gentle, loving Father who so desired a relationship with me, He sent Jesus into my darkness and death to get me and bring me out. (John 3:16 and especially 17!, John 17: 3, Ephesians 2: 4-7)
My feet were set on a new path and I began to get to know The Father. I do not say the path has been easy. In fact, it felt like the moment my Father began to show me who He was, the floodgates of hell were opened in my life. Even though…through every devastating circumstance, my Father has revealed a little more of Himself to me and I have been filled with awe and wonder.
But still I struggled with limitations from the car accident and, as the years went by, I developed other health problems. I prayed about them, tried to “Amen” all the promises of God, and received no miraculous healing. I ended up having a major surgery and afterwards had the opportunity to speak with a close friend. I told her how I had prayed leading up the surgery-that I would be spared having to go through it-and how the answer I had received had been “no”. I told my friend that, while I could accept the no, I had expected things to be different. It had been years since I’d come to know The Father in a new way and I’d expected I would level up somehow: like in a spiritual video game.
We both laughed at that but, after hanging up with her, I continued to think about it. That had been my expectation: that with greater understanding came greater blessings. Wasn’t that the rule? Within a few months of this conversation, I had to have another minor procedure. I threw up my spiritual hands. Whatever the secret was, I clearly had not discovered it.
Again, while a painful place to be, it is not a bad place to be. It has been my experience over the last seventeen years that these valleys of deepest darkness are where my Father’s light shines brightest. And so it proved.
To be continued…
Bible verses are quoted from the New International Version
It’s another poem today. I do have other types of blog posts planned but I’m still in the researching/planning phase and, now that I’m back at work, that’s slow going.
I’ve mentioned my car accident in an earlier post and spoken a little of my traumatic brain injury. I’ll spare you a litany of my ills but will say life with a TBI is difficult. These difficulties combined with the chronic pain from my other injuries makes it easy for me to get overwhelmed. I was feeling overwhelmed this weekend because of a task I had to complete and wasn’t sure what to do, how I’d find the information I needed, if I’d even be able to complete it, and a poem began to form.
I’m calling this one Idiom and wish to note this poem is in no way intended to condone the eating of elephants 😉 Rather, I hope it encourages anyone going through a difficult time.
I recently had one of those experiences where someone says something, a simple statement, yet it takes hold in my mind and that simple statement blossoms into deep meaning. I was perusing an exercise forum on Facebook and a woman talked about her experience with a particular form of exercise, stating she wasn’t well enough to practice every day but was “turtleing her way through”. I saw what she was saying, acknowledged the truth of the statement, and forgot about it.
Well, not really. I began to see memes pop up on my Facebook page: pictures of turtles, tracks in sand, and messages like “any progress is forward progress” and I would think “turtling my way”. During this time, I was finishing a book on the culture of the non-elite in Ancient Rome and Aesop was mentioned several times. I already had Aesop on the brain when these memes popped up in my feed, not surprisingly, I began to think about the Tortoise and the Hare fable.
Do you remember this tale? If not, briefly: The hare was laughing at the tortoise for being slow and awkward. The tortoise challenges the hare to a race and the hare, thinking it’s a good joke, accepts. The hare takes off, leaving the tortoise far behind, but stops halfway to the goal to play, snack, and take a nap. The hare sleeps longer than intended and, upon waking, finds the tortoise no where in sight. The hare races towards the finish line and finds the tortoise already there, waiting.
I’ve always read this with my focus on the hare, thinking it was a lesson on the dangers of being a bully and being arrogant. I re-read it with my focus on the tortoise and two things caught my attention. One, the tortoise good-naturedly, issues the challenge. To do so the tortoise had to be aware of the hare’s character but, more importantly, self-confident. The hare making her the butt of jokes did nothing to shake her assurance. Two, the translation of the fable I have says the tortoise “plodded on, unwavering and unresting, straight towards the goal”.
That struck me.
I have such expectations of myself. I think that can be a good thing-drive is important-but it ceases to be good when my expectations are unreasonable. I’ve pushed myself in every aspect of my life, unwilling to admit I am subject to the physical and mental limitations I have. I should write more words per day. I should be further along in my spiritual walk. I should be in better shape. While all of these are worthwhile goals, I tend not to take into account my car accident. I hate thinking of myself as a disabled person and, while I think it’s a good thing I don’t want the accident to define me, I must acknowledge my injuries left me limited. Accepting those limitations aren’t always easy but it helps to have a mantra. Over the last few weeks, mine has become “be a turtle”. I tell myself that on a daily basis.
Any progress is forward progress. Even if it’s one word written, one step taken, one prayer, it’s one more than I had yesterday. Like the tortoise in the fable, I move unwavering toward my goal, though I admit I do rest 🙂
I was given a gift for my 17th birthday; a turtle pendant. I haven’t worn it a great deal but I’ve kept it in my jewelry box. I’ve begun to wear it as a reminder to be a turtle but also as a reminder of the fullness of time. It’s been one or two years since I turned 17 and, at that time, the pendant was just a gift from a friend. Gratefully received and appreciated but just a gift. Neither she nor I knew it would take on such meaning for me at this point in my life. A simple gift. A simple statement. Perhaps not so simple after all.
The first week of 2018 is coming to a close. How are everyone’s resolutions going?
I don’t usually make resolutions but, moving forward, I am resolved to be kinder to myself. I tend to be hard on myself, demand a great deal of myself, and then fall into negative self-talk when I can’t meet my own expectations. In 2018, I resolve to say positive things about myself and focus on what I believe is my calling. Writing.
I didn’t always think writing was my calling and, by ‘calling’ I mean the one thing I loved to do above all other things. Writing was a hobby, nothing more. After all, there were many other worthwhile things I could be doing. I liked reading, enjoyed words, and always wrote even if it was just in a journal but it was always the thing I did to keep myself sane while I pursued that worthwhile (i.e. more important) thing. And yet, there was always an image in my head: an example a friend set for me that always had me asking myself, is this worthwhile thing something I love doing?
That friend is Tara Novak and the example she set for me occurred on a New York trip we had opportunity to take with our High School drama group. Tara is an immensely talented violinist and she brought her violin on that trip. In the early morning, Tara was practicing her violin in the stairwell of the hotel our group was staying in. That has always stayed with me. With her talent, no doubt Tara could have taken a few days off practice and no one would have ever noticed. She didn’t. No matter what others might think or say, Tara was running scales before breakfast, honing her craft. I never asked her if she did so because she loved violin too much not to play: whatever her reasons, her example is the standard I have measured my choices against.
I have taken enjoyment in many things and, perhaps they were worthwhile, but none of them was the thing I’d do in a hotel stairwell. The only thing I’ve never wanted to take a day off from and, yes, would do in a hotel stairwell, is writing. I love words. Reading them, writing them, finding that one word that perfectly expresses what I want to say. Words are my passion.
Pursuing that passion isn’t always easy. I have some physical limitations from the car accident that can make writing difficult and I am not always nice to myself when I come up against those limitations. I tell myself if I was a better writer, more talented, I would be able to write less drafts and my book would not be taking so long to complete. I find Tara’s example a comfort in these times. She wasn’t in that stairwell playing Bach’s Chaconne from Partita in D Minor (though she could have done if she wanted!): she was playing scales. I like to think of my writing that way. I have thousands of words and, even though they aren’t yet honed into the manuscript I can look at and say “it is finished”, each word is like a note in a musical scale: the necessary practice for the manuscript that will come. I remember Tara in a hotel stairwell on those days writing doesn’t go well or I’m especially tired. She reminds me to never give up and I am able to show myself kindness. I will always be grateful.
Not a stairwell but I did recently get some work done in a hotel room. It came equipped with a lounge chair.
If you’re interested in how practice truly does make perfect, you can find Tara Novak on Facebook as well as her website.
I would love to be a word genius: stories spilling out of my brain with no need for editing or grammar checks. That’s not how my writing process goes, unfortunately, so I do a great deal of reading. Reading is my favorite thing and, among the amazing fiction I read for fun and the history I read for research (and fun), I also read about writing. Some of the books I read are craft and others are writers writing about writing. Most I read and put back on my shelf but I just finished a book I thought worthy of mention: Fire Up Your Writing Brain by Susan Reynolds.
This book doesn’t cover craft-not really. Rather, the book contains tips and tricks derived from neuroscience to take what I already know as a writer and make it work more efficiently. This is a book I’ll have to study and my favorite part were the quotes included from different writers.
There were three things I read on my first pass through this book that stayed with me:
First, a little blurb about Mark Zuckerberg was included stating he buys multiples of the same shirt in order to minimize how many decisions he makes in a day. He’s quoted as saying; “There’s a bunch of psychological theory that even making small decisions about what you wear, what you eat for breakfast, etc., can make you tired.” (Fire Up Your Writing Brain, page 162).The TBI I sustained in my car accident years ago means it’s easy for my brain to get overwhelmed. Planning my meals, multi-tasking at my job, researching, writing my manuscript, posting to my blogs…it can get difficult for me to keep it all straight. This quote struck me. I’ve already been looking for ways to simplify my life and reading this has caused me to make doing so a priority.
Two, no one is perfect and yet I keep expecting my writing to be so. The section entitled “Your Expectations Are Too High” on page 194 spoke to me. In it, Ms. Reynolds states “The best advice anyone can give inexperienced writers is to write a first draft as quickly as possible, as good books are not written, but rewritten and rewritten and rewritten.” This is something I’ve heard many times from many sources but perhaps, this time, I was ready not just to hear it but take it to heart. I finished a first draft years ago: all 612 pages of it. It’s been whittling and paring and cutting that mass of research and character background into something more readable that’s been a problem. I have difficulty not tweaking this, re-writing that, what if this, and would it be better if… What Ms. Reynolds’ book is helped me realize is it’s still too early in my process to expect perfection. I need to turn off my editing brain for a while. Easier said than done but I’m pushing through.
Three, it’s important to have a writing space. I’m fortunate to have an office downstairs where all my books are neatly on their shelves, I have a desk, a comfy chair, and a place to put my feet. While simplifying my life, parts of my office have become a dump site for papers I have to scan before I can shred, blank cards I have yet to fill out and send to friends and family, and other detritus I’m can’t throw away before I look at it. Writing in this room feels different than writing anywhere else in the house. Because of my books? I can’t really say. However, I need to get the room organized so I can work there without feeling anxious about mess. This too is now a priority.
I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads. The information in it is bound to be more useful than I yet realize. This is one that definitely goes on my bookshelf; just as soon as I get the shelf dusted and sorted.