Decision Making (Guest blog)

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As told to me by Bill Gunnin

Impaired Decision Making- the inability to regard the cognitive processes which result in the selection of a belief or a course of action among several alternative possibilities; the inability to take into account all possible choices and come to a conclusion on a course of action.

The slowing of my processing speed the doctor says is happening, makes so much sense to me now that I know what it is. Processing information takes multiple parts of the brain working in cooperation with one another. For me, all thoughts are coming into my brain with equal importance and intensity.  My ability to filter importance and prioritize tasks is greatly reduced, so everything has equal power as it comes in.  I have trouble sometimes focusing my attention on what I think is most important. I cannot process/filter other things vying for my attention in order to determine the best course of action.  Therefore, I have trouble making decisions of even basic things, for example, picking out what to wear.  I think about all the possibilities of the clothes, the work I will be doing, the weather, what I might need, which shirt works for whatever event I am going to, which one fits better, what color looks better on me.  It seems impossible to sort through all that, plus my worry that I might not be ready for the unexpected.  It is hard to just pick one.  It is easier for me if you pick it.  Same with a big menu at a restaurant.  I drive the severs crazy with my questions because I just cannot decide. It is embarassing.

There are some things which help me to cope with this processing issue. Driving helps me to think through things, as long as it is a relaxing drive and there is no traffic. Like today, we are driving and I am able to talk through this.  Listening to jazz helps me too. Sometimes instrumental jazz music can help calm stuff down mentally.  I say sometimes, because my reactions to these events on one day are different than the exact same stimuli on another day.  If I am fresh it is easier to decide things; when I am tired and out of sorts, mental fatigue sets in more quickly. It is hard to be aware, and to predict when I will have trouble with a choice. It is like all of a sudden my brain cannot process. Flash anger pops up when I cannot figure out what to pick. I can tell I give out so much faster now.  My brain is the same way, all of the sudden it just gives out.  No one can see when it happens or be aware of it since it is internal. This internal torture of making decisions is part of me I can’t share with anyone even if I wanted to because it is a hidden disability.  Hidden even from myself.  It is not objectively measured by factors or tools.

I have been thinking about the piggy bank analogy you gave me last week. It has helped me so much in figuring out my decision making and why it is so hard.  You said I have a piggy bank with only so many coins. I don’t know how to spend my coins, because I don’t know how much things cost me.  I need to learn to budget my coins.  I have felt bad about not being able to do things. I would feel guilty when I didn’t want to go somewhere we had planned to go, and I couldn’t see it was  because I was out of coins.  That comparison to a bank helps me emotionally.  I struggle with self judgement.  Self-awareness.  Self-observation.  It’s not because my character is flawed, it’s just that I have a limited resource.  I don’t like being different than everyone else.  My pride, my self-talk, my trying to judge myself…this new idea about limited resources helps me to understand the troubles are not because there is something wrong with me.  I want to be able to afford the expenses I have, and control my outgo.  I am having a light bulb moment because of this analogy, only I don’t see it exactly as a piggy bank and coins.

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My mental energy is currency.  A pile of available energy.  But it may not be enough resource for what may be demanded of me, so, I have to work under a budget.  I have to learn to be aware of the cost of goods and conserve energy for more taxing activities. Many goods don’t have a price tag.  The challenge is I don’t know the cost of so many of my expenses…until I am paying it or it is already spent. Preparing is hard to do because I cannot always predict how much I am using or how much I have left.  Sometimes I have frustration, like suddenly in a restaurant and everything is too expensive mentally with background noise and decisions that have to be made. I have no money left and I run out of mental energy. In that moment it is less energy if you just order for me.

This is a practical and measurable way to talk about my life and what I have to deal with daily. It is hard to manage my life.  At times, this is true for anybody.  It helps me to think about it this way…in assets and liabilities.  This separates the injury from my identity.  Separates my struggles, from who I am. I don’t want TBI to be who I am, this new thought makes it apart from me, yet something I have to deal with and manage.  Just like someone who lost a leg, it doesn’t change who they are, but they have to adjust. The problem for me is no one can see if I need an accommodation and it isn’t clear even to me. This view of limited resources gives me a more objective view of the circumstances.  The tipping point is when I use up cash. Then shut down occurs.  I may need a quiet room for days, if my assets are spent.  If I had them, I could still spend.

An element I am not sure about is the on/off, black/white.  Is it gradual?  Does it build up? When I run out of energy it is not like I am walking into a dark room, there may be light in the hallway, light in the door, the light dims until eventually it goes totally black.  It is dark room at times. (I am thinking in analogies now because it helps to compare things.)  I see things but not in specifics.  Details are missing.  It’s like when you are in the moonlight, your eyes see black and white not color.  The light shifts and you stop seeing the details and colors.  You stop being able to recognize what things are.  In my brain, I don’t connect to an idea, and suddenly am done.  It is more like gradually the light  is fading.  It gets dim.  It appears to you they suddenly go out, but to me it seems like it is more gradual.  As a victim, I don’t always know the light is fading.  I think it is related to my awareness of it.  Self-awareness is a hard thing for most people, but for brain injuries it almost impossible.  Now that I think about it, my shut downs have caught me unaware.  Slowly getting darker.  Sometimes my mind has a sense of peace.  Relaxed, like I am not stressed.  Part of what I am wondering about is if everything I do, spends currency.  I would like to think there are some times maybe it’s not diminishing.  Maybe I am helping my currency increase. Sometimes things feel effortless, other times I am conscious of effort taken which drains me. The weird thing is that sometimes they are the same things, and they have the opposite effect. Hard to predict.

Playing the piano is an example of this. Sometimes I sit down at the piano and I am doing it for a purpose.  I sit down and play and it flows.  Then when someone says, ‘sit down and play,’ my mind goes blank. I cannot think of what to play, and suddenly I am stressed.  I cannot make a decision of what song to play.  A lot of times I think what I am playing sounds stupid.  Other times it is good.  Sometimes it is interesting.  I want it to be interesting.  I feel like anybody who plays the piano can play what I can play…and that what I have is not all that special.  It feels so simple…no big deal.

However, I know I carry some element of worship to the Lord that is unique to me. There is a certain kind of ministry of peace and an ability to help people tap into it and feel it. I do admit it.  It is a gift I have.  I don’t know how special it is, not to diminish it, but how unique is it for a broad audience?  I don’t degrade it, I just don’t know if everyone will view it as something of value.  Just an honest thought, not to take away from what I have. I know what I have musically is different, but I don’t know how many people it touches. I have no doubt part of me is ministering to people…to minister the Father’s heart to his people.  I have other things too I think, but that is one thing I know I carry.  It has a place.  I am not always sure if when people ask me to play if it is the place for me to pour that out or not.

Because of this new perspective…assets and liabilities… I am beginning to understand how to regulate the importance of the thoughts that bombard my mind. Now that I understand I have limited resources.  It saves me energy when I let you pick clothes without second guessing it, or using the GPS instead of trying to guess about how traffic will be on every possible route.  I am learning to take one thing at a time and to learn to budget my resources and to pay attention to the timing of things. I have a new appreciation and understanding of the verse “Taking every thought captive…” 2 Cor.10:5

If you are a TBI survivor or a Caregiver of a TBI survivor please share your thoughts with us in the comments.  We’d really like to know if what Bill shares here is helping others to see themselves/loved ones differently.  Is it beneficial to you? 

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A Lovely Surprise

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At my alma mater, Berry College, we have a tradition called Mountain Day which is sometimes difficult to describe.  When asked, “What is Mountain Day?” I usually just say it’s like homecoming, because it is easier than giving a full explanation. Martha Berry, the school’s founder, had her birthday on October 7.  The celebration all started back in the early 1900s. The poor mountain students wanted to give Martha a gift for her birthday, but they knew she wouldn’t accept a gift for herself.  Instead, they each gave the number of pennies of their age in a basket as a scholarship for other kids to be able to come to Berry. That was a big deal. The students wore uniforms back in those days; women in pink and men in blue.  The seniors had the designation of women in blue and men in white.  They gathered at Lavender Mountain and marched down the hill to present Martha with their pennies.  After the first trip down the hill they marched back up to meet up and march down in pairs.  As the band played, they did this trip three more times until they were 16 across for the final march down and the singing of the alma mater.  Martha was presented with the basket of pennies and there was great celebration.  The day at the mountain has continued to this day.  In fact, it has expanded to include the entire first weekend of October each year, with Mountain Day Olympics, a talent show, a chapel service, a picnic, a Marthapalooza fair with carnival rides, and class reunions from previous decades.  Unless you went to Berry you probably can’t fully understand this rite of passage, but it brings all students, former to present, together to celebrate the heritage of the school and its amazing founder.

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This past weekend Peter was wearing white.  His senior year.  All those previous years of marching up and down the hill came to fruition in this last march. Next year he will be on the sidelines with the rest of us who have marched that hill before him. He will not be dripping with sweat, or huffing and puffing, but he will go back with fond memories to meet up with friends and reminisce.  He will have a new appreciation of the traditional event and its ability to bond all generations of students and their families.

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This past weekend it was also Hannah’s 5-year reunion.  We were sad she was going to be unable to come the distance from Seattle for the celebration.  Unbeknownst to us, she hatched a plan.  She and Peter conspired to surprise us with her presence.  Bill and I were in Atlanta at an event and had planned to go to Rome for Mountain Day from there.  Peter knew the hotel we were at and Hannah had contacted someone at the event to get our room number.  At 6:30 in the morning I thought I heard a knock at the door.  I was sound asleep so I kind of dismissed it as a dream.  I heard it again and woke enough to listen more carefully, but was still unsure if it was our door or the one next to us.  I got up and looked through the peephole in the door.  No one was there and I thought I had imagined the whole thing.  I started to head back to bed, when another knock came.  Definitely our door.  Afraid to open it without knowing who was there, I asked.  I heard a muffled voice, so I asked again.  I still didn’t understand but it was a woman’s voice so I took a chance it wasn’t a crazed killer and opened the door.  “Surprise!” I was stunned to see Hannah and the squealing began.  I pulled her into a hug and drug her into the room.  Yelling for Bill to wake up and ‘look who is here!’  It was a wonderful surprise!!  We got to ride up to Mountain Day together and spend time with Peter on his senior day, the two of them laughing at their successful ability to pull one over on mom and dad.

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The class of 2012 banner was strung between trees at the picnic. Hannah found her friends there and surprised them too!  No one else knew she was coming either, except for those she was staying with for the night. She got to see all her former roommates and catch up.  It was a whirlwind, last minute decision on her part to come to Georgia for 24 hours, but it was worth it to be with family at a significant event and to see her friends…all in one place!

Generations of students and their loved ones were able to participate, either marching or watching, as the students marched up and down the hill. Hurricane Nate even held off so the march was able to be completed in the sun and humidity…haha.  This year, Peter’s senior year, my heart is full.

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Hope Wins…Again

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Darkness overcomes me.  Black as ink, not even a hand in front of my face is visible.  I am surrounded.  I am afraid of the absence of light.  My heart pounds.  I grasp and claw, until I realize it is futile to fight the black night of the soul.  I have no control.  I have no say.  I am at its mercy. I freeze like a statue.  Waiting.  Trembling.  Surrendered to its grip.  Knowing there is no way out, of my own making.  I resist the urge to run.  It would only make things worse.  Running in the dark is more dangerous than the dark itself.  Unseen obstacles hide in the dark.  They wait to grab me, to slap me, to trip me up.  The safest way is to stand or kneel or curl up, and wait.  Make myself small. Like a baby in utero.  I can hear my own heart beating in my ears.  I am blind.  I can see no way forward, or back.  Fear runs down my face in the form of tears.  My heart feels ripped from my chest. It is a gaping wound.  I cry out to the silence.  I feel nothing and everything. I know nothing.  I can only wait.  Alone. In the darkness.

My eyes play tricks on me.  Charcoal is lighter than black.  I blink.  Again, and again.  I strain, only to see nothing.  Still nothing.  Fear turns to curiosity. Am I imagining things? Could it be?  I still feel the darkness clawing me. Pulling me.  Trying to take me out.  The struggle is gone.  I have quit the fight.  It is no use.   But I also feel something else. Foreign but familiar.  A pull.  Maybe a sliver.  I fumble to my knees.  I kneel in silence.  Still silence.  Something is different.  Gray now.  No longer black.  I am sure of it.  Dare I be sure of it?  I fear certainty.  My imagination plays tricks sometimes. I quake at the word gray.  Gray means change.  Gray means new.  Gray is as scary as black.  My heart thumps.  No longer shredded.  Just steady thumps of…  What? Anticipation? Amidst the gray, there is expectation. Something is happening.  I don’t know what.

Shifting shadows.  There are only shadows if there is light present, right? The gray is lighter now.  I dare not believe it.  I hold back.  I want to investigate, but I am still frozen in place.  My eyes are open wide.  Watching.  Seeing.  Pink.  Pale and barely there.  Could it be true? The dark night of the soul, fading?  I am full alert now. I can see what surrounds me.  A completely different landscape. Nothing has changed but everything is different.  The dawn is breaking.  The pink is deep.  The gray lightens to purple.  There is magnificent color.  Glorious blushing.  Light in all its glory suddenly peeks out.  I recognize hope when I see it on the horizon.  The darkness is broken and transformed into day. I thought hope was extinct.  My tears are grateful ones.  My heart rises in excitement to see its old friend. I breathe deeply and take it in.  I drink thirstily from the well.  I try to saturate myself.  I bathe in it. I am weary, from my time in the darkness.  I bask to absorb its strength.  Ever so slowly, I begin to move.  Still tentative in my steps.  Still cautious to trust.  But hope beckons to me.  Calls me to follow.  Infuses me. The remaining shadows bow to the light.  Like a vapor, they disappear.  I can see clearly now. My vision is restored.  Hope wins…again.

Las Vegas

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Another city.  Another tragedy.  Another illusion of safety shattered by bullets falling from the sky.  We look to point fingers.  We want our illusion back.  Give us our illusion that nothing bad can happen in our country.  Give our false sense of security back.  The truth is we are not and cannot be in control of every person, weapon, mental condition or circumstance.  We can enact laws or not, we can tag certain people as dangerous or not, we can keep people locked up or not.  It doesn’t matter how we try to stop these things from happening, and maybe we should do all those things, but tragedy will still happen.  It isn’t the men themselves, it is the heart of men that has been shattered and broken beyond repair.  The heart is where the brokenness is and the only way to change things is from the inside out.

In the meantime, we grieve with families who are changed forever because a few minutes of broken heartedness spilled onto the streets.  We weep with those who weep.  We console them and try to wipe the tears that continue to fall.  We hold space for them to feel their sorrow and to fall into the arms of those who comfort them with no agenda, because when death steals someone precious from you, the weeping comes first. The disbelief of what happened is mindboggling.  The tears are important because they release the grief into a physical form.  Let’s cry, shall we?  Let’s release the pain that is built up in our midst.  Let’s fall on our faces and weep with these families.  Let’s uplift them in prayer.  Let’s hold their hands and allow them to bury their faces in our shoulders as their tears flow.  Let’s stop bickering and be there for them in their time of need.  They have experienced trauma and loss in epic proportions that the majority of us cannot comprehend.  They have been violated, and therefore so have we.  Let’s go to them and stand with them as they bury their loved ones.  There are no words that can bring them back from this horror, so let’s silently express our love as we hold them closely in our hearts.

Lord,

We ask for you to surround these families and all those involved in this horrific event.  We don’t understand the enormity of this situation.  In this moment, we don’t try to.  We simply ask for peace for the broken hearts.  We know you draw near to the broken hearted and we thank you for that promise.  We know your heart is broken too.  We feel your grief, and we share our tears with you as liquid prayers. We cry out to you.  We are at a loss for words, and so we simply say, help us.  We are lost and we say, find us.  We are wandering in this world and we say bring us home into your arms.  We cry out for rescue from this pain we are living in.  I ask you to make your love known to these families and to this city.  We look for your hands and feet, because we know you are always there in the form of caring and loving people.  Give us your grace to get through this.  Empower the people to love one another well in the time of grief.  I pray for the days and months ahead when the hole in families becomes gaping, you fill it.  You comfort them, like a blanket.  You restore their hope.  Bring them out of the pit of despair and into the place of your grace and mercy.  Show their tender hearts how to heal.  You lost a son, so you know the pain they face ahead.  Surround them with support from others.  Give them your peace that passes understanding.  Walk closely with them…carry them if necessary.  Help us to love them well, as you love them.  In Jesus name, Amen.

What is it with Millennials?

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By now most of us have heard or witnessed the problems with the millennial generation. This is what we hear, regularly. They cannot problem solve.  They have no motivation.  They want everything handed to them.  They are too sensitive.  We have also heard the reason for these issues is our parenting.  We presented them all trophies.  We overprotected them.  We solved their problems for them.  We gave them too much stuff.  All of these problems have been analyzed to death.  As with every age before us, there is a generation gap.  It is part of the individuation process for children to find differences with their parents.  No matter how much we thought “my children will never” our children did.  No matter how much we “trained them up in the way they should go,” some of them didn’t go that way.

However, I have a hard time painting all millennials with a broad brush. I know there are issues, but I do not believe every 20 something is responsible for acting like a spoiled brat.   I cannot jump aboard the millennial bashing train any more than I can take all the mommy guilt for raising them the best I knew how.  For me, it is not about finding out why this generation turned out the way they did.  It is about going forward now, and I am thinking maybe we need to look at things a bit differently.

  • The trophy generation- Every kid gets a trophy made them intolerant of injustice which is not a bad thing. They want to make sure everyone has equal opportunity. When they see injustice, they cry out loud enough to make others uncomfortable with the status quo.  Isn’t that what some of our revered leaders from history did?  They value fairness.
  • The technology generation- Raised on video games might have caused them to have a warped view of reality, but it also caused them to be innovative with all things techno…including all the apps we all use every day, and life-saving surgeries done by robotic machines. They think in computer language and interpret for the rest of us. They value technological progress.
  • The traveling generation- We wanted them to go, to experience the world in ways we never got to.  They came home with a global world view and the idea that people are worthy of care no matter their status. They love cultures and the differences in them.  They see value in diversity.
  • The spoiled generation- They got everything they wanted and then some.  They had so much that they realized life isn’t really about stuff.  They are not motivated by money and stuff because they realize it is futile.  They want to make a difference and change the world.  Hence, the tiny house generation. They value experiences.
  • The picky generation- They don’t want just any job.  That means good ones or bad ones.  They want the right job and because money doesn’t motivate them, they are happy to take odd jobs until the right one comes along. The corporate ladder doesn’t appeal to them, because they watched it nearly kill us.  They value balance in life.
  • The spotlight generation- They have lived their lives online.  Their every move is posted, and while this has contributed to self-centeredness and loneliness at the same time, it has also made them care less about what others say. They are bombarded with opinions that oppose theirs on a daily basis, in ways we could never imagine at their age.  That will be key when they are leading in the future and they have to stand strong.
  • The warrior generation- I believe these millennials have a unique perspective unlike any generation before them.  They are as yet, untested in what it means to lead others. They are idealistic and holding fast to their beliefs, unwavering and unwilling to compromise.  Just like we raised them to do.  We just didn’t think they would hold to beliefs other than ours.

So, to review. They wander.  They are not motivated by money.  They challenge the status quo.  They question everything and everyone, even us.  They don’t tolerate hypocrisy.  They accept all people.  They are passionate.  They are caring.  They want to love people and they want others to love people. They like to contemplate, discuss, and analyze. They make us think.

Jesus did all those same things.  Some of us taught them about him and his life, but we didn’t expect them to take us literally.  They snub the religious leaders of the day…which is us.  They walk away from church, because they disagree with the way it boxes God in and they are tired of being judged.  They question their faith, and many have left it entirely, because their views of the world don’t fit within the four walls. They have outgrown the church of their childhood; it is too small-minded for them in its current state.

We are desperately trying to get them back in, but what if it would be better for us to get out?  What if, instead of analyzing statistics we stepped out into their world for a bit to see what it is that drew them there?  What if their dispersal is part of the plan to expand the church instead of allowing it to die?  They are going.  They are loving people.  They are changing the world.  I’m not sure they realize it yet, or if we do, but they are.  They are young.  Untested. Idealistic. (Weren’t we all?)  But they are powerful.  They have roots.  They are not snowflakes deep down.  One day, hardship will awaken them to resilience they don’t know they have yet.

What if instead of speaking of them as if they are less than, we encouraged them or prayed for them? What would happen if instead of bashing their ideas, we listened?  What would happen if we brought them to the table to reason together?  What if instead of preaching down at them we walked beside them, shared our lives and experience while allowing them to step up and do things their own way?

My point? It is a different world than we grew up in, with different challenges.  It will require a different group with different skills.  They are that group.  Recent history has written parts of their story that are beyond their control, or ours.  Their lives have been shaped the way they have, bad parenting and all, for a purpose.  I believe that to my core.  They are going to rise up and carry us into the future, where they will be the leaders of the world.  Don’t you think it’s time we helped them get on with that?

Lord,

I come and ask that you would preserve this generation of young people.  Give them grace to step into their roles which you have ordained for them.  Give us grace to let them.  I pray you pour courage and confidence into them as the torch is passed from one generation to the next.  I pray those who have left their faith would find it again and that you would whisper tenderly of your love for them to their ears. I thank you for their passion and their desire to make a difference in the world.  I thank you that they see injustice in places we have ignored.  I thank you that they feel deeply for the pain of the world and that they do not shy away from it, but lean into it.  Give them creative solutions and eyes to see how to improve things.  When they experience difficulty show them the resilience you have poured into them unaware.  Help it to bubble up from within and spill over.  You have given them the power of questioning, to bring the spotlight to every system.  You have created in them the desire to know.  The desire to change things.  The desire to be better than those before them.  Show them how to steward these desires.  Protect them from disunity and divisiveness.  Protect us all from these things, so that we can move together and not apart.  Draw a circle around us that builds us up together.  Help us to stay inside your protective shield.  Give us eyes to see this generation as the warriors they are, in their ability to stand strong.  In their compassion.  In their hearts of care.  Help us to learn from them, by listening and going to see what they see.  Help us to come along side and to allow them to show us their point of view.  Help us to share our experience with them in a productive and helpful way.  Guard our hearts and theirs, from the pride and arrogance which stifles our ability to build friendship with one another. Help us to lay down our offensive posture, and to pick up peace and a desire to forgive.  Heal the rift between us so that we all can move forward stronger together than apart.  Lord, these are amazing young people.  They emulate you in so many ways.  Thank you for spreading them out.  Give them a vision of why.  Show them what your body looks like in action.  In Jesus Name and by his blood, Amen.

Fall is Here

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The dogs pull at their leashes, and I think my shoulder will come out of the socket.  Dusk is approaching and with it the light is soft among the trees.  The smell of leaves which have fallen is in the air and I wonder how the trail got carpeted in just a few days. Each footfall brings a familiar crunching sound.  I breathe deep in the scent of fall.  Along with campfire smoke, I smell the freshly cut trees tossed to the ground by Irma.  The trail has been cleared, but the sawdust is fresh.  There is a breeze, which gives away autumn is here, with its slight chill.  Somehow fall snuck up on me this year, but then it is almost October so I should not be surprised. Coming around the pond, where the water is high and covered in leaves, we find a bench. Sitting, I take in the fading pink sky, the trees gently swaying in the breeze, and the green grass in a perfect little field nearby.  Deep breaths fill my lungs with sweet musty air and I exhale the stress threatening to overwhelm me lately.  More deep breaths and my shoulders begin to relax.  The dogs are ready to move on, so we continue back under the canopy of trees, where it is darker than you might expect, but more beautiful than you can imagine in the cool of the evening.

On our way, the windows are down and the sunroof is open to allow fall to follow us home.  The pink sky has faded to gray and it begins to twinkle with stars. The moon is looking down, watching over the domain beneath it.  Roads curve gracefully.  Three bears, two babies and a mama, stand in the road for a split second before casually traipsing back into the trees where they disappear into the shadows in an instant. The creek beside the road is singing to the approaching night, welcoming it to come.  Which it does, enveloping the forest and waking the nighttime creatures.  A deer crosses our path and we stop to watch her go.  She stops still as a statue and regally stares us down.  A moment passes between us.  We are in her territory so she does not run away.  She appears to be waiting for someone, perhaps her buck, to cross over to meet her.  We move along so she can be reunited with whoever is on the other side of the road.

Wind blows my hair in every direction.  My hand is out the window playing in the current like I used to do as a kid.  The sky has darkened more, making the mountains into shadows.  There is honking over the top of us.  The geese are headed south in their perfect V formation.  They are dark outlines against a charcoal backdrop.  We slow to listen and watch.  Another V formation comes right behind the first.  It seems they are ready to be on their way to wherever it is they go.  The wind carries them and they appear to be happy about that fact the way they are talking to one another.  By the time we arrive home, the sky is black and the stars have brightened considerably.  The moon has risen higher and is smiling a crescent smile. The crisp air heightens visibility and I bask in the beginning of fall…my favorite season of the year.

Flooding (Guest blog)

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Flooding- the inability of the brain to filter, leading all stimuli coming into the brain at one time with equal intensity which causes the inability to process each piece of information individually.  The brain overloads, and either shuts down or gets agitated in its frustration.

I feel bad about flooding when it happens.  On one level, it seems selfish to me, because I want to count others as more important than myself.  When I flood I shut down, wherever I am.  I remember we went to a wedding, and were enjoying ourselves, but all of a sudden, I felt the need to leave.  You were not ready to go, but you saw me walking out in the vineyard and realized what was happening, so we left.  It is hard to remember.  I remember feeling overwhelmed.  I remember walking into the vineyard.  Don’t remember much after that.  A bad feeling that I cannot describe…like something was wrong with me and my thinking.  I felt bad about that, because I knew you wanted to stay. It seems to always take you away from things you like, and it makes me feel selfish, but I cannot control it.  Most of the time I don’t even recognize it at all.  You see it before it happens, and you make adjustments so that it is circumvented by getting me out of the situation. I had no idea you were doing that and have been doing it for years! I am just now seeing it.

Flooding can also be shut down mode or melt down mode.  Agitated or tired.  Sometimes it takes me days of recovery after any flooding because it leads to mental fatigue.  I am zapped and cannot think clearly for a while.  It’s like my brain needs sleep or quiet to recover. In my mind, it has seemed like a character flaw because I leave you to deal with things on your own.  I can’t help. The ideal me, my image of what I am supposed to be as a good husband, is to take care of you.  For so much of our marriage you have felt alone, unprotected, uncared for, and unguarded.  I am much more of a failure than I want to see.  I am not being true to what I feel I am supposed to be.  I am not being responsible with what I have been given.  When I flood, I have to step back and that leaves you alone.  I hate that and it makes me feel bad.

Sometimes there are certain people in my world that trigger my ability to handle flooding when it happens.  When my brain is exhausted and tired, and my filters are not working well, I can shift to anger more quickly. People push my buttons easily because my brain isn’t working right.  I lose my control to push back my feelings, so they come to the surface.  Like in traffic…I get mad…I obsess.  Drivers are reckless and don’t even care how what they are doing affects me.  I feel resentment, because I try to be aware of others when I drive.  How dare they do something I wouldn’t do! It offends me and I take it personally.  It manifests in traffic, but I don’t really think it’s about traffic at all.  It is flooding, and anger is a cover for the fact I cannot process why people act like they do, plus all the stimuli on the road, plus how to drive safely, all at the same time.   It is difficult.

It’s embarrassing to say, these symptoms are things that I haven’t been willing to look at for thirty years, now that I am willing to accept them, I have a lot to think about and new ways to think about things.  Now I am thinking about my own self-coping. I am recognizing elements, so I might can start to tell ahead of time when fatigue is near. I want to process and identify factors in my life that add up to flooding so I can predict ahead of time. What does and does not add to the overload.  I am talking to you right now, and I cannot answer questions with music with words playing in the background.

The doctor said my processing is slowing down, so flooding is on the increase.  It makes so much sense to me now where it never did before.  Somehow, I look at that report and I read my brain function is decreasing in processing speed and it makes sense.  That is why I have trouble with ideas that feel fast, but are also slow. My mind is so fertile, I know in my head I think so many thoughts.  My ideas are always generating, so I can flood myself with my own thoughts.  Processing is slowed so much, I cannot process all that I am thinking.  Thinking fast, processing slow…so it’s like the train is not moving.  Distraction.  I am in no hurry to put ideas out of my head.  They keep my mind occupied. It’s a point of stress for me…it is overwhelming.  My brain has trouble processing all I think.

There is not a lot of outside noise, it is internal noise.  Emotional levels are excited and happy…but I don’t have an outlet.  It’s hard for me in those moments. I don’t know what to do with that.  I am pacing and agitated. I need release.  When I am happy, I feel enormous exploding Grand-Canyon-sized hope, as well as gifting, desire, and passion.  Huge.  Bigger than I can compare it to.  With fear I think, I might be supposed to be doing big things, and that’s the part that scares me.  It feels so real…but then I wonder if I am making it up.  Now I wonder if it is a processing difficulty; with good things.  That leads to a roller coaster.  Yet, right beside all that hopeful stuff is the hope deferred. It’s a catch 22.  My own private torture. To have vision and no way to make it real.  I feel chained in a cell…someone says you are going around the world…but I am chained in a cell no way to get there.  It is an impossible situation with no answer.  The problem is my thinking isn’t reduced, but my processing ability has slowed.

I think flooding is a good word for it.  It’s like I cannot receive any information when it is happening.  I am having thoughts, but when I am in flooding mode I cannot even tell you what my thoughts are.  You know how you are frustrated, when there is TV, radio, talking, dogs barking…lots of noise?   That is what it feels like in my mind when I flood. I have different levels of stimuli and thoughts. I am interested in talking to people.  On my own or with others I over think, asking tons of questions before the next sentence.  More thoughts than I can process myself.  A lot of the time I do it verbally to other people.  I flood them. New ideas and discussions are always more interesting than old.  New ideas excite me and motivate me, so when I am talking to others I ask tons of questions and focus in on a person.

I desire to center in on the communication but, then suddenly I am getting so many lines of communications from my environment. I want to focus on each noise individually.  It’s like white noise.  When you listen to it, there are tons of signals, but nothing distinct.  I cannot focus in on one thought or idea, because there are too many at one time.  It is an auditory thing.  I can hear, but I cannot understand. It is why sometimes I ask you to repeat the same things over and over. I cannot grasp what you are saying in the moment.  It is the same way with my thoughts.  All coming at once.  I cannot pull everything away and focus on one thing.  As I say all of this it reminds me of a challenge I have with word retrieval. You know, ‘What’s that word?’  I cannot find it.  It’s like my mind goes blank.  Flooding is the opposite of that, there are too many words and I can’t pick just one.  It doesn’t take much for me to flood, lyrics in music can cause it or background conversations.  It is much worse when I am tired, and most of the time I don’t even realize I am doing it.  You know it, but I don’t and that makes me feel terrible.  I can say it’s nice to have a word for it and a definition.  Somehow it makes it easier to see and accept.

September 12th

firemanThere is a lot of attention given to September 11th.  Rightfully so.  It was a day that changed the way we see the world.  As a country, we are still looking through the lenses of fear we were given on that day 16 years ago.  We can’t help but remember the event which stunned and traumatized us on a day of painful memories. The attack on our country still fresh in so many minds, and yet, there are many younger people who do not remember at all.  Despite the T.V. specials and solemn observances the event fades further into history each year.  I imagine it to be like Pearl Harbor to the previous generation, who remember with vivid clarity the day, while those of us who came after have to listen to the stories to understand the depth of the pain and the sense of being violated. Just as that day ‘which will live in infamy’ so many years ago, September 11th is our generation’s day the world as we knew it, changed forever.  There was a lot of bad on that day, and each year we rehash it to somehow try to make sense of it all. We walk away from the remembrances with a knot in the pit of our stomachs, and confusion as to how we ever got here in the first place.  Talking heads pretend to know the answers to the unanswerable questions, which usually require some form of blame placing.  It is our human nature to try to figure out the whys of hard things.

harvey helpFor example, this year September 11th has been overshadowed by the hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  I have read articles that blame God, president Trump, the liberals or the conservatives.  I have heard the most farfetched reasoning for these storms imaginable.  It is as if we name what caused the storms, we can somehow reconcile the damage they caused, to benefit our own agendas.  What a sad state of affairs.  How petty is it to use the suffering of people to promote your own viewpoint?  Some of the explanations I have heard are conspiracy theories that act as if the wind and rain obey human theories and plans.  Others put God at the center of “teaching people a lesson” by bringing down his wrath in the form of killer storms.  Pardon me while I gag. In the meantime, while the press is crying alarmist, and differing parties are pointing fingers, and the church is calling down God’s wrath, people in the path of the storms need help.  My guess is they do not mind where it comes from.  It does not matter what color, what faith, what political affiliation, or what socioeconomic class the hand reaching out to you is when you are drowning.  When your world is turned upside down into survival mode, help is help. In fact, bonding through shared trauma minimizes our differences, and shows us just how similar we are to one another as fellow humans.

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On September 12, 2001, the helpers came.  Just as Fred Rogers said they would.  Helpers of all nationalities, religions, and political affiliations.  On September 12th, this year, the helpers have come again.  They are those who put down their agendas in order to pick up tools.  They are those who set aside their differences in beliefs to rescue others.  They are those who run into the aftermath to express compassion. THIS is the America I know.  The UNITED ones.

girl helpThe word unite means ‘to join together’ coming from a Latin root uni- meaning ‘one.’ We act as one when trials come.  In Huston, the best of us showed up.  Helpers who gave up their own comfort to share the pain of others.  Helpers who sacrificed their own safety to bring safety to those without any.  In Florida, there are those who went straight into the storm to insure others would not be trapped.  The helpers.  They are everywhere.  They outnumber the politicians and celebrities.  They have more impact than judgmental pastors and weather theorists.  Helpers don’t need a platform.  They don’t seek the spotlight.  They simply help…in whatever way they can.  There is power in their selfless humble efforts.  There is unity which plants hope in us again as a people.  We are not too far gone.  We are not as divided as all the talking heads want us to believe, because when it comes down to it, we are family.  Human family who hurts when others hurt.  Who help when others need help.  September 12th, the sun came up and the helpers showed up and the pain of the 11th started the long healing process.  Once again, the 12th of September finds us helping and healing one another in the aftermath of trauma.  And, THAT, my brothers and sisters is why we are called the UNITED States of America.

help for harvey

Miracles (Part 3)

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I am a skeptic. I was raised in America where skepticism is clothed in the intellectual pursuit of knowledge.  The traditional church doesn’t seek out miracles due to the belief that they were only needed when the church was being formed and the Bible was being written.  The non-traditional church believes that healing happens every time, as long as you have enough faith.  I have walked both these paths. I have seen healing happen. I have also sat in hospitals and begged for healing that never came…at least not in the way I expected it to.  I wanted the supernatural-get-up-and-walk-out-completely-healed type of healing as I sat in the chemo chair.  I wanted the no-question-God-just-did-a-miracle experience when my husband had a brain injury. You know, take up your mat and walk.  Instead, I concluded there are many ways God heals, and sometimes he doesn’t at all.  He CAN heal, but he sometimes chooses not to.  It is what I have witnessed in my faith journey.  But just when I have come to some to peace with this healing question, he challenges me again by doing a miracle…the kind I have been asking to see.

IMG_1583In Romania behind a gate, a woman tells us she has trouble hearing us.  A scripture comes into my mind…faith comes by hearing.  I begin repeating it in my heart.  Faith comes by hearing.  Faith comes by hearing.  Over and over I pray it. The woman’s daughter tells the story to us.  Her mom had a bad ear infection.  They had gone to many doctors, but none of them could fix it.  It just kept coming back.  One doctor decided to go in and clean out her ear, which resulted in a punctured ear drum and permanent damage to her ear. Her head scarf covered her right ear.  A Racer on our team is bold enough to ask the woman if he can pray for her ear so she can hear. He asks her to remove the scarf and gauze from her ear.  He has seen miracles, and therefore knows they exist.  I, on the other hand, would not have been bold enough to even ask, because ‘what if’? What if it doesn’t happen?  What if she thinks we are crazy?  What if God looks bad? Fortunately, none of those questions had to be asked because after praying for her twice, her ear opened up and she could hear.  We offered a song and she gladly accepted the opportunity to hear a guitar and a chorus of Amazing Grace.

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Still amazed by this event, we continued our day with Kid’s Club.  It was a typical VBS type format, songs, bible story, and games.  Children followed us down the dirt road to our meeting place.  They arrived in all manner of clothing. Some with only underwear, some barefoot, some in clothes too big, all covered with a layer of dirt from the walking.  I was struck by the absence of shame or embarrassment as well as the innocence. During the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den, the reader asked, “Have you ever been scared like Daniel?”  There was a loud and unanimous “NO!” from the group of mostly boys. When the story was over, we were starting to make the transition to games, when one boy said he needed God in his life so he would not be afraid.  The other boys watched carefully as he sincerely prayed for Jesus to come and help him in his life to not be fearful.  Two more also wanted to pray, and though these childlike prayers were not dramatic on the outside, it occurred to me they were miracles nonetheless.  A broken heart made whole is no less significant than ears than can hear.

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Later in the evening when all the teams were reviewing the day, another story was shared by another self-proclaimed skeptic.  The mom of a Racer told the story.  They were conversing with a woman who was blind, when her Racer daughter simply asked the woman if she could pray for her eyes.  The woman agreed. They gathered around the woman to pray and afterwards, she said she could see a little.  The Racer prayed again, because she wanted to woman to see a lot!  Soon the woman was dancing, running around, and kissing everyone she SAW, because she SAW them. Her eyes were healed!  As the mom relayed the story, she said, “I am usually a skeptic, but what I felt as we were praying was like nothing I have felt before. What I saw I have never seen before.  It was real, and the woman could see.”  For the skeptics among us it was a gate-opening experience.  The places in our hearts that were sealed off to the possibility of dramatic miracles were swung wide open.  The King of Glory came in and showed us all what happens when we open the gates of our hearts for him to come in.  Once again, he used miracles to get attention for something much deeper than physically seeing or hearing, but rather to open hearts to SEE and to HEAR his heartbeat for everyone to be loved and whole.  The gates of Romania and the hearts which visit there are opening.  Maybe not ALL the way, maybe things are tentative, but they are opening nonetheless. They are a representation of all the ways we close ourselves away.  All the ways we divide ourselves and forget to look up to the one who can…open ALL the gates.

Stories of the Gates (part 2)

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After the World Racers and their parents have been reunited with many tears and much joy, the mission begins. Over the next few days our hosts create plans for how we can help them in their mission to love their people well. It is pretty straight forward, feed the poor, care for the widows and orphans, open they eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf. It is really not complicated.  Love people. Many are without food and so we are sent in teams to homes of those in need, to offer food and prayer.  Walking down the streets of Draganesti with my team, I am again drawn to the gates.  As we walk out of the small town to the smaller backroads, we go from pavement to dirt yet, the walls and gates remain the same. Every house is walled off and closed to the street outside. It strikes me that the people we pass along our way are also closed off with faces which express no emotion. Segmented.  Divided.  Shut away. Without our local interpreters, there is little chance we would be welcomed.  However, because we are with people they know and trust, the gates swing open to us, and inside we learn the stories.

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Our first gate is wooden planks that are roughly put together. No paint, no frills, just boards hammered together. On either side of the gate stands a cinderblock wall that spans the property. We are invited inside by a young girl of 14 with big brown eyes, who knows our Romanian interpreter. Inside are two block houses, which are more like single rooms, and a shed for the animals. The family transportation is an old red bike leaned against the wall. The first house within the compound is painted blue, with red trim windows which have no panes, but are covered with sheets.  The girl’s father is shy at first, standing behind a curtain which serves as his front door.  He passes out anything from inside that might be used for a chair. Every person with our team is offered a place to sit, be it a chair, stool, or crate.  There are numerous family members all in one compound and our interpreter explains that the man’s wife died a few weeks ago from a sudden brain aneurism.

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To show us the customary veil of grief over his home, the man comes out and points to a black cloth draped and tacked on the side of his house. His eyes tear up as he tells the story of his wife. He is overwhelmed by grief and what he will do to raise his daughter. He is roughly put together, just like his gate. He seems rickety in his sorrow. He points to his heart and rests his hand on his chest, which needs no interpretation.  We offer condolences and gather around them with our prayers. The food we leave is appreciated, and I find that within the walls and behind the gates the normally stoic people become open, passionate, and vulnerable.  They quickly go to the deep and painful places in their lives as if sharing their hearts is the most natural thing in the world. It is another Romanian contrast…indifferent on the outside, hospitable and tender on the inside.

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The next gate is made from tin. It is neatly cut and pieced together in three parts from bottom to top.  Its wall looks to be a rough stucco, or concrete of some kind. Once again, we are welcomed inside.  An older woman takes ladles of water and throws them on the ground to settle the dusty floors for our entrance.  That way our feet will not get dusty, and since there is no grass, this is the way to care for the yard. A man and his son, who knows our interpreter, begin the offering of chairs.  They redirect us into the shade of a tree in the front of the house and give us the best seats where we are most protected from the glaring sun. Again, there is more than one house and though it is unclear to us how they are related, we know each person within the walls are family.  Once they have brought every possible chair, we are seated. One of our team has a mosquito bite which is bleeding, and a middle-aged woman notices. She sends her son to get water and a cloth, along with medicine.  She kneels in the dirt to tend to the wound putting the needs of her guests as her highest priority.

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Soon after, she begins her story. Her mother died recently, and she explains that is why she still wears the black scarf of grief around her head.  She is full of emotion as she tells her story and at times, tears flow freely.  A man on our team tells her that his father just died recently also and they share tears of sorrow.  She cared for her mother for some years before her death and now she misses her.  She is hurting because her mother was too sick to make the customary trip to be baptized before she died, and it weighs on her heart.  A girl in our group paints a picture of her mother’s new healthy body being baptized by Jesus in heaven. We gather around the family for prayer and the woman looks us each in the eyes with gratitude.  They ask us to take a photo to remember them by so we can continue to pray for them. They are grateful for the food and for our visit, but not half as thankful as we are that she blessed us with her story. It is carefully crafted together from the cut pieces of her life, from bottom to top, just like the gate.

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Gate number 3 is a tall and strong gate.  It appears to be made from iron or some other kind of metal.  It was not ornate, but sturdy.  We were invited inside by a little girl of about 4 who was wearing only underwear and a smile.  Her face lit up like the sun and she ran to greet our interpreter, and pulled her into the gate.  This family compound had three four homes inside, all cinderblock. None were painted.  Rather than bring the chairs to us, this time the man brought us to the chairs, inside his home.  It was the only room we saw all day which had a door. The walls were barren in the small blue room, which barely fit a couch and a loveseat.  We each took our seats as directed by the man.  Soon he was surrounded by his daughter, and granddaughter and other children from the family because the door stayed open, and we were a source of curiosity.  He told us his story.  Drinking too much and how he realized it would kill him and so he stopped.  Now he works hard and he told us of his children and his 10 grandchildren.  His family are migrant workers who go to other countries to find work since in Romania the jobs do not pay enough to survive.  His sons live in Spain with their families because work is abundant there in the vineyards. He is proud of his home and the way he has cared for his family. He tells us of his hard work to pay for his compound.  He believes that many local people who say there is no work are simply lazy and are not willing to do what it takes. He tells us all of his children are hard-working and that they all work together as a team to provide all that they have.  He tells us that from Adam to Noah all men were from the same family.  At the tower of Babel is where we first spoke different languages and spread out, but under our differences we are all still the same family.  We are brothers and sisters.  We pray for blessings on his house and leave toys for the children. This strong and sturdy man does not need food for his family because he earns it.

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These are the stories of the gates.  Three of them.  Each one I pass on our way back to town I wonder, how many more stories of heartache and pain?  How many more are without hope?  How can they survive within the gates and doors that lock them away from others?  Authoritarian government from years past lingers over the people still.  Fear and mistrust hang in the air and yet, the gates are beginning to open. The stories are being told and hearts are opening up. Psalm 24 comes to my mind and I pray it as I pass each gate.  Lift up your heads, O gates of Romania, be lifted up, O ancient doors which try to close people off.  Allow the King of Glory to come in to bring hope and love.  Who is this King of Glory?  The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle, who will fight for you. He will fight for your family. He will fight for your life and your heart.  You are not alone behind your walls.  He is the Lord of hope who will make it safe to open your gates and doors.  Who is this King of Glory?  The Lord of hosts, he is the King of Glory. Precious people of Romania, you are not forgotten or abandoned.  You are not alone, the King of Glory sits upon your walls, he hovers over the gates and doors waiting for them to open.  Lift your heads O you gates and doors.  Lift your heads to hope.

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