Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Embodied Transformation

"In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer." Albert Schweitzer

It's easy to say that I am fascinated by transformation. It is another thing entirely to embody change.

I recently posted something by Richard Rohr that articulated my theology quite well. In it, he discussed the fact that the path of descent is necessary in order to KNOW what it means to ascend. We humans prefer to enjoy the light without having to walk through the pain of darkness. It is interesting, though, to observe that we can only come to know light by also coming to know darkness. This is the paschal mystery. It is the paradox of faith.

I have gone through many of these transformations in my life, but the last 5.5 years since I got the TBI has been filled with opportunities for rebirth. I have come to realize that like the Phoenix, this is a part of my formation for ministry. It is a terrifying walk into the unknown, with absolute trust in God every step of the way.

While i was coming off of Prednisone, I was reading Fear and Trembling by Kierkegaard. He discusses the story of Abraham in the context of the present moment. More specifically, he encourages us to imagine what it would be like to walk for three days with the knowledge that he had been asked to sacrifice his own son. Looking at the story retrospectively, one might see the lesson - it was a test. However, it really isn't that simple. When viewed in the context of the present moment, it was a horrific journey into the unknown with reliance on God every step of the way (literally). In the end, Isaac lived. We know that now, but try to imagine what the days would have been like leading up to that moment?

The walk into the unknown is filled with grace, precisely because it is filled with suffering. For the first time in 5 years, I experienced the pain of becoming unrecognizable in the mirror. I've only experienced this once before, and that was in the immediate aftermath of my TBI. My husband at the time was supportive until 6 months had passed, and then time ran out. "You are not the woman I fell in love with anymore. I mean, look at you." The cruelty was shocking.

Fast forward 5 years, and I was once again looking at an unknown person in the mirror. It happened so fast, propelled by a terrible reaction to Prednisone. Once again, I had to face friends, family, and loved ones without the ability to hide the messiness of my health condition. Once again, I was terrified of being abandoned...but I wasn't. That's the point! I was given the opportunity to heal the wounds of my past by being loved THROUGH the mess. Furthermore, I discovered a power that was so far beyond me, as I struggled to carry out basic activities of daily living. I learned that it is the energy of GOD that moves me. The trick is to learn to listen to this energy in daily life, without having to be on my knees in order to pay attention.

This brings me to the pictures. It is difficult for me to look at the images of myself from this summer. However, in hindsight, I can see that the experience changed me for the better. Learning to trust LOVE again. Letting go of vanity. Empathizing with those that live outside, as they cannot hide the mess of life. Deepening my understanding of grace. Discovering that I can keep walking even in the midst of great difficulty. Resting on God.

I am still changing, but I no longer view it as "getting back" to where I was before the events of the summer. No. I have been transformed once again through the path of descent. Now I must integrate the experience into my continued journey forward. Slow and steady, continuing to self-empty so that the Call becomes that much more clear.

The first photograph is a picture of me right before I suddenly lost my hearing in July of this year. They thought it was a condition called "sudden hearing loss," so I was given large doses of Prednisone. It turned out that it was a complex migraine.

The second photograph was taken in late August, when I was swollen from excess cortisol as a side effect of Prednisone. My body couldn't handle being on the medication, but getting off of it seemed nearly impossible as I suffered from terrible withdrawl side effects. It took a special team effort between the UW Headache Clinic, my Neuro-endocrinologist, a Neuro-otologist and my Dysautonomia specialist (Neurologist) to rapidly get me off of this toxic drug. My face was a mere reflection of the chaos inside my body, with blood pressure through the roof (normally low) and a resting pulse of 115. The more I reduced the medicine, the more my blood pressure and pulse increased. I was close to being hospitalized. My neurologist said that it was the worst reaction he'd ever seen.

Just 6 weeks after stopping the Prednisone, this last picture was taken.

As I said in the beginning, it is easy to say that I am fascinated by transformation. It is another thing to embody it. Each time I walk this road, however, I come back better and stronger with a deeper understanding of what it means to walk with God.

"Speak God, thy humble servant is listening." - Samuel 3:10

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Integrating the "OLD" Me

New Blog Post
Today I did something new (well, new for my life post TBI). I stepped outside of my comfort zone into a leadership role in group process, which placed me back in the old shoes of my former CEO life…yet it was fundamentally different because I am different now.

Over my last few years of my theological program at Seattle University - Masters of Divinity - I have known that I would be eventually returning to a leadership role in the form of ministry. That said, I have been frightened to step out in "front" because I feel a strong sense of humility in walking "alongside" others in their journeys – especially those that are in the midst of suffering. I generally prefer to stay on the margins, alongside the unseen.

Taking that a step further, I often struggle to find the words necessary to communicate the complexity of my thinking in the moment. This has gotten easier with time, and I felt that today was an opportunity to step back into the role of facilitator, with humility and the faith that the words will come if/when needed.

In preparation, I painted, wrote poetry, meditated on the material, and spent a great deal of time contemplating the mind-scrambling musings of Kierkegaard in both Repetition and Fear and Trembling. Truthfully, however, this is what I do every time I read the original writings of great theologians. The rabbit holes that my brain went down in response to Kierkegaard often felt challenging to communicate, therefore the art work gave me an image that was both experiential (in creating it) and visual in preparation for class.

While my perfectionistic tendencies were lurking in the background, I allowed myself to just relax into the role. Truthfully, this was my biggest accomplishment today - an imperfect willingness to step into the role of imperfect facilitator…and in this sense…reintegrating a part of myself that I have not been able to access for quite some time.