Notes From a Concussed Pastor

Today’s reflection comes from Rev. Lisa Horst Clark
I never quite know how to answer the question “How are you?” in a way that feels honest and right since my concussion last June. “Good” is not quite right, “Not great” means all the conversation then centers on me, when maybe there are other important things to talk about. I have often settled on a short “Eh” followed by a launch into a question for more conversation. But for those who are wondering, the longer answer looks something like this:
It has been seven months since I hit my head last June, and now I have a different morning routine. Every morning after I wake up, I sit quietly with my coffee. I wake up most days with a headache and somewhere around the second cup in the morning, I can get the sense whether the headache will go away or not. I start a little thinking or reading as a test, to see what my capacity might be that day. And then I start to consider my to-do list or plans. If it is a good day, I can start right along with things that I hoped or planned on. If my capacity is less for that day, if headaches, fatigue, or brain fog continue, I need to reevaluate. I need to modify my plans and instead of 15-20 minutes of work together, it needs to go down to 5 or 10. I need to make sure I do the highest priority things first, as I will likely not get through the list. And everything else I either need to give away or give up.
Here is the good news—I am having more good days than I was a month ago and many more than six months ago. My ceiling has risen so I can now read chapters in a book, last longer on a video call, and drive myself short distances, along with being more present with family, staff and volunteers. I am grateful for progress as it continues and for the conversations with others who have been where I am now and had a full recovery. The sobering news for me, is that I still do have a lower floor. It is hard for me to take on more, when what my capacity will be from day to day is uncertain.
This daily ritual of assessing “where am I today” is not very pleasant. I do not like the uncertainty that requires every day recognizing where I am. I might even have some choice commentary when I am unable to do something that matters to me.
I bet that there are those here in the church who are saying “Pull up a chair and let me tell you about it.” Some in the congregation know what it is to live in this daily uncertainty. Some are living with disability, illness or injury. Some of us are living with challenges to mental health. Some are caring for an elder whose days can vary or a toddler who might not feel like calmly participating in the day’s planned activities. We also know all of us have been living in two years of daily uncertainty of Covid. We know it is not stable from week to week or day to day for what plans can be kept and what set aside, what is safe now and what will feel like too much of a risk next week.
Ambiguity is exhausting.
I wish we could take it away for you. I wish we could move more smoothly to a place that was more stable and you could make plans with a reasonable assurance you could keep them.
Every morning when I do my check in and see what is possible for the day, when I am not doing well, I need to go through my grief again. Anger, sadness, fear—you name it. Then, I take a breath and let it out. In this space I feel my own vulnerability. It is then that the space becomes holy ground.
I feel God in the care and support of this church community. I feel God in the daily reminder that the world doesn’t rest on my shoulders. I feel God in the daily reminder that I have something to choose—what is it that matters the most? What is the thing that only I can do? What are the things that I can let go?
These days I am grateful to be able to write and I hope to at some point be able to return to our physical pulpit. I am so grateful to be able to support and be in relationship with volunteers and staff. I also recognize that on the list of things “only I can do” also falls the work connected with healing of rest, exercise, and rehabilitation (Unless one of you wants to volunteer to take my cognitive therapy tests, in which case let me know…)
I do not like ambiguity, but I have found that for me it holds this gift: every day I need to pause, to be present and notice, and to ask what matters most. We always have our limits, even if some days they are more clearly apparent to us. Thank you God that it is not despite them, but within them that we hear the call of love.

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