“It was twenty years ago today” My Life with Traumatic Brain Injury

Ride leader. BCA Wednesday Ride

On August 5, 2000 I set off to ride the Greylock Century Ride, a grueling 100 mile ride through the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts. I had already gone up and over Mt. Greylock, the highest point in the state, and up the famous “Hairpin Turn” on Route 2, “The Mohawk Trail.”

At mile 33 I found myself off the road in a drainage ditch  (I found out later they are called “paved waterways” and are designed to keep then snow melt off the road.) The waterway led to a grate. It was too steep to ride back on the road or onto the shoulder so I literally went head over heels onto the pavement, still clipped into my pedals.

The damage to my body, I learned after trips to two hospitals, was a badly separated shoulder, a broken rib, a contused lung, and multiple abrasions to my arms, legs and side (cyclists call it “road rash.“ What I didn’t learn for three more months was that I had an undiagnosed severe traumatic brain injury (TBI).

I had surgery to fix my ruined shoulder, the road rash finally healed months later, the rib healed, the lung healed, but the TBI remains with me to this day, although I have adapted to my “new normal” and have learned to live with it. If you want to know more about the day of my accident I gave a paper on it to the Monday Evening Club called “I Lost My Marbles on the Mohawk Trail.

In September of 2004 I came to the realization that my disability made it impossible to remain a parish pastor, and I sadly resigned my pastorate of 22 years and went on long-term disability and SSDI, thus ending may thirty years as a pastor to congregations.

One of the ways I lived my new normal was to continue my ministry through my writings. I started this blog in 2009, and I have written about the things I care about, one of which is TBI. One of the first pieces I published here was called “I Have a Brain Injury.”

My first devotion for the UCC Daily Devotional was called “What’s Your New Normal?”

My “New Normal” is what my doctor told me to think about my life, and not compare it to life before the TBI. I have found this helpful, and a good way to think about one’s faith journey, for we are always faced with changes and new challenges. I have recently repurposed the devotion to help think about our new normal after this pandemic. That piece is called “Imagining Our New Normal.”

I will be remotely preaching on this topic this Sunday, August 9, at South Congregational Church in Pittsfield, and next Sunday, August 16, remotely at The United Congregational Church of Little Compton, Rhode Island, where my daughter is the pastor.

Finally I want to say that I am most grateful to my wife and family for the support they lovingly gave me through some difficult years. And I am thankful for God’s grace and vast love for me even when I didn’t feel it or acknowledge it. On the Tenth Anniversary of my accident I wrote a piece called “Disability and Grace.”

I ended that piece with this reflection:

The scripture that speaks to me most about disability comes from the vision of John the Divine as reported in the 21st chapter of Revelation. John looks up and sees a new heaven and a new earth, and a New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. He says, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

I take comfort from this promise that God’s ultimate intention for us is a community where we don’t suffer pain or death or loss.  That would have to include disability. No more sleepless nights, no more depression, no more chronic pain, no more anxiety and fear, no more shame. No more of all the things that beset us in this earthly life. Quite a vision!

This horizon of hope often allows me to bounce back from my set-backs, to experience forgiveness for my failings, to face the challenges and complications of each new day, and to enjoy the quotidian little (and sometimes not so little) graces that visit me unbidden and unexpected.

Amen.

 

(Photos: 1. On a BCA Wednesday Ride. 2. In front of the Monterey General Store on a ride)

“Rich Toward God” A Stewardship Sermon on Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” —Luke 12:13-21 NRSV Continue reading

“Who is my Neighbor?” A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Amos 7: 7-17

Luke 10:25-37

Once a lawyer approached Jesus to test him. I’ve had some experience with this as my son is a lawyer. You all know my daughter, Rebecca (the pastor here). Her older brother, Andrew, is a lawyer. In fact, he’s a prosecutor. Continue reading

“The Elusive Presence” A Devotion on James 4:8

“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.”—James 4:8

James makes knowing God sound easy, but I’ve never found it so. When I was a young man, and had outgrown my Sunday school faith, I hungered to know God, not just as an idea, but as a living relationship. Continue reading

“No Doubts? I Doubt it!” A Devotion on James 1: 5-8

“If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” —James 1:5-8 Continue reading

“The False God SUCCESS” A Devotion on 1 Corinthians 4:10-13

“God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.”

—1 Corinthians 4:10-13 Continue reading

“Small Beginnings” A Baptismal Sermon on Mark 4:30-34

Jesus also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?  It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade. With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.” —Mark 4:30-34 Continue reading

“SHARE!” A Devotion on Acts 2:44-45

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”—Acts 2:44-45

My son and daughter were born 20 months apart and so played together as children. Before I was a parent I imagined that the solution to sibling competition over toys was to give them each the same one. So, for example, if you gave one of them a colorful ball, you would also give the other one an identical ball. As reasonable as this sounds it didn’t work. Apparently there is something highly acquisitive hardwired into the human condition. It turns out that both children wanted both balls. I’m tempted to reference a certain Christian doctrine here, but I’ll hold back. Continue reading

“The Great Laboratory of Love” A Devotion on Ephesians 4:1-3

“I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” —Ephesians 4:1-3

A pastor friend of mine is known to have told his congregation, “If there isn’t somebody here who rubs you the wrong way you need to come around more often.” Continue reading