- Goal Setter.
Just a few of my strongest inborn character traits. These traits themselves do have good qualities that can bring about good results. But I have a tendency to move them up to the top of the list in importance, especially when I sense that my day in day out routine life is being threatened. Threatened so that it does not fit in my nice cozy box of secure feelings. I go from feeling secure to feeling desperate in situations that don’t involve major crisis or survival. In these times, I yearn to cling to my goal setting, planning, and preparation as if they are lifelines. But they are really hindrances to acceptance of new situations. While new situations can be unwelcome, they can be managed with some flexibility and improvisation and a different perspective. Sadly when I react like this, I leave God out at least initially, and then usually run to Him when my useless efforts are exhausted.
I have to admit that I am at my best when my ducks are perfectly aligned in a row, spaced equally apart, standing at attention. Okay, I have this perfectionist tendency too in case you did not notice. 🙂
And yes, I am a bit (Okay, more than a bit) of a control freak, even though I know that control is only an illusion and only God truly masters control over anything. I know logically that change is inevitable and change can sometimes be drastic and life altering with no warning. But yet my tendency when confronted with such drastic circumstances is to make every effort to change my plans to neatly correspond with the new situation and scramble to get my scattered and disheveled ducks back in a row, spaced evenly, standing at attention again.
Like the subtitle of this blog says, I am a work in progress. I move forward a bit, then back, kind of like a dance of sorts. I’m so glad that Jesus is patient and He loves me. He picks me up every time I stumble, which is often. I’m a horrible dancer.
Sometimes my tendency to try to be in control is so blatantly desperate and obvious that when I look back on it I literally cringe.
Following is a true story that is one such time that I went way too far trying to force normalcy when God wanted me to trust His plan and accept unfamiliar and unusual circumstances and rely on Him.
There was this nice, normal day almost seven years ago. Or at least it was that way for most of the day. Then I was blasted with a completely out of control and unprecedented event, and my reactions to the changing phases of the situation are a good example of me at my worst. Like my very worst. It’s times like this when I am so grateful for God’s unconditional love. And it is times like this that I want to remember purposely to help me recognize when I’m moving in that direction and seek God’s help to stop.
March 5, 2007 – Funny that I remember little details as I am driving home from work on this day. Listening to a new Norah Jones CD and deciding that I don’t like this new one as well as the others I have. Thinking about what I would like to eat for dinner, and choosing an exciting tuna sandwich. My simple, routine, rather dull life was about to change drastically and painfully.
On this day I take my usual route home and stop at a 4 way stop and proceed through the intersection after looking both ways as I always do. I know this route well and have traveled it for many years as a back way home. But on this particular day at this specific time, a 16 year old newly licensed driver is rushing back to school to get her cell phone before the school locks its doors. She is in such a hurry that she runs the stop sign and hits my driver’s side door. I find out later that this scenario is commonly known as being “t-boned”.
I end up in a ditch on the other side of the intersection. My first thought when I see the cracked windshield is that I have been in a wreck. My second realization is that the car is still running. I remember thinking that this might not be safe, so I turn the key and shut it off. Next, I realize that my glasses are gone. This is a big deal, like Linus without his security blanket. My hand right in front of my face is blurry without them. Not being able to see and know what I am seeing is a scary experience. And interestingly enough, it parallels the way I feel and how I react when my usual structured life loses structure.
I’m checked on by a few caring people who saw the wreck, and then the ambulance arrives. The EMT can see immediately that my collar bone is broken. And when I get out of the car on the passenger side and stand, it hurts terribly to put weight on my left leg. I assume I have pulled a muscle or something (Sure, that’s it). The EMT picks me up and puts me in the ambulance, and then gets a wheelchair for me when we arrive at the hospital. He wheels me into the ER and lets staff know that I am there and then leaves.
Since I have no glasses, everything is blurry in the ER waiting room. But I can tell very quickly that it is literally wall to wall people and spilling out into the hallway. There are people of all ages from infant to elderly and a variety of nationalities. A diverse group in every way imaginable all talking at once.
Now that I am situated and have time to think, the planner in me comes out fighting. A plan helps keep me focused and working toward a goal. I’m doing something that helps me feel safe and in control even though it’s not real. So with this unexpected interruption, I simply alter my usual evening routine plan with a revised plan. My new plan is really nothing more than a scenario that I create to help me feel secure in a situation where security is as lost as my glasses are. This wishful thinking scenario goes like this: I will eventually be seen by someone who will do whatever it is you do for a broken collarbone and get some pain medication or something for the pulled muscle in my leg. Then I’ll call someone to come and take me home. I don’t want to call my dad because I know he is gone for the evening, and he will worry, and I’m fine, and I’ll be home before too long. My revised plan complete with future scenario is in place. Now I take steps to set it in motion.
Step 1: I call a coworker and describe what I call an “adventure” on the way home, and inform her that I may be a little late to work in the morning.
Step 2: I call a dear friend who is also my small group leader and a true prayer warrior and ask her to pray that I will be seen quickly. As crowded as it is, this could easily take hours. I need to get home and get a good night’s sleep for work tomorrow.
Fortunately this dear friend always knows what is really needed, and over my protests insists on coming there to stay with me, and her husband comes too. They are extremely helpful in so many ways and on so many levels. Thank God for friends who know what I need when I don’t even know.
Finally, I am taken back for an x-ray of my collar bone so that it can officially be labeled as broken. Then later I go back again and this time I am x-rayed from my hip down on my left side. This second x-ray is when it gets interesting and I begin to realize that maybe I won’t be at work tomorrow. What’s happening to my revised plan and carefully created future scenario? It is being slowly but surely obliterated. But I’m still clinging to it, not realizing that it is not even there.
To take this second x-ray, I must maneuver from the wheelchair up onto the metal table and lie down. I am in so much pain. Now I realize that it not only hurts to put weight on my leg, it hurts to move it too. The x-ray technician is very compassionate and tells me that he can’t help me since he does not yet know what is wrong and he does not want to injure me further. He encourages me to take as long as I need to get positioned up on the table. Seems like forever. As soon as the x-ray is over, the technician leaves, and then I see him and someone else over in a corner having this little serious chat…not a good sign. Then they both come over and tell me that instead of returning me to the wheelchair they are going to put me on a stretcher. I protest that I feel fine in the wheelchair. I don’t realize what should be obvious. They know something I don’t yet know.
Some time after this second x-ray, a doctor comes by and asks me if anyone has told me what is going on. Ummm…no. So he proceeds to tell me in medical language and the only word I understand is fractures. I ask for the English version and learn that I have fractured my pelvis in 2 places and the next step is a CT scan to make sure there is no internal bleeding.
Finally, now I fully understand that I will not be at work tomorrow, and I may not be home tonight. (Really?). I’m so slow to catch on to what should be an easy concept to grasp now that I have some facts. Especially when I have to accept that now there is no plan at all, and the future scenario I came up with was just a dream to make me feel better. I have no idea how to prepare for this completely uncharted territory.
I finally call my dad and he comes quickly and is understandably concerned. And on top of loving fatherly concern is the fact that Mom went into the arms of Jesus just four months ago. I hate to do this to him. But there is nothing I can do to help that. This is out of my control, and it was never within my control in the first place. But I still don’t see it that way. I truly have no plan. I have no control. And I have no idea.
What was supposed to be a slight interruption to my routine turns into a journey very far away from my normal and comfortable life. No routine. No ducks in a row. No ducks at all. No way to prepare. I have no clue what to prepare for.
I stay in the hospital for one week. The morning after the wreck the doctor comes by and tells me that I will have to be in a wheelchair for six weeks. I am on heavy pain medication and sleep most of the time, so in my waking moments I initially think seeing the doctor was a dream. But he tells me again a day or two later when I am more alert. I actually ask him if I can go to work in a wheelchair and he says yes…probably laughing on the inside.
So here I go again. Looking back on this I can’t believe I still don’t get it. I have at least average intelligence, but it’s gone, along with the realization that I am utilizing completely useless and unhealthy coping skills to handle this. I’m thinking (I promise I’m not making this up) that now that I know what is going on, I can take care of this. No problem, I’ll just revise my plan to accept these new circumstances. I know I will be in a wheelchair. Fine. I’ll go to work in a wheelchair. Sure, I can do that. I can set a goal to get better, to do whatever I need to do and work hard to learn how to do life at work in a wheelchair. Yeah, right. I’m so desperate for a plan that I really think I can be the Superwoman-at-work-in-the-wheelchair-healing-from-injuries. I have no idea how much this would entail. I just feel certain that I can do whatever it is. Uh…Nope. No way. And now that I am more alert and as my dad would say “at myself”, do I consider praying about this? Do I seek God’s guidance? Do I pour out my heart to Him and tell him I’m scared and I don’t like this and I don’t know what to do? Nope. I just keep clinging to this completely ludicrous plan that only lives in my imagination.
My first clue comes in the form of a very nice physical therapist who comes to help me transfer from the bed to the wheelchair. She is very sweet and gracious. But she is about to give me a very loud wake up call. I should have had some idea. But no, not me. I’m too busy hanging onto nothing. My hands are holding nothing. But I still think I have a plan. I’m hanging on to lies I believe are true.
That first transition from bed to wheelchair is…torturous pain. Like “You have got to be kidding me!” pain. And my Superwoman plan does not seem quite so super. But I’m still clinging to it, because I have convinced myself it is what I must do. I still think I can do it. I’m going to grit my teeth and suffer through the pain and do this. Talk about no sense of reality. None. And no realization that I have just shown God again that I’m still not ready to run to Him. So He continues to patiently wait…with compassion and a knowing smile, but also with sadness in His eyes. I’m here. Right here. Come to me. You are not alone. I’m here with you. But I’m not listening.
Because it is obvious I have chosen to hide from reality, I am bombarded with it from all sides. Reality hits hard. I learn that reality is I can’t put any weight on my left side at all for six weeks. That limits me in many ways that I never thought of until presented with this situation. Reality is that after the one week stay in the hospital I spend two weeks in rehab which includes intense physical and occupational therapy. Reality is that I need help taking a shower, help getting dressed, and have to buzz for a nurse and wait to get help to go to the bathroom. Reality is that I have to take pain medication regularly. If I miss a dose before a physical therapy session, the therapist can tell immediately and a nurse will suddenly appear with it. Reality is that physical therapy is grueling, painful, and exhausting, and occupational therapy is necessary to help me be as independent as I can once I get home, but I am still limited and still need some help. Reality is that after being released from rehab I would spend the next three weeks at home in a wheelchair with my wonderful dad taking care of me due to a long delay in the approval process for home health care. Reality is that I have no energy reserve and get tired out easily, which further limits my struggle for independence.
Reality is that my plans and my creative scenarios and all my efforts are seriously flawed and worthless. Because God has a completely different plan for me during this time. And sad to say, I don’t seek Him until I’m at the end of my rope hanging by my fingernails.
Why did I wait so long to do what I should have done immediately? Because I put me first…actually, I put me only. I tried to handle it myself. How did that work for me? It didn’t. Instead, it worked against me. It made a painful time full of hassles and discomfort that much worse.
The hardest part of remembering all of this is that there are so many people out there who deal with situations that are critical, life threatening, truly desperate. Situations where survival is not a given. When feeling pain is a good sign because feeling pain means being alive. I struggled so much with a little rough spot and temporary pain. It was really nothing at all.
I wanted to keep going with my routine. God wanted me to have a new routine, orchestrated by Him, for a while. Time to rest Time for my bones to mend and my body to rejuvenate. Time to reflect. Time to evaluate. Time to allow my dad to shift into his very familiar caregiver position that he missed so much after Mom died. Time to spend with God, time to grow in His grace and love.
This is an example of how NOT to handle an unanticipated interruption. I once read somewhere about how Jesus handled interruptions. He did not see them as unwelcome or negative. He saw them as ministry opportunities.
What if I had reacted to my wreck as a ministry opportunity instead of going way out of control trying so hard to gain control when there was no control? I could have touched lives. I could have planted seeds of hope. I could have ministered to others who need to see what it looks like when God is allowed to be in control of everything, including difficulties. I could have shared His light and His love, along with my faith that all will work out for His glory.
Matt 5:14-15 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.”