Unraveling Normal

I was normal once.

Worst two minutes of my life.

Over the past twelve years, I’ve become a specialist at goofy jokes like that one. It’s what you do when you have experienced a Traumatic Brain Injury. Some call it gallows humor. Making the best of a bad situation, making fun of the crummy parts of life. I just call it, well, being me.

Okay, how is this for funny: I just now browsed through my computer files to see what I’d written before, as a devotion for God’s Grace. I found a text file named, “normal.” I opened it. It was empty. Why am I not surprised?

I haven’t been ‘normal’ for a long time. And as other jokes go, it is highly over-rated, just a setting on the dryer.

But when you are damaged and your brain doesn’t work, it isn’t funny. Not for a while. Not for a long time. Have I mentioned here before that I spent roughly a year of my life, after finding my way to a minimal level of basic functioning, unraveling socks? That’s right. Just pulling out the threads and unraveling clean white socks. It ended up a pile roughly three feet high and two feet long. I finally got pillow covers and made pillows out of my unraveling. A sober reminder of what was.

It takes a long time to ravel, to be woven back together. And it takes more than a village. Besides people, however, I have discovered it takes a purpose. From as soon as I could think, I knew I wanted to make something good of my suffering. And specifically, as the war in Iraq was ramping up and soldiers were surviving with devastating injuries from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), I knew I wanted to help them. But how?

Last January I was invited to add a short chapter about my TBI to a book, “Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injury: 101 Stories of Hope, Healing, and Hard Work.” I was afraid at the time I wrote it, to use my own name. So meet the ‘other’ me, my alter-ego, “Anneli Norrland,” the pseudonym I chose as author for the chapter, “I Work,” and also the author of a blog that introduces the book. She will be around for a while, writing about all sorts of things. I kind of like her. As I said, my chapter is called, “I Work!” – not as in “go to…” (I can’t do that), but as in, like a broken radio that is rewired and put back together, I function. I can do stuff. It’s pretty cool. Somedays I can add! And tie my shoes!

My TBI was serious. I was very ill. It was awful. It lasted a long time. I despaired of ever feeling myself again. And there are some things I still can’t do anymore.

BUT. Compared to the accounts I read in various chat rooms online from veterans and their families and caregivers, I am very lucky. It is hair-raising and humbling to learn what many, thousands upon thousands, of families and individuals go through every day, some never to recover. It breaks my heart. I want so desperately to help them in some way!

Of course, veterans aren’t the only ones to suffer from TBI’s. Gun-shot victims, abuse victims, stroke victims, accident victims. Many others. But the Vets, ‘Wounded Warriors’ have stolen my heart. I really want this book to be a practical and encouraging help to them and to their families. I will do whatever I can to get copies into their hands. (And Dave will attest to that, when he finds me asleep in the middle of the night, laptop nestled next to me: whatever!)

The book is just about here! June 24, 2014 is the publishing day! My ten free copies just arrived a minute ago, as I am writing! Hurray! I got a very small honorarium for writing my part, but otherwise, I do not get (or want!) one thin dime of the royalties from the sales of this book. In fact, I am going to be giving mine away. The first fruits. Of what God gave me to give to the community. It seems only fitting, don’t you think. I intend to give more books away, too, as God shows me where.

I have two points I’d like to offer. First, to follow up the message we heard from Pastor Dave on Sunday, we need three things in order to heal, to make good our days, our experiences: 1) a project. Getting this book “out there” into the world has become my passion, a project that my husband, Dave, will tell you has kept me up very late at night and got me up and over to The Tattered Cover, where I write and work on this strategy by seven a.m. almost every morning for weeks. Figuring out promotion and distribution, connections, strategies. I learned to do things on the computer I never imagined doing. Want to be Linked In? Part of a Google Plus circle? To help get the word out, I just keep going. And going!

2) redemption. I am redeeming my experience by offering it to others, as a resource. I always wanted to be able to do that and I can’t quite believe it yet, that it’s happening. If anyone can gain an iota of encouragement from my experience, and from other stories in this book, it will be blessed, sacred, holy ground. God made this possible.

3) community. We can’t do this stuff on our own. I couldn’t even begin to heal without community: family, caregivers, doctors, friends, church. And this project wasn’t something I could do on my own. Trading on the Chicken Soup for the Soul franchise seemed a bit kitchy at first, until I learned how many millions of these books are read. So they are part of the community. And so, too, most importantly, are the other 100 storytellers, whom I expect to have much more helpful and compelling stories than mine. I’m counting on them to really bring the message to the folks I want to be helping with this book. And I’m inviting everyone I remotely know (or know people who know…) to pass the word. And to even give a book to someone who can use one. I can help you do that for a discount price. Or you can just get a copy from (please!) your local retail bookstore, like my good friends at The Tattered Cover. You can even pre-order. If you have ideas for me, for outreach, please let me know.

Then, remember this? God doesn’t waste anything. Have we heard that before? Here at God’s Grace? Yes! And it is true. Whatever in your life that seems wasted, God will find a way to use it. No question. Promise. And that is our good news, as we live our lives in the Risen Christ, he joins us to himself and makes new life come from death.

Gracious God, thank you for using even our most wasted experiences and joining us to your Risen Christ, to bring new life! For us, but especially as we share with you the joy of giving to others! Amen.

(If you’d like to read more, here’s my blog, introducing the book. And if you’d like to get one to give away, let me know. I can help you do that for a very good price. Thanks!)

http://www.annelinorrland.blogspot.com Blog title is “Light Gets In”

Jan Erickson-Pearson

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