I got my head injury trying to get to an author talk.
The Native American Student Cultural Center on campus had brought Sherman Alexie to speak. Smoke Signals is one of my favorite movies and Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, is a poignant and funny young adult book. In my excitement to get to the show I got out of the car too quickly and bumped the top of my head, temple and ear on the door frame of the car.
For the past 6 months I have been on disability leave with concussion a because I got out of the car badly. Participating in the nerdiest, safest, smallest activity on campus, I got hurt and have spent half of a year recovering and likely have several months of recovery still ahead of me.
I was stuck inside our apartment for the first two and a half months. Reliant on friends, family and members of the congregation I serve for rides to appointments and meals. I was on strict instructions to avoid screens and driving. I was able to read a little and able to talk, but when my three-year-old Goddaughter handed me a book to read to her I was unable to read out loud.
As a minister and a seminary student words are my life. Discussions, sermons, small groups, meetings are all about talking and listening. My concussion created empty pockets in my speech, where my brain would scramble to find words that I wanted to use. I could feel the thought hitting a wall inside my brain, knowing that the word was there but unable to retrieve and use it.
One afternoon trying to find a new clinic, dizzy, exhausted and frustrated, I sat down on the carpet in the lobby of the hospital and started to shake and cry. I took three ibuprofens and two extra strength Tylenol every six hours, took three naps every day and sat in the dark. When I went to appointments I wore sunglasses in exam rooms with the lights dimmed as low as possible. I practiced walking with my Physical Therapist and found walking in a straight line without hitting the walls about as hard as a reasonably healthy non-athlete would find running a half marathon.
Through rest, physical and occupational therapy I started to regain some strength.
In mid-April, about two months after the injury I started walking outside. First to the end of the block, later around the block, then to the park three blocks away and back, eventually I was walking a few miles every day.
My recovery, being able toleave the house on my own and walk around the neighborhood corresponded with the first emergence of spring flowers, reminding me of Song of Solomon 2:10-11
‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, And come along. For behold, the winter is past, The rain is over and gone. The flowers have already appeared in the land;
First the delicate flowering trees, then tulips, daffodils and hyacinth.
I started taking pictures of the flowers with my phone. Sharing the blooms on Instagram and Facebook. For years I have almost missed the fact that spring was happening because I was so busy wrapping up the school year ministry and ramping up for summer ministry, or finishing my spring finals. This year I had nothing but time, a neighborhood in bloom and a camera phone to receive the beauty personally and share it with the world.
Fragrant lilacs, and painterly irises bloomed, then shockingly extravagant peonies. Zinnias in colors from the original 8 pack of Crayola crayons with tiny gold crowns in the center started blooming on sidewalks, and Sunflowers bending under the weight of their own heads followed. I learned the names of the toad lily which is purple, and the blackberry lily which is orange.
My friend Edrin, a pastor here in the Twin Cities, posted a photo of a slide from one of his sermons a while ago that has been stuck in my heart for quite a while. “Allow suffering to expand your soul.” It’s not that we go seeking suffering out. But instead, when suffering comes, because it does come, we can allow our hearts to be flexible or rigid. The pain of difficult seasons can stretch our heart and expand its capacity for love, or the pain of the difficult season can press up against the rigidity of our hearts and shatter it.
This has been a year with a lot of loss, grief and death for me, my family and my community. I have had more physical and emotional pain in the last six months than I would have asked for. Over and over again I tell people, “This is not the story I would have written.”
The thing with pain and beauty is that they both are real. They exist at the same time. One of ways that we can help our souls expand with suffering rather than shattering by suffering is to allow beauty to expand our souls as well. Going for walks and looking for flowers pulled me out of the pain and sadness that I was in for the ten minutes or an hour that I was out there.
One reason that I am still a Christian is that the Christian story is a story of beauty coming into our pain. Immanuel, God with us, entering into our pain and offering a glimpse of hope.
(Immanuel is also the name of the Lutheran Church in my neighborhood where I took a picture of this Dahlia).
Sharing the photos with others allowed me to bring beauty to my friends and family. “Some of your pictures Katie,” my friend said to me, “they break something open in my soul.”
A faculty member at my seminary wrote to me and said that she was hurrying home each night to get on Facebook to see what flowers I saw that day.
A few of my friends mentioned that I should start making cards or writing a book. I brushed these comments aside at first, then decided to give it a shot. “I will start with cards,” I told myself. I have dreamed of being an artist for so long, but always held back wanting my art to be perfect, unique and the best product ever before I offered it to the world. I have always wanted to play it safe, to wait until conditions were perfect before I acted.
But there is no safe and unsafe in life. There is only living small and living big. I was living small when I received my injury. I was not engaged in any sort of high risk activity. I was going to hear an author talk. Whether we live small or live big, we still get hurt. Why not risk the bigger life? So I took the risk, ordered the supplies to make cards, and launched an online store, Daley Blooms. www.DaleyBlooms.com
I was cleared to return to work up to 10 hours a week a few weeks ago. The same week, the church let me know that in order to offer hours to the temporary children’s ministry director for the duration of the school year they would not have hours for me to return to work until June of next year, so I would be laid off in the interim.
One hour after I received my lay-off letter from the church, I received my first online order.
“Won’t God provide?” I could hear the wise women and men from my life asking me in my spirit. Later I thought about Jesus’ promise from the Sermon on the Mount, he literally uses flowers to describe God’s provision.
Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?
There are days when I am scared. I don’t have a business or arts background. But sales have covered most of my expenses so far and I hope to be able to use some of the profits from my sales to not only cover the medical expenses that have been building up but also to provide for my family again. Friends have invited me to be a vendor at a community celebration and I have submitted proposals to local gift shops.
There is a quote that is often attributed to Anaïs Nin, but that actually comes from a woman named Elizabeth Appell, I came across this quote early in my recovery and it has come back to me again and again over the past six months:
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.