Thursday, October 25, 2012

Well Done, Now Be Happy! - Dealing with Limitations

Used with Permission from
When I was much younger, my Tang Soo Do Karate Instructor, (Korean Karate) told me a story about fleas, a story I had studied in psychology in undergraduate school back in the '70's. (My degree was in Physics from Denison University in Granville Ohio, my minor was Psychology.) As I remember, the story was called the Flea Trainer Story.

If you take a bunch of fleas, and put them in a beaker, they will nearly all jump out. A flea, it turns out, can jump somewhere near 100 times it size. Now, take a bunch of new fleas, put them in the same beaker, place a piece of glass over the jar, so it now has a glass ceiling. At first, all the fleas keep jumping up, and smacking into the glass lid, but eventually, they stop bumping into the lid.  After awhile, you can take the lid off the jar, and they are no longer hitting the ceiling.  

Thus, the fleas are trained to jump lower than they are able, and they are totally unaware of their real potential.

The application to a coach, teacher or someone who sells good feelings to the public is obvious.  The question to ask is, What is YOUR glass ceiling?

I bought into that story hook line and sinker when I was young.  I bought into again, after I was injured, (for the story of my injury, read Diving into the Unknown - An Act of Faith.)  I have spent the better part of my adult life accepting responsibility for my limitations, and finding ways around them partly because of this story and other feel good stories just like it.

That is a good thing, accepting responsibility for your actions and life, but unfortunately, it is NOT the path to happiness that I once thought it was.  Reducing our life to "One Thing," in order to accomplish it, as goal setting theory encourages us to do, tends to lead us away from the truth, not towards it.  It is "Man's Wisdom," not God's.  It is a trap that has caught me more than once.

Do not think I am telling you that people don't have false ceilings, for they and I do.  That is still a good tool to understand that we have issues with our abilities, but the trap lies in forgetting where the truth and source of all power and success is.  If you think that the human spirit is boundless and the source of all happiness, as I once did and taught, you might very well spend you life looking for the answer, but never getting it.  

Let me give you an example from my life.  I was told that I would not be married in 1 year from my injury, because my condition was intolerable for my spouse.  True enough.  Nothing has changed there, except that I am still married after 20 plus years.  The doctors forget to account for God and my wife.  My wife knows God, and has learned to lean on him when I am not leaning on God, or any other rational or irrational set of behaviors.  Thus, we are still married.

I was also told that I would be in a hospital for the rest of my life, or dead.  Many people who have TBI do kill themselves.  Junior Seau from the NFL is a particularly well known and sad example. (If you want to read about that experience from my TBI perspective, then read Jr. Seau, TBI and God.)  I even tried to kill myself once.  That experience led directly to me finding out I was injured, and that led me to God.  However, the Doctors are wrong again.  I am, in fact, still in the world, and helping people overcome their glass ceilings.  How? -  God, and see the part of the story above about my wife.  My daughter plays a huge roll in that too.

Yet, there are some things that are gone forever, and I can never lean on again. 

I can not work. If I had a normal job, I would have to have someone drive me there, and back again, since 1/2 the time I can not remember where I live, and driving alone is very difficult for me.  I have to stop every 15 minutes or so, and walk around.  Loss of impulse control is a moment to moment part of my life.  I can picture working for someone who asks me to do something I can not do, or have forgotten, or is the wrong thing, and ending up a resident of the local police station.  So, I can not be the financial support to my family, to my church, to anyone.  When I was first injured, I had disability insurance.  It was hard to take the monthly checks, because it was a reminder that I was forever removed from the world's expectations, even from the churches expectations, that I should provided for my family.  Be the head of household.  Can't do it, and did not want to be reminded I could not do it.  

Short story to explain how hard it is to fit into the world with TBI.  I can focus on one task, to the exclusion of all others.  This is usually seen as a big problem, but when I was first hurt, a friend asked me to tile his laundry room with slate, and another friend showed me how.  They did this to help me feel useful, and to get me out of my wife's hair.  It worked on the first part, but she had to be there to support me, so it did not work on the second part.  Someone from the church I attended at the time drove up and asked for help moving something like a rolled carpet.  I had no idea who they were, but my wife told me I knew them from church. One of the problems with TBI is that you don't deal well with people you do not know or with surprises.  I had a full blown panic attack, and migraine from hell, drooling, loss of vision and extreme anger.  My wife told me to chill out, and she would help them move the stuff, so I could continue to do the floor.  That gave me an out; I got to be useful doing the floor, and she would get me away from the unwanted social contact.  Nice plan. They guy from my former church comes running in and starts lecturing me on how men behave.  How horrible I was.  How horrible I was to my wife.  What a bad man and bad Christian I was.  It took every thing I had not to rip his head off his shoulders. I had to sit on my hands, I had to look at the ground and bit my tongue.  20 Years latter, I still taste bile in my throat thinking about it.  Why?  Because part of me agrees with him.  What I want to be, and what I can be are different.  I assumed I had put a glass ceiling in the way, and was bumping my head on it.  I was a trained flea. Plus, I assumed that everything someone from my church said was right.  Double punch.  Pain everywhere.

If it were only one story, I would and should tell myself to get over it, but it is never ending.  One of my karate instructors told my wife the same thing about me.  When we were in Italy, on a karate trip, I had, according to him, developed the habit of walking away from the group.  Doing my own thing, and making her come with me.  This behavior, and others related to it, he told my wife made me a bad man.  She did not tell me about this for 10 years, for if I had heard that then, I might well have experience than same result that many NFL players experience when TBI takes their lives away.  Since she knew the truth, she just did not tell me. When I heard about it, it took we two weeks to remember who I was. (No Joke ... I did not remember my name, my family or what I should do when I woke up.)  Why?  Because I assumed he was right; that I was a bad man, that I had put a glass ceiling over my own head once again.

I was wrong.  I am who I am, or what Popeye used to say, I Yam what I Yam.  I am not the captain off all I see.  I must learn to deal with the limitations that I have. I am learning how to trust and lean on other people.  I will still find ways to get over, under or through the walls in front of me, but I must use the tools and gifts and people that  I have around me now, not the ones that the world thinks I should have.  I yam what I yam.

Here is the secret to success, the key to everything.  Here is how I get to hear, well done, be happy.

Use the tools and gifts you have to the best of your ability.  In the process, you will learn more, get better, and develop, but you can never do more than using your gifts and tools to the best of your ability.  This is also a biblical principle, for those who are asking themselves on whose authority I say this.  In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable about just this thing.  

What are my tools and gifts?  How can I help society, and in a larger view, God's people? 

I can teach.  Teach the bible and teach karate.

We do it very differently both at the karate school and at our church.  I don't have any pre-conceived notions about what people want or need from my art.  I let them, with their words and actions, tell me, and the same applies in Sunday school.  We wash feet, to put it in biblical terms.

Today I read a phrase used by Pastor Stephen Gibney of Soul Health Care in New Jersey, that says it better than I have ever hear it said before; which only tells you that I am not as well educated in biblical matters as I should be.

Monergistic Regeneration - "God effects a change which is radical and all-pervasive, a change which cannot be explained in terms of any combination, permutation or accumulation of human resources, a change which is nothing less than a new creation by Him who calls the things that be not as though they were, who spoke and it was done, who commanded and it stood fast. This, in a word, is regeneration." - John Murray  (Taken from

I am now trying to stop my comparisons between what the world and I expect out of me to who I am, and instead, look with awe and wonder upon what God has made me into.  I see it in the eyes of my students every time I look.  We change lives, and we do it by using the tools and gifts we were given, and letting God do the rest.  If it were just us, none of this would have happened.  What we have done can not be explained in human terms.  God walks the halls of our lives.

This, it turns out, is the key to everything.  Do Your Best, Using all Your Talents, Tools and the People around you, and God does the rest.  

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