Pruned by God
Brain injury is like God drastically pruning you and the people around you.
Posted Jan 21, 2019
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." John 15: 1-2.
I used to grow roses. I'd pore over rose catalogues and spend my parents' money on filling their garden with tea roses and floribundas. My eyes were drawn to elegant blooms of silver and velvet crimson or to delicate white buds that blossomed into multi-petalled pink. Sun and nourishing clay soil pumped growth into the bushes I planted. But pruning was essential, otherwise they became leggy, barren of flowers, and, worse, black spot crept in. If not pruned off, the leaves yellowed, shriveled, and died—leaving bare, weakened branches.
I had to learn how to prune roses. Some fussy roses could get quite ticked off if not pruned right; they'd sprout leaves and no blossoms as repayment for sloppy pruning. Sometimes virulent black spot or a bad winter would spring despair into my heart as to how to revive my poor rose. I'd inhale courage in March and take the pruning shears to the branches near the base to subject the injured rose to a hard prune. I'd squeeze the handles of my shears, willing my eyes to remain open, to watch and guide my hands as they enacted this drastic act to save my rose. Day after day, I'd check the remaining thick, short branches for signs of new life. A small protuberance would quicken my heart but caution my hope. A tiny green leaf would bring on a smile. A sprout of reddish green would gladden my soul, for that meant new branches and new blooms would soon appear.
Brain injury is like that kind of drastic pruning.
It's like God takes his pruning shears and mercilessly reshapes your life. Clip. There go your skills and talents. Clip. There goes your work. Clip. There go your intimate relationships. Clip. There go your friends. Clip. There goes your health. Clip. There go your savings and income. Clip. There goes you, the you that had existed however many years you lived before your brain injury.
Pastors talk about pruning being a good thing, how it's uncomfortable, but it must be done while your life is flourishing, for more fruit will accrue to you when regrowth emerges from your pruned self. Perhaps standard God-issued pruning is "uncomfortable." You may lose your job or your spouse. It's tough. You worry and grieve. You lean on others. And somehow God shows you a way to grow your life again—it's up to you to take that way, though.
But brain injury-level pruning is beyond uncomfortable. This is like the doctor telling you a lumbar puncture is a little uncomfortable.
You feel razed.
You feel like a forest fire up in the north, where burnt trees looking like dried-out vanilla beans stand in a barren landscape devoid of growth for decades.
For me, after God's pruning via the injury, every good thing has been countered by a bad thing, almost as if that sprout of good, like the ones I used to see on my pruned roses, instead of heralding fertile growth leads to God shearing off another pruned branch. Or perhaps after the sprout has turned into a green branch, he'll grimace at it and lop it off.
I'd had no affect for years, so I kept forging on, feeling the pain of lop after lop for only a moment before blessed no-feeling returned. Yet the corollary was true, too. A good thing would lead to a brief moment of happiness before neutrality would surge back in. Good things that happened after years and years of desperate seeking and finding and working towards, were nothing to me when they finally happened. The people around me would tell me how I should be happy, feel grateful; they couldn't understand that accomplishments after being razed, restarted, pruned again and again, inevitably accompanied by some bad news, and in the context of no or little affect, didn't move me.
It's hard to feel joy when you're heaving on the ground, desperate for air and water after a marathon that exceeded the norm, knowing that another and another and another are awaiting you.
One foot in front of the other, living in the moment because that's how my memory worked for years, that's how I came to live in order to survive, that is what God's pruning of my life lead to. Thought leaders and inspirational gurus espouse living in the moment, being aware to the present, so as to thrive. What that's really about is enjoying life as you're living it, instead of staying in a belief that you can only enjoy life once you've reached the future. But for a mind viciously pruned by God, now trapped in the detritus of a damaged brain, living in the moment is the only way to escape the grief of the past and a future turned non-fruitful by health care providers who refused to provide neuroplastic treatments and by all the people who claimed to have loved you leaving you like petals from a dying rose.
For you see, when you're pruned, so is your network of family and friends and the health care providers who care for you. God's pruning of them is to challenge them. He wants them all to produce generous fruit. He tests the doctors to see if they will use their healthy brains to restore life to your injured neurons. He tests the therapists to see if they will assess you fully, if they will keep abreast with what others have discovered about how to diagnose cognitive skills and restore them. He tests society to see if they will support you or push you out of sight into day programs or isolation in your home.
But most of all, God tests your friends and family to see how they'll react to disaster striking a person they claim to love, to see if they can produce abundant fruit or allow black spot to take hold -- in themselves. It's almost like he's asking them: Do you really love that person? Do you understand love is an action that requires patience, compassion, and sacrifice? Can you live love when pruned, when the person you love is pruned back so hard almost nothing is left? Or can you only live love when the person fills you up and meets your needs?
Copyright ©2019 Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.