Cristabelle Braden's life has irrevocably changed twice. First, an accident while playing a game at youth group left her with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that changed her personality, her ability to have conversations and do everyday tasks, and her memory.
Then, God intervened, giving Braden a desire to write songs and a musical inclination she never had before. These Christ-centered songs served as a catalyst for a new life and a new mission for Braden, now expressed in her career as a full-time singer-songwriter and her organization, Hope After Head Injury.
Braden answered 13 questions about her journey and her brand-new album, Hope Survives. Most of all, she shares about how God has used something that began as traumatic and has turned it into a triumph for His glory.
Your story is one of overcoming and of shattering expectations. What is your favorite thing you've seen God do in your life so far?
He has shown me who I am and has given me an identity and a purpose. I had a serious traumatic brain injury, which completely changed my life. In addition to having to relearn simple daily tasks in rehab therapy--like getting dressed, and taking a shower--my brain injury stripped away my personality. I felt like an empty shell. God redefined my life through this as a child of God. I know that nothing and no one can take that away! I made the choice to re-fill with God's love, and that's how I try to live every day.
What has God showed you in this journey about Himself and about yourself?
There is no self-sufficiency with a brain injury, because I physically can't rely on myself. I can't remember simple little things on a daily basis and I have holes in my memory that are months and even years long. I get overstimulated and battle cognitive fatigue where sometimes it gets to the point that I can't do more than one or possibly two things per day, including daily living skills. Through all of this, I've learned to rely on Jesus. He's giving me the ability to be patient with myself as I become frustrated with my brain, and as a result, more patient with others!
Every day, I experience in a deeper and deeper way how the power of Jesus is stronger than any brain damage. I manage with some coping strategies--writing stuff down, using my phone as reminders, et cetera--and a lot of prayer!
In a weird way, this journey with brain injury has grounded me, and made me grateful for each day in a way I never was before. He is my healer, protector, provider, and He takes care of me as His daughter. I know I'm loved and I fully believe that He will continue to heal and care for me. There is a peace in accepting your journey, and learning to see the hard days as a blessing because that's how you grow.
Your bio says you started writing songs after your injury. Did that totally catch you off guard?
Honestly, I do not even remember the first year and a half after the brain injury. So I don't know if it caught me off guard, but I do know that it did really surprise my family! At the time, I was having trouble holding conversations, had memory loss, and had something called aphasia, which affects word finding. I had lost a lot of my vocabulary and was functioning more on the level of a small child.
So when I started to write songs, deep spiritual songs, that rhymed and made sense, my parents didn't know what to do with it! They talked to the doctor and he said to just let me go with it, since music affects the brain differently. So my dad ordered me a guitar off the Internet and I taught myself how to play and wrote my first song on it the next day. It wasn't just the writing, but also the quantity--literally hundreds of songs within the first year. I never set out to be a musician or a singer/songwriter or anything; the first time someone asked me for a CD I thought they were crazy! The Lord just started opening this path. It's completely blown my mind that He would open this door with music the way He has!
Who are some artists that inspire you?
Some of my favorite artists are Casting Crowns, Jimmy Needham, Mandisa, Jaci Velasquez, and Francesca Battistelli!
To someone who's never heard you, describe your sound.
My music is hopeful and upbeat, while at the same time being raw and real through life experiences. I want my music to be intimate enough to where you can feel it in your soul.
You won the 2015 Kindred Awards Female Vocalist of the Year! Tell us about those awards and what that meant to you!
Those were regional Christian music awards, and it meant so much to me because it was entirely fan voted! It was a huge surprise; I really didn't expect to win it at all. At the time, I was coming up just stepping into a full-time music career (having been both a student and musician before that), and it was a way that the Lord gave me confirmation that I was on the right track!
Hope Survives is the name of the project. Tell us about the thought behind that name, and about the message you wanted to get across--there are LOTS of songs about victory and overcoming and the power of God on this record!
Each song was written through different parts of my journey of brain injury. The good days, the bad days, and in between. It's hard to hold onto hope when your life is completely different and you're living a "new normal." When just getting out of bed seems like a daunting task, when you can't even get yourself dressed and feel ashamed of that, when your headaches are so debilitating you can't leave the room, through all of this, I found out that the source of my hope is deeper than my circumstances, deeper than my thoughts or feelings. The source of my hope is eternal. Only through the gospel of Jesus Christ does hope survive. I hope these songs encourage and invite people to keep going, no matter how hard each moment is. I just want people to know how much God loves them and to never give up!
How do you go about writing songs? Do you have a specific method, or is it just when inspiration strikes, you attack?
Definitely attacking when inspiration strikes! Songs come and overwhelm me. For example, the idea for "Hope Survives" came to me one night after a very long day. I went to the piano and had the song finished within an hour! But as far as how, I tend to write the music and lyrics together, and I love to write in prayer!
Tell us about the tour you're on, the Hope Survives Tour! What's the response like to the new music, what is your live set like?
The Hope Survives Tour was such an incredible experience! It was my first full headlining tour, five weeks, and we played at brain injury support groups, rehab centers, hospitals, prison ministry, a homeless shelter, and churches. During my set, I use the songs to share my testimony through brain injury. I traveled with a band and we did an acoustic set. I like to keep my live shows intimate and real!
What are some things you do to spread awareness about TBIs? Tell us about your organization, Hope After Head Injury.
Hope After Head Injury is a way to reach brain injury survivors and caregivers and connect them. A large part of this is through social media, sharing survivor stories, an online support group, and a weekly live "encouragement chat" broadcast every Tuesday on Facebook!
Through this journey, God has been gently leading me towards the realization that brain injury ministry is a big part of my calling. He has provided many opportunities I would never have dreamed of! I didn't seek out any sort of speaking engagements, but when I posted a video blog on my Hope After Head Injury page--which I thought nobody would see because at the time I had less than 100 likes--it started getting shared out and now has over 80,000 views! From that one video, I began receiving invitations to speak and share music at conferences, rehab centers, hospitals and more!
It's been very cool because this has opened up to a whole audience of people who may or may not know Jesus, more than when I do church concerts. This gives me the ability to go into a rehab center or a hospital and sing my songs and relate to people with brain injury, and bring them hope!
What are some things you're hearing from people as you've advocated for people who've experienced TBIs?
On Hope After Head Injury's social media we share stories from survivors. We shared a young girl's story back in March, and what she posted on Instagram afterwards brought me to tears. I'll just share with you what she wrote:
"Words cannot describe how thankful I am for Hope After Head Injury. I came across this organization last February and I can't describe the feeling of knowing I'm not the only one dealing with this. Hope After Head Injury was created by a survivor for survivors and it gave me relief because I finally was able to connect with people going through what I was going through. Hope After Head Injury gave me my purpose, my life goal is research for brain injury as a pediatric neurosurgeon. Cristabelle Braden is an inspiration to me, and words can't describe how much she means to me, she gave me a part of me that I thought I would never get back."
I will never understand how or why God has entrusted me with this ministry, and there are days that I grow weary and insecure, and lose strength, but messages like this remind me why I do this. She is why.
What's your calling as best you can tell?
Because of the brain injury, I'm intimately aware that each day I'm here is only because of the grace of God. So, I'm just here and willing and open to wherever the Lord would put me. Right now, that means through music, touring, speaking, and Hope After Head Injury! I'm just grateful that He would be so gracious to turn my story into a message of hope for others, and to use my brokenness to show others His heart and His grace. It never ceases to amaze me!
How can people be praying for you?
I would truly appreciate your prayers for opportunities to spread God's love and brain injury awareness, and the vision to see who and how to help. Thank you so much!
Marcus Hathcock is the Executive Editor of NewReleaseToday.com, a husband to Savannah, father of three and a worship leader living in Boise. He has released an EP, Songs For Tomorrow, and occasionally blogs at mheternal.com.
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