Wilderness II

Lately, I’ve noticed my brain injury challenges are more present than they sometimes are. I’m trying to manage them but it is very hard. Yesterday I said to Michael, “Why don’t I ever see other survivors dealing with over-stimulation and cognitive issues?  I see brain injury folks all the time attending meetings, workshops and other events and they don’t seem to struggle as I do.”

His answer? “Probably because they don’t get out in the community like you.”  A light went on in my head and I thought back to all I’ve learned about brain injury.  Perhaps the folks I see are less challenged by cognitive overload and stimulation issues. They may have other reactions such as slow speech or difficulty in using their hands or legs,

March signIn addition, I feel called to work for justice in my world. That doesn’t make me better than others.  It just gives me a different calling.  I’ve chosen to continue working for justice even if it means sometimes exacerbating my brain injury weaknesses.

For example in Atlanta I pushed through those challenges by doing such things as visiting Terry Mincey on death row or spending 24 hours on the streets with the Open Door Community. The price paid was having to take it easy for several days. Here in Asheville, I choose to be arrested in the Moral Monday movement in Raleigh – four hours away.  Again, I rested for days afterwards.

I’m so glad I did these things but I’m not sure I would want to pay the same price again. Now I’m deciding how important an issue is and whether my presence matters before making the decision to participate

Life is a journey and the wilderness often changes around us. I can’t keep living the way I used to live.  I must always choose the path I believe God is calling me to travel.  God then gives me what I need for the journey.

All of us are living in the wilderness and must listen for the Spirit’s voice. What is the Spirit saying to me now?  I’m not sure.  What is the Spirit guiding you to do?  Feel free to answer in the comments because we are all in this life together.  I’m interested.

Vulnerability

GCPC bulletin picture

Ultimately, when you’re at the edge, you have to go forward or backward;
if you go forward, you have to jump together.
~ Yo-Yo Ma

A couple of Sundays ago, Marcia Mount Shoop, pastor at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, preached a sermon that really impressed me. I was out of town that Sunday so I read it. (here)   (picture above from bulletin)

In it she tells the story of Ray Hinton – a man who spent 30 Years on death row before being exonerated and released. “After three years of talking to no one, he heard another {prisoner} crying. He heard crying a lot on death row….but this time something happened.  Ray got up and started to pace.  He could feel something stirring, but he resisted it, telling himself, ‘His crying has got nothing to do with me.’ ”

Ray’s mind wandered as he paced in his cell. Marcia said, “The Spirit was on the move. As the man cried again, Ray realized that he, too, was crying. He sat down on his bed and started to weep for the man jailed near his cell.”

He wrote later, “I was on death row not by my own choice …despair was a choice. Hatred was a choice. Anger was a choice….Hope was a choice.”  Faith and love are choices.  So he made the choice to reach out – to love.

“Hey, are you all right over there?”

The man told him he just found out his mother had died. Ray said, “I’m sorry man.  I really am.”  This was followed by other voices from the cells around him.  “Sorry for your loss” and “Sorry, man.  Rest  in peace.”

Ray wrote, “I wasn’t expecting to have my heart break that night. I wasn’t expecting to end three years of silence.  It was a revelation to realize that I wasn’t the only man on death row.  I was born with the same gift from God we all are born with – the impulse to reach out and lessen the suffering of another human being.  It was a gift and we each had a choice whether to use this gift or not.”

Marcia continued, “Ray’s profound vulnerability as a black man sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit had a ripple effect onto those who loved him.” Thinking about those on his cell block, I would add “and on everyone around him.”

While often it is not a choice to be vulnerable, sometimes it can be. All of us have vulnerabilities but we often hide them because we don’t want to seem weaker than those around us.

People with disabilities often don’t have that choice. Some of us have hidden disabilities that you can’t see.  I’m able to hide my cognitive overload, spatial orientation and other issues.  However, when I do this, I’m a zombie, often sleeping for many days to recover.  Since moving to Asheville when possible, I’ve chosen not to hide my vulnerabilities and be my true self.

I do hate when I say something like, “I have to miss that meeting because I’m cognitively maxed out,” and the response is “At least you have an excuse.” I want to scream but instead think silently, “My excuse is taking care of myself which we all must do including you!”  Perhaps one day I’ll have the courage to say it out loud.

In our society, taking care of ourselves is looked down upon. We’re rewarded for working long hours or serving on committees at the expense of our health.

Even in church, folks look up to those who are serving on several committees, working a full time job and taking care of their families. Folks like this are seen as “better Christians.” Even Jesus got away from the crowds to rejuvenate. If Jesus had to do it, who are we to think we don’t?

I must note these words about vulnerability are penned to a mostly white middle class audience. Many folks who live in lower socioeconomic or racial status do not have this choice.  They have to work in order to put food on the table and take care of their families.  They have to hide their vulnerabilities and this makes me very sad.

Take a moment now and think about your vulnerabilities.  Do you feel comfortable sharing them?  Is it safe? What about folks around you?  I would love to hear your thoughts about vulnerability in the comment section.

On the Path of Liberation

Last Sunday I led the “Call to the Table” at Circle of Mercy, the church I attend on Sunday evenings. In it I quoted part of the evening’s “Call to Worship,” written by Ken Sehested. “A life in Christ is an invitation to live according to a different rhythm. It stimulates the courage to move forward even when the path seems to crumble beneath our feet.”

I added, “In our current world, it feels like our path is not just crumbling but is leading us over a cliff.”

narrow pumkinIn my walk this morning in the fall coolness as the leaves were changing, I took a different path than I usually do. On this leaf covered street, I felt fall in the air for the first time. Sparky and I dawdled a bit as I allowed him to sniff the wonderful smells and as I looked the Halloween decorations.

The path did not crumble beneath my feet nor was I afraid I would fall off a cliff, but rather it was a peaceful morning. With no sidewalks, I was forced to walk on the road. Every time a car came whizzing by – going much faster than they should have been in a neighborhood – I moved to the side of the road, sometimes having to walk on people’s lawns.I was reminded how important it is for us to rest and enjoy theskelotin world around us, in the midst of our current chaos.

I live one block away from Vermont St. which is closed to cars on Halloween night and the street is full of trick-or-treaters. I took pictures of some of the homes adorned for Halloween and some are included in this post.

Nancy Sehested said in her sermon, “We’re on tough journey. The tyrants are strong and they are crushing the very people who we long to liberate…..we want power. The domination systems want power. Our power is in service to God’s system of love and liberation. Our power is to demonstrate the power of God to overcome fear with love.”

spider webThe folks on Vermont probably thought nothing about such things. They just wanted a safe and fun place for their children to be on Halloween night. However, without knowing it, they are shouting out to the powers around us. “We can enjoy God’s world! We can laugh and be a community just as God has called us to be. We walk not on a crumbling path but a safe and joyful one.”

Nancy ended her sermon with these words: “Friends, there is danger on either side of us. But don’t be afraid. We are able. God is giving us all the power we n need to make this journey of life and liberation together.”

Let it be so.

Walking Through the Wilderness

As I come out of the wilderness, my tendency is to begin participating in too many things. This is a symptom of much of upper class, upper- middle class and middle class American culture.  As our society becomes more stratified this is happening right now under Mr. Trump – although it began happening much earlier.  As others have said, our current president only brought things that have been occurring, to the surface.

I saw Michael Moore’s new movie Fahrenheit 11.9 yesterday. Whether you like Moore or not – many folks do not – you need to see this movie for it describes exactly what is happening today in our country.  It frightened me and I hope it frightens others to action.

Back to the wilderness and the path “in the mighty waters (Isaiah 43:16a CEB) ” stretching before me. I asked Michael to help me remember not to do too much.  I need him to tell me gently perhaps in the form of a question – not what sounds like an order – or I will rebel.  “I don’t care what he thinks!  I can do all this!” I’ll think to myself.  When I am angry at him, I’m really angry at my cognitive fatigue and over-stimulation issues. I long to be as I was before but my path through the mighty waters, has changed.

Front Yard 27 Jarrett StThis changed path means I have to make choices or I’ll over-do it. Yesterday I worked outside in the garden and it wore me out.  So many sights, sounds, and thoughts overloaded me.  Afterwards, I put on headphones and listened to Yo-Yo Ma perform the cello concerto in b minor.  I closed my eyes and rested in the music.

I did try to rest without listening to the music, but I couldn’t stop thoughts from invading my mind. “I need to make a list of the plants in the garden to know what they need to thrive.” A neighbor in his 70’s walked by me as I worked and told me he had recently fallen and broke several ribs.  I clicked into my caring mode – one of the hazards of being a minister – and told him not to walk too far since his broken ribs needed to heal which meant sitting quietly.

It doesn’t take too much to challenge my cognition these days. Just being out in the front yard was all it took.  I needed a way to focus on something else and the concerto did the trick.

I will continue walking this path through the wilderness with God by my side.

Forgetting the Former Things

Joyce sent the final manuscript of my book – Forgetting the Former Things: Brain Injury’s Invitation to Vulnerability and Faith to Wipf and Stock publishers on June 1. At first, she was going to edit my work but as the days progressed, it became clear my brain injury challenges made this impossible.

I needed her organizational, integration and her concentration skills – all which are challenges for me. I wanted the book to be theological, not just biographical which meant I had to integrate theology into my story.  She did this for me or I wouldn’t have been able to write it. I understood the integration but I was unable to do it alone.  So the authorship is “Tamara Puffer with Joyce Hollyday.”

The reality that I could not write the book alone didn’t really hit me until she sent it off to the publisher. My mind flooded with thoughts such as, “I can’t even write a book by myself!” and “Other brain injury survivors have written books alone! What is wrong with me?”

My thoughts got darker and darker as they tend to do. I was falling off a cliff – which is how I describe my depression.  I didn’t know how to stop falling and I ended up in darkness.

Sparky & Tamara -beach

Last week my husband Michael and I went to Myrtle Beach. I asked him to go alone but he refused. I didn’t want to go but I forced myself because the beach is his healing place. I told him I would try my best not to bring him down but I couldn’t guarantee it.

The first couple of days I tried really hard to engage but it was difficult. I had trouble sleeping the first couple of nights and one day we went on a bit of a wild goose chase trying to find a certain park.  When I couldn’t sleep I sat outside on the balcony overlooking the beach.

It was then that I remembered the sermon Joyce and I preached at Circle of Mercy several months ago. I spoke about needing Joyce’s help but that was okay.  I said something like, All of us need help.  I can be a minister of vulnerability now.  This frees up others to be vulnerable as well.

The last couple of days there were totally different because I remembered what my call is now: Minister of Vulnerability.

Asheville Women’s March

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Women’s March in downtown Asheville

The second annual women’s March in Asheville was Saturday, Jan.20 – a week ago. I didn’t attend last year but was determined to go this time. Michael had the flu for ten days so he couldn’t go with me.  I don’t do well in large crowds due to brain injury limitations so I called a woman who lives close to me and we planned on taking the bus together.  I’m comfortable riding the bus since I’ve taken it often but I wasn’t comfortable finding this rally.

Taking the bus puts me in contact with folks I don’t usually meet during my day. There’s a real push in Asheville to get folks to ride the bus even if they own a car but it is still used mostly by folks who don’t have alternative transportation.  I’d love to take it to Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church but with the transfer it takes 1 1/2 hours which isn’t workable.  Many folks have no choice but I can usually find – not always – but usually, a ride.

I was supposed to meet my friend at the stop on Haywood road right by my house. I told her it usually runs late but when I arrived, she wasn’t there.  As luck would have it, it was closer to being on time so my friend missed it. I boarded with my sign figuring I could just follow the crowd to the rally.

After arriving at the bus station, I met another woman walking alone and began talking to her as we walked to the rally. I told her about my TBI and some of its challenges and since she wasn’t going with anyone, we went together. Where we stood, it was impossible to hear the speakers so I weaved my way through the crowd until I got to a place where I could hear them.  She didn’t follow so I lost her.  I do hope I meet her again.

I didn’t know all the speakers but loved the energy there. I know it was a women’s march but the first one was held the day after Trump’s installation last year and so this march has morphed into a march against Trump and his administration.  Perhaps when we get another administration, it can be a true women’s march.

I saw a woman in the crowd sitting on the ground next to a child in a wheel chair. Everyone around her was standing and I was aware I was going to have to sit down as well so I plopped myself right down behind her. While seated, I could close my eyes and block out all visual stimulation, which always helps.  I also can’t stand long for a rally. I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t seen her sitting down, I would have weaved my way out of the crowd to find a place to “rest my brain.”

March sign

my sign for the march

After the program, the march began. I discovered later that four high school girls had planned it.  I don’t think any adults stepped up to help them.  The march received some criticism because we had to march on two small sidewalks instead of in the street because a permit wasn’t secured.  In spite of some of the difficulties, they did an amazing job.

After the march I was exhausted and needed to “rest my brain” before taking the bus home. I decided to go into First Presbyterian Church since I was familiar with it and knew I could get in.  After lying down on a bench in a hallway for a while, I decided my brain had rested enough so I filled my water bottle and went downstairs looking for food.  I felt a little faint so the Saturday Sanctuary volunteers gave me broth from the bottom of the soup pot and a few crackers.

The second shift of Saturday sanctuary volunteers began at 2 PM and the woman I was supposed to meet for the march, was working. She had gone to the march but drove her car after missing the bus.  There is no way I could have worked Saturday Sanctuary after marching for the stimulation overwhelmed me. I’m finally getting over not being able to do as much as others.  A former cognitive therapist reminded me that my plate is now smaller than other people’s and they can put more on it then I can.  God doesn’t care how much people can do but rather God cares that one loves others and works for justice in this world.

My friend Scott Owen works on a radio show and he asked if he could interview me about my experience. I said yes and he told me what he was going to ask.  It was fun.  Here is a tape of the interview.  The whole thing is interesting but my part begins at 2:59.

https://www.ashevillefm.org/post/afm-news-team-covers-the-2018-asheville-womens-march/

Advent

Yesterday was the first day of Advent, a time of expectation. It’s funny because I never really understood Advent as expectation before worshiping at Grace Covenant Presbyterian. When I was a kid, I expected to get lots of gifts but I knew that wasn’t what this meant. Under Mark Ramsey’s leadership, the sanctuary remained plain without all the Christmas decorations I saw elsewhere.  We sang no Christmas Carols but rather Advent hymns.  It became a sort of journey for me which I appreciated.

supermoon, Jarkarta. IndonesiaI love moons and right now, we have a super moon which happens rarely. Here is a picture of the moon in Jakarta, Indonesia with two symbols that I love:  a moon and star.  I’m aware this is not a typical Advent picture but for me it’s perfect..  I’m looking forward to contemplating what God is calling me to do next.  The moon always reminds that God is with me – even in the darkness.  The star reminds me that I’m on a journey just as the Wise folks traveled to meet the Christ child.

is morning I watched the start of the New Poor People’s Campaign in Washington D.C. with the prophet, Dr. William Barber. Leaders in every faith tradition spoke and gave support for this campaign. I’ve been very depressed about our nation’s budget but watching this, energized me.  I am on a journey.  I don’t know where it’s going to lead but God is with me.

I imagine members of this campaign will eventually do civil disobedience.. I don’t think I’m called to do civil disobedience again but I will listen for God’s voice to make sure.  I want to be part of this campaign in some way and I will wait until the Spirit moves in me to act. We sang a song at Circle of Mercy last night with words written by Br. Roger of Taize and the music written by Mark Siler.  It’s one of my favorites.

“Rest your heart in God, let yourself float on the safe waters,
Living life as it comes, with all the rough weather it may bring.
Give, without counting how many years are left,
Give, not worried about surviving as long as possible.
Rest your heart in God.”

This Advent, I will rest my heart in God.