The Angel Gabriel

This past Sunday at Grace Covenant, Mark Ramsey preached a sermon about Gabriel and how he came to Mary that affected me greatly. (Luke 1:26-38) It was called Nothing and you can read it here: http://storage.cloversites.com/gracecovenantpresbyterianchurch1/documents/sr-18dec11-alt.pdf
Of course listening to a sermon is always better so if you have time, go to http://www.gcpcusa.org/ and click on the section called “sermons/evotionals” where you can launch the media player.

I remember sitting in the pew listening to him repeat Gabriel’s words over and over again, “nothing is impossible with God.” He included present day situations such as a single parent struggling with poverty and someone struggling with a health problem, before repeating those words. I wanted to scream right there, “But what about a TBI survivor who can no longer walk and talk? What about a survivor who has difficulty controlling his or her emotions? What about the survivor who wants to work but never will again?”

I thought back to the time when we were doing a demonstration in front of my church in Atlanta when a man with a TBI lost his temper. He began running after a motorist screaming at the top of his lungs. This man used to be mild mannered and would never have done this before. I’m fairly mild mannered myself but my fuse is much shorter now. I remember several times losing my temper and throwing something across the room in anger.

Having a short fuse is a huge issue for survivors. I’ve learned how to put something down and go back to it later when I’ve calmed down. Sometimes I can’t do this or my temper rises too quickly for me to catch it. When I get to this point there is no turning back. One cannot reason with a survivor in this situation. All one can do is make sure he or she is safe and let the anger run its course. You can talk about it later but not then. God has helped me learn to deal with this challenge and I usually catch it. I was mad after Mark’s sermon and in my anger, I blocked out a whole lot of what he said before Gabriel’s words. I did have the presence of mind to talk about my concerns with him and read his sermon later.

After re-reading it, I see how much I missed. He shared a suggestion by Sam Wells, Dean of the Chapel at Duke. Wells suggested we find someone to have a conversation with regarding the following questions: “Tell me about the ways in which you are rich. Tell me about the ways in which you are poor. Let me tell you about the ways in which I am rich. Let me tell you about the ways I am poor.” As we do this, we are using Mary’s song as a basis for conversation.

I had a WNC Brain Injury Network meeting this week and I knew several people there believed that “nothing is impossible with God.” They walk now only because of God’s power and strength. Instead of getting angry inside because I know lots of people who are loved by God who cannot walk, I considered the questions above. As each person spoke, I heard the answers indirectly and my anger dissapated. Brain injury had made us all rich and poor together. We may disagree on how God works in us but we’re still connected by similar adversities.

In an email to me, Mark wrote, “I don’t think the promises of scripture (“Nothing will be impossible…) are intended to be, necessarily, results-oriented or a cause -and-effect construct. I think they build imagination in us to stay connected with God through good and bad times….But I at least want some places in our life and faith – and Christmas seems like one of them – where we can give full throated expression to the boldly audacious claims of God through scripture without footnote or qualifiers. Anyway, that was the aim Sunday.”

Speaking for myself, I’m not sure how successful Mark was with this aim. However, he did cause me to dig deeply into my own beliefs and to try and understand folks who’s beliefs are different from mine. In the world of brain injury , this has been a bit of a struggle for me. Sometimes though, I must look at a person’s deep poverty and riches and be willing to share mine. This deep understanding of each other is what is possible with God. So perhaps Mark did achieve his aim afterall.

Do you have a quick temper now? How do you manage it? What do you think of Gabriel’s words, “nothing is impossible with God?” See above right for commenting instructions. Know that due to a computer glitch, I’m unable to comment here so if you want a response my email is puffer61@gmail.com

Homeless Remembrance and Cookies


Today there was a Homeless Remembrance service at the Haywood Street Congregation. The church has worship services on Wednesday at 12:30 and many members attend who do not have homes. A free lunch is provided for everyone as well as a clothes closet. Folks are not required to go to the worship service in order to receive lunch which is unlike some other organizations here in Asheville. I went with my friend Bill who often attends there. He used to not have a place to live but now I am on a team of folks supporting him as he moves into housing.

I’ve attended once before but today was a special day. We were remembering all those who died who were homeless in Asheville this past year. The crowd was large and fairly noisy. At one point, a mother left with her crying child and the pastor Brian said it would be fine if she wanted to stay. She still choose to leave. I think Brian’s attitude is a good one to have for all must feel welsome at worship. However, I was secretly glad she took the baby out. It would have made worship very difficult for me to attend do to my inability to divide my attention. (If there’s noise I am unable to block it out and focus on what is important) I don’t do well with a lot of stimulation and this service certainly had this. I really wanted to attend so I pushed myself even though I knew it wasn’t the best environment for me.

Following the service, a group of us who are supporting Bill as he goes from being homeless to having a home, met together to bake Christmas cookies. I don’t usually attend two over stimulating events back-to-back but both events were important to me. We met at the synagogue which was near-by and we even had Jewish cookie cutters! I did talk to the Rabbi a bit about the difficulties of being Jewish during this Christmas season. I would have liked to talk to her and others on the team more about this but it is difficult for me to have a conversation while I’m doing something. I now can do only one thing at a time and I just couldn’t concentrate enough on a conversation with all the hustle and bustle. (again, dividing my attention)

I did have to leave the room for a bit because I could feel myself being overloaded cognitively. I went to the sanctuary (Again, my ignorance. Is it called a sanctuary in a synagogue?) and put my ear plugs in but there was construction noise right outside the window. I went back to the fellowship hall and found a chair in the corner where I could “rest my brain.” I felt much better after returning ten minutes later.

I don’t think people realize how much energy and planning it takes to do simple things when one has a TBI. If you have a brain injury, what sort of things do you have to do in order to participate in events? Do you find it difficult to concentrate on things when something else is going on? Commenting instructions are on the upper right hand side. (I’m unable to comment here so if you would like a response, contact me directly at puffer61@gmail.com) Have a happy holiday!

Occupy Wall Street


First, I want to say that I still am unable to respond to comments in the comment section. I really appreciated the comment yesterday since sometimes I wonder if my writing affects anyone. As I said before, I may switch to WordPress (although I’ve been putting it off because learning another system is hard for me) because commenting is much easier there than on Blogspot. I really want folks to share their stories in this section because folks with brain injuries need to talk to each other. For the time being if you want a response, feel free to contact me directly at puffer61@gmail.com If you feel comfortable leaving your email on your comment you can do that as well.

The picture on the left is why I am involved in this movement. I understand that many in the movement are not religious and that’s okay. I actually like this because sometimes church folks can be a pain. (Sorry to people who go to church!) I’m drawn to this movement because there are so many things that occupiers believe which are a part of Jesus’ teachings.

Many of the things I want to do with the movement really hit on my TBI weaknesses. I’ve made the decision to do these things and then take the consequences. Fortunately I choose things where I can handle the consequences which normally means dealing with the stress before and spending some time alone to recuperate and “rest my brain” afterwards.

I have written about this before but the occupy movement is full of challenging things for me. For example a proposal was on the Asheville City Council’s agenda this past Tuesday that would no longer allow the current camp site in front of City Hall. I think we focus too much on camping to the determent of our other activities but I do believe camping serves the purpose of keeping these issues in front of people. When I walked my dog that morning, I thought of a statement I could make at the meeting.

One of the reasons I wanted to speak was because I’m middle aged and look different from the other protesters portrayed in the media. I don”t believe my differences are better in the least but I think we need to draw more folks like me. Making a statement at a meeting hits all my weaknesses however. My stress level comes into play since I can’t take nearly the amount of pressure I could take before my injury. I do like to speak so I try and determine if the stress is worth it. It means taking some time afterwards to “rest my brain” and being very nervous before. I always allow much time to prepare a short speech. I never do it the day of but in this situation, if I wanted to speak, I had to prepare comments that morning.

I worked out a ride to the meeting. We were at the end of the agenda so I had to sit through the other presentations. This was a lot of stimulation for me. I made a point to sit in the front since blocking out background noise is hard. I like politics and I enjoyed watching the council members. However, I could feel my brain becoming overloaded so I put in my ear plugs to block out the sound. It felt a bit silly sitting in the third row wearing my ear plugs but I’ve learned to try not to care what people think.

There was a motion to send it to a committee and we were allowed to speak to this motion. It’s funny but I liked what I had written. (It was a little like a short sermon) and I was disappointed to not say it especially after dealing with all my challenges. I don’t think on my feet well but I decided to oppose the motion but saying part of my little speech. A television news camera man was there and a clip of my speech played on the news. Several folks who saw it and aren’t involved in the movement, said they support the movement and hope it grows.

I’m glad I spoke and I may have to say the rest of my little speech in January when it comes before council again. I’ll have to work on another opening because the one I had was great and I already said it. Ah well. I’ll decide if speaking is worth dealing with all my brain injury challenges when we get closer to the date.

Exaggerated Startle


I was sitting in my car today in a grocery store parking lot looking at my Android. I’m afraid I’ve become a little addicted to using that thing. This time I was checking my various groups on Facebook to see if there was a message for me. Suddenly, there was a knock on my car window and I jumped so much, I almost hit the roof! I looked at them through the window and I couldn’t focus on who they were. When I opened the window, the couple apologized. They pointed to my bumper sticker and asked me where I got it.

This experience reminded me of the early days in my recovery. I couldn’t sit in the front seat of a car for a long time after my car wreck because that’s where I sat during the accident. Even though I have no memory of a car hitting us on the passenger side, my body remembers. In the beginning, I jumped at every tire screech or car driving too close to me. I remember literally shouting or screaming when Michael turned left and I thought we would be hit again. Of course there was always plenty of time for us to make the turn but my body didn’t think so. Michael kept telling me it made it worse when I cried out because then he thought we might really be in danger! I tried not to do it but it took me a while before I stopped.

I understand that folks who haven’t gone through an experience like mine will occasionally become startled. They may even jump when someone knocks on their car door window at an unexpected time. I think it happens to me more frequently than others but it is much, much better now. It’s been a long struggle though.

Authority

I have a subscription to The Sun magazine. (http://www.thesunmagazine.org/) It contains no advertisements and the stories and photography are wonderful. The magazine always contains a section called “Readers Write” where people submit a short writing about a certain topic. Often the stories affect me greatly and this month was no different. I’ve included one by Thom Kilts from the November issue below.

“Growing up in the projects, I saw two kinds of authority in the neighborhood. There was the authority of the gangs maintained through violence and intimidation. And there was the quiet authority of the monks at a little Tibetan Buddhist monastery down the street. The monks lived with the same poverty that I did and (I learned later) had witnessed more violence and experienced more injustice than I could dream of, but they had a stillness, a calm, an inner authority that told you not to mess with them.

Wanting the same authority for myself, I stayed out of gangs and became the first person in my family to attend college. I traveled to India, Nepal, and Tibet and was fortunate enough to have an audience with the Dalai Lama himself. After I returned to the States, I went to graduate school in Buddhist studies and then, through residency programs in clinical pastoral education (CPE), to becoming one of the first Buddhist CPE supervisors. Eventually I landed a job as director of spiritual care at a hospital,but I still felt as though I lacked true authority, the kind I’d seen in the monks in my neighborhood.

One day I began to have severe back trouble. It progressed until my entire body would give out and I was semi-paralyzed. There were times when I would vomit blood or lose the feeling in my feet. I might go from teaching a class to staring up at my students as they stood over me on the floor. I went in for surgery, but it didn’t help. I had to take prescription narcotics for the chronic pain and suffered the indignity of suspicious looks as I filled prescriptions for massive amounts of painkillers. All the while my condition continued to get worse.I descended into depression and hopelessness and was no longer able to work. I went on long-term disability and gave up my job. The insurance company turned my claim into a drawn-out lawsuit.

So here I am, just an unemployed sick person wondering how the bills will get paid, tasting the bitterness of poverty once again. My mind returns to those monks who lived down the street when I was a kid. They had an inner authority that shone through, a dignity that allowed them to face hardship with a smile. I wonder if I will ever find that source of authority myself.”

The issue of authority is a fairly large one in CPE. Chaplains learn about their own authority and what it means to have this authority as a minister. Although I haven’t lost as much as Kilts has, I could relate to his story. What kind of authority do I now have? I can no longer work as hard or remember things as I used to. I want to try and obtain “the inner authority that shone through” the monks as they did their work. This kind of inner authority only comes from above. As I wait this Advent, I will wait for this inner dignity that comes only from God.