Cognitive Overload Weekend

I went to Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church’s service day at Haywood St. Congregation on Saturday.  I never go to those days because I know there will be too much stimulation for me. When I’m cognitively overloaded, I become sluggish, irritable and unable to think.  This time, there was a job where folks could pack meals which seemed like something I could do. I arrived at 9 AM for that’s when the schedule said the packing would begin.

Actually, I arrived at 9:10 and by the then, the parking lot was filled. It took a few minutes to locate overflow parking. I drove by it and had to stop to ask a passing pedestrian for directions to the lot. He didn’t know so I drove back to the church to ask. I was then told I could park right across the street.

Dealing with directions always weakens me so I didn’t start out fresh but decided to press on. I figured I would walk right in and begin work. No such luck. We weren’t supposed to start until 10.  I knew I had limited cognitive energy which I didn’t want to spend talking to folks in a noisy room for 45 minutes so I looked around for something else to do. I worked in the garden but of course I hadn’t brought any garden tools so I had to spend time finding some. I started weeding and it began to rain.

Haywood Road work dayI left my ear plugs in the car, my mistake for I always bring them, so I couldn’t do my “rest my brain” routine. I went to the packing room and the leader had already begun his spiel. He told stories about folks needing food and how these packets would be used. Everyone stood around the tables listening but I found a chair and closed my eyes. I could at least block out visual stimulation.  Finally, we started but he played loud upbeat music to energize folks and make it fun but it was too much for me.  I stayed as long as I could but at 10:40 I had to leave.  I don’t fault the leader for his words were important and playing loud music works for most people in that environment.

When I got to the car, I put in my ear plugs for a while and when I returned home, I sat on the couch with my ear plugs in for 1 ½ – 2hours resting my brain.  I always plan ahead for events but many times this isn’t possible.

The next morning, church went the same way. I ended up having to be in several places where folks chattered. I left the room when I could but on Sunday, the church doesn’t have many quiet places where I can go to get away from the stimulation.

When I have days like that in a row, I am wiped out. I’ve learned to relax for the next few days in order to let my brain recover. If I don’t, it only gets worse. For me, overstimulation is the most challenging aspect of TBI and it seems I’m in these situations often. In the past, I’ve stopped participating in things, but I got bored and felt as if I wasn’t using my gifts.

Now, I monitor what I do and rest if I need to. It means skipping things as I did on Saturday afternoon. Folks may not understand and might think I’m lazy but for me, this is required. I’ve mostly stopped worrying what people think! Notice I wrote “mostly.”

The Lord is my Shepherd

This past Wednesday, I attended the Haywood Street Congregation’s worship service which is at 12:30 pm. This congregation is Methodist and every Wednesday they have a meal for folks who are hungry. One of the chef’s in town encouraged other chefs to donate different meals a couple Wednesdays each month so the food is always excellent. I never attend these meals because they are very chaotic. In fact the church’s motto – “Holy Chaos” – was coined by Rev. Shannon Spencer, a former pastor there. One day, I will attempt to go but I may not attend worship due to this “holy chaos.” (Too much stimulation for me!)

Rev. Brian Combs shared the homily which is in a conversational style. He makes a few statements and then folks are invited to respond. I really love it because most of the comments are made by folks with no theological training. Many live on the streets or formerly did. The comments, raw with so much wisdom, are just what I need to hear. I feel so comfortable in a worship space with folks who know what it is like to struggle for every meal and to walk thrugh the wildernesses of life.

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Brian began with the following statement which he made without notes. He posted a copy of the homily on their website and he began:

“The analogies for God are many. God is creator, painting every empty canvas with brushstrokes of beauty, the heavenly potter fashioning all that’s ‘out of sort’ back into shape. ….. God is gardener sowing seeds in every indiscriminate direction, believing that new life can grow in between the cracks of concrete just like in the fertile fields.”

“But of all the ways to understand God, it is the shepherd that’s most enduring.” He then asked, “Why do we choose this analogy for God?” Several folks responded: “The shepherd will lead us.” “We need reminding that we’re as helpless as sheep.” “Shepherds know their sheep by name.”

I couldn’t help remembering a first person sermon I preach about Hagar who was thrown out into the wilderness by Abraham and Sarah. (Gen. 21:8 -19) The first time I preached it was as a student at Central Baptist Seminary in Kansas City in the late 80’s. I then used it as my senior sermon at Columbia Seminary in Atlanta in 1992. I have since preached it many, many times. It’s short, 10 minutes, which allows time for other things. I love preaching it and hope to have more opportunities. In it, I have Hagar say:

“It is there in the wilderness where we discover the comfort and the courage of God’s love. Often it is in our deepest darkness where we find God’s power and creativity. The 23rd Psalm contains a beautiful image.”

“God, the hostess, has prepared a feast for us, the travelers. A warm fire is burning in the fireplace, as the food is set out on the table. You would expect this feast to include all our friends and families but this feast is different. It is special. For there at the table sit our enemies. Those people that have hurt us and caused us to wander. The folks with whom we cannot get along.”

“And there are other enemies. Confusion. Blindness, Miscarriage, Brain injury. They are all there at the table. God takes some healing ointment and lovingly rubs it onto our sores. Our wounds no longer hurt. The bruises remain and we continue to bleed, but it is warm by the fire.”

“When you walk through the wilderness, know that God is with you. God will comfort and you will be changed.”