Vulnerability

Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Spirit, Uncategorized, 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.

Forgetting the Former Things

Executive Function, Flooding, Vulnerability

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.