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.


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.”

It’s Time

I’m finally ready. It’s taken a little less than 20 years but it is time.  I’m going to sell my violin and my viola.  I can’t play them so they are stored in my bedroom closet gathering dust.  Taking them out of the cases for this picture was painful.

The smell of the instruments brought back so many memories. violin and violaI thought back to my Hyatt Regency days when I was one part of the accordion and violin duo, Bellows and Bows. We played for breakfast and for lunch five days each week and for the Sunday brunch. I do remember the surprised looks on folks faces when we came out as they enjoyed their pancakes or eggs. We also played parties and other events.

I remember my only audition for a professional orchestra although I don’t remember the city.  (I played in the St. Joe Symphony for money but that one doesn’t count) I stayed at a hole in the wall motel because it was cheap.  I don’t remember the audition itself but I do remember coming home, disappointed at how I had performed. Questions flooded my mind.  “Do I want to spend my life auditioning for orchestras?”  “What if I never get in one? “  “What if I spend the rest of my life teaching and doing freelance work?” On top of that, my right hand was not working right which caused me not to play as well as I would need to play to get into an orchestra.

Depression hit as I thought about how music had been my life. A pastor suggested I try going to Central Baptist Seminary while keeping some of my students. If I liked it, I could transfer to a Presbyterian seminary. I did this and began to feel a call to leave professional music and become a minister.  When I was sure, I left Kansas City and all my music contacts and moved to Atlanta to attend Columbia Theological Seminary.

After graduating and finally receiving a call to Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church, I played in a community orchestra. However, I injured my right hand in the accident so I couldn’t play.  As time went on I could play a little but it didn’t sound good to my ears.  While in Asheville, I played only one time – in a skit for a clown troupe I had joined.

On Easter last Sunday, something clicked in my mind when a string quartet played in the service. As I listened, I realized the time had come for me to sell my instruments.  I will get them appraised and then I will sell them.

It’s time.

Since I can only work on my book in spurts, I’ve been trying to find some way to fill the rest of my time.  I’m working to improve my swimming but that’s not enough so I decided to learn Spanish. I’ve been using Rosetta Stone’s Spanish tapes and other resources.

Yesterday, I was sitting on my sofa, working on Spanish when the phone rang. It was TJ.   Something physically had happened to her and she needed someone to pick up her prescriptions since it was painful for her to drive.   She asked me.  I had already decided to work on a Palm Sunday blog post and my Spanish. I don’t do well with change. My heart sunk.  I didn’t want to turn her down but I knew she really needed help and I could do it.

As we talked something shifted in me and I wanted to help her. My immediate reaction to change is always negative. However, when I give it time, I often come around.  I had to go to her house, pick up the prescriptions, then go to the pharmacy downtown.

TJ’s neighborhood is very confusing. People without spatial orientation issues have trouble finding her house.  Plus for some odd reason the GPS leads to another address.  She did tell me where on the route I could begin using it though and I did.  I brought Sparky since he loves going to new places.  This is a picture of him in the car.


Sparky makes a squealing, whining sound when he’s excited. I tried listening to the woman’s voice on the GPS as Sparky squealed.  It’s hard to explain what happens to my brain when I go in circles as I did then.  I feel spacy and unstable.  At one point, I noticed I was passing a water tower for the second time.  This GPS doesn’t say “recalculating” when you take a wrong turn. It automatically makes the change.  Sometimes this means circling back and going the same way again instead of back tracking to make the correction

Using my GPS, I found Asheville Discount Pharmacy downtown. TJ said I could park in the “no loading” zone with my flashers on and run in to get the prescription. Into the store with Sparky, I went. He loves new places and he’s a friendly and happy guy so of course everyone wanted to pet him.  When it was time to go back to TJ’s, the GPS took me a different way home.

The trip took me a long time. However, I felt good.  Lately I haven’t been pushing myself and it’s a fine line between pushing too much and not enough.   If I push too hard, I become exhausted.  If I don’t push hard enough, I get bored and depressed.  I felt good then but “rested my brain” a little before going to choir.

Come Healing

Two and a half weeks after the election, I’m finally getting over my shock. I’ve read many reasons why Trump won: Voter turnout was low; Liberals did not listen to the hurting conservatives; Democrats were frustrated and didn’t vote; and on and on.  The Sunday following this disastrous day, Ken Sehested preached just the sermon I needed to hear. (Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118; Luke 21:5-10)

The Luke passage lists some of Jesus’ warnings about what is going to happen. In verse 19 he closes with the simple words: “By your endurance you will gain your souls. So we have this warning; Trouble – no getting around it.  And we have this counsel: Endurance.  What will that look like?”

Ken goes on to say that Trump didn’t generate the hatred we see today. Rather, “he focused it.  He voiced it.  He gave it shape.  But the anger was already there, and we are responsible for addressing it with something more than shouting and threats.”  He said there are many angry people now and they probably don’t care about Trump’s actual policies.  They saw in Trump someone who might save them.  Someone who might help them.

He quoted Parker Palmer: “Beneath the shouting, there’s suffering. Beneath the anger, fear. Beneath the threats, broken hears.  Start there and we might get somewhere.” There is a whole lot of fear, anger and suffering in our world now. Only half of our population voted. Half!  People are depressed and don’t know where to turn and Donald Trump looked like someone who could help.

I have a feeling when they see what happens in the next few months, they’ll regret their choice.

Ken gave suggestions for how we may endure. We need to listen attentively to the anger and pain of those around us.  This isn’t going to be easy, but it must be done. Both sides need to tolerate the dissent around us.  I need to listen but I also need to be heard.  This will be a challenge for me because of my difficulty in managing my emotions.  I become angry so quickly but I must be prepared to leave the room when I feel my emotions rising and return when they are under control.

His final suggestion is found in the Isaiah text with its words about a new heaven and a new earth. The wolf and lamb being together. We need each other in order to persevere. We need to return week after week to our communities of conviction.  He shared a Mexican proverb that says, “They tried to bury us.  They didn’t know we are seeds.” We need other seeds so we can grow together.


Following the sermon, a group of singers and instrumentalist (I sang) sang an arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s song, “Come Healing.” I had a little trouble getting through it and had to drop out for a few words. But it helped so much to sing the chorus which says “Come healing, Come healing, Come healing of the Spirit, come healing of the limb.”

Our country needs healing. Come Lord Jesus, Come.

Writing Space


This is a picture of our desk in our messy-desk-640x360office.  I say “our” because Michael and I share the same office.  Most of the stuff you see on the desk is mine however.  We have piles everywhere in the rest of the room and you can’t see the computer monitor.I’ve been trying to write here.


Here is a picture of our dining room table.  Again, most of the stuff on it is mine.  Notice the orange water bottle with the blue top.  I take that with me to the Y when I swim laps.  I often plunk it down on this table where it sits until I go to the Y again.   Do you see  my red mini I Pad buried in the piles of papers, notebooks and books?  It sits on a stand that Michael made so I can read the paper in the morning  michael-art-room-640x360

The picture above is of Michael working in our Art Room.  This is where he paints and puts the finishing touches on his carvings. The floor is covered with wood shavings although he does vacuum it occasionally. He also uses most of our unfinished basement for his power tools. It’s a real mess so I’ll spare you a picture of it.

The table at the bottom in the picture is where I do polymer clay. I press clay using a pasta machine with a manuel lever but this is too hard on me due to basil thumb joint osteoaarthris in my left hand.  After two surgeries,  I bought an electric one pictured on the right of the table but haven’t used it much yet. I have a keyboard I can connect to my I Pad sometimes I take it outside on our little patio living room sofa or dining room table.

As you might imagine, this set-up is not working for us.  Being the organized, thinker he is, Michael has come up with a plan which includes my own writing space, space for my clay and his carving.  We plan to get rid of a whole lot of junk we aren’t using which will help the clutter immensely.

I’m very excited.









I have always hated our country dwelling on what happened on September 11, 2001. People are killed in much greater numbers every day -often by American’s own hands across the world – yet we Americans focus on the 2,996 Americans who died on that day.

I was scheduled to preach at Oakhurst Presbyterian Church in Atlanta on Sept. 16, 2001, the Sunday after 9.11.  Although I had been attending the church since 1997 and loved its racial and social economic diversity, I had never preached and I was nervous.  Nibs Stroupe, the pastor there, is an incredible preacher.  Seminary professors, ministers and students, as well as those who haven’t had the opportunity to attend college, attend. .

Whenever I preach, I write the sermon ahead of time and I remember sitting in my apartment, watching the towers fall on television knowing I was scheduled to preach that Sunday.  I called Nibs and offered the pulpit to him, but he said, “No, you go ahead and preach.”  I suspect he didn’t want to preach that day either!  Fortunately I had chosen John 10:7-10 ( “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”) as well as the story from Luke about the unknown woman being healed from her issue of blood (Luke 8: 43-48) as my texts. I was able to easily adjust the sermon to refer to the attacks.

I will never forget walking into the sanctuary with Nibs, seeing it filled to the rafters. I took a deep breath, said a prayer and entered with him. Although I love preaching, it takes me forever to write a sermon and I get really nervous beforehand although it never shows.  This is one reason 20 years ago; I was looking for a call where I could preach more.  Folks have told me its gets easier and this is a TBI loss that will always hurt.

However, once I get going, I’m fine. Since Oakhurst is not your typical white Presbyterian Church where the label of “frozen chosen” is apt, getting direct responses such as “Preach it!” or “Amen, sister” energizes the preacher and it energized me that day.

Here is how I ended that sermon, 15 years ago:

“In the book, “the Blood of the Lamb” by Peter Devries, the main character loses his daughter to leukemia. On the day of her death someone had left a cream pie which he was carrying when he found himself standing before a crucifix outside the church next to the hospital.

He looked into the eyes of the crucified Christ hanging on the cross, cursed his name, and flung the pie squarely into the face of Christ. He stood there defiantly thinking, “Take that you SOB”

 Christ did Christ took it, and then giant tears began streaming out of those holy broken eyes of that Christ causing the whipped cream to slide down his face.

 Through the tears of Christ, through your tears, through my tears and through the tears of those involved or aware of this catastrophic event- together – through our tears, we can reach out to Jesus and Jesus will help us stand. This is the meaning of having life abundantly.”

Even today, 15 years later, this image is powerful to me.