Posts Tagged ‘pain

08
Jun
21

My Aching Back

There we were, relaxing on the white sugar sands of Destin, Florida. Joan and I traveled there to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary. [Pro tip: Get married in a year that ends with 000 if you can. That way you always know how long you’ve been married.]

One moment we were enjoying a carefree frolic in the emerald surf…

… the next moment I was back in our room, howling in agony.

It seems my back – which has been a source of misery for me on and off for the last 40 years – was not a fan of frolicking in the surf. It seized up in a very painful way and demanded one hundred percent of my attention.

That was on May 4. It is now June 8, and the situation is only marginally better. 

Since the onset of this latest insult, I have been to chiropractors (x4), massage therapists (x3), my PCP, a pain management specialist, a guy who mixes in some rolfing with cold lasers with massage with pep talks, an orthopedic surgeon, a physical therapist, I’ve used ice, used heat, taken pain drugs, muscle relaxer drugs, anti-inflammatory drugs, and plain old laying down and taking it easy. 

The drugs do a great job relieving the pain, but they also make me sleepy and sluggish and completely rob me of blog posting ideas. 

And now, I am reading a book titled, Healing Back Pain; The Mind-Body Connection (by John E. Sarno, MD) that tells me this whole thing is all in my head, essentially. 

I am not writing today to seek additional therapeutic suggestions or to elicit sympathy. Lord knows there are some of you dealing with much more serious physical situations than mine. 

I am writing to say that I am not so sure Dr. Sarno is totally wrong. 

Because there IS indeed a connection between our mind and our body. When the psalmist talked to God and marveled at the fact that human beings are, “… fearfully and wonderfully made,” (Psalm 139:14, NRSV), I believe she (or he) was talking about all the magical and mystical dimensions of the human experience… internal as well as external.

But I get it.

It is far easier to think of our component parts as separate, unconnected entities and treat them as such. Tracking down all the pertinent details of my emotional state on May 4, 2021 and finding out which group of them sent my back muscles into spasm is infinitely tougher than just writing me a prescription for pain killers. 

In Psalm 19:1 we are also reminded that God’s inscrutable awesomeness is readily seen throughout the created world. When he (or she) says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1, NRSV), I can easily justify substituting the words “My body” for “The heavens” and “my spine” for “the skies.” 

At this moment I am more inclined to attribute the creation of the lumbar region of my spine to God’s Chief Adversary. But before that Pity Party even gets off the ground, I find myself invited to meditate on this reminder from Paul. He told the Corinthian Christians that, “This slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.” (2 Corinthians 4:17, NRSV). 

Thanks for letting me whine for a moment. I know this too shall pass and that I will be back walking, riding my bike, mowing the grass, and planting shrubbery in very short order. 

I’ll make a deal with you: you pray for me, and I’ll pray for you. Heck, I’ll even pray for you even if you DON’T pray for me. 

Sound good?

Abundant blessings;

11
May
21

Seeking Soulpain Relief

“The reason women have the babies instead of men…” my wife explained, immediately following the birth of our second child, “… is because men couldn’t handle the pain.”

Me… earlier today.

After a short time of harrumphing, sputtering, and expressing considerable masculine indignation, I was forced to pause and process…

… and then admit she was totally right. 

I will confess right up front; I am a complete wimp when it comes to pain. Always have been and likely always will be.

This despite the fact that I grew up in the, “Rub some dirt on it and get back in there” era. 

For me, every experience of pain is like it is happening for the first time EVER. It shocks me. It surprises me. It insults me. It takes my breath away. It deftly penetrates beneath my hard, protective shell and short-circuits my wiring, leaving me whimpering and grimacing like a dewy fawn.

And yes, I know pain is necessary. “Pain is a teacher,” they say. Pain – whether physical, emotional, or spiritual – serves to alert us to situations that demand immediate, therapeutic attention.

Pain also reminds us – in case we forget – about the inescapability of our mortality.

Yes, yes. Sure. I’ve heard all of that and know it is all 100% true.

But still… why does pain have to be so damned… PAINFUL?! So INTRUSIVE?! So RUDE and OBNOXIOUS?!

None of us is immune from pain! It attacks young and old, rich and poor, man and woman, smart and dumb all alike. And because pain is so universal, we have developed an impressive arsenal of tools for dealing with its periodic visits. 

Sometimes we employ the denial tool I mentioned earlier. If that one fails (which it almost always does), we might reach for one of a variety of numbing agents… tools designed to blunt the signals sent to our brain from the site of the primary assault. 

Numbing works for a while but must always be repeated… often with stronger and stronger doses of the number. [NOTE: the “b” there in the word “number” is silent.] Sadly, before people find lasting relief from their pain, they often find life-destroying addiction to those numbing agents.

Finally, when the pain is severe or chronic or long-lasting enough, we decide that the only thing left to do is go to the Source and ask, “Where and why did this pain start in the first place?”

For about the past week I have been dealing with excruciating lower back pain… the kind that makes me walk around the house like a cartoon of a little old man. Today, finally, I decided (with much loving encouragement from Joan) that it was time to try and get to the root of the issue… to stop denying, numbing, and avoiding.

Sadly, before I did, the pain had to get really, really bad.

Isn’t that what happens sometimes in our souls, too? 

Don’t we each have those moments in life that bring us genuine soulpain? And don’t we start out coping with that pain by denying it even exists? And then, when we discover that denial really IS just a river in Egypt instead of an effective coping strategy, don’t we regularly move on to trying to NUMB the pain? 

So, my question is; how bad does the pain have to get? How much agony do we have to endure? How deep does our addiction to numbing agents have to go before we decide it is time to seek out the SOURCE?

For a lot of folks, the source of that soulpain is the lack of a good, solid answer to the question of PURPOSE; Who am I? Why am I here? What is my life supposed to be about? What is LIFE about?

The Teacher, writing in the book of Ecclesiastes, is not exactly the bluebird of happiness on this topic. For those who are tempted to find meaning in their work he (or she) writes, “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun?  For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23, NRSV).

Jesus, on the other hand, offers an alternative. In the 14th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus tells us that he is, “… the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6, NRSV). And on 15 separate later occasions in the New Testament, he then commands his followers to “LOVE ONE ANOTHER.”

It seems to me that if you were looking for a good, reliable “soulpain reliever,” those words might be about as close to the Source as you could get. 

Abundant blessings;

23
Mar
21

The God Who Gets It

By now, my response cycle has become a well-practiced routine.

I hear news reports of a mass shooting. I shake my head and sigh, “Not again.” I await the slow trickle of further details, incrementally ratcheting up my shock and outrage as numbers and circumstances are revealed.

Three dead… four dead… ten dead… lone gunman… “unclear about any motive…”, “eyewitnesses report…”, “scores of unanswered questions…”, “awaiting notifications of next of kin…”

The officials speak. The bystanders speak. Sometimes the family speaks. And through it all I shake my head in utter bewilderment and sorrow…

… until I reach for the remote and change the channel to see what else is going on in the world.

But this time it is different. This time the tragedy struck frighteningly close to home. 

That is because the grocery store in Boulder, Colorado where a gunman killed 10 people yesterday – including a Boulder police officer – is located two blocks from my stepson’s apartment. It is his King Soopers. In fact, he was in that exact store yesterday morning, shopping for a few essentials, not long before all hell broke loose there.

This time I saw the terror in the eyes of the survivors a little more clearly.

This time the stabbing pain of family members whose loved ones will never return from their trip to the store penetrates my soul more profoundly. 

This time my sense of outrage and confusion about people randomly killing other people using outrageous weapons that were never meant to exist outside of a military setting is much more unshakable. 

This time I find myself dwelling… not moving on as quickly as I did before. 

Because this time it feels close… personal… tangible.

It also reminds me why I consider the idea of God’s INCARNATION to be such a vital part of the faith I profess. In the light of these newly exposed nerve endings of mine, the biblical phrase, “… the Word became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1:14 NRSV) suddenly takes on a searing new urgency. 

It tells me that God is not remote and abstract.

It tells me that when we suffer, God suffers. 

It tells me that human pain and sorrow and tragedy and heartbreak are even more real to God than they are to me.

It also assures me that I could not be more off base than during those times when I am tempted to sink down in sorrow, wring my hands, and cry out, “NO ONE UNDERSTANDS WHAT I AM GOING THROUGH!!”

It brings Psalm 34:18 to mind where we read the timeless truth that says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.”

It will take me a long time to shake this one off and move on. I am equally sure that new outrages loom on the horizon as we begin to emerge from our cocoons and gather in large groups again. 

In the aftermath of this most recent horror, I feel a compulsion to DO SOMETHING instead of just sitting and sorrowing… but for the life of me I have no idea what that SOMETHING might be.

For now, I am going to pray that the families of all those affected by yesterday’s horror in Boulder might feel the arms of Jesus wrapped tightly around them, offering comfort and understanding…

… and give thanks for a God who “gets it.”

Abundant blessings;

16
Jul
20

The Sound of Roadblocks

Road-Closed-Ahead-SignMost of the time, we (maybe I should say “I”) misread roadblocks.

It’s like the time my grandmother bought us a piano. I think I was eight or nine years old. Grandma thought that was the perfect age for me to begin my journey into a lifetime of joy-filled music-making.

To help make Grandma’s dream a reality, my mother found a willing teacher through our church – Mrs. Nelson – and got me started. I went over to Mrs. Nelson’s house at 4:00 every Tuesday afternoon after school for my 30-minute lesson.

I maybe completed four total lessons before I tearfully begged my mom to let me quit. Piano was BORING! It was HARD. The piano teacher smelled funny. I missed playing baseball with my friends after school. I told my mother I HATED piano lessons and considered them to be a form of child abuse.

Mom finally gave in to my whining and that was that. Fortunately, she played the piano, so the instrument did not just sit in our dining room gathering dust.

I read the monotony of basic piano lessons as a roadblock that said, “Avoid this road! Find another way!”

The difficulty of learning to play the piano was an early example of a roadblock I have encountered, but it was hardly the last.

Almost every new skill I have ever learned – whether it was playing the guitar, hitting a baseball, learning the Spanish language, becoming a homeowner, or properly exegeting a passage of scripture – seemed to begin as a roadblock.

Some of those roadblocks I interpreted as saying, “Avoid this road! Find another way!” Others I read as, “Dig a little deeper! Try a little harder!”

How do you decide which message your roadblocks are sending?

Most of the time, I believe it is better to lean in the direction of the “try harder” interpretation. Personally, since my default mode is “lazy,” I would find it too easy to be dissuaded from exerting a lot of effort in pursuit of a goal.

Sometimes, though, we really need to detour and find another road. I mean, heck, if I hadn’t broken it off with Marsha Westbrook in the sixth grade, I would never have met the lovely woman I am married to today!

The current pandemic has certainly provided more than its share of roadblocks, hasn’t it?

  • It has crossed its arms and stood defiantly in the way of my efforts to volunteer with the local hospice and our church’s praise band.
  • It has obfuscated our attempts to make friends in our new town.
  • It has befuddled our plans to travel to visit family.

I recently realized that I have a choice about these roadblocks. I can choose to fuss and fume and complainabout them. Or I can pause a moment and listen to them.

And when I choose to listen to them, I find out something very interesting about roadblocks… I find that they have the power to reveal something profound about God and the nature of the universe God made.

Roadblocks have the power to remind me – actually ALL of us – that God is the God of Unlimited Options. Whereas I might see TWO, or on a good day, THREE options ahead of me, God can see BEAUCOUP! (which is French for “a ton.”)

My task then, is to, as the psalmist reminds us, “Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10) and listen for the other options God is revealing.

Shhhh. Do you hear that?

It is the sound of your roadblocks speaking.

10
Jun
20

Doing Love

Joan and me 1Please pause for a moment and pity poor Joan.

Joan – for those of you who don’t know – is my spouse. And since we just celebrated our 20th anniversary on Cinco de Mayo, she has occupied that status for 20 years, poor soul.

At the start of our courtship, it was all cumquats and marmalade… or some other, better phrase carrying the equivalent meaning of “24/7 magic.” I was utterly charming, fun, and thoughtful. I thought of her needs first, sang sweetly in her ear, found new ways to make her laugh, and regularly surprised her with creative, elaborate gifts.

She really sparkled, too, with inner and outer beauty, energy, graciousness, and a boundless sense of adventure.

And so on one enchanted day – as a chorus of bluebirds chirped above us – we decided to make the arrangement permanent.

But then, somewhere along the way, something happened. We moved in together. We started sharing our lives… ALL of our lives… not just the sparkly, shiny, wild, crazy, outrageous, “starry-eyed lovers” parts.

We started seeing fun little details about each other that we somehow missed before; like the way someoneinsists that the table be set like THIS instead of like THAT. Or the way little piles of dirty clothes seem to appear hither and yon. Or the way a pitcher of iced tea gets put back in the refrigerator with less than a teaspoon of liquid left in it.

(OK… that’s all me, just in case you were wondering).

Somewhere along the way, the cumquats and marmalade and “24/7 magic” began to sparkle a little less as the ordinary threatened to usurp the extraordinary.

And it was at that precise moment, I would submit, that Joan and I discovered the real meaning of the word LOVE.

Long, long ago, you see, I subscribed to the pop culture notion that love is all about a particular FEELING. I bought the line that says love is that butterflies-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach excitement that comes when your hormones get a turbo boost in the presence of your beloved.

I can thank Jesus – and marriage – for setting me straight on that.

Jesus helped me by the words he spoke in John 15:12 – “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” In reflecting on this passage, pastor and author Cary Nieuwhof once said, “You can’t COMMAND a feeling.” Feelings come and feelings go, triggered by all manner of stimuli.

So clearly the kind of LOVE Jesus is talking about – the kind that CAN be commanded – is something much more actionable.

This kind of love is a way of living. It is a way of relating to other people. Ultimately this kind of love seems to be – before it is anything else – a way of SEEING. Jesus’ love is a way of seeing the world and its inhabitants that will then give shape and texture to our words, our actions, and even our attitudes.

The same thing happens in marriage. Joan and I always love one another. But we don’t have warm and gushy feelings toward each other 24/7/365. Sometimes we get on each other’s last nerve. Sometimes we get really annoyed with each other. Sometimes we each do stuff that just really pisses the other one off.

And yet, as feelings come and go, driven by the events of the day, love abides.

The world we live in today needs a LOT. It needs healing. It needs humility. It needs repentance. It needs justice. It needs forgiveness. It needs boldness, and creativity, and ENERGY.

But more than anything else, the world today needs a healthy dose of that no-nonsense, Jesus-commanded, action-oriented, all-encompassing, world-changing, boundary-destroying kind of LOVE.

 

Abundant blessings;

25
Mar
20

These Dogs

46AF9FD8-B711-4765-BF2E-A4A1EC6CF51BThese dogs.

They don’t do much, in the grand scheme of things.

Sleeping seems to be very high on their list of “Things to do” every day. (A little too much of it, if you ask me).

There is also eating… barking at any sound, inside or outside the house… wrestling with each other… occasionally cuddling with Joan and I… and, hiding under the table when they hear the garbage truck drive into the cul-de-sac.

They track mud into the dining room.

They (well, the female in particular) steal paper napkins from the table and shred them on the living room floor.

They demand a walk not once, but at least twice a day.

Their breath is a little funky and they seem somehow unable to bathe themselves.

Sometimes they need shots or other expensive medicine from the vet.

Sometimes, when they are not around and when I don’t think Joan will overhear me, I mutter, “What a pain,” under my breath.

And then came the pandemic…

… the time of uncertainty, and of staying inside all day every day.

Then came the time of reading for hours in the middle of the day. The time of searching for new projects around the home. The time of long silences. The time of frayed nerves. The time of rationing our consumption of national news in order to keep our spirits up. The time of checking in by FaceTime and FaceBook. The time of fitful sleep. The time of hand-washing, hand-sanitizing, face masks, and rubber gloves. The time of wondering when things will ever return to “normal.” The time of wondering what “normal” might look like.

And there, in the middle of it all, are these dogs.

These dogs let us scratch and pat and cuddle them for comfort.

These dogs allow us to take them for walks on a day – like today – when the sun is out and the air is warm and springy.

These dogs look at us and somehow sense that things are not quite right… and then lean on us as if to say, “Hey, at least you’ve got me. It’s all going to be OK.”

These dogs provide us with a routine of feeding them and cleaning them.

These dogs bring a smile to our faces while we watch them chase and wrestle and play with gusto in the back yard.

These dogs somehow bring peace and healing to our hearts… radiating, as they do, an unconditional love and assurance.

And sometimes, when they are not around and I don’t think Joan will overhear me, I mutter, “What a blessing,” under my breath.

These dogs…

31
Oct
19

“Nope. Not you.”

rejectedRejection hurts.

“Don’t take it personally,” they say. But sometimes personally is the only way you can take it.

It’s like the time I was cut from the eighth-grade basketball team. The first three practices were the tryouts. The day after the third practice, a piece of paper was thumbtacked to the bulletin board outside the coach’s office. On the paper were the names of the 10 boys who made the team. If your name didn’t appear there, you had been cut.

I remember standing there with the other guys in front of the bulletin board, searching and searching to find my name. One by one they each called out in delight as they saw their names listed.

I got to the bottom of the list and hadn’t seen my name. I went back to the top, convinced I had somehow just overlooked it and went S-L-O-W-L-Y back to the bottom.

It wasn’t there.

I had been cut.

Rejected.

And yes, it was very personal.

Or there was that time in the ninth grade when I called Marsha Westbrook to ask if she wanted to go to Alan’s party with me. I didn’t call it a date, but that’s exactly what it was.

Marsha was a pretty and popular girl. Most of my friends would have agreed that I was punching WAY above my weight limit by asking her out. I took a deep breath as I picked up the phone and dialed her phone number.

It didn’t take her long at all to come up with a response. Without skipping a beat I heard, “No, I don’t think so.” She offered no excuses, no false dodges or made-up conflicts like, “Oh sorry… I have to wash my hair that night.”

Just NO.

Rejection in the most personal way possible.

Becoming an adult has not inoculated me from rejection as I once hoped it might. I have heard, “Nope. Not you,” at job interviews, community theater auditions, attempted bar pick-ups (during my footloose single days between marriages), and in response to grant applications.

All rejections sting. All of them feel deeply personal.

And as other pastors will readily testify, few rejections sting as much as the rejections we sometimes receive from the churches we serve. As the spouse of one pastor I knew once said so eloquently, “Ain’t no hurt like a church hurt.”

I suppose it is partly because the church is the LAST place we would expect to experience rejection. “Surely,” we think to ourselves, “… a group of people committed to following the Lord of Love would refrain from the use of knives and daggers and cudgels in their relationship with their Appointed Shepherd.”

But alas… sometimes we find out that is not the case at all.

I can’t tell you why the topic of rejection has floated to the top of my consciousness so prominently today. Right now I am in a good place physically, mentally, and spiritually. I haven’t had a door slammed in my face for at least two weeks.

It might be that I am reacting to recent stories about people experiencing the sting of rejection on the basis of some God-given aspect of their identity. This kind of torment still happens today much too frequently and seems to perpetuate from one generation to the next.

It could be that I am still smarting from my personal rejection episodes. I have discovered that rejection is not a wound that heals quickly. The cut goes all the way to the center of your soul.

And so if you are in a season of rejection right now – for whatever reason – I am really sorry. It hurts and it takes a long time to heal.

You also need to know that the rejection you received is often not about you at all. Sometimes it happens for irrational, unpredictable reasons. That company might have known the person they were going to hire before they even placed the ad, but protocol required that they “go through the motions” of searching anyway.

Often the rejection you received is much more about THEM than it is about YOU. It is born from some deep insecurity that can only be assuaged – they believe – by belittling someone else.

My sister… my brother; if you have been rejected, take heart. The only way we ever escape rejection completely is by staying out of the arena completely… by sealing our heart up in an airtight chamber to keep it safe, secure, and utterly dead.

And so at the risk of sounding trite and potentially dismissive, I close with this: never forget that the One who holds the universe in the palm of his hand loves you more profoundly than you will ever be capable of understanding.

As Paul once said, long ago;

 “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”(Ephesians 3:16-17, NRSV).

03
Jan
19

Trusting God

Trust-Climb-SilhouetteWhen your light turns green and it’s time to move, you first have to trust.

Before that door is closed and sealed, before your seatbelt is fastened tight and low across your lap, and before the pre-flight safety announcement begins, you first have to trust.

When that waiter – whom you’ve never met – delivers that food to your table – cooked by someone you’ve never met – and heartily intones, “Enjoy!”, you first have to trust.

Small steps or big… life is built on trust.

Today we step forward into a massive world of trust as my wife prepares for major surgery. We place our trust in the surgeon, in the surgeon’s assistants, in the anesthesiologist, in the surgical nurses, in the other assistants, in the staff who have prepared the room and the devices, in the maintenance staff, and in the cheerful volunteers who help get us settled in.

But most of all, we place our whole trust in God. Just like Isaiah says, “Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock.” (Isaiah 26:4, NRSV).

And because we trust in God, our hearts are at peace. We know the psalmist speaks eternal truth with the words, “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.” (Psalm 121:3, NRSV).

Thank you for your thoughts, prayers, best wishes, and good vibes. They all help to build up the “trust muscle.”

See you on the other side!




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