Thursday, July 7, 2011

There Is No Rejoycing In My Pain

First Published at

Once again I find myself powerless to move my toes. The motor paralysis is moving up my legs, and I am left alone to ponder the mortal thoughts of my condition. I have battled this beast twice before, each time returning home with the wounds that either heal or settle in for life, taking away strength, balance and sensation little by little.

How do you fight such a demon? It seems to stalk in the shadows, waiting for me to graduate from my crutches to my cane, and striking just as I put the cane aside. Science may in the end triumph with a diagnosis for me, but for now it has failed. The healing of my faith may come full, and complete in in my body, but for now I am no more than a broken vessel. I am slowly being pressed to understand the condition of death that we all face in this fallen world, and I do not like its taste or aroma.

The concept of death to me has been a simple equation of alive or dead, on or off, black or white, but perhaps it is much more complex than that. I have noticed that each time I experience physical loss, I must go through the same process of mourning, grief, anger, and acceptance. These each seem like small steps towards death to me, and are perhaps their own kind of death.

My first brush with real death was in the form of a living will. I remember the sinking feeling as the doctors asked if I had considered what measures they should take in trying to save me if I lapsed into a coma. Me…a coma…what measures? No, I’m sorry, this was not happening! I had just arrived in the emergency room a day ago, and except for the fact that I could not move my legs, I felt great. But reality set in with the knowledge that the paralysis, moving ever upward in my body could take my life, and even if it did not, it would would certainly take a portion of me.

The second brush with death was a mere five months later when the paralysis came again. This time the disease was more aggressive. I was rushed to Johns Hopkins neurological intensive care unit, facing the possibility of being on a respirator once again. Watching my blood oxygen drop, and as the medicine fought to stabilize me, I knew that once again this could be the end.

My third brush with mortality was just a few days later, as I was recovering, and waiting to be released, once again, to physical therapy. The doctor came to visit me and, in his own doctor-eeze described to me the concepts of baselines of disability. The words, though quite sterile, were devastating to me. You see this “levels of disability” were a fancy of saying that I have a progressively disabling disease, and because they have not yet found its cause, there is no way to determine how far it will go…yes even to the point of death.

So now lying in bed with the IVig flowing once again through my body, I am faced with the fear that death might once again rear its head, while also waiting and hoping to see what might come back, and fearing to find what was gone forever.

Times like these turn me to the Bible in search of answers, but they also turn me away with the answers I find. You see, it is when I am in trials and tribulations that I am supposed to rejoice and thank God. But what do I rejoice in, the fact that I am back in the hospital fighting to regain more of what I lost? Perhaps I am to thank God for the new pain and disability that will come with this, or maybe for the many times that I have prayed to Him for healing only to get silence. Honestly, I cannot give thanks or rejoice in anything that He has allowed to happen to me, and if I am to be totally honest there is a resentment that is welling up in me that rails against the foundation of my faith.

Anger, frustration, despair, resentment, self-pity, and loathing are just a few of the emotions that bubble up from the place they are held at bay inside me, but happiness, content, love, peace, or rejoicing are nowhere in me to be found.

So what am I to do with this? Should I give up on my faith, my God, and my Jesus? Should I feign rejoicing by painting a smile on my face, spouting trite platitudes? The answer to all of these in no, I must reach down deep inside my faith to find an answer that makes sense, one that I can live with and embrace as my comfort in these difficult days to come.

I would like to tell you that sitting there in the hospital I heard the quiet still voice of God, with the answer to all of my questions, but that did not happen. I left struggling to walk, and anguishing over my future.

It wasn’t until a week later, when I faced yet the other recent reality in my life, which was the passing of my dear loving uncle, that I understood how I was to manage my own pain. My uncle had suffered many years with cancer, and the effects of the chemo therapy that ravaged his body. Death, for him, was an end to the suffering he had faced in his body every day. There was now peace where there had been none.

It came to me then, I understood that one day, either near to me now, or years in the future, I would face this very same ending, the final chapter of my own life and suffering. In that day I would come face to face with my Lord Jesus, at once realizing to the peace and health that my resurrected body would give. That is where my rejoicing and thanks should come from.

No, I am not saying that I should rejoice in my death, and that is exactly the point. You see what I rejoice in is the life that I will have after this world has long passed away. A life filled with praise and glory to God, with a body that is whole and perfect.

So in this was, for me, the “ah ha” moment. The rejoicing we are called to do in our suffering is not in the pain, death, or humiliation we experience, but rather in the fact that this suffering brings to us the remembrance of what is to be, a glorious day when each of us who have given ourselves to Christ will walk again with no pain, no suffering, and the everlasting peace that passes all understanding.

Perhaps this moment of clarification was meant just for me, and the words I write here make no sense to you at all. But each of us will, in time, suffer, and each of us will die. Do you rejoice in the knowledge that this is not the end, that your life is not futile? Have you a firm knowledge that with Christ as your savior you will walk with me on those streets of gold?

Now whenever I am tempted to tell God that the pain and suffering are too great for me to manage, He reminds once again the losses I feel are just affirmation of the life He has promised me in eternity, and in that I rejoice!

In that simple act of rejoicing, God has healed my soul, and with each day I find that though the pain and disability are greater, His grace is more than sufficient to cover it all.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


As I sit, looking from the window in my family room, I can see the kids down with their bikes.  My oldest is riding fearlessly down the street without training wheels, the look of triumph painted brightly on his face.  The twins are riding as well, up and down the street.  My youngest wants to get her training wheels off in the worst way.  I see my wife patiently showing her what to do, all the while my daughter ignores the instructions, with thoughts of riding free and on her own, the wind blowing wildly through her hair.

I stare down at my lap enmeshed in the thought that this represents a great triumph.  Just a year ago my oldest was worried that the other kids would make fun of him since he still had training wheels.  The twins were barely on the bikes, and mom was tasked with running them up and down the street one at a time.  Yes they had come a long way.

I look back up through the glass and realize its existence.  It is clear, letting light and images through, but it is solid at the same time keeping the outside and all it represents safely on the other side.

The outside represents pain in so many ways to me.  There is the driveway that seems to go straight up the side of the mountain, keeping me stranded at the top or bottom of it wondering how I will make the return trip.  There is the yard that is unkempt because of my three year imprisonment, and there is the weather.  In the winter it locks me in the house, unable to venture out for the fear of falling, and in the summer the blistering heat threatens to once again overpower my nervous system, sending me on another emergency trip to the hospital.

This isn't how it was supose to be.  I can see in my minds eye pictures of me running behind my son as he gains the courage to ride without support.  I see a game of catch, or freeze tag.  In the autum I am there raking the leaves as the kids run and jump happily messing up my days work.  But that is not my reality.

The pain out side is not merely the physical barriers in my life, but also the emotional.  In my reality I sit here on the couch watching the world go by.  Oh I function.  I can do the laundry, wash dishes, and cook meals.  I even have a great bedtime ritual with the kids saying prayers, that is of course when I am not too tired or in too much pain.

I look back down into my lap and all I can think is "pathetic".  I am so pathetic!  I am not the father I wanted to be. Nor am I the husband that I should be.  Writhing in self pity I can think of nothing good, nothing decent.  It is as though the life is being sucked from me one moment at a time.

Distructive thinking and destructive thoughts.  This is not what God wants for me.  He wants me to shine through the pain and barriers of my illness.  He wants me to show the world that not even the sickness of this fallen world can keep me from the will that God has in my life.

I slowly struggle to get up off the couch.  I grab my cane, and head out to tackle the mountain once again.  After a long and painful trip down the driveway, I embrace the success of the chalange I have just overcome.  My wife gets me a folding chair, and I sit down triumphantly.  Once again a part of the family.  Oh I might not be up pushing the kids bikes, and I may be in a great deal of pain, but this is where God wants me.

Feeling or acting pathetic is the sin that God weeded out of me today.  I now understand that those type of thoughts are not from Him, so I will reengage as I can, live as I might, and fight back any urge at self pitty.

You see I am not pathetic, for I am a fearfully and wonderfully made creation of God my Father, and he loves me no matter what I do.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Is God the Author or Publisher of My Suffering?

   ***This blog was originally posted on April 3rd 2011****

What may seem an innocuous question to most, and likely irrelevant to those who do not believe in a sovereign God, was one that plagued me quite early on in my chronic illness.

To me there is no randomness in the universe, but rather a closely guided plan that is the divine will of God. While this faith is complete, and without question in my soul, it created an internal turmoil from many unanswered questions due to my recent pain and illness.

Having accepted that my illness was not just some random fluke of a fallen world, or from a disinterested God, I was forced to acknowledge that God had actually allowed me to go through years of pain, disability, frustration, and even doubt in Him.

In the process of coming to terms with my chronic illness, it became very important for me to know if God was actually afflicting me as a punishment, or allowing the affliction as a form of lesson.

Perhaps this is, as I said earlier, a trivial thing to most, but I doubt that there is anyone suffering from chronic pain and illness who has not asked "Why me?"

I started by trying to figure out what great sin I had committed that would cause God to be angry enough to strike me down with this illness. In hindsight, I admit that this was a futile effort, because there were so many wrongs I had committed in my past.

From my youth to my salvation at age 33, there wasn't one of God's commandments that was left standing in my life, and I was further pained to admit that my record as a Christian had not been much better. If I was to accept the salvation from Jesus Christ as a real event in my life, then I also had to assume that my true repentance for each of these new sins came with the same forgiveness as those that fell before my salvation.

This left me with the struggle of what lesson was I to learn from this illness. Was God honing me with fire? Was he trying to purge my own self-reliance? Was he trying to humble me?

The answer to all of these questions was probably yes. All of these goals were necessary for me to walk the road ahead of me with a body ravaged by a long-term illness. I would also later learn that these lessons were necessary for my sanity, and health. But the questions I still faced were: Would changing these things in me fix what was wrong both spiritually and physically? Could I put forth the effort in changing these things, such that I would please God, and He would, in turn, heal me?

Oh what futile thoughts, and what futile efforts! After some time, though, with the honing, humbling, and and final admission that I was helpless to do anything to change the circumstances of my life all accomplished, I was left without a direction or purpose to my pain.

I had confessed every sin, I had righted every wrong, changed all that I had perceived needed to be changed. Why was God leaving me in such misery? Why would He not heal me?

Perhaps it is at this point, when I had struggled without result, striven without healing, and prayed without answer, that I came to my lowest point. Driven into a deep depression, and without the hope of answers, or a cure to my physical illness, I surrendered all that I had to God. I told Him to take me from this world. I was no good to anyone, and if God thought He would create a mission in the miserable existence I had, well He was wrong! I could see no use to my suffering, and viewed myself as a hindrance to my family and friends. There was no meaning in this, it was just miserable suffering and pain without end.

On my knees and at my wits' end, I offered all of this up to God on His altar. This time I did not receive silence, but rather a very simple, powerful sentence. "There now you understand what I want," and I did.

God did not want me to ask why He had done this to me. He did not want me to confess my miserable life. He did not want me to seek a ministry in my pain. What he wanted me to understand was that each and every minute of my life required the support of God's powerful hand. I literally could not take a breath, or walk a step without Him.

Since that time, I have not healed. In fact my health has declined, and each new diagnosis brings me closer to my own mortality. I am, however, more able to deal with what each day brings. I do not struggle against God asking why, but rather work with God asking how.

I look back at that time of darkness in my life with some regret. I spent a lot of time spinning against God's will by trying to answer questions that were irrelevant. I will continue to struggle against God with my sinful nature. I will also require more lessons in life that will hone my walk as a Christian. But I am determined now more than ever to lean on Him for each answer.

Perhaps what I have gone through is something everyone with chronic illness will have to, but if I can save any of you the frustration of this journey, in these few words, then my time has not been wasted.

"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them...yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me"

1 Corinthians 15:10


A Simple Christian

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tribute to an Unknown Saint

The mere scent of pipe tobacco brings a warm feeling of comfort, and stirs the image of one of the few times in my life that I was truly at peace. I was without fear, without anxiety, and most of all without the dread of family conflict that had been the substance of my childhood.

In my “tween” years, I lived in a family entrenched in turmoil, with a mother and father who fought nightly, ultimately culminating in a very nasty divorce.

Somehow, In the middle of this, I was whisked away to my aunt and uncle's home, a small a-frame in the remote woods of Oregon.

My uncle always offered a smile that lit up his entire face. It was a genuine smile. It was not just his smile that made him different from anyone else I knew, but his entire being.  He was gentle, and cared about what I had to say. He listened attentively when I talked, and no matter how absurd my comments, he always treated me  as though I was talking about the most important thing he had ever heard.

He loved my aunt and doted over his kids. Life in his house was calm and safe. There was no yelling, just a simple respect for everyone in the house, no matter their age.

There were many fun times while I was out there, riding in my uncle’s vintage cars, making hand cranked ice cream, and just hanging around the home. But my favorite memory was walking into the house with the smell of some type of scented tobacco wafting from my uncle’s pipe as he read the paper.

There was nothing terribly special about my visit to Oregon, but while I was there I felt a part of something special. Something that I did not feel again for many years.

Later in my life, as my male role models failed me, one by one, I looked back to that brief time I spent in Oregon, and grabbed a hold of the lessons that I had learned in watching my uncle’s examples of what a man, father, and husband should be.

Perhaps it seems absurd that I was able to learn so much from him in such a short time, but I believe it was the dearth of any other viable father figure in my life that caused me to cling so closely to the lessons my uncle taught through his example that summer.

Every time that I have seen my uncle since then, he has sported that same smile I loved as a child., Following along eagerly with the tale of my life, attentive to every detail. Once again, I would feel that someone loved me for who I was, and cared so thoroughly about what I was doing.

In retrospect, if there is any credit to be given to my abilities as a father to my own children, they must go to my uncle first. For without him, I would never have learned the gentle love that a father should show his child.

For the past three years my uncle has been in a battle for his life, and while his efforts have been valiant, he is now coming to the end of that fight.   In this, like all things in his life, he maintains the same great repose and gentleness that have been the hallmark of his life.

To those who read this he may not seem special, but I see him as nothing less than a saint. Here is a man who married the love of his life, had children, grandchildren, and remains to this day the center of his loving family. He was a man who took me into his home, and with a gentle loving hand guided me to become the husband and father I am today.

I agonize now over the fact that it has taken me this long to say the things I have here, and even more so that it may come when this man that I have loved and admired all of my life, is nearing the end of his.

My dearest uncle, you have been my inspiration, and though our time together through this life has been so short, how much more does it speak of you that I am grounded in the role model you set for me so long ago?

Please know that to many, like me, you are cherished. It is not just any man who can boast of the many accomplishments you have in your love, your life, and your family.

As time draws to an end, I pray that God will breath in the aroma of your life, and like that scent of pipe smoke I loved so dearly as a child, He will find it more than pleasing.

You are loved.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Please Let Me Help You to Help Me

Look, I like you....I like you a lot. You took the time today to ask me how I was feeling. Even though I have been struggling with this illness for years it means a lot to me that you care enough to take the time to ask. So please don't be offended if I quietly push aside your suggestions on a new alternative medicine, a wonderful doctor, or radical treatment.

Its not that I don't want to hear about it, but, you see, I have been through this for many years. Friends and relatives alike have sent links, and clipped articles for me on just this type of thing. Some have been useful, some not so. It is not that I don't want to hear about your idea, it is just that I am a bit tired from a days struggle with my pain and weakness.

I think that I would rather you just talk with me for a bit, but not about me or my illness Instead tell me about your family, your life, good or bad it doesn't matter.

It will help me to escape for a bit, and maybe even put a smile on my face.
At the end of our conversation help me to know that no matter how bad it gets for me, you will always be there ready and willing to do just this, talk.

Thank you also for your offer to help me, I know that you see a lot of very big things you can do for me, but I have found that big projects come with their own cost to my energy and health, and , frankly, I simply cannot handle that right now.

It is the little things that are frustrating me . They sap my energy, and some days just knowing that they are awaiting me when I get home is more than I can handle. It is very difficult to prepare a meal, or do my daily laundry. I don't have the energy some days to get the shopping done, so I may just do with what I have at home. If you could help me with these little things, I would be so grateful, and in the end they will mean so much more to me than any else you could do.

You are a great friend, and I hope that you have not been offended by anything that I have said here. I value you and your help, so please ask me if there is anything that I need, and I will try to put my pride aside to give you an honest answer.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why does God allow pain?

In the beginning of my illness, while the constant pain was still fresh, I agonized over the question “Why would God allow me to be in this much pain?”. Like most Christians, I looked for the meaning in my suffering, through prayer and meditation on God's word. One of the things that came to me in the form of a revelation was this, how you answered this question depended on how you viewed God.

To the atheist, the question is meaningless. Since there is no God, you would have to assume you drew the equivalent of a cosmic “short straw”. There is no one to blame, it is just bad genes, or bad luck. More importantly is the thought that the suffering you are going through is completely meaningless and empty.

To the “spiritual” person the question boils down to either some type of bad karma, or internal impurity. The answer to the pain, and illness would reside somewhere inside yourself. To you god could be many things like nature, spirits, or perhaps an energy source. You would be looking to cleanse yourself spiritually, hoping that this would cure the illness and stop the pain. The ultimate answer to the question would be found in changing it to “what did I do to cause this pain”. The greatest problem with this point of view is not the herbs, meditation, pyramids, or rituals, but rather the absolute absorption in self, driving you ever onward to find the next “answer. This, as most of us in chronic pain know, would be an exercise in futility.

These views to me are ultimately hollow, leaving me still to grasp at some greater meaning to my pain. Although when I think about these two different points of view, I do have to acknowledge though that it might be easier to assume some type of bad luck, or spiritual damage, than to think that a divine being like God has actually allowed, or even caused this affliction!

Coming from the Christian perspective, I am forced though to acknowledge that the source of my pain is God, for nothing comes to us that has not passed first through the Father's hands. This, for me, in the beginning was difficult to embrace, or accept.

I remember my first reaction was to think “well, we live in a fallen world, and the chances of dying are still 100%, so this is just something that I have to live with.”. On the surface this served me quite well because I did not have to face the issue of blame, or the thought that my pain was intentional.. But I questioned how this point of view differed from that of an atheist? Treating God as an uninvolved deity who placed things in motion and stepped back is no different than a universe that created itself. Did God truly not care about me, or my affliction? Was I just placed into this fallen world to fend for myself? Was I viewing my life, and pain in the same hollow meaningless way that the atheist must?

Minutes, days, and months drew my pain into an endless prison of anguish and despair. The pain was no longer fresh, and my easy answers no longer stood up to my prayers, or bible study. I found that I could not escape the fact that God my Father allowed me this torment. How I looked at God changed from uninvolved, to a God who was angry, lacking any compassionate, or mercy.

What had I done to irritate God so much? Was this His punishment for all of the sins that I had committed? My first reaction was to turn away from God. I stopped reading the bible, and my prayers became more difficult. I came up with reasons to miss church on Sundays, leaving me mad, confused, and ultimately hurting on the inside as much as I was on the outside.

This emptiness started me once more down the road of trying to figure out what I had done to make God so mad. What sin tipped the scale? What wrong had I not gone to Him with? Was I not remorseful enough? Did I have the right amount of faith? Was I truly saved???? I was always taught that God loves us all, so why did He hate me so much?

In yet another revelation I realized that I was thinking like a spiritualist. If I could just find that one impurity, in my case sin, or somehow gain more faith, then God would stop being angry with me and my world would once more have harmony. How flawed was this? Didn't Jesus death cover all of my sins, not just the ones I remembered and confessed? I knew that my faith in the forgiveness of my sins through the death of Jesus Christ was complete, and any attempt look at sin as a cause of my illness and pain was wrong! My pain was not some type of cosmic accident, and it was not a result of my sin, so what was I left with?

If my faith was complete, and understanding sufficient, the inescapable conclusion was that my illness passed through God's hands to me! There was a purpose to my suffering, and it had nothing to do with punishing me.

To be continued...