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...