Worst Blogger Ever

I have come to the realization that I may be the worst blogger ever. I had intended to blog about once a week about my experiences with pain and pain management and its effects on mine and my family’s lives.  At first it was cathartic and enjoyable to relive God’s grace to us during this time of healing after 10 years of feeling like we were wandering in the wilderness.  As I delved further into our story, it soon became emotionally exhausting to deal with the hurt, guilt and shame looking in the mirror on that time table. I don’t handle guilt and shame well, hiding from it at all cost so the writing had to stop. I also don’t do well with obligations.  If writing is something I do in my free time for enjoyment then great, but I had made it into an obligation on top of all of life’s other responsibilities so I have avoided it. My deepest apologies to both of my readers.

As we are quickly approaching two years since our redemptive stay at the Cleveland Clinic, I am still in awe at the work of grace God did and continues to do in our family.  All of our problems and struggles are far from fixed and life can still be hard but we have better tools to fall back on.

It has been two years since I have been on any pain meds for my chronic back pain and more days than not, I feel like a new man physically.  The doctors in Cleveland said it would take at least a year before my brain could heal itself and be back to normal (well, Kathy would tell you that normal is a relative term).  They were so right.  It really took that long for my brain to begin to really respond to my pain in a relatively normal way and to clear out of the fog of 8 or so years of strong drugs.

My past has been catching up with me lately and the last year or so has still been a daily struggle. One (and by “one” I mean me) does not just immediately quit the bad habits acquired over 10 years and begin walking the straight and narrow having cast off the things that hinder you.  I equate breaking bad habits with the Christian life which is filled with peaks and valleys of times you feel closer to God and others so far away. (Remembering always that he has never left and is always pursuing you is the key.)

They say that habits can be changed in 21 days.  My problem remains that I am an excellent starter, but terrible at follow through so changing a bad habit can take a multitude of failed starts.  I am so thankful I am blessed with an excellent spouse, Kathy, who puts up with all of this shouldering this heavy load with me.

I came to the humbling realization this week that either I am a terrible listener when it comes to her or terrible at discerning what is important to her. (Possibly both…hush Kathy, I can hear you mumbling or snickering)  You see, I know there are things I do well when it comes to our family, but Kathy possesses an incredible barometer for our emotional and spiritual wellbeing.  My problem is sometimes I have trouble correctly reading the barometer until the alarm sounds (and by alarm I mean sometimes it takes her well placed foot).

Two years later we are back in the gym working out at her prompting and leading. I would never have thought it possible before Cleveland and am grateful for the ability to do it.  After three weeks, I can feel the strength and energy returning and actually having pain from having accomplished something.  Who would have thought I would ever be thankful for sore muscles. One bad habit hopefully being on its way out the window, but I always know that because it feels like an obligation it will be hard.

So, not only am I the worst blogger ever with respect to frequency, but I have rambled. Again, my sincerest apologies to you both.

I might blog later.

Regrets I’ve Had A Few

(Editor’s note: I looked over my past post and realized I had not copied all of “What Mountain Are We Climbing” into the post. It ended abruptly. All problems and no hope. If you want to see the resolution, it is there now for your reading pleasure.)

I don’t think I have ever understood people who when asked at the end of some journey, for lack of a better word, if they would do anything different, answer “No.”  Maybe it is just me and my penchant for over analyzing everything, but I can often look back at decisions I have made which could have impacted either a particular situation or changed my life entirely. I understand and believe in the providence of God and that He has worked all things according to his good pleasure and to my good, but it doesn’t help this broken man from pondering mistakes, opportunities lost, or just life’s circumstances that have brought me to this place.

I’ve already written some about what has brought our family to where we are now and the incredible mercy shown to us over the past year. I look back on it with so much joy and thankfulness for the work God has done in and for us. I also look back on more than eight years of chronic pain and the regrets are sometimes too many to count and can be overwhelming.

One instance always seems to get me though. Part of dealing with pain and suffering inevitably is dealing with depression and depression breeds isolation and more depression. You get the picture. It’s a vicious cycle. I was at times enmeshed in this cycle and was best at the isolation as now I had an excuse.  I know there were probably bigger mistakes or omissions made over this time but the one that cuts to my heart is missing my son’s eighth birthday party.

You see, in addition to the back pain, many days all of the medicine I was taking to relieve it left me extremely nauseous. This coupled with a bad pain day would often lead to me alone in the bed missing vital family functions.  I don’t recall the specifics, but I’m sure Kathy was pissed and who could blame her. I was pissed and sad for disappointing him and her. I mean what good dad misses his kid’s birthday party.

This one event…regret remains a major stumbling block for me as I recover mentally from what physically has taken its toll. Its grasp on my conscience reminds me of so many other events that may have been different had the circumstances been different.

Guilt and shame are major obstacles to my forgiveness of me. I know I am not alone. We cannot see that the cross is truly for us individually and personally for the cloud of negativity artificially created. We forget that we are wrapped in the lambskin of righteousness. We forget that when the God of Heaven and Earth looks down on us he sees Christ.

One of the major benefits of finally now having more good days than bad is breaking the cycle that leads to isolation so the community around me can remind me of the promises of God. I cannot change nor make up for missing that day, but I can try to live this one as a child of the living Lord.

During this week as we remember the crucifixion of our Lord, let us not forget to celebrate the resurrection for it is the victory won for us over guilt and shame and regret.

I am preaching to the choir.

If I Had A Hammer

When you have a hammer, every obstacle looks like a nail. I heard somebody talking about something similar to this the other day on the radio and wondered what tools we have in our toolbox.

A year ago under the fog of pain, medicine, and depression, I thought maybe I didn’t have any tools or maybe I just had a hammer. Fortunately for me, I have a wonderfully beautiful wife who has a very special tool and knew just where to put it when everything seemed to be falling apart. In this instance, it took a very special wife to jump start my family’s recovery and she knew it must happen. I knew she was right and trusted her, because I also knew she loved me and had my best interest in mind.

One lesson I have learned over the past year regarding my pain is you have to be your own advocate when it comes to doctors. The old saying goes that doctors call it a practice because well…  While it may be funny and not entirely true, it does contain a hint of truth. Each one has a limited amount of knowledge concerning their specialty. I spent around eight years with a pain doctor who I think had my best interest in mind, but we had tried everything he knew to do. We had exhausted the extent of his toolbox. My mistake here was partly due to my ignorance in not thinking there was anything else out there and we continued way too long down a futile path. Do I have any resentment towards the doctor for not trying anything else or having any other suggestions? I did and maybe on a bad day still do, but again I really think he saw me in pain and wanted to alleviate it if possible.

I also learned how much my church community, my family and friends love me, the boys, and Kathy. We were overwhelmed by their generosity to take care of things big and small. They allowed us to take time off and focus on finding a solution for my pain which would redeem our lives.

Probably most important were those who came along side me and reminded me of the promises of God at the right time. This was not in a “Keep your chin up!” surfacy, happy clappy, everything will be OK, kind of way. They recognized what the reality of the situation was and reminded me of all those saints from the Bible who struggle and God still loved. I trusted them and was able to lean on them during tough times because I knew the loved me. They had been and were intimately invested in me and my family over a long period of time.

What tools do I have in my toolbox? I am going to beat the drum a little. Community and faith. Sometimes it takes a hammer, and other times it just may take a well placed foot from someone you know loves you.

(My editor, Kathy, says that some of this will not make sense to some who do not know us. Hopefully it will become more clear as the weeks progress.)

What Mountain Are We Climbing?

In describing his 2004 win in the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr., arguably NASCAR’s most popular driver, said, “Everybody sort of has this mountain in front of them that they put in front of themselves they want to climb…For a moment, for a day, you’re at the top of that mountain.” If anyone had a mountain of expectations to climb, Dale Jr. did and his was tall. As the namesake of a seven time NASCAR champ, Junior’s mountain most likely seemed insurmountable when his father died in 2001 in a wreck on the last lap of this very race while holding off competitors for the two cars he owned in front of him, Dale Jr. and his teammate Michael Waltrip.

I know I have lost most of my readers and maybe credibility at this point, but the Coxes are huge NASCAR and Dale Jr. fans and this is the week of the Great American race. I promise I have a point.

Coming out of college, I had all the confidence in the world and felt like I was on top of the mountain. I had grown from a tiny, fairly shy high school student to a guy who seemed to have everything going for him. I had come to know the grace of God early on in college and for the most part, the next few years of my life was filled with success after success. I studied hard and made only three B’s. I joined a young fraternity and would become president of this group of misfits. Opportunities to join new groups and gain new scholarships came out of the woodwork without much effort. My community of friends was tight knit with many strong supportive Christians to whom I owe so much, and I was dating the sweet girl who would become my bride. I had chosen and been accepted to become an Reformed University Fellowship intern for the next two years working with college freshmen to understand God’s grace in their life.

I know it may sound like bragging, but that was the lay of the land and needless to say the adversities I faced then now seem like mole hills. Life up to  this point for me had been smooth sailing. My dad and mom loved one another immensely and me and my new wife more than I would know. I wouldn’t even know the sting of death until I was almost 30 as no one extremely close to me would die until my grandpa in 2002.

All of this produced a very idealistic world view and I was building a huge mountain of expectations and plans for what mine and my family’s future would look like. Kathy, our five kids (it seemed doable then) and I would gather nightly around our family meal where we discuss the day’s events and how God was directing their footsteps. They would attend a classical Christian school learning to love the Lord more and more and of course grow up and marry Godly women. Kathy and I would retire and live happily ever after.

Well a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Come to find out that my plan which seems almost comical now was not the path God laid out for me. Our lives would be met with obstacles and struggles, sickness and pain. There would be a ten year search for a diagnosis of a rare autoimmune disease for Kathy and my own chronic back pain. Couple that with a couple of untimely layoffs (are there timely ones?), and my plans were derailed more than once.

Having “put this mountain” in front of myself of expectations, it felt like every goal not reached was a failure which is just not the case. I certainly have hopes, dreams, expectations, and goals for both me and my family which I would love to surpass, but the mountain in front of me is artificial, built by idealistic ideas of how everything would unfold. It did not take into account any obstacles or pitfalls to come our way.

God’s plan has always been the same. I know he wants to sanctify me, and I know the more He does, the more I will enjoy heaven. His means to do so have not always been on the top of my list of fun things to do and endure, but I know He loves me nonetheless. There will be a day when we will reach the top of the mountain not because of what we have done but because Christ climbed the mountain for us. The hard part is remembering these things when we feel overwhelmed by our day to day struggles and why having a community to remind us is so important.

Affirming Life or Embracing Death?

One impetus for writing here was driven by my desire to see some positive success stories of overcoming pain on the net. From the time my struggle began, I would constantly look to the internet for answers concerning my condition, treatments, doctors and particularly a community of people who are dealing with the same issues. I desired to see how others where coping with the day to day struggles of pain.

I found myself reading message boards and read extensively about people in pain wanting to know what medicines worked for others, what types of doctors they are seeing, what treatments have they tried, and how they dealt with others opinions about them. It became quickly apparent that the people who are drawn to these sites are hurting emotionally and physically and in many cases overwhelmed with fear concerning their current condition and what that may mean for the future. The community was abundant with solutions of doctors, medicines, treatments, but yet the solution providers were still on these boards in pain living a life that looked very much like their past with not much hope for the future.

I cannot remember reading one story of someone who overcame their condition, and I came to realize that those who had must be out there living their lives. Keep in mind that this realization only materialized after my own situation had been redeemed, and I too was beginning to live my life again. So, I began to search the net again for the success stories of those who had overcome pain because again I wanted to know what was working for them.  My search came up empty.

So where are the people like me? Well, good question. Most people who experience short term pain find a solution and are able to move on. Chronic pain is a funny animal. Someone once asked me how to describe my pain and I personified it as a thief. Pain steals our time, thoughts, hopes, dreams, ambition, and our ability to be outward focused. The latter is the most detrimental to the mind, and soul. It robs us of the ability to love others and see ourselves as part of the body.  It can steal the perception of our self worth and our necessity in others lives.  Pain causes all of us to turn inward and to sometimes be overwhelmed by the selfish focus it draws.

So what does this look like? I talked previously about the choice to wallow in my pain or get out and live life in spite of it.  For those who become overwhelmed by pain, physical or emotional, it often causes us/me to withdraw into myself and deeper into my thoughts.  Often this only increased the pain and sorrow as I dwelt on it and forgot that hope lay out before me.  It would keep me from being vulnerable enough to reach out to those who love me and would gladly help carry the burden if I let them.

For a long time I’ve been caught up in my own thoughts and life… only thinking of myself and how to manage the day to day, and to be honest longing for heaven for I know I am glorified there both body and soul.  Pain, sorrow, tragedy can all disable our ability to see the grand scheme of things, but because we have been redeemed, we are called to sanctify this life.

I imagine the people like me who have found a solution for their chronic pain are still in pain and sanctification is a process. It takes time. Hopefully they are working their solution. Writing here is part of my solution. It is cathartic and painful and hopeful.  So this is me trying to work my own process. My attempt at being vulnerable and honest enough that some who are looking for a positive example of how pain can be overcome through community and faith can find community here. This is my prayer.

I have been working on my family’s story of an almost 10 year struggle, but again it is painful and exhausting to remember and put into words.

Thanks for all of the encouraging comments.  They help draw me out of myself to think about how many others are out there living this struggle searching for answers, and remind me of the bigger picture. I still long for heaven but can choose to affirm this life instead of embracing death.

Until next time.

You Have to Start Somewhere

In the words of Tiger Woods, “Hello world!”  I have contemplated for months writing about chronic pain and pain management given what has transpired over the past 10 years or so, but wondered about the why, and about putting my info all over the net.  Well, I have decided to try and write the honest truth about what living a life with chronic pain has and can look like.

As for the name of the blog, I don’t mean it as a command or hope that all of you out there (if anyone is reading) will “Feel my pain” nor would I want you to.  As the years have piled on years with sometimes debilitating back pain, the truth has become overwhelmingly obvious that we live in a fallen world and the effects of sin not only cause anger, pride, selfishness, but truly have a physical element as well.

Feeling my physical pain every day is a constant reminder of the broken nature of the world in which we live.  Living a life despite or in spite of chronic pain mirrors our struggle against our broken nature. In our hearts and minds we long to do certain things or act according to what we believe, but are faced with the reality that it is not easy.  It is hard work. If we truly contemplated it, we may not get out of bed in the morning. We are desperate for a solution and hope for a better future.

Mine is the story of redemption in more ways than one.  I am a Christian which means through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, my sin has been redeemed by his righteous life as a gracious gift. My life with chronic pain has also been a story of redemption, and eerily resembles our current state as Christians. It is the paradox of living in a state of being redeemed yet still sinful, and redeemed yet still painful.

What is the solution, where is the hope? I think one of the biggest realizations over the past year for me has been that in this life there will always be pain both physical and emotional. Earth shattering truth I know, but acknowledging it has made a world of difference in how I live my life. I can hole up in my bed with my pain or me and my pain can get out and live a life in community with others who are dealing with their own suffering, sorrows, tragedies, or pains. I long for the day when my body hurts no more, because it too has been redeemed. So, there is my answer.  Community and faith.

I will try to write more about my past struggles with pain and what that has meant for my family, relationships, mental status, but I want to acknowledge that living in a fallen world does not just bring about physical ailments but a world of stumbling blocks leading to emotional pain.  Death, broken trusts, divorce, not to mention life sometimes can just be hard, but I think for me the answer is still the same: community and faith.

Until next time.