You Are Not Just Your Body — Part 1

In another Facebook group I belong to, the administrator asked people to describe the first word that came to their minds when they thought of their bodies. This is a group of chronic pain sufferers, so I didn’t think the replies would be positive. One word stuck with me, because I can relate to it. Betrayed. Betrayed is how I felt in 2011. I worked my tail off to get in the best shape of my adult life only to injure my hips, and then begin the fall down the rabbit hole of worsening diagnoses seemingly every time I saw a doctor.

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Medical visits seeking diagnoses can be like falling down the Rabbit Hole!

Most people suspect that they are not simply a union of cells and a collection of matter. In other words, there is something deeply spiritual about us all that strongly testifies that we were created as more than a body. But when you deal a lot with the medical culture, especially here in the West, you are often treated as if you are only a body that has gone wrong.

Science recognizes no such spirituality and western medicine is firmly rooted in science. It is a good thing that science dictates our medicine. It is a bad thing that medical practice has seemingly absorbed the naturalistic (This word simply means that there is nothing beyond the natural universe) philosophical assumptions of science (which is really more than just science).

When you go to doctor visit after doctor visit, get a new prescription after new prescription, face another surgery, etc., then it is easy to forgot to tend to your emotional, mental, and yes, spiritual needs. And when you have fallen into the trap as viewing yourself as only a body gone wrong, then that is going to damage your self-perception.

When you think of your body betraying you, it is interesting what that admission suggests. Who is the “you” that has been betrayed? If you really thought of yourself as just a body, then a body gone wrong is just that, but there would be no one betrayed, because there would not be a distinction between your body and you!

But your body did betray you. It isn’t working like it should. If you have an autoimmune disease, even better…your body is actively working against you! But the “you” is your perception of self and who you are. You are a union of body, soul, and spirit (Some say just body and spirit, but that debate goes beyond the scope of this post). You have a mind–not just a brain–that is greater than your betraying body.

The body is important. That’s why we do what we can to treat it! But please do not forget that you need to make sure you are getting taken care of spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Chronic pain, depression, and anxiety are strongly correlated. But many with chronic pain will spend literally weeks and months of their lives with doctors treating the body, but never make it a priority to speak to a counselor. And the sad thing is that more depression and anxiety exacerbate the chronic pain and vice versa.

Many people reading this post, probably have thought about seeing a counselor, but have never done it. You should do it. It might amaze you what a trained expert can see and point out that you have never been able to put together.

Finally, do not assess yourself by the condition of your body. That is only one aspect of who you are. The body like the spirit is in need of redemption, and God has seen to that in the resurrection. But our body-obsessed culture values everyone by what they look like and how well they function. It is a society that has rejected the biblical view of the whole person. It is a lie. Do not believe it for a moment. You are more than just your body!

Spiritually, there are major considerations as well. How does chronic pain adversely effect your relationship with God? Can it be used somehow beneficially in your walk with God? That will be the subject of Part 2…coming soon.

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Broken and Mended and the Future

I appreciate every person who has read this blog, joined our Facebook group, or participated in our support group. We are still in the middle of our first year and I think it is important to take a moment and take stock of where we are and where we are going as a ministry.

Social Media Presence

The Broken and Mended Facebook group is approaching 70 members! We have recently added several new people. The group serves as information central for Broken and Mended ministry and also a place where people can share prayer requests and offer other helpful insights and information about struggling with chronic pain. I hope to develop an Instagram presence soon. Younger people aren’t using Facebook like middle-aged people and older people are. There’s a lot of people we might able to reach through Instagram. If you are on Twitter, you can follow my account @BrokenandMended_18.

Support Group Report

Our support group has had a good core group of around 10-11 local people from the beginning. We’ve had another ten or so who have participated from other places via Zoom. It has been harder to grow that core group than I imagined and also difficult to get people involved that are not a part of our home church (Woodward Church of Christ). Part of the struggle is just getting the word out. Part of the problem may be geography. I have thought we may need to move the meeting into town at a neutral location. I am not planning on any changes until fall, but I am really considering a change in location to make it clear that this is a support group for all and not just folks from the Woodward Church of Christ.

The Bigger Vision

There is a bigger vision underlying all of this. It just takes time to get there. The dream is to develop a curriculum that could be used in any city across the world. This summer, I am going prioritize development of a workbook that will be designed with the support group in mind.

Other group leaders then could start Broken and Mended support groups in their towns. A little further in the future, I plan to work on a video curriculum to accompany the workbook. I can imagine a group meeting somewhere across the nation or even the world:

They gather to welcome their new members. They play the video, a 15 minute discussion on a relevant chronic pain topic. Then a discussion based on their workbook ensues. Finally, they close with prayer requests and a blessing. Through the years, thousands of chronic pain sufferers could be helped to stay connected to their God and to other fellow sufferers.

I share all this for three reasons:

  1. Those of you who are active participants in what we are doing right now are a part of a very special beginning. Thank you for your patience, as we figure this out together. I hope Broken and Mended blesses you in a special way. By believing in what I am trying to accomplish, you are blessing me. Please stick around!
  2. I want to plant a seed for those of you who live outside of Woodward, OK, to consider starting a group in your location. Could you get 8-10 people in your church and/or community, who struggle with chronic pain, and are willing to meet twice a month? What if all you had to do is find a place to gather and provide consistent communication to your group, while the curriculum and model for what to do was put together for you? Broken and Mended is not just a support group in Woodward, OK, but a movement to “connect hurting people to Jesus and each other.” Maybe you could be one of the first to start a group!
  3. To develop quality materials and to make Broken and Mended a duplicatable ministry, I am going to need to raise some money. So far, the expenses have been minor. I paid for our website and graphics. My church paid for the annual subscription to Zoom. Obviously, the church currently provides the location and other logistical support. However, if I am going to develop professional quality curriculum and video content, I will need professional help. There are other costs associated with providing resources, guest speakers, etc. I’m not ready to start accepting donations yet, but as we move to phase 2 of the development of this ministry, the opportunity to bless this ministry with a financial gift is coming. Perhaps, you will prayerfully consider making a contribution.

I could say a lot more about future plans I have for Broken and Mended (e.g. start a support group for parents and children who have chronic illness), but this is enough for now to let you know where we want to go. I share it because I hope you are inspired to be a part of it or stay a part of it. I am going to need help and I am open to not only suggestions but to whatever practical help you want to provide. I am excited about the future of Broken and Mended and I hope you are too!

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Better Than Happy

What if the secret of happiness wasn’t about pursuing happiness?

It is hard to be happy. It is harder to stay happy. That’s the nature of our nation’s obsession, “the pursuit of happiness.” It is like someone is always moving the goalposts. It is a pursuit dominated by frustration and a murky horizon that obscures the destination.

Now some people are more naturally happy than others. Happiness is influenced by many factors: personality, mental health, physical health, financial prosperity, family support, self-image, etc. The list is endless and that is my point. Even if you could align all the factors in your favor at a single moment of time, the next moment one of those factors will slip out of your grasp. It is exhausting trying to be happy! I have a better idea.

It isn’t my idea originally. The point was made in a class I am currently taking on suffering and healing. In our class text, Timothy Keller, summarizing the work of Victor Frankl, wrote in his book, Walking With God Through Pain (70):

The problem is that contemporary people think that life is all about finding happiness. We decide what conditions will make us happy and then we work to bring those conditions about. To live for happiness means that you are trying to get something out of life. But when suffering comes along, it takes the conditions for happiness away, and so suffering destroys all your reason to keep living. But to “live for meaning” means not that you try to get something out of life but rather that life expects something from us. In other words, you have meaning only when there is something in life more important than your own personal happiness and freedom, for which you are glad to sacrifice your happiness.

Living for meaning instead of happiness is a revolutionary idea! And meaning leads to something better than transient happiness; it leads to satisfaction. I believe satisfaction is closer to the biblical meaning of joy than our modern concept of happiness.

There is overlap between joy and happiness in that I believe when we live for meaning, and are deeply connecting to it, we experience a deep feeling of contentment, a rich and full happiness. We can then truly, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4).

You may protest that you do not know how to live for meaning. As a Christian, I can only live for meaning by pursuing the glory of God. If you are not a Christian, I wouldn’t know how to counsel you on finding ultimate meaning. I will say simply that we must all discover what is meaningful about our lives and orient our lives toward investing in that meaningfulness. This pursuit will be worth much more than “the pursuit of happiness.”

A quick note to those of you with chronic pain, my primary audience: Chronic pain can rob you of a lot things, a career, livelihood, mobility, security, even family. Meaning may inform what you do, but what you do is not what makes life meaningful. I fully believe that even the most bedridden sufferer can live a meaningful life.

How you pursue that is changed by the reality of chronic illness, but what makes your life meaningful is not. Your meaning has to transcend all of that. That’s why I can only make a case in finding our ultimate meaning in full-fledged pursuit of the glory of God!

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Why Me? Why Not Me?

Here’s a 10 minute video on some reflections on Job as it relates to chronic pain/suffering. This is a devotional I would have given in a Broken and Mended support group, but we cancelled for Spring Break. Hope this message is a blessing!

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Does a Support Group Stigmatize You?

I had heard recently that a friend didn’t want to be identified with our group because she didn’t want chronic pain to become her identity. I take no offense, because, first of all, this friend is one of my greatest supporters in everything I do. Second, this group is here for those who need it. I never imagined it would be for everyone with chronic pain. But Broken and Mended is not just a blog. We are a ministry and there are many ways to connect with us. Her hesitation relates directly to joining a support group.

The implication is that joining a support group stigmatizes you or, at least, labels you. Even if that is true–which I will contest momentarily–it is still another large leap to say that joining a support group will form your identity around the purpose of the group (in this case, chronic pain). In the meetings themselves, we have strongly debunked the idea that our identity should be based on chronic pain. I’ve also touched on the issue in a video blog here and I wrote on the purpose of a support group here.

The idea that joining a group for support stigmatizes you is perpetuated by a society that continues to elevate self-sufficiency as one of its favorite idols. We all need help in some way. Some need it more than others due to extenuating circumstances. That doesn’t mean that participation in a group created for those in similar circumstances creates a personal identity equal to the group identity.

What I mean is that, of course, a group has a particular identity. And when we participate in such a group, we absorb some small aspect of that group into us, but we also give some part of who we are to the group.

Let me tell you a little about me that has nothing to do with my participation (even my creation of!) in a support group. I am naturally shy and self-conscious. Sometimes I think God put me in ministry so I wouldn’t completely retreat into myself. I am an avid Houston sports fan. I love to read and to contemplate big ideas. I am a family man who loves his wife and kids and extended family. I can work hard for long periods of time and do absolutely nothing for long periods of time. Oh, and I happen to struggle with chronic pain and started a support group, in part, to help combat the loneliness that comes with that.

My struggles do not make me who I am, but they are part of who I am. All of who I am belongs to Christ. He is my identity! And whatever segment of society that wants to attribute my entire identity to one aspect of who I am (because society loves to label people!), that is their problem and not mine.

What I want to say to you is that if the reason you have not given us a try is because you thought that somehow being involved would claim your entire identity, that couldn’t be further from the truth. One of the main reasons I am doing what I am doing with Broken and Mended is to help people see that they are so much much than their illness! When you hurt all the time, you can start to believe that your identity and pain are the same thing. But it isn’t true, and Broken and Mended will never tell you otherwise!

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Chronic Pain Hot Links — 3/8/19

I haven’t done a hot links post in a while. So some of these links might not be so hot anymore! Hot links gives the impression that you are clicking on something timely. “Get ’em while they’re hot!” Maybe I need a different name for this kind of post, but one thing I realize is that good information or encouragement for those with chronic pain doesn’t expire. So, maybe they are still “hot” links after all! Without further ado:

This one is deep and very worth the read. The author deals with a lot of issues in coming to terms with her body and with others and her faith in the midst of chronic pain: http://chreader.org/alone-in-my-body/

Esther Smith will be our guest speaker for the support group meeting on April 2nd. She also keeps a great blog full of valuable resources. In this post, Esther discusses a recent anxiety group she oversaw and provides some helpful links/resources for dealing with anxiety: https://www.lifeinslowmotionblog.com/a-few-more-thoughts-on-anxiety/

Here’s a story of several testimonies about their difficult of staying on needed opioid meds due to prescription regulations: https://www.statnews.com/2016/07/15/chronic-pain-opioids-patients/?utm_content=buffer3c447&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Sometimes half-truths given through out of context Bible verses do more harm than good. Here’s a good and personal story about keeping the tension that exists between the God who heals and the reality of death until the coming of Christ: https://www.rzim.org/read/a-slice-of-infinity/sharing-life-and-death

That’s all for now!

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Children and Chronic Illness

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Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

I am still trying to find effective ways to conduct an outreach to adults in chronic pain. I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to children and chronic illness. Perhaps this is the best way to begin…to acknowledge the children and their families who daily wrestle with their child’s health.

It is my hope one day to have an entire wing of the Broken and Mended ministry to offer support to the families in this predicament. When everyone else is posting pictures of their child’s latest accomplishment, these parents are reporting on their child’s latest hospital visit. We could all do with a little more awareness and sympathy for those who are in this struggle.

My oldest son was born with acid reflux. What is an aggravating annoyance for adults can be a full-blown horror for a baby. Our son cried at the top of his lungs for 8-10 hours every day. I know the hours because our pediatrician had us keep a log on how much our infant was crying.

I would come home from work and my wife would drop off my screaming son in my arms and retreat to some place in the house where she could finally cry. It was AWFUL!

He grew out of it by the time he was six months old. His overall health was never in jeopardy, and yet I can tell you that those are still probably the most difficult days of our now 17 year-old marriage not to mention our 15 year-old son’s life. I am glad he has no memory of it.

I share that story not because it somehow makes me think I can relate to those of you who have a child with a serious chronic illness. I share it to demonstrate that I can’t even imagine what you are going through. If it was that hard to go through that with our infant son for a few months, how much harder is it for those of you whose child will carry their illness through every phase of their childhood?

I want you to know that I care. I want you to know that I know you are going through a very special battle. Those of us who live with pain as an adult would gladly take it over the prospect of our children suffering. In fact, one of the scary things about my disease is how genetically based it is. It doesn’t mean my children will get ankylosing spondylitis, but they definitely have a greater chance of doing so.

You would trade places with your child if you could. As it is, you have to watch them suffer, and then you suffer as only a parent can. The suffering of children is one of the hardest realities to square with our faith in God. I certainly don’t have all the answers as to why children suffer, or more personally, why your child suffers, but I do know that God cares and loves your child even more than you do.

If anything, my hope is that this post reminds you that are not alone. One day we may be able to have Broken and Mended support groups for people just like you and your family. Until that day, please know that we care!

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