Hot Links — 10/24

I’m trying to keep up by reading what I can on chronic pain and faith each week.  I was out of town last weekend, so these are a little late in coming out, but here a few good links to check out.

This is an article from the spouse of someone in chronic pain as she explains their quest to make sense of it all and how they proactively handle their situation through faith in Christ.  It isn’t very long and definitely worth your time.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2018/october/disability-chronic-illness-i-found-hope-husbands-suffering.html

This next link is from a chronic pain blogging site that has no particular religious views as far as I can tell.  This post is a good sample of what they offer, usually personal stories that help people in chronic pain realize they are not alone.  This post has to do with accepting the limitations of chronic pain.

https://themighty.com/2018/01/accepting-limitations-ankylosing-spondylitis/?utm_content=buffer499b2&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

A little poetry about finding strength in weakness.  This is so good.

https://www.paultripp.com/wednesdays-word/posts/weak

The last link is a Q&A with someone who has suffered horrendously for years and how she maintains her faith even when God does not intervene.  It is very good.

http://tanyamarlow.com/jenny-rowbory-suffering/?fbclid=IwAR3160s9mr0sRD6ZvmbKuxLVs2wSh_uIWScXMt_ThvosQb92yaQU3guIrVg

 

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A Place at the Table of Jesus

Great Banquet.jpg

Photo Credit:  http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Parable_of_the_Great_Banquet

Let me start by directing your attention to Jesus’ “Parable of the Great Banquet” and then I want to share a few thoughts about how Jesus’ message impacts those of us dealing with chronic illness.  From Luke 14:15-24 (NIV):

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Like it is always, in Jesus’ days there were the “haves” and the “have-nots.”  There were a lot of things that could leave you in the latter group: scandalous history, questionable religious pedigree, poverty, and most certainly disease.  If you found yourself unable to take care of yourself, you were reduced to a life of begging.  You were ignored and stigmatized.  Some even assumed that your ailment meant that God had punished you (cf. Jn. 9:1-2).  You certainly didn’t receive any invitations to an important man’s banquet.

Jesus’ parable fit the times well.  An important man is having a banquet and ostentatiously invites other well-to-do people, people with means and enough social mobility to be buying land, oxen, and marrying.  Each of them refuses the master’s invitation due to being consumed by their own self-important lives.  This enrages the master and he commands his servants to go all through the streets and find the “poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” and invite them to the master’s banquet.  The opportunity for those who refused the invitation has now passed.

Jesus gave this parable in response to a man who echoed the sentiment of his time.  They all looked forward to a great feast in God’s kingdom, a never-ending celebration inaugurated by the King, the Messiah.  The man said nothing wrong.  For it is true, “Blessed is the one who will eat the feast in the kingdom of God.”  But too many people made false assumptions about who got to eat at this feast for Jesus just to let that statement go unaddressed.

They assumed that the kingdom of God followed the same rules as kingdoms of the world.  The “haves” of this world were obviously blessed by God and would have the important seats at the banquet, or so they thought.  But this kind of people wouldn’t even recognize the invitation.  They were so overly occupied with their own lives that they missed the Master’s invitation.  They didn’t even recognize him and crucified him as a common criminal!

But “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame,” who have been cast aside by society, find themselves with an opportunity to be at the feast to end all feasts.  Their circumstances have humbled them and they are receptive to the master’s invitation.  This isn’t just any master; this is the King and the Messiah, and they find themselves invited to his table.  

The good news for those of us who struggle with chronic pain and illness should be obvious.  Our pain often sidelines us from doing the things we want.  We may literally have to turn down invitations because we hurt too much.  Others may just stop inviting us all together.  We can’t always “carpe diem” the way we used to or “just do it” as Nike tells us.  The world seems to be leaving us behind, but Jesus never will!  

Just Do It

This Is Not Always An Option

I am not suggesting that just because a person has suffered an unusual amount in this world that their ticket is automatically punched to Jesus’ never-ending feast, which is really about being in God’s kingdom forever.  It doesn’t work like that.  A person in pain can reject the invitation as well.  But it does mean that Jesus will not leave us behind.  It means we are invited!

One of Jesus’ big themes is a reversal of fortunes.  The people in this life who have a lot will lose everything in the life to come (see “The Rich man and Lazarus) if they do not know the King and live as compassionate citizens of the kingdom.  Those who have suffered and been cast outside will be greatly comforted and honored in the life to come, again, provided they have known and loved the King.

Our pain is not permanent.  Our place at Jesus’ table can be.  As the old hymn beckons, “All things are ready; come to the feast!”

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Chronic Pain “Hot Links” 10.13.18

I’m going to be writing one regular blog post a week (though I missed this week) and trying to put together “hot links” for the best articles/posts I read on chronic pain each week.  Normally, I may shoot for five links, but all three links below are long and worth your effort.  I’ll try to include some diversity in perspectives (medical community, personal stories, Christian perspective, etc).  Without further ado, here are this week’s hot links with a brief description.

  • There is a lot of overlap between chronic pain and mental illness.  In the case below, mental illness came first, but it is a heartbreaking and ultimately faith-encouraging personal story about a man’s battle with schizophrenia.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/april/schizophrenic.html?share=7ZtKUxgDLLU6XJTGugJYs%2b8RHSdE29GN

  • This story is not for the faint of heart.  It is a firsthand account of a sister lamenting the failures of the medical community that led to her brother’s suicide.  It is absolutely heartbreaking and demonstrates the consequences when people in chronic pain or marginalized, ignored, and stigmatized.

https://hudsonvalleydoctorskilledmybrother.wordpress.com/2018/09/14/suicide-over-pain-telling-my-brothers-story-because-he-cant/

The article below is a balanced perspective of the opioid crisis and its connection to chronic pain patients and also does a good job of describing our chronic pain problem throughout the nation.  The quote below underscores the need for support groups like our own “Broken and Mended” here.

  • “In the meantime, support groups like the ones led by Cowan and Steinberg can help, because it seems people with chronic pain mostly have to learn to live with it without help from modern medicine.”

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/america-is-losing-the-war-on-chronic-pain?utm_content=buffer46c06&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer#13

 

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Finding Your Support

support-group-img

Last night (October 2nd), we had our first ever “Broken and Mended” support group meeting.  Nine people attended the meeting in person and one joined through Zoom. It was a great first meeting.  Someone may not be immediately impressed with the number of participants, but I am encouraged because it is a great core group to build around.  Also, we have not even come close to maximizing our potential for promotion.  And finally, the smallness of the group helped others feel comfortable to share more genuinely.

I am not going to publish any particulars from our participants publicly.  While it was an open meeting, in that anyone could attend, there’s a certain culture of confidentiality that we want to create amongst those who do participate.  Not that long ago, I saw a guy on Twitter lamenting that he felt betrayed when some people he worked with used information he shared about his chronic illness on Facebook against him.  I don’t ever want that happening over something shared in one of our meetings.  What people say in our meetings is between them and the people they say it to in the group.  I’ll do my best to foster and maintain that expectation.

However, I do feel I can share some general observations about the meeting.  Over the last two years that I have contemplated beginning this ministry, I have often wondered how deep the need for such a group would be shared by others in chronic pain.  I had a lot of encouragement along the way that if I started such a group that many would gladly participate and benefit greatly from it.  But until I actually launched the group, how would  I know that others would feel the need as deeply as I have felt it?  

My biggest takeaway from last night is that people struggling with chronic pain really do need a group like we had last night.  Maybe not everyone needs it, but I think most of us do.  There were some expressions of emotion last night that impressed upon me the fact that years of suffering chronic pain leads to deeply pent-up emotions just waiting for an opportunity to vent to empathetic ears.  It was evident that some of our participants felt heard and affirmed in ways they rarely experience with their family, friends, and even with their doctors.

Some common themes emerged.  People in chronic pain struggle with believing that others really care about their pain and they certainly don’t believe most people can relate on an empathetic level.  People with chronic pain struggle with a sense of unworthiness directly connected to their sense of guilt due to believing they have become a burden to others.  And finally, people with chronic pain have struggled with their medical professionals in correctly diagnosing their maladies and/or in finding doctors who would believe them.

There are certainly more commonalities regarding those in chronic pain but these emerged as a near consensus in our small group last night.  And they underscored very vividly the need that we share for mutual support.  People were heard last night.  They were understood and that apparently doesn’t happen very often.

If you are someone who loves a person in chronic pain, but you don’t have that experience yourself, please don’t take what I conveyed about the wrong way.  People in chronic pain often feel isolated by their experiences and they know it isn’t your fault if you are unable to understand.  It is no different than if someone close to me loses their spouse.  I can tell them how sorry I am and really mean it, but I can’t genuinely tell them I understand their pain.  Only someone who has gone through that terrible experience can truly “get” them.  I have been reluctant to lead a grief group in my church–though I am convinced we need one–because I don’t have the needed (and, of course, unwanted) experience to lead such a group with empathy.

My point is that it may be that your loved one in chronic pain needs to have an opportunity to share their experiences with those who know to some degree what they are going through.  You can still be a tremendous support and companion to them on their journey, but part of that support may be at times admitting you don’t what they are going through, but that you love them anyway, and are there for them no matter what.

If you have chronic pain, visit this site often (right now there is a new blog at least once a week) and find our Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/brokenandmended/.  You can also e-mail me if you want to participate in a Broken and Mended meeting via Zoom at BrokenandMended18@gmail.comWe all need support on this difficult journey.

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Should Men Talk About Their Pain?

I had a couple of interesting conversations this past week regarding men’s reluctance to open about pain.  One of those conversations was with my brother, who is very understanding and supportive of what I am trying to do with the Broken and Mended ministry.  As a combat veteran and an army ranger, he deals with his fair share of pain, but the idea of opening about that pain is an extremely foreign concept.  He’s been trained to deal with his pain in another way and probably out of necessity for the training that men like him have been through.

In a conversation through Twitter, a woman named Esther, who writes about dealing with chronic pain from the perspective of an LPC, told me that it is rare to see Christian men writing about chronic pain.  For some reason, it is reasonably normal to find women doing so, but not men.

It has long been a stereotype that women are more open about their feelings (presumably both physical and emotional feelings) and that men bottle it up because they do not want to show any weakness.  In most of our experiences, we have all witnessed a lot more tears from women than men.  A boy doesn’t have to be very old before he is told some version of “suck it up and act like a man.”

There’s the comical line from Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own,” when he tells his female baseball team that “there’s no crying in baseball!”  Even though he was coaching a team of women, the stereotypical mindset from a predominately male sport was still present.  He wanted his women to act like men!

theres-no-crying-in-baseball-gif

I’ve played plenty of sports and I can tell you if the circumstances are right, there can be a lot of tears shed in male locker rooms!  Men have tear ducts too, and certainly, God intended for us to them!  Jesus was not afraid to shed tears.  I’m not just talking actual tears, but the emotional vulnerability they represent.

All of this causes me to consider my role, as a Christian man, who writes about chronic pain and who endeavors to establish a network of support groups for both men and women, who have this incredibly difficult struggle.  I would imagine there are differences in the ways that women and men process the emotional aspects of their pain, but I absolutely reject the cultural ideals regarding masculinity that prevent men from being able to share in meaningful ways.  Those ideals did not come from Jesus or the Bible.  Read the Psalms, the Laments, Job, etc.  Almost everything in the Bible was written by men, who openly talked about their struggles, pains, threats, etc.

Does emotional vulnerability make someone weak?  The Bible has a very different view of weakness than the societies of the world.  The world sees the cross as weakness.  God sees the cross as the power to save.  Paul struggled with his “thorn in the flesh” (which may have been some kind of physical ailment).  He begged God to remove it but God had different ideas: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10).  

The world’s view of strength is a facade.  True strength does not come from pretending there is no weakness.  That leads to far greater consequences than exposing a little vulnerability.  True strength comes from admitting weakness so that God’s power may be made known in our lives.  That’s what this ministry is all about and I pray it will be no less valuable for men than it will be for women.  Maybe men need to learn more than women how to be strong in weakness.  “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

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Chronic Pain, Suicide, and Opioids

bigstock-Woman-Suicide-1396448

Photo from the linked article in the 1st paragraph.

A came across a study today that linked chronic pain and suicide in a significant way.  About one in ten suicides are linked to people with chronic pain.  In all likelihood, according to this report, those numbers are underreported.  More disturbingly, the recent uptick in suicides for those in chronic pain may be connected to decreased access to opioid-based painkillers.  Despite public perception, these suicides do not appear to be linked to increased usage of opioids.  In fact, there is growing concern that the new CDC guidelines concerning opioid prescriptions has restricted access to those in dire need of relief and thus increasing their suicide risk.

Personally, I have been hearing more stories from chronic pain sufferers who genuinely worry that their life will become unbearable if they are not allowed by practitioners to get powerful painkillers.  These people are not addicted and certainly not abusers.  They just can’t function without dulling their pain.  These people should not be stigmatized.  They deserve compassion and access to drugs to make their life bearable.

opioidsI am aware of the power of these drugs and I believe they should be used with caution.  Personally, other than post-operative care, I have been able to avoid using opioids.  I take nothing stronger than tramadol (and not regularly at that) and have learned to get by with anti-inflammatories along with disease-modifying drugs (biologics).  I would rate my pain on most days around a five on a scale of one to ten.  If you bumped that up closer to a seven, I would be desperately looking for a doctor to give me something that would help me cope.  I can’t imagine pain any higher than that and coping without serious painkillers, and yet many of these people are regarded with the same level of dignity as your neighborhood meth addict (who also needs serious help).

If we are going to be living in a society that has become hostile toward those who need pain medicine, then people are going to need spiritual and emotional support more than ever.  I don’t know how isolated the suicidal person becomes before they commit that irreversible act, but it is a major goal of this ministry to help people realize they are not alone.  To be in intractable pain and be completely alone is to behold a horrific and hopeless horizon.

I am firmly committed to the belief that God is “close to the brokenhearted” (Ps. 34:18).  Maybe you are having a hard time believing this today.  Maybe you aren’t sure if God is there at all.  Then, at least, know that there are many who are hurting with you.  You are not alone.  We are in this together.  No matter how much you are hurting, your life is valuable still.  Be a part of the “broken and mended” community.  You are welcome here.

P.S.:  We are also a Facebook group.  Find us here:  Broken and Mended

 

 

 

 

 

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Worn — Finding Your Lament

How Are You

When you are dealing with chronic pain there is constant societal pressure to pretend it isn’t really all that bad.  Some of that pressure may be imagined or perhaps simply unconscious projected expectations of the society around us.  I know in church settings that you discover that everyone is “good,” “fine,” or, at least, “okay.”  It is jarring when someone honestly says something like, “Not very good,” or “I’ve been better.”  If someone responds that way too much, we begin to downplay their presumably painful situation in our minds.

When I began to experience chronic pain, I found answering the question “How are you?” much more difficult than it used to be.  I was still adjusting to this new reality and I was feeling discomfort that I had never felt before.  It seemed less than honest to simply say, “Fine.”  On the other hand, I had been conditioned by the culture I described above to be wary of becoming perceived as an attention-seeker or whiny individual.  I just kind of split the middle by saying something like, “I’m doing okay” but in a less than convincing tone.

I eventually learned to recognize the difference in those who wanted to really know how I was doing and those who were just using the question as a passing greeting (which we all do sometimes).  For those who really wanted to know, I gave a more forthcoming answer.  Over time, my standards for a fine day changed.  My “fine” days just meant that I had less pain at the moment than my “I’m not doing too well” days.

But sometimes we are simply broken.  Sometimes the pain seems more than we can bear.  Some days the endless maze of medical procedures and new diagnoses feel like a bottomless pit.  When these days or seasons come upon you, you can’t just keep pretending.  If you bottle in those emotions, they might explode or else fester in a way that brings you down a path you don’t want to go down.  During those days, you need to learn how to lament and find someone who will not only let you but lament with you.

lament_homeslider

I’ve had two different seasons in my struggle with chronic illness that have led me to this point.  The second of those times ultimately led me to start the “Broken and Mended” ministry.  The first time was an overwhelmingly confusing cascade of bad medical diagnoses that led to me being referred to the Mayo Clinic in 2013.  In a short two and a half years, I had injured my hips, had surgery (recovered slowly), been diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, eosinophilic colitis and esophagitis, and was told my liver and heart might be at serious risk from eosinophilia.  Oh, and on top of all that, we were racking up tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt and I was struggling with guilt for “putting” my family in such a position.

Days before I would catch a plane to Rochester, MN, Katie (my wife) and I were driving around in the car when we heard the song from Tenth Avenue North called “Worn.”  We were overcome with emotion as the song expressed so deeply how we felt.  We had found our lament:

I’m tired
I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes to keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left
Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn
I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
‘Cause I’m worn
I know I need
To lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left
Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn
I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn
And my prayers are wearing thin
I’m worn even before the day begins
I’m worn I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn so heaven so come and flood my eyes
Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn
I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Yes all that’s dead inside will be reborn
Though I’m worn
Yeah I’m worn
The video is even better.  “Let me know the struggle ends; That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn.  I want to know a song can rise; From the ashes of a broken life.”  Broken and mendedthat’s my lament.  Find yours and find someone who will lament with you.  It may save your life and a lot more.
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