September 26, 2011

life is a pain in the neck (or leg, or stomach, or heart, or....)

I think this has got to be, hands down, the most difficult post I've ever written. There is just too much to say, and too many people have done a way better job saying it than I ever could.

Pain. A friend wants to know how to live with chronic pain....I suddenly feel like a school girl facing a final test. "So Judy, what have you learned this semester??" My question is, have you learned it if you don't always do it? If you don't always live it, is it still a part of you? Because I don't, you know. I don't always do the things I'm going to tell her to do. I believe the things I've attempted to live out are truth-that's why I'm sharing them.

When my friend first put the question to me, I must admit, I bristled. My pain isn't chronic. This is temporary! It will go away. But it has been 15 months.....

Living with pain can be a lonely walk. All around you you see your family, friends, and strangers bouncing around, doing everything you wish you could do. And of course, you remember how it felt to do those things, before your body turned traitor.

However, I've had to remind myself I am not alone. To be alive is to experience pain. It can be physical or emotional, but even the bible promises it will be a part of our experience here on earth. Jesus tell us in the book of John, "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

So, maybe the first thing I would say is, remember you are not alone; pay attention to the people in your life. What are they going through?

Everyone deals with pain. I have 2 friends who have lost husbands. Another family is losing their teenage son to brain cancer and a young mom, with 2 small children, is also dying of cancer. Another friend is having a not-so-fun marriage.

My brother has lived with terrible back pain for years, and for a very long time I watched my mom shrivel up with rheumatoid arthritis.

A few weeks ago I met a little girl who had been sexually molested for years before the government finally opened it's eyes and rescued her; she will have pain and scars in her being until the day she leaves the planet.

Last summer and fall I spent a lot of time in bed, laying on my right side because that was the only place I could be where I didn't hurt. It was sooooo easy to lay there and feel sorry for myself. But then I would hear about others in pain, and, because I hurt, I could empathize. So I started to pray for the people I heard about. For a very long time praying was all I could do. When I did that, when I prayed for others, I would experience joy. Yes, some of that was because I knew there were other people out there who hurt. (misery does love company) But the real joy came in knowing I was saying, "Lord, they hurt. Please be with them. Heal them. Comfort them...." It took the focus off me and centered it on others and their need.

Another thing that helps, maybe even more than praying for others? is looking for God in my circumstance. If you are a believer in Christ, He promises to never leave us or forsake us and He is not a liar. Count the ways you see His involvement in your life, every day. Search for things. You wouldn't have to look far, I know. You could make an actual, written list, or you could just list things in your heart. But don't stop there. Thank Him for each one. Praise Him for walking this road with you and the ways you see Him hugging you through it. Each moment is a gift from Him, even the ones filled with pain.

Here are a few examples for you. Last summer I had a herniated disc that smashed the daylights out of my left sciatic nerve. The pain...I still cry if I think about it. I wouldn't wish that kind of pain on a mass murderer. I had no idea a body could feel that kind of pain and live. It broke something inside me but it's also given me so much more compassion for other hurting people than I had before. There's #1.

#2. As I was going through that time, the only thing I could do was walk. Day and night for over 2 weeks I paced our house, back and forth, forth and back. As I walked, I cried. I shook, my body vibrating with pain. Yes, I know-this sounds terribly melodramatic. I'm trying to set the stage for showing you what may be one of the sweetest gifts the Lord has ever given me: amazing time with my husband and sons. Going through a deep, deep valley with them and seeing the incredible depth of their love for me. My husband's love and compassion during that time was bottomless. He lost so much sleep walking through the nights with me, praying for me. My second oldest son did the same thing. For two different nights, (as a newlywed!) stayed here and walked the house with me. We even managed to laugh and tease each other while I was walking and weeping. I saw what an incredible, compassionate, patient, tender heart he has and was blown away by it.

My oldest son came and spent a day with me during that time. He walked with me, letting me squeeze his arm so tightly the circulation probably stopped. He cooked and baked and played with his little brother. He cleaned our kitchen and after I had surgery he brought a meal over that he had made himself. He still calls me several times a week to say hello and see how I'm progressing.

Our third son has had a more difficult road with this than his brothers have. He lives with me. He's had to be here, listening to me wonder, whine, cry, and rejoice. He's gone on countless walks with me, shared his heart with me and cheerfully helped me lift, move, cook, and clean. He's made me laugh so hard I couldn't catch my breath.

Finally, my little guy. He is constantly available, with a sweet, willing heart. He's helped me get dressed, cook, clean and do laundry-all the time without one word of complaint. During times when I've had anxiety attacks, felt fearful, or just deeply lonely he's been here, ready to hug or comfort me as only a little boy can.

Then of course, there are the little things to be thankful for. Last spring, every evening, I was able to lay in bed and watch crows by the dozens cawing and soaring right outside my bedroom window. They made me feel free and wild and whole. I sensed God loving and hugging me when I watched those crows, and I praised Him every day for sending them to our back yard.

I'm still thrilled that I can now tie my own shoes, and lift my bible...so you get the point. He is aware of our every waking moment and blessing us as we live them. Again, I want to say, count the ways you see Him.

Having a sense of humor also helps. Learn to laugh at yourself, or watch a funny movie. Listen to a comedian on Netflix. Laughter is good medicine.

We went to a cookout/bonfire at our oldest son's house last weekend. The weather was cool, the food good, and the bugs were at a minimum. We had a lot of fun laughing and pigging out with family and friends.

As the evening progressed it got a little more difficult for me to enjoy myself. I kept sitting, standing, kneeling, leaning. Finally my husband asked me if I was OK.

I said very quietly, "Oh, I just hurt a bit." We'd been talking together very quietly and I didn't think anyone was paying attention to us. I didn't want to put a damper on his evening so I added, "Do you remember what my mom said a few days before she died? 'Jude, there's always someone worse off than you are.' "

Without missing a beat my second oldest son said, "Can you imagine being the guy on the end of that?? The guy with so many things wrong with him no one can find another thing to add? 'Here lies Bob. He died of blah blah, doo doh, tee dee, froo frah......' " We laughed so hard we couldn't breath. Poor old Bob. Sorry-our family has a warped sense of humor, but you get the point. Laughing helps ease the stress.

I know this is really, really long, but I do have one more thing to share. Spend time in the word. Read the Psalms, read the old testament. Read Hebrews 11 and 12. Those are two of the most amazing chapters in the bible to me and have comforted me over and over and over again as I've gone through this time. He is near, He loves you, He is with you. Eternity is coming. We won't always hurt. Cling to that. Eternity is coming. This is just a passing through place and we will soon be gone...

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