A Forced Rest and Contentment

“Forced rest” was a phrase a friend of mine used a few weeks ago during a prayer time. I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot since then. The phrase wasn’t directed at me but even so, it got my attention. The pain in my lower back is so intense that I am forced to seriously edit what activities I engage in. Typically, I’d be ultra-busy during my vacation; there are workouts to do, hikes to take, blogs to write, books to read, home improvement or other fixer upper stuff to do, and so on. Instead, I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on my rump simply reading or journaling.

Then yesterday my devotional was about contentment; another area that has recentlycontentment garnered my attention. Pain sometimes causes contentment to be elusive if not wholly absent. Still, Scripture states we are to learn contentment.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.

—Philippians 4:11

Paul is stating that he had to acquire the knowledge to be content in all circumstances. Such learning is an active pursuit of knowledge with the goal of applying that knowledge in everyday life. In other words, Paul is continuing to expand his understanding of contentment. Interestingly, contentment actually means “self-sufficient;” however, Paul doesn’t stop here. He goes onto say in verses 12 and 13 that he has learned to be content when life is going well and when life is not going well. But he is careful to note that this ability, this learning, is enabled “through Christ who strengthens me” (v. 13). No, this isn’t some sort of mystical strength allowing Paul to somehow change his circumstances through enhanced faith; it’s much more practical than that. It is the Holy Spirit enabling Paul to contentedly endure whatever circumstances he’s facing.

This is easier said than done, of course. One exercise that helps me in contentment is from a song in the movie White Christmas, “Count Your Blessings.” It is so simple to do and yet, for some reason, seems archaic; but it works. For instance, despite the pain, I have a family that loves me that includes a wonderful Bride that is cheerfully picking up chores I’m currently unable to do, two healthy sons that are loving and helpful, a beautiful home, great friends, a career I enjoy…you get the point. To my knowledge, Paul had none of these. In fact, many Bible scholars and historians suggest that Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Hello!? In prison and he’s still writing about contentment? That’s a sobering thought; so who am I to wallow in self-pity? Contentment is a much happier space to be in.

Another tool I’ve discovered on my journey toward contentment is to stop the “what-if-ing.” Though no specific event caused my current pain, I still am tempted to second-guess things I’ve done in my past that may have contributed to increased wear and tear. This is fruitless and only leads to self-shame.

I also strive to stop daydreaming about what I wish I was doing. We recently bought some snowshoes, but they’re still in their packaging in the garage. My bike is primed and ready to ride, plus the weather has been decent; but it, to, sits in the garage. And I’ve recently learned about some hiking trails close to home we’ve never ventured on. None of these activities are doable right now; so why focus on them in wishful bitterness?

I can still walk and do a few other little “exercise-y” things, so I’m choosing to embrace those with thankfulness. And, of course, I pray—often! I pray that my joy may be full (1 John 1:4, John 15:11 & 16:24), that my peace may be deep (Philippians 4:7), that my love is real (Matthew 5:44, John 13:35 & 15:12-13, Romans 12:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8), and, of course, for healing (Matthew 4:23, Acts 9:34 and 1 Peter 2:24).

Leaning into Christ will enable us to endure through any circumstance with contentment. And one day, all pain will cease (Revelation 21:4); but until that day, we can be thankful that the Lord is with us no matter what we are going through.

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There Once was a Nice Couple from the Burbs

Bride and Groom lived in the suburbs. She was a happy medical biller and he a content bureaucrat. Then one day while in the shower, Groom noticed a lump where there shouldn’t be a lump.
“Hmm,” thought Groom, “wonder what that is.” He pushed in on it. It was squishy. “Eww,” he said. “Well, maybe it will go away,” he thought happily.
As time went on, not only did the lump not go away, it got bigger and started to hurt. “I’ll ask Siri what this is,” he said to himself. The ever-subservient Siri complied with a host of possibilities. Some were disturbing; Groom ignored those. Instead, he thought that a hernia was the likely culprit; an inguinal hernia to be exact. In fact, the lumpiness looked like it could be two hernias, “Oh, yippee,” he thought. “Better go see my doctor.”
After dropping his drawers and being poked and prodded by the doctor, she looked him in the eye.
“Yep, it’s a hernia. Looks like two in fact. You’ll need surgery.”
Groom gasped! “Surgery,” he exclaimed. “Don’t these things heal themselves?”
Looking at him pitifully, she delicately said “no. You have a hole in your abdominal wall and your intestines are sticking out.”
“Eww,” thought Groom. “Is that the squishy bit?”
“Yep. It needs to be stuffed back in and the hole needs to be closed. Your body can’t do that. But a surgeon can. I’ll get you a referral.”
“Oh, yippee.”
After a few more visits with the surgeon, some painful tests, more drawer dropping and poking and prodding; the fateful day was set. A double inguinal hernia repair was on its way. It would be done by laparoscopy through three small incisions in the abdomen.
Meanwhile, Bride was having to pick up some of the household chores Groom could not do because of pain and possible further injury. The evening before Groom’s surgery, Bride was dutifully rolling the packed-full garbage bin to the curb. She was contemplating the logistics of the next morning when she tripped; rolling over the outside of her left foot she fell down. Just at that time, a neighbor was walking by, but she politely looked the other way and acted like nothing happened. Bride then had to hobble to the curb then half hobble, half lurch back into the house.
“Oh no,” exclaimed Groom, sitting up with a yelp. “What happened?”
Bride explained the whole thing to him, he felt terrible; it was all his fault. He then sprang into action getting ice and ibuprofen.
“Probably just popped a ligament,” he said unreassuringly.
Well, in the fullness of time, both Bride and Groom drove to the hospital in the wee earlyHospital check in morning hours so Groom could check in with the surgery folks and get his groins repaired. After dropping Groom off, Bride, with tears of pain in her eyes, drove the short distance to the hospital’s Emergency Room. And wouldn’t you know it, that as Groom was being prepped for surgery, Bride was being diagnosed with a broken foot. Now both Bride and Groom could be laid up together at the same time; hopefully Youngest Son would be able to step up and do more household chores than usual.
Broken foot.pngThankfully, Bride’s family came to aid of Bride and Groom. Shuttling their injured cargo home, picking up prescriptions and doing some heavy lifting, quite literally, around the house for Bride and Groom they then rode off into the sunset.
Now Bride and Groom are quite a pair. One on crutches hardly able to walk, and the other with three holes in his abdomen looking a bit like the Michelin Man. He can walk, albeit painfully, but he can’t lift or twist. But together, persevering in love, and with a lot of help from Youngest Son, they are making it through; at least they’ve made it through three days, they only 45 more to go.

You Figured it Out

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably figured out this about Janey and I. Needless to say, we’ve had a rough week, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any easier. However, I can’t even imagine being in this sort of condition and being in the path of hurricane Harvey. Even as I lament with a little tongue-in-cheek about our situation, I pray for the victims in Texas; God be with them.
We are definitely tempted to ask God why this happening to us? But as MercyMe states in the song The Hurt and the Healer, “healing doesn’t come from asking why.” Instead, we are asking what are we to learn from this. We are both beginning to discern the lessons we’re to learn. I won’t reveal her lessons, but mine are in the areas of resting, slowness, and taking a lesson from 1 Corinthians 12:23 about learning to “bestow greater honor” to the things I’m tempted to regard as “less honorable.”
I’ll be exploring these in a little more detail as I stay home from work for a few days on medical leave. I’ll tease it by stating that it’s funny how we can learn lessons from major body systems that shut down and wake up slowly after having a couple of hours of general anesthesia and pain meds. No, I’m not talking about the cardiovascular or neurological systems; I’m talking about systems that we may be tempted to think are “less honorable.” Stay tuned, I’m hoping it’ll be a fun discussion!

 

The Doctor, the Broccoli and the BP

“Do you ever relax,” asked my doctor.

I hate this question. Of course I relax, well…sort of. But when she asked her question a mini explosion of memories burst onto the viewing screen of my brain.

 

Cue Memory Sequence

Way back in 1987-ish, I was a safety and wellness officer for a large state agency. One of my biggest projects was working with a team of people to bring in a wellness fair to the basement hallway and adjacent conference rooms of our building. We had blood pressure screening stations, blood-iron testing stations, nutritionists (such as they were back then), height/weight presentations, exercise tips and so on.

And wouldn’t you know it, it was then, in the hallway crowded with coworkers that I sat down at the blood pressure station. Granted, I figured I had nothing to worry about because I was already eating large quantities of raw food before eating raw food was cool, I ran umpteen miles a week and I had a road bike with lots of recent miles on it. What’s to worry about?

blood-pressure

The nurse dutifully cuffed my left arm and began squeezing that oblong tube-like thing. With each whoosh-whoosh the cuff tightened on my bicep. More whooshing and more tightening.

It started hurting when she finally released it. There was a hissing sound and my bicep was free to breathe again. Then she gasped!

“Your blood pressure’s high. We’d better try this again.” This was all before health privacy, otherwise known as HIPAA, became all the rage, so all of the employees in the hallway turned their heads and gawked: their wellness officer had high blood pressure? Oh horrors, say it ain’t so! But, yep, it was so. And it’s been so ever since.

 

Off to the Doctor

Shortly after this gasping occasion I saw my doctor (I had a different doctor back then, before he killed himself falling off a tractor). He had me come in to his office in regular intervals so he could measure my BP in a supervised fashion. It was always high. Nothing affected it; and besides, there’s only so much raw broccoli a person can eat in a day. So he gave me the bad news: “I’m putting you on BP medication.” And there I’ve been ever since.

Ninji vegNo amount of exercise, raw fruit and veg or strictly vegan diets has lowered it to where medical science presumes it should be. Over the years I’ve tried meditation (both biblical and unbiblical kinds), dynamic stretching (what some might call yoga), deep breathing, progressive relaxation, listening to soothing music, and on and on and on. Still high. So guess what, I take BP medication. And I still eat lots of raw foods and workout every day and practice other relaxation stuff, but without the meds, my BP is high. Go figure!

 

Back to the Question

What’s that have to do with my doctor’s question about relaxing? Because this appointment was my “semi-regular” quarterly BP check-up; and yes, it was high…again.

“Are you still taking your medication,” my doctor asked, accusingly.

Of course I am, do you think I’m an idiot? Well, I thought that, I didn’t actually say it. I just sullenly said, “Yes, I’m taking it…every day!”

“Well,” she said, tapping away on her health records tablet. “I guess we’ll just have to up your medication.”

Yippee skip. She said she understands that I take care of myself, I eat right, exercise properly (if not overdo it sometimes) and my personal life is not in chaos and I actually really enjoy my job. In other words, there are no activities to add into my life or stressors to start avoiding. So there’s really only one thing left to do—up the meds.

Now I am a little ashamed I have to take these meds. After all, as I explained, it’s not like I’m Jabba the Hut, wallowing away with my head in greasy potato chip bags while glugging large volumes of sugary goo. If anything, my BP should be low. But truth be told, I was born with a bit of heart defect and my cardiovascular system has never been what one would call normal.

Over the years, many of my relatives have died because of some sort of cardio disease. Even the recent death of my Mother was due to a “cerebral vascular accident” (that’s code for a stroke). She had several other strokes in her life, as did Grammy and her father (what would have normally been my Grandpa); he dropped dead at 35 with a massive heart attack, Mom was only three when it happened. I was born with heart valve defect. So this cardiovascular stuff is real and high blood pressure can indeed have deleterious effects; particularly when you already have a defective heart. So whether I’m ashamed of the meds or not, I take them faithfully every day. Yes, I grumble about the indignity of it, but really, thinking I can control it alone is nothing more than sheer stupidity or pride—or both.

So I am thankful God has given us people with the smarts to diagnose problems and He’s given others the smarts to help take care of them. So I eat lots of raw veg, ride and walk lots of miles, eat other healthy things…and take my BP meds. And maybe, by God’s grace and the resources placed around me, I can continue living a healthy lifestyle for decades yet to come (unless Jesus comes back before then).

BroccoliBut it’s time to go now, I need wrangle a couple of heads of broccoli.