Monday, November 25, 2013

Pain ... and the Potent Power of Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving week. (And not simply because it's a short workweek!)

I know what you're thinking ... "It's the food." Well, I do love the food. But that's not the main reason, either.

My broken walking stick.
This year, in particular, I've been thinking about the power of Thanksgiving. A lot of things have converged in my life to help me in my quest to become more thankful. A good friend from my days in Southern California, a wonderful worship pastor named Dr. Doug Lee, has been blogging for the past few weeks about the blessings and challenges that come with gratitude. And it strikes me how spectacularly potent this particular discipline really is.

One of those things I mentioned which has converged in my life is a short period of trial. When I was in college I tore a muscle in my lower left back. Every few years or so it flares up and when it does it can be extremely painful. It flared up again a few months ago, and after a few days when it began to subside I thought, "Thank God that's over, at least for awhile!"

Then about three weeks ago it went out again. And this time, it was much worse than usual. A day or two in, I was using a walking stick to try and haul myself up off the couch and hobble around. I had salvaged this stick from the bad 2012 Lone Pine Canyon fire in Southern California, a piece of mesquite which had some surface burns on it but otherwise seemed intact. But as I was putting my weight on it to get out of bed, it broke. I went down -- hard. And I felt whatever was left of that muscle really tear as I went down.

Now I was in a pickle. For 10 days I could barely move. The muscle spasmed constantly. For a few days, the only relief I could get was flat on my back. But then even that became nearly unbearable. It hurt too much to move, and it hurt too much to stay still. I was having to do the kind of "hee hee" breathing they teach you in Lamaze class, just to keep from crying out. I was taking prescription doses of Naproxin (basically like double-dosing Aleve), applying heatpacks, anything I could think of. In order to sleep at night I began taking Oxycodone, a painkiller. (I thank God for this, but hate the side effects.) I could knock myself out for four hours that way and wake up without having moved. But then it was back to the spasms and pain.

In the midst of all this I began to realize how much I normally take for granted such simple tasks as sitting, standing, walking, even lying down without pain. The breakthrough came when I began to thank God for what the pain was teaching me.

Doug wrote about this in his blog (much more eloquently than I ever could), pointing out how being able to thank God for trials gives Him an opening to work in our lives. And it was so true for me.  At first not much changed ... other than my attitude, but I realize now that was the true change I needed. (Like so many of us, I had been thinking of "my time" as my own, and the injustice of my back problems imposing themselves on my busy schedule really grated me. It wasn't until I realized that God owns my time and had appointed what I was going through for my good, did my attitude about my trials begin to change.)

Several days after this, the pain and spasms began to subside. I was able to walk again and even sit for short periods of time. While the pain is still there (particularly when I sit), it's bearable now, and I can sleep without painkillers. (My osteopath has done some "adjustment" which helped, and has also referred me to physical therapy. Looking forward to that!)

Anyway, Dr. Lee has graciously given me permission to use this space to summarize some of the things I've been learning from his focus on gratitude these past few weeks. (In return, I'd encourage you to become a regular visitor to his "Whole Life Worship" blog!) So, please return to this space tomorrow, where I will post a "Reader's Digest Condensed" summary of what I have learned from Doug's blog posts so far!

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