Tag Archives: pain

Mind & Body

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In mid-May, I injured my back. While stretching before a morning run I felt some pain and questioned whether running was a good idea, but I decided to give it a try and stop if the pain persisted. It turned out to be a great run with no pain at all, but as the day went on the pain returned and intensified. I have now struggled with back pain for over three months and have endured a frustrating cycle of feeling better, running again, feeling worse again, feeling better again, and so on.

Establishing a relationship with a new doctor in Nashville has not been easy, but I recently made it in to a fantastic physician who ordered x-rays on my back that confirmed that there is no acute injury. He then referred me to a spine center to determine the next steps, so help is finally on the way.

I would love it if that was the only challenge but aging doesn’t seem to mind multitasking.

I have had stomach issues for most of my adult life, but they came to a head (um, wrong metaphor) over a decade ago that led to a change in diet, exercise, and lifestyle that was life-changing in a good way. But there have been some ups and downs in the last few years, particularly in my willpower when it comes to diet, and about a month ago I may or may not have had a stomach virus—all I know is that it wasn’t pretty–and something clicked in my brain that reminded me that Southern comfort food is not very comfortable for me.

So the new doctor suggested I add a low-FODMAP diet to my GERD diet, which basically means that I can only eat cardboard as long as it is baked and without any extra flavoring. I am suddenly gluten-free, lactose-free, sugar-free, and all other kinds of free that ironically aren’t anywhere near free at the grocery store. All of this is a pain in the neck, but I am astounded that I am fully locked in mentally to this new way of life. And as long as it is a pain in the neck and not the stomach or back, I’ll take the trade.

As I walked to the office last Friday I met possibly the happiest human on the planet who proceeded to tell me about his happiness—and how happiness leads toward good health, too. He reminded me that we all get to choose our attitude and then said something profound that I intend to hold on to for the road ahead. He said that sunrises and sunsets are totally different but equally beautiful.

Here’s to looking for beauty regardless of, well, anything.

A Difficult Journey

Although less than flattering, I will tell the story.

Our business in India last week took us further away from the Delhi airport each day, culminating in a three-hour climb up a winding, dangerous, spectacular road in the Himalayas.  On this final climb, as we dodged death (and cattle) ahead of us and absorbed the awesome views on both sides of us, I developed a case of motion sickness.  Nothing too terrible, just enough to create a fuss for our hosts, which led to some rest, a nice visit from a young Indian doctor, and a bottle of Sprite.  By evening, I felt better and had the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful mountain village.

At 6:30am the following morning (warning: graphic material ahead), things went south.  Literally.  I will spare the terrible details, but suffice it to say that the next couple of hours were not pretty due to the onset of a malady common to travelers in the region.  But to somehow make things worse, we were scheduled to leave that morning with the following itinerary: a three-hour drive down the mountain, followed by a seven-hour drive to Delhi; followed by a six-hour wait in the airport; followed by an eight-hour flight to Amsterdam; followed by a one-hour race across the airport; followed by a ten-hour flight to Los Angeles.

And I felt like crap, pardon the ironic word choice.

One of my colleagues provided a miracle drug to stop the I’d-rather-not-say, and we were faced with a decision on what to do with me.  As my two colleagues considered donating me to India and our host offered to call an ambulance, I declared that I had four goals: (1) get down the mountain; (2) get to the airport in Delhi; (3) get to Amsterdam; and (4) get to Los Angeles.  And that I would take them one at a time.

Well, I strapped myself in, armed with a granola bar, drugs, a bottled water, prayer, and another Sprite, and off we went after goal number one.  It did not go so well.  At one point on the journey down the mountain, we stopped for my traveling mates to have lunch.  The smell of Indian food was not my friend, and I considered jumping off the mountain but did not have enough energy, so I strapped myself back in and continued on the journey.

I did survive the mountain and felt that there was hope—in fact, the lower elevation seemed to help.  On phase two of the journey—the seven-hour drive to Delhi—we stopped at a roadside convenience store where I discovered a can of plain Pringle’s and thought that God might like me again.  But alas, by the time night fell and we reached the airport, and possibly because we reached the crazy rush hour traffic of Delhi, I started to feel terrible again.  But hey, goal number two was accomplished.

The six-hour wait in the airport is not a fond memory.  On the plus side, I did eat most of a sandwich and then slept for a few hours sprawled across three plastic chairs, but by the time we boarded the flight to Amsterdam, I approached my lowest moment.  As the plane took off (thus ensuring I would reach goal number three), I longed for death once again.  I was certain that I would do ugly things in the airplane lavatory and even unfastened my seatbelt so that I could run for it—only you can’t run to the lavatory with drink carts in the aisle, and once you get there they are almost always occupied, and should a miracle occur and one be vacant I can’t fit in one anyway, much less if I am having convulsions.  And any change of clothes was packed in checked luggage.  I wished the plane would crash and somehow kill only me.

But somehow, after a few hours of misery, I improved enough for some fitful sleep, and by the time we completed my third goal I was in good enough shape to make it across the airport to board the plane to Los Angeles.

The final ten hours were not the happiest of my life, but I think you get the drift of the story by now.  I made it home after the terrible thirty-five hour journey and fully believe in miracles.

So why do I share such an embarrassing story?  I have faced a few significant challenges in my life, and there will be more for me and also for you.  When such challenges arise, and the journey ahead seems perilous and terrible with no guarantee of survival, sometimes you must set out on the journey anyway.

When such a journey is inevitable, fix your eyes on the road ahead, take it one step at a time, hope for some friends to journey with you, and just try to hold on.  You might not make it, but then again, you might.

A Framework for Meaning

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I have a new side gig as team chaplain for the Pepperdine Cross Country team. Go Waves! My friend, “Coach Rad,” graciously offered the opportunity to join the team at an early morning practice each week to share a five-minute devotional message. I like both running and talking, so I feel confident that my messages will live up to the compensation package (as a volunteer).

This week, I shared my suspicion that the team was an ordinary cross-section of humanity so that some of the athletes appreciated a devotional message at dawn while others were ambivalent but would kindly listen and still others wished that I would go to the wrong practice location.

Regardless, faith, religion, etc. is an historic attempt to develop a framework for meaning in life. From births to deaths and all the in-between major moments in our lives, we have an inherent need to make some sense of it all, so even if my morning devotionals fall flat as a running track, deep consideration of meaning in life is worth the trouble.

I then shared the foundational-yet-downright-disturbing Bible story of Cain and Abel. Geographers cite the domestication of plants and animals as the launch of civilization, and Cain and Abel represent this great beginning. In the story, one of the brothers (Abel) pleased God while the other brother (Cain) did not, so guess which one bled out in a field at the hands of his brother? Yeah, I guessed wrong the first time, too. The Bible’s editorial department could have used some marketing experts at least in the first few pages.

But here we are, trying to make sense of it all, realizing from an early age that sometimes the bad actors win while the good folks get the shaft. Welcome to life as we know it. Instead of filing a formal complaint with the Fairness in Life Committee that never seems to respond in a timely manner, the necessary question shifts from How do I always win? (which I voted for but apparently is not on the menu) to What is worth living for? (which is on the menu). Or, maybe better stated in the negative: What is worth dying for?

I have my answers.

You may remember from middle school the wonderful book by Lois Lowry, The Giver, a compelling science-fictiony story that challenges our assumption that a pain-free world is best after all. Nobody without a masochistic personality disorder prefers pain, but a well-formed framework for meaning in life allows one to endure it when it comes—and those meaning-full things are even worth the pain.

These cross country runners have a pretty good handle on enduring pain for a greater goal, so I think they have a pretty good shot at getting a handle on this old life, too.