Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Frozen Shoulder and Physical Therapy

I began physical therapy for my frozen shoulder on November 10. That first day, I was at the peak of my pain and loss of movement. I was in severe pain all the time, even when I didn't try to move my arm. I could barely even get dressed. And because the pain was so severe, I was scared to death of the physical therapy. I knew they were going to have to hurt me to help me get better. And I had so much anxiety, I couldn't even talk without tears on my first visit.

But you should see me now. I have made so much progress in three weeks. I think my therapists are even surprised. I laughed today and said, "I bet you didn't have me pegged as a potential star patient that first day."

I started out going to therapy daily. And now I go three days a week. I paid for November today. Ouch!
(A different kind of pain.)

My shoulder is not back to normal yet. I still need a pain pill at night and before physical therapy. But the pain I have now is different. It's more achy and sore, as opposed to the very acute and sharp pain of being completely frozen. And after therapy, I usually get relief from the aching for the rest of the day. I am the most stiff and sore in the morning. But exercising helps. My therapist says: "Motion is lotion." So I try to alleviate the ache by moving and stretching as much as I can. And I'm not taking regular pain pills during the day anymore.

PT is challenging and it does involve pain. But the pain is no longer excruciating. It still causes my eyes to water at times. But I've toughened up and am tolerating it so much better. I told my therapist today that I don't even dread coming anymore because I know I will feel better afterward and I can see how much it's helping me.

I have worked hard and followed instructions, making myself do the homework exercises assigned by my therapists. And they have told me that doing so much work at home has played a big role in my response to therapy. Every time I gain a few more degrees of movement, my therapist makes a big deal out of it and has had me "show off" to other therapists how far I've come since that first day. He always tells them how hard I've worked (at home, as well as there). And it motivates me to keep pushing myself.

Honestly, the most important thing to me was pain relief. I do need to be able to lift my arm, but I've joked several times that I really don't even care if I can't put my arm behind my back. I'm just tired of being in so much pain. But the pain is from impingement and it will get less and less as I regain more natural movement. So I'll keep working.

I gained several more degrees going back with my arm today. And I asked my therapist if I will just continue to get better from here on or if I could regress. He said the only way I would not continue to improve is if I stopped moving and stopped doing therapy. Then the shoulder capsule could start freezing up again.

Not a chance of me letting that happen.

Here's a little YouTube video I found on this condition from "The Doctors"...

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Day After

Participating in Black Friday sounds like torture to me. I'm always exhausted the day after Thanksgiving. And I don't love to shop in the first place. So I can't imagine looking forward to the crowds and chaos of Black Friday. I prefer Quiet Friday.

I saw a piece on television this week about a group who is protesting the way commercialism is now taking over the Thanksgiving Holiday. Black Friday is almost eclipsing Thanksgiving Day and shopping is eclipsing (for some) time that used to be spent enjoying family. But for me, Thanksgiving will always be about family time and lots of great food, followed by a day of recuperating from all the hard work. In spite of the reality of hours and hours of preparation and hundreds of dollars spent, all consumed in a matter of minutes, I enjoy hosting Thanksgiving. And this year was no exception -- except for the fact that I had to medicate (my shoulder) and enlist more help.

This year, Cheryl, Rebecca and I cooked the meal together. I just knew I couldn't do it all myself with my shoulder limitations and pain. So they both spent the night Wednesday night and we started team-cooking in the morning. It was really fun. Danny, Rebecca and the kids stayed last night, too. And after they left, I just sat down with my microwaved moist heat. I did manage to unload the dishwasher and start a load of laundry. But I'm still trying to work up the energy and motivation to do the much-needed straightening up and vacuuming. I was so thankful that John, Rebecca and Cheryl did the dishes and divided up the leftovers last night, insisting that I sit down.

I can't fathom going shopping today! Or anywhere, for that matter. I am so tired.

However you are spending it, I hope you're enjoying the Thanksgiving weekend!

Here are a few of my favorite Thanksgiving pictures this year...

We didn't eat until 4:00. But we spent the whole day together. The guys snacked on some cheese and crackers for lunch while the girls cooked. (But John always does the turkey, which was in the oven at this point.)
My nephew Matt and me...

Cheryl preparing the potatoes...

More turkey broth for the gravy, please...

Nicole, reading to Pax...

The kids' table (minus Jackson and Pax, who were asleep)...

The big table...

The kiddos...
(Joshua, Andrew, Jackson, Nicole and Pax)

Pax and Poppy John...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Listening to My Son Preach...

I am not a morning person to begin with, and I have been even less a morning person as I've struggled with my frozen shoulder. John has been particularly exhausted this week, and we did not make it to church last night. Since our church offers services both Saturday night and Sunday morning, we would normally have gotten up and gone to church this morning. However, when we went to bed last night, I was hurting and I told John that I probably would not be able to go. I love to go to church and I don't look for reasons to miss. But I suggested staying home.

Because of my legalistic roots (going to church four times a week and having guilt imposed for missing a service), John's favorite response is always: "We won't burn in hell for missing a service." He knows I don't go to church out of fear (I remind him every time he makes this joke), but he seems to like the joke anyway. I guess I do still feel a twinge of guilt over missing church, if I am completely honest. But not because I think I will go to hell for it. It's because I am so thankful for all that God has done for me and I don't want to be lazy and complacent in my response to His faithfulness to me.

I tell John I love him all the time (pretty much incessantly) and occasionally I will ask him, "Do you FEEL loved?" He has always answered yes. And it's not that I doubt that he does. But in many relationships where a person has told me they loved me, I have not FELT loved by their behavior toward me. So I want John to know how important it is to me that I am demonstrating how much I love him as well as telling him I love him. No matter how much I feel love for him in my heart, if he doesn't feel loved, I'm missing opportunities to convey my love in a tangible way. (This is true in every relationship.)

I don't ever want my husband to feel taken for granted. And that is the best illustration I can think of to describe this desire in my heart for God to FEEL my love and gratitude for what He's done in my life. I don't believe it's enough for me to simply tell Him I love Him and I'm thankful. I want my actions and choices to demonstrate my love and gratitude. And when I don't make a full effort, I'm not doing that. Which makes me feel disappointed in myself. I don't feel condemnation from God or fear of consequences. I just feel that I have missed an opportunity to demonstrate my love and thankfulness. So I woke up this morning thinking that I should have made a greater effort.

My next thought was that I could turn off the TV and listen to Danny's last sermon on the podcast. I love listening to my son preach. In most (if not all) of his sermons that I've listened to, he shares something about himself as an example of a particular weakness. (I love this about my son. He does not try to hide and deny his own weaknesses. He uses them to point others to Jesus.) Although I know him well and am not surprised by the things he reveals about himself, I enjoy hearing him talk about what he was feeling at certain times in his life that I may not have completely discerned. Hearing him relate events that I also remember (from a different perspective), sometimes causes me to question my parenting or wonder how I might have done a little better. But I did my best and I can laugh about my shortcomings.

When anyone gives me credit for the person Danny has become, I am quick to give the credit to God. I did some things well and some things poorly. I believe I loved him well and attempted to instill the right values and priorities in him. But I made plenty of mistakes. I know there were times he felt responsible for me when he shouldn't have because I leaned on him (when I shouldn't have). I know in my heart that he could have turned out very differently as a result of the particular dysfunction of the home (and church) he was raised in. But God had a plan for his life and I believe Danny is a product of God's mercy and faithfulness -- not only to Danny but to me, as a mom. And I never feel that more than when I listen to Danny preaching. No matter what he preaches on, I feel overwhelmed by God's faithfulness, love and mercy as I listen to my little boy, now a grown man with sons of his own, opening up to others, sharing his vulnerabilities and fears, proclaiming the Gospel.

I have never heard a sermon on the parable of the talents in quite this context of fear before. It has given me a lot to think about.

I am not sharing the sermon simply as a proud mom. Self-protection and self-preservation are instincts in all of us. They are rooted in fear. This is a very thought-provoking sermon on how to overcome fear rather than succombing to the pitfalls of self-preservation.

So here's a link if you want to listen...

Freedom From Fear

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

P.S. to My Earlier Post

There is a huge difference in my mental outlook prior to physical therapy and following physical therapy. I wrote my first post this morning as I anticipated the pain that was in front of me.

However, once again, I got through it and am better for it. And I don't feel depressed like I did when I got up this morning. I feel hopeful and encouraged that I can do this.

I will not lie. At the most intense moments, in spite of my full effort to cooperate and be compliant rather than resistant to the therapy, there were tears spilling out of the corners of my eyes. One movement in particular is almost more than I can take. And when one therapist told the other "She's not a fan of this one," I said, "No, no, no, I HATE that one."

But after it's over, I have less pain and I can move a little more than I could prior to the session. It's a process and it's going to take time, but I can see improvement and that is very encouraging. That will keep me going back for more.

Plus, my therapists (Daniel and John) at Baptist Sports Medicine are very kind. And they always succeed in making me laugh during therapy, which really helps me release the tension.

I'm going to push through this. And although I walk into therapy with fear and dread,
I leave feeling a little like Rocky.

Trying to Stay Positive...

I read more about Frozen Shoulder last night and learned that only about 2% of the population gets it, but of those who do, about 15% will eventually have it in both shoulders.

Frozen Shoulder happens more to women between 40 and 60.

The average duration for the three phases (freezing, frozen and thawing) is 30 months.
(The first phase is the most painful.)

It is considered the worst shoulder problem you can have (as far as pain and loss of movement).

They don't know definitively what causes it and there are no quick fixes.

The only good news is that it won't usually happen again in the same shoulder (unless you have diabetes, which I don't). And it will eventually get better (which is very good news).

But in spite of the "good news," needless to say, I went to bed feeling down about what I may still have ahead of me for quite some time. My first bout with this (in the right shoulder) lasted almost a year. But that was just when the pain got better. I was probably "thawing" much longer because I do remember it took a long time for me to be able to move it normally even after I wasn't hurting all the time.

The left shoulder began freezing in August. So I am only three months into this. Just thinking about the road ahead made me feel so depressed last night. I looked at John with tears in my eyes and told him what I'd read about thirty months. He reminded me that it didn't last that long the first time and it wouldn't necessarily last that long this time, either.

I went to sleep with the help of pain meds and a muscle relaxer. I slept better last night. I woke up once or twice, but decided to see if I could go back to sleep without more medication and I did. I spent an hour and a half soaking in hot water this morning. I can't do my exercises until after I've had a lot of heat. My PT is at 10:30, so I'll take my pain pill around 9:00.

I have to admit, I still feel down emotionally this morning even after sleeping better. I'm dreading physical therapy. And I don't feel like doing anything or going anywhere right now. Everything feels like too much effort. And simply getting through each set of at home exercises (five times a day) takes all the energy I have.

A CLL friend wrote to me. She reads my blog and wanted me to know she's been through this, she considers herself very "tough," and the pain of making the smallest wrong movement was some of the most excruciating pain she's ever endured. Every time someone tells me they understand what I'm going through, it helps. Brenda, if you are reading, thank you for writing to me.

I'm trying very hard not to project into the full duration of this because, at times, that just makes me want to lay down and cry. And I have way too much to be thankful for to do that. I am so aware at all times that I could be facing much, much, much greater challenges than I am. I have enjoyed good health all my life and all of our bodies will at some point fail us in some way, causing discomfort and healing challenges. I can't expect to get through life without pain. But I can't wait for this to be behind me.

I woke up this morning to an encouraging note from my friend, Robin.
She wrote:

The only way to handle this is to take it one day at a time and not anticipate the length of time. No matter how long it is you'll be placing your care in God's hands one day at a time and He will carry you through it. 

I know she's right and I needed this reminder. For now, it's all I can do just to get through one day at a time.

Thanks for reading and thanks to all who have encouaged me, prayed for me and listened to my recent whining.

Time to tackle my exercises now.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's more than being complicit...

Obviously, sexual abuse is on everyone's mind right now because of Penn State.

If you've ever been close to a similar situation, you cannot help but notice all the parallels. And I have found myself wondering all week how certain people are reacting to this situation; people who have handled abuse the exact same way and claimed they did nothing wrong. Are they keeping their mouth shut as they watch this news coverage, self-consciously realizing they did the same thing? Are they hypocritically reacting in outrage, righteous indignation, and contempt over strangers who more vigorously protected perpetrators and the image of an institution rather than innocent children?

I just can't help but wonder this. If someone has kept the same silence and later claimed "no wrongdoing" - how do they react to this news in their hearts and in the privacy of their own homes? If they feel self-conscious of the hypocrisy, there is at least hope that they have a conscience. But if they can feel moral superiority and sincerely be appalled at the news coming out of Penn State while clinging to "no wrongdoing" on their part? What does that reveal of their heart? I am not writing this as a judgment of anyone. The Bible tells us that what comes out of a person reveals what is in the heart. I think we are supposed to pay attention to such things. And we are to examine our own hearts. The truth is, there is hypocrisy in all of us on some level. We just try not to look at it, which is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing as Christ followers. We cannot overcome something we deny exists.

Every time an image (or institution or perpetrator) is protected over and above the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual welfare of children, there are wrong values and priorities underlying those actions. I don't care if it's a church, a university, an organization or just a family. Any time what matters most is an image or a reputation or the preservation of a group, the values and priorities of HEARTS are wrong. And every time a child receives the message that their violation is of less significance than the repercussions of it becoming known, the shame of the abuse is put squarely on the hearts and minds and backs of the victims. And they carry it with them for the rest of their lives. It manifests differently in different victims. Sometimes the wound is obvious in life choices and troubled relationships. Sometimes the person may think they have no lasting effects, but their wounds manifest in physical illness, depression, addictions and eating disorders. There is no such thing as being unaffected.

Yes, I realize God can heal a person completely from the wounds of abuse. But just as we accept that there are consequences resulting from the sins we commit (even though we are forgiven), there are also consequences we suffer as a result of the sins that are committed against us. God will help us to overcome those consequences and He will use every experience for our good. But how many examples can you cite as evidence of God just removing all consequences of sin? It doesn't work that way. We all live with consequences of our own actions AND the actions of others every day of our lives. Some are benign and others are life-altering.

People who cover up abuse re-victimize the victimized. And in many cases, they inflict more emotional damage on the victim than the perpetrator. With the proper response to this crime, a child can recognize that a pedophile is a sick person and they - as victims - bear no shame. But when the reputation of the perpetrator (or the image of an organization) and the embarrassment of family members is the highest priority, the victim feels worthless and ashamed, as if THEY have done wrong and are an embarrassment. In addition to the wounds of the abuse, they feel responsible for what happens to others if the abuse becomes known. And they are made to feel like everyone else in the equation, including people's "reputations," have more value than they have. How in the world could we ever think such a person could come through the experience without shame and a loss of self-worth? How can we be surprised by the scars of abuse? And how can anyone who has ever participated in covering up abuse take a position of moral superiority to the "behavior" of a victim? I just don't get it.

Anyone who has participated in a coverup, or defended someone who has, should feel as appalled at their own actions as they are capable of feeling toward Joe Paterno and any person who protected Penn State rather than a kid being raped in a shower. It does not matter what level of abuse occurred. Coverups are self-preserving and do not protect the innocent. Coverups put the shame on the victim and facilitate repeated abuses of future victims. There is no difference in what has happened at Penn State and what has happened in the Catholic Church and what has happened in the churches I grew up in. And I think this would be an ideal time for some who have chosen the wrong position to repent and make the right choice. Tell a victim you are sorry you did not stand up for them. Validate their suffering. Demonstrate that you care, if you do.

If you chose to protect and preserve an organization, a system, a reputation, or an image above the protection and preservation of a child, a person, a family member, it is never too late to make it right. And it opens the path to healing.

Silence and time alone do not heal anything.

If we truly care about victims, we will stand with them and for them, regardless of what it costs us personally to do so.

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

~ John Wooden

Friday, November 11, 2011

Doing Better

I had my second session of physical therapy today. I won't lie. It was rough. But I was able to push myself much further than yesterday. And I smiled right through the pain. No tears!

My therapists seemed happy with my progress so far. I know I am. But I was even happier with my toughness!

I have to go every day next week and do home exercises as well. They want me doing the home exercise five times a day over the weekend so I don't lose any of the ground we've gained. I intend to follow instructions to the letter. I really want to get past this. The sooner, the better.

I am so thankful I'm not facing shoulder surgery.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My Shoulder Saga...

This has been a tough day, but I think I'm doing a little better tonight.

Last night I made a sudden movement when the phone rang and I was practically on the floor from the pain. It was the worst, sharpest pain I've had yet with my recent shoulder condition. And it really scared me. It felt like I had ripped something wide open. I don't say this lightly (because the worst pain I have ever experienced was childbirth), but that pain was right up there with labor (only it didn't last as long).

For the rest of the night I was literally afraid to move. I soaked in the tub twice because my shoulder pain was not responding to the pain medication. And at bedtime (10:30) I took my usual 5 mg. Lortab along with half a Soma (muscle relaxant). I slept comfortably and did not have to take another pain pill until 3:30. But psychologically I was still feeling a bit 'traumatized' by the severity of that pain the night before. (I hate the drama of that word, but can't think of another one that describes the fear I felt about the possibility of experiencing it again.)

I was stressed to the max about my doctor appt. John asked why I was so nervous. He thought I should be feeling great knowing I was going to get the problem fixed. But all I could think about was that the pain would probably be worse before it was better (if I had to have surgery). I don't have a lot of deep seeded fears, but I do literally fear intense pain and I am very honest about that. I don't pretend to be something I'm not (brave).

Anxiety makes me weepy. So, after weeks of chronic pain, taking anti-inflams, hydrocodone and prednisone, many nights of not sleeping well, capped off by my anticipatory anxiety about the possibility of a painful surgery just ahead, I was not in the best shape emotionally this morning. And when feeling frayed around the edges, it is not unusual for me to start crying (for no apparent reason) in the middle of a sentence. It is SO embarrassing and makes me feel SO fragile. But there is nothing I can do about it. This is who I am. And the harder I try to put on a game face, the more I fall apart. I think it just adds more stress and anxiety when I worry about looking like a baby and trying not to show emotion.

Dr. Elrod said he only had to watch the way I took my sweater off to see the condition I was in. And after a few questions and movements, he told me that it was obvious I had a "horrible" case of frozen shoulder and that the small labral tear would not cause me this much pain or restricted movement. He said I do have some spurs in there, but there isn't a lot to "clean out." The real problem is the frozen shoulder. I laughed when he said, "I'm surprised you can still shave your underarms." I assured him it was no easy task, but a high priority. LOL. Fortunately, I don't have much and it grows slow.

He told me he wanted me to go to physical therapy every day for a while and see if we can get me moving in the right direction. This is not a condition that goes away quickly. It often has to run its course (which I know from previous experience with my right shoulder). But therapy can help move the process along and hopefully give me increased movement. Since I've had PT for frozen shoulder, I knew it was going to be quite painful and it was hard to be as happy as I should have been over not needing immediate surgery because I was focused on the pain of PT.

I so want to be brave and stoic. I can't begin to convey how badly I want to be that instead of what I am (cowardly). But my fear is deep. And I have no poker face. Most of the time I wear a huge smile and am very bubbly. But fear and dread show up just as visibly in my eyes (accompanied by tears).

I took a pain pill, but I was still so nervous when I arrived for PT that I started to cry just talking to the therapist about my pain. I told him my nerves were frayed and I was in a lot of pain and I knew he would have to hurt me to make me better, but he might as well just expect me to be in tears. A second therapist was approaching as I was explaining that I was going to cry and he said, "You're already in tears and we haven't even touched you." During the therapy (which was difficult), I felt so embarrassed about the tears running down my cheeks and said, "Do I now hold the record for the biggest baby you've ever had in here?" He said, "No (pause), but you might take second or third."

That made me laugh. And laughter helps tension. It was said as comic relief, not in a way to make me feel silly. And I am very good at laughing at myself when it's in fun.

They really were very kind, compassionate and gentle. And they assured me they weren't going to laugh at me after I left (yes, they will...how could they not? I was so pitiful.) I'm pretty sure they took it easy on me today. It could have been worse.

I go back for more tomorrow and I don't think I will have the same level of anxiety. I hope I can get through it without tears next time. I will be so proud of myself if I do

I feel like I should sign off on this one with:

Trying hard to be a big girl at fifty-two.
(Failing miserably so far...)

These photos taken through an arthroscope show a normal shoulder joint lining (left) and an inflamed joint lining damaged by frozen shoulder.
(Thanks for the link, Kathy!)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What a Weekend! Love My Howertons!

In June, John's cousin Maria and I began talking about our desire to get the extended Howerton family together for a reunion. It had been many years since all the aunts, uncles and cousins had seen each other. So we chose a weekend we hoped would work for most and created an event page on Facebook to see how many were interested. As it turned out, we selected the very weekend that our nephew Harris Jr. was getting married. So it was perfect for those who were coming from a distance. Wedding Saturday, reunion Sunday.

I didn't even have a sore shoulder when we first started planning this. And I had no idea what shape I would be in by November. But after being in constant pain for weeks, I was feeling a bit weepy and depressed. I had looked forward to this weekend so much and now it seemed that I might not be able to enjoy it at all (which was also depressing). John was worried about me and asked if I thought I was up to the trip. He assured me everyone would understand if we couldn't make it. But I told him there was no way I was going to miss the wedding OR the reunion. It was too important to me. Besides, it was not like I would feel any better if I stayed home. If anything, I would feel worse.

Finally, a good friend (and RN) gave me a major pep talk on Facebook about the necessity of taking my pain medication regularly. She assertively urged me to take it on a schedule so I could get ahead of the pain (instead of sparingly, as I was foolishly trying to take it) and explained to me that the emotional stress of chronic pain was adding to the inflammation in my shoulder and making the pain worse. Everything she said made sense. And I was feeling pretty desperate. So on Friday I took her advice and started taking pain meds every 5-6 hours, in addition to  a short course of low dose prednisone I had started Tuesday, plus increasing my anti-inflammatory to twice a day. All of that worked and, as you can see from the pictures, I was comfortable enough to thoroughly enjoy the big weekend. (Today I have had a little more pain again. Probably because I'm at the weaning off point in my prednisone and maybe a little from so much hugging! But it is still manageable and under control.)

I'm so glad I was able to be in Evansville this weekend. I love John's family. From the first introduction, I have always felt so at home with all of them. And I love, love, love all of my Howerton nieces and nephews so much.

Every family on Earth has its dysfunction, its relational issues and problems. And the Howertons are no exception. But there is always love, camaraderie and so much laughter when we're together. This is a family that loves to clown around, laugh, imitate, and make faces endlessly. And I always enjoy their company. There are no hoops to jump through. No molds to fit into. They make me feel like they wouldn't change a thing about me even if they could. But the truth is, they are a loud and lively crowd where I fit in perfectly and effortlessly just the way I am. And that makes me feel so at ease. 

I have over a hundred pictures from this weekend and I posted all of them on Facebook. But I wanted to publish a few of my favorites here, along with my reflections on the weekend and being a part of this fun family.

This is the happy couple (Harris Jr. and Bridgette) with Harris Sr. and Connie...

Marian and Bridgette...

Lu Anne, Ashleigh, Taylor and Jeff (John's brother)...

John and Me with nephew Robb and niece Phoebe (Lillian's son and daughter)...

The brothers carrying on the tradition of trying to be the tallest in the picture by standing on tip-toe (all except Rob who just stands there and IS the tallest brother!)...

My husband and the amazing woman who raised all of these boys. I tell her I will be forever in her debt for bringing my prince charming into the world!

Robb, Marian (Jeff in the background), Phoebe and Me...

John and Robb...

Phoebe and "Oma" (Grandma in German)...

Annie, Mike, Phoebe and Maria...

The artists, Maria and Robb...

Darling Phoebe and Me in mid-conversation...

Marian and Aunt Margaret (John's late father's sister)...

John and Me with Cousin Maria...

Taylor, Marian, Me, Maria, John, Jeff, Rob...

Uncle/Dr. Vic and Aunt Margaret Viray with daughters Annie and Maria...

My oldest nephew Robb, whom I adore...

Beautiful niece, Taylor with her dad Jeff...

A great picture of Jeff and Rob...

John and Uncle Vic...

My oh-so-vibrant and adorable niece, Ashleigh (with new hair color)...

Cute group pic...

Cousin Annie and me...

The guys as we were leaving (John, Mike, Jeff and Rob)...

One of our many group photographs...

A few of us were missing from this gathering and hopefully we will be able to schedule another one before too much time passes. For those of us who were able to make it, the day was memorable! And I feel like I've known my new cousins-in-law all my life!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bonhoeffer and Suffering

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, SpyI finished reading Bonhoeffer (Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy) by Eric Metaxas today.

This was the perfect book for me to be reading while struggling with chronic pain. It is impossible to feel sorry for yourself -- no matter how bad you feel -- while reading about the horrors of Nazi Germany and those like Bonhoeffer who took a stand against evil at such great personal cost to themselves.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man of deep spiritual conviction who did not fear suffering or death. He regarded it as a duty, a privilege and an honor to suffer with those who suffered. He believed that a church that did not stand with the Jews was not the church of Jesus Christ. And he saw the evil that was fast approaching the nation while most around him were being taken in and manipulated by Hitler. It was almost eerie to read of the economic climate and the events that set the stage for the rise of Adolf Hitler to power. There are many parallels to our world today. The people of Germany were looking for a political savior.

Toward the end of the book, as he was about to be executed just weeks before the end of WWII, I was moved to tears by Bonhoeffer's faith and the peace with which he faced death. Because of this beautifully written biography, I felt almost as if I knew him.

There were quotes all through the book that I wanted to share. But two passages especially impacted me:

[Some] people neither steal, nor murder, nor commit adultery, but do good according to their abilities. But . . . they must close their eyes and ears to the injustice around them. Only at the cost of self-deception can they keep their private blamelessness clean from the stains of responsible action in the world. In all that they do, what they fail to do will not let them rest. They will either be destroyed by this unrest, or they will become the most hypocritical of all Pharisees.

And from the chapter, On the Road to Freedom:

No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward joyfully to being released from bodily existence.

Whether we are young or old makes no difference. What are thirty or fifty years in the sight of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal? That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up -- that is for young and old alike to think about. Why are we so afraid when we think about death? . . . Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God's Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace.

How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world?

Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.

Those words were taken from a sermon Bonhoeffer preached while a pastor in London. The author explained that "Even if millions have seen Bonhoeffer's death as tragic and as a prematurely ended life, we can be certain that he did not see it that way at all."

The camp doctor at Flossenburg wrote of Bonhoeffer's execution, ". . . In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God."


I have been struggling lately with physical pain (a drop in the bucket compared to what some people suffer on a daily basis, I'm quite sure). I don't feel sorry for myself or wonder "why me?" when facing challenges. I never feel like God is punishing me. And I always know that He has the power to completely heal me and end my pain at any moment. But sometimes He allows us to suffer instead. And I believe that if He does, there is a purpose. God is fully aware that I would be happy and thankful to have my pain come to an abrupt end. At the same time, I know I become more sensitive to the pain of others, more compassionate, and better equipped to pray and comfort someone else because of personal experience with suffering. So my prayer has been for healing if that is God's will, but grace and strength to endure whatever He allows me to suffer.

I have been hurting badly all this week. I've whined a bit. And I've been a little down emotionally. But reading this book kept me from throwing a pity party for myself in my head. I am so blessed that I can crawl into a big bathtub and soak my shoulder in soothing hot water. I can rest all day if I need to. I have friends who care, who encourage and pray for me. I have a compassionate husband who takes care of me. I have access to pain medication and good doctors. I have a very comfortable bed to sleep in, or to toss and turn all night in if that is my lot.

I started this day out feeling terrible. I soaked in the tub for over an hour and got some relief. But when I got out, the pain started up again. I texted my doctor and asked if I could try a muscle relaxer or something for nerve pain (because the radiating pain hurts in many places other than my shoulder). John picked up two prescriptions for me and had them filled. But shortly after several friends mentioned (on FB) that they were praying for my pain, I noticed that my pain had subsided significantly. And I hadn't taken anything. I was just tolerating it.

I've had only a few radiating pains all evening. And my shoulder is not aching right now as long as I don't try to move it in certain ways. It has been hurting ALL the time lately. I don't know if God will heal my shoulder or if He is just giving me a reprieve. But even if He allows it to return, I am so thankful for the relief I've had for the past several hours.

I started reading online about the two prescriptions I asked for. And after reading about potential side effects, I am feeling apprehensive about taking either one of them. I am not one to pop pills easily. I have decided that since I am not in pain right now, I am going to take nothing, go to bed, and see what happens. Maybe someone is still praying for me.