Three Wrong Ways To Respond To Suffering

Job’s comforters are busy these days. I’m sure you’ve seen them. Somewhere in your Facebook feed, on the “interwebs” or on TV, they are working overtime, delivering, with a smile, their consolation laced with condemnation to those in the midst of tragedy.

The story of Job tells us of a man who suffered unimaginable pain and loss. He went from great wealth to the depths of sickness, poverty and despair. Through all this, his three ‘friends’ insisted that his misfortunes were God’s punishment for his sins, something he had done wrong. But Job persisted in his belief that misfortune comes to both the godly and the wicked. He was convinced of the goodness, mystery and wonder of God, even in the midst of his pain.

The dictionary describes a Job’s comforter as someone whounwittingly or maliciously depresses or discourages someone while attempting to be consoling.”

You know, that person who seems to be saying the right thing, the spiritual thing, even the true thing, all while making you, or those they’re meant to comfort, feel worse.

Job Rebuked by His Friends – William Blake (1757–1827)

 

Instead of mending wounds, Job’s comforters poke their fingers deep into those wounds, inflicting pain instead of bringing healing.

We must NOT use times of tragedy to make a theological point.

We should never use someone else’s pain as a battering ram for our beliefs.

  • While it is certainly a fact that a house can be rebuilt, it is too soon to utter those words to someone standing in the rubble.
  • It is true that the sun will rise tomorrow, but for the one caught in a desperate midnight of the soul, that fact brings little comfort.
  • Perhaps time does heal all wounds, but spouting slogans to someone in pain, only serves to delay the healing.
  • Maybe those parents, grieving the loss of a child do have other children remaining but offering such trite comfort only reinforces the fact that we have grossly miscalculated the depth of their loss.
  • God can and does heal, but for the person trapped in a broken body or consumed with chronic pain, these words may sound more cruel than hopeful.

So how should we respond?

Number 1 – don’t ignore the suffering of others. When we are suffering and the world spins around us with no acknowledgment of our pain, the loneliness is soul-crushing. Let the suffering know they are seen.

Number 2 – don’t glorify pain. Yes, God can use our pain for a greater purpose – in our lives and the lives of others. But remember how Jesus responded when he heard his friend Lazarus had died? He simply wept. We should do the same when faced with pain, grief and loss.

Number 3 – don’t weaponize someone’s grief against them. For the love of God, don’t imagine you know whether or not they should be grieving, whether or not their level of grief is appropriate, whether or not they have unconfessed sin in their life. Unless you’re God, or their therapist, it’s not your place to figure that out.

Let’s save our theological debates for the classroom, the discussion group, the one-on-one conversations. They are not welcome, helpful or kind during a time of tragedy.

So, what can we do in response to suffering? It’s so simple, it’s almost ridiculous.

 

Weep with those who weep.

Lament with those who lament.

Scream with those who must scream.

Walk with those who are restless.

Eat with those who need food.

Pray with those who desire comfort.

Touch those who need to connect.

 

Be still with those who are silent.

Offer the simple, powerful gift of your presence and God’s presence in you, to bring healing and hope to a broken and wounded world.

 

 

Hey, I would love to have you join my private Facebook group “Pain-A Conversation.” Beginning September 25, 2017, I will be sharing a daily video conversation on the subject of pain, with my good friend Sanejo Leonard. We would love to have you join the conversation. Click here to join.

Thank you to Kelly M. Kapic for his insightful and compassionate book “Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering

Thanksgiving – My Story of Seizures and Coming Out of the Dark

“Where am I? What am I doing?”  These were the thoughts that raced through my brain as I sat by the side of the road, gripping the steering wheel in my hands.

Thanksgiving Day, 2001 – I was driving home from my parent’s house, less than five minutes away. We had just enjoyed a day filled with an abundance of food and laughter in the midst of our large and noisy family. Our two youngest children, Sam (3) and Rachel (5) were with me in the back seat of the car. Steve had gone on ahead in a separate car.

As I drove down the hill, I suddenly felt lost. I knew this road well. I had driven it hundreds of times before but, at that moment, the familiar became strange and unfamiliar. A fog began settling in my brain. I looked down at my hands on the steering wheel and had no sense of what I should be doing. My heart trip-hammered wildly as I pulled over to the side of the road and I struggled to get my bearings.

“Why are we stopping?” Rachel asked. “What’s wrong?”

I could hear her voice and my mind formed the answer, but my tongue was tied tight and I couldn’t speak. She repeated the question but again, I couldn’t answer. A numbness and tingling spread across my left cheek, like a foot that has fallen asleep. Eventually, the fog began to lift, my voice returned and I turned to reassure Sam and Rachel that everything was okay but deep down I knew it most certainly was not.

The whole incident lasted mere seconds, maybe a minute or two at the most, but in my mind, time became elastic and those seconds stretched into an eternity.

I didn’t want to continue driving, for fear that the incident would repeat itself, so I sat there, waiting for someone to drive by, hoping they would see me at the side of the hill and come to my aid.  The minutes ticked by and nobody came. Sam and Rachel became anxious.  They could sense that something was wrong and they were afraid.

Cautiously, I pulled away from the curb and drove through the hills. I arrived home without incident and sent the kids to get ready for bed with further reassurances that everything was fine.

I walked down the hall and into our room. As soon as I saw Steve I burst into tears and told him of my strange ordeal.

I vowed that I would not get behind the wheel of a car again until I knew what was wrong.

The next morning Steve brought me to the doctor’s office as soon as it opened.  I told the receptionist I needed to see someone immediately and I was willing to wait all day, if that’s what it took.

When I finally saw the doctor I shared how I was feeling and the specifics of my incident the day before. He asked if I ever spaced out and lost track of time. “No,” I said. “Yes, she does,” Steve interrupted. I looked at him in disbelief and told him he was wrong.

The doctor questioned Steve further. He asked him what my behavior was like when these incidents occurred, how often it happened and for how long. The doctor then proceeded to perform a litany of tests – tapping my knees with a hammer, pressing down on my upturned palms and watching me walk across the room. I had no idea what on earth this weird series of exercises meant but when he was finished, he sat down and pulled his chair close to me.

“Karen, I believe you’re having seizures. You can’t drive anymore until you see a neurologist. I’ll make a referral right away.”

The impact of his words hit me like a punch to the face.

I looked out the window, at the cars driving by, and thought, “This can’t be happening to me. What does this mean? How will I survive without driving?” The rest of his words were a blur. We walked out of his office and I wept the whole way home.

That day, I walked into a dark and scary tunnel. WE walked into a dark and scary tunnel. My license was suspended and for three years I was unable to drive. I underwent constant tests and doctor’s visits – EKGs, EEGs, CAT scans, SPECT scans and more. I was diagnosed with epilepsy. I was experiencing partial complex and absence seizures. The neurons in my brain were misfiring.

Daily, as endless seizures rolled in, I questioned God, my faith and my sanity. My children learned to dial 9-1-1. The doctor prescribed one medication after another, in an effort to stop the seizures. We fumbled through our days and, clinging to God and to each other, somehow survived.

It’s hard to believe, as I write this story, that fifteen years have passed. I have now been seizure free for twelve years!

My faith wavered but ultimately was strengthened. My sanity is still up for debate. Our marriage, by some miracle of God’s grace, survived this and subsequent years as illness, heart attack, injury, chronic pain, depression, drug dependence and more, have plagued our lives.

Next week I will celebrate my 55th birthday and another beautiful Thanksgiving together as a family. We marvel at God’s grace that continues to lead us.

Our times of suffering and crises of faith appear like underground tunnels, ominous and dark. We don’t know what’s around the corner or when the tunnel will end.

long dark tunnel

If you are at the entrance of a dark tunnel, looming large and long ahead of you – take a deep breath, grab the Light of God’s Word and hold tightly to God’s hand. (Psalm 119:105)

If you are in the middle of that dark tunnel, with the damp and dark pressing in on all sides – guard a flickering light of hope, reach forward towards daylight and remember that, even when it seems like a lie, God is there with you in the dark. Search for Him. He will be found. (Jeremiah 29:13)

If you are coming to the end of that dark tunnel, with a glow of light ahead – rejoice in the light, thank God for bringing you through and reach back to grab someone’s hand who is still wandering in the dark. (Philippians 4:11-13)

Here’s my hand, dear friend. Grab tight. You are not alone.

The Chains We Show and The Chains You Cannot See

He was handsome, with dark black skin, a proud erect stance and a muscular build. I hadn’t seen him before but I was fairly new so perhaps he was a regular. He moved quickly across the yard and took his place in line. It was Friday morning and I was serving breakfast to our local homeless community.

He was younger than the average man there and taller by several inches. But the thing that made him stand out was what he wore. Draped around his neck was a thick chain.

No, that’s not it. That picture you have in your mind – a thick gold chain, a piece of jewelry – that’s not it. He wore an actual chain.

No. You’re still not picturing it right. It wasn’t like a bike chain or a dog chain, it was more like this.

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The chain he wore around his neck was a heavy, steel chain – dark gray like thunderclouds – the kind of chain you would expect to see in a shipyard, tied to a piece of equipment or lifting a crate to the deck of a ship.

It weighed several pounds. It was at least three feet long and each link was two inches – but in spite of it’s weight, the young man stood straight and tall. The burden of it made no impact on his posture.  He had that chain draped around his neck and hanging down his chest as casually as a winter scarf.

As he moved up the line, I felt it and it was clear the other men felt it too. The tension in his body crackled in the air around him, electric like a gathering storm. Inadvertently, the men in front of and behind him moved a few inches, giving him a wide berth.

Finally, he stood before me. I looked up into his handsome face, smiled and greeted him. He stared back at me with blank eyes as dark as a winter night, without a flicker of light or warmth.

He didn’t respond to my greeting but simply took his food and walked away.

I finished serving breakfast, completed my morning tasks at the kitchen and went home, but I couldn’t get this young man out of my mind.

That chain. He was literally wearing his chain. He had surrendered to the burden that life dealt him so completely that he wore it, like a millstone, for the world to see.

How weary he must be, shouldering that every day, I thought. I sat down on the sofa, imagining the weight on my own shoulders, and prayed for peace for his soul.

That’s when it struck me. We all have chains. Some of us show our pain on the outside, sending signals to the world through our faces, our clothing, our scars, a tattoo and even a chain. There’s a scar that runs the length of my husband’s chest – the result of his open heart surgery. It’s a constant reminder to us of his brush with death.

Most of us, however, wear our chains on the inside. Our scars are hidden there where nobody but God can see.

We wear masks to hide the pain. Paste on smiles to disguise our scars. Laugh and nod to one another while hiding the burden of our chains.

I have borne my own chains. The chains of my sin. The burden of my past. The heavy weight of regret and pain. These chains shackled my spirit with fear. I was helpless to remove them on my own. But then this.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Oh, how the tender words of Jesus ministered to my heart, like an ointment to my sin-sick soul. When I fully surrendered my sin and my pain to Jesus, he removed the chains that were binding me and set me free to love fully and accept his forgiveness completely.

I don’t have to bear the burden of my sin. You don’t have to bear the weight of your shame.

Surely He has borne our griefs

And carried our sorrows;

Yet we esteemed Him stricken,

Smitten by God, and afflicted.

But He was wounded for our transgressions,

He was bruised for our iniquities;

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,

And by His stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

We have turned, every one, to his own way;

And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:4-6

To My Friend Who Had An Abortion

I remember the day you told me. The shame and anguish in your voice. The tears that flowed like a storm surge after a hurricane – unrelenting and washing over you in wave after wave of grief. Your body convulsed and your wailing pierced the air. How helpless and inept I felt in the face of such sorrow.

I think of you often these days. I’m reminded of you every time I see a post meant to heap even more shame and guilt. How is your heart holding up under the weight of it all?

We never talked of it again, you and I. I’m sorry that the only thing I offered you was a weak hug and a few tears. I long to go back and hold your face between my hands. Remind you how much you are loved and how deeply you are forgiven. I regret not praying with you. I regret not weeping with you. I regret not mourning with you or acknowledging the depths of your loss, your pain, your heartache, your shame.

If, by some twist of fate, you happen to read this, please know God’s love for you is greater than the storm surge of your grief. His forgiveness is deeper than the pit of your shame. His blood has washed away the stain of your scarlet letter.

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Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Is. 1:18)

I pray that your life is surrounded by grace; that your heart is immersed in love. I beg you – lay down the stones you cast at yourself. Pry open your hands and let them tumble, one by one at the Savior’s feet. Stand up and acknowledge your scars and use them to bring healing to others.

I haven’t forgotten you, dear friend. I’m thinking of you tonight and I’m reminding you of God’s grace.

You are not your past. You are a precious child of God – loved and redeemed and whole.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion.

Psalm 103:1-4

Life With Pain – What I Found

Here’s what I found. Pain is a gift.

It took years to believe this and there are times I still choke on the words, but deep down, I know it’s true. Pain seems like the kind of gift no sane person would desire, but it is a gift nonetheless.

Several weeks ago I wrote a heartfelt and painful post – Life With Pain – What I Lost. It is a lamentation – mourning the things I lost through years of pain. If you haven’t read it yet, go back and take a look, because it’s where this story begins.

That wasn’t an easy post to write but it came from such a raw place that the words poured out of me. This post has proven to be even harder to write. I struggled with these words for weeks. I wrote and rewrote this post but I’m still unable to express how profoundly pain changed me for the good.

If pain is anything at all, it’s complex. I don’t want to sound trite or give you the impression that the things I found came quickly or easily. They did not. So here is my humble attempt – a celebration of the lessons I learned and the beauty I found in pain.

I found trust.

As a mother, my deepest desire was to keep my children safe, provide for their needs, and let them know they were loved. Seizures and pain robbed me of that ability for years and many precious childhood moments are lost to me. But recently, as we began unpacking the pain of those years together, we looked back as a family and recalled an endless catalog of ordinary days, hilarious mishaps, sweet family times and more. Every photograph and memory is a treasure to be mined over and over again.

Sometimes, in our desire to protect our children from all pain and discomfort, we don’t allow them to experience growth essential to character development. I see now that the trials and difficulties we survived as a family drew us closer to each other and challenged my kids to discover God for themselves.

My children can’t live their faith on the coattails of their parents or grandparents. In order for it to be real, their faith must be their own. I need to trust God enough with my children to allow them to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling”.

God is developing their faith and their character. I trust Him with that.

I found the Source of strength.

Before the years of pain and illness, I looked strong. A young, healthy, type-A woman, I was organized, disciplined and appeared to be in control of my life. But much of my confidence was bluff and bravado, masking a deep uncertainty about my place in life and my relationship with God.

Pain strips everything down to the core. It removes all the skin and fat and leaves the bare bones of the matter.

In the stripping away, my bravado was removed. My confidence was shaken. I questioned everything I was taught. Everything I believed. But when I hit rock bottom, I found a foundation. I found a sweeter, truer, deeper faith than anything I knew before, and I found that I can’t do it on my strength alone.

I can’t manufacture a feeling of wholeness out of emptiness. I can’t coax ‘good feelings’ out of depression but I can tap into God’s power, knowing that it is in surrender to His perfect will that I find the strength to carry on, in spite of the pain.

 

"The cross was Jesus’ voluntary acceptance of undeserved pain as an act of total solidarity with all of the pain of the world. Reflection on this mystery of love can change your whole life.” Richard Rohr

I found a connection with Christ’s suffering.

The cross was Jesus’ voluntary acceptance of undeserved pain as an act of total solidarity with all of the pain of the world. Reflection on this mystery of love can change your whole life.” Richard Rohr

There aren’t words to describe how Christ’s suffering somehow makes sense of my own. But it’s true. It does. I can’t explain this. It’s a holy mystery.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. (Is. 53:4)

I found a purpose for the pain.

Pain serves a purpose. It is essential for growth. It clarifies what’s important and leaves us either crushed or strengthened. There was a time I thought it crushed me – a time when I saw no purpose to the pain, no mercy in God’s will and no end in sight. But today I see the work that God is doing in my life and I am thankful for it.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Romans 8:18 NKJV

I found a community of the wounded.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it well. “Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above the master. Following Christ means passio passiva, suffering because we have to suffer.”  (The Cost of Discipleship)

This is one of the sweetest things I found. Pain opened my eyes to the suffering of others and initiated me into a special tribe – the tribe of the walking wounded.

It has given me a deep empathy for others and brought connection and community with those who, like me, are walking through their pain, struggling with their faith and trying to make sense of it all.

I could go on and tell you about the peace I found, about the clarity I now have and perhaps, another time, I will. I’m still unwrapping the gifts that I received through the darkest times of my life.

Pain may be the gift I never wanted but it is one of the dearest I’ve ever received.

Life With Pain – Grief and Lament

Earlier this week I wrote a post about my life with pain – a lamentation for what I lost. Today, I planned on posting a follow-up with “What I Found”. But I can’t go there yet.

The response to my lament was overwhelming. So many of you, like me, have an unmet need to grieve. We have been raised in a culture that doesn’t know how to lament. I would argue that, in the church, we have treated grief and pain as evidence of a lack of faith or, even worse, evidence of sin. What a lie.

Lament isn’t pretty.

It brings to mind wailing widows clothed in black and blotchy, red eyes and runny noses. It brings to mind a man, bloodied and beaten, hanging on a cross.

The image of the suffering Christ on the cross was always associated with the Catholic church, in my mind. Growing up in the Evangelical community, we were encouraged not to focus on the bleeding Christ but on the empty cross, the risen Christ, the empty tomb.

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We miss something when we jump past Christ’s suffering to resurrection day.

We miss the true depth of Christ’s humanity. We miss the fact that he knew pain like us. He was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. He cried, bled, suffered and mourned, just like us.

There is sweet comfort in the crucified Christ, in the fellowship of his sufferings, in knowing he “keeps track of all our sorrows. He collects all our tears in a bottle. He has recorded each one in his book.” (Psalm 56:8)

So, let’s stay in this place of lament a little longer, pause in this sweet holy space where we acknowledge our pain and our fears and present them to the One who bore them all.

Today, my dear friend, I grieve with you.

I grieve for your pain and suffering. I lament for your loss, for what death has taken from you. I weep for the marriage that has ended, for the betrayal of trust, for the child who has wandered away, for the dream that remains unfulfilled.

If this speaks to your heart, please take time to name and acknowledge your lament and present it to your heavenly Father. He can handle your anger, your questions and your pain. Be still. Feel His presence. Tell Him your story.

And, when you feel overcome with doubt and fear, stubbornly cling to what remains of your faith. You will find Him there.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
    they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

Psalm22:1-5

 

Life With Pain – What I Lost

Pain and suffering leave a deep scar.

Even if there’s no outward evidence of the damage, pain leaves a mark on the psyche and the spirit that is permanent. Lately, I’ve been running a mental finger over that scar, reminding myself that I didn’t imagine it all. It wasn’t just a bad dream. Like a tongue seeking out the hole of a missing tooth, I can’t resist exploring that area over and over again.

I want to write a story, a story about how God sustained me, how my faith was strengthened, how I’m better for having suffered, but I’m stuck. Looking back at the endless years of seizures and pain, depression and drugs, I feel so much grief. At times I’ve become frantic, trying to make sense of it all and trying to figure out why all of this happened to me in the first place.

Somehow, I need to come to peace with the fact that I may never know why but I finally realized that I won’t find peace until I acknowledge the grief – until I lament.

So…this is my lamentation. This is what I lost.

I lost memories. I lost time.

Pain robbed me in so many ways. Suffering cheated me out of so many things. It didn’t just cheat me, it cheated the people I love.

A single event or moment in time will stand out and I can easily recall the sounds, smells, and emotions of that time, but the bigger picture of my past is baffling to me. The harder I try to make sense of it all, the more frustrated I become. There are huge gaps and holes, years that are just a fog.

I was forty years old when I lost my license and much of my life to seizures. Sam was 3, Rachel was 5, Ashley was 18. As a grown woman with three children, I became dependent on my parents, my family and my friends. I couldn’t drive my kids to church, couldn’t get to the grocery store on my own. My sense of self disappeared along with my self-confidence.

I have pored over old diaries, medical bills and calendars, to cobble together the timeline of my life. It’s helped jog my memory but there are still gaps of time I can’t account for.

Just writing this makes my eyes sting with tears. Because, in those huge gaps of time, my three amazing kids were living their lives, without a ‘fully present’ mother. I can’t retrieve those years, those sweet childhood moments. This causes me no small amount of pain and anguish. I’ve tried, time and again, to surrender what I can’t pull back, to trust that God was by their side when I was not, to believe that their dad and grandparents and all the other well-meaning and generous adults in their lives, did the best that they could to make sure Ashley and Rachel and Sam were cared for and loved, but it still hurts. I weep for what we lost – for what they lost.

I don’t want to revisit the pain and admit how much all of this must have affected my children but I long to move beyond this, to redeem the pain in some small way.

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I lost my self.

Because, to my mind’s eye, my scars are so obvious, the change in me so dramatic, it is disconcerting when I meet someone who only knows the new me, the after-pain-changed-me me. What is even more confounding is when someone, who I’ve known since ‘before’, treats me as though I haven’t changed.

Can’t they see that I’m completely altered by the experiences I’ve been through? Surely they see it tattooed on my arm or written on my forehead. How on earth can they miss it?!

In the years since my recovery, I’ve regained my sense of self but I’m not the same as before. I lost the old me.

I lost my faith.

At my lowest moments, God was lost to me.

All my life, I felt His presence. I didn’t always want to feel it, because that presence was, at times, convicting me, pricking my conscience and challenging me. But it was there. He was there.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.”

In my three-o’clock-in-the-mornings, God was silent. There was a gaping void where His presence had once been. That void beckoned me in the dark hours of night and sometimes even during the day. I grieved the loss of His presence as I grieved the loss of my health. My depression was a pit that I climbed into. I could smell the musty earth and feel the cool gravel between my fingertips. That dark cavern became comfortable and it was harder and harder to draw me out.

I lost all hope.

This shouldn’t be over-spiritualized. There were physiological factors involved. I was clinically depressed. Pain and heavy medications dramatically altered my brain chemistry.

At one of my lowest points, my dad came by to visit. The timeline of this isn’t clear. But I remember him coming into my darkened bedroom and sitting by my bed. I was in the fetal position and barely responded to his presence. I can’t imagine how that broke my father’s heart, seeing his girl in such physical pain and mental anguish. He stroked my hair and sang softly. After singing for a few minutes, he started praying and I began sobbing.

“He’s abandoned me, dad!” I cried out.

“I can’t pray anymore. I can’t read my Bible. I have nothing left. I’ve failed God.”

He passed me a tissue and waited for my sobbing to subside.

“Karen, you don’t have to pray. Let me pray. Let it go.”

It is a terrible and terrifying thing to lose faith. For someone who was raised from birth to believe, to ‘trust and obey’, it felt like a betrayal of not just my faith but my family, my history, my childhood. Everything that had been firm and certain, was now sinking sand. There was nowhere for me to gain a foothold.

That’s when I rediscovered Job, Jeremiah’s Lamentations and the Psalms of David. I’d read them many times before, but in my previous life, I focused on the Psalms of praise and the Psalms of comfort. Now, I found comfort in the grief of Job and the Psalms of anguish. I felt a kinship with David in his moments of darkest despair. I read his words and wept as I cried out to God.

“Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
    Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
    and forget our misery and oppression?

We are brought down to the dust;
    our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
    rescue us because of your unfailing love.”

These are things I lost. Maybe tomorrow I will recall the things I found.

Mourn With Those Who Mourn

How do we make sense of madness when there is no logic to be found in the acts of a madman?

 

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Once again, the world has been rocked by news of a mass shooting. Images and stories of the terror-filled night in Orlando fill our TV screens.

At times like this, the world seems to be spinning out of control. Hate and fear and death appear to be gaining the upper hand. We can’t make sense of anything and we hardly know what to say, or what to think, or what to do.

May I suggest, that perhaps we can do this.

 

We can stop the gun debate long enough to clean the blood from the ground.

We can quit posturing and arguing long enough for loved ones to plan a funeral.

We can offer condolences and prayers without pointing fingers.

We can put aside our hatred of one another long enough to bury the dead.

We can silence the debate and rhetoric for just one day.

We can pause to honor each life lost with a breath, a prayer, a tear.

We can stand with the LGBTQ community while they mourn.

 

If this was my child whose blood had been shed, if this was your friend whose life was cut short, we could not bear to hear anything other than words of love and comfort at such a time. Anything other than the tenderest of voices would crush our spirit even further.

So, to the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters, the friends and spouses and lovers who have suffered the deepest of losses, we extend our hands in comfort, our hearts in love and our voices in prayer. May you find comfort where none can be found.

Opioids and Me – A Story of Drug Dependence

My eyes popped open from a deep sleep. Drenched with sweat, my body weighted to the bed with fear. The smell of smoke filled my nostrils and my heart drummed in my chest. I lay there, panic-stricken and struggled to get my bearings. A thick fog filled the air.

It suddenly hit me, like a lightning bolt to the chest. “The house is on fire! Wake up!” I screamed and shook Steve in a panic. “We’ve got to get out! Get the kids! The house is on fire!” In spite of, or perhaps because of my fear, I made no attempt to move from the bed.

Steve sat up and rubbed his eyes. He turned and looked at me like I was crazy. “What are you talking about? There’s no fire, Karen. You’re dreaming.”

“Dreaming!? What do you mean? Can’t you smell it?”

Alarm bells pounded in my head and every instinct said run but my body failed to connect with my brain so I sat there frozen, staring at Steve with mounting panic and confusion.  

As the fog in my head cleared, I realized there was no fire. I sniffed the air for the pungent, smoky odor, but it was gone.

I was hallucinating – a side effect of my opioid dependence.

pain-medications, opioid dependence

Last week, the medical examiner’s office revealed the legendary artist Prince died of an accidental overdose of Fentanyl at the age of 57. The dose was self-administered. As I listened to the reports and read the articles that littered the internet, I felt conflicting emotions – grief, at the thought of the pain he must have suffered – indignation, at the assumption he was an addict – anger, that yet another beautiful life was cut short and relief that I didn’t suffer the same fate.

My story started with a twinge.

I worked as a barista in a coffee shop when I first noticed the subtle, nagging pain. It quickly worsened and eventually I received the diagnosis – carpal tunnel syndrome. I endured seemingly endless rounds of doctor’s visits, delay tactics and the deeply rooted incompetence of Worker’s Comp for months on end, as the pain increased. The limits of my disability leave were reached and I lost my job.

Finally, carpal tunnel release surgery was approved. Unfortunately, the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train. The surgery should have provided relief but ended up causing me further harm. I suffered a posterior shoulder dislocation and torn rotator cuff during the procedure and when I came to and the anesthesia wore off, I felt a searing pain unlike anything before.

The injury went undetected and it was over a month before my shoulder was reset. Several doctors gave me cursory examinations during that period and missed the obvious. My complaints didn’t match my earlier carpal tunnel diagnosis so they ignored the excruciating pain in my left shoulder. Instead of getting to the source of my pain and treating it, they increased the levels of pain medication and added antidepressants, hoping that I would eventually stop complaining. The delays in treatment resulted in years of pain, and a battle with CRPS, as I struggled to recover.

I wasn’t addicted. I was ‘dependent’. That’s what they told me. But I can assure you, there is a razor thin difference between the two.

I walked the tightrope of dependence, unaware that the slightest misstep could send me plummeting into a pit of addiction or lead to an overdose.

There is something incredibly powerful about the fear of pain. Avoid pain at any cost – that is the natural human response and the mantra of modern medicine. But the drugs the doctors gave me masked the underlying cause and sidestepped the issue. Only after years of living in a drug-induced stupor did any doctor encourage me to manage my pain without drugs or give me the tools to learn to live with the pain.  

Here’s something they don’t tell you about opioids. After prolonged use, their efficacy decreases and often, as in my case, they cause the pain to increase, through a condition called  opioid-induced hyperalgesia. Completely unaware of this effect at the time, my condition worsened as weeks, then months, went by. Phantom, unrelated pains and neuropathy appeared throughout my body.

At times, I twitched like an addict itching for a fix as I rode the daily roller coaster of opioid dependence. Every single nerve and muscle in my body cramped. I doubled over – shaking and rocking for hours on end – finding it impossible to stay still. The constant movement left me exhausted.

 

drug capsule eat me drink me

At other times, I lay in bed and fell down the rabbit hole, like Alice in Wonderland. My body seemed to expand – bigger and bigger like a human balloon – the pressure so intense, I feared my head would blow right off my body. The bizarre sensation was followed by contraction, as the balloon caved in. I shrank smaller and smaller and prayed I would disappear in a cloud of dust.

I wasn’t an addict. My drug use was under control – or so I told myself.

After all, I received my prescriptions through a physician and always, I mean usually, took only the amount prescribed. I never lied or stole to get my meds. I just asked. My doctor never failed to give me what I needed wanted.

At the beginning, I took Advil and Tylenol. When they were no longer effective, my doctor prescribed high doses of Motrin. When Motrin didn’t cut it, Vicodin did the trick. When Vicodin wasn’t enough, I received Percocet. When the pain became unbearable, OxyContin became my friend. When I couldn’t make it through the day on Oxy alone, my doctor prescribed an amazing miracle drug that would provide relief all day – Fentanyl.

At my lowest point, I wore a daily Fentanyl transdermal patch, with a steady diet of Oxy and a morphine kicker, along with a myriad of antidepressants and other drugs. How on earth I survived and continued to function despite this deadly cocktail is a mystery to me. The fact that I continued to drive is terrifying, to say the least.

Repeatedly, my family expressed their concern at the amount of drugs I consumed. I thought they were overreacting. After all, I trusted my doctor, and any time I questioned the new prescription he provided, he reassured me.

I felt safe in my doctor’s care.

My dependence on opioids dulled the pain in my body for a while but increased the pain in my spirit and created a whole slew of adverse side effects.

Antidepressants were prescribed for the depression that set in, followed by anti-seizure meds for the neuropathy. Anti-nausea medicine was prescribed to combat the constant queasiness and when my bowels rebelled and quit working, they prescribed laxatives and enemas.

I dragged through the days like a freighter in a fog, slow and lumbering, without proper tools of navigation. Sleep eluded me and the little sleep I did get was haunted by nightmares and nameless fears. I existed in a limbo state – not asleep but not fully awake. As my depression deepened, I lost all interest in life, in food, in going outside or being with my children. I had no desire to seek out friends and couldn’t concentrate to read a book. Laying in a stupor, my hand clutched the remote and I channel-surfed my life away.

Modern pain medications provide relief for many who need it. They are essential to the proper and humane management of debilitating and chronic pain. However, we are bombarded with constant messages that pain should be avoided at any cost. Oh, what a cost.

I also believed, at that time, that God wanted me to live a life of abundance and freedom from pain and suffering. But when my faith wasn’t strong enough and my prayers seemed to go unanswered, I was convinced I’d failed God.

In the years since my recovery from opioid dependence and chronic pain, I’ve examined our cultural and religious beliefs about pain, read the Scriptures, and devoured medical information, in an attempt to understand the science behind pain and dependence and why God allows suffering.  I do not have all the answers, but I do know this. 

The presence of pain is not evidence of a lack of faith or unconfessed sin.

It’s presumptuous and unrealistic to expect that we can circumvent the inevitable, as pain most certainly is a part of every life. The lessons taught through times of anguish are deep and have a purpose in molding our character. They provide insight into suffering, faith and the human spirit in a way that can only be understood by those who have “been there”.

Pain altered me permanently. The scars left behind may be invisible to you, but they became my superpower, enabling me to see the scars in others. They instilled a passion for the hurting. They allowed me to draw closer to Jesus.

I wasn’t sure about sharing this post. Not for the reasons you might think. I’m not worried about how you will judge me but I do worry that some of you may feel judged. If you are in a battle with chronic pain, drug dependence or even addiction, I pray you hear my heart. Nobody understands your pain. Even me.

Your journey is unique and solitary and only God sees the depths of your suffering.

The turning point was when I decided I would rather live in pain than numb all my feelings and emotions with chemicals. I enrolled in a pain management program managed by healthcare professionals and slowly regained my life as I weaned off the medications and dealt with my pain – body, mind and spirit. Incredibly, the pain decreased significantly once I was off the meds.

Today I am opioid free. I am not pain free, but I have the tools to manage the pain for now.

Think about these sobering statistics.

“In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills.”

The United States is experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose (poisoning) deaths. Since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (opioid pain relievers and heroin).

I shudder when I think of the fate that could have been mine, and really don’t know how I avoided addiction, but thank God that I did. If you, or someone you love, is struggling with pain, dependence or addiction, please get help.

Warning!- Do NOT discontinue any meds without medical supervision. Stopping medication abruptly may not only adversely affect your condition, it can be flat out dangerous! Please consult a medical professional first.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18