Author Archives: jenni

Walking through pain

A little over five weeks ago, I hurt my heel. The pain seemed much worse first thing in the morning and after sitting down for long periods of time. I was afraid I might have broken something, but it’s actually a common condition called Plantar Fasciitis (PF). It’s not serious, but it is seriously annoying… and it will take months to fully heal (or longer, if I ignore the pain and don’t take care of it).

Actuallyheelwrap, it’s kinda hard to ignore the pain. I never really spent any time thinking about my left heel before PF. Now, it’s difficult to NOT think about it. Finding appropriate shoes has become an issue. Sandals (the mainstay of my existence before) are out for now. Sneakers are in. Stairs and steep inclines make me cringe. Most of the time, the pain in my heel is bearable and intermittent, but there have been at least two or three occasions so far where it’s been bad enough to bring me to tears.

It’s been five weeks now. But if the anecdotal stories of other sufferers are any indication, I’m not even close to halfway through this yet. And it’s getting old… fast. Sometimes when I’m sitting down working at my computer, I can almost forget that there’s a problem. Then I stand up again.

It’s just my heel. But as 1 Cor 12:26 says, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.” I definitely have a new appreciation for that verse. It’s only my foot that hurts, but all of me is miserable. And at the end of the day when I get to put on these socks with the frozen gel packs in them… all of me is relieved!

Crushed

It’s been a few months since I’ve written posted anything. (I actually have at least half a dozen unpublished drafts in various stages of incompletion, but every time I get “stuck” or distracted and never quite finish.) So tonight, I’m determined to finish something and hit that elusive “Publish” button. It won’t be pretty, but here it is.

Right now, I’m exhausted. I’m struggling with creative projects that should be exciting. I’m in physical pain (from a heel injury – which is another story entirely). And I’m hurting (more than I should) over some things that have been said about me. I feel beat down – crushed. And try as I might, I lack the ability to just snap out of it and be instantly un-crushed.

Even if I can’t snap out of it, I know I need to pull myself out of it. There’s something heroic and noble about rising above the circumstances, triumphing over external forces that want to hold you back: The Phoenix rising from the ashes… David winning over Goliath.

But it’s not that easy… because some of the forces aren’t external. It’s in me. It is me.

I think our childhood stories have done us a great disservice. We grow up on fairy tales and cartoons where the hero is good looking, pure, and obviously undeniably 100% good… and the villain is ugly, malicious, and obviously undeniably 100% bad. Even more, the villain embraces his role as bad guy – he revels in it. He’s not suffering from any illusion that he’s actually the good guy.

It’s rarely that cut-and-dry in real life. But most of the time, that’s really how we cast each other. We can’t imagine our heroes doing bad, and we can’t imagine our perceived villains as doing any good. If you don’t believe me, just watch the news. Any time there’s a polarizing issue, a nasty political campaign, or a painful church split, the passionate support folks feel towards their hero will lead them to deify him (or her) while demonizing the opposition.

I know I’m not the blameless hero. I know my faults. I’m aware of the baggage I carry and the places that are still tender from past hurts. And I live with the irony that I’m often more generous in forgiving or excusing my flaws than others will be towards me… while at the same time I can be harder on myself than anyone else could ever be. I’m not the hero, but I’d like to think most folks see me as being one of the good guys. And it hurts when they don’t.

And on the flipside, I know that those who hurt me are not storybook villains. They’re coming with their own set of hurts and baggage that I know nothing about. They’re acting and reacting for the most part in the ways that seem right to them. If they’re lashing out, it’s usually more about them than it is about me… just like it is when I lash out.

I know all this. I mean, I know it in my head somewhere. It makes sense. And in the quiet of my living room at the end of the day, I can see it.

But I still hurt. Not as a wounded hero. Not as a vanquished villain. Just as a traveler with a injured heel.

It doesn’t feel like Easter

I’m in a bit of a “funk” this year. Here I am, late Saturday night on the day before Easter, and it doesn’t *feel* like Easter to me. It isn’t the weather: the flowers are blooming and we’ve had some gorgeous spring days. It isn’t that the holiday snuck up on me: we’ve had plenty of time to plan for the service tomorrow. It’s not that I haven’t had time to appreciate the signs of the season: I’ve had plenty of jelly beans, marshmallow peeps, and Cadbury eggs. It’s just that Easter is supposed to be joyful and I’m… well… not.

Everything just seems… off. Last week, Palm Sunday, we sang a song that included the words,  “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.” Maybe that’s part of the problem. My heart gets broken, but not over the right things. It’s like my emotions and attentions are hijacked, over invested in something that, in the end, is worthless. And while I’m busy getting sucked into that blackhole, I can’t escape the feeling that I’m neglecting something else, something more significant. It’s discouraging.

Tomorrow we celebrate the Resurrection, and I can’t help feeling like I need a bit of a resurrection too. A reboot. Great things are happening. I’m even a part of some of these great things! Yet, as I spend this evening reviewing the music that we’ve selected for tomorrow, I’m tempted to feel like I’m not qualified to sing them. When I feel so dry, how can I sing about seeing “a near revival?” Fortunately, the answer comes from another song in the set:

And when I can’t see You still I know You’re here
And when I can’t feel You Your promise is clear
Nothing I face can keep me from Your love
My savior my healer my life and my hope
My treasure forever with You I belong
And even in death we won’t be torn apart
Nothing ever could separate us…

Maybe I can’t see it right now. But that doesn’t change the reality. Some ~2000 years ago Jesus’ followers went to bed on a Saturday night in mourning. They were confused and discouraged. And they woke up that way Sunday morning.

But while they were busy being discouraged that morning on their way to the graveyard… the tomb was already empty.

I pray that we can all rediscover the empty tomb… and celebrate.

Gangrene

I’ve been debating whether or not to post this… it seems rather un-grace-ful. But I believe it is truth-ful. So here goes:

Imagine that someone you care about has been diagnosed with gangrene.

It’s in their foot. Several toes have already turned black and the infection is spreading. Radical surgical intervention will be needed. The patient finally agrees to the surgery… but only allows a single toe to be removed.

After the surgery, the patient is excited and acts as if the treatment is complete. After all, the toe was in bad shape, and now it had been dealt with. There would be no question in anybody’s mind that the amputated toe was infected and needed to go. Pathology reports would back this up. But unless ALL of the dead, diseased tissue is removed, the patient is no better for having undergone the procedure.

If this seems like a ridiculous scenario… I agree. It is ridiculous. No sane human being would do that to himself. The decision would be difficult, there would be a time of mourning for the lost limb, but the sacrifice would be made for the preservation of the rest of the body. Denying the existence of the disease or failing to take adequate measures to stop it would be a death sentence.

Yet organizations do this all the time: when an issue becomes so obvious that it requires drastic action, someone will be sacrificed. But if the amputated toe is not the source of the infection or the only location of the infection, the underlying condition will remain the same. And if the ultimate source of the infection also happens to be the one making the decisions… well… good luck with that.

So don’t ask me if I’m glad the infected toe is gone. I’m not. And I’m not optimistic that the patient will ever return to full health.

Spring Cleaning

I’ve been doing a lot of Spring Cleaning lately.

It started last weekend with an opportunity to get some new-to-me furniture. It was definitely time for a new couch: the one I had was on its last leg: the frame was broken, the fabric was worn through and ripping… it was well past time for something new.

Before the new one arrived, I decided to move the old couch so I could clean behind it. I expected a few cobwebs and maybe some other bits of trash… but I certainly wasn’t expecting the filth that I found there! It was terrible! I realized that in the nearly six years I had lived in this house, I had never once moved the couch. Over half a decade’s worth of dead insects, dust, dried spills, bits of ripped food wrappers, cobwebs, bottle caps, and uneaten dog treats greeted me.

All that time, I had been cleaning around the couch — but neglecting the part I couldn’t see. It wasn’t that I enjoyed having the filth there… or even that I was OK with it being there. When I got the old couch, the floor was clean when I positioned it. I didn’t put the bottle caps and food wrapper remnants underneath it on purpose. I certainly didn’t set out to create a sizeable collection of dead bugs. It was neglect. Neglect has consequences.

Fast forward one week and I found myself in another Spring Cleaning situation. This time, I had helpers. Our goal was simply to re-organize a storage room, tossing a few broken or stained items as needed. But the more we removed from the storage area, the more it became clear that we had a problem. Evidence of bugs, lizards, and mice multiplied as the day went on.

I knew that every item in that storage room had been placed there in good condition with good intentions. No one intended for their used wedding centerpieces to become housing units for mice. It was neglect. Neglect has consequences.

Some things bounce back rather quickly from neglect when they are rediscovered. The hard floor beneath my couch was easy to clean. Glass and metal, many washable fabrics, hard plastics: items like this are relatively easy to clean. Evidence of years of neglect disappeared from these in just minutes. But others didn’t fare so well, like organic materials (dried flowers or wreaths made of dried branches or vines often became a food source for the uninvited guests).

Yet even for the organic materials, destruction wasn’t inevitable. It wasn’t the centerpiece’s fault that it was exposed to mice. It wasn’t even the mice’s fault that the centerpieces were available! It wasn’t the couch’s fault that it concealed filth. The couch couldn’t move itself. The centerpieces could have been stored in a plastic bin that would have kept the mice and water away. The couch could have been moved more frequently for cleaning. The quick and easy moral of this story? If you care about something, take care of it.

The deeper moral? You can’t expect to find things in the same condition you left them in if you’re unwilling to do the maintenance. It’s like playing an instrument: just because I know how to find the notes on my guitar, that doesn’t mean I can play competently without practice, and certainly doesn’t mean I can flow with a team without putting in the time to rehearse with them. Neglect has consequences.

What if Jesus was more like us?

As Christians, we talk a lot about wanting to be more like Jesus… and we should. The Bible talks about being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29), walking as He walked (1 John 2:6), being transformed into His image (2 Cor 3:18)… the list goes on.

But what if Jesus had acted more like some of the Christian leaders of today?

Nicodemus would have probably never been told he had to be born again… I mean, who insults another leader like that these days? We have to be respectful, even towards those we don’t agree with. Nicodemus would have been invited to share the platform, there would be some flattering pictures of the two smiling leaders, a culturally acceptable and poignant warm embrace, and no meaningful discourse. Nicodemus would have been praised for his willingness to cross lines and work with another camp.

Zaccheus would still have the opportunity to be a lunch host, and people might still grumble about it… but the modern leader might encourage Zack to redeem himself through gifts to the ministry, rather than giving money to the poor or returning it to those who were defrauded.

The meeting with the Samaritan Woman at the well wouldn’t have happened at all. No self-respecting leader would be caught having a private conversation with THAT kind of woman. Instead of using knowledge of the woman’s situation to confront her in her sin and reach out to her where she was, the modern leader would have used that intelligence to avoid her like the plague. Must avoid any possible appearance of evil. And confrontation? That’s so risky. Someone might get hurt.

Thank God God’s God…

Sweet Education

This year, some of the youth sold candy as a fundraiser for an upcoming missions trip. There’s a lot of work involved, but it is fun… and educational!

Here’s what I learned from chocolate molding:

1. When you lose your temper, cool off a bit and try again. (http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2005/08/tempering-choco/)

2. You can re-melt chocolate that has gotten cold and hardened, but you can’t re-use chocolate that has gotten too hot and burnt. Avoid burnout. (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/581829)

3. Sometimes, you just need to let things chill. (http://www.wilton.com/technique/Basic-Molded-Candy)

4. Mistakes are just as tasty as the perfect pieces!

Seeing Things

I’ve never really enjoyed being in the audience at a large event. The crush of people all trying to be in the same place at once is pretty much the opposite of what I consider “a good time.” Parades fall squarely into this category for me. Although I’ve assisted behind the scenes in creating floats for many parades, I’ve probably *attended* fewer than a 5 parades in my nearly 40 years, and participated in a parade (as in, drove, marched, or rode on a float) fewer than a dozen times.

This morning, I drove my church van in my area’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Day Parade. I’ve been a part of a couple of Christmas parades in my city, so I thought I knew what to expect: throw some candy and toys, dodge the unwanted candy the crowds inevitably throw back, try to keep the kids in my vehicle from falling out, and watch out for parade goers who might dart out in front of my vehicle.

From our position in the parking area where floats were lining up, we got to watch the majority of the other float entries and marching groups ahead of us as they reached the starting point of the parade. And what I saw (or perhaps, what I didn’t see) was a sobering reminder that even though it is 2014, racial divisions are still alive and well in central Louisiana. As I watched the marching bands and floats pass, I was struck by how few of the participants were white… and almost without exception, every adult white male in that parade was a politician.

My social anxiety temporarily gave way to a sense of sadness. I thought this would be more like Christmas. The pattern I noticed in the participants was amplified in the audience: very few white faces in the crowd. Where was everyone? MLK day is a school holiday. Some businesses stay open – but many are closed in observance of the day. So where did everyone go? I kept thinking that this should have been more like Christmas. But I also realized that it wasn’t really about the parade. This was just a symptom of a deeper racial divide, one that extends into businesses and schools and social organizations and especially churches. It’s voluntary segregation.

Jesus was the ultimate barrier-breaker. As Christians, we see Jesus’ birth as God bridging the immense divide between Himself and man. That gap should make any division between human beings seem trivial in comparison. How can we truly claim to be like Jesus if we’re not willing to reach out across racial divisions?

New Year, New Goals

Hard to believe that it’s 2014 already! I wasn’t going to do any New Year’s Resolutions this year, but over the last few days I saw some folks posting about some year-long projects that they were getting ready to start… so I decided to jump in and set three very reachable goals for myself. Here’s a visual aid:

365-0sm

The first was a no-brainer… exercise! I won’t bother to make the diet commitment because inevitably I will fail at that. But I can commit to exercise more. I have a recumbant bike now, and my Fitbit to track steps taken during the day.

The next, and most intimidating (and potentially the most rewarding as well), is the photo-a-day project. I needed a good creative challenge, and honestly I haven’t been doing as much photography as I should… so this was a good fit for me. I’ll be posting some of them here, and more over on my Facebook page, but you can also follow me at http://365project.org/onepursuit where I’ll (hopefully!) be uploading a few pictures each day.

Finally, I saw some friends on Facebook talking about reading Augustine’s City of God in very small chunks over the course of the year. They set up a facebook group to discuss what we’re reading… so it’s kinda like a college class without the high pressure deadlines or the tuition 🙂  I’m looking forward to that too.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but after I posted this picture I realized that I’ve chosen goals that will challenge and enrich body, soul, and mind 🙂 Not bad for something I didn’t plan!

When Normal… Isn’t.

One of the “milestones” I hit this year wasn’t a good one: My first hospital stay & surgery. The “gallbladder attack” that sent me to the emergency room was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Thankfully, gallbladder removal is a very common procedure, and there were no complications. I was sore & bloated for a few weeks, but the recovery wasn’t nearly as painful or difficult as I had imagined. Within two weeks, I was pretty much back to my regular routine.

It’s been almost 7 weeks now since the surgery. I still have tender spots where a couple of my staples (which were used instead of sutures) had gotten irritated and infected. I also still feel like I’m tiring out much more quickly than I did before the surgery… but honestly, the holidays are kinda crazy even under the best of circumstances, and this year has been especially busy. It is entirely possible that I would have been this wiped out even without the surgery! Of course, having medical bills hanging over me (and not even knowing if I’ve received all of the bills yet) is weighing on me a little bit as well, and I’m sure that’s not helping!

But in the grand scheme of things, all of that is minor. Life after surgery has been very good for me. And one of the most surprising things I’ve discovered over the last seven weeks is that what I long considered “Normal” …wasn’t. I didn’t recognize it, but for years I was having symptoms of gallbladder issues. They started slowly, gradually. When I noticed the symptoms at all, I attributed them to food poisoning, stomach bugs, or just getting older and not being able to eat certain things anymore. I assumed it was all “normal.”

Only, it wasn’t normal. I just didn’t recognize that until AFTER the surgery. Once the gallbladder was out, the symptoms were gone. I almost didn’t believe it at first – I thought it was a lingering effect of the antibiotics or pain meds. But a week later, it started to sink in. I wouldn’t have to the live with the dull, low level pain and discomfort that had become like background noise in my life. I wouldn’t have to worry about eating certain kinds of food anymore. It was amazing, but I still understood that the surgery wasn’t a magic pill. There was risk involved. It was painful. And there was a cost. But I’m loving the new normal that it has created for me.

And it has made me think about other areas in my life where I’ve settled for a “normal” that really needs to be challenged and changed… even if it require drastic measures.