Facing Reality

I love this picture because it reminds me of what to do when I don't know what to do. Give it to Jesus. Just like this grieving person did with the dogtags.

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“I understand,” I told my friend Mark this afternoon. “And I’ve come to terms with it. Or at least I’m coming to terms with it.”

The subject was my curved spine, a source of great discomfort of late. Mark is my chiropractor — a compassionate friend who stepped in 16 months ago when he heard I was having trouble feeling my limbs (all of them) and, despite being a grad student, applied what he was learning in school towards helping me fix my twisted body. Giving of his rare family time and working completely unpaid, Mark worked with me to correct my posture, loosen my vertebrae, and relieve pressure on five bulging discs that had developed over a lifetime of sedentary employment. He tried many methods, some of which I considered quite interesting, and even created new devices that I told him he should patent.

When Mark went to work at the school’s clinic (a trimester in advance of his fellow students, I might add), he used new technology and old fashioned chiropractic care in his attempts to positively influence my spine. Six months later he graduated (again, a trimester earlier than his peers) and went to work for money — finally. And he has continued working on me. But the more he worked, the more real an outcome became, one which a doctor never wants to admit and a patient never wants to hear. Doctors mean to fix people, to heal them or, at least, get them to a place of healing. Patients usually want to be fixed. Or healed. I know I wanted to. Wouldn’t you? More on that later.

Mark told me that sometimes it is possible to straighten out a crooked spine. In order to know if mine could straighten — at least a little — we would try one final treatment method, one of which I explored in jest several weeks ago: the decompression table. So three times I was strapped to the table as it stretched my lower back. You see, I have two curves in my spine, one in the upper and one in the lower. Both have bulging discs associated with them. But decompressing both at the same time was ungodly if not excruciatingly painful, so Mark decided to start with the lower to see if the task was even doable.

The first two times there was no noticeable difference. The third time, however, my back fought… well, back. We stopped the table top treatment. Two weeks later my back has not stopped hurting. Weakness and sharp pain is with me every time I move, getting up from a chair, stepping on a curb, simply turning left to walk down a hallway. Eventually, I’ll heal as my muscles return to their pre-decompression state. Or so I hope. But the pain and problems gave Mark and I an answer. My back won’t straighten much if any. And I finally needed to face the reality that further chiropractic treatments would be for maintaining Mark’s adjustments and slowing down spine degeneration… but probably not for healing. There isn’t much we can do outside of complete back reconstruction surgery. And that ain’t gonna happen.

It’s sobering in a way. But also something I genuinely have started to come to terms with. I won’t be able to lift heavy loads or sit for long periods of time. My vertebrae will continue to degenerate, but hopefully we can slow the process. A change of lifestyle will be needed. No more sitting for employment. No more sitting for long hours at home. Regular, but not strenuous, exercise. Basically, anything I can do to change the way I live. Sadly, though, I probably can’t do the physical things I’m used to for much longer. To be honest, I haven’t been able to do them for some time. I tried blowing leaves off my lawn a few weeks back and paid dearly for it.

One thing I hope to do is change location. For those who don’t know, I’m currently pursuing a relocation overseas to pursue church planting in northern Europe. It’s a God thing. You know, His perfect timing. Just as this bad-back reality came to the forefront, so did God’s working in opening doors to the mission field. Moving to a new culture and working in God;s kingdom isn’t a desk job, for sure. It’s something completely different. I think my back would like it. I’ll tell you more later.

Facing reality is hard to do. Especially when we’re fed a constant stream of “follow your dream” by our society. Dreams are good things. I’ve written extensively before about the value of dreams. But reality has a way of curtailing dreams. I once dreamed of being a traveling singer-songwriter. I would play concerts in homes and small churches and coffee shops. I would record my music and sell them to pay for food, personal needs and the sort. I even left a ministry position, in part, to pursue this dream. But when I started down that road I discovered that landlords wanted rent money and utility companies wanted reimbursement and grocery stores weren’t in the benevolence business. So I got a job and haven’t traveled down that path again. Reality’s a real buzz kill, ya know?

Ouch. My back is hurting because I’ve been sitting here typing for nearly 30 minutes (in a good chair, with good posture and everything) so I need to stand up and let reality calm down. God is good and I know he’ll care for me, too (It’s not just Mark in this fight). My hope in Him is strong.

Have wonderful evening!

— John and his spine