Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Blessings of Suffering

It has been a long time.

That's often the case for me, as my numerous obligations don't often leave me time for the blogging pursuit.  It has been so long, in fact, that I have not posted here in over a year.  But, thanks to a somewhat random injury, it looks like I have a little free time.

Friday, August 10, 2012

De pain! De pain!

Allow me to rant for a moment.  Not because I am incensed about something, but rather because it distracts me from the pain.  And, yes, even talking about my pain distracts me a bit from my pain.

Most of you are aware that I've had a herniated disc since around September of 2008.  Most of you also are aware that I have managed, in most cases, to push through that pain and still do most of the things I had done in the past, with obvious exceptions like playing roller hockey or running -- which was the activity that caused the problem in the first place.

Well, something changed.  Something is suddenly different.  After more than two years of improving or, at the very least, maintaining a steady level of discomfort, I feel like I fell off a cliff about a week ago.

I had been doing yard work last weekend.  I've been doing it all spring and summer, and while I know the evening will be pretty uncomfortable, I've done it well.  I could usually wake the next morning with at least tolerable levels of pain.

It started with a pinched nerve in my neck.  While looking down to see if I had missed any weeds, I felt pain suddenly shoot down my left arm.  So either I pinched a nerve, or this has been the most drawn-out heart attack in the history of mankind.

So, I've dealt with pain and weakness in my arm most of the week.  That's now almost gone.  But that was never really the big problem.

If you were to look at my MRI from March of 2009, and you adjusted the contrast so the nucleus of the disc between the L5 vertebrae and the sacrum was visible, you would see that it had herniated outward into the disc's containing tissue.  It's the literal definition of a herniated disc, and it's the worst place for one, for the simple reason that it is the lowest weight-bearing disc in your spine (the vertebra from there down are all fused in adults into the sacrum, so the discs bear no weight).  To make matters worse, the constant pounding of my feet on pavement, grass -- whatever I ran on in the preceding 28 years before the herniation occurred -- slowly rotated my pelvis so that, rather than forming a nice, steady curve, my spine now is in the shape of a capital "L".  That, in turn, is putting pressure on the nerves of my legs -- primarily my sciatic nerve -- causing constant, radiating pain from my waist on down.

So, that's the injury in a nutshell.  And, for some reason, it is now worse to the point that my subtle limp from years of injuries to my left knee is now a highly pronounced one.  And, thanks to the "mobile" pressure (the location and degree of pressure varies) on both sciatic nerves, the limp can occur on either leg or on both.  Add in the fallen arches and I have a painful, awkward gait.  I'm surprised I do not get followed around by baby ducklings who think I am their father.

I have an MRI scheduled for next Wednesday morning, the day after my birthday.  Hopefully we find something out then and can attack it, because I am struggling to find the joy in my suffering, as the Bible tells us to do.  So, please keep me in your prayers.

Okay, ran't over.  Get back to work.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Lost Dignity of the Elderly

Go to this link on Facebook, then come back and let me vent for a moment.

Let me have a few seconds of your life to discuss the treatment of the elderly today.  Unless, of course, you have a parent who you need to shuttle off to a nursing home or something?

See, our fast-paced lives rarely make room for those who are getting along in their years.  Oftentimes they are treated not even as second-class citizens, but rather as pets or nuisances who we can discard to "a farm upstate" when they become a "burden" to us.

Do you realize just how horridly wrong that is?

Okay, I admit that the story of the photo in the link I posted is not one of someone being shoved into hospice, but rather of a woman who has chosen to check herself into it -- maybe at a doctor's recommendation, or maybe because she just realized she needs help.  We don't get that side of the tale.  But we do get the heartwarming story of someone who went out of his way to do exactly the opposite of what I am railing about today: he gave up his time to bring some joy to who I can only imagine is/was a lovely, warm-spirited old Belle of a lady who, at that moment, was basically saying goodbye to the world in which she had made her life.

What kills me is that this story is the exception to the rule.  And I am as guilty as anyone else.  Maybe worse than the average Joe, even.

I spent last weekend with my grandparents in Pennsylvania as the second of four separate legs of a two-week trip through our family in the northeast.  My grandfather, who has Parkinson's Disease, has been steadily making his way downhill over the majority of the last decade.  It has been hard on me, and the rest of the family, to watch the Patriarch of the Soho (Slovak) side of my family -- a man who slaved, who worked himself ragged, for fifty years to raise and sustain his family in a region that is, in no way, kind to its people.  Between harsh winters and a lifestyle that time long ago passed by, that area of the southwestern Pennsylvania coal belt is simply brutal to its residents.

Yes, he has made his share of mistakes along the way.  Certainly, there are people who have disagreed with him and who have been turned off by a man who has held firm to his beliefs all these years and who could be downright indignant at times.  But he spent his life going out of his way to help people, and he made things a lot easier on his grandchildren than they ever should have been in a town that has floated in poverty and squalor since long before I was born.

And even though I've watched his health decline to the point where walking is a chore to be undertaken as little as possible and his voice is barely more than a whisper on his best of days, I've mostly been too busy to stop and talk to him.  Partly it's due to his voice and my slightly declining hearing combining to make conversation difficult; but, mostly, it's because I have "better" things to do or I can't figure out what to say.

Last weekend, I figured out what to say: "Tell me anything, because I love you, you deserve to be heard, and you have commanded my respect from decades of teaching me through your words and your actions."

We fail to realize that our older people -- be they family, friends, co-workers or the sweet old lady who, by nothing short of the miraculous hand of God, got into our cab and asked us to drive them anywhere -- hold in their hearts and minds an unfathomable collection of lessons and experiences that could make our own lives so much better and so much easier if we would only stop to listen and to heed their words and to give them the chance to tell someone what the heck was on their mind in a world where no one wants to let them speak.  It's downright criminal how we treat the elderly -- our own parents and grandparents!

We ought, as a collective world, to be ashamed of ourselves.  We don't even try to find time for them when we should be making time for them!  If there was a way for me to physically yell that through a computer screen, I would.  And I would keep yelling it, until every person on the cusp of departing this world after decades of toiling along through it has had their chance to speak, to be heard and to be treated with the dignity they deserve!

My crimes against the elderly don't stop there, either.  I've spoken to my paternal grandparents less than a handful of times in the last twelve years since I last saw them.  The amount of wrong that I cannot go back in time and right astounds and appalls me.  To think that I have left people who have done nothing but love me stuck in forced silence has finally started to rattle me to my core.  I've finally allowed God to show me my wrongs, and they are horrific.

This Christmas, when I am visiting my grandfather next, I'm going to actually visit with him.  I'm not going to say hello, goodbye, and maybe mutter a few words in passing in between as I've done for a decade or more.  I've already told him that, if his health permits, we are going to get into my car, and I am going to drive him wherever he wants to go and let him drive the conversation -- whether he wants to talk, or wants to listen.  I have precious little time to repay my grandfather for all the lessons he taught me, and I am sure I could work at it every second of every day until he is gone and barely scratch the surface.

I only hope I'll have the chance to start before God calls him home.  Don't miss your chance to do the same.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Mike Needs Your Help!

"Seriously, Dude?  You resolved to write more often, haven't posted since March 12 despite having a new kid to tell the world about, and now you want our help?  Have you gone wacky, or just plain stupid?"

C.  None of the above.

We're going to start this story about a year and a half ago.  At that point, I had been spiritually rebuilding for more than three years following what seemed five years ago to be a devastating event in my life (but when anything dies it feeds the ground, and from that event came two new relationships that have blessed Kaylee with not two, but four parents who love her dearly).  Then something happened.

God went silent.

He was there.  I knew he was.  When you have accepted Christ as your Savior and you really focus on drawing yourself into alignment with Him, something changes.  It's kind of like learning to ride your bike as a child: Dad holds you up and pushes you, slowly at first.  Then, as you get your wheels under you, he speeds up, all the while telling you that you are doing great.

Then, he lets go.

You feel shaky and uncertain, because you are now doing this all on your own.  But you always know Dad is still behind you, watching you, silently rooting for you to succeed, but always close enough to come running to your aid if you stumble and fall.

Once you learn to ride, then Dad rides beside you.

God and I had built up enough speed that he could let me go.

During the silence, I did struggle.  I wanted so desperately to hear Him, to know even the next tiny step in His plan for me.  But it wasn't time.  So, like Moses and the Israelites did for 40 years in the desert, I wandered.  I knew God was there, but I needed to learn to wait on His timing.

I began participating in the Men's Ministry programs at church last fall, and I developed some very close friendships with some amazing men.  And about the same time, I started to hear God murmuring.

Then, one day several months back, God started to shout.

The prayers I prayed countless times to know the next step in my life finally started to get answered.  There began to be some sense emerging from the chaos.  God finally began to show me what was next.

I would love to go into the details of what that is.  I am dying to tell people, but it's not yet time.  The one thing I can tell you is that it is an area of ministry that desperately needs attention but has received little.  It's been done generally, but now God is calling me into the specifics.

The few people who know the details at this point also know one detail about how I am handling it all: I feel like a cat being asked to fly.

Don't get me wrong, I am thrilled to be taking this on.  I just have no clue what I am doing.  I'm figuring things out as I go -- like He usually does, God is telling me only what I need to know right now.  His plan is perfect, and I know He will get me from point A to point B without issue if I continue to trust Him and do things His way.  And point B may be complete failure -- but it will be a perfectly executed failure, and will be just one more small step in an enormous plan.

So, about that next step...

I'm going back to college!

I'm not completing my English Degree!

I'm not pursuing a degree in line with my career!

I'm switching to Biblical Studies!

Okay, to be clear, the major is Religion, with a minor in Biblical Studies.  But I've never been too fond of the "R" word.  Guess I need to get used to it.

So that brings us to today.  And, since you are here, you probably wanted more information on that whole "donation" thing.  If not, check it out at first.

Please understand, I am not doing this to be lazy, or to get the rest of my education on someone else's dime. I am actively pursuing scholarships and grants, as well, but there is simply not enough left in the budget for me to take college classes.  So I'm doing this little "experiment."  I put that in quotes because I just don't have a better way of phrasing it at the moment, despite the fact that I know God will provide.  "Experiment" implies a possibility of failure.

The page has "suggested" donation amounts.  Those are there because 1) WePay asks for them, and 2) I want you all to be aware of why the current donation goal is what it is.  $2,500 for one semester is not an arbitrary number.  The total fees will be $2,365 per semester based on two classes and the technology fee.  That leaves $135 to cover books and supplies.  Of course, once the goal is reached I will certainly be raising it, because Those two classes aren't enough.  I need at least 30 more credits, which is five two-class semesters.  If enough money comes in and time allows, I will increase that course load.

A quick note: I am using WePay so the process can be 100 percent transparent.  I want you all to be able to easily check on the numbers and know they are genuine.  However, there is a cost: WePay, like any other "free" service, does take a cut of the money.  3.5 percent of every transaction goes to WePay, so a $100 donation actually gets to me as $96.50.  There is just no way around this without taking the time to write something myself, integrate it with a bank, etc.  And, then, we lose the transparency entirely because the beneficiary is also the creator.

So, with all of that out of the way, here is my formal request: please take the time to prayerfully consider a donation.  Your gifts are contributing to finish a formal education in ministry, which will be used to run an organization that will fill a gap that so very desperately needs filled.  What that is will be made public long before I graduate, but to better insure the long-term success of that ministry, this is necessary.

Please, allow God to guide you in this decision.  Any contribution, large or small, is very much appreciated and will be put to good use.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

* Again, to donate, please go to

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Now that I have time to breathe again...

It's my lunch break, which is one of my favorite times of the day.  I love my job and I look forward to coming to the office most days, but lunch time is my chance to forget that I work for someone else for sixty minutes.  It's a chance to relax, to smell the proverbial coffee (sounds like some new Stinkbucks flavor, actually).

And now, I think, I have finally reached the lunch break of my life, or at least my life as it currently exists.  I think I've finally reached a point of stabilization, which is odd considering how rapidly things are changing for me and my family.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Fighting fire with fire (almost literally!)

I have discovered the cure for what ails me.  For those who haven;t been listening, that ailment is acid reflux.  The cure?


No, not LSD.  But, yes, acid.  Now, I know that it goes against the laws of physics, nature and Sweden to combat acid with acid, but it's true.  And it makes sense.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The racket of modern medicine

The more I read and the more I experience, the more I doubt traditional medicine.

I have spent most of my 31 years with one ailment or another: allergies, asthma, constant recurrences of croup (as a child) and bronchitis (as I grew up and into adulthood), severe acid reflux (Gastroesophogal Reflux Disorder, or GERD) and a herniated disc, to name a few.  Needless to say, I am no stranger to traditional medicine.

I also think it has a very valid place, too.  Have an emergency?  By all means, go to the hospital and get 24-hour, pill-popping care.  You can always fix the problem later, as long as you are alive.  And, sometimes, you need to treat the symptoms until you feel well enough to try a more homeopathic solution to the problem.

But modern medicine typically targets symptoms, which serves one purpose: to keep you coming back.  After all, medicine is a business, and they want repeat customers.  If you are healthy, they never get your money.

Go ahead, call me a cynic.  But I have spent my life feeling better instead of being better.

Case in point: the way I have been feeling lately as a result of GERD.I have been seeing doctors for eight years about it, and the best any ever did was prescribe Nexium.  If you want to know how that worked out, go read my previous two posts.

This is just a rant.  But I do want to get everyone to see the point here: make sure that, when talking to a doctor, you are clear that you want to tackle the cause, not the smptoms.

I will post more on  Gotta be careful; the Big Medicine Syndicate may send someone to break my knees if I yell too loud too often.  Or at least have someone threaten me with unauthorized colonoscopies or something like that.