The 3 R’s for a Southerner

RMlogo The 3 R's for a Southerner
From 1980 to ’85, I worked at a machine shop called TransAmerica Delaval. It was a job. For lunch, we would gather around a table in the back of our department. It was a good time to relax, eat and chat.

Our conversation nearly always revolved around the 3 R’s: Rac’in, Rassl’in, and Religion. (Translated: NASCAR Racing, Professional Wrestling, and Southern Religion.) During this season I was not a Christian, though most of my workmates were good ole Southern Baptist boys.

On one particular fall day (1984), the conversation turned to religion during our lunch break. I don’t remember much about it, except the part when my friends asked what I thought about the Bible. An interesting question for somebody who had never read the Bible.

I remember our grandfather (Papa Glenn) offering us five “Thomas boys” $100 if we read the entire Bible. I started reading my First Baptist Church Sunday school Bible. I read a few pages the best I remember and then shut her down. It was the King James Version, and I was a cussing ten-year-old. Elizabethan English wasn’t working well for a foul-mouth country boy.

So here we are again, about 15 years later and somebody is asking my opinion about the Bible. To the best of my remembrance, I said something like,

I think the Bible is a good book to pattern your life after, but I don’t believe everything in it is true. In fact, you cannot convince me that California is real because I have never been there. I think some of the stories in the Bible are far-fetched and I don’t believe them.

That covered my expert opinion. What I knew about the Bible came from my Sunday school and Vacation Bible School experiences where I learned about Noah and his Ark, Daniel in a den of lions, Jonah and the whale, and the three Hebrew boys in a fire.

I did watch the 10 Commandments with Charlton Heston. It was so good. And I loved hearing Billy Graham. The man was easy to understand and seemed kind, which was a departure from all the men in my life. Religion was a farce to me, plus all the religious folks that I knew were fake.

Now, rassl’in, on the other hand, was something that was real, full of intrigue, and an ongoing narrative. Plus you had good versus evil. Ask me about rassl’in. I’m an expert about that.

It’s ironic how rassl’in became fake and religion became real. (Don’t tell a southerner rassl’in ain’t real.)

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My Boss Said I Was Going To Hell

RMlogo Four People Types Who Get Stuck In a Rut

The year was 1984. I was working at a place called TransAmerica Delaval. This plant was in Monroe, North Carolina, my hometown. Today, the plant is called something else. Delaval was a subsidiary of the TransAmerica Corporation in San Francisco–the tall “triangle-looking” building.

I came to Delaval in 1981 from Prince Electric Company, a mom-and-pop residential wiring company in New Salem, NC, which is outside of Monroe. (Don’t tell anyone that I know how to wire a house because they will ask me to do something for them; it happens all the time. As they say, “A man with a truck has many friends.”)

New Salem seemed so far away when I was a kid. I had heard of that community but never been there. Ironically, it was about 8 miles from my home. The world was much bigger back then.

I worked at Prince Electric for two years. It was hard work–too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. And it was shocking, electrically speaking. Delaval was a welcome relief because I was working inside a building with higher pay and better benefits. I was a machine operator working for Ricky Price, my shift supervisor.

He used to be a machine operator like me. They later promoted him to a supervisor. Ricky was the one who told me that I was “going to hell,” which were the “magic words” that put me on a path to become a Christian.

My peers were David Russain, Joe Mullis, Joe Barrett, Greg Smith, Cal Pearson, Liston Darby and a few others. Cal and Liston moved to NC from NJ when the plant moved. It was about 1980. I liked these men. A lot. Liston was personable. Cal was an angry man, though his attitude was a façade that you could work through if you dared. I dared. Eventually, we became friends and bike riding buddies.

I worked third shift for a short while but was mostly on first shift. I worked in the milling department. We made rotors (large metal screw-looking things) that went into “pumps” to pump oil, grain, and other materials off ships. We did a lot of work for the Navy. It was not a hard job though it did require skill.

I assumed that I would be working at Delaval all my life. And why not? The money was good. The benefits were great. The building was heated and air conditioned. The company seemed stable, and there was a possibility for advancement.

And I had a wife, two children, a dog, and a John Deere riding mower. What more could a man want out of life?

Then one day Ricky Price told me that I was going to hell. Two years later I would be sitting in a Bible college in Greenville, South Carolina. Be careful what you say to people. It could change their lives.

My First Day In the Crucible Was 04.08.88

RMlogo This is the 28th anniversary of the worst day of my life
Knowing God and experiencing Him can be two radically different things. This autobiographical short story briefly walks through the worst day of my life. The day I met God in the crucible of suffering.

For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21

It was 5:05 PM when I walked into our smallish double-wide mobile home and saw the piano was missing. We were having marriage problems. It never occurred to me that our problems were at that level. I immediately knew my wife and children were gone.

I ran through the house looking for them. If you can momentarily lose your mind, I lost mine.

Beyond Tears

Finally, after exhausting every part of our home in search of my family, I fell in the hallway, heaving. It was beyond tears. I could hardly breathe.

At 9:30 that evening, I fell over on the floor beside my large King James Bible, just after reading the first line of Psalm 51: “God have mercy on me.” That was the last thing I remember.

The next morning I went to work, where there was a floor scale. I stepped on it–a habit I had just ’cause–and saw that I had lost ten pounds in fifteen hours.

Day one was complete, the beginning of sorrows (Isaiah 53:3; Ephesians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 11:1).

I Love You – I Crush You

Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live. – Jonah 4:3

  • I would eventually ask the Lord to take my life.
  • I would eventually admit how angry I was at Him for what He allowed.

But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind. – Job 23:13-14

  • He eventually completed what He had in His mind for me.
  • He crushed me (Isaiah 53:10).

Four years later, I repented of my anger. Then God let me know, though it was mostly and mysteriously vague, that there was a purpose in His crushing.

Five years after that I began to see a faint glimpse of what I thought He wanted to do with my life.

That I May Know Him

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. – Mark 1:11-12

I went to Bible college for four years to learn about God. I went into the wilderness for nine years to experience Him.

After meeting the Lord in the wilderness, I began to see with a new set of eyes. He was creating and shaping a “theology of suffering worldview” in me (Philippians 2:12-13). God wanted me to know that I could not live well in His world without learning how to suffer well in His world.

The Lord took away everything that was dear to me on April 08. I was single, fatherless, penniless, and homeless with no future hope of restoration on any front, or even a promise of a future that would be any different from my present darkness.

There is a “darkness of the soul,” and there is a darkness of the soul that you can feel (Exodus 10:21). You cannot articulate this latter darkness. It’s deeper than deep (Psalm 42:7), from which there is only one cure. You must die (Matthew 16:24).

But If It Dies

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. – John 12:24

What I could not see, what I was afraid to see, and what I refused to see was the Lord (Job 42:5-6). I did not want to look at Him. To look at God in the crucible of suffering was to stare into my death (Luke 22:42). That is when I had my epiphany.

It is this: He had a Son, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief” Isaiah 53:10). I’m one of His sons too (1 John 3:1).

Why should I consider it a strange thing (1 Peter 4:12) for my Father to make me walk in the steps of His beloved Son (1 Peter 2:21). I prayed for His forgiveness of my stubborn, self-righteous anger that was demanding He see things my way.

The Lord forgave me.

But nothing changed.

Except I seemed to perceive a sprinkle of hope coming like a small cloud forming in the sky about the size of a man’s hand (1 Kings 18:43-44).

Eventually, the rain came.

You Are Ready

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6

It was thirty years ago today when the Lord ushered me into His crucible of suffering. I look back now and see His wisdom. And I do rejoice in His glorious and mysterious purposes.

I did not know it then but I know it now; God birthed this ministry thirty years ago today.

Back Update, Post Doc Visit

I have been putting off a “back update” until after I saw the doctor, which did happen this morning. I met today with the surgeon who did my back surgery on July 11.

This last week has been a combo of bed and steroids, and more bed (with my computer). Either the steroids are working or “time heals all wounds.” I’m not sure which one is bringing the magic.

My disc herniated on Wednesday, August 30. It hit critical mass on Sunday, September 03. I was in bed from Sunday to this past Saturday, September 09.

The children rearranged my office so that our nifty zero-gravity chair could replace my standard upright desk chair. Several have asked what a zero-gravity chair is. We have two from Walmart, which I bought a year or so ago so I’d have one up and downstairs. See here http://bit.ly/2wSVBHy These are also perfect for the beach; easy to carry and store.

The new chair arrangement permitted me to sit at the office all day on Saturday. It was not bad. Sunday was similar as far as the level of difficulty. The positive is that it was nice to get out of bed. Today, I’m back in bed because it’s most comfortable.

As For the Back

I’m able to walk, sit some, stand, and move around the house. The pain has dropped from a 25 to a 6, on the 1 to 10 scale. Less pain is great news. And I’m used to “six pain,” so I can take this.

We’ll see if it’s steroids or natural healing because I finished the steroids today, and will monitor the pain for the rest of the week.

I will visit the doctor in a week to ten days to follow up. For now, I’m going to hang out in my bed, spend a few hours a day at the office–at least when I do my podcasting–and keep everything nice and easy for an indefinite period.

The good news is that winter is coming. We tend to hibernate during the cold months. I disdain the winter. With shorter and colder days, it won’t be so bad. I can work, rest, enjoy the family, and come out next spring swinging (or shuffling).

I hope.

How Did It Happen?

The first question folks have asked is, “What happened?” The most accurate answer is that I do not know. And neither does the doctor. His best guess is that part of the scar tissue broke off and herniated the disc.

I was taking a nap!

Geez!!

Napping does not seem like a dangerous activity.

Be warned.

He said at this morning’s appointment that herniation happens to 5 to 10% of the folks who have a discectomy. (I wished I read the fine print.) He also said there is nothing you can do about it to prevent it. It’s one of those things. I’m good with that, though I feel like a walking time bomb.

It has been a week, but I see the end.

Again.

The last time I saw the end, it was only looping around to a more intensified repetition of the past twelve years. Maybe this time it won’t circle back for another dose of pain.

Unless something happens, I won’t update anymore on this issue.

To the Other Body

I do appreciate all who have asked how things are going. I appreciate the random drop-ins (Heidi F.), the food drop offs, the child transportation to school. And Tom and Missy having dinner with us last night. Tropical Chicken is the best. It was still good for lunch today.

Matt C., Nikki, Ruth, and Julie, thanks for the meals.

Oh, Alan, thanks for coming without an invitation and pushing yourself into my life. You stood in your own back pain for twenty minutes in my bedroom. I enjoyed the chat and your sacrifice. Let me know when you want to blow up our Christmas trees.

If I missed someone in this list, it’s because I was on drugs (or wished I was on drugs). But God knows who you are, and the kindness you gave.

Back Again

Just when you thought things were going well. Then, boom: things are not so good again. I took a nap last Wednesday, August 30. After waking, I felt my sciatica pain in my left butt cheek. It was the old pain, though it was not nearly as bad.

Just alarming.

As the days wore on, the pain worsened until by Sunday I could not walk, stand, or sit. The only thing that relieved the pain was to lay down while writhing to the “lucky position.” It takes about seven minutes to find the sweet spot between torture and agony.

I went to the doc yesterday. It was an ordeal to walk from house to van, from van to office, from office to patient room, from patient room to X-ray, etc. You get the idea. I’m back to counting seconds, measuring distances, and strategizing shortest routes. I cannot stand for more than 20 seconds, and the aftermath for standing, walking, or sitting is excruciating.

It was funny in the X-ray room when the guy went behind the wall to set-up, and after he returned, I was on the floor. He asked, “Dude, what are you doing?”

I laughed.

He was flummoxed.

Laying down was the only way I could get relief, and I was not about to stand there and wait on him to get setup. The floor was amazingly cold, which was also nice. He took the X-ray, and I shuffled back to my room.

After the visit, I made it to the van, found my spot in the back, and lay there for the ride home. I’m not sure if you’ve ever laid in the back of a van, but there is a lot of tossing and turning that you don’t feel when you’re driving. It’s a thorough jostle. The other negative is that I had a seat lifted up so I could have more room to stretch my legs. I couldn’t tie it off because it was too much effort, which was not a problem since I was holding it with my hand to keep it from falling on me.

I forgot about holding it on the way back home, and at one of the sudden stops, it came crashing down on my head. For about ten seconds I forgot about my back pain. My throbbing head brought sweet relief. I can’t say here what I said when it hit me, but it was instructive. I have some things to work on for sure.

Later in the day, we made the trek to get an MRI. While waiting on the tech, I found a spot on the floor beside a plant. (They don’t vacuum behind that plant.) An old lady was watching with sadness. She was commiserating. Which was better than the “cop on guard” at the doctor’s office earlier in the day. He was nice but also doing his job, which I do appreciate. He did let me lay there. (It reminds me of being pregnant (from what I’ve observed): sometimes you really don’t care what folks think.)

MRI Update

I just received the report from the doctor (Wednesday morning). She said the bulge was greater than the bulge before my surgery. It’s a herniated disc. Shazam. That makes sense because when the nurse checked me in yesterday, she asked the “1 to 10” pain question, to which I said 25. It was only a 17 on the “1 to 10 scale” prior to the surgery. Subjective assessment, of course.

I have three options:

  1. Prednisone pills to mitigate the pain.
  2. Epidural steroid injection to relieve the pain.
  3. Surgery. Again.

I’m going with the pills first. Then we’ll see how it goes. I have my bed set-up nicely so I can work. Haydn brought one of my podcasting mics up last night so that I could do a pod from the bed. That’s a first. I listened to it, and it doesn’t sound like I was laying down. We’re good.

I would appreciate your prayers. It was painful before, but this is unexplainable. I’ve struggled with discouragement and some fear. God is my comfort. And I do mean that. It would be horrible without faith, though mine is a bit wobbly at this juncture.

An Aside – Lucia is doing better. She will go tomorrow to get her second (and last) tube removed. Fortunately, this “back thing” waited until she could be somewhat mobile. It is kinda funny; we’re both laid up in bed. Sorta romantic, in an old people kind of way.

Dear God, “Is this our future?”

Dear Son, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.” – Ecclesiastes 12:1

But Let Me Add – The children are inspiring. They are amazing really. They serve so well, don’t succumb to fear, and the laughter continues in our home.

You’re either laugh or cry. I’ve done both this week.

One Month, Five Days: Walking Upright

My back surgery was July 11, 2017. It’s been a bit over a month. My first response to those who have asked (and thank you for asking) is that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being excruciating pain, my pain level was a 17 before the surgery. It’s between a two and three now, depending on the day.

It’s remarkable.

I’m sure my pain is more severe now than what I realize but with more than a decade of extreme pain, what I’m feeling now is a piece of cake. I have my old life back.

My small group leader asked me last night when was the last time I felt a two or three pain level. I said it’s been five or six years. It’s something like that; I’m not sure, but I do know it was a long time ago.

That’s the good news.

Now for the bad news: I have to stop using my handicap parking tag that I hang on my mirror. I’m pretty tore up about that. I fell in love with my handicap card. The only bad thing about using it was “feeling judged” by those who looked me “up and down” when I stepped out of our van. (I know who you are.)

I also felt a pinch of conviction because I’m one of those “haters” who judged people when they got out of their vehicles, as though I’m the expert on what handicap should look like on an individual. I may have pretended to “look more handicapped” when I got out of my van so folks would know that my situation was legit. (Oh, the complexity of it all. It’s hard being human in a fallen world.)

The truth is that if you did not know that I was in pain, you would not know I was in pain because there were few “tells,” as they say in the gambling business. For the most part, I looked healthy.

A New Day

While in Colorado, at the Home Goods store, we gathered ten shopping carts–two per family member–and rolled them into the store. (It’s a thing we do as a family.) It’s been years since I’ve collected shopping carts (strays) in a parking lot. Last week, we parked at the end of the parking lot at Aldi (grocery store) and walked the distance. My point is that I (and our family) are back to old form. Daddy can walk now.

I still wear a back brace, and will for a while. In a month or so, I will start a personal regimen of physical therapy, which will consist of stretching exercises. It will also be imperative to keep extra weight off, so there is less burden on my back.

That’s about it.

Sitting all day is still hard. I try to remember to get up regularly and walk around for a few minutes. (I’m trying not to judge people who complain about walking or standing. What a privilege.) I do miss my handicap card and my electric wheelchair at Walmart, but if this is the trade off, I’ll take walking any day.

My two prayer requests are (1) gratitude to God for healing and (2) that the rest of this pain will leave.

Post-Surgery, One Week Later

Today is day seven after my back surgery. Things are going well. For the most part. There are the highs and the lows, as you might expect with any recovery.

Up High

As for the “highs,” it’s all about the Oxy. After two days of stumbling around in a drug-induced state, I went Roberto Duran on the meds, and said, “No mas. No mas.” (Reference to the Roberto Duran v. Sugar Ray Leonard boxing match on 11.25.80 when Duran quit the fight abruptly by saying, “No mas. No mas.” https://youtu.be/qtYVyRTvv90)

I’m not sure how anyone can take such a drug and function well. I suppose if the pain is that bad, you have no choice. I chose to suffer the consequences of the pain than live in “Grog-ville.” Honestly, that’s been the worst part of the recovery. It took a couple of days to rid my body of the residual effect of the meds.

Down Low

As for the lows, it’s all about the boredom. The doctor said not to do anything, get as much rest as possible, and not to lift anything more than my Yeti filled to the brim with coffee. Praise God. I’m following his orders, though the temptation to do more is always within my reach.

Yesterday, (Sunday) I sat for three hours recording podcasts. It was okay. Sorta. The sciatic pain in my left buttock showed up again. It was the pressure of sitting. I’m not overly-concerned about it because the overall pain has mitigated substantially since the surgery.

Be Positive

On the positive side of things, I can roll over in bed–while sleeping–and there is no pain at all. None. I have not been able to roll over in bed for years without bracing my body and preparing my mind for the lightning bolt that shoots through me. That’s a wonderful thing. Sometimes I roll over even though I don’t need to. I do it because I can. (I’m a toss-and-turn sleeper, BTW.)

I can walk up and down stairs with no trouble. I can walk around the kitchen with minimal burning shooting down my leg. I’m not sure how much pain is real or phantom. Regardless, it’s real to me, but manageable from a comparative before and after surgery scale. I hope it all goes away, but if this is what I got, I can live with it.

I did walk around the block with Lucia. That was nice–the Lucia part, that is. Haven’t been able to do that with her in years without agony–the pain part, that is. The last time we took a turn around the block, I was going from trashcan to trashcan, propping myself up along the way, trying to bring relief to my back. I made a note to walk on Tuesdays with her because that’s when the neighbors have their garbage cans out to the curbs. It was a bit embarrassing: hard to tell if I’m dumpster diving or stumbling around intoxicated. (Unintended second reference to getting high. Suspend your suspicion. It means nothing.)

Family History

The toughest part of this recovery is not being with my family. They go places; I stay home. They have fun; I lay on my back. This season is the first time in our family history that we haven’t been able to do things together. I don’t like it. At all. I’m glad they are having fun, no doubt, but I have to take my thoughts captive about my lack of participation. It reminds me of all the shut-ins I visited through the years at all those nursing homes. I come in for a visit, leave shortly thereafter to enjoy my life, while they stay put. God is good at meeting me at this angst point.

And then there is the guilt of not being able to serve them. I don’t mind my family (and others) serving me, but I’m like a one-legged man right now. All the serving is coming my way, and I can’t reciprocate. A “balanced Christian life” is serving and being served. I feel my limitation. The upside is that I can do ministry stuff (when I’m not high). BTW, my apologies to any incoherent or just plain weird emails or social media posts I made last week. I blame that on the Oxy.

Two Conferences

Our biggest consternation this past week was making a decision on the two conferences I have in the Rockies this coming week and the next. One of the most fun things we do as a family is pile into our van for a multi-week (or multi-month) road trip. We love being together, and it doesn’t get any better than doing the “sardine can” thing in our van. It’s an amazing time of memories, adventure, and laughter. I cannot overstate how much fun this is, which is why it’s been hard to figure out how to get to Denver.

The problem is the “fear of God” monologs I received from the doctor, nurses, and, particularly, the discharge nurse about what traveling in a van for a long distance would do to my back. Yesterday, we finally decided to fly instead of driving. The fun of being in Denver together compensated for the disappointment of the decision not to drive. Nevertheless, I’m still sad we could not make this road trip together. I can’t overstate this: road trips are crazy fun.

The other upside to flying is that I can get four more days in bed, which will give my body more time to make a full recovery. One of the nurses said that the incision in my back is small, but my body is traumatized more than I can imagine. I believe her. Whenever you go into a person’s body and cut something out of it, the body is in shock, and you don’t want to speed up the recovery no matter how well you think you feel. It takes time.

What Do I Need?

As long as I’m laying down, there is no pain at all. Please pray that I can walk around with no pain. That’s all I want at this time. I’ll take what the Lord gives regarding the recovery, but since a few folks have asked, I want you to know that “my will” is for the pain to be gone completely.