What to Make of This Mess


I am not sure what to make of it, this, this, pronouncement or whatever it was by my neurosurgeon this week. I have read for quite some time the dangers of opening pandora’s box or in this case “Kerry’s box” the number of times it and I have been opened. Its just a danged lot people and I am trying to go back now and retrace my footsteps as to what led me to my decisions and if I am not careful, I can get to kicking myself something awful.

We inherently trust a valued medical profession. The results of my surgeries have even baffled my surgeons with one saying to me some 6 weeks after one particular surgery, “Do you mean to tell me that my surgery did not help you?”

You must understand what is at stake during this time. I was declared disabled the first time of my application process, and that was partly due to the staffer in the disability office looking at my case and literally calling me every few weeks to urge me to complete the paper work for disability. On the one hand, I am so disabled. It has all now impacted me to the place where there are few places on my body that do not hurt. But do I think of myself as disabled? Heck no! I often find myself as a spectator to my own body. It is like I am watching a wrestling match between the warring factions under my skin.

Yet it is not just the physical war; It is the mental, spiritual, emotional, social, and everything underneath the skin kind of war. To sit down and get into a zone for an artist, to the complexity of the detailing work that I do is now fleeting because of the sheer magnitude of it all. I could picture being some old guy sitting around a fire at the ripe ole age of 90, way in the winter of life, whittling and carving. But not at 50 something. I am too freaking young for this yall!

No, I am not dying and I have some friends who are dying and they now look at a period to the sentence of a life God has given them here on earth. I suppose a period may be worthwhile, a blessing so to speak, an end to the suffering a person is going through. See I am not sure when this will stop nor do any of the doctors I am seeing. They just don’t know. No one knows which is where I am. The only thing, the only thing I know is that I live in pain. I sleep in pain. I used to be able to sit down at my work bench and enter a place that is untouched by pain. That time is no longer and I now do my artistry in pain if I can do it at all. The pictures of my art work I cherish! I love to hunt and fish, but now those places are filled with pain. Sitting, standing, lying, all of it, in pain. The pain meds that they have prescribed me now have affected my digestive track so look soon for me to write something about trying medical marijuana. Oh, and that too has some issues. See, each month, I have to give a urine sample and if I have traces of anything in my blood stream that they have not prescribed me, they can stop seeing me as well as any other doctor and I am done with any kind of pain meds. So, once I try Medical Marijuana in the great state of Tennessee, given that it is illegal, I am done with the professional pain treatment option. Damned if I do; damned if I don’t!

Why am I writing this? No this is not my attempt to find pity for what I am going through. That boat sailed a long time ago. I could just as soon ride this internal horse off into the private sunset. I could privatize what I am going through but see, all those years ago, when I decided to live a life with some type of ownership given to a God far bigger than me, I gave up a really big part of me and that is navigation. And so do any of us when we chose to follow the likes of a God who came and lived life quite publicly. We give up navigation or rather should give up navigation. Our personal compass that we assume can get us from point a to point b is off. The directions meaningless. The maps askewed. All direction is wrong for living life the way our society says we should live life if indeed we have come to follow a traveling carpenter oriented towards another world.

I have to finish this because, my hands are hurting. My neck is hurting. My head is hurting. My eyes are hurting. My back is hurting. My hips are hurting. My legs are hurting. My feet are hurting. And my heart and spirit and mind are hurting even more because my babies and the woman I love deserve better. At times, so does my world. But friends, I conclude with this one thought. I am not God. I sometimes think that I am. Or at least act like it. But I am not.

Tonight I watched a show on the Discovery Channel about the Hubble Telescope and was reminded about my place in the universe. The number of planets and stars are beyond our comprehension and the more we see, the more there is to see. It is infinite and beyond our scope of reason. Because I cannot see those planets and stars does not mean they do not exist. I just can’t see them. And if in my pain and suffering I have come to understand anything, it is this: because I cannot figure this out, because I cannot find an answer to this suffering does not mitigate for one moment the love of family and friends nor does it cover up the love of a God I cannot see neither does it take away my capacity to love and express love. And for these things, for these things I would never have come to understand unless I went through this pain, for that, I am grateful beyond words.

Listen to Your Life


In the midst of my own struggle with chronic pain, it requires of me a tiring, no, an exhausting work of maintaining some sense of sanity as I try to find a purpose for my suffering. I just cannot do what I once did and what it requires for me to survive is an act of constant examination and reexamination. So in the midst of this insanity, I read whatever I can find that will allow me the chance to understand my suffering.

“Listening to Your Life” by Frederick Buechner is a book of daily devotions whereby one reads the devotions according to the day for which they were compiled by Mr. Buechner for inspiration and guidance yet somehow I forget what day it is and thereby read the wrong day or fall behind or whatever. So today, I read the devotion for January 26 which is several weeks past. The background of this particular devotion comes from a sermon that Mr. Buechner had heard from a preacher by the name of George Buttrick.

Mr. Buechner quotes the Rev. Buttrick where he refers to the story of Jesus going to the wilderness after His baptism where he is tempted by Satan to become a kind of Messiah of great power for every segment of society. Each time Jesus declined the offer and finally delivers the news to Satan that He would become a Messiah of great humility and suffering and service and one where he would give his very life in order to take on the very sin due us in our stead. Rev. Buttrick goes on to say in his sermon that “Jesus Christ refused the crown that Satan had offered him in the wilderness but he is King nonetheless because he is crowned in the heart of the people who believe in him. And that coronation takes place among confession, and tears, and great laughter.”

I read this as I find myself in the midst of dueling neurosurgeons and the song they are playing is not in tune. From Neurosurgeon A; “Mr. Smith, your fusion is not as “robust” as should be in order to remove the rods and screws and hardware that was placed there two and one half years ago as a part of your fusion surgery.” (Seems that no one informed Mr. Smith that there was a better than average chance that the hardware that they would place in his back would have to be removed as a result of the pain it created. As well, no one informed Mr. Smith that about a third of all fusion surgeries result in a non-fusion union.) If Neuroguy A is correct, a twist or turn would potentially break my back creating big issues without the support of the hardware.
From Neurosurgeon B; “Mr. Smith, your fusion is just fine. We would like to go ahead with tests and if indeed the pain you are feeling in your back is from the hardware that was installed, it will require another surgery, a less invasive surgery than the initial surgery to remove the hardware. (And this surgery has its own set of risks and many who have this procedure still live in pain.)

No surgery, no procedure comes with a guarantee of reducing the pain that I live in. None of it.

In his book, Buechner focused on Buttrick’s description of “great laughter”, the kind in which our soul laughs out loud and sings especially when the planets are aligned and it all feels and seems right and good, a place where we usually say that we are “blessed”, and therein we crown Christ as King of all! But for me, for my own stuff of life that leads to this battle with pain, where at this time it is just real heavy, it all causes me to focus on the phrase from Buttrick’s words of that coronation of Christ that takes place among my own tears and not only mine, but the tears of so many that crown the living Christ King during their own struggles and tears and pain.

When I first read this line of thought, it took me a few days to wrap my head around the concept that was created by the few words Rev. Buttrick shared because that concept was just way larger than the words seem to echo.
It has all forced me to look at my pilgrimage with God, that place of the road where few travel and even fewer stay on as we journey with our own tears instead of the goodly feeling of “blessing” and it is here that I come to a crossroads as all journeys take at one time or another and that crossroads is this: at this junction of pain, and hopelessness, and sadness, at the crossroads of confession, tears, and great laughter, whom will I follow and thereby crown as King? Is it me and my own shallow understanding of the stuff of life and my own suffering that I will coronate as the King of my own existence? Or is it the one who suffered and died in my place, the one who has guaranteed a far greater future than even I could create with a pain free life?

If we walk this path, we experience a living God who holds us in our tears and laughs with us during the times of the rising tide of goodness that we interpret as blessing. And it is right here that I have figured something out. When we crown Jesus King through our tears, our confession, and our laughter, He is crowned thusly even in our great pain.

And it echoes, in this one statement, that I hope you too can hear: “Where can I go, that thou are not with me?” And would have I have ever known this unless I went to that place of pain and discomfort?

My Own Cross

Redtail Hawk on a Cross
Redtail Hawk on a Cross

I had seen Redtailed Hawks sitting on the steeple which is a cross on the top of the Second Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. It would sit up there and upon seeing a squirrel scurrying on the ground, would fly down and pounce upon it for its next meal. He would use the cross for his own purposes of need. There is a bronze hawk on a cross that I created years ago that sits in a Labyrinth at Second Baptist Church and it was created from the inspiration of the actions of the Redtailed Hawk that used the cross. When you start the walk of prayer, the hawk looks squarely at you, as if to say, this cross that I am perched on, I have used to fly from and gain my sustenance for living. What do you use the cross for?

So I celebrate Thanksgiving after driving and sleeping in a bed designed for minions, sitting in chairs designed for the flying monkeys and little people of the Wizard of Oz, and I come home and am hurting beyond anything that I have yet experienced. But I did it! I did not saddle my babies nor my wife with my pain. I will have MRI’s next week in order for us to develop a plan for more surgical fun. This time, due to the scar tissue in my back from the other surgeries, I get to have what is known as a contrast MRI where they insert a dye so they can see more clearly through the rods, screws, cages, scar tissue, mole tunnels, okay not mole tunnels, but other stuff that has made my spine whatever it is. And all of this has left me really digging deep in my soul on this day because I am hurting and asking questions.

There is an image that is just real clear in the New Testament if you care to look at it and it is the image of a cross and crucifixion and a cruel death. If you are walking down a dusty road during Jesus’ day, you would probably see people hanging on crosses, some dead, others dying, convicted of some sort of crime. No doubt that Jesus saw it on a regular basis and from this, he makes a statement: “whoever wishes to follow me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” He is saying that we should pick up a heavy piece of wood that will be nailed to the other part of the cross then stuck in the ground, and follow him. Gosh, does that whole image really get at you like it does me?

There is yet something that is deeper in this whole cross image. What Jesus describes is something reserved for criminals. Jesus is asking us to sacrifice ourselves and become a criminal for God’s sake. Me a criminal for God’s sake, walking around with that piece of wood tied to my arms and back, and following Jesus? There is something to this that travels yet deeper in our soul if we allow ourselves to struggle with it. It has reflections of Jesus in our society and travels the whole relationship between us and God and the world we live in. It has reflections of the scripture passage found in Micah 6:8, to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

But what exactly is the crime that we should commit and be given the guilty verdict for and then nailed to a cross? Our crime is found in the way we live in the world which is different than anyone else outside of the views of Jesus. Our crime is found in the way we view justice compared to the world. Our crime is how we love versus how the world loves. Our crime is found in the way we forgive. Our crime is found in the way we treat others. The world will see us as guilty and worthy of the cross when we live according to Jesus as we bear a cross.

See Jesus had this concept in his mind because he knew where he was headed. He knew that he would eventually be classified as a criminal and placed on a cross, punished for his crime, and to die a cruel death. So he asks us to do the same. He asks us to be criminals for God’s sake where we have to be. He asks us to pick up the very thing that makes us human, to deny what we would really like to do with the self that we have, drag that piece of wood of our awful selves to the place where it is nailed to a beam and stuck in the ground. Earlier he had told people that to simply say Lord, Lord would not be sufficient for squat, indicating that words are hollow. Instead, he looks at us and says, deny yourself, pick up that cross that you have been given, and drag it to the place where it will be stuck in the ground and you yourself be crucified next to the son of God.

Lord have mercy because I keep trying to take that beam of wood off of my back and be something else!

So then, what is your cross? What is it that would lead you to be crucified? Karen read this and said it is real heavy. I agree. It is real heavy. What does it mean to deny myself, to pick up the cross that would lead to a crucifixion, and follow Jesus to that place? For me, the cross I bear leads me to a place where the pain I suffer and the pain others suffer needs to be seen and heard in our society that claims to have some allegiance to God in some sort of way. My cross is my pain. Pray tell, what is yours? What is it that you are dragging to the place that will lead to crucifixion?