Category Archives: Journal

Of Chronic Pain and Thanksgiving Dinner

I had not slept very well. The stuff of my chronic pain is constant and it awakens me at all hours including this hour at 3AM. I had spent the previous two days turkey hunting in Oklahoma and would be leaving in a few hours to fly back home. Damned chronic pain is not left behind anywhere for those who suffer with it but I had an opportunity for a change of scenery to Turkey hunt in Oklahoma and I took it just the same.

We stayed in a ranch house where there were several beds in one room and my bed was located on a wall with a number of windows. One of those windows was situated just behind my head. It would be my last night at the ranch and I looked out of the window at a dark sky lit with a trillion stars. We were far enough out of any town to where there was no light pollution and the night sky was simply magical! Knowing that this was a show I would not see in the city, I sat up, pulled on my sweats, wrapped my back tightly with my back brace, pulled on a shirt and a pair of well-worn wool socks, walked quietly across the den as to not wake anyone else, and opened the door to a world bathed in the stillness of night. A brisk breeze and the call of an owl was my welcome mat to a world of fresh air and darkness.

“Who Cooked the Goose, Who Cooked, COOKED the Goose!”, the owl echoed across the forest as I walked under the cascade of a God lit sky onto a deck that overlooked a grain field. Over the years I have learned to imitate the sound of an owl during Turkey season knowing that the replication there of would help me locate a Gobbler sitting in a tree, allowing for a stalk in the dark to a location close by the weary ole bird. On this morning however, there would be no hunt, no attempting to locate a bird for a morning stalk, rather, it would provide me with a chance to sit quietly and observe the palate of stars and planets that painted the sky above me. And wow what a portrait that was painted!

The hooting of the owl echoed through the dark woods once again but then, in the middle of the night, I heard a gobble interrupting the wise ole hoot. Owls and Turkeys have a long standing war since their very creation, and more than one battle has been recorded between the two staunch enemies. Later in the morning, after coffee, I would hear 12 or 13 Gobblers respond to my own hooting but now, at 3AM, there was one ole Tom Gobbler sitting in a tree that was awake enough to challenge an owl with gobble after gobble. For the life of me, I pondered, why was that Tom awake? Here this dude was gobbling in the night air, telling  the owl to keep its distance.

Just before dark, I saw the gobbler fly up into a dead Oak tree about 400 yards away and I could see him through binoculars stretch out on a limb and gobble with all of his might.  Now that ole codger was still gobbling at 3AM. My thoughts rushed back to the day’s previous hunts, the unsuccessful attempts to convince a weary boss gobbler that I was the sweet hen turkey he sought after, and my friend’s successful crawl to take him. Unfortunately, I was reminded as well of my own painful enemy, not unlike the gobblers own nemesis the owl that just does not go away, not for a minute, an hour, nor a day, which for me is chronic pain.

At least now I could be in a different environment and hurt like a son of a gun, and in the dark of this particular night, I could sit quietly, look at the stars, and think about my time in the outdoors with Quail calling to one another and scurrying about; hawks flying across the open prairies looking for their next meal; and a new bird that will tease me into carving in the months ahead, which is the King Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. I was able to observe one of these beautiful creations as it would sit on a barbed wire fence, fly into the field in some sort of acrobatic show, catch an insect, and come back to the barbed wire, this time 20 or 30 feet down the way from where it had previously sat. It was a masterful flight and every day I enjoyed the beautiful elegance by which it flew.

Looking up at the stars, I found myself now reflecting on my hunts and how we will reap the rewards of my successful Turkey hunt with a Thanksgiving turkey to share with my family.  On a much deeper level now, while experiencing  the superb handiwork of God through the star painted palate,  God placed a simple question into my mind; what about Kerry’s handiwork?

I sat there chilled by the morning air, looking at stars too numerous to count, listening to birds calling in the night filled woods and dwelling on the concept of Gods handiwork and now thinking about my own creative place in the star filled universe . I have a Masters of Divinity where I have spoken about God and will speak about God in a way that reflects that intentional study. I have experience as a new church planter in a number of states and have pastored some of those churches. I have been a youth minister in several churches. All of those ministerial experiences, every one of them relate to a pivotal dynamic to the call of God and that is the use of the voice and life to express the love of God as reflective of Gods ministry through the person of Jesus Christ.

The concerns of my physical condition from churches and institutions that prevent me from performing ministry in the ways I just described, have led to a deep seeded frustration in continuing ministry. Why in the world a church could not look beyond the physical limitations and see the person of Kerry Smith is beyond me. I suppose they would not give the apostle Paul a job either, what, with his own disability.

Yet now, in the dead quiet of the night, I was left pondering if the call of God can be only in the form of a professional, education filled experience or could God use the Artist Kerry Smith? It is a question and deeply spiritual wrestling match that has hounded me for a long time and then, it hit me; God Needs the Artist Kerry Smith! Underneath Gods very own star-filled creation, at 3AM, with the hoot of an owl and a gobble from a turkey I had my answer: God needs Kerry’s creativity in the world!

Those on the religious right will narrowly define the roll of God’s children in the universe as a singular voice to simply “win a soul for Christ.” Today I will wake up, put on my braces, pull on my sweats, put on my anti-vibration gloves, and go to my shop. It is there that I will fulfill my own call of God by attempting to recreate a creation of God in the form of a bird, with the very best of my ability, with hands that don’t work as well as they once did, with trifocals, with braces on my neck and back and I too will fill my place in the midst of a star-filled universe created by God.

Divinci said it best: “Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there can be no art.” That same Universe creating God has called me to create as well, imitations of what was made by God where God’s Spirit will work with my very own scarred and weakened hands to fulfill God’s call in my life.

 

Reflections of an Iris Farmer

The wait starts in February. I wonder if they are covered with enough of something to keep them from experiencing the death of winter and the damage of frost. “They” are the bulbs that will give way to some of the most beautiful flowers in God’s creation known as Bearded Irises. This year is just a little different for this Iris farmer because I went throughout our yard and dug up every bulb I could find because our Bermuda grass had overtaken the bulbs that give way to the exquisite blooms.

The Bermuda grass had made a mess out of the bulbs, intertwining with the roots and in some cases squeezing the very life out of the “Jaba the Hut” looking seeds. That’s what Bermuda grass does though, it invades everything and if a person has a back good enough, they will have to bend over and pull it up by the roots only to have it regain its lost advances in the given territory with more stringy runners of growth. The fact that I have a bad back is chief amongst my lawn gardener problems because I cannot bend over and pull up the runners of the Bermuda grass or for that matter in this case, protect the Iris bulbs.

My love for Irises began a number of years ago when I first saw them at “Grannie’s” house, the home of wife’s grandmother in Southwest Virginia. What, with me being an artist, I was enamoured with the frilly blooms that sat atop the long stems coming from the bulbs. They were just magical! But my foot print into the Iris growing world was not established until years later when we bought our current home. It just so happened that, like the Bermuda Grass that engulfed our flower beds, covering every living plant in our beds, so to now was the disease in my back, advancing its runners throughout my body. No matter how much the doctors pulled, which now is at 25 attempts, they have been unable to pull those damned runners up by the roots and low and behold, every so often, the nasty weed pops its ugly head up through the fertile soil and soul that is called Kerry Smith.

Realizing that I am not going to be bending over and pulling Bermuda grass, and knowing what the battle every day, I knew that if I was going to be a successful Iris breeder and farmer, I would need to change my planting method. Therefore, I dug up every iris bulb in our yard and developed a plan. I went to the local hardware store, purchased plastic cement mixing trays and planting mix, pulled out some old saw horses, sat 8 foot long boards on them and created a raised Iris bed. What they say about necessity is the mother of invention is exactly right in my case. So, I poured the dirt into the trays, gathered my bulbs, and planted them, and like a brooding hen, I have fussed over each egg, er uh, bulb.

I have thought for some time about why I am hooked on Irises. Critics will argue that they come and go just as quickly as they have burst forth with superb beauty. They just don’t last long enough is what those who have them suggest. But for me, that is not the issue. For me it is much, much deeper. I mentioned earlier the comparison of Bermuda Grass to my own struggle with Chronic Pain. But I wish to further explore the comparison of the growth of these flowers from the blob of matter known as a bulb and my own journey and battle with never ending pain.

If there is anything that represents our desire for newness, a new body, a new life, it is found in the yearly rebirth of our world known as Spring. If I am totally honest with myself and everyone who looks at me, as a follower of God, I would like to be set free from my body of pain. If it were not for the purpose I find in being present with my family and my love for the artistry I do, I would certainly find a way to expedite that process as many have already done who suffer with pain. If you have not understood yet, the disease of chronic pain and the disease I have been recently diagnosed with known as Adhesive Arachnoiditis, are diseases that cause unwilling participants to lose all hope, all sense of purpose, and creates immense depression. Scientists have understood for some time that in order to replicate depression in lab rats, you simply attach an electric cord to their tails and shock them indiscriminately for days on in. That is exactly what happens to we who suffer with pain. This pain is attached to us and we get shocked night and day indiscriminately.

This is why, just as from that ugly little blob known as an iris bulb comes unbelievable beauty, the ugliness of our pain suffering lives wants and needs to find beauty beyond belief. This is why I love Irises! Planted and given the right amount of love, they will bring forth beauty from the cold and death of winter and it is no less so in our lives. My belief in God tells me that resurrection happens in the midst of ugly death. The iris farmer in me knows and sees that in that ugly little bulb, extreme beauty will come forth after a cold, harsh winter. My belief in God tells me that resurrection and a new body happens after the winter of our own lives, whatever that winter may look like. This is the good news of Easter isn’t it? This is the good news of we who suffer and believe in God that one day we will get a new body that does not suffer. The Irises that I love and care for remind me that no matter the ugliness I experience, beauty comes forth.

Above are some of my Irises in the planters I created and yes, thanks to Nanna, I have some of Grannie’s Irises in there too! May we all who suffer find ways to experience the beauty of this Spring and may it remind us that our current suffering is not the end to our painful existence!

 

 

Off the Beaten Path

The anguish is far deeper than you can understand unless you are walking in this briar patch with me. My professional success, if I ever believed as such, was no sacrificial offering to God in order to make life easier. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Pain and anguish, no matter what we may ask for the relief of, IS a part of our existence. It is in our DNA. No matter what science does, no matter the accomplishments of our medical field, we are forsaken. We are physically incomplete, imperfect, and the masquerade ball that we have dressed up for, is all a lie. You and I will, are, shall, suffer.
Our hatred and frustration for a God we cannot grasp is commonplace throughout holy writ. When Jesus quotes the passage of scripture found in the words of David through the Psalms, while hanging on a cross, he states the same anger towards God and in the same breath, associates himself with the suffering of all of humanity. My God, My God, why have you forsaken us? Why have you taken away a touch of the heaven you reside in? Our feet and hands are pierced, and you do not hear us? Why have you left us here to suffer and die? Every one of us, from child to adult, will ask this question, and deeply struggle, as deeply as that hole I dug to remove that invasive vine, we will dig to find an answer and mostly come up clueless because we hurt.
This is precisely the place, the appointed time slot, that Jesus enters the world. This is the answer that God has given to the question of our suffering. But we want a different answer, don’t we? Once again, I sit in celebration, Christmas trees and presents, pain and suffering, and am presented with this whole wrestling match with purposing my existence as some sort of a present to someone, anyone, who will walk this journey with me for you see, it is not about presents and packages but rather, it is about suffering.
The Grinch came and stole what he thought was Christmas only to find people still loving one another enough to share in their own suffering, their own humanity. It was, so to speak, the perfect community, that place called “whoville”, where everyone is tagged with a genotype of ugly faces, dumpy bodies, goofy hair, and teeth designed for beavers, but in reality, filled with love for one another.

None of it mattered though. The façade was the Grinch himself, who after experiencing betrayal and loss, after being made into the image of a villain, finally finds himself accepted. Maybe it was the stealing of the gifts that caused whoville to wake up to the needs of the Grinch and maybe even other Grinches who lurched in the dark. Who knows the conversations that happened after the feast when the town elders stopped to ask why he would do such a thing. Maybe it took this catastrophic event of the potential loss of everything to get them to stop and say, hold on, Christmas is more. Which all leads me to the one place that recurs with every rise and setting of the sun; my own suffering.
It is not if, but when we will suffer. It is not if we will be angry with a God who we thought gave us nice fancy answers that we could wrap up in a package like those under the Christmas tree; it is when. My God, My God, why have you forsaken me, us, them? Unto us, a child is given. Unto us, us suffering flesh, made to die, made to give birth as well to suffering, laid in a manger because there is no room in any Inn, any comfortable place, because that is our purpose, our presence, our being. He will be called Immanuel, God with us. God present. In our suffering. Oh I want not to do this suffering thing. Oh how I want it to be different for all of us. I want to give a gift that is under the tree that says to all, NO MORE SUFFERING! But that is not our reality, our existence, because our existence is this; Unto us a child is given, born in a back room alley, laid in a feeding trough, who suffers with us.