An Anchor

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The opening narrows over time. The interest slowly comes to an end. The emails, phone calls, and notes, all slowly dry up. People live busy lives. And nothing in our busy life changes accept the resolve that what is, is. There is no late night commercial that shows pictures of us. And maybe if you ever saw us, you would say,” gosh, how very good you look!” And we don’t complain because all the complaining that we can muster is of no use. And in the darkness, in the midst of the storm that never ends, it is there, if for no other reason than because, it’s who we are; we are a hoping people! At the end of all of us, whether your condition is chronic with pain, or not, nothing defines our real worth accept for one thing; our hope.

I love my shop! I go out and create in it, hoping to make something even more beautiful than the last object of my affection. But it is not the same now. It is an illusion of what was. Very little of my creative self works as it should or did and many days I walk out of that shop feeling more frustrated and in pain than creative and fulfilled. My neck pops and grabs. My hands freeze up and require me to stop and massage them. My back and legs begin to ache and I stand and walk around, often interrupting a creative thought or moment. Even yesterday, my anniversary day, I underwent more tests to see why all of my pain has no reoccurred. And yet, as they say, it is what it is! And to accept this as such is not in my DNA! I push every envelope possible! Ask Karen Castle Smith!

I challenge the boundaries of what is, all the way and up to, what can be! And if I am not careful, this mantra of my existence can be the anchor of my future. And only when the pain comes searing through the parts that are creative, do I stop and process it all and realize this one fact; my ability to create is not the anchor of my being. The anchor of my being is on one simple truth: It ain’t over til it’s over! Our foundation, our anchor is found not on one of any of the above qualifiers to our personhood. Our anchor is found only on that which we didn’t have a bit to do with. Our anchor is found on the very essence of our faith; a belief and hope that our life here is not all there is! And I have to remind myself of this as my body continues to do whatever it is that it is going to do.

For centuries, anchors have been a symbol of hope. This emblem was especially significant to the early persecuted church. Many etchings of anchors were discovered in the catacombs of Rome, where Christians held their meetings in hiding. Threatened with death because of their faith, Christians used the anchor as a disguised cross and as a marker to guide the way to their secret meetings.

My ability to carve may become diminished. I may have to change the way I do what I love and that may stop altogether. Churches and Institutions have misunderstood the physical dynamic that has come to define too much of my existence and have judged me accordingly. And incorrectly may I add! But my anchor and hope is not on my stuff, my abilities, my inabilities, my gifts, nor my talents. My anchor is found in the hope of a new day that will dawn because of my faith.

Almost Can’t See It

Carved Hummingbird

My latest carving project is this little hummingbird pictured above. It gets smaller as I carve it down to what I believe it to be the actual size of these special birds. We have a trumpet vine that is draped around our arbor and after almost getting skewered by one of the little speed demons at about dawn this morning, I got to thinking, which has proven lately to be a dangerous event. Make no mistake about it, these tiny dudes and dudettes, weighing about the same amount of a penny, are serious!

So yesterday, I pulled up a stool, grabbed the floor mic at the East Acres Baptist Church, on the day that the Lord had made, and proclaimed the word. I would dare say that Jesus neither used a stool nor floor mike. I am sure however that in some form or fashion he did have a story regarding brokenness; broken families, broken religion, broken lives, and broken beliefs. He talked about a seed one day, a tiny seed that by itself, had not a bit of significance. But put a little manure in there with that speck of a seed and a little soil and maybe a rotten fish or two, and there, right there, maybe something would take root and sprout and grow and become a plant of significance and purpose.

I am not sure anything related to my own journey with pain is small or worthwhile in a vacuum. Leave it alone and it will pretty near eat a person alive! You talk to any of us out here where this stuff “aggrabates”(Allies word when she was little and Jonathan was bugging her) us and it starts to sound like a broken record. Try to find something that helps, and guess what, it doesn’t and understanding for our situation becomes fuzzy, a stress of where it all ends or how, creating the fear of the unknown, sadness, financial worry, oh wow, it goes on and on.

None of us though can pick and choose or should I say, should pick and choose what parts of the bible we hold on to or believe more strongly than other parts, than we can pick and choose the stuff that will beset our very circumstances. We think we have control but alas, we really don’t! All of us. Healthy and unhealthy, we are far more similar than different, no matter what you may think. Which makes this whole concept of a tiny little mustard seed quite unique. A mustard seed is as close to nothing as a little germ or a flea. You have to squint your eyes to even see it. Heck, I would just about go plum blind trying to see the little bits, like it will be when I put eyes in this little hummingbird carving. But that seed IS there. Right there in front of your eyes only one almost needs a magnifying glass to see it, like I am using with my little hummer!

I don’t fully understand a lot; heck, probably very little and certainly almost nothing about my own predicament. As I preached the word yesterday, sitting on a stool, massaging my legs because lord knows they were sure hurting, I kept thinking as I spoke; Can my small words, words that echo in the chambers of people who suffer, make a difference, even while I sit here and suffer? Can, in the midst of this difficulty, I grasp something worth grasping, in the life giving event of associating with others who hurt, even, yea, while I am hurting myself? Can I embrace a tiny seed of hope and plant it somewhere, somewhere with some people who they too yet struggle and hurt and rub their own legs while doing whatever they have to? I would just as soon not. I would. Put me back in coach, I am ready to play today! But it’s not happening. It is only a seed.

Oh Heck Yeah, You ARE Worth A lot!!!!

Oil on Canvas
Oil on Canvas

Our day had ended like most. Karen came home and found me in bed. For me, it had all now taken a dark turn and I contemplated how best and easiest to end my life. Gone was my artistry because my hands could not hold the tools of my trade. Gone was my identity as a minister because one church after another looked at my disability rather than my ability. Gone were my strong physical attributes that could move a mountain. Gone was my ability to live in the outdoors in the way I wanted. Gone was normalcy in life due to the constant pain I was in. Gone now, I believed, was God.

She pulled into the driveway, stepped out of her car, walked up the sidewalk and through the front door, received the nightly greeting from our dachshund, paraded herself right into the bedroom and sat on the side of the bed and asked me, ”Are you suicidal?” I began to cry and I was totally honest with her; ‘Yes, I am’, and with the answer came the tears. Not only did my tears fall, but so did Karen’s. We have been through a lot and have had some great experiences. Chronic pain however has been an unwelcome invasive species in our existence. There is literally no place that pain has not touched. Vacations have been canceled, medical bills have piled up, and loneliness has crept in to become an unwelcome friend to both of us. She has learned to read me now after all of these years and she was spot on.

The conversation turned quickly to things that I actually could do rather than what I could not do and to our future rather than the present. Grandbabies that would need a lap to crawl in and last time I looked, it had become an unwelcome physical trait. Ears to hear of the difficulties of adult-becoming that my children are going through that are still usable. A role to play in a few weddings someday, even if it meant having my rear end hauled down the center isle of a church in a red western flyer wagon! Meals that I have become a master of preparing that gave her a little more palate to endure her own precious yet stress filled life. Flowers that I could still arrange in a planter, though more slowly and painfully than before, that had become life giving to her. I could still do a small amount of my art work, no, not mass production, but something at least that could identify God as a God of beauty and love. Words that I was now beginning to learn to put together in a highly creative format where people gain help for their own struggles were beginning to be read.

They were all pieces, every one of them. Scattered pieces, like that of a jigsaw puzzle. They are the pieces of my life that to Karen had far more value to her than I had thought. And at that very moment, I determined one thing, one very important thing; the pieces of Kerry Smith were worth more to my people and to my world and maybe to my God than none of Kerry Smith. In my contemplation of suicide, I was therefore making none of Kerry Smith available to no one or no thing but earth worms, I suppose.

Would I be cured? I don’t know, but if I ended my life I may never find out! Would I still have pain? Probably, possibly, heck, I really could not know definitely. Would my life be as it once was? No. Could it still be life, yes!

It was at this point, in the crossroads of my own crisis, a book was suggested by a dear friend who from a distance walks with me in this pain manure. The title is, “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. Viktor was a concentration camp survivor and if you have not read the book, you need to, because if someone found a way to survive a concentration camp, I am thinking his tools could fit into our own tool chest.

In this book, Viktor discusses why it was that some people were surviving the concentration camp he was placed in and why some of them were not. His conclusion, after watching poor souls who were the shadows of their previous selves, was that if a concentration camp prisoner had some reason for living, something that pulled them forward, they would survive. He gave story after story of prisoners who died for no other reason than they had lost a reason to live. Those that survived, even if their reason for existing was misplaced or misappropriated to some area, would find a way to survive. His own personal reason for living was the belief that one day he would see his wife again even though in reality, she was already dead. He had no way of knowing, but he believed and imagined that one day he would see her outside of the prison fences.

Chronic Pain patients are similar to prisoners. They are bound by a body that no longer works as it once did and they are prisoners inside of that jail cell. Often they feel that there is no other way to escape than to end their lives. Chronic Pain Patients are twice as likely to commit suicide as the average population according to Judy Foreman in her book, “A Nation in Pain”. If you are suffering from chronic pain, you know this fact deep down, don’t you? Life is not what it once was and you struggle to find a new meaning for living. Friends don’t understand. Family, to a great degree, does not totally get it. Your purpose and reason for living the life that you once lived has now gone.

Ask yourself this question; Are the pieces of your life worth more to the world we live in, than none of your life? To a child learning to read, can you teach them how to read? To a wife or husband attempting to understand what you are going through and giving their all, can you prepare lasagna? To a darkened world, can you create something of beauty? And out of your own pain manure, can you plant flowers? The pieces of your life, those now scattered about, those incomplete pieces, are worth more to your loved ones, to your God, to your world, than none of you. Chronic Pain may have clouded the lenses of how you see your life, but know one thing; your life is far more valuable than you realize!