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?

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!