Archive for February, 2013


Back Pain – Blech

Last week was tough. A year and a half ago, near enough, I got injured at work. The patient didn’t mean to hurt me. He had been seriously shorted sleep, which does bad things for a person’s cognitive capacity. I think he mistook me for a piece of furniture. He tugged and pulled and leaned on me, which gave me a nice case of lumbar strain or something. I’ve spend so much time at doctor (MD) and physical therapy (PT) appointments since.

At this point, it looks like I’ve probably plateaued. PT absolutely helped. I am in less pain, and I’m stronger than I was about a year ago. I’m better, for sure, but I’m not perfect, and it doesn’t really look like I’m going to be, darn it. My MD thinks that the pain I’ve got is probably about where I’m going to live, and that it will occasionally flare and act crankier than that baseline.

I think my MD is probably right, based on my last round of PT. I saw some improvement, but it didn’t seem to help as much as it did before, and last week was definitely a flare. My back acted quite the brat and pulled obnoxious stunts like waking me up almost every night. I was too tired to think straight. That would be why there was no post last week. I wasn’t that organized. 😛

While I’m grateful for how much my back has improved (it’s crazy to think how much trouble it was causing me at first), I’d be lying if I said I was not disappointed. In fact, I could probably even claim to feel a bit depressed over it. Chronic pain is NOT fun. Obviously, it hurts. It causes fatigue thanks to sleepless nights. I have to spend time and energy managing it, and the super annoying thing about that is oftentimes I have no idea what causes flares of pain. The pain doesn’t necessarily correlate well with whatever it is I’ve been doing. For instance, this past week I spent some time out digging up blackberry roots and tossing them over a fence to a burn pile. You’d think that my back would hate that, but, no, no, seemed fine. I could tell I’d exercised, but had no spasm flares. The flare from the previous week was (probably, I think) from driving my mom’s van to pick her up at the airport. There’s something about those seats. I don’t really know that, though. It’s just my best guess. That random, unpredictable nature bothers me. It sucks to hurt and not know what caused it.

So in all of this, what am I to do? Where’s God? Where’s my faith? What does growth and trust look like here? I’m not quite sure. I’ve never been quite exactly *here* before. Some things don’t change – God is still good, I’m still loved, and all that – but a new situation has a tendency to freshen hard questions, such as, “Wow, this is hard! I don’t like it, God. Are You sure You still love me?” Besides that, my goals are shifting. I have been focused on improvement. Now I need to look at endurance. That’s harder for me. I like to fix things and make them better. I’m pretty good at fixing things, too, and I’m pretty happy with fixing things. Enduring? Waiting? Not so much, not really my favorite, thanks, anyway. But… that’s what I’ve got – a disappointment, something hard, and God still loves me. His grace is still supposed to be sufficient. It’s also changed how I feel about myself. I feel older, less resilient, like I’ve aged. That’s not necessarily an easy thing to handle.

So, yeah, what am I to do? Wait, pray, take the tricky and heavy questions to God and see what He’s got to say. That’s one of the things that doesn’t change. Questions, hard questions about life and identity that can gnaw guts out if held, should always go to God. He always provides. Guess if I wait around, I’ll get to see how.

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Experience, Painful Lack

“You don’t know what it’s like!”

In my last post, I talked about how a person’s experience can be held against them. In this post, I want to talk about how a person’s lack of experience also can be held against them. It’s “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” right?

“You don’t know what it’s like!” I’d be surprised if you have never been told this, or something like it, particularly if you’ve ever spend much time around kids, who sometimes assume it would be impossible for any adult to understand the trials of being a teenager. After all, adults have never been young, right?

All kidding aside, lack of experience can make for some tricky relational navigation. Let’s say I’m talking to one of my friends about what things were like for me growing up. My friend can’t relate to my experiences, because her’s were different.  She has a great relationship with her dad and was generally far more sheltered than I was. Here I am, angry, hurting, spitting and snarling, and we both know that by my standards, her life was cake. What does she say to me? How can she advise me? Encourage me? Comfort me? Almost anything she could offer, I could fend off just by saying, “You don’t know what it’s like.”

And it would be true. She doesn’t.

Let’s move on to another conversation. My roommate, who is going to be a darn good teacher some day soon, had to write a reflection paper for school on generational poverty. She’d been to a conference where the featured speaker was Dr. Donna Beegle. Dr. Beegle grew up in generational poverty and managed to climb out of it. She now tries to educate inexperienced folk about poverty. If you’re interested, you can read all about it on her site, but I’m talking about Carey, who had a paper to write, and she was stuck. You know what was choking her? She doesn’t “know what it’s like.” What could she have to say to people drowning in hardship she has never experienced? Not only does she lack the potentially helpful voice of experience, people who are struggling can be quick to snap out rejection and question what right Carey would have to even open her mouth. After all, she doesn’t know what it’s like.

And that’s true. She doesn’t.

But here’s a question – do I or anybody else who has ever been hurt have the right to demand the silence of those unwounded?

I’d say no. Even if I don’t agree with what they have to say, even if I think they’re out of touch with what I think is reality, even if they’re pushing all of my buttons and sore spots, I don’t have the right to force them to be quiet. It’s pretty accusatory, aggressive behavior to demand someone’s silence and/or agreement by saying, “You don’t know what it’s like.” It is behavior that starts to blur the line between victim and victimizer. Maybe I’m just messed up (which is likely enough, but I bet I’ve plenty of company!), but it is too easy to use my past to bully somebody into doing what I want.

Here’s another question – have we nothing to learn from those with different experiences?

I had lots of bad experiences as a kid. There’s no rollback, do-over option. Those are my experiences, and I can’t change that. I do have time ahead of me still to learn new things and have other, hopefully less injurious experiences, but that’s not necessarily going to make up for what I lost. Relying on new experiences to learn new things is also pretty slow. Two or three good experiences probably won’t suffice to retrain years of bad habits. Fortunately, there are options. You know what Proverbs says? Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” Proverbs 19:20 says this: “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” I can’t go back and experience what it’s like to have a great father, but I can listen to my friends who do. And if I start squawking and squirming, you know what they can say to me? “You don’t know what it’s like.”

And, oh, is that true! I don’t. I don’t know what it’s like, but I’m so glad that other people have different experiences. I’m glad they can tell me about their lives, and that not only can I be happy for them, I can also learn something about my life by listening to their stories and letting the truths in them challenge the truths I’ve experienced. That’s not easy – it’s honestly easier to try shutting them down – but I’d say the insight I’ve gained has been well worth the discomfort of being challenged. Just because somebody hasn’t struggled through my exact struggles doesn’t mean that there is nothing of worth in what they might have to say about my situation.

Personally, I hope that people like my friends, people who haven’t had some of the negative life experiences that others have had, continue to speak up. I hope they continue to share. I hope that they faithfully continue to offer what they know to be true and right even if they “don’t know what it’s like.” I hope they never allow themselves to be silenced by another’s sneering pain and, with tenderness and courage and grace and love, continue to talk about goodness and justice and hope. I hope they know that what they have to say, their often quiet, sometimes tentative words, are just as important as what anybody else might have to say.

Experience, Sometime Foe

There’s a proverb commonly used about experience. It says, “Experience is the best teacher.” People certainly seem to believe that when it comes to jobs. Having some work experience can certainly make it easier to get hired. I’d say fire and heat is another area where we’re great believers in the teaching power of experience. As Tolkien wrote, “The burned hand teaches best.” One of the reasons I trust my doctor when he gives me a diagnosis is because he’s experienced. The checker at the supermarket who has been there a few years is definitely faster than the brand new one. I’d rather take my car to a mechanic who has some experience than one who doesn’t. Pilots should definitely be experienced. I don’t want to book a flight on somebody’s first ever attempt.

Experience, while not the be-all-end-all (other factors, like education, work ethic, and a good attitude are important, too), has advantages. People with it can work more smoothly and efficiently. Common pitfalls are generally more adroitly avoided, and experienced people fumble less. Somebody who knows the territory usually gets lost less than somebody who has never been there before.

So if education is twelve kinds of awesome, why is it that sometimes having experience is held against you? What makes some kinds of experience a “bad thing,” not to be trusted, or somehow a problem? It’s almost like there’s sometimes a prejudice in place.

See, my dad wasn’t the world’s best dad. He wasn’t the world’s worst, either, but he was closer to worst than best. He beat my sibs and I and did other things that loving fathers aren’t supposed to do to their children. Abuse and neglect are strong themes in my childhood story, making for lots of hard experiences, and I most certainly did learn things from those experiences. I will be the FIRST to admit that some of what I learned was bad, like how to hurt and manipulate other people. Being afraid of my father is not a good thing to have learned, either.

Other people’s reactions to my story can be pretty interesting. Some people are very sympathetic and supportive. Others can clearly relate all too well, some are unsympathetic, and then there’s another group. They acknowledge that I was hurt, but then seem to hold that against me. I’ve been told that my beliefs or opinions about family, parents, church, and all kinds of things probably are just the result of pain and bitterness and therefore couldn’t possibly be valid. I don’t get that reaction. I think it’s condescending, not to mention rude and lazy and sometimes self-protective. Quite frankly, I’d rather deal with outright hostility than deal with somebody who believes that I’m so crippled by my past that I’ll never be able to “walk. “

I do understand that sometimes when people have been badly wounded, they aren’t necessarily reasonable or rational. I know that it’s easy to become set upon what a person knows, those lousy experiences, and to refuse to grow. I know bitterness is a sweetly fired, spreading poison that gnaws the bones. But just because somebody is unreasonable or irrational and not necessarily objective, does that make them wrong? Does that invalidate their opinion? Does it make their information worthless? Should we merely humor and otherwise dismiss them? If “the burned hand teaches best,” why on earth would the burn victim’s experience be counted as less than the person who hasn’t faced the flames?

I am not saying that experience can’t be a problem. It can be. It sure can be. All the wrong lessons that keep a person bound and crippled and festering are frequently learned from painful experiences. I just don’t think it’s fair or right or very smart to uncritically discount what those have faced flames have learned. If nothing else, even if they’re all wrong, simply listening without dismissal can tell them that they matter.

Thanks for listening!