…With All Your Strength

State of the Stroke 2021, part two of a four part series

…And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” -Mark 12: 30-31

Have you asked or ever just accepted “things as they are?” I assumed for the last three years that my level of strength had peaked. It took me all of my energy to walk 500 feet or stand in the kitchen for more than 10 minutes. I would regularly sit down, gather myself together, and then get up and try again. My assumption was this was the way things were going to be, or at least I thought so.

This was from my blog back in March 2021:

I had a debilitating stroke 2 1/2 years ago, leaving my left hand primarily useless. I had to relearn to walk, which took about eight months, although my gait is awkward to watch, and no one calls me “Sir Speedy!” 250 steps are about the best I can do. I have set a goal to walk from the train station to the Mickey Mouse statue in Disneyland sometime next year.

One of the medications I’ve been taking for three years was Baclofen. This drug reduces the spasticity of muscles due to brain injury, I recently found out it did more than that. Between the hospital and the rehab unit, I was hospitalized for nearly a month. I found physical therapy exhausting. I assumed my lack of strength was because I had a stroke and my body was compromised.

When the brain seizures began earlier this year, and I wound up in the hospital numerous times, the doctors finally began to look at my medication as a possible cause. First, it was suggested that I might be “allergic” to Baclofen. So they began to reduce it and another medicine, Topomax, a drug that can be detrimental and harmful to people with brain injuries (me!) 

Baclofen Side Effects: (I had all of these!) Drowsiness, dizziness, weakness, tiredness, headache, trouble sleeping, nausea, increased urination, or constipation, mental/mood changes (such as confusion, depression, hallucinations) may occur.

Topomax Side Effects: (I had all of these as well!) Tiredness, drowsiness, dizziness, loss of coordination, tingling of the hands/feet, loss of appetite, bad taste in your mouth, diarrhea, and weight loss may occur. Mental problems such as confusion, slowed thinking, trouble concentrating or paying attention, nervousness, memory problems, or speech/language problems may also occur. 

While I was being weaned off these and couple of other medications, I suddenly found myself with more energy. I began to push myself again because I was actually seeing gains. No longer was I having to put a chair in the kitchen as I cooked. I had long conversations with people without having to sit down. Judy didn’t have to take the wheelchair to church because it was too far of a walk for me. Things dramatically improved!

I noticed a friend at church who had a small brace on her ankle. I asked her what it was for, and she said, drop foot. That is the condition that I have as well. So I did some research and approached my physical therapist about ordering one. He had never seen such a device but was willing to go ahead and have Kaiser foot the bill. From there, the real improvement began.

A walk around Cousteau Park in our neighborhood is about 1/3 of a mile. Before the brace, I timed myself to see how long it would take me. June 10 was my first-time trial. I came in at 18:37 minutes. Each day I improved my time, dropping it down to 14:38 seconds. After I began using the brace, my times dropped to below 10 minutes. On August 7, the last time I timed myself, my speed was 7:18 minutes. I had a shaved-off 11 minutes from my first walk.

Most days, I am walking at least a mile. I walked 3 miles at Salt Creek Beach two weeks ago, about half that time on the sand. I honestly thought I would never be able to walk on the beach again. This was beyond encouraging.

My perspective has changed. I am cooking dinner almost every night. I don’t dread walking in public (I don’t like it mind you, but I’m not as embarrassed. I would never say “praise God for the brain seizures,” but the medication issue may have never been found if not from them. I would’ve continued to wallow in self-pity and not have a very bright outlook for the future.

Forget just walking from the train station to the Disney statue. I’m walking all around the park!

God is good.

…With All Your Mind

Part One of a Four Part Series on the Third Anniversary of My Stroke

…And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” -Mark 12: 30-31

This past year I have learned how important these words are. Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength. The stroke has affected all four of these in ways that were unimaginable a year ago.

This month marks three years since I had a debilitating stroke, August 25, 2018. This three-year stroke anniversary happens to be on our 37th wedding anniversary. I promised my wife at the  beginning that I would not prioritize that occasion or focus on it on our special day. Therefore I decided to publish now at the beginning of the month and not the actual anniversary.

A year ago at this time I had pretty much given up. This is what I wrote at the time:

I was confident that I would recover. I certainly did not picture myself in my current position. This month marks two years. I’m not sure if it’s the anniversary of the stroke or the frustration of living with the pandemic, or the fact that it’s just plain hot, but I find myself dealing with discouragement.”

Year Three has been the most difficult so far. Actually, what I went through in the early part of 2021 was worse than the actual stroke itself. I had no idea how difficult and painful the following months would be. I wound up being in the hospital five times in three months and in the ER more times than that. I vaguely remember portions of most of those visits.

It wasn’t until the last hospitalization that it was determined the medicines that were prescribed to heal were having the opposite effect. Physically, I began to have intense nerve pain that manifested itself in severe muscle spasms. At one point, the pain became so intense that I told Judy that if I had the medicines for assisted suicide, I would consider using them.  

My mind had also been affected. Judy started noting unusual patterns of behavior for me as early as November. She decided to keep a notebook to chronicle what was happening. It was terribly distressful for her to see me exhibiting behavior not consistent with my character or role as a husband or church leader.  I wasn’t doing anything blatantly sinful, but my attitude had become belligerent and combative. As far as I was concerned, everything felt normal with the exception of feeling that everyone was being was being excessively concerned about me and limiting my freedom to do whatever I wanted to do.

I began to do what none of us should ever do. I began to speak exactly what I thought and do whatever came to mind. My personality was magnified. I love Jesus and want to tell everyone about him, and I did just that. I interrupted people eating dinner at restaurants, I cornered strangers and told them about how God was working in my life. I was overly vocal in small groups (okay, I’ve always done that.) I was telling everyone about Jesus and using my blog as a launch point. What I did not realize was the fact that my writing was also affected, luckily, few people really ever went there to read. My altered communication skills is what alerted a number of you to reach out to my wife. “This just doesn’t sound like Perry.”

I like to debate and argue and I certainly did that. I still feel bad about the group of senior citizens that meet in the park with their dogs.  One older lady told me that all Democrats were Socialists. I am not a part of that party but I could not let that argument stand. I actually followed her home along with the rest of the group to continue the conversation. Eventually  someone told me in no uncertain terms that I should leave her alone and go home. Yeah, I was that guy.

It wasn’t just the negative aspects of my personality that were accentuated, positive ones were magnified as well. I champion the underdog and I always have, probably because I was one. I have a student that I’ve worked with for 12 years and hired him to work in our backyard.  I promised him $100 a day for two days.  The only caveat was he was not be allowed to use any profane language with the exception of “d***, s***, and hell,” or I would take $10 each time from his earnings.  In the end, my mentee owed me $20. Instead, I gave him $1000 via Venmo. It was money that we could not afford to give nor had I discussed this with Judy.  I will tell you the story of a miracle that came from that transaction in a later entry. 

By mid-December, I began to not sleep even though I am on heavy-duty sleep medication. This pattern lasted for more than eight weeks, sometimes getting  less than three hours a night. Some of my weirder ramblings were posted during this time.

As this entire thing was unfolding, I was confronted with an issue that dated back over forty years. I started seeing a counselor. The emotional toll of everything that was happening began to wear away at me. I began having a difficult time keeping personal details of personal issues to myself. The line between appropriate conversation and making people uncomfortable was, for me, blurred. Both my physical therapist and my masseuse decided to drop me as a client because they were uncomfortable. By mid-February, my argumentative/insubordinate behavior cost me my job. I had become an angry, unreasonable person. I wasn’t sleeping and my body was racked with pain.

After confessing that if assisted suicidal drugs had been readily available that I would consider it, along with the excruciating nerve pain I was experiencing I found myself again in the hospital on a 5150 (a possible danger to self) hold. It was Easter weekend and I used the occasion to talk about Jesus at every turn. By this point, I was not in control of my emotions or my judgment, and it manifested in a very dishonorable way. I am embarrassed to share what happened, but I believe it is vital to understand my state of mind.

The orderly assigned to watch over me was a very fit man with huge biceps and a tattoo that said “Jesus.” I identified myself as a pastor and asked where he went to church. He wasn’t very friendly. I was in need of using the restroom, but I was hooked up to the various monitoring machines, which meant using a plastic urinal. I asked the man to step behind the curtain for privacy, but he refused because I was considered a “fall risk”.  I find it challenging and, most of the time, near impossible to urinate if someone else is in the room. I explained my situation, but he was not about to budge and became belligerent. I lost it. There was a small amount of urine in the container and I threw it down in protest. It was a very unwise choice.

Within minutes I found myself surrounded by nurses and orderlies. I was tied to the bed, and I became increasingly more belligerent. Once again, I was entirely out of my head and began to scream and spit. An attendant pushed my face into a pillow. The more I protested and yelled, the harder he pushed. I was in severe pain. At some point I simply gave up.Ultimately, they left me alone in the room, tied to the bed and double-masked. I cried out for water and was ignored . It was a pretty horrible experience, but I brought it upon myself. Those of you that know me well, know this is not normative behavior for me.

Within hours I was mostly back in my right mind.  This scenario of going to the hospital with an array of symptoms (always a little different from the time before), and then recovering for a short period of time occurred a few more times.  Finally, by trip #6 to the ER, my family had reached the end of their ropes. Judy and my son, Josh, took it upon themselves to push even harder for action. “Why are we back here every two weeks? Something is not right!” The two of them became my advocates in an even stronger way. Because they would not back down, it caught the attention of an internist and a neurologist, who then began to more deeply research my case. They ruled out bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and took a deep dive into all my medications.  

After consulting with a seizure specialist, it was decided to wean me off a few of the medications I was on. The first was a prescription that I began in February, and the other one I had been on for three years. The end result is that I am back to normal. I have not exhibited any odd behavior (other than expected) and discovered that the long-term medication had been making me tired and weak.

I had set a goal early on after the stroke to walk from Main Street to the Walt Disney statue in the middle of Disneyland. Judy confessed that she thought I would never be able to do it. The truth is, I could walk about five minutes and then be exhausted. It really was a lofty goal. I am happy to report that I am walking at least a mile every day and walked 3 miles at the beach last week. This entire event was due to an interaction with the multiple medications that I had been taking. My state of mind is clear now.

Our family went through three months of Hell, and I was the conduit to get us there. What have I learned? Too much for this blog, but I am much more empathetic for those who seem mentally distressed. I promise the rest of this series will not be depressing. I wanted to get this out of the way so I can talk about other ways God has been moving in my life. I hope it is encouraging for you.

The Dragon

June 4, 2021

“Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself… ~CS Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

It didn’t happen overnight. It was a slow process of becoming something other than what God had created me to be. I was unaware that things were amiss. My mind was quick to go places that it should not, but I just tucked it away like many good Christians and didn’t admit a thing. 

The horde I was protecting was in my own dark cave. The me most of you know would never publicly curse at someone. I would not admit to lustful thoughts or behaviors unless I was saying that I had repented of them and they were in the past. I wouldn’t call someone up just to berate them because of their poor decisions or about how they treated me. I may have thought about such things, but I would never have acted upon those impulses. I buried those Dragonish thoughts in a cave, and only I knew how to get to them, but that great lizard knew precisely how to give life to them.

To the casual onlooker, the transformation to dragon was subtle. Still, to those close to me and others who experienced my disruptive behavior, the truth was obvious. My wife said she had been concerned for months. Something was wrong. I was not capable of seeing the reality of my condition; I could not see what I had become. Then I broke down.

The dragon came out of the cave, and all inhibitions that had been stashed away with the horde of forbidden thoughts and actions were there for all to see. I was angry. I was unreasonable. I was prideful. I was the dragon unleashed. I pushed my son up against a wall. If my wife would have been alone, she said that she would’ve been fearful of me physically hurting her. A few nurses were subject to a profane rant directed at them. I called a former employer and told him exactly what I thought about him. I disparaged old coworkers who I love. I actually spat at a doctor. I was breathing fire. 

Who was this person? It all felt reasonable and necessary at the time. At times I was confident and then I was scared. Why was this happening to me? I was embarrassed. I did not want to be this creature. I prayed to God to make me whole, to make me right again.

I was scared. I was embarrassed. I did not want to be this creature. I prayed to God to make me whole, to make me right again.

“Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.”

It was a horrible process. I was humiliated. I was out of control, and I did not have any way to fix this. I had to surrender my complete self, not just my dragon self, to those who were trying to make me me again.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.”

The process of being un-dragoned has been painful. A cadre of psychiatrists and doctors have examined me. I have been in the hospital five different times over the last three months. The professionals who have seen and studied my case were baffled. At one point, I heard the word “bipolar. I quickly realized that I was prejudiced against those with mental illness. I did not want to be identified with that label. I breathed a sigh of relief when that was ruled out, and pharmaceutical interactions were believed to be causing my behavior. Then I felt shame for my attitude.

Each stint in the hospital felt like I was being torn apart as another layer of dragon skin was removed. During those un-dragoning months, I slowly confessed to things I have kept hidden. It has felt good to come clean, tell others, especially my wife, that it was time for me to be honest with them and myself. Yes, it hurt, but being free of the dragon and my secret hoard has released a more authentic me, a man humbled because everything was laid bare and his friends and family still accept and love him.

“It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.” To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”

New Life From Old Vines

“This garden is dead. It is the most forgotten place I’ve ever seen. With loose gray branches, roots and leaves all tangled up on the ground.” The caretaker responds, “Mary, did you take a real good look at everything? The strongest roses thrive on being neglected if the soil is rich enough. I can tell if a thing is wick. When the thing is wick, it has a life about it. Now maybe not like her life, like you and me, but somewhere there’s a single streak of green inside it.” ~Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Spring 2021, new life is breaking forth everywhere. Our old fig tree that literally takes up 3/4 of our backyard is beginning to leaf. The orange tree that hangs over our fence has delicate white flowers that emit a sweet aroma that wafts through the air every time we open our windows. The grapevines that hang from our wooden fence that last year only produced one small batch of champagne grapes that were too sour to eat. We are hoping for a better harvest this summer.

At times my faith feels much like those dry old vines. There is wick in them somewhere. Life does flow through the vines; I just can’t see it. I grew up in a Christian household. I made a conscious decision to follow Jesus when I was twelve; that was a long time ago.

My faith became truly my own at 17. In the ensuing 42 years, I have pursued educational endeavors, traveled the world, preached the gospel, served in six different churches, ministered to thousands of students, and sometimes felt joy unspeakable and sometimes felt dead. At other times the Holy Spirit has shown up, and I have felt his presence, but more often than not, I have gone through the motions. Sometimes faking the emotion but always believing in my heart completely that God is real.

I’ve allowed my own pain and hurt to shut out his presence. My fear of hurt and separation has kept me at times, alone. CS Lewis said it best:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

A few weeks ago, I ventured alone into our backyard—a tricky endeavor in my condition. I went to the side of the house where grapevines are growing. They have been bare all winter long. The fact that they’re up against our old wooden fence made them look that much older. They looked dry and brittle and lacking life at first glance, but upon closer inspection, you could see a glimpse, a glimmer of what was to come.

Spring sunshine is back, and I once again went to the backyard this morning. I was delighted to see the side yard beginning to team with new life. Those dry, brittle vines are starting to sprout fresh leaves that will, in turn, produce small Champagne grapes for us to share with each other and our neighbors. There’s no surprise that Jesus used wine, to symbolize his blood that was shed for us. Those vines are a delightful gift in the height of the summer bringing flavor and sunshine to our otherwise drab side yard.

I had a pastor friend once tell me that he believed that what we saw on the outside mirrors what is happening in the spiritual realm. It certainly seems true in my case. It feels as if God has been doing something truly remarkable in my life in the last five months. There has been a lot of digging, ripping up, clearing out, and planting. If you’ve ever read the book, The Shack, a book of Christian fiction. In that case, there’s a scene where Sarayru, the embodiment of the Holy Spirit, takes Mack by the hand into what used to be a garden. It is unkempt and shameful.

“This garden is your soul. This mess is you, Mackenzie, together, you and I, we have been working with a purpose in your heart. And it is wild and beautiful and perfectly in process.” ~ William P. Young, The Shack

In the past four months, God has been doing something significant in my being. My life has felt like the Garden that Sarayu showed Mack. I am further along in the process. I cannot wait to see what God is birthing, but in the end, that means something must die.

When the garden that Sarayru and Mack worked on together was completed, Jesus, Papa, Sarayu, and Mack buried Missy’s casket in the garden of Mack’s soul. The symbolism here is unmistakable. He is burying the great sorrow. The thing that has held him back from embracing the one who loved him from the beginning and will love him forever.

My garden is a mess, but it is in process. There is a casket waiting to be buried there as well. I know my 21 years at Mission Hills will be inside that casket, as well as 37 years of youth ministry. There will be other things, some that I will be proud of and others that I am ashamed of and will be glad they will be hidden forever, at least from public view. The Holy Spirit is doing a work, a beautiful, complicated, painful work. The song in my head and the one I have woken up to every day this past week has the line “my heart needs a surgeon, my soul needs a friend”. Jesus is both.

There is wick in the old vines.

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Balance

I have taken falling to a new level; in fact, I believe I have perfected it. Luckily, over the past few years, I have always fallen to the left. If I had fallen to the right, I’m sure I would’ve broken my arm more than once. I am sure that most of you have attributed the falls to the stroke, and that would be true. The reality is, at times, I cannot put my left foot firmly and flatly on the ground. The more stressed I become, the more exaggerated the curvature becomes.

I am off balance.

If you disregard my ugly toenails, you can see that my foot naturally wants to land on the left edge of my foot. I once had a 5’2” petite woman, Sandra Price, catch me as I began to fall, only to find myself struggling to stand afterward because I could not put my foot down. It is more than frustrating; it is dangerous.

Muscle relaxants or a glass of wine (never together, I tried that once and wound up in an ambulance) can ease some of the tension. It is challenging to live life under the influence of those drugs (although people try). There are many stroke patients and people who face chronic pain who simply give up. I am not courageous. I am just too stubborn.

I have used the sermon illustration many times in speaking with students of a person who is walking the fence between the things that are tempting and the things of God. Most of us would consider walking that fence a very good thing. But I  proposed that the kids should be firmly on the side of Jesus and not trying to walk the fence. Spiritually, that is true. But we need to have balance in our lives. We can’t let the physical outweigh the other aspects that God has given to us. If we do, we are out of balance.

For nearly 3 years now, I have been out of balance. I’ve been frustrated, upset, non-visibly mad, and sad. I’ve had people ask me why God I hasn’t healed me? I wish I had a great answer, but I don’t. My response is always, bodies break down, but I still feel somewhat abandoned at times in my soul. In my human self I want to shake my fist and ask, “why, after all this time of serving you, is this continuing? Do I deserve this? How is this fair?” No answers come, just an embrace. I often want to cry over the situation, but really haven’t since the first night in the hospital, unless I make myself.

This second round in the hospital, I watched the movie The Shack (it may have replaced It’s a Wonderful Life and Field of Dreams as my go-to cry movie.) I started bawling at the very beginning and did not stop until the credits. Everything Mac was going through was dealing with forgiveness. I felt I was doing that as well, not only to God but also to those I perceive have wronged me in the last month. It was cleansing.

In the last month, I have lashed out in many ways, and have cried out to God. This is not how I perceived the end of my ministerial career to be, but just like my current condition and the one who allowed it, I will try to trust in him. Will I be successful? Sometimes. Will I fail? At times. Will I try? Yes. Will I frustrate those who love me along the way? No doubt, (sorry about that!).  Successful or not, I will attempt to stay on the balance beam and keep everything in line. 

The cross brings balance to creation.

That Damned Fruit

The Jewish scriptures open with a story of the origin of the earth and its first human residents, a man and woman who ultimately would choose to deliberately disobey their Creator. When he was confronted with his choice, the man turns around and blames one who made him “The woman you gave me!” The man directly puts the blame on God. Ultimately, the transgression was pride. They wanted to answer to no one but themselves.

Nothing much is changed in the course of history. We still want to steer our own ship. I’m sure that has got you in more trouble than anything else in your life. I know it has in mine. I do what I want to do. Sometimes it’s for good, but other times it’s simply for my own benefit or for spite. It still boils down to pride. We still have a desire to eat from the tree of that damned fruit.

I have worked in churches for nearly 40 years. I have volunteered in churches much longer. I have never lost a church job until now. I have lost plenty of other jobs due to poor choices, mainly my choice of words. Still, I thought that my calling was untouchable, especially as I approached my retirement years. Once again, that tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (note that it was both good and evil), was also tempting. I made choices, some of the poor. And now, I must live with the consequences. Those consequences do not just affect me.

We have been in the same gathering of believers for 21 years now. It has become our support system and our most significant local friend group. Our life group has been together for at least 19 years. We’ve watched our kids go through junior high, high school, college, marriages, some divorces, grandchildren, tragedy, and triumph. We will definitely stay a part of that small group. As for the church, that’s up in the air at the moment. It is definitely a difficult time in the Hamilton household.

Suppose you’ve never read the Chronicles of Narnia. In that case, I will not give away the secret that you will discover in The Magicians Nephew, but suffice it to say you learn something significant about how the wardrobe came into existence wood it was carved from. In the same way, I would not at all be surprised to find that the cross of history was hewn from the wood of the tree that Jesus was murdered on. The very thing that produced that dammed fruit is what God uses to give us life.

The Descent

March 8, 2021

In this story, hell is set in a CNN newsroom. The funny thing is, I always thought the underworld was being produced on Tucker Carlson’s show on the Fox News network.

For the past number of months, my wife, friends, and colleagues have said my behavior has been erratic. To me, everything seemed normal. I always had a reason to do the things I was doing, but something seemed to be off to them.

The past three years have been rough on the Hamilton family. Judy was released from her job of 34 years. I was fired from my job (although technically, I was forced to resign) after eight years. My father passed away; I had a significant stroke. In other words, life became complicated, my job was reduced in hours due to the stroke… you get the picture. We were under a wee bit of stress.

On the day of “The Descent,” I woke up feeling refreshed. I felt like it was a new day, a fresh start. I had the creative idea of breaking things. My youngest sister puts stuff in a barrel and shoots things when she is frustrated. I was not frustrated but wanted to express starting over. I took a few photographs and dropped them to the ground, and knocked over a statuette or two and a candle which made a lot of noise for such an early hour in the morning. My wife walked out, groggy, then panic set in. Panic gave way to fear, all out unadulterated fear.

We had my sister-in-law and her husband over for lunch whenI began to get belligerent and started saying crazy things. It was decided to go ahead and take me to urgent care. Judy called our son Josh was in town to go with us. I became more and more agitated as they tried to get me to the car. Josh said this whole event was scarier than when I had the stroke. I put up a valiant effort in the struggle, but in the end, they won out. Apparently, I did pretty strange things in the waiting room that only convinced everyone that I needed to be there. They did an EEG that confirmed I was having brain seizures.

The scene that ensued was such a far cry from my personality that anyone that knows me well will have a hard time believing what followed. The hospital staff wound up putting me in soft restraints because I was spitting everything I could get in my mouth at the nurses and doctors. Apparently, applesauce reached as far as the television. I was claiming thirst to get water in my mouth so I could spit and drool, believing that where water would touch, the cameras would pick up what looks like blood for the news broadcast that would be filmed as more and more people came into the room. At this point, I was completely lucid. I believed what I was seeing was real. I was on CNN and broadcasting what seemed to be an exorcism of the demon of child molestation inhabiting the two nurses in the room. I was using every possible combination of the F word and leading the song 10,000 Reasons to basically the entire believing world.

I was calling out every hypocritical Pastor, college presidents (including Jerry Falwell, Jr.), and Donald Trump. No one dared step out onto the judgment platform.

Then everything changed. I’m not sure when it happened or that it happened the same night. I was in the presence of Jesus, although I did not see him. I felt comfort, love, and peace. He spoke to my troubled heart and soul and spirit. Although this was a dream, it has produced authentic action in me. Things I’ve struggled with for years seem to have disappeared. It’s very unusual, but I believe God is doing something concrete in my life. I am entirely open to talking about this with anyone over Messenger, a cup of coffee, or better yet, sitting in a 104° Jacuzzi. Let’s chat.

Here I am, Lord.

Use me.

The Problem of Pain

January 26, 2021

The pain was so intense that I took the risk of falling through our glass shower door my lifting my foot off the ground. Because of the way I am forced to walk, the fourth toe on my left foot has developed calluses That are beginning to wear off. The pain is intense at times. I actually called in sick one day at church because it would be too difficult to walk. Why does God allow pain? Why would one risk a greater calamity to keep from feeling that pain?

One of the things that I’ve learned since suffering my stroke back in the summer of 2018 is that my pain tolerance has become very, very low. Simple touches at times feel like daggers. When my wife helps me put on my socks, I can barely refrain from screaming (although I have learned not to kick). It’s not nearly as intense as it was the first year, but it still hurts.

I find it astonishing how much we do to avoid discomfort. Maybe that is the result of creation’s fall. For me, I will do just about anything to prevent physical or mental pain. As a part of the human race, we are irrational in the pursuit of happiness and normalcy.

We are creatures who desire comfort. That longing can cause us to ignore even the basics of life. We act as if we were in control of our lives only to find out that we are also very wrong. Time to allow healing.

For the most part, physical pain does pass. Mental and soul pain is a different story. We will lie and hide rather than face whoever has wronged us than to confront the painful truth. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, trying to hide from a God who sees all, we hide behind a veil of illusions, so we don’t have to ever confront ourselves. But, God does not leave us alone. He is the hound of Heaven and will seek us out, wherever we are and bring us into the light. Many try to run from God but in the end say to ourselves, “thy will be done,” or hear God speak to us, “thy will be done.” We cannot hide.

I finally was able to see a podiatrist who prescribed basically gave me a toe pillow. It cushions the toe and lifts it off of the ground, so the pressure is not so heavy such a simple remedy.

Our Father in Heaven would like to be that cushion for you. To lift you out of despair and into His glorious light. All it takes is surrender. Are you willing to do that?

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2020, A Retrospective

Since 1979, I have taken the first week of September and January 1 to reflect on my life, goals, and feelings. September seems to natural time since school always started in that month. January 1, of course, was always set aside for New Year’s resolutions. It seemed appropriate that I look back on the year that had passed and look forward to the coming new year.

2020 has been a challenging year. Of course, COVID-19 D railed most people’s plans and dreams, those, added with my stroke, just seemed to complicate everything. 

I began to chronicle my recovery experience back in 2018. I had no idea of the response I would get from writing. Many of you have encouraged me to continue to develop my skills. In 2020, I launched my own business, Past and Present Life Stories, and couldn’t be more proud. Writing has given me solace in this unprecedented time. If you are interested in telling your story, please contact me, and we’ll get started.

If anyone would’ve told me on August 25, 2018, that I would be fully recovered from the stroke I had that day, I would, of course, agreed. This year I found myself realizing that although God can heal me, he is chosen 

not to do so.

My bouts with depression seemed to have lessened this year. I have grown stronger physically, but I also have severe episodes of pain that are difficult to deal with. I can walk without the cane but realized that it is foolish for me to do so. I was driving my and my colleagues crazy as they nervously watched me move around.

2020 also marked our second round of “pre-retirement training” for Judy and me. We both have been working at home since March. The pandemic didn’t seem to touch us for a long time, but in the past month or so, we have seen it take the lives of relatives and acquaintances. It is a cruel disease.

We all learned to “zoom” with each other. I quickly discovered that 10 and 11-year-old kids do not do well participating in an online format. Our Life Group adapted just fine. That is probably due to the fact we have been together for nearly 20 years.

What does the future hold? Honestly, I cannot begin to fathom how challenging this will be as my body continues to age. I have learned to get dressed, get out of bed, and get around with a bit of effort.  I know that Judy will be unable to help at some point, and I am unable to do those things on my own.

As we have done since the beginning, we will continue to trust that God has us in his hands and will continue to direct our steps.

May God bring peace, healing, comfort, and love for one another in 2021.

I Own It

December 17, 2020

After nearly a month in the hospital and rehabilitation I was able to finally come home. It felt great to be home, but I couldn’t even step over the threshold of the door. I was excited to gain my freedom, but frustrated that I could not do many of the things I had missed doing. I managed to leave scuff marks on the walls as I tried to maneuver my wheelchair around tight quarters. I just wasn’t expecting to feel the way I felt, but this was my new normal.

People were so encouraging. Friends made dinner for us and we didn’t have to cook for nearly a month.  Guys from the church took on various projects around the house that I couldn’t have even thought about doing even before the stroke. Not only were we the beneficiaries of God’s perfect love, but also from our church family. The Helping Hands team from the church accomplished many other tasks that I have left unfinished or simply would not of been able to do with my less than handy self.

My first night home I had extreme difficulty getting into our bed. It is really high up and I just couldn’t maneuver it easily. The stroke seemed to have magnified my clumsiness and I wound up knocking everything off the bedroom nightstand waking Judy up and basically frustrating both of us. I am a very restless sleeper and found myself ultra-frustrated with the fact that I simply couldn’t roll over. I laid there with my eyes open for a long time wishing I could go to sleep. Something had to change.

It was decided that I would sleep in Josh’s old room. We had redone it as a guest room a few years earlier and the bed there is incredibly comfortable. The doctor prescribed Ambien for my sleep disorder and I slept like a baby. Anytime that Judy would refer to that room as “my room” I grew more and more frustrated. “It is not my room! It is the guest room!”; I still do not want it to be “my room” today, 2 1/2 years later, but I am going to own it now, it is my room.  It meets my needs and we both sleep better with this arrangement.

When I was in the wheelchair, I adamantly said “this is not my wheelchair”. When I progressed to the cane, my sister-in-law decided that it would be called the WAD for walking assistance device. She was being funny and I’m quite sure she meant the double entendre. I, with a raised voice, said this is not my WAD, it is a cane, and it is not my cane! As you can see, I was a bit sensitive about the whole thing.  I was snapping at people who love me and who were pointing out the truth. I hated it.

Here we are 28 months later. I no longer claim those things and have resigned myself to say this is my cane or this is my wheelchair. I have come to the realization that I probably will not get better. I worked really hard to be able to walk on my own without a cane but at some point I realized that was simply stupid. I since have adopted it to use whenever I leave the house. It was a difficult decision to accept where I currently am. It was not taken lightly.

The denomination in which I grew up has a doctrinal statement indicating that healing is part of the atonement. I no longer believe that. If that were true, everyone would be healed because the atonement is perfect. I believe in prayer, I believe in healing, I just do not believe that God is required to do something on my behalf because I want Him to. We live in a broken world where bodies breakdown. Mine just happened to do so early.

So today, I acknowledge that I have devices to help me walk. They are mine. I sleep in a separate bedroom. It is necessary at this time. I have not been completely healed and probably will not be. I am OK with that. I have not lost my faith; I have not lost my belief in prayer, I am not a dreamer, at least in the way of my physical situation, I believe that God does heal but just not as often as people claim. I can live with that.

God chose to spare my life and I am thankful for that.  I will rest in the knowledge in my bed that is in my room. When I leave the office, I will use the cane to go there. God is good, all the time.

This is my cane.

This is my bedroom.

I own it.