What follows is a humorous and tragic story of a man I met in church.
In 2003, my family and I moved to Clare, Michigan so that I could assume the pastorate of Victory Baptist Church. (a Southern Baptist church) I pastored Victory Baptist Church for seven months. This would be the last church I pastored. While at Victory, we lived in a beautiful home north of Farwell Michigan in a gated community called White Birch.
One evening, my family and I drove to Mt Pleasant to do some shopping at Meijer. When we returned home I noticed that the red light on the answering machine was flashing. I clicked play and I heard the following:
Hello, this is Elvis. I am staying and the Doherty Hotel in Clare. I would like to talk to you. Please call me back at ______________.
I thought, yeah right. Elvis? I thought one of my preacher friends was trying to put one over on me. So I called the number expecting to reach a jokester on the other end, but come to find out it really was Elvis.
Well, actually it was a man named Barry and Barry believed he was Elvis.
I don’t remember how Barry got to Clare, but he was on disability and lived in a rented apartment.
Barry wanted to attend our church. And so he did…
Barry didn’t come to church every week, but when he did he came dressed in bright colors, scarfs, and spangles just like Elvis wore. When Barry arrived…everyone paused to look, not saying a word. He definitely stood out among the more “normal” people who attended the church.
Barry had mental health problems, and quite frankly a lot of church members didn’t know how to handle him. He was “different” and “different” is not something the church understood. Barry and I got along quite well. I found out that he had been abused, misused, and taken advantage of by several Pentecostal churches and a homeless shelter in the South. They mentally and emotionally crushed Barry and it is a wonder he didn’t end up in a mental hospital.
I tried to be Barry’s friend. I knew he needed people to love and encourage him. Unfortunately, Barry had a tendency to say whatever was on his mind, and a lot of church members found his verbal outbursts upsetting. One Sunday, we were sitting around the table in the Adult Sunday School Class, also known as the Heresy of the Week Class, talking about the Sunday School lesson. The Sunday School teacher, a man by the name of Steve, asked if anyone had anything to share. Barry did:
I need prayer, I have a problem with masturbation.
Dead silence. Instant offense showed on the faces of many at the table. The teacher didn’t know what to say so he said nothing. I quickly told Barry that we would talk about this after church.
Barry definitely spiced up the church. I have often wondered what happened to him. I hope he found someone to help him, love him, and accept him for who he was, even if he thought he was Elvis.
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978, With Polly’s grandfather and parents.
When I write posts like Leaving the Ministry: Dealing with Guilt and Regret, I am always concerned that someone might conclude that I was unhappy while I was in the ministry or that felt I was trapped in a job I didn’t want to be in. Neither of these conclusions would be an accurate assessment of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry.
I was fifteen years old when I went forward at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio and informed the church that I thought God was calling me to the ministry. A few weeks before, I had made a public profession of faith and was baptized. I had no doubts about God’s call on my life. In fact, my desire to be a preacher went all the way back to when I was a five-year old boy in San Diego, California. My mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be a preacher. Not a baseball player, not a trash truck driver, or fireman. I wanted to be a preacher. Unlike many people, I never wondered about what I wanted to do with my life. God called-preacher, end of story.
In the fall of 1976, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, a small fundamentalist college in Pontiac, Michigan. Polly Shope, my wife to be, started taking classes at Midwestern in the spring of 1976 while she was finishing her senior year at Oakland Christian School. At the age of fourteen, Polly went forward at the Kawkawlin River Baptist Church, Bay City, Michigan and let the church know that she believed God was calling her to be a preacher’s wife. When Polly enrolled at Midwestern, she had one goal in mind, to marry a preacher.
Polly in front of our apartment, Fall 1978
Polly and I were immediately drawn to one another. She was quiet, reserved, and very beautiful. I was outspoken, brash, with a rebellious spirit. According to Polly, I was her bad boy. We started dating in September of 1976 and by Christmas we were certain that we were a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, Polly’s parents thought we were a match made in hell. My parents were divorced and Polly’s mom thought that divorce was hereditary. Though she did her best to quash our love, in the spring of 1978, we issued an ultimatum: give us your blessing or we will get married without it (a few weeks earlier, we had seriously considered eloping). On a hot July day in 1978, Polly and I exchanged vows at the Newark Baptist Temple, Heath, Ohio. As Mark Bullock, the soloist for our wedding, sang the Carpenter’s hit, We’ve Only Just Begun, Polly and I had thoughts of the wonderful life that awaited us in the ministry. Little did we know how naïve we were about what being in the ministry really entailed.
Polly’s idea of the ministry was quite idealistic. In her mind, we would have two children, a boy named Jason and a girl named Bethany, and live in a beautiful two-story house with a white picket fence. She saw herself as the quiet helpmeet of her preacher husband. My idea of the ministry was a bit more realistic. Preaching, teaching, winning souls, visiting the sick, all in a church filled with peace, joy, and harmony. No one had prepared us for what the ministry would really be like. I still remember a time when I was standing in a three-foot deep hole partly filled with sewage trying to repair a broken septic line. Polly came out to see what I was doing and I said to her, well, they certainly didn’t teach me this in college. No one told us that the ministry would far different from our idealistic expectations.
Two months after we were married, Polly informed me that our use of contraceptive foam had failed and she was pregnant. Not long after her announcement, I lost my job at a Detroit area production machine shop. Financially, things quickly fell apart for us. We went to see Levy Corey, the dean at Midwestern, and told him that we needed to drop out of college. He told us we just needed to trust God and everything would work out. While I was able to find new employment, it was not enough for us to keep our head above water. In February of 1979, we dropped all of our classes and prepared to move to Bryan, Ohio. Several of our friends stopped by before we moved to berate us for not having faith in God. One friend told us that we would never amount to anything because God doesn’t bless quitters. Years later, at a Newark Baptist Temple preacher’s conference, Dr. Tom Malone, the president of Midwestern, mentioned that I was in the crowd. He said that I had left Midwestern before graduating, but if I had stayed, they (the college) probably would have ruined me. He meant it as a joke, but I took his comment as a vindication of our decision to leave college.
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Cranbrook Gardens, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Spring 1978, two months before wedding.
In February of 1979, we moved to Bryan, Ohio, the place of my birth and the home of my sister Robin. After living with my sister for a short while, we found a house to rent on Hamilton Street. I began working at ARO, a large local manufacturer of pumps and air tools. ARO paid well, but I still desired to be a pastor. As with every job, I viewed secular work as just a means to an end — me pastoring a church. My sister attended the Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, Ohio. When we first moved to Bryan, we thought that we would attend First Baptist Church, the church I had attended before enrolling at Midwestern. Though I knew everyone at First Baptist, we decided to go to Montpelier Baptist, a young, growing GARBC church pastored by Jay Stuckey. This decision did not sit well with the people at First Baptist. One of the matriarchs of the church told me, “Bruce you know you belong at First Baptist!” At the time, First Baptist was pastored by Jack Bennett. Jack was married to my uncle’s sister Creta.
I had previously preached at Montpelier Baptist, so I knew a bit about Stuckey and his ministry philosophy. Stuckey was a graduate of Toledo Bible College, which later moved to Newburgh, Indiana and became Trinity Theological Seminary. After attending the church for a few weeks, Stuckey asked me to help him at the church by becoming the bus pastor and helping with church visitation.
The church had one bus route. It brought in a handful of children every week and little was being done to increase ridership numbers. Enter hot-shot, get–it-done, Bruce Gerencser. In less than a month, on Easter Sunday, the bus was jammed with eighty-eight riders. I vividly remember arriving at the church with all these kids and the junior church director running out to the bus and frantically asking me what I expected him to do with all the children. I replied, that’s your problem, I just bring them in. Needless to say, this man was never very fond of me.
A short time later, the church bought a second bus. I recruited bus workers to run the new route and before long this bus was also filled with riders. On the first Sunday in October, 1979, Montpelier Baptist held its morning service at the Williams County Fairground. A quartet provided special music and Ron English from the Sword of Lord preached the sermon. Five hundred people attended this service and about 150 of them had come in on the buses. Less than two weeks later, I was gone. Polly and I, along with our newborn son Jason, packed up our meager household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio.
It all started with my belief that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant Word of God. I considered the Bible the road map for navigating through a Satan dominated. sin plagued world.
According to the Bible, every person is a sinner under the just condemnation of God and deserves to burn in hell for all eternity. The Bible also taught me that God graciously provides a way for us to have our sins forgiven and avoid hell. God sent Jesus Christ, the son of God, to earth be the final atonement for our sin. Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sin and three days later rose again from the dead, conquering death and the grave. Our salvation and eternal destiny rests squarely on the merit and work of Jesus. He, and he alone, is the way, truth, and life. Through the preaching of the Word (the Bible) and the work of the Holy Spirit, God calls out to us, saying, repent and believe the gospel. Those who do are gloriously saved and made part of the family of God.
The Bible taught me that as a God called, God ordained minister of the gospel, I had the solemn obligation to preach the good news to everyone. Work for the night is coming. Leave everything for the sake of the gospel. Only one life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ. These clichés were not mere words to me. They were a clarion call to forsake all and follow Jesus.
Every church I attended, every youth group I was a part of, and every summer youth camp I went to, reinforced the belief that God wanted (demanded) one hundred percent of me. All to Jesus I surrender, All to Him I freely give, says the old gospel song, I Surrender All. I went to an Evangelical Bible college to train for the ministry. Every class curriculum, every professor, every chapel speaker shouted out to students:
Souls for Jesus is our battle cry. Souls for Jesus is our battle cry. We never will give in while souls are lost in sin Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.
My wife went to college to marry a preacher — a God called, God ordained, preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. She knew that she would have to make sacrifices for the sake of her husband’s call. She was taught that Jesus, the ministry, and the church came first. She was also taught that her husband was specially chosen by God to proclaim the good news of the gospel. She was encouraged to read biographies of great men and women of faith to learn how to deal with being married to a man of God. Polly and I entered marriage and the ministry knowing God had called us to a life of self-denial and devotion to the work of the ministry. Hand in hand, we embraced the work God had set before us.
I consider 1983-1994 to be the high point of my ministerial career. I pastored a growing, busy church. Sinners were being saved, baptized and joining the church. God was smiling on our work. Not only was this my observation, but it was the observation of my colleagues in the ministry. God was going something special at Somerset Baptist Church.
During this time, I did a lot of preaching. A typical week for me looked something like this:
Jail ministry on Tuesday
Nursing home ministry on Wednesday
Midweek service on Thursday
Street preaching 2-3 days a week
Teaching the adult Sunday school class
Preaching twice on Sunday
We also had a tuition-free Christian school, open only to the children of church members. In addition to my busy church preaching schedule, I held revival services and preached at bible conferences and pastor’s fellowships. I was motivated by what I believed the Bible taught me about the work of the ministry. I looked at the life of the apostles and thought that they were a pattern to follow. Run the race, Paul told me, I. I was totally committed to what I believed was God’s calling on my life.
Some Christians object and say “you are the one who worked yourself to death. Don’t blame the Church or God. OUR pastor doesn’t work this way. He takes time for his family. Blah. Blah Blah.” Even now, as an atheist, I find such objections lame. If the Bible is true, if what it says about God, sin, salvation, death, hell, and heaven is true, how dare any preacher or any Christian for that matter, treat the gospel of Jesus Christ so carelessly. How dare any preacher not burn himself out for the sake of those in need of salvation. No time for busy work. No time for golfing with your fellow preachers.
More than a few pastors are lazy hirelings who do just enough to keep from getting fired. They pastor a church for two or three years, wear out their welcome, and then move on down the road to another church. I have no respect for pastors who defend their laziness by stressing the importance of balance in their lives. Where do they find such a notion in the Bible they say they believe? Jesus doesn’t call them to balance. He calls them to forsake all and follow him.
One of the reasons I see Christianity as a bankrupt religion is the lackadaisical approach Christians and their spiritual leaders have towards matters that supposedly have eternal consequences. Most of what goes on in the average church is meaningless bullshit. Call a business meeting to decide on the color of the paint for the nursery walls and everyone shows up. Implore people to come out for church visitation and the same three or four people show up.
Why should I take the Bible, God, Jesus, salvation, heaven or hell seriously when most Christians and pastors live lives that suggest they don’t. It took leaving the Christian church and leaving the ministry for me to realize that most of what I was chasing after was nothing more than a fool’s errand. Many of the ex-ministers who read this blog know what I am talking about . So much of life wasted, and for what? Too bad I had to be fifty years old before I realized what life is all about. Too bad I sacrificed my health on the altar of the eternal before I realized that there is no eternity, just the here and now.
From a psychological standpoint, I understand that my type A, work-a-holic personality made it easy for me to be the preacher I came to be. Whether it was pastoring churches or managing restaurants, I worked day and night, rarely taking time for family or leisure. I still have the same tendencies, the difference now being that the list of things that matter to me is very small. Polly matters. Family matters. My neighbors matter. But matters of eternity, heaven, and hell? Nary a thought these days. If the Christian God exists then I am screwed, and more than a few of the readers of this blog are too. However, I don’t think the Christian version of God exists, so I am investing all my time, money, and talent on the only life I have. I will leave it up to the gods and my family to do what they will with me after I am dead. Of course, I could come back from the dead and write a book, “Heaven is Real and Boy are the Atheists In Trouble.”
Regular readers know that I live with chronic, unrelenting pain. No not Polly, the physical kind. There’s never a day that pain is not my close, personal friend. The last time I can remember a pain-free day was somewhere in the mid-1990’s. Every day, like the sun coming up in the morning, I have pain. Some days are less painful, other days are more painful, and then there are what I call the please let me die days where the pain, no matter what I swallow or do, is off the charts. From the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, I hurt. New pains come and go, often returning months or years later. Some pains move in and stay, just like an adult child who says, I just need to live here until I get back on my feet. This is my life. I accept it as it is, doing what I can, and embracing what I can’t.
Friends and family often have a hard time figuring out how to interact with me. Some avoid me, out of sight out of mind, I suppose. Some stand on the periphery of my life watching as chronic pain and illness destroy the man they love. Some dare to venture a little closer, perhaps even offering to help, but I often push them away not wanting to burden them with my problems. They have a life, I tell them, no need to be burdened with a dying old man.
Since November of last year, I’ve had to deal with new health problems that so far have doctors perplexed. First, they thought maybe it was pancreatic cancer or my gallbladder. After $25,000 of tests, procedures, and office visits, my symptoms remain unabated and the only thing I know is that I don’t know. In fact, they’ve gotten worse. For six weeks now, the left upper side of my chest/abdomen has throbbed with pain. I told my doctor that it feels like I have been hit in the ribs with an Aroldis Chapman fastball. For those who are not baseball fans, Chapman is a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds. He throws the ball over 100 miles per hour.
This pain is not my lungs, and a set of back x-rays last week revealed arthritis, no shocker since I have osteoarthritis in many of my joints, but no fractures or compressed discs. Tomorrow, prior to going to the Dayton Dragons-Fort Wayne Tin Caps baseball game, I have an office visit with a colorectal doctor. The plan is for me to have a colonoscopy done as soon as possible. Sometimes, colon cancer can cause the type of pain I am having. In the mean time, I try to deal with the pain the best I can, tasking extra medication and using moist heated pads. Since I can only sleep on my right side, this pain has turned my attempts at sleep into one long fight to find just the right spot to lie so the pain is less severe.
I know family and friends love me and want to be “there” for me, wherever “there” is. Some of the readers of this blog, dear folks who have over the years become my friends, offer up their love and support and I deeply appreciate their compassion. I know, as people watch the spectacle, they are frustrated and discouraged, knowing that this may not have a good outcome. I have resigned myself to this fact a long time ago. If not today, it will be some other day, sooner rather than later, that will be my last. Like you, I want to live until I die. While I may have moments when I contemplate the final solution, most days I try to live the best life possible.
A month or so ago, I read an wikihow.com article titled How to Understand Someone With Chronic Pain. I thought the points in the article might be helpful for my family and friends and for others who are intimately connected to someone with chronic pain. Here’s some of the points and a highlight quote from each. I encourage you to read the entire article.
Remember that being sick does not mean that the sufferer is no longer a human being.
Chronic pain sufferers spend the majority of their day in considerable pain. If one visits or lives with a chronic pain sufferer, the chronic pain sufferer may be unable to enjoy things they used to enjoy. The chronic pain sufferer remains aware, and desires to do what they used to perform. The chronic pain sufferer feels as if they are stuck inside a body in which they have little or no control. They still want to enjoy work, family, friends and leisure activities, however much pain puts that enjoyment out of reach.
Learn the code.
Chronic pain sufferers will often talk differently from people free of constant pain. A numeric pain scale is used as a quantitative measure for identification of intensity for pain so the health care providers can measure effects of treatments. The measure describes pain on a scale from 1 to 10; the 1 is “no pain at all, feel wonderful” and 10 is the “worst pain ever felt.” Do not assume the chronic pain sufferer is not experiencing pain when they say that they are fine. The chronic pain sufferer attempts to hide the pain due to lack of understanding in others.
Recognize the difference between “happiness” and “healthy”.
When you have the flu, you probably have felt miserable. Chronic pain sufferers have experienced pain from 6 months to many years. Pain has caused them to adopt coping mechanisms that are not necessarily reflecting the real level of pain they feel.
The previous two steps made it clear that chronic pain sufferers can speak in code or make their pain seem lighter than the reality. The next best thing that you can do is to listen to them properly, and to make it clear that you both want to hear what they have to say and that you really have heard it. Use your listening skills to decode what they’re hiding or minimizing.
Understand and respect the chronic pain sufferer’s physical limitations.
Being able to stand up for ten minutes doesn’t necessarily mean that the sufferer can stand up for twenty minutes, or an hour, or give you a repeat performance whenever. Just because the person managed to stand up for thirty minutes yesterday doesn’t imply that they will be able to do the same today…With chronic pain however, it is confusing to both the sufferer and the onlooker, and their ability to cope with movement can be like a yo-yo. The sufferer may not know, from day-to-day, how they are going to feel when they wake up, and each day has to be taken as it comes.
Leave your “pep talk” for your kids and your gym buddies.
Realizing that chronic pain is variable, keep in mind that a pep talk can be aggravating and demoralizing for the chronic pain sufferer. As already noted, it’s quite possible (for many, it’s common) that one day they’re able to walk to the park and back, while the next day they’ll have trouble getting to the next room. Therefore, it’s vital that you don’t fall into the trap of saying: “But you did it before!” or “Oh, come on, I know you can do this!”
Never use throwaway lines.
Assuming you know best by making such statements as “Ah well, that’s life, you’ll just have to deal with it”, or “You’ll get over it eventually. Until then, you’ll just have to do your best”, or worst of all, “Well, you look well enough”, etc., are lines that might make you feel done and dusted with the topic but they are both a form of distancing yourself from the person and making the sufferer feel worse and out of hope.
Check your own patience.
If you’re impatient and want them to “just get on with it”, you risk laying a guilt trip on the person who is suffering from pain and undermining their determination to cope. They probably have the will to comply with your requests to go out and about with them but have neither the strength nor the coping capacity as a result of the pain.
Be sensitive when suggesting medicines or alternative treatments
Some may not appreciate suggestions, and it’s not because they don’t want to get well. They may have heard of it or tried it already or some may not be ready to cope with new treatment that can create an additional burden on their already over-burdened lives. Treatments that haven’t worked carry the emotional pain of failure, which in and of itself can make the person feel even lower.
Don’t be put off if the chronic pain sufferer seems touchy.
If that’s the appearance, it’s probably because they are. It’s not how they try to be. As a matter of fact, they try very hard to be normal. Just try to understand. They have been going through a lot. Chronic pain is hard to understand unless you have had it. It wreaks havoc on the body and the mind. It is exhausting and exasperating. Almost all the time, they do their best to cope with this, and live their lives to the best of their ability. Just accept them as they are.
The chronic pain sufferer depends a great deal on people who are not sick to support them at home or visit them when they’re too sick to go out. Sometimes they need help with shopping, cooking, or cleaning. Others may need help with their kids. They may need help getting to the doctor, or to the store. You can be their link to the “normality” of life.
Let’s go to the Botanical Garden in Toledo, I tell my chauffeur. I want to photograph the spring flowers.
The sun is shining, the air is cool, a perfect day.
The car is loaded: camera, tripod, cane, and wheelchair. All the necessary tools of an aging crippled photographer.
Are you sure you want to push my fat ass around, I ask my chauffeur. And just like every other time I ask this question, she smiles and says yes.
The Toledo Botanical Garden is 50 miles or so from home. We arrive around 4 PM. Several hours of great lighting left, I tell myself. We pull into the parking lot, finding it full cars, limousines, and small buses. It’s prom night and hundreds of area high school student are at the Garden to get their photograph taken. They are dressed in ill-fitting dresses and tuxes, each trying to outdo the other on their special night.
We finally find a parking spot. Actually, we make a parking spot where there isn’t one. I ask my chauffeur, are you sure you want to do this? Like always, she smiles and said yes.
The wheelchair is unloaded and I am soon being wheeled along the paved walkways. I made sure before we left home that the walkways were wheelchair accessible. As we quickly find out, their idea of accessible is very different from ours. From potholes to broken cement to hoses stretching across the walkways, my chauffeur has great difficulty navigating. I hear her breathing become more labored. I turn to her and say, we can go if you want to. And just like every other time I ask this question, she smiles and says no. She knows, thanks to unrelenting pain, I rarely leave home. She wants me to have a good time.
Hundreds of high school students are gathered in groups throughout the Garden. Avoid obstructions, I tell myself. Go this way, avoid the crowd. But, no matter how we try to avoid the clustered students, we eventually are forced to stop and wait for them to move so we can pass.
The invisible man, that is what I am to these students. They stand towering above me and my slumping body. We wait, hoping they will notice we can’t get by them. Few pay attention to the man in the wheelchair. Don’t get upset, I tell myself. They will move.
As we come up one of the walkways, I notice a large group of students standing on the walkway. I say to my chauffeur, let’s go home. She replies, no, they will move. As we close in on the group many of the students move allowing the Moses in the wheelchair to part the Red Sea. One student refuses to move. His girl turns to him and says, hey let the guy go by. He looks at me with eyes I have encountered many times before and moves just enough to let me get by. His girl is none to happy with him. With anger in her eyes, she pushes her man and tells him MOVE! Put in his place, the towering student complies and moves so I can pass by.
Such is life in the chair. I think everyone, healthy or not, should spend some time in the chair. Believe me, the world looks completely different from the seat of the chair. Simple things like navigating the grocery store become an insurmountable task. Are people callous or indifferent to the handicapped? Sometimes, but most people have no frame of reference for understanding the challenges of having to use a wheelchair. (or a cane) They can walk and move at will. Any obstacle can be moved or navigated around. For the person in the chair, obstacles that are nothing for a healthy person, become a source of frustration.
I do my best to avoid crowds when I must use my wheelchair. But even then, at three in the morning at the local Meijer, shelf stockers often make the aisles impassable. They have a job to do, but I’d sure like to buy some groceries. I’ve concluded that there is no good time to go shopping. I must mentally prepare myself for the indifference of others. I must grit my teeth and ignore the pain inflicted on me by thoughtless shoppers. I think, someday, they will be where I am and then they will understand. For now, I am just the invisible man in the chair.
No, I don’t mean that pile of rubber bands and bobby pins. Not the layer of dust either. (I sort of collect dust bunnies. I don’t judge). I want to know what you’re reading.
Here’s what’s on my nightstand.
The Insanity of God by Nik Ripkin. This is one of the best books I’ve read in years. It’s the only book I ever remember getting to the last page and immediately flipping back to page one and starting over again. The stories of how God is moving in countries where there is persecution (like the kind that costs believers their lives) expanded my view of Him and encouraged me to pray like crazy for Christians around the world.
The ESV Journaling Bible. This was a gift from my handsome husband. It’s beautiful, with a rich leather cover, and it has wide margins with lines for taking notes. Perfect for a Word loving, doodler like me.
Fear and Faith by Trillia Newbell. I haven’t read this one yet, but I can’t wait to. Using stories of real women, it gives a roadmap for how to find security in the Lord when we are afraid. (Which is pretty often for me!)…
Ah yes, what’s on Davis’s nightstand is two religious books and a Bible. What I want to know is what is IN Davis’s nightstand? You see, in the Evangelical world, it is all about what is on your nightstand rather than what is in your nightstand. It is all about perception, making sure that one appears to be the right kind of Christian who believes the right kind of things.
When someone walks into Davis’s bedroom, and perhaps her whole house, what one sees is the trappings of Evangelical Christianity. My wife sees this where she works. Evangelicals have their offices adorned with the latest, greatest Jesus Junk®. She can quickly tell what Christian book and author is popular by the number and name of the books found on desktops. Years back, The Purpose Driven Life and The Prayer of Jabez were on prominent display, but now offices display the latest, greatest book written by whoever Evangelicals are fawning over this week. In six or so months, signs will go up reminding passerby’s of the real meaning of Christmas or warning fellow believers about the War on Christmas. These outward demonstrations are meant to say to fellow Evangelicals: hey, over here, I am a Jesus Lover just like you! The books, wall hangings, stickers, and pictures are the Evangelical equivalent of a gang tattoo. When someone sees an open Bible on a desktop they know that that person is part of the Jesus gang.
I wonder what we would find if we began opening drawers? What do people like Erin Davis and her fellow Evangelicals keep hidden from the watchful eye of their fellow believers? I wonder if the bedroom nightstand drawer might have handcuffs, dildos, or vibrators, along with strawberry tasting lube? Perhaps it is time for Pew or Lifeway to conduct a study on what is IN the Evangelical’s nightstand. We already know what is ON the nightstand.
I suppose inquiring minds want to know what is ON my nightstand:
A week and a half ago, Polly and I took a road trip south, ending up in Delphos, Ohio. In a post titled Luck, Fate, or Providence, I mentioned an event that took place while I was taking some photographs of an old canal:
…Polly and I took a road trip to Ottoville, Fort Jennings, and Delphos. Like most of our trips, I took my camera equipment with me. As we were wandering around Delphos, we stumbled upon a lock from the era of the Miami and Erie canal. Getting down to the lock was a bit treacherous for me. I wanted to get as close as possible, so I gingerly walked down the concrete abutment to the lock. I didn’t fall, slip, or trip. Lucky me, I thought.
After ten minutes or so, I was ready to return to the car. I had two paths I could take. I could retrace my steps or make a big step and little jump to ground level, Polly said she would give me a hand, so I chose the latter. Polly reached down, took my hand, and began to help me up. And then, our world went crazy. Polly couldn’t pull me up completely and I violently fell forward, knocking both of us to the ground. If my weight had been balanced slightly the other way, I would have no doubt went careening down the concrete abutment into the canal. The fall would have likely killed me.
The good news? My cameras escaped damage, though one of them does have a slight scrape. The hood on the lens kept it from being smashed. Polly ended up with bruised knees and I ended up with a twisted ankle and hip and a nasty, bloody contusion on my left leg. It is still oozing slightly today.
I know I was lucky. I should have retraced my steps. This was the safe and prudent choice. However, Polly was standing right there and she said she would help. Why not, right? She helps me out of the recliner and car all the time. What neither of us counted on was how difficult it is to pull up a 350# man. When Polly pulls me out of the car or the recliner I help her. This time? I was dead weight and I almost literally became so…
Yesterday, I had Polly take me to Urgent Care in Bryan. My left leg is swollen, an inch bigger circumference wise than my right leg. The contusion is weeping fluid and has become infected. I am white, the wound is red and yellow, and I am trying to keep it from turning black. (shout out to the Evangelical song, Jesus loves the Little Children, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight) I am taking an antibiotic. The doctor swabbed the wound and sent it to the lab. The lab will do a culture to determine what is causing the infection. If warranted, the doctor said he will change the antibiotic, but he thinks the one he prescribed should do the trick. This is the same leg, BTW, that I had a foot problem with last fall.
Last Sunday, Polly drove us to Cincinnati, Ohio to attend the Cincinnati Reds-St. Louis Cardinals baseball game. We had a great time. There’s nothing like experiencing a live baseball game. When the stands are full, as they were on Sunday, the stadium comes to life. The cheers and the groans ripple loudly through the crowd, as Reds fans live and die with their team. In many ways, I find the live baseball experience to be a lot like a revival service. There’s that “feeling” in the air that resonates deeply with me.
That said, we have come to the conclusion that I can no longer take trips hours away from home. Driving to Cincinnati and back meant we were on the road for almost 8 hours. Whether we took the interstate or a state highway, the roads, thanks to a hard cold winter and a lack of infrastructure upkeep, pummeled my body. Mile after mile the roads bumped and banged my body, so much so that even double doses of pain medication couldn’t stop the pain.
As much as I want to cheer the Reds on in person, I know I can no longer do so. My body has issued its decree, cross this line and I will make you pay. As I have said many times before, a time would come that I was no longer willing to pay the price of admission, no longer willing to suffer the brutality of long trips. That time is now. I hate that it has come to this, but it is what it is.
Now this doesn’t mean that I can take shorter trips to places like Toledo, Fort Wayne, Magee Marsh, or Marblehead. An hour or two from home, along back roads at a slow speed, I can still do. There’s a minor league baseball team in Fort Wayne and Toledo, so I can still enjoy the live game experience. There’s plenty for us to see and do within a few hours of our home. There’s plenty of sites and out-of-the-way places to photograph. Instead of lamenting what I can’t do, I choose to focus on what I can do. This is me adapting to my environment. Shout out, Charles Darwin.
My chauffeur driving our 2015 Ford Escape. What’s real interesting is the gravel pit in the background. I sure wanted to climb down there and take some photographs.
We recently bought a new car, a 2015 Ford Escape. We made this purchase because I was having difficulty getting in and out of our 2013 Ford Fusion. The Escape sits up higher and has greater head and leg room, allowing me to sit comfortably, even when I have to twist my body to lessen the pain. We are quite pleased with the car. Actually it is an SUV, but we call it car. Health problems have robbed me of my ability to drive any distance but a short one. This is another thing I’ve had to adapt to. For decades, I did most of the driving and now I must rely on Polly to chauffeur me wherever I want to do. Again, it is what it is.
The nasty injury detailed at the start of this post has proved to be a wake up call for Polly and I. I no longer can afford to push the envelope, risking injury. Since I am diabetic, any type of wound is a concern. I pastored several people who lost their legs due to a cut or wound that morphed into an abscess drugs and doctors could not cure. Despite all our miracle-working drugs, there are viruses and bacteria that can and do kill us. I must take better care of myself, not putting myself in circumstances that could cause physical injury. When I walk with a cane, I tend to ignore my limitations. When using a wheelchair, it is obvious that I can no longer pretend to be Superman. While I refuse to give up, I must face reality and adjust my life accordingly.
The good news is that Polly will still be by my side. We’re in this together until death do us part. Her love and care make the pain and suffering bearable.
Several people have asked about my doctor’s appointment today. Although I do have gallstones, the surgeon does not think I should have my gallbladder removed. He said that I do not have classic gallbladder symptoms. Normally, the pain would be on the right side and vary depending on what I ate. My pain is sharp, constant, in the upper left quadrant. I can not sleep on my left side, back, or stomach. Right now, I am getting 3-4 hours of sleep a night.
So, watch and wait. Blood work tomorrow to make sure I don’t have pancreatitis. Could be pleurisy, but I have had it before and it always is made worse by inhaling. This pain is constant, deep. Could be inflammation, so I am also having my SED rate rechecked to see if it has gone up. As you might remember, under 20 in the norm. Last year, my SED rate climbed to 35 and then in December it jumped from 35 to 67. This is a sign of increasing inflammation, but where?
Doctor thinks I should have CT scan or MRI repeated again if pain doesn’t go away.
Only negative was having to listen to the doctor (surgeon) lecture me about my weight. I have never seen him before. He acted like he knew everything about me. He is a big believer in calories in/calories out determining a person’s weight. His ignorance reflects his age, 63. I said nothing and let him preach his sermon. He knew I had Fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and neurological problems, but, in his mind, I just needed to eat less. Never mind, he didn’t ask what I did eat. Had he done so, he would have found out that 90% of the time I don’t overeat. He thought my weight loss was wonderful. Never mind it is because I have no appetite. He could see my pants were falling off of me…but hey…no Big Mac and all will be well.
I am frustrated, tired, sick, angry, pissed off, depressed, and suicidal. I have those moments where I say to myself, no more. Maybe Polly would be better off collecting the insurance and finding herself a man that isn’t a physical wreck. She deserves better.
Since November 2014, I’ve had a CT scan, MRI, ultrasound, endoscopic ultrasound, biopsies of pancreas and lymph nodes, numerous blood tests, and five office visits. Cost? My insurance paid out $25,000 of which I (we) owed over $6,000. Just today, after my latest appointment, we stopped at 1st Source in Fort Wayne, to sign papers for a $5,000 personal loan. Parkview Hospital refused to help us with the bill and demanded we pay the bill off in no more than 12 payments. To avoid them ruining our credit, we took out a personal loan.
All this money and I am not one step closer to knowing what is wrong with me. Last week, the gastroenterologist called and said he wanted the endoscopic ultrasound redone in 6-9 months. Why? I thought my biopsies were benign?
I am not writing this to solicit medical advice, money, or sympathy. This is not a cry for help. No intervention is needed or desired. This is me grabbing the hair on my hairless head and screaming ____________________. (fill blank in with appropriate swear word)
What I have detailed above has been my life since 2007. I’ve had Fibromyaglia since 1997, but, in 2007, I started having neurological problems. Numbness in my thighs, face, and feet. Burning, searing pain if I walk for every long. I’ve lost motor function and muscle strength. I can no longer drive the car and must use a cane or wheelchair to get around. The doctors initially thought I had MS, but after $20,000 worth of brain scans and tests, the doctors said “inconclusive for MS.”
Since 2007, I have also had basal cell skin cancer removed from my nose, a cyst removed from my leg, and carpal tunnel surgery. Last weekend, I had a nasty fall and almost fell down a concrete abutment into a canal filled with water. Instead of falling backwards, I fell forward, spraining my ankle and causing a huge, bloody contusion on my leg. Polly was trying to help me up the abutment when all of a sudden she lost her grip and I fell. She ended up with bruised knees. But hey, I got some great photographs.
Why are you writing this, Bruce? Beats me. Feels good. Time to play some Rage Against the Machine.
Yes, I feel like dying. Yes, I feel like throwing in towel. Yes, I feel like taking a Doctor House dosage of drugs and calling it a day never to wake up again. But, I can’t. The Reds are 3-0 and in first place. Maybe this is the year. Polly and I have tickets for Sunday’s Reds vs. Cardinals game. I can’t feel any worse than I do now…well I don’t think I can anyway, so I am going to keeping doing what I can do. As long as the sun is shining, there is gas in the car, and money in the checkbook, I plan on getting out of the house, camera in hand.
Four bottles of inexpensive wine we purchased at St. Julian Winery in Paw Paw. Michigan
She took the day off.
The weatherman says sunny and 55, I hope he’s right.
I busy myself getting ready for tomorrow.
Clean the house, I tell myself. Can’t leave if the house isn’t clean.
House is clean.
I put my camera equipment on the table, tripods behind the door, ready for loading in the morning.
I check the camera batteries and make sure the flash cards are installed.
No need for the GPS, we have iPhones now, so Google maps will direct us to our destination. Just to safe, I put some paper, a pen, a flashlight, and maps of Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio in my briefcase and put it with the camera equipment.
Clothes, shoes, wallet, jacket, and hat, all ready for the morning.
She will be home soon.
She sees that I cleaned the house. She smiles and shakes her head. She knows…36 years of knowing…
I want to be out of the house by 10, I tell her. And I mean 10, I add, knowing that I am fighting a battle I have lost more times than I can count.
A restless night, I get 4 hours sleep before she wakes me up.
The car is loaded, ready to go. Ten minutes late…
She drives. I want to drive but I know I can’t. I am no longer physically able to drive. I know this, but I still want to drive. She ignores me, knowing I will no longer put up a fight.
Off to Fort Wayne first to drop off papers at the hospital. I owe them $5,000.00. I hope they will reduce the amount I owe.
She wants to go Rome City to see an old, no longer functioning self-sustaining nunnery.
It’s not long before I start feeling every bump and thump as we ride over roads savaged by harsh Midwestern winter.
Our destination is South Haven, Michigan. Sunset is at 7:45. I want to get there by 6:00. How we get to South Haven is undetermined.
This is a Gerencser road trip, one our six children experienced many times. A general destination with no certain route.
The assault on my body continues. I complain some, but I know it is not her fault. If I had known this is how painful the trip was going to be, I would have stayed home. I am glad I didn’t.
North and West we travel, meandering down never before traveled roads.
I set Google maps to no highways or toll roads. We want to see what most people never take the time to see.
Amish, horses, buggies, laundry gently blowing in the wind. What a pleasant surprise.
Where’s their school, she asks. Soon, we stumble upon it. Look at all the bicycles and yellow vests.
Countless stops so I can get out of the car and take photographs. It’s not long before my shoes are muddy, muddying up the floor and mat cleaned the night before.
Sometimes, I stay in the car, using the window to steady my telephoto camera lens. We fuss a bit as she tries to maneuver the car so I can take a shot. We’ve been fussing for 36 years. It means nothing, our love transcends anything we could say to one another.
We finally come to a road we’ve traveled before. Soon we come to Paw Paw, Michigan. Let’s stop at the winery, she says, and I say, sure.
So much wine, so little money. I sure could use a drink. We buy four bottles of inexpensive wine. As we checkout, I tell the young woman waiting on us that we were once part of a religion that forbade the drinking of alcohol. She replies, really? Her face tells me she’s never heard of such craziness. I go on to tell her that we were 50 years old before we drank wine for the first time. I chuckle and say, we are living the 60’s and 70’s a little late in life.
She needs to use the bathroom, so does our daughter with Down Syndrome. I’ll tell her I’ll take the wine out to the car, She says, OK, and hands me the keys.
I open the trunk of the car, put the wine in, and carefully wrap the bottles with a towel.
I slam the trunk of the car and reach into my pocket for the keys so I can unlock the car.
Panic. You didn’t. You fucking idiot. Surely, you didn’t lock the keys in the trunk? You damn idiot, yes you did.
Soon she comes out to the car and I tell her what I’ve done. I thought I had ruined our day. She calmly reaches into her purse and pulls out the second set of keys. Disaster averted.
I am mad at myself, still upset over the keys. 57 years, and I’ve never locked the keys in a car until today. My self-esteem takes another dive.
Back on the road, time to head to South Haven.
The roads continue to pummel me. She notices that I am writhing in the seat and says,I’m sorry. I say, it’s OK. It’s not, but only death will keep me from reaching our destination.
5:00 Pain meds. She notices I have taken the maximum dosage for the day, but she says nothing. She knows I will have to take extra pain meds to get through the day.
It’s 5:30 as we pull into the parking lot near the beach. She and I have been here many times. It’s our favorite place to be. There’s nothing better than watching a Lake Michigan sunset, especially when the one you love are by your side.
The sun is shining, it’s 54 degrees.
The Lake is frozen, the beach is covered with a mishmash of ice, melting snow, and sand.
People are out and about. One young woman is in flip-flops and a white sun dress. Silly humans, we are, worshiping the warmth of our star.
We make our way out to the lighthouse. I walking slowly, prodding the ground with my cane, making sure the slushy snow beneath my feet is firm.
We finally reach the point, the first time we’ve been here when the Lake is frozen.
People come and go as we stand there enjoying the warmth and the view. What a wonderful view…
A talkative woman stands nearby. Her back is to the sun and Lake. She seems only interested in talking to those who are near her. She’s lecturing a young couple about an upcoming sales tax initiative. She’s against it. She turns to me and asks, do you read? Yes. What do you read? Books. Philosophy? Yes. I’m thinking, really, here I am 3 hours from home, away from my blog, and I am getting quizzed about philosophy? The talkative woman asks, Who? I snap back, Kierkegaard. This satisfies her and she turns to the woman in the white sun dress and tells her she’s crazy for being out there in flip-flops and no coat. I thought, I’ll tell you who’s crazy.
We walk back to the car and drive to the bluff overlooking the Lake. I’ve never taken photographs from this spot before.
I set up my tripod and prepare both my cameras to take photographs of the sunset. The show will be short and sweet, I know I must be ready.
She gets out the portable camera I bought her for Christmas. She is quite proud of her work. I hear her camera beep, knowing she is photographing me going about my craft. I used to object, but I know my children and grandchildren will one day appreciate her photographs. I’m reminded of what my friend Tom told me, photographs are about the memory, the moment. That’s what matters.
Soon the show is over and we quickly load everything back into the car. The temperature is quickly dropping. By the time we get home it drops 20 degrees.
As we make our way down from the bluff, I ask her to stop at the beach. Just a few more shots, I say. She’s cold, so she stays in the car as I setup my tripod and take a few photographs of the lighthouse, now lighted by incandescent lights along the walkway.
It’s 8:15 as we walk into Clementines. All the adrenaline has dissipated and my body now screams for attention. I can barely eat. I use the bathroom before we leave, leaning against the stall, a few tears come to my eyes. Why does it have to be this way? Why does one day with my friend and lover cost me so much?
More pain meds.
I have a counseling appointment scheduled for tomorrow. She knows, and will cancel it in the morning. Bed is what awaits me come tomorrow and several days after that. It’s the price I pay for living, for experiencing the beauty of my wife and a Lake Michigan sunset.
It’s midnight as we pull into the driveway. We’ve been gone 14 hours and driven over 300 miles. Exhausted, she falls asleep in minutes. I take more pain medication and my normal nighttime meds. I’m so exhausted that sleep comes quickly.
12 hours later, I wake up, knowing that I must now pay for yesterday.
Is it worth it?
She’s at work now and she sends me a text. The sun is shining, want to go to on a road trip?
I am so glad you wrote. Please don’t read this letter with a harsh, condemning tone, but with an urgent, pleading one. I am deeply concerned for you. If this letter feels like I’m dumping a bucket of cold water on your head, it’s because I want you to wake up!
Let’s start with who a Christian is.
An atheist and a Christian just aren’t compatible.
A Christian is a person who is now one with Christ. A Christian has been rescued by Jesus out of the darkness of sin and has been brought into His marvelous light—transformed from the inside out. A Christian has the spirit of Christ living inside of them! A Christian is someone whose entire identity has been refashioned around Christ. Christ is their life. Christ is the reason they are now accepted and beloved by God the Father.
An atheist, on the other hand, denies that God even exists. An atheist hates the very idea of there being a God.
An atheist and a Christian just aren’t compatible…
…You will have to choose between God and this man. You can’t have both. James warns “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Let me be clear about this, though. If you choose God over this man, God will not love you any more than He already does. It won’t earn you extra points with God. If you truly trust in Christ Jesus as both your Savior and your Lord, you are already His 100% dearly loved child.
Does that mean that you have the freedom to date this man? No way! Besides, why would you want to, when Christ has revealed Himself to you as the greatest treasure there is—both in this life and for the life to come?
I get it that you have strong feelings toward this man. I’ve been where you are. And if you’re anything like me, my guess is that what you’re feeling isn’t true love, but something closer to romantic desire . . . and even maybe lust…
These atheists, they must be scary people. I suspect they hang out at dance halls, lurking in the shadows, hoping to find a virgin Evangelical girl they can entice with thoughts of love and draw them away to the dark side. As every Christian knows, atheists are child molesters, sexual perverts, Satan worshipers, and eat babies on Friday. According to Hendricks, atheists hate “the very idea of there being a God.” In one sentence, like most Evangelicals, Hendricks reveals that she doesn’t really know any atheists. All she has to go on is the bigoted stereotype she was taught in church. If she actually knew any atheists, she would know that atheists don’t hate the thought of the existence of God. How can they since they don’t believe there is a God? What many atheists do hate is what Christianity DOES in the name of its God.
Pity the poor girl who sent Hendricks the email. She’s fallen in love with her dance partner, and according to Hendricks she shouldn’t act on this love because God says such love is a sin. Besides, what she may really be “feeling” is lust. Ah yes, the ever-present lust that lurks in the heart of Evangelicals. You’d think with God living inside of you that there would be no room for lust, but it seems that Evangelicals lust just like us unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines.
Hey, Caitriona, You’re welcome here. While my statement may have been a bit broad and might not perfectly characterize all self-professed atheists, Romans 1 tells us that we’re ALL God-haters (whether we claim to be atheists or not), and we suppress the truth about Him in our unrighteousness.
I was a God-hater, too, until God revealed His lovingkindness to me in Christ Jesus paying the penalty for my sin so I might be set free from being a slave to my own selfish passions and might become His beloved, adopted daughter.
This is a bit off topic, but would you be bold enough to ask God to reveal Himself to you if He really is real? And . . . would you be open to picking up a Bible and reading the book of Romans, or John?
Hey Caitriona, thanks for your input, I appreciate you taking time to comment:) I don’t want to get into any arguments by any means, but I would like to just give you some food for thought: if there isn’t a God, then that would mean that there really is no purpose for anyone’s life, right? I mean, if we’re all just here by accident, what does it matter? when you take God out of the equation, there is no longer value in anyone’s life, or in the world. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to kill anyone I don’t like? because the government says so? But if we’re all just an accident, with no real purpose, it’s “just” another person with no eternal value. How CAN anyone have true value without God?
On the flip side, we know for a fact that every human being (unborn or not), has value. Everyone has value because they were created in the image of a Holy God, and he loves us SO much! More than you could ever imagine! God cares about us so much that he even collects every tear we’ve ever cried and He keeps them!…
Typical Evangelical drivel, but here’s the thing, I actually agree with Hendricks. Generally, it is ill-advised for anyone to marry someone who does not share their religious, ethical, and moral values. More than one marriage has been brought to ruin by clashing worldviews. Better to seek out a life partner that hasn’t been taught that you are a hater of God, the enemy of God, a tool of Satan. Atheists and Evangelicals alike think they can win over their boyfriend or girlfriend. Rarely, does it work out.
The Evangelical church emphasizes the need for every person to have a personal salvation experience. Countless young men have made what I call, excuse the bluntness, a pussy-driven salvation decision. They want the girl and they can’t have her, so they start going to church, make a profession of faith, and viola the girl agrees to date him. Later they marry, and then the girl finds out that the boy she married feigned faith so he could date her. More than a few of these marriages end in divorce.
Atheists and non-Christians have a completely different way of looking at the world. Evangelicalism is a world filled with Bible verses, commands, and thou shalt not’s. It is a world that will surely frustrate the non-Evangelical. It’s a world where obedience to authority is demanded at every corner and freedom of thought is often discouraged and condemned. It is a place fun loving, free people go to die (and yes, I am painting with a Bruce’s Wide Ass Brush®).
Over the years, I have corresponded with a number of atheists who are in a mixed marriage. While most of them have found a way to make peace with their Evangelical spouse, their emails speak to the great pain and disconnect that comes from such a relationship. The believing spouse wants his or her unbelieving husband or wife to go to church and at least “act” like a Christian. More than a few of the people who have corresponded with me go to church every Sunday to please their spouses. Some of them are secret atheists. Their spouse doesn’t know they no longer believe. They go to church, sing the songs, and listen to sermons they think are bullshit. Why do they do this? Love. They love their believing spouse and children and they want there to be peace on the home front. All would agree that it would have been better for them if they had married a person who shared the same worldview, but they are willing to do all they can to make the marriage work.
Sadly, some of those I have corresponded with are now divorced. The reasons are many, but religion played a part in every divorce. The prophet Amos was right when he posed the rhetorical question, Can two walk together except they be agreed?
Do you have a story to tell or some marriage advice to give? Please share it in the comment section.
I have suffered with depression most of my adult life, especially since being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 1997.
Over the past two decades, not only have I had to contend with Fibromyalgia, I’ve had to deal with neurological problems that are ever so-slowly-robbing me of my physical strength and ability to walk. My cane and wheelchair are never far away. Some days, most days, are cane days, other days are wheelchair days. Some days are cane and wheelchair days, days when I want to use my cane to club the thoughtless people who walk in front me, try to get in front of me, or just stand there ignoring the fact that I can’t get around them. If illness and debility have taught me anything, they have taught me that some of my fellow humans are narcissistic, self-absorbed assholes who have no time or empathy for others.
Every day is a pain day for me. Some days the pain is manageable and it fades into the background as I write. Other days, the pain is standing with both feet on my neck, threatening to turn me into a weeping, pathetic man. Most days are a balance between these extremes. I take my pain meds, try to function, and live for another day.
Along with Fibromyalgia, neurological problems, loss of function, and pain, I’ve had to deal with skin cancer, cysts, a recent pancreatic cancer scare, loss of appetite, on-and-off loss of cognitive function, a not-yet-repaired labrum tear in my shoulder, torn menisci in both of my knees, osteoarthritis, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Healthwise, my plate is full. That said, I accept my life as it is. I am a realist. I don’t try to delude myself into thinking I am a young buck running through the forest in chase of a doe. I am a loving, kind, passionate man who, due to genetics, luck, environmental exposure, and personal lifestyle choices, has a body that is dying at a faster rate than others my age. I am a high mileage automobile that from a distance looks good, but close inspection reveals a lot of wear and tear.
All of this I embrace and own. It’s my life, I have to live it on the terms dictated to me by my body. Thinking happy thoughts, putting mind over matter, pretending things are different from what they are provide no help for me. Even when I was a young man, a healthy, strapping, strong man who hunted, hiked, cut wood, and could bend the world to my will, I tried to see things as they are.
Having a father die at 49 and a mother commit suicide at 54 tends to give one a particular perspective. Visiting sick and dying church members in the hospital tends to remind one that life is short. My experiences with the sick and dead have certainly shaped my understanding of life and I know path I am on, healthwise, leads to a fiery furnace. No not hell, silly. I am going to be cremated after I die.
My counselor has told me several times that it would be unusual for a person with the health problems I have to not be depressed. He knows I struggle with suicidal thoughts, but he also knows that these thoughts are driven by the chronic, unrelenting physical pain, Through kindness, compassion, friendship, and support, he keeps me from falling down the rabbit hole, never to be seen again.
As many depressives will tell you, it is often little things that worsen their depression. For me, it’s not the chronic illness and unrelenting pain…it’s the little, unexpected things that push me towards the abyss. Things like:
Falling and wrenching the shoulder that has the labrum tear
Getting out of the house so I can take photographs, only to find out I left the SD card in the card reader
Emails and texts to friends who never respond
Health advice from people I have repeatedly asked to stop pretending they are doctors
People asking me, have you tried this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that…
Dropping a dish on my foot
Stubbing my toe in the dark on something that is not where it is supposed to be
Nothing in the refrigerator I want to eat
The printer running out of ink or toner
Needing a quarter for a cart at Aldi and not having one
The batteries in the remote dying just as I get comfortable in my chair or bed
Making an error in the checkbook
Store clerks who treat me as if I have a disease or worse yet, treat me as if I don’t exist
Finding out last night’s dinner stained my favorite shirt
The DVR not recording a show I wanted to watch
No milk and I want to eat a bowl of cereal
Silly stuff, I know. But, here’s what you need to understand: for those who live with chronic illness and pain, there’s a cumulative effect. Their lives are already filled to the brim with the struggles that come from their illness. It’s often all they can do just to live another day. So, when a small insignificant thing is thrown on top of their load, it can and does bring them crashing down.
Try to remember this the next time you think your suffering friend is overreacting to a small matter: it’s not that one thing that is the problem; it’s the accumulation of numerous small things that have left your friend or loved one curled up on the bed wanting to die.