4 Lessons I’m Learning from the Hardest Season of My Life

If you’ve followed my blog for a bit, you know about my struggle with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, and the 5 lessons I’m learning about walking with people in pain. This post is from a different angle–it’s about what pain is teaching me about life. I think the lessons here apply to anyone. I first wrote this a number of months ago for another context, and then ended up not publishing it. But it feels too significant not to share, so I’m posting it here. Let me know what you would add . . .

I curled into a fetal position, slamming my head over and over into the couch, like a drunken war vet who just wants to forget. The hot tears steamed down my face and dripped off the end of my nose, as the air turned a metaphorical blue from the swear words pouring from my lips. I coiled my hand into my mouth and bit down, trying to stifle the screams of frustration, anger, and hopelessness. Then I bit harder, so that I could taste the pain, because somehow I wanted my body to really feel the haunting emptiness and desperate loneliness I felt inside. I had never, ever, felt so alone.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Four years earlier, I had graduated from university at the top of my class. A couple of months later, I married my high-school sweetheart. Six weeks after our wedding, I started as Director of Student Ministries at a large church. I was 22, happily married, full of vision, and doing my dream job. For a couple of years, life was mostly good.

Then the depression hit. Full-scale, I’m-out-of-control, clinical depression. Uncontrollable anger. Desperate sadness. 20lbs of weight gain. Foggy thinking. Total lack of energy.

It was awful. After months of negativity and bad communication, my wife was emotionally beat up and spent. I felt exhausted at work and even more exhausted at home. Perhaps most frighteningly, in many ways, I didn’t even know my own self anymore. Where was the high-energy, straight A’s, idealistic college student of just a few years before? Where was the never-give-up, we-can-do-this, full-of-vision person that I was used to being? My wife said over and over, “I’d do anything to get the real you back.” Me too, I’d think, if only I knew how.

I tried everything to get that person back. Anti-depressants. Counseling. Rest. Light therapy. Vitamins. Exercise. But nothing seemed to help. For three years I lived life with the shadow of death in the passenger seat.

And I told almost no one. [Read more…]

5 Can’t-Miss Lessons for Walking with People in Pain

As many of you know, this has been the hardest year of my life. I’ve lost count of the number of doctor’s visits we’ve had, but it’s well over 70. The battle with depression and discouragement has been just as real. Along the way, I’ve asked you for permission to share some of the things God is teaching me. But this post isn’t only about me–it’s about someone else who has walked in tremendous physical and emotional pain, and the things we’ve all been learning as we walk this road together. This one’s a bit longer than normal, but it comes from the gut. Thanks for letting us share some of the lessons we’ve learned . . .

(Photo by vajdic at sxc.hu)

(Photo by vajdic at sxc.hu)

It’s hard to walk with someone through times of tremendous pain. And tremendous pain is what my sister has experienced for 14 years. In 1999, she suffered a severe head injury. This led to too many problems to count–chronic, high-level pain . . . extreme fatigue . . . constant nausea and dizziness . . . loads of spinal problems . . . . Then, just as she was finally recovering, nearly 10 years later, disaster struck again. While on a work assignment in Peru, a bus she was riding got in a traffic accident. Faced again with spinal problems and a head injury, her body went into a fully reactive mode, and began to attack everything. She developed off-the-charts food allergies, and then the life-changing burden of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. It was–and is–heart-breaking.

In the first years after her injury, she shared her world of pain with me by writing. I remember sitting at my desk in university, crying hot tears of anguish as I struggled to type a response. I remember walking the neighborhoods of NE Portland, yelling at God at the top of my lungs. The pain she has felt has been real and fresh. The questions we ask in those moments are raw and unfiltered. I was doing everything I could to understand what she was going through. She would say that I was one of the best at entering her pain with her. 

But I still I had no idea. 

And then it happened to me–to us. [Read more…]

Caution: Change Ahead

Sometimes you see things coming. And other times, things are forced upon you. Last week it was the second one.

MCS, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, Youth Ministry

(Photo by Christopher Whalen at Creative Commons)

Day one of summer camp for our denomination started well. After months of focusing on MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities) I was glad to be back in a familiar role: camp speaker. Also familiar was the easy banter of being with students, the constant dunking attempts of middle school boys in the water (they were about 1 for 20 against me), and the dinner-time conversations of a camp filled with high school and university students. After a day of fun in the water, we settled into an evening of singing, teaching, and games. I was looking forward to digging into Philippians chapter one with the group the next morning. It felt great to be back at camp.

And then the fog rolled in. [Read more…]

Have You Seen This Person?

Friends–This post isn’t about youth ministry. It isn’t about God. It’s not even about Christianity–at least, not directly. It’s about people–me and you–and it’s about life. I wrote it about two weeks ago. It’s longer than usual, because it’s more story than blog post. Thanks for experiencing it with me …

The rain is beating against the top of the tent as I write this. I’m sitting on a blue, nylon cot, my back aching for lack of a normal chair. Caleb, on the green cot a few feet away, is peeking out at me from inside his sleeping bag. Hopefully soon sleep will overtake him for his mid-afternoon nap. Occasionally I reach up with a black Maglight flashlight and push the puddle off the roof of the tent, so it doesn’t begin to drip through. It’s been dumping rain like this for the better part of two days.

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All told, I’ve spent more than 2 years of my life camping in tents. I’ve endured Idaho rainstorms so powerful that the wind rolled tents down the beach–with people still in them. But this is the first one I’ve sat through on the back patio of a house. Why? Because Caleb and I simply can’t go inside.
[Read more…]

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