For the past week, I've stayed at a ten on the pain-scale. Monday started out well - my knee felt good, the rest of me was fairly level. Things took a sharp nosedive with an extra dose of emotional distress on Tuesday morning, but I shook that off fairly quickly. It was just a confirmation of what I already suspected; that a person I had spent a lot of time loving had become someone I didn't know anymore. I didn't want to accept it, but denial only lasts so long. I've spent the past three months mourning the loss of that love and it is time to move on. So - I'm doing that; living life, focusing on being happy and getting well.

Wednesday morning, I got up and tried to leash my dog to go for a walk, and I threw my back out. Immediate agony flared across the L5 region. I couldn't straighten up. So I did the bent-double duck-foot shuffle to the couch and pushed myself upright. SCREAMING pain. INCREDIBLE pain. Fortunately, my seventeen-year-old was home and she helped me get to work; I couldn't take the day off because it was payday and I handle payroll. I spent two hours in my office chair and could barely get to my feet by ten. I was walking by leaning on two canes. My daughter drove me home and I collapsed on the couch. The pain was no better by Thursday. On Friday, I visited a chiropractor. She is an extraordinarily talented doctor and sat with me for a short time, taking my history. She wanted to know if I had strained my back by doing too much yard-work or heavy lifting. I told her no, that I hadn't done anything out of the ordinary. She gave me a shrewd glance and asked if I'd been under a lot of stress lately, and I said yes. She said that would explain it - the stress had caused an RA flare, and the flare had led to the back injury. Goodbye progress - hello inflammation. After getting my back manipulated, I did the duck-foot bent-double shuffle back out to the car.

My back felt somewhat better on Saturday. I took it easy all day, even though looking at the hideous condition of my house and facing another boring day on the couch made my skin crawl. I woke up feeling even better Sunday morning. I thought I could risk walking my dog, so I leashed him up without hurting myself, and then put on my shoes. Yeah - not smart. Pushing the right foot into a shoe caused a jolt of pain to go across my back, but it subsided quickly. I took Oskar for a short walk and came back inside, still feeling ok. But it didn't last.

By lunch-time, my back was stiff and painful again. Not as bad as Wednesday, but every bit as bad as Friday. It is late Sunday night now, and I am in considerable pain at the moment. I have an appointment with the chiropractor again tomorrow. I hope it will help.

Being out of commission for the last five days has given me a lot of time to think. That has been both good and bad, in its own way. I've been leading a support-group for people who suffer from chronic pain and/or illness for the last nine weeks or so, and I was doing some reading for the for the group. The author of one of our learning resources talked about how God is always with us, whether we feel bad or good, whether we are suffering or not, and that we should derive joy from that knowledge even when things are hard. I read that and it made me more than a little angry. Why would God just "be" with me, when God has the power to do so much more? God could end my suffering. God could have saved my relationship. God could have kept me healthy. God could have kept everything from falling apart. I didn't like the image of God just sitting there, watching me suffer; occupying space with me but doing nothing.

We who believe in God are comforted by the idea that we know God's nature, but really, we don't know much about what God is like. We know that we are made in God's image, but what does that really tell us? I like to believe that what little we do know about God is deeply rooted in what Christ modeled during his short time on Earth. Jesus mingled with us. Healed sick people. Cared what happened to those he met. Sought out the kind of people most folks would prefer to ignore. Jesus grappled with pain and suffering. Wrestled with heartache and hardship. He would not just sit silently and watch me suffer. At least, I don't like to think he would.

So what do we do with the idea that God can end our suffering but sometimes chooses not to?

That's a really hard question. I'm not sure it has an answer, but I do have some thoughts around it. Some of those thoughts are comforting. Others are not. Recently, a friend told me not to think about the prayers God hasn't answered, but to think about the ways God has blessed me that I never asked for or imagined. It's true, I have been blessed in many areas of my life. Whose fault is it that I am obsessed with getting what I want in one or two ways, rather than looking at the bigger picture? Mine, of course. And that line of thinking led me to consider how God treats us as a whole person rather than just a series of physical systems in need of healing or maintenance, or a collection of emotions that are volatile, sometimes unreasonable, and easily disturbed. After that, I had to admit that there are probably dimensions of who I am that I never see, but if I believe in an omniscient, omnipresent God, then I have to believe that God sees them, knows what is best for them, and will work to take care of them. It is possible that there are parts of who I am that are being healed and perfected without me ever knowing.

I guess it comes down to what type of faith I have - do I believe that God is good, even when God's actions or inactions do not seem or feel good? Do I believe that God wants good things for me? Since my belief is built upon my experience and filtered through my reason, I believe God does, but I also believe that God's idea of good and my idea of good may not always align. For instance, God may find it good that my patience is increased and my ability to empathize is refined. I may prefer to have what I want when I want it and not to suffer or understand suffering. God may find it good that I not depend upon anyone but God. I might prefer to have a human presence in my life to support and love me, and to whom I can give mutual support and love. So - who's right?

Maybe we both are. I have struggled with the dichotomy I was taught as a child, that the body is to be ignored and the spirit to be nurtured. The truth is that the body houses the spirit, the two are blended, and both are creations of God. My emotional needs are important, my spiritual needs are important, and my physical needs and condition are equally important. If I believe that God is good, then I must believe that God cares about all three, and all the other parts of who I am that I may not even know about. And that leads me to think that even though things are not the way I want them to be now, better things are coming. I am not pollyanna enough to believe that there will ever be a time in my life when everything is perfect, but I do believe that God will provide the things I need. Maybe not when I think I need them. That's the struggle, and I have to come to terms with it.

In a way, the whole thing reminds me of the difference between my rheumatologist - with whom I have been dissatisfied - and my chiropractor. My rheumatologist looks at a series of numbers on a report and treats those numbers as if they are the whole person. He wants to lower my inflammatory markers. He doesn't care if I can't walk, if I can't get to work, if I can't get up and clean my house or cook a meal. My chiropractor looks at me, asks me where I am emotionally as well as physically, and tries to help me achieve a level of comfort with my body that will enable me to live my life. I have no doubt that my chiropractor cares about my emotional distress, but it isn't her job to help me deal with that. I guess that's my therapist's job. The point is that each of these people deals with a different piece of who I am. God deals with the whole person, even the parts I don't know about.

If you made it this far, congratulations. I hope you weren't looking for a resolution to any of the problems I addressed here, because I don't have one. I do believe that God is with me - maybe God is working on my suffering in ways I can't see or feel. But does that mean that I will get the miracles I've prayed for? A healthy relationship with the man I love? A healthy body that responds the way I need it to? I don't know. I guess I'll have to live with that.


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