Friday, April 28, 2017

Pain in Focus


Without medication, 80% of my waking hours are spent in pain to one degree or another. I say 80% rather than 100% because I recently started back to work one day per week and I noticed at the end of my second work day that I had hardly noticed my pain that day.  I am certain that the inflammation and pain was still there, but my mind was so focused on the tasks at hand that my pain registered as unimportant in my brain. If you find this incredulous or you cannot relate, think about how much harder you work out at the gym if your favorite song comes on you iPod or the gym starts playing music from the Rocky movies. This phenomenon has set the cogs and wheels of my mind in motion, meditating on my focus in life and how much I let distractions rule me.

As I said, my main distraction is pain because it is my constant friend. I spend a great de,al of time avoiding things that may or may not add to that pain, which in turn causes me to experience more pain rather than less pain because that is what I am dwelling on.  Let me try to give you an example. Right now, your foot is most likely gently resting on the floor as you read this. Your foot's nerve endings are receiving all kinds of data and relaying it to your mind, even more so as you become more aware of that foot's perceived sensations. As you think about this, your foot not only feels heavier as it rests there and you become much more aware of how that feels because that's where your focus lies. And it is the same with your pain, the more you dwell on it, the more you feel it.

So you're in pain and would very much like to not experience it; it's all very well and good for someone to tell you to focus on something else and you'll feel better.  While there is a great deal of truth to it, when you are in the throes of pain, sometimes you need a little help to refocus.  Recently, music therapy has come into vogue, and rightly so. Not everyone can afford or find a music therapist, but everyone can find some music that soothes their soul or revs them in order to refocus our thoughts. Apparently, what music works best is as individual as you are. While many music therapy session include immersion in or active participation in the music, etc., even having music in the background can help. I know that when I have the unpleasant task of paying bills or sorting through bank statements, I play Christmas music because it makes me smile. This won't be true of everyone....or even most people. When I am driving through heavy traffic in Atlanta, I listen to Gregorian Chants because I find the music very calming.

While thinking about using music as a distraction away from my focus on pain, it occurred to me that music is only one of many things we can/should do that have the happy side effect of alleviating our pains. As I said before, I started back to work and was very pleasantly surprised that I experienced a definite decrease in my perceived pain. Doing something for others, which takes the focus off of our self and puts it onto the needs of others often boosts our mood, which translates into less perceived pain. Any activity where we experience a state of flow, whether it is something as simple as pulling weeds or needlework as you intently focus on every aspect of that particular task, not only takes our mind away from our pain, but also is highly gratifying. This is perhaps the reason I enjoy cooking; not only do I focus on simply following a recipe, but I am drawn in by textures, aromas, and tastes. For my mother it has been her art, and sometimes, cleaning. I can remember as a child that if I were in an irritable mood, my mother would make me clean out my closet or drawers. Begrudgingly, I would begin and gradually I would become lost in the task as I discovered things I had forgotten or lost or remembered happy memories upon rediscovering some little trinket.

I also find focus when I am reading either Scripture or a good theologian. As my heart finds rests in His promises or wrestles with opposing doctrines or discovers even greater depths of God's great love for me, I find myself completely absorbed in these ideas as I mentally take them out of the box and admire them from all different angles. Books that are just barely outside of my mental reach that cause me to stretch and grow (the kind my dear husband recommends to me) are most likely to fully engage me. And, as I unpack new ideas, I find I carry them with me through the other areas of my life. I am reminded of several verses that frequently come to my mind when I am stressed, worried or in pain. They instantly recenter my thoughts to the proper place. Hopefully, you will find the same peace from them.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.  Isaiah 26:3



Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness[d] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned[e] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:4-9
*As a disclaimer, none of this is meant to be used as medical advice. 


Monday, February 27, 2017

Lent: Family Traditions


Family Traditions

Most all families have some traditions. Often these focus around holidays. While I was growing up, there was not a debate: Christmas Eve was at my grandparents’ home where a generous meal climaxed in the joyous opening of presents. Other families reserve the same week every year so they can vacation together, often at the same spot. Traditions protect relationships and help us remember how we are committed to and love one another as family.

The Christian family, also known as the Church, has done this since earliest years, and made these traditions into a church calendar. Though this dates back to the fourth century and earlier, some Protestants are a bit erratic in how it is celebrated these days as it seems a bit “Catholic.” However, in the early days, all of the church was “catholic,” that is, universal. There was no “Roman Catholic” church, just the Church universal. That is what we refer to when we cite the Apostles’ Creed on Sundays.

The Church calendar is built around two major seasons focused on the two major Christian holidays: Christmas and Easter. Most all Christians observe these. Many Protestants still include Advent, and at First Pres we celebrate with the Advent wreath being lighted by families on the four Sundays before Christmas. We, of course, celebrate Easter and even Good Friday is a holiday for most. But what of the rest of the tradition – the rest of our family calendar that calls us together to celebrate our ancestry dating back to Jesus? It is a little fuzzy. Different churches do different things.

So, a quick look at the main events. We are familiar with Advent where we anticipate the birth of Christ and His return by preparing our hearts. In the Christian calendar, however, Christmas is a season, not just a day. Guess what? It lasts twelve days (does this bring a song to mind?). It ends with Epiphany, a celebration of the visit of the wise men to see Jesus (remember: they weren’t present at the manger.)

The calendar takes a break until the Easter season begins. As Advent leads up to Christmas, so Lent leads up to Easter. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. The ashes placed on the foreheads in some churches represent the dust of which we are made and to which we return as we enter into a season of repentance and reflection as we prepare our hearts for Easter. This heightened awareness of our sin and mortality serves to help the Church family be more grateful for the redemption accomplished by Christ on Easter weekend. It also commemorates Jesus’ suffering as He fasted the forty days in the wilderness when He was tempted by Satan. (For folks who notice numbers, Lent is actually 46 days as Sundays are considered feast days and are not included.)

I find something special in remembering these days and seasons, sharing in my spiritual family’s tradition of nearly 2000 years. It keeps my focus on Jesus in these seasons and on all that He has done for me and my Church family. The next season is Lent (Ash Wednesday is March 1st), and often Christians give up something for Lent as a way of sharing in Christ’s suffering during His fast. This does not have to be food, but it might be media or other things that might distract us from our Lord.

Prayerfully consider how God would have you and your biological family connect to the traditions of your spiritual family this year.

~Timothy A. Sisemore