Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Not for Sissies

I heard that "getting old ain't for sissies." Certainly it ain't for people who can't adjust to change, the kind of change they don't like. Lately I've endured a few of those. They didn't match me so I felt they were out of style the moment they arrived. 

If I had to describe myself in one word, I would say "goal-oriented." Yeah, that's two words but only one term. Over the years, my goals have been hunting related, athletic, fishing related, athletic, educational, athletic, ecclesiastical, athletic, intellectual, and athletic. Did I mention athletic? Athletic has included cycling, running, swimming, weightlifting, and hiking. Over the last few years, those pursuits have centered primarily on swimming with running and weightlifting morphing into crosstraining for my passion of moving through water sometimes a full day at a time.

Of late, however, my pursuit of goals has ground to a depressing halt due to injuries of the knee and shoulder and have effectively stopping my running, swimming, and weightlifting. To say this has been difficult for me is like saying July in Mississippi tends to be a little on the warm side. Whine alert: if you don't want to hear me complain for paragraphs on end, stop reading now. You have been warned. 

I was only a teenager when I heard my grandmother tell my parents that the doctor told her, "Y'all can't take everything from me." The discussion had been about her driving. At the time, I laughed out loud because I knew her doctor said no such thing. What I realized only later was the struggle she was undergoing, the struggle of losing her independence. Yeah, getting old ain't for sissies, it ain't even for semi-sissies. She was faced with new limitations, and I saw first hand-- although only a mere glimpse-- how disturbing this change was to her. 

I saw it with my dad also. He remained incredibly active all his life. Into his 70s, he was the most active person I ever knew. He ran, played tennis, hunted, fished, worked on his place in Carroll County, and gardened. At the age of 81, he had to stop running due to arthritis in his right foot. One of my goals, consequently, was to run until I was at least 82. His tennis partners died off. Head mobility issues eventually ended his fishing trips to Louisiana. He was 82, I think, when he ceased his week-long fishing trips to the place he enjoyed most in life. Slowly, the world closed in on him. Trips to "the place" as he called his 176 acres in the hills, became half-day affairs instead of whole-day ones. His fishing radius narrowed and narrowed until it was confined to his pond in the country. A bad fall in a little boat ended even that.

Towards the end he struggled mightily with the limitations age brought him. He didn't just take it, however; he fought back and resisted age to the very end. I admired him for that. Literally, he died with his running shoes on, having been out for a walk the day he dropped dead. It was a shocking way for us to lose him, but one fitting for the way he lived life.

My reduction in activity along with the uncertainty of my future goals has led me into a valley of despair. I guess that's what did it. Actually, I don't know why I have had to face the dark alley I have been trapped in over the last couple of weeks. Ordinarily, I am not one much prone to getting down emotionally. However of late, I have battled the blues like never before. I am not seeking sympathy by writing this. I am seeking understanding. And as I prayed one morning for that very thing asking God, What is wrong with me? the Lord spoke to my heart. "This is what your dad was going through," He whispered to my soul.

I understand him, my dad, better now. I understand more the struggles he had as life changed for him. But that advancement of insight with my dad has not brought the same clarity for my own condition. Why am I going through this? 

The week of 7/10 - 7/16 was the nadir of my internal struggles. I felt like I was paralyzed. I had no energy, no drive, no focus. Some mornings it was difficult just getting out of the bed. I know there are people who face these struggles often. But I never have and that is one reason it was/is so shocking so frightening to me. Is this the way it is going to be from now on? I am only 61. If I feel this way now, what will 81 bring?

Interwoven in all of this was guilt, a guilt stemming from my faith. I felt almost as if God was asking me if He was enough. If everything else is gone, is God enough? I know what the correct answer to that question is. But major loss always brings with it a confusion of equilibrium. 

If I read the Bible correctly, God didn't create Adam and Eve to exist. They had work. Adam had a divinely appointed job:

     And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to            dress it and to keep it. (Genesis 2:15, KJV)

When Moses reached the end of his journey, his work, did God send him away into the wilderness to exist? No, God took him home. When Elijah finished his work, God took him. When Jesus finished his work on earth, he likewise went home.

Much remains for me. I pastor a church; I have a wife; I work a job; my grandchildren love me as do our cats. I am not confined to bed or a wheel chair. I have basic health. But I terribly miss my athletics. Long ago they replaced hunting and fishing and became much more than a path to health and fitness. They became my hobbies, the source of goals, ministry even. The Chicot Challenge is more than a goal, more than a swim, more than a good deed. I view it as ministry as does the Centerville Baptist Church. In light of all this, it makes me feel bad to feel bad. There is a word for that. It's called being conflicted. My affliction and confliction has shown me that I am ill suited to being ill.

Will my body mend? If so when, and will it ever again be able to endure sixteen straight hours of swimming? Have I been weighed in the balance by God and found wanting? I don't know the answer to these questions. A trite pat on the back and a "It will be OK," is a 'physician of little value.' I don't want your pity. I do, however, welcome your prayers.

Praise be to God who giveth me the ability to whine. (Hodge 4:7)