Tuesday, September 30, 2014


I finally got through to the doctor's office today. It's been a frustrating, week-long game of phone tag -- for them and for me. I was in a couple weeks ago, had the x-rays, talked to the doc who used words like "congenital dysplasia" and said he'd be glad to give me a cortisone shot that would make my hip feel better for a couple weeks, but that's a temporary solution.

I've been limping on and off for a few years. Sunday mornings at church with all those hours of standing on concrete floors have been killers for me. (I'm definitely in the wrong line of work, right?) During those years of intermittent hip pain I've raced mountain bikes, jogged for miles, bowhunted from tree stands in the northern Minnesota swamps and while hiking up and down buttes in the North Dakota badlands. Not bad.

This summer my hip has been getting worse. So I finally started trying stuff. Some of you have heard rumors that I even attempted yoga. It's true. I submitted to the attentions of a chiropractor and a massage therapist, all in attempts to try to figure out what's going on. Along the way, my excellent chiropractor happened to mention that "if you have bone spurs or any kind of hip issue, all the massage and chiropractic in the world won't do you any good. So let me give you the name of an amazing orthopedic surgeon who specializes in hip issues. He can check you out."

When I saw this great doctor -- and I really believe he is, in part because he takes vacations in Tanzania and does scads of hip replacement surgeries there, giving life back to a whole lot of people who would otherwise remain crippled -- his first words were encouraging. "Your knees look great." But then he went on to describe my congenitally dysplasiatic hips and say, "You'll eventually need hip surgery."

So, I asked, who decides when it's time for surgery?

"You do," he said. "When the pain gets so bad you want the surgery, we can do it. Basically it will probably happen when you can't sleep at night."


So guess who hasn't been sleeping well lately? The last several nights it's taken hours of tossing and turning to finally get to a point where I can drift off deep enough that hip twinges don't wake me up again. Then the alarm goes off way too early.

So part of the adventure has been watching an online video of a hip replacement surgery. Not exactly what I'm going to have done, but pretty close. Fascinating. It reminds me of butchering the hindquarter of a deer, something I'm quite familiar with.

I called in to reserve my particular date on the operating table. Seems a little weird.

It also makes me incredibly thankful, when I dig into various kinds of hip surgery and realize just how far this technology has come in the last few years. Pretty amazing.

In the meantime, though, I spent a few days last week limping carefully through the woods up north, carrying my new Black Widow recurve and looking for whitetails. I climbed in and out of a few tree stands, and came within a few seconds of arrowing a nice eight-point buck. It was a good trip in the fall woods.

Recovery time will keep me from doing much hunting later in the season. I might miss my annual New Year's Eve celebration on my deer stand. So I'll have to try to make good use of October, before my surgery is scheduled.

I don't have much for deep ponderings about all this, except to say that I'm spending time lately thinking about how it affects people (me in particular) to live with pain, and how God uses that pain to shape us in ways we probably don't want to be shaped. Holiness, not happiness, right?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

September days

I have to confess that I absolutely love these sunny late September / early October days. There is nothing quite like this time of year. The leaves are just starting to turn and the early morning air has a tangy feel / smell that is hard to define, but exquisite to experience. U2 recently came out with a song that includes the line, "Stolen days are just enough." Feels a little like that these days -- these gorgeous days are stolen from the advancing tide of frost lines and snowdrifts, transitory and precious beyond measuring.

In some ways we would do well to pay attention to these sensations. It is our own lives that are precious, our own moments that are stolen from an advancing tide of decay and death, and (to quote Tennyson) "all experience is an arch wherethro' gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades for ever and forever when I move."

So these September days remind us of the glorious, precious nature of our lives. Julie and I sat yesterday morning with a dear friend who is in the last days of his earthly life, and we all delighted in each others' company and said some of the things that need to be said in love and appreciation and gratitude. Life is a gift. 

Perhaps there is a touch of grief in this transitional time. We see the leaves change and we are sorrowful, just a little, for the change of seasons. Gerard Manley Hopkins drove right to the heart of these emotions in his poem "Spring and Fall: To a young child". Mercilessly truthful, he points out the reality that it is not the leaves that make us weep, but it is ourselves we mourn for:

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for. 
So enjoy these halcyon days, the last of summer, the first of fall. Revel in the treasure that is your life. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Therapeutic massage

Caution: this post runs the risk of crossing the line into TMI.

I have never been a fan of massages. Receiving them, that is. It's just not the way I like to relax. So when the chiropractor told me that I really needed an hour of therapeutic massage on my psoas (pronounced SO-AZ) muscle, I was less excited than resigned. But I have been fighting a nasty case of hip pain lately, and I'm about desperate for anything that will allow me to walk normally instead of gimping around like my left foot has exploded.

Let me tell you a little about the psoas muscle. I had never heard of it until recently. Apparently you have two of them, one on either side. In the small of your back, the psoas attaches to your spine. It then runs down through the inside of your pelvis, right along the inside of your hip joint, and attaches to the upper inside of your femur (the big leg bone), right along the inside of your thigh. It's also attached to a bunch of other muscles that run down the inside of your leg to the knee.

This is all important information because a therapeutic massage to your psoas muscle involves the therapist reaching down inside your pelvic bones somewhere behind your kidney to access the muscle. Then the massage starts, which involves pushing down even farther and displacing even more of your internal organs. If your psoas is at all tender, the discomfort grows even greater. (NOTE FOR THE UNWARY: In medical parlance, "discomfort" means you should have remembered the breathing techniques they taught your wife when she was anticipating labor without meds.)

In my therapist's words, "it's a crazy muscle." She also said somewhere along the way, "I basically get paid to beat people up."

So for an hour, the massage therapist worked inside and outside my skeleton to get at this pesky muscle that seems to be causing me so much trouble. Just for fun, she also worked on a few knots in some of the associated muscles. None of this was in any way enjoyable.

During the inquisition, I started thinking about the word "therapeutic." It comes from the Greek word "therapeuo" which means "to heal." Being healed is not necessarily a fun, relaxing process. Being healed often involves a great deal of pain as old wounds get dealt with.

So often when we ask God to heal us, we think we're asking him to take the pain away. In reality, we may be asking that he would intensify the pain, cut us off from our own comfort, drive us into agony so that he can bring us to a state of wholeness that was not possible while we lived in our original wounded state.

This may be one reason why suffering is so important in the New Testament.

It's also why Jesus asks what I think is one of the most important questions in the New Testament, in the beginning of John 5. Speaking to a man who has been paralyzed for years, Jesus asks, "Do you want to be made well?"

Seems like a stupid question, but notice -- the man never answers it. He simply offers Jesus excuses why he can't get into the pool where healing was supposed to happen. Jesus heals him, and it quickly becomes apparent that this guy is a bit of a weasel. He rats Jesus out to the Jewish leaders. He tattles. It's easy to think maybe he didn't really want to be made well in the first place.

How bad do you want to be whole? Are you willing to dive into some pain to find wholeness? Are you willing to let Jesus take you through suffering if that's how he wants to bring you healing?

While you think about that, I'm going to drink some more water and admire the bruises that are starting to develop all through the surfaces that allow "easy" access to my psoas muscles. Ouch.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Twenty years after the end of the world

Twenty years ago today Mom died. She was 57, and in excellent health -- all except the tiny aneurysm in her coronary artery that let go that early September afternoon. She began having chest pains and went to see the nurse at the school where she worked. She died on the ambulance ride to the hospital. Dad called me that evening -- I knew something was terribly wrong when it was Dad's voice on the phone -- and his first words were, "The world ended today."

I think about some of the things that have happened in the last twenty years and I often wonder what Mom would have thought. 

I know she would have loved seeing her grandkids grow up. She was well on her way to being a fabulous grandmother already when she died. I grieve that my kids never got to know her well. She loved nothing better than sitting with a child reading a book and introducing that little one to the world of words and stories and imagination.

Had she lived, she would doubtless have continued to be the glue that held her family — immediate and extended — together. She wrote scads of letters to each of her kids, making sure we knew what the others were doing. She kept us well informed about the doings around home — weather, crops, neighbors, church, school. 

All the bits and pieces of church leadership I’ve done in the last twenty years would have fascinated her. She had such a heart for the church to be strong and healthy and Jesus-focused. She gave her time to teach, to lead, to serve. She had strong opinions about and strong love for her church, both the local congregation and the wider church.

She would have loved the relationship I built with my dad in the last few years of his life. She would have been so excited for the conversations we had in the last couple years before he died -- conversations when I asked question after question about his younger days, about my own memories and struggles from my childhood, about stories he remembered from his ancestors. She would have just glowed to hear some of those conversations.

But then I think, so much of what has happened was only made possible by Mom’s death.

My younger daughter, for example, was named partly to honor my mom. Who would she be today if her name was different, and if she didn’t have that story about the reason for her name? Hard to say.

Because Mom was not present to be the glue that held us all together, my brothers and I started hunting together each fall. We haven’t always been able to make that work, but those annual hunting trips were an intentional way to stay close in spite of Mom’s absence. Similarly, with all my siblings we’ve tried to be intentional about staying in touch on our own. Without Mom to provide communication, we’ve learned — however poorly — to stay connected.

As far as church leadership, Mom’s death was one of the factors that moved me to attend seminary. In part, it was that sudden, jarring loss that moved me to yearn to be back in the midwest instead of living near Seattle, and seminary seemed like a natural next step. What would my career path have looked like if Mom was still living? Hard to say. What’s more, it was Mom’s sudden death and the powerful experience of community that supported us through it (many thanks to the saints at Elim Lutheran Church in Port Orchard, WA from those days!) that profoundly shaped my own understandings of Christian community that have become such a vital part of my ministry today.

If Mom had still been living, neither Dad nor I would have gone out of our way to have those hard conversations. We were both good at letting Mom be the relationship-builder, the story-teller. Mom’s absence forced us to figure out how to talk about things beyond the weather and the crops and the neighbors.

A verse from the Psalms I’ve returned to again and again over the last few years says, “Precious in the Lord’s sight is the death of his holy ones” (Psalm 116:15). I don’t think God plays dice with us, but rather I believe that if tragedy strikes, God’s promise is that he is using that tragedy for great good. He knows the pain of grief, the pain of loss, the pain of separation. He does not put us through pain needlessly. 

So today, twenty years later, I choose to be thankful for my mom — for her faith, her love, her joy, her hard work and her sense of humor and her faults, all wrapped up in an amazing woman. I choose to focus on the goodness of God who has used long years of grief to fulfill his promises. I choose to be amazed by the good things — the powerful good things — that have come about in part, at least, because of Mom’s death. She would expect nothing less.  Thanks, Mom.

In memoriam, Pearl Krogstad, 1937-1994.