Forging a New Normal

Arthritis pain in the lower back, or lumbar region.

It wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

After months of nearly constant lower back pain that increasingly worsened, trips to two doctors (my PCP and my orthopaedic doctor), X-rays, and a CT scan, I made an appointment with the spine surgeon who’d operated on my neck eight years ago. That surgery went well, and I was able to resume my normal life after recovery. I’d hoped the same would be true this time.

“I want to walk and hike again without pain,” I told the nurse who compiled my information. As well as sleep without the constant ache that invaded my slumber and woke me up through the night.

“I can’t promise you that,” she said.

Surgery wasn’t an option. Operating on the lower back, as opposed to operating on the neck, is a totally different ballgame.

There is no cure for my diagnosis: degenerative arthritis, also called osteoarthritis. Add to the mix scoliosis, a slight curving of the spine in same area as the arthritis. This, I was told, is probably why I have pain, stiffness, and a feeling of instability when I wake up or when I work at the kitchen counter. The back brace I bought helps some.

Instead of surgery, what the doctor prescribed was physical therapy, cortisone shots, and various medications. No quick fix.

No fix at all, as far as I was concerned. I’d rather pursue natural remedies when it comes to health issues. I wanted to avoid the injections. Research into the prescribed medicines revealed two of the three would interact with my blood pressure medicine.

What it boils down is a lifestyle change. Just what I want as I approach the seventh decade of life.

Of course I had my grumbling, complaining, pouting sessions. I’ve been grumbling and complaining for months. My poor little flock (I’m the lay pastor for a small church in Punxsutawney)—they graciously listened to me gripe every week. And DH—the word longsuffering was coined for this man.

What now?

Time to put on my big girl britches and deal with it. Learn to live with it. Without kvetching.

Forge a new normal. Alter my horizons, change my goals, adjust the pace at which I tackle my day. Shorten that to-do list and incorporate physical therapy, exercise, walking, stretches, rest, and meal planning. Educate myself through research.

In addition to pursuing my dream of writing. Sitting for long periods of time is a no-no, but unfortunately that’s par for the writer’s course. So I bought a Fitbit, which reminds me to get up and walk every hour.

It never ceases to amaze me how God meets us in our deepest valleys.

During my quiet time, I’ve been reading Draw the Circle: The 40-Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson. Not following the day-by-day readings, but choosing the selections randomly.

As I wrestled with the diagnosis and the resulting life changes this past week, God led me to Day 4: “Don’t Pray Away.” Batterson related the story of a couple whose three-year-old son fell from a second-story window and was permanently paralyzed.

Here’s what John Tiller, the father, wrote: “It was time to accept his current condition and choose  to live life with disability.… Instead of getting discouraged or getting angry, I choose to look for what God can do.”

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

“Sometimes,” wrote Batterson, “the purpose of prayer is to get out of circumstances, but more often than not, the purpose of prayer is to get us through them.”

There was nothing random about choosing this selection on that particular day, a day when I needed those words the most.

What a God!

Lord, please give me “the grace to sustain me, the strength to stand firm, and the willpower to keep on keeping on.”* It is only through Your grace and strength I can do this. Amen.

*From “Don’t Pray Away,” The 40-Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson, p. 34.

Read and reflect on 2 Corinthians 12:7–10.

© 2019 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.

Treks and Trails

The view of Fort Ticonderoga from the top of Mount Defiance

 

He will not let your foot slip – He who watches over you will not sleep. – Psalm 121:3

To celebrate our fortieth anniversary, DH and I took a two-week camping trip through the Northeast. Starting with the Finger Lakes region in New York, we drove through the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains in Vermont, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and then up the coast of Maine to Acadia National Park.

When we weren’t on the road, I’d planned for our vacation to be a time of resting and recharging.

I should have known better than to think Dean would be content to sit around relaxing. Every day he was anxious to be out the door as soon as breakfast was over. We put 450 exploring miles on our truck and I don’t know how many on our feet.

The first trail we hiked was the ¾-mile Gorge Trail in New York’s Taughannock State Park – a level, gravel-topped track that ran parallel to the Taughannock Creek and led to the 215-foot waterfall of the same name.

“I can do this!” I thought as I stepped along, stopping to read every placard along the trail, feeling proud of myself because I was really pretty much out of shape.

The next trek was up the one-mile paved road to the summit of Mount Defiance in Ticonderoga, New York. We’d spent the day exploring the fort, and all I could think of was getting back to the camper and propping up my aching feet. But when we got to the road to the summit, the gates were closed.

Celebrating the climb

“I can do this!” I told Dean when he said we’d have to walk. Somehow I got my second wind. And third . . . and fourth . . . it took 36 minutes to reach the summit – 25 walking minutes and 11 stopping minutes for me to catch my breath. There were places where we ascended a foot with each step. But the view at the top was worth every gasp.

When we reached Acadia National Park in Maine, 120 miles of trails ranging in difficulty from “very easy” to “strenuous” wound through Mount Desert (pronounced “dessert”) Island. The walking wasn’t easy. The coastline is rocky, the mountains granite, and the trails comprised of roots and rocks to step over, between, on (and trip on) – and boulders to climb.

Rocky, root-embedded trails of Acadia National Park

The Ship Harbor Trail was rated easy. Right. We stopped on the way back to the campground to buy a box of Epsom salts.

“I need hiking shoes,” I told Dean while my feet were soaking. “These sneakers are for walking nut hiking.”

The Beech Mountain Trail, the last one we hiked, looked easy at first – soft, smooth, brown forest floor. Then we came to a marker. The left trail was .4 mile; the right was .7 mile. Since we were pressed for time, I chose the shorter trail.

But shorter doesn’t mean easier or quicker. The smooth forest floor soon changed to roots, rocks, and boulders.

“I can do this!” I said, when still another boulder presented itself. Envisioning the view from the top kept me stepping along, as well as Dean’s hand sometimes dragging me along. “I’ve come this far . . .”

It took us 50 minutes to reach the summit and 30 minutes to walk the .7 mile trail down off the mountain.

All the trails we hiked weren’t so challenging. There were sections that wound through pine trees along a soft forest floor, where I didn’t need Dean’s hand for balance or support – or to drag me over the places I didn’t think I could traverse.

The trails of life are the same: they range in difficulty from very easy to strenuous to “I don’t think I can make it!”

But we can make it. It just takes a vision of the view from the top, a hand to help us along, and lots of “second winds.”

I made it to the top!
Birch Mountain, Acadia National Park, Sept. 26, 2013

Thank you, Lord, for Your guiding hand that gives me balance, support, strength – and pulls me through the tough places when I don’t think I could take one more step. Amen.

Read and reflect on Psalm 121.

From God, Me & a Cup of Tea: 101 devotional readings to savor during your time with God, © 2017 Michele Huey.