Permanently Broken

They say boredom is good for children – that it inspires creativity and individuality. I’m not sure that was true for me. My experience tells me that unsupervised boredom (NOT unsupervised activity – there’s a difference) in the hands of children leads to ER visits, soul wounds inflicted by neighborhood bullies, or at the very least, ill-conceived schemes where someone (not me) runs crying home to mom.

In the summer of 1979, in the midst of true boredom, my friend and I set a goal for ourselves. We decided to jump off the roof of every house in our neighborhood. We were ten years old, but we were undeterred by our age or our size. We believed in ourselves. And by the end of August, sure enough, we had done what we set out to do.

One by one Dena and I scaled the side of every house on Archwood Street. We sat on the shiny black shingles of each roof in the sweltering summer heat while we worked up the nerve to jump off the house and…about three hours later we jumped to the ground below. Hey, it’s harder than you think.

Sometimes we had friends cheering us on at the bottom. Sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes the houses were simple one-story structures requiring very little chutzpah. Occasionally, we faced a real challenge with the steep, slanted roof of a two-story house.

But we did it. We successfully jumped off the roof of every house on our street.

I know. Crazy. It’s a fun little anecdote to tell at parties, but you can be sure I kept this little ditty about my childhood from my own children until they were old enough to know better than to do anything like it. Although, funny enough, even with my safety hypervigilance, my kids didn’t make it through childhood without a few broken bones of their own. I guess kids will be kids.

It’s pretty clear the 1979 Summer of House Jumping, combined with some other dumb, boredom-induced, thrill-seeking stunts done in the first 25 years or so of my life… as well as a couple of other events and conditions mostly outside of my control – eventually gave me a back that all the kings horses and all the kings men tried their best to put together again. I feel ya, HD.

My back now looks like this:

It does not feel good.

And my neck looks like this:

Artificial discs for the win!

Lucky you – I don’t have pics of the spinal cord stimulator in my left hip, but it’s there – connected to wires threaded into my spine and humming along 24/7, doing its darnedest to block the pain signals running from my low back, through my right leg and down to the bottom of my right foot all of the freaking time.

I’m basically a living, breathing bunch of screws and electronic devices. My kids call me Cyborg Mom.

Turns out the surgery that fixed the broken bones and instability in my back also triggered a rare disease called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). This condition is perfectly named. It’s complex because it’s rooted in the neurological system and because it presents with a host of symptoms not commonly connected. I’m talking poor circulation, poor temperature control, swelling, spontaneous hair or nail growth (I know… blech), discoloration of the skin, and pain, pain, and more pain. It’s regional because it’s usually isolated to a particular part of the body. And it’s a pain syndrome because the pain signals are stuck in a loop. They never stop.

And since it’s neurological, and our nerves are necessary for function, CRPS often leads to permanent disability.

Permanent is a tricky word. People don’t like it very much… unless of course it’s attached to something wonderful.

Permanently rich – yes, please

Permanently healed – hallelujah, yes and amen

Permanently abundant in coffee and chocolate – I mean, of course

We like things permanently fixed, permanently settled, permanently resolved. But when the permanent is attached to an unpleasant and debilitating experience, it’s understandable that we are willing to try just about anything to change it for the better… permanently. I have spent much of the last 20 years doing just that as I’ve battled first with the busted back and then CRPS.

Chiropractic care. Physical Therapy. Massage. Essential oils. Supplements. Every form of exercise (EVERY. ONE.). Diet. Prayer.

So. Much. Prayer. All in a forceful, determined effort to permanently fix what was wrong with my body. And I believed for a very long time that permanently fixed was an option. The goal. The end point. Maybe even the fulfillment of a promise without which I was less than – not whole. And I for sure believed that giving up on this made me a quitter.

When the reality was and is that some things in this world are permanently broken. And sometimes surrender to the broken places is the ultimate goal – the end point.

That’s hard to accept.

It’s hard to see acceptance of brokenness as anything but defeat, and it’s hard to reconcile a state of acceptance and surrender with the survival instinct to keep trying to make things better. And maybe acceptance and the determination to keep fighting for something better are two sides of the same coin. Maybe that’s where hope lives. Somewhere between acceptance of the broken and painful places and an innate compulsion to keep trying to make things better. Maybe that’s where we live our best lives, too.

It seems to me that this is how the Apostle Paul lived his life.

Somewhere between the harsh realities of Romans 7…

I know that nothing good lives in me.

Who will rescue me from this body of death?

And the hope and courage of Romans 8…

We know that all things work together for good...

In all these things we are more than conquerors…

Paul was way more enthusiastic about it than I am, though. Of course, I’m guessing he’d done a lot of work to get to that place. But I’m guessing he’d also accepted that successful living in this in-between place was a lifelong work in progress.

For years now my long-suffering therapist has been trying to help me live in this space.

It’s super fun.

I hate it.

But I’m beginning to understand that good therapists (or pastors, or mentors, or friends) help us live more wholly as we journey.

It’s a subtle shift in thinking.

But it’s a gigantic shift in how we experience our often painful realities.

It allows us to mark and honor the myriad of little – but excruciatingly difficult – decisions and choices made throughout our journeys. Choices that propel us forward while at the same time acknowledging the parts that are most likely permanently fixed in a state of brokenness until the day – the end point – when all things work together for good as we are transformed into the image of Christ – the promise of heaven.

We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

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