Exactly five years ago, I experienced one of the most humbling and challenging things my life. Five years ago, I had a cutting-edge surgery called autologous chondrocyte implantation. It’s just a long name for a doctor moving everything around in your knee, putting in harvested stem cells, relocating my shin bone… you can fill in the gaps! I had no idea what the road to recovery would mean, or the challenges my family and I would face along the path.
The surgery left me in bed for weeks, hooked up to a CPM machine. The first months back to work meant I had to preach from the convenience of a wheel chair. Let’s just say it was a big day when I walked into the office on crutches with my trusty brace — a brace I would wear for an entire year.
While all of this was going on, I was trying to lead a church that was only two and a half years old. The surgery and recovery was physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting. Looking back on the past five years and all that my family has endured, here are a five things I learned along the way:
1. Balance is important. Pain, illness, injury, whatever you want to call it, is exhausting. I have regularly found myself feeling or wishing I could do more to handle the demands of life, to help around the house, to play with the kids. However, I have come to understand that even some of the most simple and mundane things become quite difficult when dealing with the stress of pain and illness. Not only does the physical pain seesaw back and forth—so do your emotions. Over time I found it normal to watch my emotions go back and forth from negative thoughts to positive thoughts and back again in a matter of minutes.
In these moments it is helpful and important to manage your energy. Knowing that the stress of injury, illness or pain drains your energy tank is a critical piece to the puzzle. The greater your leadership demands, the more you have to manage your energy wisely. Find things or people that bring you energy and avoid tasks and people that drain energy. Make sure your to-do list is reasonable and don’t push your elf beyond your energy level or you will pay for it.
2. Don’t let your injury or pain win. There have been moments when I have felt like succumbing to the pain or my identity as the guy with knee issues. Even while spending time with good friends, the conversation tended to move towards talking about my issues, my recovery and my pain, as if there was nothing else to talk about. Don’t allow this to become the new normal. Focus your conversations and help lead others to talk about the many other interesting things that help make you, you.
3. Talk with others who have been there before. Even with six surgeries over the past six years, I had never gone through a prolonged season of being in pain. If you are anything like me, you probably haven’t either. In preparation for my last surgery, knowing the pain would be tremendous and the time laid up would be lengthy, I sought out several people who had walked through similar hardships. These people gave me great information, understanding, advice and encouragement. All of these things helped create for a foundation that would help me persevere through the challenges of surgery and rehab. The shared experiences showed me I wasn’t alone in this journey, a nice reminder.
4. Don’t isolate yourself. When I am in pain and nursing an injury, I find it easy to isolate myself from activity, people, etc. Bed rest (not mentioning the pain meds) also made it extremely easy to isolate myself and to spend time watching TV. I think part of this is normal based on circumstances. But you need to fight through it. Ask people to visit and to bring your favorite milk shake from time to time (Mexican food was helpful, too). Watch things that are uplifting and that don’t add weight to your already shaken emotions. And when possible, get out of the house. Going to church and even a restaurant helped me feel normal again.
5. See the bigger picture. I have come to recognize that without pain and hardship, I would never come to know God as my Comforter. 2 Corinthians 1 tells us that in times of trial and in hardship, when we turn to God for answers and help, he will be there and will be our Comforter. If we were to live life without pain, we would never get to fully experience God for all that he is. Without pain there is no need to be comforted. If this be true, then for us to truly mature and to become Christ-like we must have periods of pain in our life. Pain in the long run really is a blessing, because in our pain we get to see and experience God.
If you would like to read more of my journey, tune into www.themilliondollarknee.blogspot.com.