Healing points

Acts 3:6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Image result for peter john healing cripple

The story of the crippled beggar in Acts 3 is as historical as any we have from the era. There are those who deny the miraculous – usually until they need a miracle. And there are those assign such accounts to some hopefuls stuck in the first stage of grief – denial.  In other words, to them, the need for belief in miracle is a sign that one hasn’t accepted the reality of one’s suffering.

But that’s hardly the context of the story. There was no doubt that the man involved was crippled. He wasn’t expecting a miracle or asking for one, but only for money.  In a day when there was no social welfare, his disability relegated him to being a professional beggar for his subsistence. It was a low calling, and beggars were among the lowest caste in society. The same is largely true today.

So, when Peter and John told the man to walk and as he stood to his feet he was healed, it was more than a physical transformation to healthy legs. (As H. David Edwards once mused “he was asking for alms but received legs”). It was a raising of social standing, a redemption of soul and restoration of dignity to a human being long denigrated to shame.

When we encounter the crippled – and I widen the scope to include emotionally and mentally crippled – knowledge of the nature of transformation to health is vital if we are to use what we have been given to help. I hold as a given that miraculous healing powers are given in a similarly wide array of talents and gifts. That is to say, you who read this likely have gifts that perhaps you have never used. But that’s getting off subject.

I am by no means an expert healer. I don’t even know what that means. But I have learned that to really help people in all the ways this man was helped, there are some guidelines. Forewarning – some of this may sound unloving and uncaring. That’s because the ultimate health of someone is a strategic goal and tactics may in fact be confrontational and challenging:

  • Don’t decide to cripple yourself. Identifying with someone who is suffering establishes a connection to a degree. But adopting the attitudes and pathos of unhealth drags you down and leaves the person you want to help in the same straits where you found him/her. This is not a statement of considering yourself superior. Indeed, you will likely need help yourself if you haven’t already. But you must be true the goal of healing, not merely empathy.
  • Listen before you speak. It is an impersonal insult to classify someone by his/her maladies, even if they are easily categorized and treatment standardized to an extent. You are working with a human being who needs to be heard and understood. It’s required to establish trust.
  • RSVP “no thank you” to pity parties. A crippled person can become so attached to his/her role as victim that it is demanded that you buy into the lies they have told themselves about how they got to their current state. This tempers the “listen before you speak” directive just above. When someone tells their story, it is vital at some point to confront and correct their negativity. This may even cause them to shut down but that is better than letting the recitation of the reasons they got into and must remain in the broken state to define their very identity. Truly, self-pity is uniformly a trap to keep people down.
  • Silver and gold won’t often do anything but enable. To only throw material wealth into a life that is so broken only enables brokenness. Am I saying to not provide for someone’s needs? No. Only that someone who has never learned to balance a checkbook or understand priorities of where money should go is not going to learn by simply having money.
  • The healed should become healers. If there is restoration in a life, it is best to use that to invest in the lives of others. There is no better testimony to the cripple than “I have been there, done that, and here’s how I found my health”.

So yeah, all that. Peter and John saw instantaneous result from their action. That’s great when it happens. But you shouldn’t give up even though it takes time, prayer and sacrifice. You will see healing if you persist, even in your own life

Recognizing a death march (and doing something about it)

No, this isn’t about a real death march.

It’s not about a bloody dictatorship arresting its foes and forcing them to trek thousands of miles by foot, watching, even delighting, as they fall along the way.

But there are enough similarities to what I’m talking about to warrant the name.

And I didn’t make it up.  I remember when I first heard the analogy and it stuck because it applied well.

What I mean by “death march” is a long, drawn out season of work towards an elusive goal.  If the goal is even stated and known.  Sometimes it isn’t, or it’s hidden behind in some bean counter’s (accountant type’s) head or in some private meeting of decision makers.  The first time I heard the “death march” analogy it was describing the tedious throes of a startup company being driven by uncaring venture capitalists.  Now, not all venture capitalists are uncaring – the best ones care deeply – but these were.

In addition to mystery goals, this kind of death march has some distinguishing characteristics:

  1. Efficiency takes a back seat to daily, even hourly goals.  Deliverables that purportedly enable business advances are vaunted as so vital, so necessarily punctual, that their achievement drives the corporate conscience.  And the way the organization gets there can be as manual and costly as possible.  No one cares; it’s all about getting it done.
  2. Fear-driven micromanagement is stifling and pre-emptive.  This of course adds to the inefficiency.  Gathering status becomes a job in itself.  Showing progress against a burn-down graph or chart takes an inordinate amount of time, but that is dwarfed by the time it takes to explain schedule slippage.  And explain you must.
  3. Creativity and innovation, the lifeblood of realized value, are tolerated at best.  This is not a quashing of “fun” in the workplace, it’s a buy-in for a uniform, utilitarian approach to the work.  If there’s a better way to do something, and you come up with it, it threatens everyone else as it threatens the lockstep of the march.
  4. People are leaving; newbies are confused.  This is the “death” part of the analogy.  Workers, even the best ones, drop off the march, departing to retrieve their sanity and joy.  When they are replaced, the new hires have a terrible time climbing the learning curve because no one has time and no one will take the time to help them.  Thus, the culture and cycle is perpetrated.

Can this end well?  Yes .. and it does sometimes.  But only when goals are known, achievable and bought into by the masses.  Only when strategy is as important as tactics.  Only when there is enough management commitment to see things through and to see them done well, remembering the principles of efficiency and productivity.  And that takes guts to stand up to the holders of graphs and charts.  Personally, I try to do that regularly.

Can this end poorly?  Yes, it is likely that will happen.  The practices are bogus and unsustainable.  Everyone knows it.  But fear keeps the march going.  Until what everyone fears actually happens – funds dry up and people get their resumes on the street or at least down the hall.

Am I in a death march like this?  Are we?  I hope not, but I can’t avoid the signs; they’re everywhere.

Even if I am, there is ministry and help I can give even as things fall apart – so that people don’t fall apart as well.  It’s clear that I should not merely watch out for myself at this point.  I’ll be okay; well I think so.

But I can certainly refuse to be fear-driven myself.  I can force myself to do creative things.  I can take the newbies to lunch.  In fact, that’s how we all stop marching like this – one person at a time!

And if the powers that be shut the thing down well then it wasn’t worth working on and/or they weren’t worth working for in the first place.

To be sure:

Isaiah 43:1-2
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

Yes, it’s a faith thing for me; and deeply so.   It turns out that fear is no match for faith.  I invite all to try it.

Earning the chance to be productive

I wasn’t very nice to someone last Friday.  It was a high-stress, finger-pointing exchange that I did not handle well.  Today I fixed the underlying problem and I apologized.

In the corporate setting I’m definitely this person’s superior by every measure.  But that does not entitle me to shame the person.  Or even respond to the shame coming from that person with my own shaming words.  I need to take the high road.

So today I did.  And this person may well get in trouble but I won’t, which I want to head off as well by talking with the authorities.  So it’s not over.

Now, process is always on my mind.  I want to notice how I/we are doing things even as we’re doing them.  That’s because if you don’t do that, you will forever be in the left side of Covey’s quadrants:

That is my favorite business diagram; really it describes most of life.  If you dwell in the right bottom quadrant, you’ll likely be a deadbeat human and they’ll fire you from your job.  And they should.  You’re not getting it.  This is not the same as resting, which I’d put in the upper right.

But it is the bane of life and business that we are all ruled by the urgent, whether it is important or not.  The left bottom quadrant is a travesty because it burns our time and our patience.  It’s needless stress.  We hate it.  And we should.  Stuff there has no real reason for being important other than politics, misused power or other your-time-is-my-toy scenarios.

The upper left is legitimate urgency; stuff that needs to be done now because it’s essential.  So we do it and it actually feels like we accomplished something.  But it drains us because of the stress, albeit appropriate and “productive”.

So the right upper quadrant is the gold.  It’s where, if we can go there, we get better at all the stuff on the left.  If we never get there, we will burn out.  And that’s where I have won awards, been my happiest and delivered my best work in the best temperament.  Trust me, if you can identify the things you need to do in the upper right and do them, you will be glad you did.

I realized sometime over the weekend that pretty much all enterprises in 2014 that I know of do not have enough people to do what needs doing.  That means working smarter, not harder because harder will kill you.

But what I did Friday was to try to do the upper right quadrant when I was supposed to be doing the upper left.  Oops.

Note to self: You need to win the time to do the non-urgent, important stuff by doing the urgent, important stuff first.

Lesson learned.

Tuesday – strength on a weak day

I know, today it’s Wednesday.  Which means yesterday it was … Tuesday!  There probably was a time when I rejoiced at the knowledge of the weekdays – their names, which one followed the other, etc.

But they didn’t teach us much about weak days – those on which the weight of life would fall.  Or how devastating a long sequence of days like that would be.  I think they didn’t want to depress a bunch of first graders (or was it Kindergarten, I completely forget).

Yesterday was a cold, cloudy November day around here.  I think my friend Judy, who has amazing perspective and enduring joy ( and that, not of her own devise) would call it a “blurky” day.  I like “blurky”.  It really should be in the dictionary even if Judy is directly attributed in its etymology

Blurky – adj. from Judy \bler-key

:  overcast and depressing

:  gross and disgusting

But I had a pretty cool idea for a song on the way to work – I get those from time to time.  It’s one of the reasons I want a portable recorder for Christmas, so I can retain those ideas.  But I did retain this one, and managed to put down some basic tracks on my Cubase software last night.

The song idea was a biographical sketch of a suffering woman.  She had cancer.  It was Tuesday, and cloudy.  The beautiful thing was that her perspective was so transforming that the clouds turned into a warming blanket and her fatigue from the previous day’s chemo was comforting sleep.  She was fighting this thing with grace and with faith that goes deeper than the lesions that have invaded her body.

The song has a slow, jazzy style, starting with a major 9th chord, one of my favorite tonalities because of the delicious overtones.  And it’s doleful to start.  But joyful to end.  Kind of like a psalm.

I’ve been reading a lot of books about doing one’s art, following through and escaping the life owned by industry.  Seth Godin’s Icarus Deception is a really good book like that.  And I’m fighting to do that because I’ve been taught and encouraged and bludgeoned into burying my art.  Not to blame anyone else, but no one has this all going on quite like me.  But we can all say that and it’s no excuse.  Point well taken, Seth.  So .. in a way, the Tuesday song is for me, glaring into a blurky day with eyes that see over the clouds to what can be, WILL be, if I only persist and believe.

All heart, a process observed ..

The Story

Now I know what a heart attack feels like.  I had one this past Saturday.  The doctor at the ER said I had flunked a self-inflicted stress test.

From experience, if you say “chest” followed by “pain” you will get the attention of anyone in the medical profession.  And boy, do they have a program for you.

This time, I happened to have been moving my daughter and son-in-law into their new apartment.  They had been living with us for around 10 months, and it was a great thing for them to find a place and move in.  My daughter has always been a voracious reader, and that means she has tons (literally) of books.  They were all in boxes, having been shipped from Texas.  So I moved many boxes of those books up three flights of stairs.  It was a workout and I can’t say I took it easy.  We had to get it done in a short amount of time; the moving van was only rented for a few hours.

As I did the work, I didn’t feel particularly winded.  I mean it was hard work.  The sensation of my heart beating in my throat only reminded of Junior High School gym class when they made all the kids run the 1/2 mile.

But when I stopped, getting into my car to head to the store with my wife, a pain I have never experienced overwhelmed me.  It was angina, a throbbing, stabbing sensation going into both shoulders and neck.  And yes there was also pain in the heart area.

My wife urged me to leave my car at a strip mall so she could drive me to the hospital, but in my stubborn, angry mind (hey, I had things to DO that day and more the next), I insisted on driving home and going to our local hospital, Milford Regional Medical Center.  Yeah, I know, pretty stupid, but I was a heart attack rookie.

And, once I got home, I also figured I might as well smell and look a little better than I did, so I took of my sweaty clothing and got dressed in something clean and more comfortable.  Yes, I know what you’re thinking, and it’s true – I will probably insist on shaving the day I breathe my last.

After I mouthed the magic words “chest pain” in the ER, they immediately shuttled me into a room, gave me a quick EKG, took some blood (later I found out it was a test for troponin, a set of proteins the heart gives off when it’s repairing itself).  And they admitted me, telling me I would take a high tech nuclear stress test the next day.  I was actually psyched because I would get work out and show these guys just how fit this 60-year-old was.

Now I don’t really get along too well with hospital stays.  For one thing, you can’t get sleep.  They wake you up to take blood and things like that.  In fact I noted that every needle that entered my room also entered my body.  Destiny I guess.

My wife and I had a good time with our admitting nurse, who asked all kinds of required questions.  She asked if I had any piercings and of course I pointed to my IV.  And she asked if there were any procedures that I would object to on religious grounds.  Abortion, of course.

And I made famous friends with all my care providers.  In retrospect that was the best reason for going to Milford Regional.  SWEET, AMAZING, WONDERFUL people.

I think denial is generally  a useful phase during any traumatic process.  It allows you to joke (well I joke in any case) and turn down the worry valve.  So when the EKG result and the initial blood tests came back negative, all signs were that it was just a strain of some kind, maybe muscular.  My cholesterol level, less than 100, was particularly impressive, I thought.  I didn’t know that the troponin tests would continue every 6 hours till something was either seen or not seen.  And something was seen.

At the 5:00 PM test, the levels were raised, but no one told me.  Then, at the 11:00 test, well, about 30 minutes afterwards, my wonderful nurse Allie came back in and told me the levels had been elevated for 2 tests in a row, the stress test was canceled and I would have to start receiving blood thinner shots in the stomach.

My only frame of reference for shots in the stomach was amniocentesis, wherein they stick a LONG needle into the womb of a pregnant woman to sample the amniotic fluid.  So I thought LONG and I thought painful.  Then Allie came in with a 1/4 inch needle and quickly plunged it into my stomach.  I didn’t even feel it.  Still, it was technically a needle.

Well that blood-sampling/blood-thinning exercise went on for 2 more cycles after which I was told that my troponin level had receded, indicating my heart was done repairing itself for the time being.

The cardiologist came in the next morning, Sunday, and told me the drill that was to come.  I indeed had had a heart attack and they wanted the best test for assessing the damage.  That was going to be cardiac catheterization, where they insert a tube through an artery and snake it up into the heart area, injecting dye to show the relative health of the heart arteries.  It’s not new, and Milford Regional does 200 or so a week (wow).  But, Milford Regional does NOT do the next step – inserting stents into the thinned caverns of one’s arteries.  If that was called for, I would be sent to UMass Memorial in Worcester.

The other two course of action following the catheterization were drug therapy alone and the invasive bypass operation.  I did NOT want a bypass as it would impact my life in a very major way and hey, I’m busy.

Call me vain or over-hygienic, but I like to wash my hair.  And I did NOT do so from Saturday morning till Monday night.  I felt like a grub.  Call me vain or over-hygienic, go ahead.

So Monday came and I got a echo cardiogram in my room using a mobile device.  It was pretty painful, the technician giving it warned me she would be pressing down and she was a woman of her word.  But she told me some funny stories too, like the lady whose echo cardiogram she had done when she was brand new to the work who had received a transplant and whose heart was nowhere to be found … in the usual area.  That was funny, but she was terrified of being fired till the lady informed her, with a grin.

Then they brought me down to the Cath lab.  There were many, many attendants all doing vital things to prepare me for the procedure, which lasted about 20 minutes once it started.  Amazing.  Even more amazing to me was the picture I saw of my arteries, with my cardiologist saying “See .. there’s your problem”.  Wow.  It was a clog in the northern tributary of what looked like a major artery.  And there was another artery branching off right at the same spot.  It was perfect for stent placement, so he said.  So they bundled me in many blankets (I had a johnny on and that’s all) and drove me over the Worcester County roads to UMass Memorial.

There was a definite difference in the people manners of the caregivers there.  They weren’t nasty, just all business.  But that was okay with me at this point.

So I waited about 2 hours for my second catheterization of the day, they shooed me in much like the other team had in Milford and did the deed.

Oh .. during the procedure they give you some funny juice through your IV (of which I had 2) which makes you dream of idyllic scenes from your childhood.  Except at the point of the stent being opened using the mini balloon that they use, I became instantly awake and “with it”.    I think there was a flow of blood where there hadn’t been one in quite a while.

Then they had me wait till the location of the inserted catheter had been pressure-sealed, did one more round of blood tests and sent me home to enjoy a new exciting battery of medications, the side-effects of which I am still chronicling and assessing.

Once home I did a body scan to pull off all diodes left behind.  As far as I know there still might be a few.

And my wrist hurts; I’m not supposed to rotate it.

The Introspection

There are perspectives to be observed here.  One very common one is one you are likely using right now, reading this.  It’s someone else, it’s NOT you.

Well, this time it was me.  And it was personal, serious and impossible to ignore.  If I have to communicate anything with you, it’s the certainty that you WILL have your own experience(s) like this; it is unwise to read others’ stories as I once did.  I learned a great deal from this; and one thing is that I could have learned a lot more about this before it actually happened.

I think it’s normal to ask “why” questions when this stuff happens.  Part of it is to develop a strategy to prevent recurrence, but part is also an attempt at making sense of personal events that could well be worse than they were, and .. next time .. probably will be.

My “risk factors” were really two for heart disease – heredity and stress.  100% of my ancestors on my mother’s side had heart disease, so that makes me statistically predisposed.  And the stress of working in software is renown.  In a cynical way, I was paid a good salary to get a heart condition.  Not nice to think of, but true enough on one level.  Of course stress is everywhere; there is no escaping it.

I also have a job as a pastor, which I love to do because it helps people.  But it makes me very exhausted sometimes.  I try to delegate, but there’s only so much I can hand off.

And, yes, of course I did not eat heart-healthily.  That has already changed upon arrival at home.

Another part of the analysis process is deciding if there were warning signs.  My biggest problem there is that I endure all kinds of stomach pain all the time.  I have lots of gaseous issues, acid issues and GERD.  No one I talked to could tell me how to tell the difference.  But I will never forget the angina; it’s very distinctive.

I had done very stressful exercise in China in October, climbing a mountain with my friends from the IBM Beijing lab.  No problem, no pain, just strenuous exercise.

Finally, there is the spiritual side.  I believe in a God who judges people, not people who judge people, that’s not the same.  And though I believe God is long-suffering and merciful, His mercy has bounds and when bad stuff happens, I believe it’s astute to pray about its spiritual context.  It’s not so much “what did I do to deserve this” as “what needs work in my life to avoid this in the future”, kind of the same question asked concerning physical changes.  And, I have not stopped asking that question, longing for a reply that will be clear and directive.  God loves people and so that is to be expected.

All in all, I am very, very grateful for how fast this was dealt with and yes, I need to slow down, both God’s and doctor’s orders, to recover and heal.

And I am warmed by all the love of friends and family.  It all comes back at times like this, with phone calls, cards, advice and all kinds of loving gestures that the sensitive people around me do almost without thought.  I couldn’t have a more loving family, and that’s just very special.