Monday, November 09, 2009

Random thoughts on how I am learning to be ill

So my exploration in illness continues. Having thought I was over the worst of it, the last few months have turned out to be more difficult than the previous ones. From intense nausea, to uncomfortable (but necessary and helpful) tests, to unconnected problems (abscess and subsequent root canal in a significant tooth).

Humanity is wonderfully made and therefore wonderfully complex. It is very easy to think that we now understand the human body and that with the right medication we can cure much of the ills that it can face. And there is much truth in this (the root canal combined with antibiotics was the right treatment for my bad tooth), but simply from a bodily perspective we are a complex mix of mental, physical and chemical processes. And these are wonderful and understandable but also mysterious and confusing.

I have been provisionally diagnosed with functional bowel disease (FDB). Something that is common enough to have a name and diagnosable symptoms but little is known as to what causes it or how to fix it.

As I write this I am struck by how even the desire or thought of 'fixing' reflects something of our culture, we inadvertently (or consciously?) see ourselves as machines to be fixed rather than human beings, so some Doctors become like mechanics rather than care givers; illness is seen as physical damage to be repaired so we overlook how this can effect us psychological, emotionally or spiritually. We overlook the wider impact of illness and a fixation on getting back up and running can keep us from making necessary change to our lives that will serve us better longer term.

In a book on Benedictine spirituality (which I am reading out of choice, how my taste in reading has changed huh?) the author states that "Somethings must simply be borne. Somethings must simply be accepted. Community and relationships enable us to do that." I have not been very good at communicating about how unwell I have been; I have not been able to understand what is wrong with me so therefore I did not expect others to either and as a result I have largely kept to myself how much the ongoing illness has been affecting me. Having my tooth go bad last week tipped me over the edge a little and forced me to be honest with people about the toll that ongoing illness has taken on me. The acceptance and support I have received as I have shared both what has been happening and how it has been affecting me has indeed enabled me to bare it, because others are helping me bare it. I have experienced God's grace and mercy both from Him and through others.

It has also helped me realize that confidence must not rest in our ability to control our circumstances, but in God's grace. I've always been a bit of a control freak, but as more and more things went wrong I took more and more steps to control my life (from an almost obsessive avoiding of sick people, to sitting near doors so that I could make a quick exit if I started feeling nauseous) because when I was in control it felt manageable. But when something that I had not planned for and could not control kept happening (like say a tooth getting infected), it caused panic because it showed that my efforts and control had not worked, and if I was not in control how could I know it was going to work out okay? Which at points led to a perverse sort of guilt (things were going wrong because I was not controlling them properly: it was my fault that I was not getting better).

The problem was that my perception of control was/is a facade because complete (God-like?) control of circumstances is beyond any of us. That is not to say that there is not a place for wisdom and planning (not kissing girlfriend when she has the flu=good choice, sitting near exits if feeling nauseous = good choice), but that if our confidence rests in our ability to control things it will come unstuck because we cannot completely control everything.

However, if we make realistic plans or take action but trust in God rather than our plans/control, what then?

It means that when things go well we are able to celebrate with God (and others) because we realize that though God is in control we had a part to play in the success too. But if it is just down to me then I will take all of the credit and will likely become prideful.

It means that we are more likely to turn to Him and His people for help when things go wrong, because we know that He is in control and He has given us each other to help bare each others burdens. But if it is just down to me then it is my responsibility so I must fix it on my own, which may work for a time but will wear us out in the end.

It certainly doesn't mean that things will always go well, but it does mean that we are more likely to be a little more adventurous as we know that ultimate control (and therefore responsibility) is in His hands and that he will provide a way through (though the way through may not be the way we have in mind or would even chose) if things go wrong.

Anyway, my FBD problems are finally beginning to lessen, and over-all I am paradoxically happy and sad at the same time; happy because I feel loved and supported by people all around the world, sad because the number of bad FBD days have worn me down and my body feels generally fragile. So my heartfelt thanks for your ongoing support and prayers (and feel free to ask me if I really mean it when I say I feel fine).

Epilogue: Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that illness is okay because in God's grace it can bring change; I'd really really love to be free of illness and back to normal, illness sucks and is very much a part of the fall. But I've realized it is important to take the time to reflect on the good that is being worked even while my body is not so good. I've gotten a little more of a handle on how God can turn situations to good and how in times of weakness we become more aware of grace. Also, what I am saying here is not meant to be a catch-all for every illness or injury; context matters in everything. What I am writing is simply a reflection on my experience.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

And the times they are a-changing

There came a time when it had been so long since I last blogged that it became easy to ignore this blog. But as a friend kindly pointed out, the point of having a blog is to blog about things. So after nearly 5 months of silence, I'm back!

So what has happened since my last blog? I have continued to get to know a bunch of wonderful people at Regent college; I recovered from appendectomy; I completed one third of the modules I need in order to 'convocate' from Regent college; I contracted a bacterial infection in my gut (the side effects of which have still to clear up) resulting in me canceling a trip to New Zealand; I have seen grizzly bears, bald eagles, seals, sea lions and otters; I visited Vancouver Island and failed to spot any whales on a whale watching tour. And I have discovered that I really like semicolons, not just for blogging but in assignments too.

What have I studied? Across some 210 hours of lectures: An overview of both the Old and New Testaments, pastoral care, an overview of the relationship between Christianity and culture since the reformation, Ethics of the Christian life, evangelism in the post-Christian world, and Christian ethics in relation to Hollywood movie industry.

How much have I read? Somewhere in the region of 7000 pages of theological material, which is probably more than the previous 3 years put together. A sobering thought.

How much have I written? Somewhere around 45000 words. And to think that once upon a time the idea of writing a thesis was intimidating!

It is impossible to explain the impact that all this has had on me, but I'll try anyway:
  • My studies have reshaped my understanding of how discipleship is a whole-of-life life-long process that is community based and that the gospel has truly universal implications and intentions; though I thought I grasped this before being here has helped me see (in a good way) that the more I learn and grow the more there is yet to understand, and that we need each other to keep us on the right track. I hope I am learning to be more gracious towards both myself and others.
  • My health struggles have challenged me to grapple with how my confidence is in God and His grace rather than my ability to control my situation.
  • Being part of the Regent community has helped me realize anew how wonderful it is to be part of the body of Christ and learn some new things about what it means to be a part of that body.
What is to come? I am studying four more courses: introduction to biblical languages, an overview of the relationship between Christianity and culture pre the reformation, introduction to Christian counseling and, perhaps most daunting of all an advanced class on the missional church (where each person in the class has to give a 20 minute lecture presenting a 6500 word paper on an issue of their choice in relation to the missional church). So in total that's another 5000 or so pages of reading and 28000 words of writing.

I am working part time at the college assisting with the orientation of students who come to Regent across the 09/10 academic year. It's a huge privilege to be able welcome in the new students and help the get their heads around Regent and life in Vancouver. Because it is a paid job it will cover a chunk of my tuition fees, which is handy.

Oh and what has changed? The layout of this blog and I have a beard.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Insiginificant appendage

This is just a quick post to bring the non-facebook people up to date with my world. March 9th was an interesting day. In the space of a few hours I went from having abdominal pain, to appendicitis, to some unknown abdominal issue, concluding with having my appendix removed at around 1am Tuesday morning by keyhole surgery. As a side note I am the only male I know of who has had a ultrasound of his abdomen; And I must say it was a weird (and painful because the had to poke my appendix quite hard) experience. The gel stuff is particularly weird! But I am glad that it got to the bottom of what was wrong with me.

The surgery went very smoothly and I was released from hospital on Tuesday afternoon. The Vancouver wing of the Rees-Thomas family very kindly took me into their home for a few days whilst I recovered. This being my first real surgical experience I had no idea what to expect and I probably won't know what to expect if I have surgery again! It has been such a bizarre mixture of ups and downs and I am not yet fully recovered. I'll spare you the intimate details and will settle for five words to sum up the recovery process thus far: gas, discomfort, frustration, gratitude, sleep.

Everything seems to be functioning normally and I slept through the night for the first time last night and am now back in my apartment with my room mate. I am under orders to take it easy for another week, which I will do my best to do as I try and catch up on all the study I have not done!

I want to say a big thank you for all the visits, texts, emails, facebookings and care that I have received over the last week. They have kept this time from being a miserable experience in what is a relatively new country and turned it into a time were I have been amazingly blessed (if a bit physically sore). Can't really express what it has been like or how grateful I am to you, but again, thank you.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Quick Update

I'm here, I have a place to live and have started classes! It's barely been ten days but feels like a month. But I am tremendously thankful to God for his sovereignty and grace, and to those of you who have been praying for me and sent messages ahead to people who you knew here to ask them to say hi to me. Thank you! As I walked home this evening my feet were barely on the ground (to quote Coldplay)!

I am sharing a basement flat 15 minutes from campus with another new Regent student who also had no where to live. We had never met before but he is a New Zealander and knows some of the same people as me and went to school with one of my flat mates in Wellington. Small world huh!

Orientation week was very helpful if a little overwhelming. There are roughly 35 or so us new students. The first week of classes has gone well but it is a very different experience to undergraduate study. I have some twenty or so hours of reading to do per week! I barely did 20 hours a month when studying computer science! Some of what we are studying is more difficult to relate to than I expected (at some point in the future ask me what Copernicus really thought about the cosmos, but also ask me about the Pastoral care class which was a wonderful combination of doctrinal study, class interaction and a sermon on Romans) but it is all really good stuff and I have had my character and convictions stretched already.

The Regent community is brilliant! It has been great getting to know such a great bunch of people over coffee, lunch and tutorials (although my memory for names is truly shocking!).

This evening I went to find out about small groups at the church I am planning to attend and not only did I meet some more great Regent people but to my surprise I met one of the Inter-Varsity Canada staff (the equivalent of TSCF or UCCF here in Canada). I've have been invited to spend some time with the Inter-varsity groups while I am here which is great! I had planned to make contact with them some time over the next few weeks but to bump into them at a new-comers meeting at a church blew me away!


P.s. I still love and miss all you people in NZ and the UK!