Located on the grounds of Second Baptist Church of Memphis, TN is a Labrynth, a prayer garden as such. Inside of the Labrynth, on the left side, is a bronze red tailed hawk on a cross. It, along with the Labrynth, is dedicated to Spence and Becky Wilson. Their gifts of love and support for not only Second Baptist Church but also for the community which is Memphis, Tennessee and out into the world, is a reminder of their dedication to the one who died on the cross.
The clay pot is sealed and buried in the middle of the beaten down clay dirt floor. It is all they have. There is no bank to invest it in. There is no portfolio, no 401K. It is all they have and they pray they will not need it anytime soon. But they know if they need it, they can access it, digging it up, and breaking the clay pot that it resides in.
I am not sure if anyone has ever done a “gospel according to the clay pot that houses the family treasure.” What would it say if it could talk? Perhaps it would say, “My greatest purpose is not yet realized! I will have to be busted and broken for you to get at what I am holding!” Maybe it would echo, “I am made by the hands of a great potter, as are you, and my purpose will never be realized until I am broken, just like you.” But there is that inference right there in the holy writ. Paul talked about it as he dealt with his own brokeness. It was as if he understood that to be fully human and fully purposeful is realized only when we are broken.
It is a novel concept, isn’t it? In a society of hunks and hormones, of strength and stamina, we are given the illustration by Paul that we are a pot, formed by a great potter,and that found inside of us is a treasure, which is released and given by only being broken. Unexpected illness, unexplained death, hopes destroyed, grieving, heart-wrenching, cancer filled; broken!
It is T-minus 11 days and I pray I have done this special art piece the justice it deserves. It will be surrounded at the time of it’s presentation by hundreds of art pieces that have been completed by artists whose health was in no way compromised and they were able to spend months and years on some of them, concentrating with no distractions, each stroke of the hand having nothing in the way but his or her own imagination. I will be compared to each of them accordingly with so few having a faint clue to the person behind the creation of this flying wood duck that I have called, “Beaver Pond Woody”.
I have yet to know why in the world I chose to do of all ducks, a flying one and on top of that, the most colorful of all ducks, all complicated with the fact that the artist doing this piece is “all broke up.” My day begins by placing my brain in gear for the pain that will momentarily run throughout my body. Bed is my good friend and enemy, all wrapped up in one. I start by massaging my hands, rubbing my neck, massaging my back, trying to get up enough strength to stand, grabbing door facings, an ironing board, anything that will help me to start. Each breath and every heartbeat shoots a signal to my brain that I am not at my best because I am broken.
I think of the work that lies before me for this day. I think of my children where each day brings their own set of stressors and I think about the person God has given me to walk with, in the midst of it all and I pray. For all that I don’t understand and all that awaits and the reasoning beyond my own understanding of pain and suffering, I stop and pray for one thing: that the treasure that is found inside of this broken pot will be of value to the brokenness of our own world.
Our day had ended like most. Karen came home and found me in bed. For me, it had all now taken a dark turn and I contemplated how best and easiest to end my life. Gone was my artistry because my hands could not hold the tools of my trade. Gone was my identity as a minister because one church after another looked at my disability rather than my ability. Gone were my strong physical attributes that could move a mountain. Gone was my ability to live in the outdoors in the way I wanted. Gone was normalcy in life due to the constant pain I was in. Gone now, I believed, was God.
She pulled into the driveway, stepped out of her car, walked up the sidewalk and through the front door, received the nightly greeting from our dachshund, paraded herself right into the bedroom and sat on the side of the bed and asked me, ”Are you suicidal?” I began to cry and I was totally honest with her; ‘Yes, I am’, and with the answer came the tears. Not only did my tears fall, but so did Karen’s. We have been through a lot and have had some great experiences. Chronic pain however has been an unwelcome invasive species in our existence. There is literally no place that pain has not touched. Vacations have been canceled, medical bills have piled up, and loneliness has crept in to become an unwelcome friend to both of us. She has learned to read me now after all of these years and she was spot on.
The conversation turned quickly to things that I actually could do rather than what I could not do and to our future rather than the present. Grandbabies that would need a lap to crawl in and last time I looked, it had become an unwelcome physical trait. Ears to hear of the difficulties of adult-becoming that my children are going through that are still usable. A role to play in a few weddings someday, even if it meant having my rear end hauled down the center isle of a church in a red western flyer wagon! Meals that I have become a master of preparing that gave her a little more palate to endure her own precious yet stress filled life. Flowers that I could still arrange in a planter, though more slowly and painfully than before, that had become life giving to her. I could still do a small amount of my art work, no, not mass production, but something at least that could identify God as a God of beauty and love. Words that I was now beginning to learn to put together in a highly creative format where people gain help for their own struggles were beginning to be read.
They were all pieces, every one of them. Scattered pieces, like that of a jigsaw puzzle. They are the pieces of my life that to Karen had far more value to her than I had thought. And at that very moment, I determined one thing, one very important thing; the pieces of Kerry Smith were worth more to my people and to my world and maybe to my God than none of Kerry Smith. In my contemplation of suicide, I was therefore making none of Kerry Smith available to no one or no thing but earth worms, I suppose.
Would I be cured? I don’t know, but if I ended my life I may never find out! Would I still have pain? Probably, possibly, heck, I really could not know definitely. Would my life be as it once was? No. Could it still be life, yes!
It was at this point, in the crossroads of my own crisis, a book was suggested by a dear friend who from a distance walks with me in this pain manure. The title is, “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. Viktor was a concentration camp survivor and if you have not read the book, you need to, because if someone found a way to survive a concentration camp, I am thinking his tools could fit into our own tool chest.
In this book, Viktor discusses why it was that some people were surviving the concentration camp he was placed in and why some of them were not. His conclusion, after watching poor souls who were the shadows of their previous selves, was that if a concentration camp prisoner had some reason for living, something that pulled them forward, they would survive. He gave story after story of prisoners who died for no other reason than they had lost a reason to live. Those that survived, even if their reason for existing was misplaced or misappropriated to some area, would find a way to survive. His own personal reason for living was the belief that one day he would see his wife again even though in reality, she was already dead. He had no way of knowing, but he believed and imagined that one day he would see her outside of the prison fences.
Chronic Pain patients are similar to prisoners. They are bound by a body that no longer works as it once did and they are prisoners inside of that jail cell. Often they feel that there is no other way to escape than to end their lives. Chronic Pain Patients are twice as likely to commit suicide as the average population according to Judy Foreman in her book, “A Nation in Pain”. If you are suffering from chronic pain, you know this fact deep down, don’t you? Life is not what it once was and you struggle to find a new meaning for living. Friends don’t understand. Family, to a great degree, does not totally get it. Your purpose and reason for living the life that you once lived has now gone.
Ask yourself this question; Are the pieces of your life worth more to the world we live in, than none of your life? To a child learning to read, can you teach them how to read? To a wife or husband attempting to understand what you are going through and giving their all, can you prepare lasagna? To a darkened world, can you create something of beauty? And out of your own pain manure, can you plant flowers? The pieces of your life, those now scattered about, those incomplete pieces, are worth more to your loved ones, to your God, to your world, than none of you. Chronic Pain may have clouded the lenses of how you see your life, but know one thing; your life is far more valuable than you realize!
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