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silent but there

O' Lord, I still yearn for my return to certain habits, yet my health continues to plague me. If not a cough, then a back problem. These damned medications don't help in that regard, yet to ignore my physical physician's advice would simply be an act of arrogant stupidity. Yet, I yearn for my prayer, 5 times a day. I yearn for the cadence... the ritual that it is in keeping two handfuls of prayers memorized so that I have but some of Thy Sacred Words at my disposal when I need them most. I promise, Lord, to find a way to adapt things... the number of prayers per day is meaningless in the most esoteric and larger meaning of things. I know that a life led in constant mindfulness of Thee, whether it be done through recitations of prayers, supplications and praise, deeds dedicated in compassion... all are valid, and to suggest that 5 times a day is sufficient is rather foolish of me. Yet, I strive and I am still learning. There is a place for all of it though, and the cadence of formalized prayer has its place, and I promise to try to do better.

I'm still learning that feeling Thy nearness can come at the most unexpected times. Twice, I've felt epiphanies so great that any words I could write would only shame the experience. It's a shame that I woke my wife at these late times at night, and it's an even bigger shame that she doesn't understand. Maybe with time, she'll understand. She at least knows my private laments, although I realize that I could have phrased things better so as to not offend.

O' Lord, know that I strive. I am weak; I am plagued... but I strive, and I am learning to accept that the lengthy times spent in solitude and prayer and reflection in my recent history were appropriate for that time. I am learning to understand the duties of being a father, and my daughter deserves my attention. So, Lord, though I don't write as often in public praise of Thee, know that I try to be mindful of Thee. The fact that I write this is almost stupid though... of course You know, for You are God, the Omniscient and All-Knowing. I write this because I am weak and foolish, for the simple fact that by doing I help to enforce what I know in my heart.

And before I forget, know that I am thankful for the opportunity in sharing what little I know of Thee with some certain people in recent conversations. I promise to tell them I'm Baha'i when the time is right... telling them now would simply sound gratuitous and out-of-place. I beg of Thee to confirm in my heart when the time is right.

Begin with Yourself

I chastised them for sin,
You chastised me for pride.
Why are they exempt?
They are not.

Why am I admonished?
Why am I accused?
You are not God, either.
Willing student, are you not?

How will they ever learn?
Somebody must act
if only to teach them.
What have you taught?

I bring their faults to light
so that they might know.
That can’t be wrong.
Wrong is not the issue.

What have you taught?
You have simply told.
You expect understanding?
If they are logical.

Without their request,
Your words are wasted.
They’ve heard it before.
So what should I say?

Forget about saying.
Think of when to act.
Search for willingness.
Not everybody is willing.

Some can’t ask for help.
Some don’t ask for help.
Some won’t accept the help.
Some can, some do, and some will.

How am I to know?
Who should I believe?
I cannot read minds.
It's about hearts, not minds..

What does that mean?
You've said nothing.
What am I to do?
Begin with yourself.

When one asks for help,
you have reason to act.
Take that as a sign.
And if I can't help?

If one cries for help
and another has wronged him,
you have reason to act.

Do I admonish the wicked?

If one wrongs himself
and laments his condition,
you have reason to act.
And do I point out his error?

With every instruction,
only more questions.
I don't understand.
Begin with yourself.

Manifest me, your pure,
kind, and radiant heart,
by seeking justice
.
I have much to learn.

Perfect Prayer

Teacher,
is there such a thing as perfect prayer?
Perfect? Nay.
Sufficient? Yes.


When you first learned to pray,
showing up was your greatest challenge.
Prayer book in hand,
you stumbled through the words and motion.

With your attendence improved,
you then strove to memorize,
that you might sing with your heart
rather than submit with your eyes.

Then, you considered details.
Postures. Positioning. Ablutions.
Striving to know how and when
to do each properly.

At first
you guessed the direction
of the Qiblih.
Then you bought a compass.

At first
you needed water
from a handwashing faucet.
Then you discriminated less.

Each time, I told you to strive for more.
And through burden of conscience,
you understood the sufficiency
that was expected of you.


Then things changed.
Your rhythms broken.
You no longer could do
what you had learned to do.

Attendence became a problem, again.
Yet, you were excused from prior patterns.
Under new circumstances
you demonstrated sufficiency, differently.

Then your conscience complained.
Complacency! I am better than this!
Aspects of prior patterns
unioned with current patterns.

Your prayer today
is better and worse than yesterday's.
Tomorrow's will be better than today's,
only for tomorrow to become today.

Perfection implies
you have nothing left to learn.
Sufficiency necessitates
sincerity and devotion.

Strive for perfection!
Strive until you beg forgiveness
for your weakness and ignorance.
Sufficiency is His grace and pardon.

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Obedience

He invites me into His garden,
Come, drink, enjoy yourself.
I shall not enter. I wear the rags of a leper.
Forgive me, Lord.
It matters not. Be merry and be at peace.

Oh Lord, allow me to serve.
You throw such lavish parties.
I ought not to attend with my tattered robes.
Do you wish to shame me,
in front of your esteemed guests?
Allow me but to stand at Thy gate.
Perchance, I might serve as a simple greeter.
Suit yourself, but my gate has no door.

I stand. I greet. I watch others enter, smiling.
I look at myself. How hideous.
What am I doing?
The Lord deserves a knight
or a well-dressed butler in this spot.

I leave, running...
Others spot me in the street,
as they walk towards the garden.
"Why run?" they ask.
I am driven from His sight.
I know my place. It is not there.
I yearn to go back, but I run.

I stop. I know this place: Hell.
Different than I remember it.
Last time I enjoyed this place.
Carefree. Unburdened.
And then I heard the call,
the invitation to His garden.

In haste and urgency, I ran.
Knowing what it was,
Yet knowing nothing at all.
There and back, again.

I still hear His call.
He sends others to find me.
"Not yet," I cry. I can't go like this.
They shrug and return.

Then He comes.
Why do you spit in my face?
I tremble. How have I offended?
I did what I thought was fitting.

I invited you. You came.
Then you changed your mind,
Refused the invitation of a guest.
You then titled yourself as servant,
and then you abandoned your post.
When I sent for you, you resisted again.

When I called, it was My decree.
You obeyed.
When I invited you in,
That was Grace.
When you refused,
you spat in my face,
as if what I had to give
was not worth receiving.
When you titled yourself,
that was pride.
When you failed your task,
that was weakness.
When I sent for you,
you disobeyed.

Had you come in,
I would have given you robes.
Had you stayed,
I would have appointed you,
made you a gardener or
even a greeter at the gate.
Had you served,
I would have given
strength for your duties.
Each time,
you thought yourself
better than I.

O' Lord, in your presence,
I feel ashamed.
So close, yet so far away.
Separation from Thee
feels so much more real.
So I run.
Here, I can lie to myself.
Here, I feel what I deserve,
yet the pain is so much less.

You will always feel
some degree of separation.
You will never
be as I am. Still,
that is no excuse.
Come to my table,
either as a guest,
or as a servant,
or as a wretch,
or prisoner.
It matters not how.
Submit and obey.

pre-dawn reflections on 9/11

I suppose it's fitting God stirred me this morning... on September 11th. It's a day to be mindful of the loves lost, and it's one of those days that will live in infamy in the minds of many. It's possibly also a glorious day for some who believe that hijacking planes full of civilians and crashing them into buildings is a just act of devotion to God. How people arrive at such conclusions is something I only understand in theory... I'm probably better for not having first-hand knowledge of such theories.

The memory of that day lends itself as a harsh test for anybody that believes in forgiveness, the nature of God's forgiveness, and the need for justice and jurisprudence. My heart tells me that nothing good comes from hating any enemy... conflicts only seems to worsen and grow when one willingly participates in it with such passions. On the other hand, I feel one ough to be offended at what was done and doing nothing in response would not be just.

As a nation, I think it was reasonable and just to invade Aghanistan for the expressed purpose of bringing Al Qaeda to justice for what they did, given our level of collective enlightenment. (Were we more enlightened, we probably would not have been attacked in the first place.) Yet, I've always felt the invasion of Iraq was pursued more for the less noble causes than what was preached. In some sense, we transgressed the concept of justice and jurisprudence in that case.

And still, what then of forgiveness... and it's clear to me that the concept of a nation bestowing any sense of forgiveness will only happen when its citzens are ready to forgive, especially by those who were directly affected. I suppose it's something that each of us has to contend with. For some, time is sufficient. Otherwise, it may be a momentous event, such as the capture, trial, and execution of Osama bin Laden. For others, the knowledge that it is not their place (or perhaps they feel no need) to judge or forgive is sufficient to make it a non-issue. Then, there are those who are fueled by their hate of what happened... (sigh)

In the end, the forgiveness that matters is God's... I'm not that bright, but I'm smart enough to know I don't know the mind of God. Certainly the hijackers of September 11 believe they have God's favor. I suppose if one is preoccupied with the nature of others' devotion (or lack of devotion) to your interpretation of God and your religion, it's easy to end up doing such things.

I suppose it's fitting to pray in remembrance of the dead, to pray that God help survivors find contentment and peace...  and perhaps it's even fitting to pray for those who believe 9/11 was a praiseworthy act of Jihad... for them, I pray that they eventually learn to understand the totality of what they praise... and equally fitting, a prayer for this nation to understand the totality of what we are and what we represent to the rest of the world.

There's fair criticism to be levied against the United States, especially its culture of consumerism, greed, its half-hearted and fragmented devotion to God, and aspects of its foreign policy... but warts and all, there's no other nation where I'd rather reside. It is still a land of opportunity and a place where one is free to pursue one's interests and worship as one pleases. People are still immigrating here moreso than people here fleeing to live elsewhere. Being an immigrant myself and having lived in 3 other countries, I am honored to be a citizen.

Many citizens of the United states stood proud and united on 9/11 and the weeks following the event. In its own way, the unity was a glimpse of what this nation can achieve.
 He is God, the Mover! His Will be done!

God stirred me at 2:15 AM. I thanked Him for the blessed moment, for I sensed He woke me to quench a bodily thirst that I had yet to feel. I went downstairs drank some water and retired back to bed. I did not know whether He would permit me to sleep, so I began to pray.

So much transpires in moments of ecstacy. It's a blur now, but I came down to journal for I needed to capture what I could.

The ecstacy of God was beautiful... it's ironic that there are no words to describe that which ought to be describable, if only so that others who don't know might know what they're missing out on. Redemption, growth... the spirit set aflame and inspired to do greatness and serve... I sense that my insistence in learning to recite memorized prayers more properly are somewhat responsible for this visitation today. But I digress... I know not how else to describe it... perhaps, stated best... it is BAHA.

When the most intense moments of ecstacy subsided, I lamented momentarily... lamented that my wife knows not of such ecstacy. She could write off my experience this evening from having taking narcotic and valium hours ago for my back pain... but I've felt such ecstacy before I ever took such medications. If anything, those substances have only hampered my ability to feel the ecstacy of God in the past, so the fact that I feel it with such intensity is counter-intuitive.

But I digress... she knows not. This innate knowledge that has been awakened... or perhaps this evidence of God experienced empirically is something that divides us, and I wish it didn't. I wish I understood the mechanics or metaphysics of a spiritual awakening. How does one learn to hear the His Call? How does one come to a point in life where he can experience such ecstacy, daily? I wish I knew for I would certainly direct my wife in a manner so that she might experience for herself.

So... like in the darkest of times, when I am utterly powerless, I beseeched the Almighty. I asked that He might awaken her spirit. I asked that He might make her hear His Call... that He move her spirit, even if only such that she might wonder... move her such that she might start pondering. 

Alas, these things are beyond my control. I lament not that they are beyond my control, and I lament not if my wife chooses otherwise. I am content with having my emprical experience, and I am content in my duty to teach others of spiritual matters, especially my daughter. Whether anything takes hold is beyond my control... what is within my grasp is my sincerity in the act of teaching. Nothing more can be expected other than to do my best in that regard.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I need to do a bit of research on The Greatest Name and its use in prayers. I'm convinced that I owe God the chanting of The Greatest Name, dedicated wholly unto Him, dedicated wholly to His Glory... as if it were a prayer of distilled praise and recognition of God. 

What I need to better understand is whether it would be an abuse of The Greatest Name to punctuate within some of my own ad-libbed prayers. It seems like it could fit in a more typical "laundry list" prayer. Catholics have a prayer format for such a thing: We pray for _____. We pray to the Lord. Lord, hear our prayer... We pray for ____.... Lord, hear our prayer. It seems I could easily substitute The Greatest Name for the stuff after whatever we pray for. I've done it on prior occasions, and it accents such prayers nicely from a perspective of cadence and flow. However, I know this is The Greatest Name... while using it so might have some merit, I need to better understand, if it's appropriate, both from a Baha'i Law and Baha'i culture/norms.

 

prayer memorization update

I don't have time to do full prayer reflections, but I have spent the time since my last journal entry learning three new prayers. I am happy that I've made some progress in this regard, even though my recitation doesn't quite have the right flow and cadence. This brings the total number of Bahai'i prayers to 7... in review.

  • short obligatory
  • medium obligatory
  • detachment: O Lord! Unto Thee I repair for refuge...
  • evening: The Midnight Prayer
  • forgiveness: Lauded by Thy Name, O My God...
  • teaching: O God! O God! This is a broken-winged bird...
  • Grace at the table: He is God! How can we render Thee thanks, O Lord?...

I need to deeply reflect on the last three and write journal entries for them. I haven't yet, but not having done so does not bother me too much. That time will eventually come, most likely when my recitation of those verses come naturally, without effort.

In terms of praying 5 times a day... not quite hitting that magic number of 5. It's always something like 3 or 4... although, there's something to be said about the time put into those 3 or 4. As I've said before, there is something to be said about quality, as well as quantity.

Still, I realize that praying 5 times a day isn't something that is hard. I've done it before, when I had a more regimented schedule. I simply need to have the discipline to do it without predictable breaks in my day. In fact it is during those days where my schedule is full that I should be ever mindful... it only need be a muttering of silent prayer. Anything... really, that shows my mindfulness of God.

Were I ever mindful of God during an activity, I would treat that as prayer. The simple matter is that I'm not yet changed so thoroughly in spirit to remember without effort. Still, I sense changes will happen with time.

It's ironic that my wife thinks that I've already made my biggest change... that being a follower of God. What I don't think she understands is that being a professed follower of God doesn't really amount to much. How many pious people do I find objectionable? How often do I find myself annoyed by reformed sinners, people who somehow have found God and somehow find it within their right to judge others or presume that they somehow can lay claim to any level of enlightenment.

If there's anything that I've learned from my meditations is that I'll never be enlightened... there's really no such thing. The truly enlightened... those are the Manifestations of God. That's what makes them enlightened. Everybody else is a student... sure, some might be farther along in their journey, but that journey never ends. There's always something new to learn. 

Just like Rumi's poem where Moses chastizes a man for praying to God with an inappropriate level of familiarity, only to be chastized by God for having chastized the man, only to later learn from the chastized man that the original chastizing was in some way appropriate. We're constantly learning, unlearning, and learning again... just like Buddha's metaphor of peeling an onion. How lucky am I to be able to look forward to being a student forever... no boredeom shall await me!

I wish I could say that I got a lot done this week, but then again, the primary purpose of this week (and next week) is to recover from surgery. I've learned a little about myself, and I'm still learning how to balance the goals of rest and appropriate activity. Over the first week, I experinced both extremes of physical over-exertion and physical rest, to the point of atrophy. Spiritually speaking, I could have done a bit better. What follows is my recalling of the past week.

Over-exertion

The first few days after my surgery were filled with over-exertion. It started with waking up early Friday morning and spending 3 hours writing a long journal entry. Although the waking on Friday could be blamed on the "final wearing off" of the general anaesthesia used during surgery, the rest of my weekend is punctuated by long stretches of being upright (e.g. standing, walking, not laying down). My rest is erratic, usually consisting of a restful night's sleep and a nap sometime during the day.

By Monday, my behavior finally caught up with my body. My back felt extremely sore, and I realized that my tendency to want to be awake and do even the most mundane things with my family is getting in the way of recovery. I also theorized that narcotic painkillers haved prevented me from understanding the degree to which I've stressed my body because the narcotics mask the pain but don't encourage or induce sleep (at least, those side-effects don't exist for me). I resolved to scale back on the narcotic consumption and take a more pro-active stance on rest.

Narcotics

Early Tuesday morning I wake with pain, and I almost convince myself to get up and take painkillers, but I find myself assessing this pain. Why is the pain in my right foot and not my left, and why doesn't feel sciatic pain? Why do my arms feel like they're on fire? Why are my arms and legs twitching? I realize that I'm probably going through withdrawal, and I find myself praying... asking God to help me sleep and to fight my body's urges to get painkillers. I've never been one to be critical of anyone's recreational drug use, but I've always had a point of personal pride to not have a chemical dependency. Yet here I am, face to face with the prospects of having one. I eventually manage to fall asleep, but not without first experiencing exhaustion from fighting the call of the chemical, made most obvious by the cold sweating. 

In hindsight, I realize that I'm probably not a good candidate for addiction... I'm too mindful of it, I'm able to fight those urges well, and I don't seek to get high on my medication. The biggest problem is that I do enjoy narcotic highs a bit too much, and I know it. Narcotic highs are rare, and there's nothing intentional or predictable about experiencing them. Sometimes I'll find myself feeling a bit high off a single, standard dose of narcotic painkillers. Other times, I'll take a series of double doses and feel nothing... but one thing is for sure. When it happens, it happens... and I do enjoy it, even if it's just feeling a bit loopy in the head.

The phrase of chasing the dragon is appropriate... the best narcotic high I've experienced was at a hospital, with an intravenous narcotic, 4 years ago. It was unbelievably awesome, going from awful, tear-inducing back pain to a blabbering idiot, high as a kite. I'd be lying if I said anything contrary to having fully enjoyed that experienced... a lot. I've never had a high quite like that, even after getting the same narcotic intravenously a second time, 3 years ago. Even with all of the painkillers now... I could probably induce an incredibly good high, but I don't feel any desire to get high on my medication because I hate the idea of addiction so much. I'm more than content to experience a chemical high that wasn't intentionally induced... and the fact that it's so rare, makes it seem almost like a surprise gift.

Rest & Detox

The remainder of the week was spent on far fewer narcotics. I suppose I was always taking them as-needed, the fact that I was up and about more often meant that I needed them more often. Now, I take them as needed under the context of increased rest during the day, meaning I take 1 or 2 pills per day. This is a far cry from the 6-9 pills a day (with a physician's maximum of 12 per day) from earlier in the week. 

With fewer narcotics in my body, I find myself naturally tired... as in, I actually feel my body's exhaustion from the surgery more-so, but the pain is not so excruciating that I feel the need to be popping pills aggressively. I'm more mindful of my body's aches and pains, where they are and how intense they are. My resting schedule is more pronounced: longer evening sleep, more naps throughout the day, and my waking hours are spent often on my back... resting those tired muscles that I over-exerted earlier in the week. 

Atrophy of Body and Spirit

Despite having introduced aspects of my physical therapy routine into my daily activities, I sense that I have been excessive in my pursuit of rest, during the past few days. The natural balance offered by the Middle Way was lacking, and had I taken a more mindful approach to integrating prayer more regularly throughout my day, I sense I would have realized that. Prayer is almost always an activating experience... God sets my spirit aflame, unless I am specifically asking for rest. 

I eventually realized the stupidity of the idea, but there were a few times when I opted to not pray because I was laying down... as in, because the posture wasn't reverent enough. I eventually dispelled this concern and found myself praying more often... although, probably not enough to qualify for my original goal of 5 times a day.

Still, I sense my prayer habits sufficient at times and lacking at other times. At times, prayer felt more fulfilling and not being I am not necessarily rushed by my "normal" schedule. However I sense that I should be striving to be mindful of my original goal of prayer 5 times a day. Having multiple naps during the day really screws with things, although in hindsight I should have simply prayed when I began to nap and again when I woke. These are the types of things I learn when I reflect on my day, and I should make a better habit of reflecting... and there's something to be said about writing a journal entry. Such realizations feel more tangible... as if I'm less likely to forget. I know I've had inner dialogs and reflection over the course of this week, and I struggle to remember the key take-aways. I need to get back in the habit of daily journals... they need not be long and tedious, but I learn something every day... it's a damn shame that I should forget.

But today... today hasn't been good. I feel the atrophy caused by excessive rest, and I sensed that this might happen yesterday. Today, my whole body feels plagued by a certain kind of ache... as if my body doesn't want to move at all. I realize some of this is caused by the fact that I could not sleep last night and most of my rest in the last 18 hours has been during the day and plagued by the occasional telephone call. Still, having sensed this possibility yesterday, I am certain that I need to find a better balance between rest and activity.

My spirit, too, feels a similar kind of ache... again, probably tied to not having some structure in my day that is not guided by prayer. I made a promise to myself to learn a prayer today, and I chose to memorize a prayer of forgiveness, after giving into a bit of temptation. Although, I stumble, I find myself hastening to God. I hope to journal tomorrow on the memorized prayer, after giving my mind some time to digest its meanings.

back surgery and plans for recovery

Ever since sometime before June 16, 2008... ever since my most recent string of back pain and sciatica was bad enough to visit the doctor, my prayer habits have been a bit lacking and my typical blogging pattern of a daily journal somewhat reflects that. I missed 4 days in June and missed 27 days in July.

That's not to say that I failed to do my daily Baha'i obligatory prayer or the Allah-u-abha chant. Rather, my personal goal of praying 5 times a day wasn't met. My physical exercise goals have also been lacking, in genuine pursuit of physical recovery, as well. My cadence of waking in the early morning for dawn prayers and driving into work early so I could exercise was no longer possible. On some days, I might have met the spirit of prayer 5 times a day through general mindfulness of God throughout the day, but I certainly can't recall specifics...

The lack of exercise is excusable. Missing prayer 5x/day, perhaps understandable. In hindsight the number is less important.. the quality of prayer or mindfulness and the frequency is more important. Most of what I hold myself to is a personal dogma, and I sense God was testing me by testing my dogma, thus giving me the chance to understand empirically what I've known all along. 

Still I stive for 5x/day because it can be difficult for me on some days, and had I been dedicated enough to that standard I would have found a way to ease my conscience every day by adjusting my personal rule that I have 2 hours of time between each prayer or to have practiced a continual mindfulness of God. I was inconsistent on both accounts. I was too stubborn for the former and not enlightened enough for the latter. Despite these things, I got a better understanding of the meaning behind the personal struggle for God. My daily routine has changed and must change due to practical needs and a goal to better apply compassion in my life.

So here's a general summary of what's happened.

  • July 8, 2008 (around midnight): The first many serious (level 7+) sciatic nerve pain incidents waken my slumber. This begins a major turning point of my prayer rituals for the worse. My blogging patterns become very less frequent from this point on.
  • July 8, 2008 (late morning): I saw a physiatry physician. He tested my reflexes, range of motion, and walking/foot strength to assess the nature of my sciatic nerve pain. He concluded that it was deep-tissue muscle inflammation that was causing the sciatic issues and not a spinal disc issue. I received 3 trigger point injections witha long-last local anaesthetic without cortisone, despite my suggestion for it. It served to ease my back pain but failed to ease any leg pain. I should not that the drive to see this physician was full of screaming in pain and it was my first time I considered to recite prayers as a method of pain control. The technique didn't solve the pain, but it kept me from degenerating into swearing obscenities and wrathful behavior. Unfortunately, my mood was so soured by the doctor's diagnosis (as I was sure this was a herniated or ruptured spinal disc) that when I sat in the car the next time, I screamed obscenities the entire way to my destination, as my poor wife and daughter had to tolerate it.
  • July 8, 2008 (evening, after work): Having felt truly felt ashamed for my behavior earlier in the day, I asked my coworker to drove detour to a place where I bought my wife some flowers, as a way ot apologizing and acknowledging that I could have done better. I was able find a comfortable position with the seat rolled fully horizontally, something I was not able to do in our car due to the installation/positioning of our daughter's car seat.
  • July 9, 2008 (shortly after midnight): As mentioned in the July 11, 2008 journal entry, I went to medical urgent care, although we waited for my wife's parents to get to our house so that that our daughter was under supervision. I am more successful in using prayer to restrain the more wrathful and obscence behaviors. The physician tests me in a manner similar to the physiatry physician and explains to me that I fail all tests for a serious disc issue, except for the pain test. In my own mind, I forgive the physiatry physician for his diagnosis and conclude that he wasn't entirely incompetent, as I wasn't exhibiting same kind of pain when laying down on his examination table. The urgent care physician gets the pain under control, gets me on some oral steroids, and sends me home. I write my physiatry and primary care physicians, summarizing the story. 
  • July 9, 2008 (late morning): Physiatry physician orders an MRI. He apologizes and says he sincerely did not believe I exhibited a disc issue. I wait for their call.
  • July 10, 2008 (around noon): After taking the initiative to call the MRI department, I get an MRI scheduled for next Friday. Sometimes being a nag gets things done, unfortunately.
  • July 11, 2008 (late afternoon, early evening): My wife picks me up from work. My sciatic pain while sitting is excruciating, so I lay reversed, facing backwards. We arrive at the MRI facility, complete the MRIs, and drive to my wife's parents' house afterwards. I am in some pain. My wife goes to work, under a prior obligation. My in-laws agree to watch over me, serving dinner at their house, and later driving my daughter and I back to our home. By 9pm, we're feeling comfortable... we *think* everything is going to be just fine.
  • July 12, 2008 (minutes after midnight): I come down for a snack. My wife is in the downstairs bathroom; I don't know that, nor do I know that she's returned from work. I stand at the countertop, thinking about what I'm going to eat. Suddenly, without any warning, I experience my first sciatic attack of pain level 9-10. Any slight adjustment in my standing position creates more pain. My wife is out of the bathroom. For roughly the next 10 minutes, all I can say is "ouch". Thankfully, I'm not swearing. My wife doesn't know what to do. I don't respond to any questions. All I can say is "ouch"... I don't recall screaming or yelling or obscenities. I strive, mindful and thankful that my daughter is still asleep. Afterwards, I ask my wife to take me to the urgent care nearest to our home. We discover I can't get into our car. We borrow her parents light-SUV and head over to urgent care, arriving at 12:45AM. I use prayer to keep myself under control. It brings me some comfort. I am treated and sent home. I am prescribed percocet, valium, and 4 day supply of prednisone anti-inflammatory steroids. I am discharged. Pain still there, bearable at a 4 or 5... the pain meds quite haven't kicked in yet. I am able to fall sleep when I get home.
  • July 13, 2008 (early morning, near dawn): I have another sciatic nerve attack. My screaming wakes my daughter. I strive to keep my behavior under control, and eventually I am able to calm down. Later in the morning, I make breakfast for my wife... my soul aflame in the desire to show some appreciation to my wife. I blog the story though, desiring to not forget, and I inadvertently neglect my duties. What's not captured in that blog entry is the sour mood of my wife. She's glad I cooked breakfast, but annoyed that I spent time blogging, while she and my daughter are awake. It's a reminder that blogging always comes last in terms of priorities. Human connections of people I know are more important. This is the primary reason why I haven't blogged since July 13, 2008. I've just had too much to do in the form of familial and professional duties, which I've done poorly or minimalistically due to my physical condition. 
  • July 13, 2008 (late afternoon): My wife has plans to meet with friends. She cleans up the house before we plan to leave. I get another sciatic attack while moving a water sprinkler. For 30 minutes or so, I lay on my stomach on the couch, praying for it to go away. I eventually move, and realize I need to go to urgent care. It takes me 10 minutes to find a way to get into our car. My wife drives me to urgent care, stays long enough to see me admitted, then leaves to meet her friends. She asks if she wants me to stay. I tell her to go. She's done much for me. I can tell that she needs a break. I get some good advice from the physician, and she tells me to quit staggering my different medications and to increase the medication schedule. She tells me to stick with the most effective ones, that allowing this kind of pain to manifest only worsens my situation. She tells me not worry about the valium and oxycodone addiction. The fact that I'm mindful and trying to prevent an addiction tells her that I'm not the kind of person who is at risk. I take her advice to heart. She dopes me up with morphine; my first time. I call my wife. She and her friends pick me up; we have dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. I'm brave and try an unconventionally flavored pizza. The day ends with a smile. I pray a bit extra that night and I thank my wife for all she's done.
  • July 15, 2008 (morning): I am notified by my physicians of the preliminary MRI results. Surgery is recommended. Details are scant, I am supposed to get a call from the Neurosurgery department.
  • July 18, 2008 (afternoon): I finally am contacted by Neuosurgery, although I had made several attempts prior to this date. Triage policies prevented me from making progress. Appointment is scheduled for July 24.
  • July 19, 2008 (evening): We celebrate our 5 year anniversary at a nice steakhouse. We eat Chateaubriand and lobster. I vow that day to further cut back on beef... that I would only eat it on special occasions and for my favorite Japanese dish (shabu shabu, which requires high-end beef for it to not taste horribly). I figure that as long as I'm reducing my demand for beef, especially fast-food beef, which tends to have a rather negative impact on the environment, I'm at least striving for a worthy ideal, right? My wife and I have a good conversation over dinner. I'll summarize this in a future blog entry. Best gift... no sciatic attack.
  • July 24, 2008 (late morning): I meet with a neurosurgeon, although the appointment takes a bit of time to acquire thanks to the HMO's bureaucracy. The MRI evidence is damning... ruptured disc with 7-8 on a 1-10 scale. Surgery is advised and explained. I stare at the MRIs again, comparing the current damage with a prior disc herniation from 3 and 4 years ago, still evident on the new MRIs. The evidence looks really bad. In my heart I know I can beat this without surgery, but at what cost? I haven't had any sciatic attacks recently, but I can't pick up my daughter. Surgery gets scheduled for July 31, with the promise that I can cancel any time.
  • July 28, 2008 (morning): I have a surgery pre-op appointment with a Physician's Assistant. The nature of the surgery is described again. I mention that I've been off meds for a few days, and I haven't seen a lot of real pain. He explains surgery is my choice. If there's no pain, I can call it off. If it gets worse, I can schedule another surgery. I don't want surgery... in my heart of hearts, I feel it is the right thing to do, but I don't want it. I know I can beat this without surgery if I want to... but again, at what cost? Longer recovery? More work for my wife? Reduced efficiency at work? I know it's my ego at work and a personal bias against surgery, telling me that I can beat this. Prayer affirms that I can beat this if I want to without surgery. The decision to pursue it becomes an issue of duty and compassion...
  • July 28, 2008 (evening): In prayer, I truly come to accept that I need the surgery. It's the more right thing to do. My daughter deserves a dad that can pick her up and hold her, sooner rather than later. She doesn't understand, and it breaks my heart every time she wants me to hold her and I can't. My wife assures me that she would support me if I decided not to pursue surgery, but I explain my reasoning... and I do it for her, too... so that I might be able to better fulfill my duties as a husband. I feel good... I finally have my certitude.
  • July 30, 2008 (evening): I pray to God, to affirm my decision to pursue surgery. I pray that he accept it as my desire as part of my duties as a father and a husband and as an act to slay a part of my ego. I pray that he provide me with a speedy recovery. I mention that I miss our early morning communions. My certitude is affirmed; I am awash in the love of God. My soul is set aflame; and I give thanks and praise to God through my tears of joy.
  • July 31, 2008 (from 11am-6pm): I check in at 11am. They prep me from 11:40am to about 2pm. I manage to get my obligatory prayer around noon. I find myself muttering prayers to myself. I don't feel nervous. I have little pain. I am eager for the surgery, and I am awash in the feelings that I get when I feel God's presence. After prep, my wife and parents are admitted to my prep area. They keep me company. Finally, I am rolled to the operating room... OPERATING ROOM #9. How auspicious. God be praised! I know... somewhat superstitious, but it's not like I prayed for that outcome. I just took it as a sign... a smile from God, if you will. The operation takes roughly 1-2 hrs. The roll me into the recovery room. Literally, 9 MINUTES after I arrive in the recovery area, I wake... groggy but awake. I didn't really know this until later in the evening when my wife and I went to bed. My wife explained that the nurse had stated this detail in front of me... still, 9 MINUTES? Yet another smile from God, I suppose.
It's 5:40am now. I need to rest, but that's the story so  far.

the power of prayer

Yesterday evening, my family and my wife's family attended the wedding of a family friend. The wedding was a wonderfaul affair, but I did exercise some bad judgment by engaging in activities that caused me physical pain. I took a number of photographs that required uncomfortable postures and I made the mistake (out of instinct) to pick up my daughter and carry her for a short distance. My  wife chastized me for those activities and was upset at the possibility of having to drive my butt to the emergency room again.

Early this morning at 1AM, I mumbled about pain in my sleep and my wife asked me if it was time to take my medication. I woke up at the question, and replied yes. I asked her how she knew and she was mumbling about pain but that she didn't know I was asleep. Tired though she was, she gracious got me a glass of water, gathered the 2 appropriate medications from the possible 8 containers of drugs, and administered the medication. I eventually fell asleep...

... but I woke up later at 5AM in excruciating pain... probably, level 7 or 8. The screams from my pain also woke up my daughter. I eventually stood up and hobbled painfully to the bathroom sink to drink numerous glasses of water due to feeling dehydrated, while my wife went to get my daughter and feed her in hopes to calm my daughter. I eventually hobbled back and stood at the side of the bed, trying to get my composure. The pain in my left leg and foot was so intense that I feared opening my medications and spilling them everywhere. I recited some prayers and was eventually able to draw enough strength to find the correct 3 medications, open them containers, and remove and administer the correct dosage.

I still found myself standing at the side of the bed after ingesting the medication. The pain was too execruciating to move back into bed. So, I found myself praying again for about 10 minutes. I recited the prayers that I knew from memory and ad-libbed a spontaneous prayer or two. Although the pain was still great, I felt the inner strength from God filling me enough that I could climb back into bed.

The pain was still there, and I found myself moaning uncontrollably from the muscle spasms and the sharp leg/foot pain. I kept muttering prayers quietly, trying to keep the pain from overhwhelming me. To make matters worse, my daughter wanted to crawl onto my back and cuddle. I remember sterny telling her no and my wife did her best to get my daughter to cuddle with her. I even tried to adjust my posture but that increased my physical pain dramatically. Even the smallest adjustments in posture resulted in terrible pain. At some point, my wife moved my daughter off the bed, who then proceeded to cry. 

Having exhausted much of her patience due to lack of sleep, my wife took my daughter downstairs. I found myself alone. I began to pray again, reciting the prayers that I knew. Eventually, I found myself ad-libbing prayers again. The prayer started out like this.

The pain is strong, but God is stronger.
Keep the pain at bay.
Enter my heart and evict any guests.
Grant me Thy sufficient help.

At some point, I began to ask God for forgiveness for all that I've done. I felt weak, with the realization that having turned away so many years ago resulted in so much potential from being realized. I began to cry. I begged God that I might be a better servant. I wept knowing that there were better reasons to seek out God, but I acknowledged that all of this was probably a test that I learn to rely on God without shame or fear. I found myself asking God to assist me to share the bounty of wealth and love that He has poured into my heart. I found myself wanting to do more... to become a worthy servant. I acknowledged so many of my past promises to God that I've broken over the years, but I renewed a promise - the promise to strive in service to God. I also promised that even if I found myself having stumbled that I would rise above my mistake and strive to correct my mistake and seek out apologies from God and those that I may have wronged. 

I admitted that I could not promise to always be faithful or that I would always do what was right. I admitted that there were many mistakes that I have yet to make. Yet, I promised that I would try and that I would never truly abandon God again. I wept into my hands, asking God to lend me his strength and wisdom, and I found my earlier prayer evolving again. At 7AM, I managed to get out of bed and I headed for the shower, while I invoked a prayer similar to the following.

My physical pain is strong, but You are stronger.
My physical pain is terrible, but absence from You is more terrible, still.
My physical pain is painful, but pain-induced idleness creates greater pain.

I am dumb and foolish, but you are Wise and All-Knowing.
I know not what I do, nor do I know what I should do.
Grant me your wisdom, for it makes me wise and knowing.

I am weak and distracted, but You are free and untethered.
I find myself held back my weakness and ignorance.
Lend me your strength and wisdom, so that I might be a better and steadfast servant.

I have bitterness, hate, and vengeance in my heart, but You are full of compassion, love, and fairness.
Evict from my heart those inuninvited guests so that it is a fitting place for Your presence.
Evict from my body, the serpent that bites and causes me grief.

I must act, Lord. I must act.
You have bestowed me with wisdom so that I know to never abandon Thee.
Lend me more wisdom that I might know what I should do.
Lend me more wisdom that I might know how to act within my abilities and resources.

I must act, Lord. I must act.
You have bestowed me with strength to keep the pain at bay. 
Lend me more strength that I might rise above my weakness act on what I know.
Lend me more strength that I might fulfill my duties and obligations.

I must act, Lord. I must act.
You are truly the Help in Peril.
You have blessed me with many bounties and overwhelmed me with love and compassion.
I know with certitude and conviction that I must now act.
The time for pain-induced idleness is over. Oh Lord, I will act.

There were many other aspects to my ad-libbed prayer... too many to recall now. I remember reciting certain verses in Latin, chanting Allah-u-abha, and some other things. I found myself uttering random praises of God... all in the moment and in a rather stream-of-conscious manner... how I wish I could remember, but they are cast to the wind, and it's more important for me that I know that God heard... God answered. God gave.

After showing, I put on a kimono and headed down the stairs. At this point, it was close to 7:30AM and the pain medication still had not given me noticeable physical relief. I felt some numbness in the face, evidence that the medication was working... just not working very well. Still, I was glad... I felt God's presence. I felt Him carryiing me through this... for once, I had empirical evidence that with enough desire on my part and persistence in prayer and reliance on God could allow me to feel His joyful presence. 

Every step down the stairs carried incredible pain, but I kept reciting This pain is great, but God is greater. Downstairs, I found my wife asleep on the couch. My daughter, too, was asleep but she was her Winnie-the-pooh toddler's couch. I went into the kitchen and search the ingredients I had at my disposal. I ended up settling on pancakes made with soy milk... (somewhat dense and less tasty than pancakes made with cow's milk). 

Still, cooking and moving was a challenge. I was still cooking around 8AM and the pain killers only started to kick in with efficacy around then. I found myself being able to move my legs in something more than a hobble. Moving up and down the stairs still proves to be painful. Bending down or even leaning slighty is still impossible without excruciating pain. I must fall to a bended knee, which results in excruciating pain, but I find myself reciting On bended knee my pain is great; God's strength greater still.

It's now 11:30AM. My wife has dressed our daughter and finished her shower. I've been typing away for a bit more than 2 hours. I need to finish cleaning up the remnants of breakfast. I've been mindful of God this entire morning. I hope to be mindful of God the entire day.