Sunday, March 6, 2011

Stretching time

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us. – Romans 5:3-5

Have you ever been stretched? I mean literally.
I have—and am.
One of the treatments my doctor prescribed for the herniated disc in my neck is cervical neck traction. I lay on a treatment table, my neck in a vise-like device, a strap around my forehead, while the traction machine gently stretches my neck, creating more room between my vertebrae so the nerve isn’t being pinched.
My first treatment was at the end of January. The therapist set the machine to 20 pounds, which was too much at the time, as the muscles in my shoulder, neck, and arm were too tender and painful to tolerate mechanical traction. So she resorted to manual traction for a few sessions. When she felt I was ready, she put me back on the traction machine, starting at a lower setting (16). This week the setting was increased to 17.
I feel it. Although my pain has decreased considerably and my range of motion has increased, after my PT session, I feel as though I’ve been stretched on one of those racks my grandmother used to re-stretch woolen blankets and afghans after laundering. But these are good aches—they mean I’m making progress.
And after four months of pain, I need to see some light on the horizon. I’m ready to be 100 percent. But that will take time. My neck isn’t the only thing being stretched—my patience is, too.
So is my empathy. Before this all started I had little understanding of what those who suffer chronic pain have to deal with day in and day out.
I’m learning to take life one day at a time. Before this, that phrase was just a nice-sounding bit of wisdom that I knew in my head, but not in my heart.
I’m learning better to prioritize, as my productive time has been cut considerably and I must use my pain-free, loopy-free hours doing what’s most important. Everything else must wait—or go.
And rest, so important for healing of body, mind, and spirit (all of which have taken a beating from the chronic pain) is something I can no longer put off. With rest, I do better during the productive time I do have. I’ve learned I don’t  have to cram every minute of every day with something to do.
I’m being stretched in more ways than one, and being stretched is painful. But it’s a good kind of pain—a pain that means progress, however slow.
“When troubles come your way,” writes James, “consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (James 1:2-3 NLT).
Are you being stretched? Take heart. God, your own personal therapist, knows how much you can take and has adjusted your program to produce the best results.   
Dear God, thank you for the lessons I’m learning during this stretching time. Amen.

Special-Tea: James 1:2-4, 12

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